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, really? Not particularly high, unless you spend most of your time there. Not very high at all, actually, considering most of us do work full-time jobs. And what about your spouse and kids? Your children might be in school and your spouse might be at work or running errands. Thus, given the odds, it makes perfect sense to talk about GHBs.
What Makes a Good Get Home Bag?
Since the idea of a GHB is to have it nearby at all times when you are away from home, you can’t go for a pack so large and unwieldy that you draw 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 or in public. Getting labeled as one of those preppers can also have mild to severe social consequences depending on the prevailing culture and societal norms where you live.
The following types of bags can make great get-home bags:
- a 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 bag)
- and, of course, your car
Use caution before selecting a bag 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.
Based on our above criteria, here is a selection of backpacks and other bags that would make fine get-home bags.
- Fieldline Alpha OPS Daypack (this one is more tactical, MOLLE compatible and what not)
- AmazonBasics 15.6-Inch Laptop and Tablet Bag
The List – Get-Home Bag Contents
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 GHB 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.
- water bottle
- Lifestraw or a Sawyer Mini
- folding knife (Spyderco Paramilitary 2)
- minimal first-aid kit
- duct tape (Black Gorilla Tape)
- tarp or a military poncho
- energy bars X 2
- nuts (one small bag)
- sunglasses (with UVA and UVB protection)
- pair of gloves (Mechanix Wear Gloves)
- N95 mask
- water purification tablets
- bic lighter X 3
- pepper, wasp or OC spray (not just for humans but also for any dogs you may encounter)
- extra pair of socks
- spare glasses
- small, portable radio
- hiking boots (you can leave those in your car)
- small hygiene kit (again, keep in your car) consisting of a small toothbrush, toothpaste, a small towel, and wet wipes
- prepaid calling card
- small emergency blanket to keep you warm
- map of the area
- signaling mirror
- small first aid kit
- insect repellent
- extra batteries for the flashlight and radio
- waterproof matches
- solar charger for your phone
- toilet paper
- mosquito netting
- at least $20 in coins (for vending machines etc.)
- small binoculars
- CB radio for your vehicle
- 4 way sillcock key (this will help you open most outside valves and faucets on pretty much all commercial buildings)
- hair tie (if you have long hair)
What About Your Car?
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 items you might consider storing in your vehicle alongside your GHB. Up to you which items you need most, of course.
- full-sized blanket
- water filter
- fire extinguisher, small
- Hatchet (for light demo, vehicle extrication and B&E if needed.)
- chainsaw or an ax (in case the streets are blocked by fallen trees)
- Spare mag and ammo for your pistol
- 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)
- walkie-talkies (BaoFeng Two Way Radio)
- ziploc bags
- USB and mini USB charging cable
- Notepad and pencil or pen
- butane lighter
- paper and pencil
- hand sanitizer
- pop flares (for signaling)
- Pen flares
- sewing kit
- large trash bags
- 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)!
What Are My Other Considerations For Packing?
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.
Another factor to consider is 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.
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.
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 (Hand-to-Hand and Armed combat)
Ability to climb obstacles
Ability to walk and or run up/down hills or stairs
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 GHB and a BOB?
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.
Are GHBs 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 GHB supposed to support you?
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.
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.