Imagine this, you’re 40 miles from home doing some errands in the city and the Big One has just hit. It cripples communication and power lines, halts public transportation, and has just left your car buried under a heaping pile of concrete. With the power down, your bug-out bag stuck in the car, and some of the zombies coming out to take advantage of the situation, your family is depending on you to get home NOW. But there’s just one thing…
Do you have the resources to make the trek back home by foot? Or are you going to remain where you are, hoping for the government to come help you and possibly risking an attack by looters or worse? This is where you need your Get-Home Bag.
What is a Get Home Bag?
The purpose of a Get-Home Bag is to get you to your home or to some other shelter-in location safely and as quickly as possible.
A Get-Home Bag is different than a Bug-Out Bag in that it is designed to be carried with you at all times (or at least readily accessible) any time you’re away from home. While a typical Bug-Out Bag is stocked full of items to support you for at least 3 days, a Get-Home Bag should contain the minimal amount of items to support you in getting home within a 24-hour period.
What Type of Bag Should I Choose?
If you are caught in a situation where looting and other forms of lawlessness is breaking out (remember Katrina), the last thing you want to do is stand out from the crowd. It’s at those times that you want to be the Gray Man and fade into the background.
If your Get-Home Bag screams “tactical” or looks like you’re carrying a load of preps, you could be a target. For that reason, the main thing you want to ensure is that the bag is discreet.
If you’re female, you’ve already got it made. A purse is discreet but also the larger handbags are often seen being carried by women so not only do they blend in well but they can carry a bunch of stuff.
For you guys, a simple messenger bag works wonders. Especially in the cities, messenger bags are seen being carried by guys more and more so they blend in real well.
I carry 5.11′s PUSH Pack everywhere I go. It’s not overly tactical looking, it has a small footprint (it looks like a camera bag) with multiple compartments and has strategically placed MOLLE webbing so that it can carry a bunch of stuff for its size. Since half the time mine has a baby bottle in one of the outside water-bottle compartments, it looks like a glorified diaper bag — perfect for blending in.
If you can’t deal with the Man Purses, go for a standard back pack. Just be sure not to abuse its size with a crap load of gear. Keep it under 15 pounds. Anything over that and you’ll soon give up carrying it around on a day-to-day basis.
In most cases, try to stay away from the Alice Pack or MOLLE Pack type of look. If it’s overly military looking or you have a bunch of MOLLE webbing with all sorts of gear riding on it, you’ll attract undesired attention since it looks like you’ve got a bunch of supplies on you (and they’d be right).
Just keep it simple and go for what blends.
What Should Your Get-Home Bag Contain?
What you pack in your Get-Home Bag is obviously dictated by personal preference and what your needs are. However, if you’re unsure as how to organize it, perhaps I can share what I carry in my Get-Home Bag and hopefully it’ll give you some ideas on how best to organize yours.
As with all my preparations, they are organized into what I call the 5 Pillars of Survival: personal security, shelter, water, fire, and food.
The Personal Security portion of your Get-Home Bag has to do with those items which will keep you safe and keep you alive (in the case of injury).
If you have the option to carry a concealed firearm in your state and you are comfortable with that, by all means I would recommend that. Otherwise, if it’s not an option, you can carry a knife, pepper spray, stun gun or any other item that can protect you from animals of both the 4-legged and 2-legged-walking-upright variety.
Here’s what my GHB contains:
- Glock 22 with 15 rounds of hollow-point 40 caliber ammunition
- Benchmade RSK MK1 folding knife (this, I clip to my pants)
- stripped-down version of my trauma kit containing: Quick-Clot (combat gauze), Israeli bandage, pain-killers and nitrile gloves
The Shelter portion of your Get-Home Bag includes those items that protect you from the elements. Since you will most likely not be carrying a tent around with you at all times of the day, your limited with regards to size and weight.
My GHB contains one of the simplest and lightest shelters available: a space blanket. These ingenious devices are waterproof, windproof, and can reflect up to 97% of the radiated heat your body throws off. The down side is, since they are so reflective they aren’t very discreet.
If you are worried about being observed, then you’ll want to be sure to cover up the space blanket some how. Or if you can afford the space in you GHB, the military has a field version of a space blanket (often called a “Casualty Blanket“). The casualty blanket is olive drab on the outside so it’s a bit more discreet. It also provides greater durability and warmth than a basic space blanket, but at the cost of greater bulk and weight.
Unfortunately my GHB can’t afford to give up that space, so for now — until something better comes along — I’m stuck with a standard space blanket. (Update: 9/15/11 – I was able to find an olive drab space blanket here)
The Water portion of your Get-Home Bag includes water itself or those items that allow you to hold, filter, and purify water.
If you were forced into a 24-hour trek back home, dehydration will quickly become a very real issue. That’s why it’s so important that you have either water on you or some means of getting and purifying it. The benefit of living in New England is water is always a stone’s throw away, however it may not always be the cleanest. For this reason I carry the following:
- small hydration bladder
- iodine crystals (Polar Pure) for purifying
- bandanna (for sediment filtering and many other purposes)
If you live in a more arid environment, consider carrying at least a small water bottle along with you.
The Fire portion of your Get-Home Bag includes those items that you need to reliably start a fire.
I wouldn’t recommend packing some obscure “cool” fire-making implement like a battery and steel wool or a fire piston. Remember, this isn’t about impressing your friends but about survival. Instead, pack something you know you’ll be able to start a fire with (especially in wet conditions) like a lighter or waterproof matches.
Remember, redundancy is a good thing so pack in a firesteel and some Vaseline-coated cotton balls while your at it. These implements hardly take up any space so if you can carry more than one option, by all means go for it.
Here’s what’s in mine:
- firesteel and Vaseline coated cotton balls
The Food portion of your Get-Home Bag includes enough food to carry you through a 24-hour period.
Food is the last on the list of importance in a survival situation (in this case, getting home). You can actually go for quite a bit without food (~ 3 weeks) however, in a high-stress situation liking humping it though a disaster area, you’ll be burning up calories like crazy so having something on hand will give you that needed boost.
For the food part of your Get-Home Bag you’ll want to avoid any high-water-content containing foods like canned goods or fresh foods. Instead pack some simple, dense, calorie-rich foods that save space and take no extra preparation beyond tearing open a wrapper. Dehydrated foods and dense candy bars are more along the lines of what you want.
For my bag I carry four 400-calorie emergency bars. It’s not gourmet but it will carry me through until I get home.
Beyond the Essentials
The elements of your GHB that make up the each of the five Pillars of Survival above should be the minimum required to get you home, but if your bag still has some room in it, may I suggest a few more things which can greatly aid you in the getting-home process.
What I Currently Have in My Bag
Beyond the basic items listed above, here are the other items I am currently carrying:
- Maps: I carry foldable topo maps (homemade from MyTopo via Google Maps) of my area. This encompasses where I work, my home, and the areas in-between. This way, I can figure out how best to navigate around potentially unsafe or inaccessible areas.
- GPS: This would be my primary means of navigation if satellite coverage is available.
- A compass: Since I have experience and training in orienteering (navigating by compass), I carry a small compass that can provide a back-up in case my GPS were to go down (via EMP or otherwise):
- Survival Knife: I carry a Bark River Bravo 1.
- Paracord: Too many reasons to list here.
- Lock-Pick and Bump-Key set: You never know what types of buildings you may need to get into or through in your attempts to get out of an area or into a safer shelter-in location.
- Surefire E2D LED flashlight: Flashlights not only light the way in darkened areas but provide a tactical advantage.
- Leatherman Wave multi-tool: The name speaks for itself.
What I would like to carry if I had the room
Given my current configuration, here are some items that I would like to carry but do not quite fit:
- Breaching tool: A crowbar or modified Stanley Fatmax makes for an excellent breaching tool for getting into and out of areas in an urban environment.
- Alternate footwear: The chances are good that the stuff could hit the fan while I’m at work. A 45-mile hump in a pair of dockers is not my idea of fun. Unfortunately at the present time I can’t fit a set of running shoes in my GHB. I am currently looking into a pair of Vibram Five Fingers as a potential solution to this issue.
The Importance of Planning Ahead
The key to safely and successfully getting home is to plan ahead. Since your situation is probably different than mine, you need to figure out what potential hazards and obstacles you’d face given the area you’d likely be egressing from. This will dictate what types of things you’ll need to equip.
As with any form of survival training, be sure to practice with the tools you carry. Getting caught in an emergency situation is not the time to try out a new tool/technique for the first time. Be prepared ahead of time with both equipment and training.