“Get-Home” Bags – How To Pack For Survival In a Widespread Emergency

what to put in a get home bag or bug out bag

Times seem to become more uncertain everyday and we’re always trying to make sure we’re as prepared as we can be.  One of the ways we try to be prepared is by carrying a get home bag.  A “Get Home” bag differs from a “Bug Out” bag, but both are equally important depending on your living situation.  In a widespread emergency, will your primary focus be to get home to your family and your shelter, or will you be gathering family and supplies to seek shelter at an alternate location?  The bag you pack will depend on the answer to that question.  In the following article, my husband draws on his experience with the USMC to provide a clear plan to choosing and packing a “Get Home” bag and also some basic tactical skills that are easy to understand and follow in an emergency.

My “Get-Home Bag” (GHB)

Much has been written in the last several years about the concept of a bug out bag. I will start here by saying there are many people who are more qualified than me to write about this. I am a normal guy, working for a living, who is also a USMC infantry veteran with a mindset that was born out of that experience. When my wife started her blog she asked if I could contribute, so this is my first shot at it. If you disagree with anything here, teach me why and I will be grateful.

I am going to present this concept as it relates to my personal situation. Frankly, this is the key to building any kit you may need… it is YOUR kit, take the best of what you can from your research and experience and create something that will allow you to complete your mission.

So that is where we will start… my mission. Your specific mission will be different in some aspect. As I discuss the contents and reason of my bag, consider what you need/don’t need as it relates to YOUR mission. In case of emergency, my mission is relatively straight forward, get home.  I’ve broken the thinking process down into pieces for clarity; Situation, Mission, Execution, Administration & Communication.  The details of each follow:

Some type of emergency occurs that demands action by me to get home. It may be natural or man-made disaster, but regardless, I have to get home. I normally work about twenty miles from our home. The roads are mostly rural two lane. My route goes through some community areas, but mostly through farmland and woods. The terrain is rolling hills, sandy soil and southern pine forest for the majority of the trip. That changes to hardwoods, rock and clay closer to home. Knowing the terrain you are going to encounter is paramount in the selection of gear for your kit.


Get home. I am a firm believer in a simply stated mission. Details can be worked out elsewhere. Knowing your mission and being able to focus on it is the ultimate filter for running your decisions through. Decision making in times of stress needs to be as simplified as possible, so having a simply stated mission can be applied to that easily.


There are 2 ways I can get home under most circumstances. Drive or on foot.

Drive: The roads are mostly rural 2 lane. I have mapped out and driven regularly, 8 different routes I can take, depending on circumstances. I drive them regularly so that in the case of adrenaline pumping emergency, I can make quick decisions regarding what path to take and adjust as I go as the situation demands. I view my drive home a training exercise. Just as in all effective training this will simplify decision making when under the stress of an emergency situation. If the roads are open my normal commute is approximately 30 minutes.

I have an alternate driving route mapped out as well, that avoids roads almost entirely. This route utilizes power line right of ways, golf courses, private land, and preserve land. My vehicle is built for and I have decades of experience using it for this type of travel. I will describe the vehicle in another post. This off road driving route would be used in only the most severe of disasters, where roads are impassible due to natural disaster, violence or some government action that closed down roads. I drive off road regularly, both on my property and other off road venues across the southeast US. I am confident in my and my vehicle’s abilities. I have recovery gear for any situation and the knowledge and experience to use it effectively and safely. Of course the best recovery option is to not get stuck. This ability only comes with enough training and off road experience to choose appropriate lines and driving techniques through difficult situations. Avoiding those difficult situations would be the first choice of course.

By Foot: On foot I would follow the same off road driving route described above. There are potential danger zones such as at road crossings, but that’s it. I estimate this route on foot to take 48-72 hours or less.

I have several predetermined rally points located along the routes home. The rally points serve as a way for my adult children and me to link up if needed, and a way for my wife to locate me if the crisis has abated but I am still off in the woods, trying to get home.


• Rules of Engagement – Remember the mission. Get home. The most effective way to do that is to avoid contact of any sort if at all possible. Firearms and other weapons are an absolute last resort and would only be used in the rarest of circumstances. Avoidance, and the awareness needed to avoid, is far superior to violence. By avoidance I mean just that, turn away from confrontation, roadblocks, gangs of people, etc… Park your Rambo fantasies elsewhere, they are not needed here. Violent action, as it relates to this mission (Get Home!) is only to break contact and continue the mission.
• A GHB takes constant rethinking and packing. This is certainly true as the season changes, but also might apply to when I acquire a new skill or a new tool/product, etc… What is in my bag right now might be different than what you are reading because of the time of year, any specificity of threat or what I have learned in the meantime.
• The execution of my mission gets reevaluated and changed on a regular basis due to circumstances outside my control and those within it. For example, along one of the routes that I planned for use on foot, or off road with the jeep, there is a new housing development. I explored the new neighborhood and adjusted my plan accordingly. This was a slight adjustment. I would rather know now and adjust than be caught unaware in the midst of a crisis.
• Food/water change out. I change out the food and water regularly to keep things fresh
• A map at home has my routes marked, along with potential rally points. This matches the map in my bag, so that my wife and I can communicate from a common tool.


If time allows and phones are working I contact my wife through landline from work as a first option, cell as a second. Keys to this communication are that I am leaving, my expected route and backup routes, when she can expect to hear from me again and when I expect to reach home. I then contact our two adult children with the same information and get their information as well.

So there you have a brief description of my mission requirements. I need to be prepared for at least 72 hours, in any weather condition. My vehicle needs to be in good working order, with enough fuel, to get home, even if off road. I change the bag to match the mission.

⇒⇒⇒ The Bag ⇐⇐⇐
Now we get to what you are reading this for. The contents of my GHB. I thought it was important for you to know why I choose the items I do. I am a believer in the rule of 3’s. Thanks to the Warrior Tour with Justin Kingsland of http://www.overlandunlimited.com/warrior-survival-school.html 

The rule of 3 states you can:
• Survive 3 minutes without air
• Survive 3 hours in severe weather conditions without shelter
• Survive 3 days without water
• Survive 3 weeks without food

These rules of three help prioritize your pack and ultimately fall into the following categories:

• Rain coat – Surplus military Gore-Tex in woodland camo. It is a size bigger than I need, so I can fit it over winter clothing and also stuff dry leaves, etc inside for insulation if needed. When shopping surplus make sure you are getting the genuine article.
• Rain pants – The most forgotten piece of clothing/shelter gear. But so valuable if you are in the bush for a couple of days and it is raining or just wet.  Something like the Marmot Men’s Precip Pant works well. 
• Hat – Rain hat and in winter add a stocking cap. Current favorite is a rain hat that is a discontinued model from Eddie Bauer. Hat should have some waterproofing quality to it. Your cotton boonie that you look so cool in will help you on towards hypothermia when it is wet and cold.
• Gloves – Mechanix. Inexpensive, tough, better to perform small tasks without taking off. Be careful to avoid ones with reflective lettering or design effects. I tend to just get the original design, Mechanix Wear Tactical Original, but they have many different ones.
• Extra socks – That’s right. If I am going to be humping it the 20 miles home, with multiple stream crossings and the chance to encounter severe weather, I am going to have an extra pair of quality socks with me. Putting on dry socks as needed is one of the most comforting things in the bush. Athletic, moisture wicking socks that come well above the calf work best for me
• Sleeping Bag – As soon as the weather starts to cool, a lightweight sleeping bag is attached to the outside of my GHB. My current choice is the Elite Survival RECON-4 Sleeping Bag.  It is light, packs small and is warm enough for this climate. So am I really going to hunker down in a bag and sleep? I don’t know, but I might hunker down and stay warm… in a super extreme situation, I might have to stay in a single location for a number of hours or days. Comfort works.
• Bivy sack – Consider based on the environment you live in. This goes around your sleeping bag and makes it like a little tent. It adds to wind resistance, and keeps your bag and you dry. There are many versions, but you get what you pay for.  Something like the Outdoor Research Bivy Sack or equivalent is a good choice. 

• Carry more than one source!
• Disposable lighter – It always amazes me when “survival experts” have every way in the world to make fire in their kit except matches and a lighter. How easy is this? As my instructor Justin told us when I attended his Warrior Survival School for veterans, “Come on Bear Grylls… Can’t you just carry a lighter?”
• Matches – waterproof and in a water proof case. These are my favorite due to the additional high temp additive. UCO Titan Stormproof Match Kit

• Cotton balls and petroleum jelly – great way to get a sustained fire going, and I can use the petroleum jelly on chafing areas from hiking when hot and sweaty or when wet., etc… if needed.
• Ferro rod and striker – This is harder than it looks when you see it on TV. If you go this route make sure to practice regularly. This is not a viable single solution to having a fire, at least in our environment. Try getting a fire going with it in less than ideal conditions, such as rain or even just high humidity.

• Water filter
• Water tablets – you will not mind the taste if you need them.
• Water in metal bottle – I choose a metal bottle so I can use it to also heat water as needed.

• Our website talks a lot about old time, natural ways and living off the land. For this mission though, I want things that will last in storage, are light and easily packable. They are not the healthiest and they are processed, etc… Remember to stay on mission. In my scenario packing this rather than foraging, etc… is the best way for me to accomplish my mission of getting home.
• Several nutrition bars, high calorie, high protein
• Beef jerky – I like that it is packed with sodium. Also you can break a piece off and suck on it for while. Makes it last longer and satisfies hunger better than just wolfing something down.
• Note about the MRE – These are a great source of calories. I choose not to carry in my regular GHB for a couple reasons. If you are not used to eating them they really affect your digestion in unpleasant ways. Either constipation or diarrhea is often the result. Second is the amount of garbage you need to then conceal or carry out.

#First Aid

Focus on self-delivered treatment for trauma, mild sickness, diarrhea and comfort. Each person’s comfort medication might be different, based on their own pain tolerance, allergies, etc…
• Trauma compress
• Triangle bandage
• Duct tape
• OTC pain medication/fever reducer
• Antihistamine
• Cough drops
• Cough medicine
• Sinus spray – for those of us who suffer with various allergy seasons
• Mouthwash – Original flavor listerine can also be used as a mild antiseptic.
• 4”x4” gauze pads
• Caffeine pills

• Multi use fixed blade. This is my current favorite: http://www.kabar.com/knives/detail/39 (you may have to cut and paste this link) It is big, yet handles very easily, chops and cuts brush and saplings like a champ. Better in my opinion than an axe or a standard shape fixed blade. Even though it is big enough for these tasks, it handles well for small tasks, like whittling a feather stick for fire starting, food prep, etc…
• Folder – this is essential to have at all times. As I said once to one of the administrators where I work… “This isn’t a weapon, it’s a tool” (he was nervous that I was carrying a “weapon”). For our purposes we are making sure you have a locking folder in your kit, as well as one on your body, every day, everywhere you go. If you do not follow this rule, please start. If you are not familiar with locking, folding knives, please start handling one. Use it every day for something, even if it is just at the supper table. This is my current favorite: Columbia River Knife and Tool’s M16-14SFG Special Forces Folding Knife with Veff Serrated Blade. I like the secondary lock, the relative heft and I like the dual hilt for safety. I wish the blade did not have serrations and that it was a simple drop point and not a tanto blade.
• Wire cutters – Any simple brand picked up at your local hardware store or as part of a multi tool.
• Zip ties – I use heavier, 14” black. There are so many uses I could not begin to describe them.
• Duct tape – I have black or camo duct tape in the bag at all times. I just crush the cardboard sleeve so it lays flat. Uses, as with zip ties, are too numerous to fathom. It replaces athletic tape in my first aid kit also.
• Headlamp – a headlamp is superior to a handheld flashlight in nearly every situation.
• Glowstick (s)
• Handgun – Your choice here should be a platform you are trained well on and familiar with. Most important is to please have it with you, have appropriate ammo, get training or if you are already well trained, practice regularly.
• Extra mags – Limited only by weight. Make sure to rotate mags so as not to leave magazines fully loaded forever. It is hard on the springs and can cause malfunctions when you least need it the most.
• Extra folding knife – I keep one in my bag at all times. The knife is too important a tool to do without.
• 550 Paracord – I use paracord on a nearly daily basis just working around our property. Just make sure you get good quality as some of the stuff you find out in consumer America is pure junk. In real Paracord there are 7 double strands of cord. Double in that each strand is made up of 2 smaller stands. This is important for two reasons. First is obviously strength. Second is that we can separate the 7 strands to use for several different duties. I used just one of those double strands to hold up each side of a tarp in a shelter building exercise. By doing that I saved the rest of the cord I had available for other tasks.
• Compass – I prefer a compass for land navigation situations. Once trained in the use of one, they are easy to use. I prefer a sighting style compass, similar to the military style lensatic compass that I learned on in the USMC. The point is that you can sight in along your azimuth onto a terrain feature, put the compass away and move to that terrain feature. This gives you the opportunity to maintain your situational awareness, rather than keeping your eyeballs on the compass for every step. The military surplus ones are hard to find and of varying condition. In light of that, my current favorite is the Silva Ranger CL – Compass.  The Silva Ranger series is light, easy to use and inexpensive. Land navigation is a perishable skill. It is not hard, but get appropriate training… and then use it or lose it. I do not think you need pinpoint wayfinding accuracy, but if you find yourself on foot, even in familiar terrain, it is easy to get turned around. A compass can help keep you oriented in the right general direction. Along the way you will recognize landmarks and be able to accomplish your mission.

Lastly, pack your eyes, ears and your brain every day.  Listen to the news, pay attention to the weather, keep your gas tank reasonably full… and make sure to maintain situational awareness at all times.  Like many driven people I can get tunnel vision in pursuit of a goal… in this type of situation there is a need to “step back”, open your eyes and engage your BHG (brain housing group) at all times.

So that’s it for my first article. I hope this has spurred some ideas for you to develop for yourself and to share with us at Live the Old Way. Please ask questions or make comments.

5 thoughts on ““Get-Home” Bags – How To Pack For Survival In a Widespread Emergency

  1. Charles Stockham

    Superb discussion. I have been working to learn basic survival for a few years and this is a great summary. Never really thought of the get home bag…have a few bug outs…so now to build this one! Thanks!!

  2. Pingback: Basic Tips to Prepare for a 72-Hour Emergency | Tenth Acre Farm

  3. Faye

    Well written, thank you. We’ve been reading William R. Fortstchen as of late and the realism of his writing has definitely opened our eyes. I’d been looking for an idea on how to put together a get home bag, and your article has helped greatly.

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