Disaster Essentials

 It's a scary thought, but you might have to evacuate. What you bring in your go bag matters—big time!

Ever heard of a go bag? Some refer to it as a bug-out bag or an evacuation kit, but the idea is simple. If you had to evacuate your home — perhaps even in a matter of minutes — what would you take with you in terms of emergency and survival supplies? You might leave by vehicle, or you might be on foot.


That bag needs to be pre-conceived and pre-packed long before any actual emergency. It's possible you and your family could be on foot, walking tens or even hundreds of miles, without any outside support. What is inside that pack (or packs — ideally one for each member of the family, including ambulatory kids), is super important.


We've broken our Go Bag & Evacuation section into two sections: The must-have essentials, and the potential additions, which are largely dependent on you and your family's needs.



Can't I just pack on the fly? No. You want a pre-packed go bag. Imagine if you had only 3 minutes to get you, your family, and supplies together.

How much stuff do I need? Try not to overpack (easy to do), but do think of food, water filters, fire, & shelter — enough to last days or even weeks.

Is 1go bag enough? 
Every member of the family should have their own go bag, with supplies split among bags. Even kids can carry a few things.



Let's call these the non-negotiable items in your go bag. The things you really should have in any bug-out bag. We start with the packs themselves and then move to water, food, and other must-haves.



Gregory Mountain Products Maven 55 Liter Women's Multi Day Backpack

Importance: Crucial.

Bottom line: A woman's multi-day backpack — ideal for use as a go-bag. It's big at 55 liters, but comfortable.

Recommended for: Go-bag.

Be aware: Ideally you should try on bags before buying. Also, measure your frame length to figure out what the best size bag for you. See notes in the review & notes section below.

Often bought with: For a men's bag, we suggest the Gregory Baltoro; and for children we like the Osprey Ace 38.

Gregory Mountain Products Men's Baltoro 85

Importance: Crucial.

Bottom line: This is a stellar bag in so many ways. Hiking or traveling, it allows a variety of gear to be carried easily, and has lots of access points to GET to that gear. For those same reasons, it makes a fabulous go bag. You need the type of bag you can carry and live out of for weeks on end, if necessary, and the Baltoro qualifies.

Recommended for: Go bag.

Be aware: Ideally you should try on bags before buying. Also, measure your frame length to figure out what the best size bag for you. See notes in the review & notes section below.

Often bought with: For a woman's bag, we suggest the Gregory Maven 55, and for children we like the Osprey Ace 38.


Backpack fit advice. You should always endeavor to try on backpacks before buying them. Pack them full of stuff, see how they fit, how the stuff inside shifts around; how the straps fit your shoulders and how the hip belt supports weight. Gregory, one of the best backpack builders in the business, has an excellent fit guide. Pay special attention to measurement guides to the back/torso.

General Go-bag backpack philosophy. Some people will also counsel against a larger backpacks, maintaining that speed and lightness are paramount. For a single person with lots of oudoorsmen skills, that is probably true. But if your skills are more, say, average, and you've got a family, a larger pack provides options. You do NOT want to overpack and tire yourself out carrying a mega pack. But the ability to carry extra food and gear wins out. If you've got to dump equipment in lieu of speed, you can always do that. 

Reviews & field notes of the Gregory Mountain Products Maven 55 Liter Women's Multi Day backpack. When it comes to go-bags, you want one specifically designed for your sex. The Gregory Maven 55-liter is a capacious bag with LOTS of pockets and compartments, which is ideal for the many different types of equipment you'll need in/on your go-bag. The Gregory Maven 55 is designed for women, and it shows. Our testers found they could carry a lot of heavy gear, and that it sat comfortably on their frames. The adjustable suspension is excellent. (It's also offered in several sizes.) But it really was the number of stuff and belt-harness pockets, separate small day backpack, and rain cover that won them over. It weighs 3.3 pounds.

Reviews & field notes on the Gregory Baltoro 85 backpack: The Gregory Baltoro is an ideal men's go bag. It comes in a variety of sizes (measured in liters), but for the use of a go bag, we prefer the 85, which is big. But exterior straps can be used to cinch everything down. It is VERY comfortable with a full load, and has lots of pockets and access points to get to your gear when you need it. We've taken this bag to Mongolia and the Gobi desert; where it survived a massive desert storm, hundreds of hours in various vehicles being jostled and thrown; multiple multi-day hikes, and various other indignities. What we've found is that it holds its shape due to the tough internal aluminum frame. It has a small removable day pack that is actually useful; a rain cover; and a bunch of access points. Our only complaint is the side water container pockets, which swivel out of the way when not needed — but don't keep the bottles quite as secure as we might like.

LifeStraw Flex Multi-Function Water Filter System

Importance: Crucial.

Bottom line: This water filter means you have access to clean water wherever you find water, even if that water is really dirty. Earns a no.1 place in your go-bag. Works as a straw, in a water bottle, or even a hydration pack.

Recommended for: Home, go-bag, vehicles, away shelter.

No. units recommended: 1 for each member of your family; ideally in each shelter and go-bag.  

Be aware: The Flex is designed to reduce lead and will also take out viruses in addition to bacteria and protozoa such as Giardia. It will NOT filter out chemicals, seawater, or radioactive materials.

Nalgene Tritan 16oz Wide Mouth BPA-Free Water Bottle

Importance: Crucial.

Bottom line: You'll need to hold water on the go. These won't break and they fit water filters.

Recommended for: Go-bag, vehicles.

Importance: Crucial. Cause, you know... food.

Bottom line: You'll need food to last you a couple of days, minimum, if you need to evacuate.

Recommended for: Go-bag, vehicle. 

No. of units recommended: The food should be distributed between family members and go-bag kits. But think of enough to get you through for at least three days, if not more.

Suggestions: Don't go crazily far afield to what you might normally eat — but concentrate on lightweight and lots of calories. This is the time you'll be looking for extra energy. Forget long-term health concerns (veggies!) and think instead to getting you through the next few days.

  1. This is a case where a collection of energy bars will go a long way. Our absolute favorite are the relatively new RXBAR Whole Food Protein Bar, 12 pack. These are actually super tasty, if very dense. We love the blueberry, maple sea salt, and coffee chocolate flavors. And the old stand-by, the Clif Bar, we STILL stand by. For those with nut or gluten allergies, a vegan option is That’s It Fruit Bars, which are sweet but tasty. Be aware, though, you can’t live on energy bars alone.

  2. This may break some conventions, but you might consider throwing a big plastic bottle of peanut butter in a bag. If you’ve got kids, you’re likely to have one around anyway — but for satisfying, high calorie, on-the-go meal, it’s hard to beat. You don’t even need bread… or utensils. We like Skippy Super Chunk, but whatever works for you.

  3. We know Adirondack Trail through-hikers that swear by macadamia nuts because of their crazy calorie count and oil density. The Sunfood brand sells them raw, organic, and in a resealable bag. And you can’t beat oatmeal. These individually packed oatmeal pouches by a Bend, Oregon, company offers extra ingredients such as goji berries, green tea powder, or beet chocolate. You can add boiling water, or simply cold water and let them sit. Picky Oats Organic Performance Oatmeal.

  4. We realize that, if have nut allergies, pickings here seem slim. And you’ll want and need REAL food. In this case, dehydrated or specially packed food packs that are easy to carry. For a truly innovative solution, look to OMeals. A special heating element inside the package activates when you add any kind of liquid and warms the meal. (Note: The liquid doesn't even have to be potable as it doesn't touch the food.) You don't need a separate pot or to boil water. There's even utensils included. The downside is the size and heft of the bag in relation to the relatively scant amount of food. We can't imagine packing more than four or five of these. 

  5. In our food section, we also recommend the Mountain House 14 day emergency food kit, with enough dehydrated food to last one person enough food for two full weeks. In this case, you would place at least some of those packets into your bag. But, there’s a caveat — you need to heat water to make it palatable, and you’ll need a pot to heat it in. For that, depending on your needs and most probable situation, you’ll need to decide if the extra gear is worth having hot food, albeit hot food with vegetables and variety. See our section below for the Jetboil Flash Cooking System and Stanley Adventure Camp Cook set.

Best food for your go bag

Reviews & field notes of the Lifestraw Flex Water Filter. We’ve used LifeStraw products for our water needs in a number of situations, including a week-long backcountry canoe trip in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota, and in our country home in Pennsylvania’s Poconos, where we've lost power more times in the past year than we care to think about. We have 100 percent faith in them, and for good reason. The LifeStraw Flex removes viruses, bacteria and protozoa such as Giardia, which will leave you very sick indeed. It even removes some lead. It is literally a straw, so dead easy to use. LifeStraw products will NOT filter out chemicals, seawater, or radioactive materials. The company counsels against filtering near mine tailings or downriver from agricultural operations (ie, chicken farms and cattle). Dry out the products after using. The good news is that there are no moving parts or chemicals, and are claimed to last indefinitely in storage. Still, try to keep them from freezing, which can damage them. Lastly, you’ll know they have reached the end of their life cycle when they simply stop working… ie, no more water will come out.

Adventure Medical Kits Mountain Series Daytripper First Aid Kit

Importance: Crucial.

Bottom line: A reasonably small but versatile first-aid kit appropriate for go-bag and vehicle.

Recommended for: Go-bag, vehicle.

You’ll also need: At a minimum, we suggest adding in trauma dressing and quick-clot sponges.

Be aware: All first-aid kits are somewhat limited. Go through it BEFORE you take it, and alter or add to your needs.

USC Trekker windproof lighter

Importance: Crucial.

Bottom line: A lighter that works every time.

Recommended for: All shelters (home/away), go bag.

You’ll also need: High-quality butane fuel. Good for all kinds of stuff, not so incidentally.

Be aware: It ships without the fuel, so arrives empty. 

5.11 EDC PL 2AAA penlight

Importance: Crucial.

Bottom line: You need lots of small, reliable flashlights — in the house, car, purse, and bags. This penlight has more than 100 lumens, needs only two AAA batteries, and is made of aluminum It will take a beating. For a full review of 5.11 flashlights and the 2AAA, see our review.

Recommended for: Several for each shelter; home, go-bag, vehicle, and away shelters. 

No. units recommended: Lots. You can't have too many good flashlights around.

You’ll also need: AAA batteries. We highly recommend using these lithium AAA for critical items.

Gerber Center-Drive Multi-Tool

Importance: Important.

Bottom line: One of the most useful multi-tools on the market. Tools when you need them — especially the knife, pliers and screwdriver with various drill bits.

Recommended for: Apartments, go-bag, vehicle. 

Be aware: The sheath is wanting. We replaced with a sturdy leather one.


Midland Emergency Weather Radio

Importance: Crucial. 

Bottom line: Severe weather alerts! This is how you'll get them early. A radio is also how you'll get news about the outside world when your cellphone (and everything else on the electrical grid) goes down. Midland products tune into the Hazard Alert broadcasts from NOAA and the National Weather Service to get you local alerts on weather early. Damn important. 

Recommended for: Every shelter; the smaller compact unit is ideal for go bags. .

Be aware: Figure out what frequency to dial in to BEFORE you need it. See here for NOOA stations. And here for AM emergency stations.

Black Diamond Storm Headlamp

Importance: Crucial.

Bottom line: When the electricity is out, lights are crucial. So is the use of your hands. So, voila! A good headlamp is worth its weight in gold.

Recommended for: Shelters (home/away); go-bag, vehicle.

No. units recommended: 1 for every adult and ambulatory child. Having them in your go-bag is most crucial.

You’ll also need: AAA Batteries. In this case, we suggest these AAA lithium,which have an especially long shelf life.

Review & field notes of Adventure Medical Kits Mountain Series Daytripper First Aid Kit. You're going to want a first-aid kit that you can take with you. This one has plenty of stuff in it, including hiker needs like Moleskin, bandages and dressings, a syringe and antibiotic cream. It weighs less than a pound, and it's 5.X7.5X3 inch package is easy to fit into packs. We also suggest this as a kit that goes well in your vehicle. We think it could use a few more items, especially the Israeli trauma dressing and blood-clotting sponge in case of a serious injury. (Any first-aid kit is only a beginning. You need to figure out what type of stuff you need, esp. if you have kids, elderly, or pets. Also, a kit is only as good as your knowledge. Go through it BEFORE you need it.) That being said, it's an easy size to pack and relatively lightweight, so a good overall choice.

Review & field notes of Gerber Center-Drive Multi-Tool. You know what's pretty great? A knife. And a screwdriver whenever you need it. Multi-tools are one of the handiest tools you can carry on a belt. We love the Gerber design because it allows you to open the pliers with one hand. Also, this one has an especially clever screwdriver design which works like a real tool and won't drive you mad. NOTE: Leatherman lovers will always argue for a Leatherman. We get that. We own both the Gerber Center-Drive AND the Leatherman Wave. We like and own both. We really do. But we prefer the Gerber for it's one-hand operation of the pliers, and it's ease of use to get out and operate the blade. (Which is as sharp as all get-out. We used it recently to burst a blister and carefully pick out a foot blister.) But it's the screwdriver function that wins out. The Center-Drive has an action that works like a regular screwdriver, allowing you to use torque pressure. And it comes with a variety of screwdriver tips that fit into the sheath. Which keeps us from running back and forth to the house when we're doing chores.


Lighters drive us crazy. The cheap ones are fine but they're cheap, and the ones we seem to always be buying for barbecue needs (you know the ones) NEVER seem to work... just like cheap flashlights. So there is something immensely satisfying to a lighter which lights in the wind and the rain and burns so hot that sticks go right up. Review & field notes of the USC Trekker Windproof lighter. A $35--$70 lighter still seems crazy... until you consider just how important fire is. This one's fire-starter element lights a claimed 30,000 times, and using refined butane, it burns a temperature of 2,000 Fahrenheit, in winds of up to 80 miles per hour... in a driving rain. Note that it comes without that butane. Which is why we also recommend a good backup supply of butane for your lighters and camp stove. The Neon 300ml 5x Refined Butane Fuel, 12 cans is probably as pure as you're going to find. 

Review & field notes of the Midland Emergency Crank Weather Radio:

Midland, a venerable and trusted CB radio company since the 1950s, also produces emergency weather radios. The handcrank versions come in two sizes: The compact model is best for go bags. The ER300 is slightly larger, with a fixed handle to hold on to. Critically, it is solid and continues to work even when dropped, which we did several times in our testing.It tunes into NOAA weather alerts, and also has FM and AM bands. You can power it in a variety of ways: There's a rechargeable battery included (plug it into a wall); it works with AA batteries; and can also be charged via an attached solar strip and by a handrcrank. You can even recharge a cell phone using the unit. Lastly, it's got an included flashlight. This is easily the best unit we've found. You should have one of these in your home(s). Get it out, play with it, learn to use it.

Reviews & field notes on the 5.11 PL 2AAA: Cheap flashlights suck. We've bought those multi-packs from Costco and are endlessly frustrated when they don't work. They flicker, you shake them, and the light warbles on and off, and you can never be sure if it's the batteries or the flashlight itself. The California company 5.11 makes the best flashlights we've ever used — and police, the military and security forces tend to agree. The brand new PL 2AAA penlight has more than 100 lumens, needs two AAA batteries, and will take a beating. Good for your purse, bag, nightstand, vehicle, etc.  See our full review here.

Reviews & field notes on the Black Diamond Storm Headlamp: When there are no lights, you'll want lots of lighting options. But a headlamp is the most crucial when you are on the move, either evacuating or transiting, or doing anything critical in your shelter at night. Black Diamond makes great headlamps, and they are cost efficient. The Storm has 8 separate settings, including one that's appropriate for close-up reading, like a book or instructions. (This is important: Too-bright headlamps wash out print.) We use ours all the time. Camping, hiking, and just banging around outside in the evening. No sense in saving these headlamps for emergencies.


Importance: Crucial.

Bottom line:  Cash is king, especially if the electricity goes out, if the banks go on the fritz because of a hacking situation, or any other number of things. 

Recommended for: Home and away shelter, go-bag.

No. units recommended:  We suggest taking out a minimum of $1,000 out of the bank. But $3,000 or even $5,000 would be better. Distribute it among locations.

Be aware: In true extremis, the American dollar might not count for a thing. In that case, imagine the type of things you could barter for and with — matches, booze, cigarettes, batteries, socks!

Rand McNally maps + compass

Importance: Crucial.

Bottom line: You need old-school, physical maps of your local area, surrounding areas in which you might have to evacuate to, and the route to your Away Shelter — by both vehicle AND foot. See our notes.

Recommended for: Home shelter, go-bag, and vehicle. 

No. units recommended: Maps for your home area that you keep in your home; folded maps for your go-bag, and atlases in your vehicle.

You’ll also need: A decent compass. We like Coghlan's Map Compass for its relative simplicity and light weight.

Be aware:  Maps are the kind of things that are best looked at, pondered over, and an plan devised BEFORE you need it. Look at multiple evacuation routes and then share with your family beforehand. You never know when you might get separated.