Beginner Preparedness Vol2: GO Bag Basics

A GO bag is an essential item in preparedness, and a great place to start your preparedness journey. If you need to evacuate your home quickly, this bag can be an essential part of getting out safely and with the basic items you will need to be away from home for a short period of time. The GO bag is not intended to give you all the comforts of home, just some basics to make you more comfortable or safer if you need to be away. We evacuated our home several years ago during the Black Forest Fire. At that time, I felt fairly prepared to do what I needed to do to get out. We had hours to prepare, so I was even able to grab more non-essential items, like family photographs and other memorabilia. We can talk about being prepared with those later, but for now will focus on getting out FAST.

If you are new to being prepared, you may wonder just WHAT needs to go in your family members GO bags. It really doesn’t need to be complicated. Many sports and outdoors stores sell pre-made GO bags, but it is really easy to make up your own.  You can then customize the bag for each family member with little fuss, and you are sure to have exactly what you need. Here are some basics for starting your GO bags.

The Bag


The GO bag that you choose should be sturdy, well-made, and easy to carry. You will want something the size of a large backpack for each family member. Each person should be able to carry their own GO bag (except, obviously, in the case of infants) so things will need to be scaled accordingly. Pick a bag that has good storage options  and is waterproof.

Important Documentation and Money

A great item to place in your GO bag is copies of important documents. Don’t forget to make copies of the following:

  • Birth Certificates
  • Photo IDs
  • Proof of address
  • Insurance cards
  • Home deeds or mortgage documents
  • Important Phone numbers, including those of friends and relatives.

These items can be placed in a large, waterproof, Ziploc-type bag. Include cash in small bills, a copy of both your house and car keys, and a list of medications needed by each family member.  Throw in a small notebook and pen, so family members can write down important information.

This is also where you will want to place a small regional map, as well as a paper stating family member’s names and the meeting spot for if your family gets separated. Though we don’t like to think about this, families can and do get separated during emergencies. Have a plan to bring all of you back together!



Include a bag with the medications that each family member needs that are essential to survival. Be sure to regularly check these stored medications so that they are not expired. Also, include commonly used over the counter remedies that your family member might need, such as pain killers or allergy medications. These can vastly increase the comfort and vastly decrease the panic if you need something when you are away from home.

First Aid Kit

Each family member should have a first aid kit of some kind in their GO bag. This can be a pre-made purchased first aid kit to deal with minor emergencies. Look for ones specifically for backpacking if you are out shopping for them. They are lightweight and have just the right amount of supplies for a few days. They are also compact and don’t take up much room in your bag.


A flashlight is a great item to have in each GO bag. This doesn’t need to be elaborate or expensive, but it should be reliable. A set of extra batteries is also a good inclusion. Check the flashlight regularly to be sure it is still functioning.



For adults, or anyone old enough to have some knife skills, a pocketknife should be included. This can come in handy in a number of situations, so tuck it away in each bag just in case it is needed.

Battery Operated Radio and Backup Batteries

This can be essential in the case that you need to check in for local news or alerts. Depending on your location, you may not have good access to local information from other sources.

Changes of Clothing

A change of clothing in your bag can really help with comfort away from home. Remember, this is NOT packing for a vacation…keep it simple and light. Store changes of clothing (including undergarments and socks) in large waterproof bags. Just pack what you will NEED.

A Source of Warmth

A small blanket and lightweight jacket can really be all it takes to go from being chilly to being comfy, so throw those in there. Remember to keep them small. Pick a jacket that provides both warmth and some rain protection if possible. Look for packable backpacking items at sports and outdoors stores for options that take up less room in your pack.

Snacks and Water

Pack a few high energy snacks, such as granola and protein bars. These items should have a long shelf life and generally be something your family WILL eat. Your GO supplies will ideally last you 72 hours or more if you cannot access other things, so be sure to put enough in each family member’s bags to provide basic sustenance. Add a few bottles of water to each pack as well. Remember that going without water can be dangerous, so think ahead on your own family’s needs.

Comfort Items


In a stressful situation, comfort items really can help keep things calm. For children, add a small stuffed toy, a puzzle book, or paper and crayons to help get them through being away from home. Adults may like a puzzle book or a reading book as well. Think about how your family responds to stress and pack the comfort items with each person in mind.

This is a VERY basic introduction to making a GO bag, but it can mean the difference between being prepared and feeling panicked in the moments that you need to leave your home. As you grow in your preparedness, you will think of other items that are important to your family’s health and safety.  The best time to start is now, BEFORE a situation arises that makes you wish you were more prepared.


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