A get-home bag, or GHB, is a cousin to a bug-out bag. Where a BOB is designed to help get you away from home and hopefully to your bug-out location, a GHB is a bag designed to help you get home if disaster strikes while you’re away from home.
A GHB is a step forward in prepping to make sure you’re covered in a wider array of disaster scenarios you might face. It’s the next logical piece of kit to add after your EDC and BOB.
Here’s the thing, we all have in our heads an idea of how things will happen. It’s Sunday afternoon, you’re at home with your family, watching another episode of your favorite show.
All of the sudden, BLAM, disaster strikes so you rush to get your bug-out bag, load the car with as many additional supplies as you can and get the heck out of there.
But what are the odds of you actually being home when it happens? Not particularly high, unless you spend most of your time at home.
And what about your spouse and kids? They might be in school and your spouse might be at work or running errands. So given the odds, it makes perfect sense to talk about how to build a rock-solid get home bag for you and each of your family members.
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Since the idea of a GHB is to have it near you at all times when you are away from home, you can’t go for a bag so large and unwieldy that it draws too much attention to yourself.
People will wonder what you’re up to if you are carrying around an expedition pack in an office setting. Getting labeled as a prepper can also have mild to severe social consequences depending on the prevailing culture and societal norms where you live.
A good GHB bag should:
- be small and lightweight (remember, this isn’t a full-size bug out bag); ideally it shouldn’t weigh more than 20 lbs (that’s 9 kgs), even less if we’re talking about children’s get home bags
- blend in with the surroundings, work environment, the way you dress etc.
- should also fit some of your EDC items (otherwise people will wonder why you carry it around with you and never open it)
The following types of bags make great get-home bags:
- a regular laptop bag
- a purse
- a messenger bag (black, brown, dark blue – it’ll make you look pretty stylish, too!)
- a small backpack that can also hold your laptop – this one will sit better on your back than a messenger
- a duffel/gym bag – many people carry these around, it’ll blend in perfectly
Avoid bags and backpacks with the following features:
- Overtly tactical or military appearance- recall that you GHB may accompany you as you go to your job/appointment/whatever. Bags of this style can be very conspicuous in some settings.
- Bright colors or loud patterns- same as above for different reasons. If you are in a conservative dress setting, your neon orange and silver-tan pack will be noticeable.
- Designer or very expensive packs- fashion packs and luggage, while often exquisitely crafted, usually will not stand up to the same level of wear, tear and outright abuse as their less-expensive and plebian but purpose-built cousins. If you are going to choose a fancy pack for your GHB, make sure you can test it thoroughly before declaring it good.
- Too-Large Packs- Once again, you want to blend in and hopefully move fast, not look like you’re going on safari in Africa. The exceptions are if you live in a rural area, if you travel a lot, or if you usually drive a car – although keep in mind that a GHB should ideally go where you go, not left in your car.
Based on our above criteria, here is a selection of backpacks and other bags that would make fine get-home bags.
- the Vertx EDC Commuter Bag
- 5.11 COVRT18 Backpack
- Fieldline Alpha OPS Daypack (this one is more tactical, MOLLE compatible and what not, but it looks average)
- AmazonBasics 15.6-Inch Laptop and Tablet Bag
- The Bobby anti-theft backpack – I actually have one of these and they’re great. It’s impossible for a thief to open it without you feeling it.
- the LA Police Gear Atlas 72H Backpack
Essential Get Home Bag Items
For the list below, I’m going to give you each item in order of how important it is for your GHB. I’ll leave it up to you to decide what to ultimately pack but please keep in mind that a get home bag should trend toward small size and as lightweight as possible. You don’t want to overburden yourself when you are facing a long and fast march home.
The way you decide how much to pack is by knowing the nominal distance between you and home. The farther you tend to travel from home for work or whatever, the more stuff you need. Also, consider the climate you live in, the season, and whether you’re in an urban, suburban or rural environment.
In most situations like a traffic jam or snow storm, you should be able to get home within a relatively short period of time, probably less than 5 hours.
A person can go as much as 3 days without water. But dehydration can set in quickly after several hours in a hot car or if you have to walk to get home.
Lifestraws and Sawyer Minis are the obvious choices here. Since we’re dealing with short get home scenarios, just one will do. However, you’ll need these for your bug out bag, for your family members, or just to have around for a really long SHTF disaster.
You can throw in a couple of water purification tablets and you’re good on the water front.
Water is an essential need no matter what you’re surviving, however this is probably going to be pretty heavy. Either get a smaller water bottle or fill it halfway.
Folders typically take up less space than fixed-blade knives, and they should be more than enough for get home scenarios.
However, they are less sturdy, so be sure to pick a sturdy one, such as the Spyderco Paramilitary 2.
Hat or a Cap
Get a hat that will stay safely on your head as you’re running home. A baseball cap, maybe, or a winter hat if it’s that time of the year. A baseball cap will also keep the sun out of your eyes and head, protecting you from a possible heat stroke, and sunburns.
Lucky for us, there’s no shortage of small, lightweight flashlights. In an emergency, you probably won’t use your phone to light your way because you might need to talk on it, use the maps/GPS navigation, or do something else with it.
Get a compact hand-crank flashlight because then you won’t have to worry about dead batteries.
Map of the Area
This isn’t just for route planning, consider that you may have to take a route you didn’t previously consider. There’s no telling how things will unfold. Regardless, there are some things you’ll want to mark on it, such as:
- all of the possible routes (by car and by foot) to get home
- location of ATMs in-between home and work
- location of vending machines
- one way streets
- …and more.
Be sure to laminate your map, or at least store it in a Ziploc bag along with other items non-resistant to water.
Small First Aid Kit
Small first aid kits like this one are lightweight, and will cover a wide variety of emergencies. If you want, you can make one yourself to save some $$$ and familiarize yourself with its contents.
If you’re not sure what to pack and what to leave out, click the amazon link in the beginning of this paragraph and see what that one has, things like:
- an assortment of bandages
- disposable vinyl gloves
- a few Ibuprofen tablets
- mokeskin (for blisters)
- …and so on.
This cheap, multi-use item could prove extremely useful in a get-home situation. Here are just a few ideas that come to mind:
- use it to tie your hair so it doesn’t get in the way while you’re busy surviving
- use it as a sling
- use it as an eye patch if you get an eye injury
- tie it around your neck to keep you warm
- and on, and on and on.
Whether you’re stuck in a riot and are trying to avoid tear gas, whether you’re trying to move through a smoky area (think wildfires, and the dust that 9/11 survivors had to face), you’re going to need more than a bandanna to keep around your mouth.
An N95 respirator should do the job, but if you want even more protection, you can opt for a N99 respirator mask, which filters smaller-sized particles and, although more expensive, it’s not something most of us can’t afford.
Like a bandanna, duct tape has a million and one uses. It’s a must in every survival bag, be it a bug out bag, inch bag or get home bag.
If you’re going to get something strong, you can try this one.
If you want to save some space, how about you pack in your GHB a roll that’s already been halfway used? You probably won’t need that much duct tape, anyway.
Tarp or Poncho
You probably won’t have time to sleep, but who knows, maybe your get home journey will span several days.
Besides, a tarp or a poncho will have other uses too, such as collecting rain water, keeping you warm as you’re moving, as makeshift bags.
I would recommend you get the poncho over the tarp. Although it’s smaller, you can wear it, and it should be able to keep you warmer and protect you from rain and wind. How about this one?
Prepaid Calling Card
If one network is down, consider using another one to call your loved ones to know their whereabouts.
In most cases you’ll be on the road for several hours at the most. The basic recommendation for a get home bag goes as far as food is 3 days’ worth. If for some reason you can’t get home quickly you can stretch 3 days’ supply twice as long if needed. Your main concern for food to keep in a get home bag should be maintaining your energy levels.
Even if the journey home will be a relatively short one, the stress and calories you burn to get home could leave you feeling lethargic. Pack some lightweight food such as a couple of energy or protein bars, or a small bag of nuts. A little chocolate never hurt and it can boost morale when things are tough.
Work gloves could prove extremely useful in situations such as having to move heavy objects, climb trees and other things, jumping fences, turning rusty faucets and valves off, and so on. Mechanix makes top notch work gloves for excellent prices.
There’s a chance that you won’t be able to use your phone or credit cards to pay in an emergency, particularly in one that’s large-scale. Having some cash could buy you a lot of things, such as your freedom when facing thugs or rioters, a ride home, or some badly needed supplies that didn’t fit your get home bag.
Just like flashlights, you can get compact multitools that could help you solve some technical problems that may arise.
These little things have over a dozen mini-tools, from pliers and a screwdriver to a hook remover and even a folding saw!
Of course, you can use them in day-to-day life. You will end up needing a bottle or can opener, or the screwdriver.
I doubt you’ll ever have to start a fire and make shelter in a get home situation, but you never know what you might use a lighter for. Maybe to light a cigarette to relive the stress? Bics are cheap and lightweight, so it’s worth throwing a couple in your GHB.
Useful particularly if you have a tarp instead of a poncho. These will help to trap body heat, so you don’t get hypothermia. They are small lightweight.
Every get home bag should have a lightweight alternative self-defense weapon. Pepper spray is one such weapon.
You may want to keep it concealed in an exterior pocket of your bag, for quick access.
You never know when you get attacked, or when a spontaneous fight occurs next to you, and you need to create yourself a quick opportunity to get out of there ASAP. A good pepper spray will also be effective against any dogs you might encounter.
Don’t forget to replace your pepper spray after it expires, and to learn and practice how to use it effectively.
Get a pair that has both UVA and UVB protection to keep your eyes safe.
Another multi-use survival item. You just cannot have a survival kit without cordage. Since we’re talking about a small GHB, you probably won’t need more than 25 feet of Paracord (that’s around 8 meters).
Extra Pair of Socks
It’s possible that you’ll get wet for whatever reason, so changing your socks could spare you a lot of discomfort. Keep a pair in your bag because it won’t take much space, and it is super light.
If you wear vision glasses, it’s likely that you’ll break or lose the pair that you’re wearing. Keep spares in a puncture-proof container, because losing your eyesight in an emergency is one of the last things you’ll want.
Small Emergency Radio
Learning what’s going on around you in an emergency is paramount to making the right decisions. A compact AM/FM NOAA emergency radio will do a lot more than tell you the latest news.
Some are hand crank, (so you don’t have to worry about batteries), and can even help you charge your phone.
Will you need a whistle in a get home scenario? Maybe. But it doesn’t hurt to have one, particularly since they’re dirt-cheap.
Small Hygiene Kit…
…consisting of a small toothbrush, toothpaste, a small towel, wet wipes, plus anything else you can think of.
If the journey will take a few hours or more, you’ll want your skin protected. You don’t want to get a rash or sunburns.
A good compass is useless without the knowledge to use it. But if you do know how to use it, it won’t matter if your phone’s GPS doesn’t work – you’ll still find your way home.
People will assume you have it so you can check yourself out from time to time, but you’ll know better. You can use it to signal someone, or to grab someone’s attention from a distance.
Insect Repellent Spray
If you don’t want any mosquitoes annoying you while you’re trying to survive, pack some insect repellent spray.
…for the flashlight, emergency radio or anything else in your kit that runs on batteries.
These will complement your lighters. Fire is one of the most basic survival needs, so it’s good to have a back-up.
Always carry at least two methods for fire starting as well as something for tinder in case there isn’t any readily available. You may not need them if you get home quickly but why take a chance.
Power Bank / External Battery
Even if you get a solar charger or one of those hand-crank chargers you see on some emergency radios, you should still get and external battery. Make sure you keep it at least 50% charged at all times.
You just never know when an -ahem – emergency could hit. Remember, your get home bag isn’t just for SHTF, it’s for everyday emergencies as well.
This is extremely useful because it will keep your hands free while you’re biking or running home.
Will you need it? Well, maybe. It never hurts to have some, you never know where you’ll end up, how long you’ll have to wait, and whether you’ll have to worry about mosquitoes or not . You’ll be forgiven if you don’t add this one to your list, but it wouldn’t hurt you if you did.
These will allow you to see from afar, particularly if you’re unsure whether your house is safe to enter or to get close to. Even better, you could get a monocular because it’s smaller, lighter and cheaper.
4-Way Sillcock Key
This will help you open most outside valves and faucets on pretty much all commercial buildings.
It’s a must for any city dweller, because when you get home, one of the first things you might need to do is turn off those valves. Get this handy little tool on Amazon.
Paper and Pencil
You might have to write things down, obviously. There’s no point relying on your phone’s tiny keyboard (assuming your phone will be working).
Landline phones, cell phones and internet connections may all be down in a disaster. News broadcasts through AM/FM radio signals will keep you up to speed on what’s happening, how bad it is, and when it’s safe to come back into your home area.
Weather information will be important to prepare yourself for frigid temperatures or impending storms. It’s far better to know what to expect in advance than to suffer through a freezing night without having adequately prepared.
Walkie talkies, handheld CB radios, NOAA emergency radios – ideally, your family members should each have one of these. Of course, make sure they’re all tuned to the same frequency, and that you test the range. If you’re in an urban setting, it’s likely they won’t work for very long distances.
Additional Get Home Items
If you have car that you drive every day this means you can probably stage your GHB in the trunk or other secured compartment (or at least out of sight from potential thieves) and potentially stash a few additional GHB goodies.
Below is a list of additional items you might consider storing in your vehicle alongside your GHB. Up to you which items you need most, of course.
- a second water filter
- Hatchet (for light demo, vehicle extrication and B&E if needed.)
- chainsaw or an ax (in case the streets are blocked by fallen trees)
- pry (for opening doors and gates)
- advanced first-aid kit
- large fixed-blade knife (Schrade Extreme Survival Knife)
- stainless steel water bottle
- collapsible cup
- chalk (useful in urban areas to write messages)
- Ziploc bags
- instant single-serving coffee packets (if you drink coffee, these will be a life saver and a great comfort drink)
- USB and mini USB charging cable
- Notepad and pencil or pen
- folded tin foil
- butane lighter
- foot powder
- zip ties
- hiking boots
- hand sanitizer
- pop flares (for signaling)
- Pen flares
- sewing kit
- large trash bags
- lip balm (can be used as a fire starter)
- Close quarters weapon: club, machete etc. if hatchet is not carried
- everything your car would need to take you home safely no matter what the season or the circumstances (especially some extra fuel).
Keep in mind that if someone decides to break into your car, they can and will steal all your supplies. This means your gun, ammo and your credit card will be missing. I sure hope you won’t write down the PIN code and leave it next to it (or somewhere else in your GHB)!
There are several things to consider when deciding what to pack in your GHB. Your locale (urban, suburban, rural), will play a part in how large your pack can be and not draw more than casual notice. The nominal distance between your daily destination and home will also help determine both the size and loadout of your GHB.
Other factors to consider are your age, fitness level and general constitution. A young, fit athlete can carry a heavier load farther and faster than someone who is out of shape or infirm. Be sure to consider your health conditions or ailments, if any, and pack medicine and supplies to accommodate them accordingly.
The climate too requires accommodation. You must assume you will be heading home on foot for the entire journey. What is the weather like in your locale in the current season? How about at night? You must pack clothing to prevent exposure from becoming a serious threat.
If you do not take your personally owned vehicle out every day, consider that you will not have any reasonably secure storage for sensitive items that you cannot bring into your workplace. Plan accordingly for packing guns and knives.
In addition, consider waterproofing and shock-proofing your most sensitive get home bag items, by using Ziploc bags and plastic Tupperware containers. Thinks like your socks, maps of the area or toilet paper should all be stored in zipper bags.
Now that you have your GHB all assembled, this doesn’t mean you’re ready. The most important components in any preparedness plan aren’t items at all: they are your skills.
Without skills, you’re bound to make potentially lethal mistakes out in the wild. Keep your survival skills sharp and up to date. Practice fire-starting, shelter-building, and basic first aid well in advance.
Clear instructions on what to do in a catastrophe should be stowed inside your child’s backpacks. Knowing they have needed supplies will help them to stay put until you can get to them. Their backpacks should also contain a couple EDC items, such as a flashlight, a mobile phone, and a wallet with $5 – $10 in it. Start teaching them basic survival skills early on.
You can have all the tools in the world, but if you don’t know how to use them, you may as well chuck your GHB into the river, and hope for the best. Have a clear plan and talk about it with your family. It’s vital that everyone is on the same page when it comes to preparedness.
Consider the following scenarios.
- You may have to run for your life, meaning you’ll have to abandon your car and your GHB.
- You may have to jump from high distances, over fences and obstacles in order to get home.
- You may have to face a riot or other hostile humans while getting home.
- Your child is at school and you’re at home when the SHTF.
Any of the above will require significant skills to negotiate successfully. Remember: a fool with a tool is still a fool. Work on your skills! Here’s just a few that you might need to get home alive:
- Ability to jump obstacles
- Ability to sprint
- Ability to run or walk long distances
- Self-defense skills
- Ability to climb obstacles
- Ability to walk and or run up/down hills or stairs
Testing Your Get Home Bag
The best way to test your get home bag is to test a few get homes scenarios. maybe you’re at work, and you can use lunch time to pretend that SHTF, and see how long it takes you to get home.
Even better, you could plan and pretend that certain things go wrong as you’re doing this, so you get a change to test your survival items. Things like…
- You’re caught in a traffic jam. You’re forced to take your GHB and continue the journey on foot.
- There’s a road block. Take out the map form your bag and pick an alternate route.
- Your phone battery is dead. See if the back-up battery or phone in your bag works.
- You get lost as you’re biking home. Apply some sunscreen and use some of that cash to get some water and a Snickers bar from a vending machine.
- It’s dark and your phone is dead. Use your back-up flashlight to light your way.
At the end of the drill, it’s time to draw some conclusions:
- How long did it take you to get home?
- What unexpected obstacles did you encounter? What didn’t go according to plan?
- What could you do to improve?
- What items should you add to or remove from your bag?
Here’s a thought – why not do the next drill on a weekend, so you test getting home from some other location other than work? Always seek out ways to make things harder and more interesting.
Frequently Asked Questions
I covered pretty much anything you need to know about get-home bags. However, I often get the same few questions when advising new preppers and have answered them here in case you happen to have the same ones.
What’s the difference between a Get Home Bag and a Bug Out Bag?
A get home bag is designed to get you from home in an SHTF disaster. It’s typically designed to serve you for a few hours, a few days tops. A bug-out bag is designed to help you survive for at least 72 hours in the wilderness, away from home.
The former is smaller, lighter and only has the bare minimum to get home. The latter is heavier, has more supplies and includes tools you need you to hunt, cook, fish and so on.
A get-home bag is designed to get you from somewhere relatively close to home to home in a SHTF disaster. It’s typically designed to serve you for a day or so of rapid movement, with a focus on energy management and tools for problem solving.
A bug-out bag is designed to help you survive for at least 72 hours in the wilderness, away from home, with a focus on sustainment and life support. The former is typically smaller, lighter and only has the bare minimum needed to get you home. The latter is heavier, has more supplies and includes even more equipment you need you to hunt, cook, fish and so on.
We break down the differences between the two even more here.
Are get home bags more useful in urban or rural areas?
It depends, but the important answer is they are useful in both. Preppers living in the countryside often have bug-out bags in their cars because they’ll raise fewer eyebrows and have to deal with less scrutiny. Plus, they don’t have many challenges city dwellers have, who need to deal with crowded streets, numerous people, blocked roads, and so on.
How long is a get home bag supposed to keep you alive?
Typically about 2 lean days, provided that you’re less than 100 miles from home. Remember, this bag will get you home, not living in the woods.
How should you pack the stuff inside?
Keep the heavier items close to your back, and low near your hips. Ideally you’ll want as many of your non-waterproof items as possible placed in Ziploc bags to make them water resistant.
Is it useful when travelling?
Definitely, with some modifications for travelling far from home. It’s still better than what 99% of the population will have on them if you just take the bag as-is based on the checklists above.
How heavy can I go?
Keeping in mind you should only pack what’s absolutely necessary for your specific situation and nothing more, try to keep it below 40 pounds for adults in decent shape.
Keep in mind this is much heavier than you think if you are unacclimatized to hauling stuff on foot and will kick your ass if you have to really march. Make sure you get in practice “rucking” with your GHB.
If you want an optimized get-home bag, please keep these pointers in mind:
Get smaller versions of everything. Think button compass, a really small folding knife, a smaller, lighter backpack and so on.
Don’t pack more than you need. Really. Weight is a huge factor and you don’t want to abandon your GHB just because you can’t move fast enough. Focus on getting the essentials, squeeze as many of the other items as you can but don’t forget the mission is to get home safely. That’s it.
Rotate your food and water. When you rotate your food stockpile, don’t forget about the one stored in your GHB, especially if it is kept in your vehicle most of the time
Always pack the stuff that’s heavier as close to your back as possible. This will allow the whole backpack to sit against your back and be less likely to bounce around and hinder your movements.
Get a backpack with a hip belt. Particularly if you have back problems like I do. This will let your hips support much of the weight of the pack, lessening fatigue and strain on your shoulders.
So, are your ready to make your GHB?
A get home bag is in many ways more valuable than a BOB considering how much time the average person spends away from home, a disaster will not wait for you to get home before it strikes.
The first phase of your survival plan may very well be to get home and then bug-out or shelter in place. Considering the likelihood of such an event, it pays to master the way of the get-home bag.
Downloadable PDF Checklist
Next, how about you print this handy PDF checklist of all the items that should be in your get home bag? It’ll help you tick off the ones you already have. You’re probably going to want to have at least 90% of the items from this list, and there’s room for you to add more on your own.
What does your GHB look like? Tell us in the comments section below, and don’t forget to pin this on your favorite Pinterest board for later!
last updated 09/20/2019 by Dan F. Sullivan