Gear

A Quest for the Perfect Get Home Bag

open get home bag

Most regular readers of this and other preparedness-oriented blogs will be plenty familiar with the acronym BOB, or Bug-Out Bag. Other classes of packed kit you have no doubt heard of are Go-Bag and INCH Bag (I’m Never Coming Home).

One you may not have heard of or conceptualized is a Get-Home Bag, and that’s the topic of this article. Plenty of good-natured debate continually occurs over what, exactly, each one is, is not, and contains.

A Get-Home bag is optimized to get you back home, not away from home. It sounds like a pedantic, mincing descriptor, but as a concept there are important considerations in such a scenario that you should plan for accordingly. The pack itself is an important consideration but less precious than its contents, and that is where our discussion centers.

Read on and we’ll dig into this interesting and useful concept that, for a great many commuters and those with road-warrior jobs, is more likely to be used in an actual emergency than your BOB.

BOB, INCH, Get-Home, What’s the Difference?

And why should you care? A fair question and you are right to ask, dear reader. A BOB is the mainstay Get-Out-of-Dodge solution, containing everything the carrier needs to survive and thrive when leaving home or a fixed location whether for a secondary location or simply greener, safer pastures. Food, water, medical, fire starting, insulation and shelter gear will all be inside.

An INCH bag may be thought of as a heavier BOB, often in a framed pack, more akin to an infantryman’s rucksack, and contains more of what a BOB contains and then some, with a focus on sustainment systems. As the name implies, this is usually loaded in anticipation of an event so drastic that it either destroys your home, makes return impossible or the surrounding area completely uninhabitable.

The subject of this article, the Get-Home bag, is one that is kept either near your person or in your vehicle whenever you leave home or the immediate area around it.

It is often BOB sized or smaller depending on the distance you travel from home regularly and will be packed with items that will help you deal with sharp, sudden crises and, worst-case scenario, help you make a journey back on foot.

The Get Home bag as a concept may be thought of as a sort of “quick-change” kit, helping you go from cubicle commando to marching ready in no time, and contains the minimum supplies to keep you safe, oriented and mobile, heading for home and family, if applicable.

Think about it: if you commute to your job and were completely unable to get back by road when disaster struck, leaving the fate of your family unknown or your life in jeopardy, would you have what you need to take off toward home, immediately?

If the answer is no, you need a Get Home bag.

No Ride Home

What are some scenarios that could occur where you might need to ditch your vehicle, or leave work and start hoofing home? Note your automobile may be totally functional, but some accident or even has rendered the supplies in your bag necessary for life-support. Same concept.

Start thinking about what your routine entails. Most of us will spend a significant fraction of our lives at work, and barring our job keeps us on the move, working a route or traveling randomly we have the benefit of knowing what and how long the path home is. Using our basic commute as a guide, we can pack smartly for that potential journey.

Below is a list of a few real-life crises that have happened to people, and will probably happen again. Here’s hoping they do not happen to you.

  • A major terror attack or other man-made disaster shuts down roadways and throws the city you work in into panicked lockdown. You are unable to reach your family by phone, text or email. Movement by road is impossible, and your fear of follow-on attacks and a rapidly deteriorating civil situation has convinced you to take off on foot for home and hearth, 30 miles away.
  • You knew that Chinese knock-off GPS was a bad choice. After a wrong turn, your long-haul truck has skidded off an icy road and become immobilized in a ditch far off the preserve. You have not seen another truck. Weather conditions are cold and rough, and expected to turn awful in about a day. Your fuel is low and the next road even infrequently traveled is back the way you came.
  • Your pleasurable ramble up the local mountain has taken a turn for the serious after you return to your Jeep to find the battery totally dead. You did not file a trip plan with your family or the park rangers. With top and doors removed, it is no shelter, and the idea of spending a cold night on the mountainside with rain moving in is too perilous to consider. If you can get back down to more traveled paths, you know you’ll have a much better chance of being picked up.

Those are just a few occasions where a bag packed for the purpose of keeping you fed, clothed and equipped for contingencies will be invaluable. Now that we know what we are facing, how best to pack to prepare?

Special Considerations for Commuters and Travelers

Before going any further on the packing list, take a moment to consider what your typical commute or day away from home looks like. Whatever you do or don’t do for a living, there are patterns. Do you work in an office with a business or business casual dress code? Chances are those articles of clothing will do nothing except hamper you.

What is your commute like? Is it always along the same route? How populated is it? Is rush hour traffic an issue for you, specifically would a major incident freeze the traffic pattern solid for miles on a typical day?

If you commute via train, subway or car pool do you know the way home well, or do you zone out on the ride? Do you travel around for work? How far do you go typically? Your workplace and the area around it, is it safe?

How about any neighborhoods or areas of town on the shortest way home? Are they prone to becoming dangerous when the balloon goes up, or will you need to give them plenty of space?

You need to start assessing and analyzing these factors so that you may prepare intelligently and not pack the kitchen sink in what is supposed to be a light bag that will help you stay fast and agile.

Remember, the watchword for a Get-Home bag is minimalist. Expect that you will be hoofing it to save your bacon or get home to the family. Anything that adds weight will hinder that, especially if you are not in top physical condition.

get home bag backpack

The Bag Itself

Any sturdy backpack with enough capacity for your goodies that is suitable for carrying long distances on foot will work here. If you have no experience carrying a pack extended distances on foot, you’ll need to read up on the subject to gain a basic understanding.

A simple, generic backpack will carry most of what you need, but its thin straps and lack of waist belt will prove uncomfortable on a long trek.

Pay attention to quality, whatever you choose: most folks only shoulder their pack as long as it takes them to move from the garage to the car to work back to the car and finally back home. They do not know how long their pack will hold up when carried far and perhaps a little heavier than the usual lunch, laptop and book.

The time to discover your pack isn’t up to snuff or is maddeningly uncomfortable is not soaking wet, scared to death and picking up all your gear from the roadside while a city burns behind you.

The Basics

First, decide where you will keep the bag. You might keep it in your car, in which case you also have extra storage capacity in the vehicle itself and can grab any specialty items you may need from the vehicles stores.

If you are able to keep the bag in your workplace, either in your office, cubicle or locker without drawing undue attention, do so. Your bag will likely not be packed so full it does not have room for workplace essentials and so will fit right in to most office environments with nary a glance so long as you did not choose a super-tactified military pack.

Based on your analysis of your daily routine above, consider your footwear. If you do not wear shoes adequate to fast, all-terrain walking, include a pair of hiking shoes. Boots are fine if you prefer them and have room, or sneakers at a minimum.

You do not want to be slowed by your shoes, or enduring blisters which can turn into showstoppers if untreated on a long march. Consider that you may be moving through a landscape that changed in an instant, one covered with broken glass, jagged metal, or hot slag.

If your clothing, specifically your pants, is inadequate to the journey ahead, include a change of clothes suitable to the season and weather. Hyperthermia and hypothermia are year round worldwide killers, so include outer garments and headwear suitable to the task of keeping your core temperature stabilized.

You aren’t going to do the Superman in the phone booth thing as soon as disaster rears its head; instead, once any initial danger has passed you will take a few minutes to clad yourself in clothing that will enhance your capabilities instead of hinder them.

ghb items

Packing List

The following items are all more or less universal regardless of season or location. Your specific routine or anticipated situation may mandate other items be included, or some omitted entirely for uselessness. Do not adhere to this as gospel. Use your head, and include anything you want, or need, so long as you can justify it.

Water Supply– In bottles or bladder, as much as makes sense based on your anticipated route home. Water is very heavy, and if you have to hoof a long, long way, you’ll be sweating like a madman. Know where you can procure additional water, and include a small filter like a life straw and sterilization tablets to make it safe enough to drink in the short term.

Food– Think maximum energy density here. Gels, hard candies or chews for quick energy and MREs. A broken down MRE takes up less space, and is one of the few food items that are probably good to go even when kept in the trunk of the car for a while.

First Aid Kit– For trauma. Includes tourniquet, bandages, gauze, gloves, and antiseptic solution at a minimum. Advanced kits include chest seals, airways and decompression needles. You must know how to use this stuff for it to be any good to you, so if you have no idea beyond basic CPR get training. You’ll likely have opportunity to use it.

Minor Injury Kit– Gauze pads, Band-aids, tape, tweezers, burn cream, variety of medications and don’t forget the moleskin!

Flashlight– Pick a model with good brightness and battery life. A pocket clip or lanyard will help keep it on you.

Headlamp– To maintain a comfortable stride in the dark, or working hands-free, nothing beats a good headlamp. This one does not need to be crazy bright. Bonus points if it shares batteries with the light.

Spare Batteries– For light, headlamp and any other electronic gadgets like a GPS. However much makes sense depending on your routine and runtime of the lights.

Chemlights– Great for signaling, marking, and safe, heatless light.

hatchet inside get home bag

Knife or Small Hatchet– A sturdy fixed blade knife is a good all-purpose tool and defensive weapon, as is a hatchet or a tomahawk. The ‘hawk has an advantage over the knife when it comes to breaking in or out of places, including vehicles, but will always weigh a little more.

Multitool– Too small and handy to pass on. A small multi-plier or Swiss Army knife works well and both contain smaller blades for detail work.

Pistol– When your fellow citizens get stressed and crazy, or just nasty and opportunistic, accept no substitutes. This entry includes holster, spare ammo and support gear. Practice ahead of time to make sure your pack straps and belt do not interfere with your draw or concealment if at all possible.

Lighters– At least two. If you need to get a fire going pronto, don’t count on anything less.

Tarp or Flyweight Shelter– You may be able to take shelter where you stop to rest, or you might not. A tarp can be fashioned into a shade or a decent rain covering at the least, and if you can spring for it and have room, a super-light tent large enough for one is an option.

CordageParacord or accessory cord are the prepper go-tos. Dozens of uses, and important for lashing, setting up shelter and more.

Reflector or Space Blanket– Weighs next to nothing, and keeps a ton of heat next to your body. If you have to camp, used in conjunction with a fire can keep you quite warm indeed.

Maps– Road maps, general region maps and topographic maps. There is no way to truly know what you’ll be facing or what route you might have to consider home or just away from immediate danger. Don’t rely on memory alone.

Compass– A lensatic, field or button compass. For general orientation and used in conjunction with your maps to find your way.

GPS– Not every disaster will decapitate the GPS networks. Modern ones are excellent, small and have great run time. Keep it charged and updated.

Note Pad and Pen/Pencil– Evolving situations, word of mouth, news reports and radio broadcasts may come fast and often or infrequently. Write down anything worth remembering, make sketches and leave notes with this.

Spare Socks and Underwear– Take care of your feet! Especially in a situation like this. Spare undies are good because a dry set can help prevent rash and sores from setting in.

Gloves– Heavy leather gloves are your best bet for navigating out of a busted up urban area with hands intact. Lighter technical gloves are more dexterous, especially when shooting, but give less protection.

Flash Drive– Loaded with electronic copies of all your vital documents and ID’s. If you lose your wallet in the scrum, you’ll be thrilled you have this. Keep it password encrypted for security and hide it well in your pack.

Wad of Cash– A bunch. When the sky is falling, cash speaks. Even if you make it to a town or place where things are a little calmer, network and service outages my make cards useless. Being able to buy anything else you may need (including a ride) will be a comfort.

Conclusion

The Get Home bag is your ticket out of bad situation when cut-off at work or when traveling. By taking the time to pack one smartly and keeping it handy at all times you will have the gear and the confidence to go along with your skills when it is time to cut-bait and hoof it back to your castle.

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About Charles Yor

Charles Yor is an advocate of low-profile preparation, readiness as a virtue and avoiding trouble before it starts. He has enjoyed a long career in personal security implementation throughout the lower 48 of the United States.
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5 thoughts on “A Quest for the Perfect Get Home Bag

  1. In the aftermath of 9/11 I recall seeing news footage of workers in NYC hoofing it homeward in business suits & high heels. Some probably wished they had N95 masks. When i returned to work a week later i always had a get home bag with me. Hiking boots, sox, underwear, layered clothing. Knitted toque & baseball cap. N95 mask, gloves, bottled water, hi energy snax, spare glasses, flashlight & headlight with spare batteries, notebook. My route home was 16km, 10 miles, 5 times the distance I walked home from highschool. Past a major airport. I was ready, not for anything & everyyhing, but at least better prepared than i ever was before our society changed.

    1. ROD Clark,

      In the aftermath of 9/11 I recall seeing news footage of workers in NYC hoofing it homeward in business suits & high heels. Some probably wished they had N95 masks. When i returned to work a week later i always had a get home bag with me.

      I watched the same footage and was working at the time about 31 miles from home; but, having traveled distances this far or farther in my career, I always had a BOB / GO / GHB in the vehicle. Another thing I did regularly was take what often turned out to be the long way home, by trying alternative routes, avoiding the normal faster freeways when I could. Having a map (no inexpensive GPS available at the time) and familiarizing me with these alternate routes meant that I could probably avoid hiking, for at least a portion of the trip if push came to shove.
      I regularly carried a bag with N95 masks, water packets and snacks as well as a water filtration bottle and coffee filters to hydrate from any water source in a really bad situation. I also carried space blankets and a Frogg Toggs rain suit, that could keep me going in all but the most horrible thunderstorm.
      I always carried more gear than others, like a flashlight, a knife, and space blankets. At the time I carried a large fanny pack made by what now appears to be the defunct Hafner enterprises of Lake City, Florida. It was large enough to carry a firearm and a ton of other things. When I first started carrying it I got a few stares; but, when I disclosed the contents and explained why I carried it, all was then OK. To this day I carry it &/or a 511 tactical vest, chock full of useful stuff. I once heard someone state that the question is not if you are paranoid; but, if you are paranoid enough!!! and that fits my bill quite well, never leaving home without a rather full EDC and proper kits for the season in the vehicles.

  2. Your get home bag will depend on where you are going.
    Say– you are gonna travel from somewhere in the southeast to somewhere in in north east.
    Gun laws are vastly different between those areas.
    How will you plan for that trip?

  3. Charles,
    This is all in all a good list; but, thankfully, something that applies less to me today in retirement than it did in the past. I was that cubical commando for 40+ years, traveling anywhere from 25 to 40 miles each way to work and I carried enough in my vehicle to sustain me for a week or more in any condition. Today we rarely travel more than 15 miles from home and know and have alternate routes to get back here, and noncommercial ways to communicate to friends should we need help or transport.

    It is often BOB sized or smaller depending on the distance you travel from home regularly and will be packed with items that will help you deal with sharp, sudden crises and, worst-case scenario, help you make a journey back on foot.

    Perhaps the biggest problem as we age isn’t the proper GHB; but, the proper GHH (Get Home Human). 50 or so years ago I hiked the Appalachian trail from northern TN to western PA and enjoy the entire 3 weeks, living out of a pack with no shower; but, today, I’m not that 19 year old kid anymore and long walks are a decidedly bigger problem.

    Think about it: if you commute to your job and were completely unable to get back by road when disaster struck, leaving the fate of your family unknown or your life in jeopardy, would you have what you need to take off toward home, immediately?

    Back in the day, I would say a firm Yes!!! and even practiced it on a few weekends, with proper communications and SAG support. Today presents a bigger problem; but, only on occasion when we travel to the big city (Columbus) for certain specialist doctors or tests. We always have people on this end that know where we’ll be and most have some method of coming for us if required. A lot of 4WD trucks and a few hummers in this community, and rural folks who aren’t afraid to go off road.
    Depending on the crisis, a GHB might also just let you shelter in place in your cubical until things calm down and are back more to normal.

    What are some scenarios that could occur where you might need to ditch your vehicle, or leave work and start hoofing home? Note your automobile may be totally functional, but some accident or even has rendered the supplies in your bag necessary for life-support.

    I did on occasion take a very long time to either get to work or get back home; but, the fuel rule for gas tanks of ”½ is empty” helps there, since while others wait in line, you go on home,

    A major terror attack or other man-made disaster shuts down roadways and throws the city you work in into panicked lockdown. You are unable to reach your family by phone, text or email. Movement by road is impossible, and your fear of follow-on attacks and a rapidly deteriorating civil situation has convinced you to take off on foot for home and hearth, 30 miles away.

    This is where practicing those alternate routes so you can drive at least part of the way home is important. Also, keeping an eye on your surroundings and an ear to the ground can allow you to bug back in before a full blown crisis traps you.

    Your pleasurable ramble up the local mountain has taken a turn for the serious after you return to your Jeep to find the battery totally dead. You did not file a trip plan with your family or the park rangers. With top and doors removed, it is no shelter, and the idea of spending a cold night on the mountainside with rain moving in is too perilous to consider. If you can get back down to more traveled paths, you know you’ll have a much better chance of being picked up.

    I’m sorry; but, someone in this situation has asked for it. I always had jumper cables &/or jumper pack in my Land Cruiser, and traveling with no top into the wild is just plain dumb.

    Pay attention to quality, whatever you choose: most folks only shoulder their pack as long as it takes them to move from the garage to the car to work back to the car and finally back home. They do not know how long their pack will hold up when carried far and perhaps a little heavier than the usual lunch, laptop and book.

    You should perhaps consider more than shouldering your pack. A light frame pack can transfer a lot of the weight from your shoulders to your hips, and when properly fitted, make carrying a load a much easier task.

    Another thing I often use is a simple tool bag. The ones from Harbor Freight are inexpensive and rugged.

    Based on your analysis of your daily routine above, consider your footwear. If you do not wear shoes adequate to fast, all-terrain walking, include a pair of hiking shoes. Boots are fine if you prefer them and have room, or sneakers at a minimum.

    Even working in an office, as an engineer I was always in a rather casual environment (jeans, polo shirt & black tennis or walking shoes); but, I was often surrounded by other people who preferred the white shirt, tie, and stiff dress shoes. If you are one of those people (you know who you are), this is seriously important, if you have to walk more than out to the car in the parking lot.

    Food– Think maximum energy density here. Gels, hard candies or chews for quick energy and MREs. A broken down MRE takes up less space, and is one of the few food items that are probably good to go even when kept in the trunk of the car for a while.

    I have always broken down my MRE’s and kept the entrée and accessorie packs separate. Those accessory packs may also contain things like chewing gum, or toilet paper, with the later something you would well need on your Get Home Journey. Some packets of wet wipes might also be a blessing. LOL

    Flashlight– Pick a model with good brightness and battery life. A pocket clip or lanyard will help keep it on you.

    This is perhaps both the easiest and the hardest item to get. It’s easy because the LED versions are plentiful & hard because there’s such a large selection. LED’s with rechargeable batteries make up the bulk of the many I own.

    Headlamp– To maintain a comfortable stride in the dark, or working hands-free, nothing beats a good headlamp. This one does not need to be crazy bright. Bonus points if it shares batteries with the light.

    The ones I found and use are now inexpensive enough to fit any budget.
    80 Lumen COB Headlamp HLPY are powered by 3AAA batteries that are included, and most of my flashlights can use the 18650 lithium ion cell(s) or the cartridge that holds those same 3 AAA batteries. I purchased mine at the local Rural King and they can be found here: https://www.ruralking.com/led-headlamp for $5.00. Best deal I’ve encountered.

    Spare Batteries– For light, headlamp and any other electronic gadgets like a GPS. However much makes sense depending on your routine and runtime of the lights.

    I use rechargeable batteries with either vehicle or solar chargers.

    Chemlights – Great for signaling, marking, and safe, heatless light.

    I have a few dozen of these in various sizes and colors, all purchased at my local Dollar Tree. They once were only available at Halloween; but, seem to be a staple in all of our local stores, often with more than one for your dollar.

    Multitool– Too small and handy to pass on. A small multi-plier or Swiss Army knife works well and both contain smaller blades for detail work.

    A Gerber in its nylon belt sheath and my handgun are sitting comfortably on my belt as I type hits. They go on in the morning with my pants and belt, with a knife slipped into my pants pocket. When I leave the house, I put on my 511 tactical vest which contains several loaded magazines in one of its many pockets.

    Pistol – When your fellow citizens get stressed and crazy, or just nasty and opportunistic, accept no substitutes.

    Reference the item above this one.

    Lighters– At least two. If you need to get a fire going pronto, don’t count on anything less.

    I carry the mini BIC lighters along with a USB chargeable plasma lighter and at least one fire steel.

    Tarp or Flyweight Shelter– You may be able to take shelter where you stop to rest, or you might not. A tarp can be fashioned into a shade or a decent rain covering at the least, and if you can spring for it and have room, a super-light tent large enough for one is an option.

    Reflector or Space Blanket– Weighs next to nothing, and keeps a ton of heat next to your body. If you have to camp, used in conjunction with a fire can keep you quite warm indeed.

    While I always have a few of the inexpensive aluminized Mylar units in my EDC, the Grabber Outdoors Original Space Brand Sportsman’s Hooded Blanket/Poncho is another I always carry in the EDC or vehicle kits. This unit comes in various colors, has corner grommets for building a shelter and a fold out hood for use as raingears, or to make a field expedient personal shelter.
    https://www.amazon.com/Grabber-Outdoors-Original-Sportsmans-Blanket/dp/B0166NGMWO/ref=sr_1_fkmrnull_2?keywords=Grabber+-+The+Original+Space+Brand+Sportsman%27s+Hooded+Blanket&qid=1556327668&s=sporting-goods&sr=1-2-fkmrnull

    Cordage– Paracord or accessory cord are the prepper go-tos. Dozens of uses, and important for lashing, setting up shelter and more.

    I always have several hundred feet of this with me. When used with the grommet corner space blanket above, it can build a quick shelter. Since it’s a 7 strand nylon construction, that lighter is also good to seal the cut ends to keep them from fraying.

    Maps & Compass
    ‘nuff said!!!!
    For rough terrain, learn to use the compass to walk straight line waypoints.

    GPS– Not every disaster will decapitate the GPS networks. Modern ones are excellent, small and have great run time. Keep it charged and updated.

    While most smart phones have built in GPS and there are apps to show your location, don’t count on the navigation / mapping features of these, since they often load map segments as you travel. Our vehicle GPS has internal maps for all of North America and we get updates at least a few times per year.

    Note Pad and Pen/Pencil– Evolving situations, word of mouth, news reports and radio broadcasts may come fast and often or infrequently. Write down anything worth remembering, make sketches and leave notes with this.

    Since I have some vision issues, I also carry a voice recorder that can store up to 400 short messages so catching fleeting moments or descriptions can be done quickly.

    Spare Socks and Underwear– Take care of your feet! Especially in a situation like this. Spare undies are good because a dry set can help prevent rash and sores from setting in.

    Amen!!!! When camping or backpacking I’ve worn the same jeans and T-Shirt for days; but, socks and undies are a real necessity.

    Gloves
    Several pairs in my EDC, with extras for winter travel.

    Flash Drive– Loaded with electronic copies of all your vital documents and ID’s. If you lose your wallet in the scrum, you’ll be thrilled you have this. Keep it password encrypted for security and hide it well in your pack.

    I use several of the CORSAIR Flash Padlock 3 USB Flash drives. They have built in AES encryption and a small keypad on the side of the unit to lock / unlock independent of any encryption software on the computer.

    Wad of Cash– A bunch. When the sky is falling, cash speaks. Even if you make it to a town or place where things are a little calmer, network and service outages my make cards useless. Being able to buy anything else you may need (including a ride) will be a comfort.

    Network and service outages may also make cash worthless, since many places can’t ring up their goods without the UPC scanner & lookup. Keep an eye out for the small mom & pop stores that can still be found in many rural or suburban areas.

  4. In addition…
    Quality: Bolt Cutters and Pry Bar. A must if in an urban environment and on foot.

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