What Do You Need for a Go Bag? Here Are 15 Essentials for Your Bug Out Bag

published Aug 7, 2023
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From wildfires to hurricanes, floods to tornados, there seem to be more natural disasters and calamitous events each year, and having a bug out bag at arm’s reach is a smart move, no matter where you live. 

But what even is a bug out bag? It’s a bag you can easily grab and transport that has at least 72 hours worth of supplies and go bag essentials loaded and ready to go. From non-perishable food to required medications to tools, flashlights, and electronics, it has the items you’ll need for survival if you’re caught in dramatic circumstances and need to make a run for it as quickly as possible.

This is not a situation anyone wants to face and, hopefully, you never will. But preparation is critical, and knowing that you’ve taken the steps within your own control can alleviate your anxiety if weather reports take a turn or something unthinkable happens.

Dr. Joseph Alton, a survival expert, says, “In the recent past, we’ve seen a massive earthquake in Turkey, chemical emergencies from train derailments, and multiple heat waves, floods, and tornadoes. Disasters can occur anywhere and anytime, and you may have to make a ‘get out of dodge,’ or ‘GOOD,’ decision.”

Ready to make your own emergency survival kit? Here are 15 bug out bag essentials that you should have on hand in case you have to make a quick decision to hit the road and flee to a safer place.

Credit: Karin Hildebrand Lau/Shutterstock

1. Photos of All Household Members

In the chaos of disaster, it’s possible that household members can become separated from one another. Carrying photos of every member of your family, from parents to children and even pets, is critical if you’re put in a position where you need to give rescue personnel something to reference during a search.

Credit: David Smart/Shutterstock

2. Medications

“Pack medications, both prescription as needed and over-the-counter like pain meds, cold remedies, and more. Tampons or sanitary pads are also important,” recommends Alton. Because medications can be affected by extreme temperatures, you should keep your bug out bag in your home rather than the car if possible.

3. Multi-Tool with Knife, Pliers, and More

Whether you need to cut twine or quickly assemble or disassemble something within your car or safe site, a multi-tool like the Leatherman Wave+ has everything you’ll need. Look for a compact and lightweight option, but one that will give you wire cutters, wire strippers, a knife, saw, scissors, can and bottle openers, screwdrivers, and more. A multi-tool takes up significantly less room than an entire tool kit but gives you access to any of the tools you’ll need in a pinch.

4. Emergency Blankets

When you’re packing for efficiency, you won’t have room for a full blanket. It’s helpful to keep blankets in your car, but you should also have an emergency thermal blanket in your go bag. These effective, warming blankets come in small, space-saving packets.

5. Emergency Whistle

When you’re under pressure, it can be difficult to yell, particularly if you’re been dealing with extreme emotional stress for an extended period of time. An emergency whistle will give you the high-pitched noise you need to reach those who might be trying to rescue you.

6. Pet Supplies 

Alton explains that municipal shelters may not be equipped to handle pets, and you should have all necessary pet supplies at the ready. Food, water, medication, and a leash or harness should all be in your bug out bag. 

Credit: Makenna Underwood

7. Appropriate Clothing

You won’t have room in your bug out bag for an extensive wardrobe, but carry one practical set of extra clothing with you. Hiking boots or sneakers and water-resistant clothing are ideal for situations where you don’t know what you will encounter. “Include a good pair of broken-in hiking boots, in case roads turn out to be impassable by car,” recommends Alton.

8. Respirator Masks

Depending on whether there are wildfires, chemical situations, or other events lessening the air quality while you’re seeking safety, respirator masks can protect you from unhealthy particles.

9. Up-to-Date Map

If phone service is interrupted or your phone dies, an up-to-date map in your home or car can be a lifesaver as you navigate evacuation routes. You may not have seen one in a few years but, yes, road atlases are still being made, and they could save you in a hairy situation.

10. Cash

Keep enough cash in your bug out bag to buy food and other necessary supplies. A power or internet outage could knock out credit card machines and ATMs, and you still want to be able to survive in a cash-only situation. Keep enough cash in your bug out bag to buy food and other necessary supplies.

11. Cell Phone Charger 

In addition to always keeping a cell phone charger in your car, make sure there’s also both a USB charger and a portable battery pack in your bug out bag. Your cell phone could drain quickly while you’re trying to reach loved ones or staying up-to-date on evacuation directions. 

12. Flashlight

Keep a few small flashlights in your bug out bag to make sure everyone in your household will have one in hand. In situations where you’re navigating an evacuation on foot or through a precarious environment, it’s helpful for each person to be able to provide their own light.

13. Batteries

You could need batteries for everything from your flashlight to medical supplies, so keeping a pack of batteries in your go bag essentials is key. Make sure to replace these periodically since batteries can go bad over time.

14. First Aid Kit

In an emergency, there could be situations where there are injuries. From bandages to ice packs, having a full first aid kit can help immediately address any medical mishaps. This is also a good reminder to refresh your CPR certification.

15. Non-Perishable Food and Water

Pack at least 72 hours worth of non-perishable food and water in your bug out bag, which includes one gallon of water per person per day and protein bars, nuts, energy bars, and meal replacement shakes for sustenance. Alton adds, “Consider a hand-held water filter in case you’re forced to drink from a questionable water source. Pack dehydrated foods, which are light and can be prepared simply by adding water.”

For a complete list of everything you could need in case of emergency, check out Ready.gov.