The basics of a get home bag are simple: If you’re not at home, be able to get home. Most people don’t carry a fully loaded bug out bag with them everywhere they go. Chances are, your bug out bag is stored safely in a closet at your house, ready to be grabbed at a moment’s notice. Or maybe your home is the place you’re planning to “bug in” and survive and thrive from your prepared home-base.
Your first line of survival gear is your every day carry (EDC). These are usually the small tools and pocketknives that are easy to carry, hard for others to notice, and will at least be better than nothing if you get caught in a survival situation without any of your other preparedness items.
Carrying a bug out bag to work can be a good idea, but let’s face it – most of us don’t have the room to store a huge bag, and probably wouldn’t be up for that next promotion carrying your full pack out the door as you punch your time card.
That intermediate area between EDC and 72 hour BOB is your “get home bag.”
What to pack in a GHB?
Like bug out bags, your GHB packing list will vary from person to person based on your own life situation. You’ll want to answer some questions like:
How far will I be from home?
What environments (urban, wilderness) lie between work and home?
What kind of job do I have, and what type of clothing will I regularly wear?
What survival situation (natural disaster, terrorism, etc) is MOST LIKELY to be the reason I need to get home?
How far will you travel?
The basic rule of hiking/backpacking is that one can move about 3 miles per hour (2 with a heavier pack) on flat terrain. It only goes down from there. So how far are you from home, and how long do you estimate to get there? Will you be able to safely walk at night? Will you need to make camp one or more nights along the way? These questions will help you get a better understanding of the amount of food, water, and gear you’ll need to pack in your GHB.
What kind of environments will you travel in?
A wilderness bag is much different than an urban get home bag. Small pry-bars or lock picking/breaking tools are useless in the woods, but can be a life saver on city streets. Going to pitch a tent in the center of 3rd Avenue? Unlikely. Consider environmental factors that best suit the environments you will face on your journey.
What are you wearing right now?
Seems a perverted question, but your ease of travel can be impacted by the clothing you wear. If you’re wearing a suit and tie and shiny loafers, consider your speed of travel reduced greatly. If it’s overly hot or cold, how would that suit fare in keeping you reasonably warm/cool while hiking home?
What situation-specific items are needed?
If you’re in the PNW – rain and flood is probably your most likely reason to have to get home fast. Thus, your gear options are going to be quite different from someone in Arizona. Someone in downtown Manhattan might consider face masks a higher priority than someone in the midwest. Consider the most likely scenario that will affect your situation and be prepared.
Food, water, fire, and shelter are the absolute most important things you need to consider. While you can survive days without them, you will move faster and longer, and think better when you are well hydrated, have calories available to be burned, and are able to be warm, dry, and secure.
This isn’t a 72-hour kit (unless it’s a 3 day hike home, then you might as well just carry a bigger bug out bag) – so you don’t necessarily need to pack 3 full days of meals. Most journeys are likely to be under 48 hours to get home. Consider a few energy bars or other “no heat” types of food and snacks. Now isn’t the time to stop and make fire to heat up a bag of hiking meals.
A container full of water BEFORE you head out is better than a dozen high-tech filtration systems. At a minimum, keep a quality water container in your bag so you can (hopefully) fill up as you leave. Better yet, fill your container each morning with fresh, clean water in case you have to get out fast. A small short-term water filtration system, like a LifeStraw is small enough to keep in your bag and should get you a few days of use. If all else fails, a couple of coffee filters from the office coffee pot and the ability to boil water will work.
A lot of fire prep depends on your personal situation, environmental factors, and length of travel. If you’re going to get home in a day and have water and no-cook food handy, you may easily get through a night or two in warm weather without a fire. That said, why not? A standard cigarette lighter weighs almost nothing and is the easiest and fastest fire starting tool you can carry. That should already be part of your EDC gear, even if you don’t smoke. Save fancy fire starters for when you need to make dozens of fires.
Again, situational factors will dictate your overall shelter needs. If you plan on needing a place to camp for the night (or are at a distance where you “might” have to stop and camp), a basic survival shelter can keep you warm and dry and away from basic predators. A basic tarp and some paracord strung between trees makes an easy, lightweight shelter. A military poncho can serve double duty as a rain coat and a makeshift tent. It takes some skill, so practice before you need it.
Tools, Knives, and other oddities
Rule #1: Don’t get fired over what you can and can’t carry to work. You can’t prep without money, so don’t lose an income source over it. Be aware of your company’s policies regarding knives, blades, and any other sorts of tools and pack your get home bag accordingly.
Many multi-tools come without knife blades, and are often not restricted by employer policies. Any tool, even without a knife, can be useful. Multi-tools generally have pliers, a small wire cutting tool, wrenches, files, and even small saws.
For urban survivalists, things like small pry-bars, bolt cutters, as well as infrastructure related tools such as hydrant openers will be of greater use.
Chances are you know the way home – but what if your normal routes become unpassable, or are otherwise not the fastest or easiest way home? Having navigation tools (the old school kind) like maps and a compass, as well as the skills to read them will go a long way in adjusting your route, finding streams and rivers, and avoiding populated areas.
You need a first aid kit in your BOB and your GHB. Treating injury is a high priority in survival, even though it’s often one of the least used sets of gear. However, when you need it – it becomes more important than even your basic survival needs of food, water, and shelter. No need to go overboard here – the point is to make it through until you can get home to your BOB and supply cache. Almost all small backpacking first aid kits can fit into a small 5″x7″ footprint in your bag.
We mentioned it earlier in “what are you wearing?” and now it’s time to answer that question and add the things you need to your GHB to compensate for work clothing. If you’re in an office environment, the clothes you’re wearing probably aren’t going to be comfortable on a day hike home. Sure, it’s survivable with any clothes – but doing it right (fast and safe) makes a difference. Proper footwear is probably the most important clothing item you should place in your get home bag. Either quality hiking boots or even a pair of sneakers will beat those shiny leather heeled business shoes. Don’t forget socks to match those shoes! Decent shoes and the proper socks keep your feet healthy – and if you’re getting home on foot, they’re your primary mode of transportation. Just like you put the right oil and gas in your car, the right shoes and socks keep your feet running smooth. (Pardon the pun).
Get Home Bag Basics
The point is to make it from away from home (work, shopping, whatever) back to your BOB and other stored supplies as fast and safe as possible. Don’t overload your GHB with tons of gizmos and gadgets that weigh you down or are only useful in a limited number of scenarios. Choose items that serve multiple purposes where possible, and choose the smallest, simplest version you can find. Your goal is to make it home in under 48 hours, not to build a wilderness camp to survive for days or weeks. You’re on the move or resting, that’s it.
Stay safe out there!
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