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Survival / April 16, 2017

7 must-have items for your go bag

Written by: Mitch Harris

Also called a bug-out-bag, the “Go bag” is a small backpack packed with enough gear to help you survive 72 hours in an emergency. The top must-have items for your Go bag should be light, durable, and all-purpose.

A well-packed Go bag will enable you to get out of a bad situation as quickly as possible. It should be ready before disaster strikes, and it should be stored in a safe and accessible location (the closet near your front door, for example).

No two Go bags are the same—what goes into yours should ultimately be based on your own personal needs (you won’t need to include a down jacket if you live in Miami, for example). But these basics should be in every kit.


1. Non-perishable food

Food is heavy, so it’s not realistic to pack three days’ worth in your Go bag. But you should throw a few simple items in your bag to keep you going in a pinch. Pack a small stash of your favorite energy bars to munch on the move or while you wait in line to receive emergency aid.


2. Purified water

In most of the U.S., we’ve become used to having on-demand access to a nearly unlimited supply of clean, safe drinking water. But that access depends on an infrastructure system that is not above failure. And if the water does stop coming out of the tap, you’ll want to have some ready in your bag—odds are the supplies at the local corner store won’t last long.

It’s also a good idea to pack a water purification system of some kind. My personal choice is the Traveler’s Kit from Pure2Go, which can be used as a pump, a gravity-fed filter, or a straw. It packs down into a small pouch along with a collapsible 27-ounce water bottle.

The Travelers Kit packs a filter, a collapsible 27-ounce water bottle, and several attachments into a football-sized package. Photo by Kevin Linderman.

The Pure2Go system can be used as a pump, a gravity-fed filter, or as a purifying straw (pictured above). Photo by Kevin Linderman.

3. A power source

Let’s be real. In 2017, the best survival tool you can have is a working smartphone. With a charge and service, your phone can connect you to friends, family, and emergency resources. Without a charge, though, it’s just a very expensive paperweight.

I recommend every Go bag contain some power source that doesn’t depend on the local power grid. I personally use one of Core Third’s 7 watt solar panels. These panels are smaller than a sheet of notebook paper, weigh just seven ounces, and can charge a smartphone in a couple of hours.

To prepare for a major disaster (or an escape to the wilderness), supplement your power system with the goTenna system. This small device pairs with your smartphone to enable text message and location sharing via satellite. It basically ensures that your phone will work even if the whole network goes down.


4. A knife

Duh. A sharp, durable knife is considered by many to be the most essential item in any survival kit. When used skillfully, a knife can be used to make a whole host of other simple tools.

What knife you choose for your Go bag will depend on the circumstances you expect to find yourself in. If you expect that bugging out will put in you the wilderness, you’ll want a knife with a fixed blade. These knives can be used to chop wood in a pinch.

If your settings are more urban or suburban, a lightweight folding knife should suit your needs. I keep a Bastion Partizan in my own bag—it’s lightweight, small enough to conceal in a pocket, and strong enough to hold up to most survival work.


5. A lighter

Survival experts know how to make fire in all sorts of ways. But even they find it much, much easier to start a fire with a lighter or matches. Throw a cigarette lighter and some stormproof matches in your bag, and you’ll be that much less likely to freeze to death.

Again, you’ll want to up the game if you expect your bug-out to place you in the wilderness. My friends in the mountains generally stock a flint or a ferrocerium rod in their packs. I recommend Vargo’s Ultimate Fire Starter for this purpose—it’s an all-in-one primitive fire starter that I actually find easier to work with than a Bic lighter.


6. First Aid

If things get so bad that you need to evacuate your home in a matter of minutes, people will probably be hurt. You might even be one of them.

A basic first aid kit won’t protect you from serious injury, but it will give you the tools to avoid infection and to treat simple medical issues. It may even help you aid in rescue efforts if needed.

I keep the MyFAK kit from My Medic in my own Go bag. The kit weighs less than three pounds and contains everything needed to treat scrapes, stings, burns, and small fractures.

Solar panels from Core Third are compact, lightweight, and designed to withstand abuse.

Vargo's Ultimate Fire Starter contains a ferrocerium fire rod and a sparker, and it can be used as a telescoping bellows (pictured above). Photo by Kevin Linderman.

7. Cash

Cash is king. And barring complete societal collapse, it’s likely to remain king even in a disaster situation. Pack as much as you can afford in a Ziploc bag (consider it an emergency savings account).


8–???. Everything else

As I’ve tried to stress throughout this piece, every Go bag is different. People living in Maine will want to pack an extra jacket, hat, and gloves, but Nevadans will be better off with a hat and some sunscreen.

Consider your locale when you pack your Go bag. Are you concerned about wildfires? Hurricanes? Social unrest? Spend some time thinking about the circumstances that would force you out of you home, and decide for yourself what items you can’t live without.

What do you consider the top must-have items in your “Go Bag”? Email us at [email protected] to let us know. 

about the author

Mitch Harris

Mitch Harris embraced the Every Day Carry trend long before it was cool. From the day he got his first pocket knife, Mitch has devoted himself to staying prepared for every eventuality. Through his position at Shoulders of Giants, he’s able to keep his kit stocked with the very newest and best EDC gear.

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