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Emergency go bag: What you need if you evacuate your home

This story is part of Road Trip 2020, CNET’s series on how we are now preparing for what may come next.


An example of a good gift bag.

Alina Bradford / CNET

Natural disasters occur everywhere, from storm surges, wildfires and tornadoes to hurricanes and earthquakes. And if you live in an area where one or more of these are widespread, it is important to be prepared, why you need a gift bag.

Gobag (or bugout bag), once thought of as a safety blanket for conspiracy theorists, has been given the status of a legitimate security item that you need in your home.

In fact, government and city officials recommend having a go bag at all times.

The idea behind gobag is simple. If an emergency occurs, grab your bag and … go.

It contains items that can help you protect yourself until you can return home. Here’s everything you need to know.

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Why you need a gift bag

If you are lucky enough to have some kind of weather warning, you may have more time to evacuate. But many disasters are so damaging because they are sudden. In an instant, you may need to flee your home to find new protection due to:

  • earthquakes
  • wildfires
  • Tornadoes or hurricanes
  • tsunamis
  • Floods
  • landslide
  • Ice storms
  • Zombie apocalypse (just kidding … perhaps)

What type of bag is best?

Chicago, which is no stranger to strong storms, recommends that each member of your household have their own gift bag. However, if you are a parent of young children, you can use a large bag to hold everything you and your children need.

Robert Rodriguez / CNET

Remember that the best type of bag is the type you can carry. Do not get a huge duffle bag unless you are very strong and can have it. You also want a bag that fits easily in your car. You do not want one that is so large that you have to leave one of the children behind to take it with you.

A hiking backpack with different pockets is the best option. Make sure it is made of a strong fabric material and has a strap that is fastened around the chest. This will take some of the load off your back if you need to go far.

Also look for a package that has a water container that you can fill with drinking water. These are often called camelbacks or hydration packs. A waterproof packaging can help keep your items dry inside, although you can also line them with a plastic waste bag.

The Sandpiper of California bugout backpack ($ 100) is a top recommendation.

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Water is important, but do it, do not carry it

Although many experts recommend that you have a three-day water supply in your home in an emergency, it can be impractical to evacuate with that amount of water, especially if you do not have a car. The alternative is to keep a device in your bag that can turn water from ditches, streams, ponds and other water sources into clean drinking water.

Some good choices are LifeStraw Go Water Bottle ($ 33) or Liberty LifeSaver ($ 125). Both can be cut on the outside of your bag so that they do not take up precious space in the pockets.

Be warned though. Many emergency filtration devices such as these must be prepared with drinking water before they can be used as a filter for yucky water. Make sure you read the instructions and prepare your bottle before squeezing it in your bag.

Get lighting that lasts

In an emergency, batteries may be defective. That’s why it’s good to put a lighting system in your bag that can be powered by a renewable resource.

The ThorFire LED flashlight ($ 19) can be powered by sunlight or a hand crank. A solar or crank lamp that works as an AM / FM radio is also a good choice.

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Other essentials

Water and light should be at the top of the list, but there are many other things you should throw in your bag:

  • Nonperishable food: ready-to-eat meals (MREs) are a popular choice, but freeze-dried items also work. Just make sure they are lightweight; provide a lot of calories and protein; and has a shelf life of months, if not years.
  • A good multitool that contains a knife, pliers, a can opener and other tools.
  • Paracord, also called 550 cord, can hold up to 550 pounds and is compact, so choose it instead of regular rope.
  • Carabiners: These metal loops with a spring-loaded latch have a million and one uses, as latching equipment on the outside of your go bag.
  • A whistle to signal others if you need help and can not shout.
  • Something to start a fire with, like a lighter or matches.
  • SPF sunscreen for sun protection.
  • A poncho and a change of clothes.
  • Your family’s prescription medications for a week and copies of your prescriptions. You will probably want to throw these in the go bag when you leave, as keeping extra in your bag will be impractical for most people.
  • A small first aid kit with bandages, antiseptics, painkillers and gauze.
  • Products for personal care such as soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, toilet paper, feminine hygiene products and so on. Put these items in waterproof baggies.
  • Your extra houses and car keys.
  • A warm blanket. Put it in a plastic bag, use the hose on your vacuum to suck the air out of the bag and seal it quickly to save space.
  • A recent family photo for identification purposes, even in a plastic bag, to protect it from moisture.
  • Cash in small denominations and coins.
  • A regional map and a compass so you can find your way without a phone when the cell tower and GPS are down or busy, or if you run out of battery.
  • Paper, pencils and tape to leave messages to others.
  • A dust mask.
  • Copies of important documents such as insurance information, ID, address and passport, all in a waterproof plastic bag.
  • Your family photos on a USB device. This one is optional, but I like the security of knowing that I have some of my family’s precious memories with me.
  • Pet accessories such as leash, folding water bowl and food.

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