The Get Home bag (GHB) is designed to get you home, whether from work or other locations that you usually travel. The amount of contents will depend on how far you travel from home. When putting the bag together you need to factor in how long it will take you to walk home if your normal means of travel, car, commuter train, etc. are not available. You also need to limit the weight so don’t get the largest backpack you can find and load it up. An ideal pack for a get home bag is a 72-hour pack at most.
The following categories and items are a suggestion as to what you should include. You don’t need everything listed in each category but should have at least one item or two depending on the distance you have to travel. Some of your selection will depend on your skills in that area. The list is not in any particular order. Use of some items is explained in a later section.
- Maps – to cover your possible routes, road maps, street maps, trails etc.
- Compass, tritium lensatic or Silva Ranger type
- GPS, even if you have a GPS you still need a compass and maps
- Personal locator beacon (PLB) or inReach mini
Shelter and Bedding
This is going to depend on where you live and the time of year. You may swap out gear each season. Remember your goal here is to get home, you are not on a camping trip so you should be ‘roughing’ it.
- Poncho – a military type or something that is robust. Find one with grommets to allow it to be used in a number of different shelter configurations.
- Thermal tarp/blanket – these are look a regular tarp but they have mylar on one side to help with heat retention, and grommets to allow it to be secured in a number of different shelter configurations. These are much stronger than the mylar ‘emergency’ blankets and can be reused indefinitely.
- Para cord – I list this under shelter but para cord has 1,000 uses. You should have 500ft
- Woobie – this is a poncho liner and anyone in the military knows how useful and warm these are. They have gromets that match the military poncho’s so they can be tied together.
- Mountain Serape – these are a woobie on steroids. They can be used as a poncho but also wrapped much like a sleeping bag.
- Hammock – if you have trees then a hammock could be an option, they are light and easy to carry.
Clothing is going to be seasonal and also depends on your environment and area you have to travel. You want clothing that is robust, so if you wear dress clothing or uniform to work you might keep appropriate clothing in your bag that you can change in to. You also want to layer clothing, so you can easily add or remove clothing. You want to avoid sweating. Below are some suggestions for clothing.
- Hiking boots – you need robust footwear if you are going to have to hike home. These need to be comfortable and WORN IN before you need to hike any distance. You might need both summer and winter style boots depending on where you live and the weather you encounter.
- Wool blend socks – in additional to what you are wearing you should have at least one additional pair in your pack, possibly two. You always want to keep your feet dry and change socks at regular intervals. Adding medicated foot powder to your pack is recommended. Keeping your feet warm and dry is the best way to keep the rest of your body warm, not to mention preventing frost bite or trench foot (see medical section for further explaination).
- Wicking underwear – NOT cotton. During the winter you might want to swap for thermal underwear. In addition to what you are wearing you should have an additional set in your bag.
- Wool hat, watch cap and/or rain hat – again this is going to depend on your location and time of year. A cap to keep to warm is essential in cold climates as you loose the largest amount of body heat from your head and feet.
- Shirt – wicking shirts are best, but again it is going to depend on your area and season. No COTTON.
- Gloves – You want gloves to protect you from the cold but also to protect your hands from anything you might come into contact with, so a good pair of leather gloves are a must.
- Hiking poles – this may be a strange item to list in clothing, but it relates to moving. Moving with a pack and over potentially rough ground is much easier with hiking poles.
Water and Hydration
Water is the elixir of life. The human body is 50-65% water, higher in infants. You can survive about 3-days without water, but you will quickly become dehydrated and loose significant mental abilities before 3-days. Your bag must provide you a couple of options for obtaining and carrying water.
- Water Bladder – something to carry water in is essential. There are a lot of options for bladders that insert into most back packs. Remember the amount of water you will need will be determined by how far you have to travel, resources for clean water on your routes and your environment/location.
- Metal bottle – in the winter, where you will encounter snow, a single walled metal bottle should be available as you can place it near a fire to melt snow.
- Water purification tablets – you should carry purification tablets as an option if you have to use an unsure water source, better safe than sorry. They don’t take up much space.
- Water filter – there are a number of options for water filters. The Survival Straw is one that is widely advertised, however it doesn’t provide you the opportunity to fill a container with clean water. The Sawyer Mini is a small filter that allows you to draw and filter water into a small bladder. Larger devices such as those made by Katadyn, MSR and others provide a quick and efficient capability to refill water bladders, especially if travelling with a number of people. If you carry one of the lager filters it is a good idea to carry cheese cloth to place over the ‘dirty’ end to filter out larger contaminates as this increases the life of the filter. Coffee filters can be used to improvise a water filtration system. See the section on water for more detailed information.
Like most other items in your GHB food is also going to depend on where you live, the time of the year and how far you have to get home. You can survive days without food however to walk home you will need energy to sustain you.
- Food Bars / Life Boat Rations – Life boat rations are high calorie bars that have a long shelf life. They are approved for life rafts, but make a good emergency food as they have a long shelf life and withstand extreme temperatures (-22O to 149 O F).
- Freeze dried – these meals are commonly used by back packers as they are light and mostly great tasting. Mountain House is probably the most recognizable name and their meals can be found in most outdoor stores and large box stores in their camping isles. They only require hot water added to their bag, stir, wait a few minutes and they are good to eat. They usually come in 2 or 4-person servings. Check the portion sizes and calories as you might find that you need a 2-person size as a single meal. Don’t forget a spoon. I got a number of sets of plasticware in the Walmart camping section for less than a dollar, they are long, so idea for using with freeze dried meal pouches.
- Dried meat -Beef jerky is an excellent choice as you can eat it on the go and its high in protein. It is idea for a day or two journey.
- Protein bars – these may be a good choice depending on the type – of bar. Some get very sticky when exposed to heat so if you are in hot area, or summer heat, they would not be the best thing to keep in the GHB in your car.
- Beverage powder/instant coffee – flavoring water can help you to drink more, and you need to stay hydrated. If you need to keep going, then coffee may be what you need. Instant coffee can be found in singles and is the idea way to carry it in a GHB.
If you are packing freeze dried food or instant coffee then you need the ability to heat water. Anything longer than a days walk or any time during the winter a hot drink or food is going to help sustain you and help prevent hypothermia.
- Trioxane/hexamine fuel tablets – these are a fuel tablet that are used with a folding stove. The tablets usually burn around 15 minutes, long enough to heat a mug of water to near boiling. They come individually packaged and are water proof, they will burn even when wet.
- Folding stove – if using fuel tablets then a folding stove is a ‘must have’ companion.
- White/multi-fuel stoves – standard camping/backpacking stoves like those made by MSR. Obviously you need to carry the fuel bottle which adds weight and some can be a little noisy if you are trying to maintain noise discipline but if you have a small group travelling they are probably the fastest way to heat water for drinks and food.
- Propane stoves – these are similar to the white fuel stove but use a propane bottle. The bottles cannot be refilled so need to be discarded when empty and there isn’t a good way to tell how much fuel remains in one.
Starting a fire is high on the list of needs if you want to eat hot food, have a hot drink or keep warm on a freezing night on your way home. From a survival psychological perspective it does a great deal to boost morale. However you have to be careful if you are trying to avoid detection and be aware of its distraction effects from getting over survival priorities done, light shelter, and keeping a watch out for threats, but it does tend to keep wild 4-legged animals away. You should have several ways to start a fire.
- Lighter – these can be Bic types or the Zippo types. One thing I’ve noticed with the Zippo type is the fuel tends to evaporate after only a few days but there are lighter now that have a sealed fuel container so last longer. There is also a Thyrm PyroVault makes a sealed container to place a zippo type lighter in. Plasma lighters are now available and these will last a long time. For further discussion see the section on fire / heat.
- Matches – there are different types of matches, strike anywhere, safety (can only be struck on the box), windproof and waterproof. Strike anywhere matches can be stored in waterproof containers that you can usually find in most outdoor stores for around $1. Windproof matches are useful if you are in a high wind environment as they burn longer and withstand a significant wind.
- Ferrocerium and Magnesium rod – there are a number of different manufacturers of ‘strikers’ that generate a spark to ignite a flammable source, such as the cotton/Vaseline balls or fat wood.
- Magnesium – can be found in small bars (at outdoor stores and even Harbor Freight) as well as purchased as bags of shavings. A small spark is all that is needed to ignite them.
- Cotton and Vaseline – cotton balls soaked in Vaseline and kept in an old pill container make great tinder to get a fire going. Obviously you still need an ignition source.
- Quick tinder/Fat Wood – these are fire tinder, with no chemicals, that can be used to get a larger fire started.
Fist aid and medical is going to depend on your level of training, your environment, time of year and a number of other factors. The key to remember is that you have to carry it so you might have to par what you carry down to the essentials or items that will make your journey much easier. This list represents some essential items. Where medications as listed it is suggested you get the single dose packets as you probably don’t need a bottle of each for your GHB. For specific use of the items and possible sources see the medical section.
- Immediate (or Individual) First Aid Kit (IFAK) – an IFAK contains those items that will save your life in the first few minutes of a traumatic (usually gunshot) injury. It is designed for you to be able to treat yourself, so each person should have their own, that someone else can use to treat them. It should be carried in such a way that it is immediately available, not tucked into a backpack, such as a small pouch on your belt or vest. It should contain the items listed below:
- Nasopharyngeal airway with water soluble lubricant
- Tourniquet (I strongly recommend the CAT-T by North American Rescue)
- Hemostatic dressing (such as the Celox-Z-fold or Celox-Rapid)
- Chest seals (2) (such as the Hyfin 2-count, because these will fit into a IFAK case)
- Compression/elesticated bandage
- Trauma bandage (such as the Israeli bandage)
- Pair of nitrile (latex free) gloves (I buy boxes from Harbor Freight)
- Trauma scissors
- Minor wound care – these items should be a small waterproof bag/box and contain:
- Elasticated bandages
- Antibiotic ointment (individual packets)
- 2×2 and 4×4 gauze
- 4×4 hemostatic gauze
- Gauze rolls (2)
- Wound closure/steri-strips with Tincture of Benzoin Ampules
- Hydrocortisone (anti-itch) cream
- Bismuth subsalicylate (anti-diarrhea/antacid) tablets – for diarrhea, heart burn, nausea, indigestion and stomach upset.
- Oral Jel – this is a topic jel for toothaches
- Acetaminophen – for pain relief
- Ibuprofen – a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory
- Acetaminophen, aspirin, caffeine (Excedrin®) – pain relief and fever reducer, also used for migraine type headaches
- Diphenhydramine (Benadryl®) – for allergic reactions
- Foot care kit (this is available as a kit from Rescue Essentials)
- 2nd skin
- Adhesive oral shaped bandages
- Blist-o-ban® adhesive bandage
- Cotton-tipped swab (sterile)
- Alcohol prep pads (these dry out so check regularly)
- Tincture of Benzoin Ampule
- Antibiotic ointment
- Safety pin
Communications is covered in detail in the section on communications. It is important that you have the ability to communicate with your family and group while you are getting home to them. It is also important to try and obtain area intelligence with a scanner if possible.
AS mentioned in other sections, if you are serious about the ability to remain in contact with your family and group in an emergency or disaster and have the ability to call for help when cell phone service goes down, as it does in many emergency situations, then you must have an Amateur Radio (ham) license. It is also important that you and your family practice using the radio.
- Portable ham radio
- Extra (longer) antenna
- Spare battery
- Hand held scanner (for specific models see section on community security)
- Cell phone (with apps such as Signal and Zello)
- Charging cable
Maintain basic hygiene on the way home is important, some basic supplies can support this. Toothpaste and brush – you can find these is a single use packet. Dental floss and wet wipes, however these can dry out quickly so check regularly.
If you wear contacts then you might want to carry a pair of glasses and eye drops. Your eyes are one of your most vital assets you should consider protective eye wear. This should include for both day and night. It can be safety glasses or goggles depending on your environment.
You should also include a quantity of any vital medications – but you must change them out regularly and cycle with your regular prescriptions.
- Head lamp
- Small pocket lamp
- Candle in holder
- Cyalume light sticks
This is going to depend on where you are and local laws as well as whether you are on foot or in a vehicle.
- Hand gun
- Long gun
- Pocket knife
- Fixed blade knife
Again this depends on where you live, how far you have to travel and the terrain you have to cover. Some tools are going to weight more than others so look for tools that have multiple purposes.
- Folding shovel
- Multi tool
You are going to want power for devices, flash lights, recharge cell phone, radios, GPS devices, etc. There are a number of different ways you can do this and it will depend on how far you might have to travel.
Rechargeable batteries that fit your devices with a small solar panel is one of your most versatile options. A power cell that can be recharged from the solar panel can also be included as a power cell will usually recharge devices like cell phones quicker.
While it is idea that all your devices use the same type of batteries, with AA size being preferred, this may not always be possible. You need to carry a spare set for your most critical devices.
You should keep the batteries in a water proof bag and in such a way that the contacts don’t touch each other. One way is to take electrical tape and wrap end to end.
This is going to greatly depend on your personal choice and local regulations. These can be offensive or defensive, or both. Some items could include:
- pepper spray
Other items could have dual function and not appear to be an offensive weapon, such as hiking poles or a walking stick.
Again this is going to depend on the season and how far you might have to travel. At minimum you are going to want a change of underwear and, more importantly, socks. Depending on your normal daily clothing you want clothing that you can change into that is more appropriate for travelling.
If you wear dress shoes on a daily basis you will want a pair of good walking boots and wool socks. These can be kept in your vehicle that you can change into, so not necessarily in your bag.
You might want to change out clothes based on your seasons.
This list is just to give you some ideas. You will need to find out what works for you and the weight of your bag. Remember that you might have to walk with the bag. I strongly suggest that you do some practice hikes with your bag.