A Prepper’s Guide to Preparing a Get Home Bag

Contributed by Charles T

Have you ever imagined being stranded far from home with no transportation available to carry you back quickly? What would you do if you were at work and something prevented you from getting back home the normal way? Or your car got stuck during a blizzard and you had to stay in a stranger’s house while you waited for the plows to clear the roads? Would you have what you needed to walk home or stay in place for a few days?

These are the questions that get you thinking about the concept of a Get Home Bag (GHB).

A Get Home Bag is similar to a bug out bag, except that instead of being focused on leaving home like a 72hr Bug Out Bag, the Get Home Bag is designed to provide the tools you need to get home in an emergency.

What you need to pack and where you keep your Get Home Bag depends on your lifestyle.

Where to keep your Get Home Bag
If you have a car and drive a distance to work, the most logical way to pack is to have a bag with the supplies you need to walk from your work to home stored in your vehicle. Keeping it in your vehicle ensures that you have it even if an emergency strikes when you are out doing errands. It also allows you to complement your car emergency kit with the gear that you may want in an automotive emergency and what you need if you need to go mobile. Keeping these items close together but separate saves time if you need to leave your vehicle quickly.

If you take public transportation to work, it makes sense to store your get home bag at your place of employment. If you go this route, make sure you do not have any items in your bag that violate your companies policies.

Packing your Get Home Bag
The supplies you will put in your Get Home Bag reflect the difficulties you expect to face on your journey home. They should follow the same general guidelines for what you would include as for a 72hr Bug Out Bag, but with a much more limited scope.

Your Get Home Bag assumes that you are trying to get home as soon as possible. Therefore it is essential to pack very light, and therefore not include some of the “luxury” items you may have in a 72hr Bug Out Bag.

As is commonly discussed for Bug Out Bags, the four major factor to think about are air, shelter, water and food.

Air
In many emergencies that may cause you to leave work and head home, there is a good chance of airborne pollution being a problem. People fleeing their workplaces during the attacks on September 11, 2001 were inundated by toxic smoke from burning and pulverized debris as can be commonly seen in footage from the event.

To prepare for this, having two (or more if you are planning on being altruistic since you probably won’t be alone in the emergency) n95 face masks at the top of your Get Home Bag could be extremely useful.

Shelter
The first idea of shelter we need to talk about is clothing.

Many jobs require attire that is less than optimal for spending a few rough nights on the side of the road. Both men and women’s fashion calls for good looking but impractical footwear in the modern workplace. Either strapped to or kept near your Get Home Bag should be a pair of functional shoes that will help you on your trek. These can be changed depending on the season or the route you are expecting. For most summer/spring/fall seasons, a pair of almost worn out sneakers will be better to have on hand then anything you would normally wear to work. In the winter pack some boots that you are not afraid to walk through snow in. These could prove very handy as a pairing with your Automotive Emergency Kit as well in case you get stuck in snow while driving.

Socks appropriate to the weather should be packed as well, bring at least as many pairs as days you expect to walk home. A full day of walking will result in some sweaty socks and having a fresh pair to change into at night can help keep your feet warm and prevent blisters and foot fatigue through extended walking.

If you don’t do a lot of walking, in general, plan on getting some blisters. The best way to do this is to get some Moleskin for your bag that you apply when you start to feel chafing. Don’t wait until you already have a blister, it’s better to reinforce the area at the first sign of trouble then try to fix it later.

Once you are set in the shoes department, look at what you need to keep your legs and torso sheltered.

A pair of lightweight convertible hiking Pants should meet most needs during warmer months, and in the winter switch out with heavier material with a wool underlayer for extra warmth.

In any temperature range you should plan on bringing two spare pair of hiking Compression Shorts. These will help minimize chafing and discomfort on the trip.

Depending on your climate either a Long Sleeve or Short Sleeve undershirt can help keep sweat away from your body. This helps either in cold or hot temperatures, so having a good undershirt is very important.

The top layer of clothing is especially seasonally dependent. In the summer an extra t-shirt or two may suffice. In the winter you will want to make sure you have access to multiple layers in case you need to survive a frigid night outside.

Your extremities such as your head and hands need consideration too. If you keep a pair of Mechanics Gloves as part of your Car Emergency Kit they should suffice for hand protection in the warmer months and be of some help in the fall. In the winter though you will want to make sure to bring a good pair of mittens to keep your fingers warm.

On your head you will want either a Baseball or Boonie style hat for sun and insect protection. In the winter at least have a Wool Beanie in your bag for extra warmth.

All of these items are great as long as the weather is good, but if it is raining out you will need to either draw on some Emergency Ponchos from your car emergency kit or have another option. If you have ever used the cheap plastic emergency ponchos you know they don’t work well in the wind and tend to move around. The Frog Togg Brand of Ponchos are lightweight alternative and provide a great addition to a get home bag.

This covers the immediate shelter offered by clothing. The next step is looking at additional items to bring that can help you if you need to plan on staying the night outside.

If you are walking home following some emergency that happened when you were driving in your car or at work, you need to bring what would allow you to be self-sufficient until you got home. In a better case scenario, you could stay at a coworkers house or check into a hotel and ride out the crisis out of harms way. For this reason plan on having at least, $300 in cash in mostly 20’s with $100 worth of 10, 5 and 1 dollar bills. Having the cash will allow you to stay even if the credit card systems are down. The money can be used also for things like taxi’s and vending machines in the case that cards aren’t accepted for normal items as well. Throw in $5 worth of quarters and you should be set as far as cash is concerned.

If you can’t find a hotel or a friend to crash with, you may have to spend a night outdoors. Since this is a short-term emergency, you should not worry about a tent or hammock or advanced sleeping system. As long as what you have allows you to moderately rest and protects you from the elements you should be ok. Either a Cheap or More Expensive emergency bivvy should suffice for a few nights. If you have lots of space in your bag, you could consider a ground pad, but realistically this luxury can probably be left behind unless you really want it and have the space. In lieu of a pad make sure to pile up some pine needles or some sort of layer so that you have something to insulate you from the ground.

 

Water
It is essential to think about how you will provide yourself with enough water for your trip. Keeping lots of water in your get home bag may be impractical, but having at least 3 half-liter water bottles is a good start. These won’t get you very far though, so bringing a good lightweight Water Filter and Iodine Tablets is very important. Pair you filtered water with Powdered Gatorade to cover any odd tastes and to provide you body with additional nutrients.

If you live in an arid area where these is no potential for resupplying your water, you should plan on packing all the water you need to get home in your bag. Yes, this is heavy and impractical. But without enough water you won’t get home. And that is what this bag is here to help you do. Ditch some other items, but do not skimp on water.

Because of the short duration of the trip, do not plan on boiling water, as this would require you bringing pots and to make a fire on the way, which would be time-consuming and probably very impractical/illegal if you are walking in a city or suburban area.

Food
To minimize weight in your get home bag, it is recommended that you only bring food items that are ready to eat with minimum (ideally no) preparation. So no foods that require additional water or cooking. Civilian MRE style foods are your best bet here. Pack one for each day you expect to be on the road. You don’t need a ton of food to get by, and it is ok if you get home hungry. Pair the MRE’s with Cliff and Power Bars to provide some extra energy. The key thing to remember when eating is that food requires water to digest. If you don’t drink while you are eating, your body will pull the water from your cells and dehydrate you quickly. If you don’t have anything to drink, DO NOT EAT. You will kill yourself from dehydration and you can go a lot longer without food than water.

This covers the primary elements of Air, Shelter, Water and Food for your get home bag. But what else should you bring?

Depending on your route home there are other specific tools you may need. Thes are:

Compass (if you are expecting to stay off the main roads).
Backup Cell Phone Battery (if you want to make sure your phone has juice in case you can’t charge it).
Lighter (in the unlikely case you need to start a fire).
Fixed Blade Knife (for applications where a multitool may not be strong enough, potentially defense).
Multitool (for anything and everything if it is not already in your every day carry.
Mini Bolt Cutters (if you will be going through an urban area and expect to hit a lot of chain link fences and are OK damaging other people’s property).
Mace (for a non-lethal defense tool that may be okay to store at your employer).
Whistle (for signaling, scaring off potential attackers who don’t want attention).

And while you may survive just thinking about the main concerns of air, shelter, water and food, you want to make sure you have a small medical kit to keep any minor injuries from becoming big problems. The Adventure Medical Kit 2.0 offers a decent foundation to start with, but it needs some extra items to be really valuable. Make sure you include:

Sun Screen packets.
Hand Sanitizer.

Bug Spray.

Chapstick.

Keep all of your items in a medium sized backpack. Ideally, you want to pick something that will not draw any attention. Stay away from tactical or molle type bags. In an urban area nothing stands out more than military looking equipment. Just a regular bag by SwissGear or another reputable brand should suffice.

Conclusion

Your get home kit is not meant to be an extensive all-inclusive survival package. It is the bare minimum of equipment to help you make it to your home in case of an emergency where you are left with only your feet for transportation. Let’s hope you never need to use it!

Comments

  1. Great article. A get home bag is something I carry in my vehicle at all times. Bolt cutters is an item I should consider carrying. Food for thought! Thanks!

  2. Thomas The Tinker says:

    Thank You Charley T… good affirmation with no drama added! I’d like to read everybodys packing list for this. I wonder if everyone that reads this has a GHB in the trunk.. locker.. lower file cab. drawer.. closet.. hanging on the coat rack..? Ours live in our cars. We keep the holy ‘6 Cs’ in each (a “Frog-Tog” for each of us). We use our DD old school book bags… sorta a ‘Grayman’ thing… each with a pair of lightly used running shoes tied on.. a second hand fleece jackets.. a small can of “Bag Balm” with the spare socks and a “water straw”.

    C ordage, 50′ each of 1/8th. and 1/4 ”
    C ontainer(s), 1 wide mouth Nagalene, 1 stainless canteen.
    C over, 2 uber-leaf bags and Frog-togs for each of us.
    C utting tool, 1 multi-tool and a Mora (thanks MD for the tip).
    C ombustion, 1 tube of storm matches, 10 soda straw fire starters, on ‘fire stick’.
    C alories, 1 3600ca. Mainstay bar, 4 400ca. power bars.

    We also keep a 10’X12′ tarp and a surplus Czech bed roll and a small ‘pantry’ of snacks in each vehicle.

  3. THis is a very good article! THank you Charlie T & MD.

  4. Axelsteve says:

    Good article !
    A good reminder of getting home from work or somewhere when the baloon goes up.

  5. Enjoyed your article! The Sawyer mini and Lifestraw are our primary filters for backpacks. I often leave out any shelter other than a poncho, not as comfortable as being able to stretch out, but certainly servicable when sleeping in a curled up or sitting against a tree. In the infantry we would spend many nights sleeping like that in all weather conditions.

    I prefer USGI ponchos for their durability, but Frogg Togg is what I usually carry. A gallon sized ziplock bag is kept for storing the poncho if wet. Fold the dry side inward.

  6. JP in MT says:

    Sounds a lot like our gear. Stored in Plano cases. Includes supplies in case we are snowed in (most common problem) and stuck in a motel for a couple of days.

    Other equipment and clothes go in case we are “walking in”.

    But it is still a “work in progress”.

  7. Good list, Charles T. Unlike a lot of them, it isn’t way over stocked with things which might be nice, but would all together severely weigh one down.

    Suggestions: The moleskin is critically important, but I would add a couple pair of extremely thin liner socks. They go a long way toward preventing blisters by preventing chafing, and draw moisture away from the skin. They can be rotated and dried by tying them to the outside of the pack, along with the heavier socks.

    Butt’R (brand name, Amazon carries it) is a lubricating lotion used by bicyclists which I have found extremely good for preventing chafing between toes, on inner thighs, and between the buttocks. Chafed inner thighs will quickly become excruciatingly painful. This stuff is rarely mentioned, but it can be critically important. It is also good for treating chafes.

    Related: Synthetic underwear, for the same reason. Cotton holds moisture, and moisture leads quickly to chaffing. Amazon carries it. Not cheap enough for me to use everyday, but definitely important for avoiding chafing in a ‘got to get home’ event. One brand I’ve tried and am happy with except for the price: ExOfficio Men’s Give-N-Go Brief. I use them for traveling -three pair- because they can be washed at night and usually dry by morning. MUCH more comfortable than cotton.

    Same thing for pants: cotton or wool has it’s advantages, but synthetics dry much quicker. The convertibles you listed are a really good option.

    Food: A long lasting, low salt (doesn’t promote thirst) option is “Lifeboat rations” aka ’emergency food rations’. Packed for five year shelf life in widely varying temperatures. Compact, a lot like sugar cookies. Taste good and lots of calories for the weight.

    Some Betadine in a small plastic bottle and bandaids and/or duct tape which can be used for cuts can be important. Six feet of tape doesn’t take up much space or weight. Also some aspirin or similar.

    My DW switched jobs last year to one much further away, so we mapped out the basic route home, printed it out, and marked alternate routes in case the ‘best’ one is blocked or seems dangerous. She put it in a page protector and into the GHB.

    Thanks for the article, It’s a good one.

  8. Well done! My office is many miles from my house (mostly rural), but with a plan in place and a get home bag, I expect to make it. Another thing I have in place is a planned route. If I have to make it home on foot, but someone can come get me, they know the obvious and more discrete routes I would take so that they can intercept along the way.

  9. I pull campers all over the country and have all my supplies in my 1 ton pickup. 2 weeks of food 2 cases of water, a life straw filter, various knives and flash lights , and a 40 cal.auto with 50 rounds of ammo. Also a ifak.

    • paul murphy says:

      only guy so far that’s mentioned being armed. whats up with this ? I don’t even go to the mens room without a pistol or is my tin hat on too tight?

  10. One think like to carry is fix a flat and a kit to do a tire repair, in y bigger SUV, the tires are large so I like to carry 2 or more cans

  11. One important thing missing is eye protection.

    While the N95 mask protects the bottom of your face and your innards in a dusty or worse environment, how do you navigate when your eyes are watering and burning? Another publication suggested swim goggles, which make a tight fit and don’t take up much room in a bag or pocket. Another option are skier’s goggles, which come in different colored lenses and have filtered vents around the edges. There are also be military surplus goggles of various designs that might be a favorite.

    Test your bolt cutters before you need them. I bought an inexpensive pair many years ago. They cut soft metal, but the jaws bent when I tried to cut something harder like chain links.

  12. Instead of pliers, bolt cutters, etc., I carry a set of fencing pliers. They are pliers, hammer, pick, wire, and bolt cutter all in one with insulated handles.

  13. Joecardio says:

    I too carry a set of small bolt cutters and I’ve tried them on chain link and small bolts and they work great. One other thing I carry is a small to medium sized crowbar or prybar. Mine is about 22″ and has the middle wrapped in paracord. Though not in a get home situation, the crowbar has come in handy on several occasions which finally shut my friends up for having one in the car in my bag. I carry a tarp also as someone mentioned and strapped to the bottom of my bag is a Rothco wool blanket. I live in Canada so even at night in the summer it can get chilly and I find the extra weight of this isn’t too bad. Be well everyone.

  14. j.r. guerra in s. tx. says:

    I’m lucky in that our home is only about seven miles away. Most of the route is small suburbs / agricultural fields, with a rail line about three miles north that later goes several block past the home. So even in pitch dark, I can use that to find my way home, if electric is gone and it is the dark of the moon.

    For that, I keep a small evac kit. Just the minimum, nothing to weigh me down or gain the interest of anyone intent in robbing. The largest item is a U.S. military 2 quart canteen bladder, probably the heaviest too when filled. Seven miles is not far at all.

    • Great article and comments…writing down things to add to our GHBs. One thing I remind my family of is to keep at least 3 days of their prescription meds with them at all times…rotate out occasionally. Most places that I travel to are 30 to 60 minutes away by car, but that is a few days hike on foot in a good situation.

  15. Great article Charlie and one of the best one’s I have read. You imply that your situation dictates what you carry in your GHB and I had some further thoughts for a longer trip home. On weekends, I travel into Chicago for a 2nd job and made my pack a little heavier to compensate for the 100 mile trek. My main job is around 20 miles and manageable in a one day hike. Returning from Chicago would be days longer and significantly more dangerous, even when armed. I purposely overpack and would adjust what I bring before heading out. I know the change of seasons can catch us unprepared when we forget to update our packs, so minor cold weather clothes remain in my pack.
    Pack several folding maps to your pack. You never know where you might be at the time of trouble. Planning primary and alternate routes are great, but the lightweight maps will help if you must box around a significant unforeseen problem. After all, we expect chaos in the multiple SHTF scenarios.
    For wet weather and potential layering, I pack gortex top and pants. Consider where your weapon/spare magazine will be and how you will be able to gain access to it when wearing your pancho or gortex.
    I pack an 8 x 10 tarp on bottom of pack. Prevents moisture from wicking up from bottom of pack if you set it down. Very versatile, from making a tent, rain fly, or makeshift litter. A camouflage pattern will at least make you less of a target if trying to stay hidden.
    Seasonal changes will also affect our food and water supplies. Freezing temperatures affect our stored water supplies. I empty out my canteens in fall and store 4 simple plastic water bottles in a pan under my seats in case they were to burst. My intention would be to fill up my backpack water carrier before leaving if possible and pack several smaller water bottles. Food is adversely affected by high tempastures as it sits in our 120 degree vehicles in summer. I replace the food yearly in my GHB around September or October to help keep food from spoiling.
    If you have a long distance to travel, consider packing a small propane burner and pot. Some lukewarm coffee will do wonders for me in keeping my morale up. I could also bowl water if my life straw malfunctions. Less likely being noticed vs starting a fire.
    The Med kit mentioned is quite good. For longer Trekkers like myself, add more moleskin, ibaprofen, and personal meds as someone already mentioned. The small wet wipe packages to treat poison ivy would also be very handy. I also pack several anti-diarrhea pills and tums.
    Hope these comments were helpful.

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