How to Build a Go Bag (and What You Should Put In It)

Whether natural or not, disasters seem to dominate the headlines more than ever. And while it’s impossible to predict an emergency, you can certainly be better prepared to deal with it.

A critical resource in an emergency? A duffel bag, also known as an emergency bag, loaner bag, survival bag or emergency kit, which contains essential gear and personal items in case you need to do a rush evacuation. Ideally, the contents of your travel bag will keep you and your companions safe, healthy, and, well, alive until you can get to temporary shelter or return home.

The general rule for a travel bag or emergency kit is to have enough food, water and other essentials to last 72 hours., an official website of the United States Department of Homeland Security, provides a comprehensive checklist of items every emergency kit should have: non-perishable food, water (or a water), matches (ideally waterproof), a first aid kit and a hand-cranked or battery-operated radio. Since the spring of 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended adding masks, ideally N95s, to your go-bag to protect against Covid-19.

In addition to emergency items, you should have copies of important documents such as passports, birth certificates, social security cards, and banking information. Some survival experts recommend packing a bag for each family member, with specific items like clothes, medicine, extra contact lenses, books, and toys for the kids. Don’t forget the pets either.

There are many options on the market for pre-packaged take-out bags (including those from the Red Cross and Instinct Ready, to name a few). But with a little preparation, you can customize your bag to suit your needs and location, starting with items you probably already have on hand, like matches, trash bags, and disinfectant wipes. Here are some recommendations to get you started (this is by no means an exhaustive list, so be sure to do your homework on what works best for you). Whatever you pack, be sure to keep it light so you can move quickly and with agility.

Build the Perfect Bug Out Bagby Creek Stewart, $15.29

Build the Perfect Bug Out Bag: Your 72-Hour Disaster Survival Kit

Krause Publications


Ok, so this book shouldn’t go in your bug out bag. But reading it before (or while) preparing yours is like taking a crash course in emergency scenarios from survival instructor Creek Stewart. His practical and insightful advice won’t make you feel overwhelmed or depressed at the apocalypse; instead, you’ll leave inspired, better educated, and ready to start packing your bags.

Kelty Coyote Backpack; from $127.96

Kelty Coyote 60-105 Liter Backpack

Kelty Coyote 60-105 Liter Backpack


This sturdy and spacious bag (ranging from 65-105 liters) from Kelty, a beloved outdoor brand, can easily hold enough supplies for more than one person (the 65-liter version can carry between 30 and 55 pounds) . The popular pack features plenty of storage, with two zippered front pockets, ample J-zip top-loading access to the main compartment, and dedicated slots for a sleeping bag and water bottle. The Coyote also has a custom torso fit, which means the bag can be easily swapped out and adjusted for different users.

ER50 E+Ready® Emergency Weather Alert Crank Radio$49.99

ER50 E+READY Emergency Weather Alert Crank Radio

ER50 E+READY Emergency Weather Alert Crank Radio


A crank radio is essential for receiving critical alerts from NOAA and other official agencies, and one with multi-functionality is even better. This one by Kansas City-based Midland, which has over 50 years in radio technology, is a solid choice. As well as providing visual and audio alerts, the radio also features an SOS flashlight beacon and impressive charging capabilities, with multiple long-lasting power sources (solar, hand crank, rechargeable battery and USB connection) for charging electronics. It’s lightweight and compact (it fits in the palm of your hand), rounding out its functionality as a great addition to any travel bag.

Sawyer Mini Water Filtration System; $25

MINI water filtration system

MINI water filtration system

Since drinking water is so heavy (8.3 pounds per gallon), a reliable water filtration system is essential for any go-bag. The best-selling Mini is adept at filtering out bacteria (like salmonella), protozoa (like giardia), and microplastics from sketchy water sources. There are multiple ways to use it: attach it to the included drinking pouch, use the included straw to sip straight from a puddle or other water source, connect it to the hydration pack tube (sold separately) or screw it onto a standard disposable. bottles with 28 mm thread. And weighing just two ounces, it’s ultra-lightweight.

Black Diamond Storm 400 headlamp; $49.95

Storm 400 headlamp

Storm 400 headlamp


Hands-free illumination is a necessity in survival scenarios, and this newly upgraded headlamp from Black Diamond delivers 400 lumens of bright light at its highest setting and is packed with handy features. It comes with three different color night vision modes and peripheral white illumination for close-range activities. Additionally, the headlamp helps users conserve battery life with a six-setting, three-LED battery indicator. It is also waterproof and dustproof.

Leatherman Skeleton Tool$74.95





This versatile multi-tool punches well above its weight, packing eight essential tools into just five ounces. Features include: stainless steel combination blade, side cutters, two sets of pliers, screwdriver (and storage) and carabiner/bottle opener. The Skeletool also has a built-in clip to easily attach it to any bag or keyring, and it comes with a 25-year warranty, should you have any doubts about its durability.

Ignik Air Activated Heaters; from $12.99




If you’re in a cold-weather destination, put a few of these arctic-grade warmers in your pack, then tick “frozen appendages” off your list of worries. These handy little pouches use a patent-pending temperature regulation system to give you more control over the life of the warmers. They are also 98% biodegradable, with 100% recyclable (and reusable) packaging. Choose from appendage-specific options (hand, toe, or foot, for example). A 24-hour XL option is also available.

Bondic Adhesivefrom $19.99

The BONDIC® starter pack

The BONDIC® starter pack


This handy non-toxic adhesive is a multi-tasker in its own right: it can repair plastic, wood, metal, glass, and anything that needs a quick fix on the go. Because it’s liquid plastic (and it’s also water and heat resistant), it won’t dry out. A simple four-step process (cleaning, filling, curing and shaping) makes it a breeze to get worn or broken MacGyver items back into service. And it takes up little space in a metal box just 7 inches long and 1.5 inches wide.

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