What is a Get Home Bag?
A Get Home Bag is simply what you carry, usually in your car, to help you get home if SHTF while you're away. The most likely event would be a massive traffic jam on your way home from work or errands. You may also be out buying some last minute items before a hurricane or snowstorm when the pile-up occurs. This sort of grid lock is common before and during natural disasters.
Really any scenario which incites panic in the general populace will have them packed into their cars with their personal electronics, family pets, and extra clothes trying to get somewhere. Add in a rush on local fuel stations and then vehicles running out of gas and there you sit. Lastly, there's always the possibility of an EMP event which shuts down all transportation for everyone for a long time. A really long time.
Simpler Than Your Bug Out Bag
Get Home Bags (AKA GHB or Get Back Bag) aren't as elaborate as a Bug Out Bags (BOB). You're just trying to get home, most likely so you can Bug In with your family. Additionally, a Get Home Bag's contents can augment a Bug Out Bag's contents. Since you should always have your Get Back Bag with you, and it will likely be a fraction of the size of your BOB, the items you select don't have to be redundant. So while you probably want a nice fixed blade survival knife or extra magazines in each and every kit, you don't have to buy two or three of everything immediately.
We're not advocating being less prepared in order to save money. However, if you're budget conscious and just getting started, realize that you can always add the contents of your Get Home Bag to your Bug Out Bag on your way out the door. We think of this as Staged Readiness.
A Likely Scenario
Imagine this: It's a normal Tuesday at work when a severe earthquake hits. You wait a little while for aftershocks and then start planning your 12 mile trip home, knowing full well that power poles will be down and driving will be a nightmare. But you've got a wife and kids to get to and you can't stay at work all night. Plus the lights and water are out in your building.
The last time this happened a few years ago the electricity, gas, and water stayed off for several weeks, and you're glad you've become a bit of a prepper since that incident. You go out to your car and grab your Get Home Bag. Before deciding whether to drive or walk you kick on the car radio to get an update on local traffic. It turns out that the main artery back to your suburb has collapsed in two places, so it looks like driving is out. That's okay, you've planned for this.
You quickly change out of your suit into an extra set of comfortable clothes, fill your canteens from the extra gallon in your trunk, and take a few minutes to inventory your gear. You already have your Everyday Carry items and you see that you've got some basic first aid, protection from the elements, extra ammunition for your concealed carry weapon, and some snacks. There's room left in your civilian style backpack so you toss in your laptop and get your lunch out of the defunct fridge in the office.
Cell towers seem to be down, but fortunately you've scoped out the side roads and know exactly how to get home. It's 2 PM now, and at a conservative walking speed of 3 MPH you should be home right around dinner time. Even though the generator can handle the refrigerator and a few lights, you decide it's steaks night.
The trek home isn't bad. There are no roaming Golden Hordes of looters out in the street yet and your route bypasses a few rougher neighborhoods. Your portable radio lets you keep tabs on events in the community. It's a long walk, yes, but those weekend hiking trips with the family have paid off. It's around 6:30 when you unlock the front door and greet the wife and kids. At home, the kids help you grill while the wife makes a salad.
All you can think is "this is so much better than last time."
Stage 1 Readiness: Your Every Day Carry
First, let's talk Every Day Carry for a minute. Everyone has a slightly different list, based on preference, but there are things you should really have on your person each and every day. We'll call this Stage 1 Readiness, and since these items should be on you at all times, they will not be included separately in your Get Home Bag checklist. (Add any of these items that you don't carry every day to your GHB.) HQ's Top Recommendations for EDC are highlighted here. These represent great quality at decent prices, and are items that we own and use daily.
Stage 2 Readiness: Your Same-Day Get Home Bag Essentials
Unlike the Bug Out Bag, which is normally a military grade load bearing pack capable of helping you haul 50 pounds or more, your GHB should be something smaller and low key. You'll want to look like an average commuter just trying to get home rather than a guy or gal who planned ahead. In the very beginning of a SHTF situation we can expect some intense, anxious mob mentality. We recommend a moderate to high quality civilian-look backpack with discreet hip straps, such as this North Face model, to help carry the load.
You want your Get Home Backpack to have some extra space left over after it's packed. We've planned it that way on purpose because there will always be things in your car or office that you want to take with you. Instead of a small messenger bag, hydration pack, or fanny pack filled tight with your get home gear, we'd rather you have that space already built in for your iPad, essential paperwork, an extra bottle of water, or the sandwich you had packed for lunch.
A Single Sturdy Outfit
To this you'll add a complete, comfortable used outfit of clothing that you already own. Maybe a pair of older (but still sturdy) jeans or khakis, that shirt or sweater that your wife hates, and some moderately used tennis shoes or hiking boots with socks.
Food & Water
You should keep at least two gallons of water in you car for emergencies, one for the radiator and one for drinking. Top off your canteens and take a few long swigs before you set out to get home. Make sure you have a decent canteen, preferably stainless steel, that will hold at least a liter of H2O, (or several if you live in a hot climate or have longer to walk.) It wouldn't hurt to add a Life Straw to your kit. They're inexpensive and filter up to 1,000 liters of water.
You don't need a lot of food to get you through a day or two. Make sure what you choose is energy rich (AKA high fat, protein, and carbs) and will store well when left in the car for a long period of time. For example, peanut butter squeeze packs last quite a while, while peanut butter crackers spoil quickly. Nuts have a lot of good fat and protein for energy, and PowerBar or Clif type energy bars store well if they aren't covered in a chocolate coating.
Electrolytes are an essential part of your hydration strategy. Pack a few Gatorade Packets to replace lost salts, minerals, and sugar. Alternately, one extremely low tech hack is to keep a handful of fast-food salt packets on hand. In Afghanistan we used the salt packets from our MREs in our hydration packs on the advice of a Marine full-bird Colonel who'd been stitching people up since Desert Storm. He said that he'd seen more people pass out from pushing too much water without electrolyte replacement than from any other cause.
You should already have your concealed carry weapon on you. If you don't carry a gun every day please consider adding a pistol or revolver to your Get Home Bag, along with extra magazines and ammunition. Oh, and pack half a dozen of those 42" Zip Ties, because not everyone will be nice when SHTF.
Include a fixed blade survival knife and a Gerber or Leatherman type multi-tool that includes a small wood saw. (We use the pliers and scissors on ours constantly.) Wrap a good amount of duct tape around a pencil or purchase a few small rolls made for portability. Pack a bandana. You can use it for darned near anything. You can bandage up a wound, wrap it around your face for smoke and dust, use it as a wash cloth, or douse it in water and tie it around your neck to keep cool. Also, include an emergency radio, USB charger, and flashlight with a hand crank. You can use the radio to find out what's going on out in the world and the USB charger to keep your phone/GPS juiced up.
Protection From Pain & The Elements
Include a poncho, because being wet is no fun. Tissues, in case nature calls. Antibacterial wet wipes; these things are a life saver to help you clean up if you've just spent the night under a tree or gotten covered in soot or grease. Three or four Mylar emergency blankets; one to wrap around you, one to keep the rain off of your emergency shelter, and a few for charity if you come across a family in the cold with small children.
Pack your favorite pain reliever in a ziplock baggie. Because headaches, sprains, bruising, or muscle tears will slow you down and make you vulnerable. If you need a band-aid use the aforementioned duct tape. For major injuries pack a trauma kit that includes a QuickClot bandage, which will stop any major bleeding.
For those of us living in the deep south, Florida, or Southwest, we need to add a few items such as sunscreen, insect repellent, and haul plenty of extra water with electrolytes.
If you live in colder climates, extra layers of clothing, gloves, and knit or fleece caps are essentials. You know your terrain. Prepare accordingly.
Distance Dependent Items
How far do you normally travel from home to get to work or do your common chores? Assume that you will walk two to four miles per hour, which factors in time for obstacles or perhaps getting off the road if someone suspicious is passing. You know your terrain. If your area is highly urbanized it will take you longer to get home.
If you normally travel roughly 15 miles from home or less you should be able to make it back on the same day (possibly pretty late) without an overnight bed-down. For those with longer commutes, consider adding appropriate bed down gear to your GHB checklist. This would likely include a neutral colored, medium weight sleeping bag or something appropriate to your climate. If bedding down, sleep in your clothes with your valuables inside the bag with you. An emergency Mylar tube tent can also help you preserve heat and keep the ground moisture off of your sleeping bag and clothes.
Your Get Home Bag Checklist
- A low-profile, civilian type backpack with discreet waist straps.
- A single, sturdy outfit with shoes and socks
- Food that keeps well such as nuts or energy bars (without chocolate that will melt)
- Stainless steel canteen, least one liter
- Electrolyte replacement packets
- Extra ammo and magazines for your concealed carry weapon
- 24" zip ties
- Fixed blade survival knife (plenty of great options here)
- Duct tape
- Trauma kit with QuikClot
- GI style poncho
- Antibacterial wet wipes
- 3-4 Mylar emergency blankets
- Pain reliever
- For warm climates: sunscreen, insect repellent, extra water
- For cold climates: Extra layers, gloves, knit cap
- For commutes longer than 15 miles: Sleeping bay and mylar tube tent
Putting Your Get Home Bag Together
Think of your GHB as part of your survival insurance plan. Are you likely to use it? The answer is absolutely yes, especially if you live in an area vulnerable to earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, or any sort of transportation grid-lock.
Start by downloading our printable list and gathering things you already have around the house. Then visit your local store, or see our online store for items we've chosen for their quality and affordability.
Give yourself a deadline. For example, take your half-built bag out to the car tonight. Give yourself until the end of the week to build the rest. Order what you need now and complete your project before something else gets in the way of your survival.