You have most likely heard the terms ‘bug out bag,’ or BOB, and ‘get home bag,’ or GHB, and many people think they are just different terms for the same thing. They are, in fact, bags for two distinctly different purposes.
According to a survey done in 2013 looking at commute times over the prior 10 years the average commute distance hasn’t changed much, but the time it takes to make that trip has increased. The average is about 25 minutes or about 15-20 miles. The average in shape person can walk about 3.5 mile an hour. If you are in shape and can sustain that pace it will take you almost 6 hours to walk home! That is assuming you do not get ‘distracted’ by those stranded. Some people, and especially those around the D.C. area, have ‘extreme’ commutes of 50 or more miles taking over 90 minutes.
However, you also need to factor in that if you are walking home you may not be taking the most direct route, depending on the situation. Some may remember when over 7 million people in New York were left without power for 25 hours. Many people walked home and learnt valuable lessons.
In January 2011 thousands were stuck in their cars around the D.C. area when an early afternoon snow storm caused all the agencies in the region to release everyone at the same time. The streets were gridlocked, ploughs couldn’t get through and people were in their cars for up to 10 hours. Many people simply abandoned their cars and walked home, only to find they didn’t have power as over 400,000 houses were without power.
In January 2014 a forecasted severe snow storm which dumped less than 3” snow stranded motorists in their cars for 8 or more hours, including school kids stuck in school busses, because everyone left it late before they decided to send people home. Just as in D.C. in 2011 the roads became gridlocked.
So, what do you need in a get home bag?
As the name implies, a GET HOME bag contains items to get you home, it’s a bag that is in your vehicle, or under your desk in your office. Depending on how far you have to go to get home its contents will vary. If you have about 20 miles to travel then a bag that holds 20-30 liters will be about the right size. If you have more than 20 miles then you are looking at a multi-day hike and a 30-80 liter bag.
First you need good walking/hiking boots. While you may not keep these in your bag they need to be with in and don’t forget at least one pair of wool blend socks. I doubt that many people could walk more than a few miles in dress shoes. At that point your feet will not want to walk another step! You are probably also going to need such things as sun screen, a hat, bug repellant, rain gear, cold weather gear, etc. depending on your location and time of year.
If you have 20 miles to go you are going to need water. Water is heavy so also have some kind of container that will fold up small but you can put water in as you find it, and make sure it has a handle or some other means to be carried by. Another option, and easy to carry, is a backpack with a water bladder in. Depending on where you work you could keep the water bladder full and change it every week so you don’t have to scavenge for water if the power suddenly goes out. Even though stores will have water, if there is no power they have no way to open tills or charge you.
On that line you should have CASH with you or keep in your bag. While stores may not be able to open tills, they will usually accept cash. Have small bills so you are not having to pay $20 for a bottle of water (although price gouging may be in effect!). Personally, I empty all my $1 and $5 bills into a bin then stash them in my bags. It’s amazing how quickly you accumulate $100. If you are prepared for a true SHTF you might also want to keep a few pieces of silver, in 1oz coins.
Food – in the form of high energy bars. However, if your walk is more than 4-5 hours you might also want to pack some dehydrated food, both snack types such as fruit but also meals. If you are packing meals then you are going to need some means to heat water for them, such as a small multi-fuel stove and fuel (more weight) or fuels tablets, such as Esbit, and a folding stove. These are much lighter and quieter. You will also need some means to light the fuel, so several lighters should be in your bag. You could also pack MRE’s but these are heavier, but the new ones with the heater packs don’t require you to light a stove or fire and draw attention to yourself.
Obviously thinks like a flashlight and maps, paper maps that you have marked possible routes home on. You will be surprised at home many people drive the same route to and from work every day and have no idea of an alternative route. Do your homework!
Protection – if we are talking about a severe snow storm or similar event then walking down the street with an AR may not be the smartest thing to do, but having a concealed hand gun might not be a bad idea. You should also have a good fixed blade knife, a folding knife and multi-tool.
Communications – you should have a small battery powered AM/FM radio so you can get updates from the news services. You can find these for about $10. You should also have a hand-held ham radio programmed with the repeaters that you find along your route home. You should have a communications plan with your family so you know what repeaters you will be on, as well as some simplex frequencies that might work depending on how far you are apart. Spare batteries and a power cell for your cell phone should also be in your bag.
You should also have a first aid kit with over the counter (OTC) pain medications, blister kit, band aids, wound care, etc.
If your walk home is going to be several days then you are going to want some kind of shelter. This could be an emergency blanket, an escape bivvy, mountain serape, etc. Your choice might vary by where you live and the time of year.
You should have a plan to get home, it should be written down and everyone in your family should have a copy. Not only should it include routes, labelled with a letter so you can reference it over the radio to family. Your plan includes the communications part as mentioned above. Your plan might also include some phrase to indicate who’s picking up the kids from school or day care.
BUG OUT BAG
The BOB is, of course, for bugging out, getting out of town, getting to your alternative location or place.
In addition to having all the above items, and larger quantities of food. You will also want a reliable stove and light weight cook ware, don’t forget eating utencils. You are probably going to have more protective weapons, a tomahawk and/or kukri might be useful depending on your terrain.
You are not going to be able to carry all the water that you will need, so you will need a good water filter. A Survival Straw is good for a drinking from a water source but not for filling water bottles. If you fill your bladder with dirty water you can only drink from it with the straw. If you have a pump, such as the Katadyn Hiker Pro, you can pump clean water into your water containers. Cheese cloth is useful to put over the end of your filter to ‘pre-filter’ large debris, and extend the life of your filter. You should also carry water purification tablets.
For navigation you are certainly going to want a good compass, even if you have a GPS unit. A solar panel capable of charging rechargeable batteries would also be useful for radios, flashlights, etc.
You are also going to want copies of your important documents; Wills, passports, latest tax return, birth certificates, financial document references such as bank account numbers, etc., not forgetting family pictures. All these can be put on a USB stick.
No matter what you put in your bags you need to test it or try it out regularly. You need to pull your bag apart periodically and repack it.