Building Your Go Bag and the list of 18 Essentials to Add to It

It’s pretty common to mix up the definition of a go bag and a bug out bag, so let’s first discuss the difference between the two.

A go bag is a bag that you carry with you that has the essentials of short-term survival inside. It is designed for 24 hours emergencies or less, and will help you survive long enough to get home or to another secure location.

Bug out bags are generally used when you literally need to evacuate and leave your home. Bug out bags have enough supplies to anywhere between 72 hours and one week.

When you’re thinking about putting together a list of things for your go bag, it’s easy to gather too much and over-pack.

That’s why we’ve put together a list of the 18 essential things that you need to have. Start with those and be weary of adding too many extra items.


Water is heavy so make sure you properly plan for this. A good way to reduce the weight of water is to purchase water pouches or water boxes.

You can purchase these emergency water pouches from of any survival supply webstore. If you want to completely omit the water pouches and boxes all together, then a personal water filter is a good option.


Disclosure: This post has links to 3rd party websites, so I may get a commission if you buy through those links. See my full disclosure for more.

MREs, freeze dried food, high calorie food bars, and protein bars are among the favorite items for survival bags. Canned foods are not a good idea for a go bag as they’re too heavy.

This is actually one area where many people tend to overpack their go bag. Keep in mind that the average adult can survive without food for up to 3 weeks if absolutely necessary.

This means for a 24 hour go bag, any food you carry is for your own comfort or to provide an energy boost your body may need.

Focus on packing only lightweight food items that can provide the energy your body needs to keep going and are easy to eat on the go or with little preparation, rather than heavy meals that need to be prepared.


You’ll need to include some type of shelter in your go bag. A Mylar tent is one of the best items for the job. It’s lightweight and easy to slip into one of the inner pockets of your bag.

Because it’s a small item and lightweight, you can pack one or more as backup sheltering in case your main one gets damaged, or you team up with another person unexpectedly.

Another option is to pack a heavy duty tarp. You can use the tarp to construct a simple lean-to, or as insulation from the ground in a shelter made from natural materials and be better protected from the elements.

Uberleben Zunden Ferro Rod
Uberleben Zunden Ferro Rod

Fire Starter

Fire starters are vitally important. Most people think to pack matches, particularly waterproof matches, but also don’t forget lighters, flint starter kits, and kindling such as dryer lint, cotton balls or some char cloth.

Consider that you may need to start your fire in less than ideal conditions. It could be raining, your bag could get wet, or it could be very windy.

You need to have enough materials with you so that you can make multiple attempts to start a fire or at least something reliable enough to spark no matter what the conditions are.

Sleeping Bags and Blankets

You’ll need a sleeping bag or a lightweight blanket. Some packs come already equipped with the space to tie your sleeping materials to it.

When choosing a sleeping bag and blanket, comfort and quality is important, but warmth is the biggest factor.

Again, a go bag is designed to be used for 24 hour survival, which means if you use a sleeping bag at all, you’ll only sleep in it for several hours or possibly overnight.

You need something to keep you dry and that is warm enough so you can sleep without the worry of hypothermia or frostbite setting in.

First Aid Kit

A go bag wouldn’t be complete without including a first aid kit. You don’t really need a huge kit, unless you’re packing for a family. A simple personal first aid kit, sometimes called an IFAK, is fine for a go bag.

It must include the basics such as bandaging, gauze, tape, burn cream, antibiotic ointment, and anti-allergy tablets. You can also buy a simple kit and adapt it to your needs.

Suture tools are great additions to any first aid kit  for those times when you or someone else needs stitches from an unexpected injury.

three custom-made knives
Three bespoke custom-made knives.

Survival Knife and Other Multi-Function Tools

A survival knife will take the place of many other tools that you may not have room for. When choosing a knife, be sure to comparison shop and pay attention to customer reviews.

You want one that is tried and proven to be beneficial and efficient. The same goes for a multi-use tool. It’s a priceless addition to your bag and will save time.

three tactical flashlights
three tactical flashlights

Flashlights and Batteries

Don’t ever forget your flashlight! You don’t realize how vital flashlight is until the time comes when you’re caught without one.

Remember that when things are operating normally, you can see even at night because there are streetlights to illuminate the way.

In a SHTF situation or even just a widespread power outage, it will be dark even before sunset. Most preppers know that flashlights, and replacement batteries, are an essential item to pack.

hygiene items on pantry shelves shampoo shower gel mouthwash toothpaste etc
hygiene items on pantry shelves: shampoo, shower gel, mouthwash, toothpaste, moisturizing cream, lip balm, deodorant sticks

Personal Hygiene Toiletries

What kind of personal toiletries could you include? Think of everything you use on a daily basis, and determine how big of a crisis it would really be if you had to go without for 24 hours.

If you could live without it and your go bag is already heavy, then get a mini version or decide to make do without in a crisis. Here’s a short list of basic toiletries to consider:

  • Toilet paper (Pack camping toilet paper to conserve space)
  • Dental health items: Toothbrush/Toothpaste/Mouthwash/Floss
  • Bar soap or Body wash
  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Lotions & Creams (including facial creams and cleansers)
  • Deodorant
  • Shaving Cream & Razors
  • Feminine products (sanitary napkins and tampons can double as medical supplies. See: 15 Not Useless Items to Stockpile

While these items can get pretty bulky, check out the trial/travel size section of your local Walmart or other discount store, and grab some of these items at a low price and stock up.

But remember, the go bag is designed to keep you alive for 24 hours. So, while having deodorant, a razor, and shampoo may make you more comfortable, your life isn’t at risk without it.

If space is limited or the weight of your bag is an issue, leave the comfort items out.

Silica Gel Sewing Kit
Sewing kit with a few silica gel packets.

Sewing Kit

Duct tape used to be the go-to item in your go bag to stitch up ripped clothing and gear, but aside from that, you can also a add small and simple sewing kit.

A sewing kit is necessary for not only repairing clothing, but also repairing gear that may become damaged. If your tarp gets a tear in it, repair it with duct tape or stitch it up quickly with your sewing kit.

Camping Utensils (Mess Kit)

Camping dinnerware and utensils are recommended. Once you’ve bugged out and you’re ready to eat your meals that you’ve packed, you’ll need something to eat them with.

The most critical item in this category is a stainless-steel container that you can use to boil water or heat food if needed.

A simple camping mess kit will be fine. It doesn’t take up too much space and it’s lightweight.

Extra Clothing (Including Socks)

Extra clothing takes up space, but they are necessary and extremely recommended. It’s important to have in case your original clothing gets wet or destroyed somehow, it doesn’t take long for hypothermia to set in, even in moderate weather conditions.

One way to reduce the bulkiness of extra clothing is to vacuum seal them in bags. This cuts the amount of space it takes up in your bag by half, if not more, depending on what you pack.

Vacuum sealing your clothing also serves to waterproof it so you can be certain it will be dry when you need it.

Dan’s Tip: At the very least, put your socks in a zipper bag to keep them waterproof. Do the same with all items that can get wet should yoru bag be left in the rain.

Money and other Personal Identification Items

Money is important. You may need cash to purchase additional things, like water or gasoline that you need to make it home or to your safe location. Keep in mind that in a crisis situation or power outage, stores may be open but credit card and ATM machines won’t be operable.

Cashiers won’t be able to open vaults with electronic locks either. So, make sure you pack money in small bills.

Larger bills won’t get you far unless you plan on wasting money during a crisis situation because no one can make change for you. A variety of $1, $5, and $10 bills will be good.

Unless you plan on disappearing completely after a crisis, it’s vitally important to carry personal identification items with you.

Most situations are temporary, like a natural disaster or terrorist attack. In these cases, you’ll want authorities to be able to quickly verify your identity if you are stopped.

A driver’s license or state issued ID, passport, medical alert cards, concealed carry license and a living will, are some of the few identification items that should be packed.

12-inch static climbing Kernmantle rope
12 inch static climbing Kernmantle rope. Double braid composite construction. Tough polyester jacket with a nylon core.


You don’t need that much cordage to survive up to 24 hours, but it’s nice to have some. Cordage has an “infinite” number of uses, you cannot skip it.

If you are lacking space in your go bag for this, find a paracord bracelet to wear or wrap a long length of paracord around the handle of your knife or around your canteen.

Weapons & Self Defense

You need something to protect yourself when you are bugging out. There are some people who will not think twice before taking the life of someone unarmed, just to lay claim to their supplies.

This doesn’t have to be you. Carry a handgun (if legal in your area), get a lightweight alternative self-defense weapon such as pepper spray or a sling, and learn some self-defense moves.

Notepad and Pen

Often, overlooked, the notepad and pen are an extremely important combo to include in your go bag. Why? There will be times when you need to map out an area, write directions, write a note, take down the address of a shelter or contact information for a friend or relative,or even simply draw a picture.

If you didn’t pack these items, you’ll be forced to utilize your memory which may be stressful in a crisis. Pack a “write in the rain” notepads and a couple of pens.

hand-crank AM/FM radio and lantern
hand-crank AM/FM radio and lantern

Solar and Hand Crank Radio

A small solar or hand crank radio is important to help you keep up with what’s going on in the world during a crisis. These radios are small, inexpensive, and can take up little space.

No need to worry about replacement batteries when you opt for a solar or hand-crank radio.

Final Word

There you have it. This list of 18 go bag essentials is an excellent starting point for you. You can always add more to this list to fit your own needs, but keep in mind that the more you add the more weight you add also.

A go bag is supposed to help you move quickly and efficiently to travel from wherever you are when the crisis hits to a safer location. If your go bag is too heavy, then it completely contradicts the purpose.

go-bag essentials pinterest image

updated by Dan F. Sullivan on 01/09/2020

3 thoughts on “Building Your Go Bag and the list of 18 Essentials to Add to It”

  1. Thank you for this article. I’ve been getting overwhelmed looking at “prepper” blogs who are trying to pack weeks worth of goods into a bag.
    I only have so much space in my backpack so I needed a good list like this to keep me focused on essentials.

  2. I am handicapped and elderly. My bag needs to be as light weight as possible – any suggestions. I would probably go with my son’s family – they are next door, have 4 young children.

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