17 Essentials To Pack In An Emergency Go Bag

Make sure you're prepared when disaster strikes.

October 10, 2017
emergency go bag
Yagi Studio/ Getty

A few years ago, I first learned about the possibility of a giant solar storm having the potential to wipe out our entire power grid, which could then take up to a decade to rebuild. How the heck would we function, I wondered. I got really paranoid for about a month, ordered paper maps and a compass in preparation for my phone's GPS to stop functioning, filled the air on my bike tires, and made my friends and family think I'd turned into a crazy person.

But the truth is, while a giant, power grid-destroying solar flare may not be the most likely of events, there are some very real disasters that could (and have) resulted in lack of access to electricity, internet, food, and many other creature comforts for extended periods of time.

With severe weather (hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, heat waves, earthquakes) becoming increasingly more common, the hard-to-predict risk of things like disease pandemics, and the all too present fear of a zombie apocalypse, the possibility that you may one day have to leave your home at a moment's notice isn’t out of the question. But we don't want you to stress about it; we want you to prepare. Enter: the 'go bag.' 

Unlike building yourself a bunker and filling it with 20 year's worth of freeze-dried food, a go bag is a realistic way to give yourself some peace of mind. Here, we've compiled a list of the practical essentials you should toss in a backpack so you can handle just about anything (for a little while anyway) when things get crazy. Pro tip: Keep it in your car, since it can also double as a survival kit if you break down and get stranded.

(On just a quarter-acre of land, you can produce fresh, organic food for a family of four—year-round. Rodale's The Backyard Homestead shows you how.)

solar backpack
Photograph courtesy of Amazon
Solar backpack

First, let's start with the bag itself. Since you may be without electricity, a bag with a solar panel is smart, as it allows you to charge small electronic devices like smartphones. This one by Zuoao is waterproof, super roomy, and also contains a two liter bladder bag to hold water. 

Buy it: Zuoao Solar Charger Backpack ($129)

pop up tent
Photograph courtesy of Amazon
Pop-up tent

You're not always going to be able to survive in your tiny house. That's why this ultra-light pop up tent from SunbaYouth makes the perfect temporary shelter for three adults if you're forced to leave your home. It's waterproof and fits in a small, compact bag for easy storage in your backpack. 

Buy it: SunbaYouth Pop-Up Tent ($28.99)

change of clothing
Yagi Studio/ Getty
Clothes and cash

Pack yourself one complete change of clothing. That might include a long-sleeved shirt, pants, sturdy shoes, underwear, and other eco-friendly camping gear. You'll also want at least $50 to $100 cash in small bills (assume ATM and credit card machines won't work).

lifestraw water bottle
Photograph courtesy of Amazon
Water bottle

Space is limited in a go bag, and you certainly don't have room to carry bottles and bottles of water with you. That's why this LifeStraw bottle is so cool. Thanks to the straw's 2-stage filtration system (which filters out nasty stuff like giardia and waterborne parasites), you can use the bottle to scoop water from any pond, stream or river, or even a puddle, and consume it without worry. 

Buy it: LifeStraw Go Water Filter Bottle ($49.99)

paper road maps
Jamie Grill/ Getty
Paper road maps

If you don't have them already, order some paper maps off of Amazon or from AAA (they're free if you have a membership) for your region. If you lose a charge on your phone, or if electricity is wiped out altogether, you'll want to know where you're going. A compass comes in handy too (see below). 

first aid kit
First aid kit

This compact DeftGet First Aid Kit contains 163 medical essentials, including bandages, alcohol prep pads, tweezers, tape, and scissors. Really any essential that you would normally take on a hike or camping trip. Bonus: There's even a compass! 

Buy it: DeftGet First Aid Kit ($19)

thermal blanket
Photograph courtesy of Amazon
Tarp and thermal blanket

This combo tarp-thermal blanket from Ultimate Survival Technologies can be used as a blanket to stay warm, to carry and protect items, and, in a desperate moment, used as a tent to sleep outside.

Buy it: UST Tarp ($26)

fire starter
Photograph courtesy of Amazon
Fire starter

Temperatures can drop low even in summer, and depending on your situation, you  may need to start a fire to stay warm. But matches can get soggy and be rendered useless. Instead, opt for a more reliable fire starting rod. This one is good for up to 12,000 strikes. (Also consider bringing along easily combustable materials, like these fire starters made from lint and wax, that will help your fire get roaring faster.)

Buy it: Überleben Ferro Rod Fire Starter ($16) 


solar flashlight
Photograph courtesy of Amazon
Solar flashlight

Because you can't do much of anything in the dark, these compact solar powered flashlights (with back up hand cranks) from Simpeak are a must for any go bag. User reviews claim that a full charge gives you about 5 to 8 hours of light. 

Buy it: Simpeak Hand Crank Solar Powered LED Flashlight ($19)

solar lantern
Photograph courtesy of Amazon
Solar lantern

Flashlights are great, but come nightfall, you’ll want something that casts a wider span of light so you can go about your activities with greater ease. These convenient, collapsible solar lanterns are just the thing. (Here are 5 more products that take advantage of solar cells.)

Buy it: Bigfoot Compact Solar Camping Lantern ($29.95)

leatherman multitool
Photograph courtesy of Amazon

Because you never know when you’ll need to repair something, a multi-tool is a must-have. This one from Leatherman features 14 tools in one, including wire cutters, pliers, a serrated knife, bottle and can opener, and screwdrivers. 

Buy it: Leatherman Sidekick Multi-Tool ($49.95)

tuna pouches
Photograph courtesy of Amazon
Healthy, non-perishable food

Be sure to pack some nutrient-dense, non-perishable food items. Granola bars aren't your only option! Things like tuna and beans are a great choice, especially since both now come in lightweight pouches, not just cans. We also like these minimal ingredient protein bars

pet food in plastic bag
antpkr/ Getty
Pet food

We assume you'd try your hardest to bring your furry friends with you in any sort of disaster, so be sure to pack up at least a few day's worth of kibble in resealable plastic baggies, along with first-aid essentials for your pet

dust mask
Photograph courtesy of Amazon
Dust or paint mask

Fumes, gas, or airborne debris from natural disasters and accidents can cause breathing problems. Your solution: A simple, inexpensive dust mask should do the trick in most situations. 

Buy it: 3M Particulate Respirator With Valve, 10-Pack ($15.50)

body wipes
Photograph courtesy of Amazon
Body wipes

Things can get a little ripe when you’re on the go and without access to running water to take a shower. Stay fresh (well, as fresh as possible) with personal wet wipes that you can use to wipe down your face, pits, and nether regions. 

Buy it: GoodWipes Biodegradable Body Wipes ($9)


Photograph courtesy of Amazon
Emergency whistle

You may not have electricity to charge your phone, or cell service in general, so calling someone for help could be out of the question. To alert emergency workers, or anyone, of your whereabouts, a good old-fashioned whistle could be key. 

Buy it: Ontrip Survival Whistle ($2)

Photograph courtesy of Amazon
Weather radio

In weather-related emergencies, a radio is your best option to receive timely information on weather patterns and evacuation orders. Your best bet is one that’s portable and powered by both a hand crank and solar cells. 

Buy it: Running Snail AM/FM Hand Crank Solar Weather Radio ($24)