Go Bag Basics for Beginners

A go bag is one of the most important things you can create for yourself and your family.
In an emergency, you need to be prepared to fend for yourself until help arrives.

What is a go bag?

A go bag is a pre-packed portable bag which contains the emergency essentials you will most likely need in the first 72 hours of an event or situation. They’re usually backpacks because those are easy to carry, and have several external pockets for easy access to items.

As the “go” suggests, these bags are most often used in situations where you have to leave your home, although they’re also useful if staying in your home is the safer option. In the latter case, you’ll likely want to supplement your bag with an emergency kit that contains extra items. Be prepared either way.

Having a go bag packed and ready saves you precious time in case of an emergency where often minutes count. Planning ahead also means you’ll have all the necessary items on hand rather than realizing – when it’s likely too late – that you’re missing something important and thereby risk your or your family’s well being or safety without it.

Who in your family should have a go bag?

Everyone in your family should have a go bag for their own use. That includes every adult, teenager, child, and companion animal. Once children reach a certain age (barring a disability) they can carry their own bags. Dogs, meanwhile, can be trained to wear specially-designed packs as well.

Where should you keep your go bag?

The best place to keep your go bag is wherever it’s easily accessible to you. That may be a hallway closet, on a hook near the front door, under your bed, or in the mud room next to the garage.

Where you store it should take into consideration what region or part of the country you live in. If you live in a flood-prone area, for example, keeping your go bag in the basement is more risky than keeping it on a shelf in a closet.

Remember that regardless of where the best storage location ends up being, you and any other members of your household need to be able to get to the bag quickly without having to first dig through or move other items out of the way

Basic items your go bag should contain 

There are some basics you should pack in your bag. Additional items will vary depending on personal and situational needs.  

  • Water. One gallon per day adult is recommended.
  • Food. Three days’ worth of non-perishable, nutrient-rich food. Energy/protein bars are a good choice for many people. 
  • A portable water filtration system.
  • Clothing. Three days’ worth of clothes and a pair of sturdy shoes. 
  • A first-aid kit. Make sure to include a nonbreakable thermometer or forehead thermometer strips.  
  • Medical-grade face masks. 
  • Hand sanitizer. 
  • A flashlight with an extra set of working batteries.
  • A headlamp. 
  • Matches Keep these in a waterproof container.
  • Duct tape. Good for a variety of uses.
  • A whistle. This can be helpful to let others know where you are. 
  • Cash. In an emergency, credit card or ATM machines may not be working. Small bills are more useful than larger ones. 
  • Plastic sheeting. Good for a variety of uses.
  • Paracord. Good for a variety of uses.
  • A multitool pocket knife. Good for a variety of uses.
  • A space/mylar blanket.
  • Toilet paper. 
  • Copies of important documents. Drivers license, passport, birth certificate fall in this category, as do insurance cards (medical, car).
  • Paper copies of important phone numbers such as your emergency contact person, an out-of-state friend or relative who might be able to help, etc. 

Other considerations 

In addition to including basic items, you should customize what goes into each bag based on specific needs and circumstances.

For example, the clothes you should pack will vary depending on where you live. What’s needed in Arizona will vastly differ from what’s required in Alaska. Also consider seasonal changes and updating your clothing to reflect time of year. 

Also remember that people may have unique requirements based on age, gender, or health status. Babies 6 months and older need baby food, while children below the age of three need diapers for nighttime and possibly also daytime use. Girls and women of reproductive age need feminine hygiene products. For people taking prescription medicine, consider having a few weeks’ worth of extra medication at home that’s stored in their go bag (make sure to use it up before its expiration date and then replace it with a refill).

Meanwhile, companion animals need items like extra harnesses and leashes, collapsible water/food bowls, and copies of important vaccinations like rabies.

Lastly: Make sure you know where every single item in your go bag is located. Standardize how you pack your family’s bags. Ideally you should also be able to find their contents even if it’s dark – think power outages or nighttime – so conduct a dry run to practice under stress-free conditions.