Preparing your own get home bag list is an important part of preparing for emergencies. In this guide, we have detailed the items you should consider including in your bag.
I have made my own get home bag in various forms for the past 30 years. In addition to reviewing the items on my own get home bag list, I researched what others have included. I found that making your own list is important. You can customize it for your situation, which is an important part of mental preparedness.
This guide will explain why you should make a get home bag list. We will discuss the most likely emergency scenarios, what you should consider putting in your bag, and how to prepare for emergencies mentally.
What is a Get Home Bag?
A get home bag is a collection of items to help you get home to your family during an emergency. While similar to bug out bag gear, it is quite different.
This bag should be designed based on your specific needs. Most people travel to and from work every day, not to mention all the other places we go. Your bag should be built if your normal transportation back home is unavailable.
Since the sole purpose of this bag is to get you home, it should not be built to sustain you for days. It should be as light as possible since you could be walking home. Each family member may need one if they all travel separately away from home each day. At the very least, keep one in each car.
If you spend a lot of time in your vehicle and it is nearby during the day, a get home bag could be designed along with the emergency items you should have in your vehicle. This would be more likely in rural areas or for people that drive a lot for their job.
Why Have a Get Home Bag?
Most people spend more time away from home than at home, especially during the day. If an emergency happens and everyone tries to get home all at once, there will be traffic problems – even in small towns.
Various unexpected scenarios can happen, such as severe weather, your vehicle breaking down in a remote area, civil unrest, a terrorist attack, or a widespread power outage. I have a friend living near Atlanta who had to walk home 10 miles during a snowstorm a few years ago. The roads were blocked with traffic, and he had no choice. While severe weather and breakdowns are more likely scenarios, anything can happen.
When a large-scale emergency occurs, traffic will soon clog the roads and make them impassable. If people abandon their vehicles, the roads will be impassable for days. If something like an EMP event occurs, your vehicle could be disabled. So, you must be prepared to walk home.
If you live or work in an urban area and rely on public transportation systems, these could be shut down in an emergency. With thousands of people trying to get out of a city all at once, chaos will certainly ensue. Having a get home bag ready to go will make your emergency trip home much easier to survive.
Considering most people walk between 2 and 3 miles per hour, if you are 10 miles from home, it could take 5 hours to walk home. This could take even longer, depending on your route and the conditions. As you build your bag, think about what you would need if you had to walk home from work or school. For people who are only a few miles from home, their bag could look considerably different from someone who commutes 60 miles daily.
Let’s check out the list and what to consider for your bag.
Get Home Bag List
As mentioned, your get home bag is built for you. While there are generic one size fits all checklists that you can download, doing so would result in a huge and impractical bag. As you go through the items below, consider if it makes sense for you and your situation.
Before you start, keep in mind a few things:
- How far do you travel each day? Will it take more than a day to walk home?
- How do you travel? Do you drive, ride a bike, or take public transportation?
- What do you normally wear? Can you walk home in what you normally wear?
- Where can you keep your bag?
- What is the current season and weather like?
- What areas do you travel through to get home?
- What is your fitness level? Do you have any medical conditions?
- How much can you comfortably carry for a long distance? Of course, lighter is better.
Type of Bags
This is your first big decision; what do you put all this stuff in? As a guideline, you want something that is easy to carry and doesn’t make you stand out from everyone else. In an emergency, you don’t want to become a target of someone who did not prepare.
Think of something that you normally see people carrying every day. In general, some type of backpack is the best since you can carry the most weight in a backpack, and it frees up your hands. The cool tactical backpacks with all the patches on them probably aren’t the best choice.
Almost everyone carries a laptop backpack of some sort. A typical, normal-looking laptop backpack is our first recommendation. Something like the 5.11 Covert 18 Backpack is a good choice. It has all the features that I like in a tactical backpack but is designed not to draw attention.
If you have a camping or bushcraft backpack, they could also work depending on the configuration. Many Osprey hiking packs I find work well.
Another option could be a duffel-type gym bag. These are not as easy to carry as a backpack but may be better if you already carry a laptop backpack, and you often see others carrying their gym bags. This bag may work better for you if you don’t have far to travel.
Also, consider where you will store your bag. Does it make sense to leave it in your vehicle? If you park a fair distance away or take public transportation, this may not be an option. Keeping your bag at work in or under your desk may be a great place. If you work in the city and have a gym membership nearby, your locker at the gym may be a good place. Is there another place nearby where you could keep it that is on your way home?
Sometimes, having multiple bags in different locations may make the most sense.
A good knife that you can use for various purposes is an essential survival tool. It should not be a huge Rambo survival knife, but rather a decent 3” or longer folding or fixed-blade knife. One of our best bushcraft knife picks is a good choice. This would be in addition to the one you carry every day.
Good shoes are important, especially if you expect to walk a fair distance. If you wear dress shoes or high heels to work every day, boots or hiking shoes are a must-have. Don’t forget a couple of pairs of extra socks. Some nice wool socks are necessary if you live in a colder area.
Pack extra clothes, especially if you wear dress clothes every day. They are not very practical to wear during an emergency and could make you stand out in certain areas. Pack something practical, suited for the weather, and discrete.
Full, tactical outfits aren’t the best option in an urban environment. Consider a pair of low profile cargo pants so you can carry extra items in case you are separated from your bag. Our list of the best bushcraft pants has a few good options.
Include a hat that will shield you from the elements. A simple baseball cap is fine to keep the sun and rain out of your face. It will also help to keep you warm in the winter. Consider one of the hats from our list of the best survival hats also for your bag.
If the weather is cold, a durable, waterproof coat is essential. You could just throw this in your trunk or keep it with your bag in the winter. Everyone should have this in their car in the winter as part of their vehicle emergency kit.
A pair of leather work gloves or utility gloves are great for keeping your hands warm and protecting them. If it is very cold, also consider waterproof winter gloves.
Ponchos are great since they don’t take up much room and can be used for various things other than keeping you dry. You can use them to collect rainwater or as part of your shelter if you must spend the night outside. Go for the heavier military-style ones – not the cheap disposable ones.
Metal Water Bottle
A stainless steel water bottle is better than the plastic one. You can put stainless steel bottles on a fire to cook and purify water. We recommend a Kleen Kanteen 40 oz Stainless Bottle or something similar. Go for one around 40 ounces, which will hold enough water for you for one day.
For an easier water purification system, The Grayl Geopress water purifier and the Pathfinder nesting cup is worth taking a look at. This is my favorite since there is no messing with tubes and separate bottles. The cup provides a way to cook as well. Both of these nest together so they take up less room in your bag.
You can only survive around 3 days without water. However, you’ll lose water faster if you’re moving a lot. Your mental state will also decline far before you hit the three-day mark.
Keeping a survival fire starting kit in your bag is easy. Fire is essential for warmth, cooking, and purifying water, so this isn’t something you can skip. Waterproof tinder and a ferro rod are great options. They don’t take up much space. The Blackbeard fire starting kit is a great option that is easy to use.
A Bic lighter is also convenient but could lose its fluid over time. The fluid can leak into the rest of your bag, soaking your extra clothes and other emergency items. Keep a backup lighter in your vehicle and in a sealed zip-lock bag in your bag.
A small, collapsible wood-burning survival stove is nice since they are lightweight, take up little space, and make it easy to start a fire quickly. They also make it easy to set your stainless water bottle on top to boil water without electricity. If you have a long way to travel, this is a must-have.
Lightweight Tarp and Tent Stakes
Shelter is important in extreme weather. The survival rule of 3 has this as the second priority after air and injuries. You can build a survival shelter with a survival tarp and some tent stakes. Check out our best tent stake guide for which tent stakes are best for survival. They can even help start a fire.
Tarp shelters are quick and simple to set up and protect you from the rain and cold. But, some people prefer a fully enclosed shelter. If you have room in your vehicle, a smaller survival tent could be a good option. Our full guide on the best survival tents shows all the options.
In very cold conditions, a sleeping bag or wool blankets for camping are best. However, they are bulky, and storing a sleeping bag under your desk is not practical. A sleeping bag may be a good addition if you have space in your car and drive a lot. A survival blanket is a great compromise. They are lightweight and don’t take up much room.
Instead of thin foil blankets, go for something like the Arcturus Survival blanket. It is waterproof and has a reflective layer on one side. You can lay on top of it to protect yourself from moisture or use it as a blanket. The reflective layer will reflect your own body heat or the heat from a fire. It can also be used as a signal.
Some type of cordage is needed to construct a shelter. Paracord is strong, lightweight, and has a ton of other uses. It hardly takes up any room in your bag. 50 feet or so is plenty. I use the Paracord planet 550 paracord, it is available in many different lengths and colors.
The survival rule of 3 tells us that we can survive 3 weeks without food if we have water and shelter. However, hunger significantly affects your mental state, so much so that it can cause you to make bad decisions, even after just missing a few meals.
While keeping a bunch of food in your bag is unnecessary, a few energy bars or some dehydrated meals are a very nice addition for your mental state. Be sure they have a long shelf life and can survive dramatic temperature changes. Some are prone to melting, for instance.
I prefer the dehydrated meals and energy bars from Nutrient Survival. They have Grab and Go Packs that contain a full day of meals in a very compact and lightweight package. For the weight, this is the most calorie dense food you can buy. All you have to do is add water. Simply heat some water in the Grayl nesting cup mentioned above and you have a meal in a few minutes.
See our full Nutrient Survival Review to find which meals taste the best and other options that are available.
Flashlight or Headlamp
Trying to find your way in the dark is dangerous. Depending on the situation and your distance from home, you will likely need to move at night. At the very least, you will need to be able to see to start a fire or build a shelter.
A headlamp frees up your hands and will light up the area where you are looking. If you have limited space, just pack a headlamp and spare batteries. A flashlight can be a nice add-on if you have extra room but isn’t necessary.
I like the Petzl Tactikka headlamp. It is affordable and is both rechargeable and uses AAA batteries.
While the typical first aid kit is obvious, you don’t need a bunch of band-aids and ibuprofen. Instead, make a trauma kit.
The goal of this kit is to stop any severe bleeding as quickly as possible. Each person’s bag should have an IFAK (Individual first aid kit), including a tourniquet, nitrile gloves, quick clot, and a few bandages and tape.
For my get home bag, I prefer the MyMedic MyFak mini Pro. You can check out our full Review of MyMedic First Aid kits for more options and also save 15% at My Medic with Discount code “SURVIVALSTOIC15” at checkout!
Also check out our Best IFAK guide for other options and expert tips.
If you have any medical conditions and require medicine, always have extra with you and in your bag. If you are diabetic, keep some candy in your bag. With limited food and a lot of walking, studies have shown your sugar could drop to unsafe levels.
If your eyesight is poor and you wear glasses or contacts, keep a spare pair in your bag. If you are traveling unexpectedly for a few days, being unable to see is a huge disadvantage.
During an emergency when law enforcement is spread thin, people will take what they need. You need some sort of self-defense device. This is one of the benefits of concealed carry, you will be ready when an emergency occurs. Depending on the law where you live, this could just be your normal concealed-carry handgun. In this case, keep some extra ammo in your bag.
If you do carry a concealed weapon, we recommend using a safe holster. Review our full guide on the best concealed carry holsters to choose the best one for you.
See our complete concealed carry guide for everything you need to know.
We don’t recommend keeping a handgun in your bag if your bag is kept at an office, gym locker, or other third-party location. While there are some good portable gun safe options, you don’t want to leave it unattended unless it has a security cable attached.
Pepper spray is also good to keep in your bag, even if you do conceal carry a handgun. It can deter people and animals without making noise. When getting home is your priority, you want to draw as little attention as possible.
A survival multitool is a must-have for your bag and your vehicle. A great choice is the Leatherman Wave. It has a built-in bit driver that has exchangeable bits. The bits are compact and are contained on a small card. With these, it is almost like having an entire toolbox in one small package. It also has a saw and a can opener.
The Swiss Army Swiss Champ is also a great option. You can start a fire with just this knife using the saw and the magnifying lens. See our guide on the best Swiss Army knife for more options as well.
With so many tools in a compact design, it is ideal for your bag. It prevents you from needing to carry many bulkier tools, saving you space and weight.
Compact Folding Saw
If you have a large distance to travel through a rural area, a survival folding saw is good to have in your bag. You can quickly cut through smaller limbs and trees to help build your shelter. It can also help to break up firewood. If you travel a long distance through wooded areas, keeping a pack axe in your car could be considered. See our guide on best bushcraft axe for some compact options.
Paper Map and Compass
If you have to travel more than a few miles, a paper map of the area and a mirror sighting compass are great – especially in a large city. If you have to flee to an unfamiliar area and your phone doesn’t work, these will get you headed in the right direction.
They are also handy if you take an alternate route around a hazard. Another great option is a GPS survival watch. You can save home as a location, and it will give you are bearing and distance back home. If you wear it daily, you won’t have to remember to pack it.
Keeping a few $20 bills in your bag and your vehicle is great insurance if you lose your wallet. During a major power outage, credit cards won’t work. If you need gas or supplies, you will need cash. Don’t keep it all in the same place, and don’t show it all to someone when you are paying.
While you don’t need a tow strap in your bag, it is a great addition to your vehicle emergency kit, so we included it. If you drive a lot, keep one in your vehicle. Not only can you use it to pull your vehicle out of mud, snow, or the ditch, but you can also pull downed trees or possibly other vehicles out of your way.
Jump Start Power Pack
A vehicle power pack is another great item to keep in your vehicle. These little power packs can jump off your vehicle, charge your phone, and have a flashlight. Some also have an SOS signal built in to signal for help. If you abandon your vehicle, you could take it with you if you have space.
I personally have the Fanttik T8 2000 Amp Jump Starter. I have jumped started multiple vehicles with it over the span of three months and still had about 50% charge. It stays in my vehicle at all times.
Cell Phone Battery Backup
A small backup battery for your cell phone in your bag will give you a way to charge your phone. If you have more than a few miles to travel or there is a major power outage, you may not have access to power to charge it.
I like the Anker Powercore Slim 10k Power Bank. I have found that I can fully charge my phone between two and three times with this charger.
Make sure you have the proper charging cable for your phone model in your bag. Don’t forget to change the cable whenever you get a new phone. Also, check the charge of the battery every 3 months.
Information is invaluable if you are far from home and a major emergency occurs. A small hand crank AM/FM emergency weather radio will allow you to get information on what is happening.
It could be that the area between you and your home is being evacuated, and you are headed straight for it. It may also give clues about where your loved ones are going or if your home is safe.
I like the Midland ER40 Emergency Radio. It is compact and has a built in flashlight.
When you gotta go, you gotta go. While you could add toilet paper to your bag, a package of wet wipes is much more useful and takes up less space. You can use them to wash your face and hands and clean anything else.
Make sure to get some that are biodegradable. After you use one and they dry out you can also use them as a fire starter. I like the Combat Wipes Active wipes.
You also want to use wipes instead of plant material to clean up after doing your business. You never know what plants could be irritating to your skin. Being irritated in those areas is not something you need when in a stressful situation!
This may not seem like something that would be needed. But we have all seen images from New York on 9/11. An N95 mask would have been invaluable to escape the dust and studies have shown them to be more effective than other masks.
If you work in a large office building and there is a fire, it could save your life. They can also be useful for rural travel if there is a wildfire. You can succumb to smoke inhalation even in your car.
If you a caught in civil unrest and tear gas is released, this will help you escape the area. They are small and lightweight, so there is no reason not to have one or two.
These black BNX N95 Masks are a little more discrete than they typical white ones.
Duct tape is one of those utility items that are very versatile. You don’t need a full roll, but a few feet wrapped around a small plastic object or folded up on itself doesn’t take up any room and can be very useful. Go for the stronger Gorilla tape over the cheap stuff.
I prefer the 1″ Gorilla Tape. You really don’t need the standard wide tape, and these rolls take up less room.
Duct tape also can be used as a fire starter. Check out the video in our best survival fire starting kit guide.
If you need to signal for help, a small emergency whistle works much better than just your voice. They are small and weigh almost nothing.
Sunscreen and Insect Repellent
These are much more useful in the summer since you are likely not wearing a lot of clothing and the bugs are active. While not a requirement, a couple of small bottles in your bag can make your trip more comfortable (and prevent diseases).
You need a sharpie to write anything down. They can write on almost everything, allowing you to make signs or leave notes behind as necessary. Therefore, they’re better than a pen or other writing utensil. Be sure you change your sharpie out regularly, as they can dry up.
Bags and Zip Ties
A few ziplock bags, a trash bag, and some long zip ties are great additions. They take up little space. A zip-lock bag can store water or food. Zip ties and trash bags can help you carry items or help build your shelter.
Survival Field Guide
With all of the great info in a small survival field guide, there is no reason not to have one for reference. You can study survival skills ahead of time so when the time comes you can quickly reference it again.
Without the proper mindset, all these items in your get-home bag don’t have much use. Fear, anxiety, anger, and helplessness can cloud your thinking when you suddenly find yourself in a survival situation away from home. These emotions are amplified if it is a major emergency and you don’t know if your family is safe.
Stoics remind us not to dwell on things outside our control. Thinking about why this is happening to me? Why did they do that? Who is responsible? This is all just your mind taking away your attention from what matters: getting home.
Donald Robertson wrote, “The Stoic tells himself that although the situation may appear frightening, the truly important thing in life is how he chooses to respond.” Think about that statement. No matter what happens, it is your choice how you respond. Write that down on paper and put it in your bag as a reminder.
The will to survive is a powerful tool. If you are far from home and must walk through weather and possibly hostile areas, it may seem impossible. Remember: your will to survive and drive to accomplish your goal is your greatest asset. The saying “where there is a will, there is a way” is very true.
Setting smaller goals can be helpful. First, establish your direction of travel. Next, find some water. Then, find a place for shelter. Take each step as the current goal. Live in the moment, not worrying about the past or future, and just focus on the next goal.
As you build your get home bag list, you are improving your survival mindset. Using the stoic principle of preparing and visualizing what you need in your bag and how you will use it will reduce your anxiety when the time comes. This is why you need to make your own list. If you follow a checklist blindly, you are missing one of the most important steps: mental preparedness.
Get Home Bag Printable Checklist
Now it is your turn to make your get home bag list. Consider all the items we touched on, and don’t forget to mentally prepare.
I often receive great items for my get home bag from battlbox. Check out our full Battlbox review. It is a fun way to get prepared.