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The Ultimate 72+ Hour Tactical Go Bag Packing List: Emergency Essentials for Disaster Preparedness

For most disasters in the world, from manmade catastrophes to wars, to natural disasters, most people are caught off guard and underprepared. Whether the situation is a flash freeze, the aftermath of an earthquake, a fast-moving and world disabling pandemic, or an unexpected invasion – for the initial hours you will commonly be stuck with the gear you had the foresight to prepare, which could be great, or disaster. The Solution: Our Tactical Go Bag Packing List.

Tactical Go Bag Packing List

For decades, military service members in war zones and high-risk environments have been carrying “go bags” or “bugout bags” to facilitate a quick and self-guided evacuation and sustain the soldier with water, food, warmth, and the essentials until help arrives – or they can walk to help. Over my tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, sometimes hours away from coalition bases and living with Iraqi soldiers, I always kept a single, lightweight go-bag that I could use to survive and move until I finally reached friendlies and help.

In this article, I’ll walk you through everything you need to make your own bugout bag, to sustain you on your own for 72+ hours, and teach you the introduction to what you need to know, now…before the storm.

Noah built the ark before the storm, so read on to discover how we’ll build your proverbial life preserver (a bugout bag) before trouble hits the fan

TABLE OF CONTENTS OF THIS BUG OUT BAG CHECKLIST

Why you, and most people, need a tactical go bag

No matter where you live in the world, there is always a risk of political unrest (rioting, protests), natural disaster (power disabling snowstorm, earthquake, or hurricane), or manmade disaster (blown gasline, failed dam) that makes getting out quickly a necessity. And when the time comes, you will only have minutes to grab your essentials and get on the move.

However, once you’re out of the immediate danger area, you’ll need the food, water, and protection from the elements to stay moving, stay healthy, and find your way. For the next hours, days, or weeks you will have to subsist on the items you had the foresight to pack. That is what a bugout bag is about is essential to prepare ahead of time.

Outside of natural disasters, having a “bugout bag” or simply a minimalist survival in the car – for cross country trips and snowstorm prone seasons – and at your base when camping can help you stay prepared for the worst that may be thrown at you when you’re out of reach of usual, high class emergency use cases.

Useful scenarios for a bugout bag or minimalist survival bag

  • Earthquake prep
  • Hurricane prep – ready to move quickly and survive in shelters
  • Winter prep – ready for loss of electricity and gas
  • Cross country travel – prep for being stuck on the side of the road
  • Political Unrest – ready to hunker down and ride out loss of services or equipped to move to safety
  • Political Unrest Evacuation – readiness to survive the initial weeks of a refugee or humanitarian situation

What is a Tactical Go-Bag: An All Situation Survival Kit that Keeps You Alive and Moving for 72+ hours

Though a go bag or bug out bag takes many names – a GOOD bag (“get out of dodge” bag), a 72 hour bag, a “PERK bag (“personal emergency relocation kit” bag) – all go bags perform the same basic function.

A go bag is a minimalist survival kit that is packed in advance to easily grab and move with, designed to sustain a person for 72 hours minimum, by facilitating or providing water, food, protection from the elements, and first aid tools

My Experience with bug out bags – in the military and in the real world

During my time in the Marine Corps I served more than a few combat tours in the Middle East. During some of the deployments I was stationed at cushy bases with huge artillery systems and thick, bombproof walls.

Other times, I either lived out of a truck or on a compound with mostly Iraqi soldiers and a handful of Marines – less than you can count on two hands – and we were a couple hour helicopter ride from the nearest base that could give us a ride out. In the event we were attacked by a significant force, we needed to be ready to make a hasty exit at all times and do whatever was possible to make it across the desert back to our parent base and unit.

The second situation, living in a remote part of Iraq prone to violence and wherein we might need to make a “hasty exit” at any time that could leave us on the road for days at the time, moving, evading, escaping, and surviving. For these situations in which we might need to “bug out” at the last minute, I always kept a Go-bag ready so that I or a small team could snag a car (with loose cash we kept) and stay moving until we reached American troops. That bag was my “bug out bag” and had water, food, protection, cash and protection to survive in the Iraqi desert for 72 hours (in addition to an extra backpack of rounds, explosives, and other toys, but that is a different story…).

Though I never had to use my bugout bag, the last place I served in Iraq was notoriously attacked during the last days of its drawdown of troops. Some of the attacks on the base happened so quickly that gear was left behind while forces had enough to grab just what they could carry – their “bug out bags” – before sprinting for the birds that were heading out.

The perfect scenario is that you never have to use your bug out bag. The ideal scenario is that when the time comes to need a bug out bag, yours is ready.

Why civilian needs a go bag

Though I hope you will never be in a combat zone, in need of rounds, weapons and armor. However in the scenario you do need weapons – I hope they’re for slow moving Walking Dead style zombies, and you later savor being the protagonist in graphic novels.

For the rest of the civilian world though, there is still plenty of reason to create a go bag or bug out bag. Because a bug out bag is simply a minimalist survival bag that provides the necessities for survive your most likely disasters (manmade or natural) it is still a very necessary tool that I recommend everyone keep ready.

Common uses for a bug out bag for civilians is as follows:

  • Natural Disaster response
    • Extreme stow storm – stuck in place, without power, gas or heat services
    • Hurricane – force to evacuate and subsist temporarilly at a shelter
    • Political unrest (riots, violent protests) – forced to evacuate and subsist at a shelter or temporary location
    • Roadside emergency – traveling cross country or camping and experiencing a break down, especially in cold weather season
  • Political Disaster (war)
    • Hunkering in place – preparing to survive without water, electrical, gas, and heat for a period
    • Evacuation – preparing to be evacuated, to move on foot to evacuation points, and to prepare to live in a temporary shelter and location for an indefinite period of time

Step 1: Plan for your likely emergency situation

Ask these essential questions to pack the right bug out bag, and contents, for you:

  • What type of disaster are you at risk of experiencing – base on your home, current events, past natural disasters, and seasonality?
  • How long will you likely need to subsist on your own? How likely is it that the disaster period will extend beyond 72 hours?

With these answers, craft your tactical go bag list accordingly. If you live an extreme cold weather area at risk of utilities outages, pack extra warm clothes.

If you may be stuck in place for more than 72 hours, store a source of water accordingly that can be purified later.

If evacuation will involve moving to a new location, ensure you have the appropriate state or resources. If you will be walking, plan to take care of your feet. If you will need transport, take cash in small money. If you will travel by car, ensure a container for extra fuel is available and filled.

 

What you need your tactical Go Bag to do (by priority)

Now that you understand the likely situations you need to plan for, you

  • Allow you to have everything you need while moving easily
  • Keep you dry
  • Keep you warm
  • Provide a sufficient clean supply of water for 72 hours
  • Means of communication and signaling for evacuation
  • To deliver emergency food
    • To additionally facilitate more food
  • Treat onset medical conditions from E&E (feet, scrapes, over the counter meds)
  • Create shelter, from the wind, wet, and cold
  • Guide you out of your current situation

Follow On

  • Dealing with refugee situations – processing, shared living, cleanliness issues, food/water acquisition, and food preparation
  • Keep documents essential for border crossing, medical, and financial resources

Quick Bug Out Bag List

Tactical Go Bag Packing List

Other Essentials

  • Hand sanitizer
  • Emergency Cash in US Dollars or Euros (Mostly large bills ($50 to $100 bills), additionally small bills)
  • Large, heavy duty ziploc bags for waterproofing
  • Small roll of duct tape

 

THE FULL TACTICAL GO BAG LIST

Having your bug out bag packed and ready to go with everything on the bag checklist above isn’t enough. Knowing the tools in your kit and their potential uses in a likely bug out scenario is the next step.

In this full review of your bug out bag list, we’ll go piece by piece through the survival gear to make you aware of the specific bag essentials and uses you may not be aware of by sharing full explanations, directions, and details on everything you need to pack and why.

Let’s get after it

The Nuts and Bolts of Our Bugout Bag

The Pack – A daypack that is tough, ready for absue, and suitable for 72 hours of movement

GORUCK-GR2-Digital-Nomad-Backpacks-ABrotherAbroad.com

“Bugging out” or moving from an area of danger to an area of safety is all about staying on the move. To stay on the move, and carry your essentials with you, you’ll need a backpack that is comfortable and tough, with durable outer material and heavy-duty straps to handle carrying the larger load for long periods comfortably, and can hold enough food, water, and essentials for 72 hours.

I highly recommend any of these tactical daypacks, designed for hard use and survival situations.

For 1 to 3 days a 20L to 35L pack is ideal. Aim for Cordura nylon outer fabric, due to its abrasion and water resistance. Also, consider packing a **collapsible and compressible daypack**

Carrying and Disinfecting Water

In a survival situation, clean water is one of the most precious commodities for human beings as we can survive 3 weeks without food, but only 3 days without water.

Finding water is part of the problem, but because most survival situations require moving, you will need a way to transport enough water to sustain you for 72 hours so that you always have access to a sufficient amount of water

Additionally, in survival and emergency situations, water can be plentiful however not having access to clean water can be the major issue. Drinking contaminated water, whether contaminated with viruses, parasites, or infectious bacteria as is common in standing water, can lead to debilitating and life-threatening diarrhea and worse.

To solve the water problem in survival situations, always plan to carry a container to carry enough water for 72 hours and the means to filter and disinfect water once it is in your container.

Water purification/disinfection tool (at least one option)

To disinfect water, there are 4 commonly recommended options:

  • Option 1: Eye dropper filled with unscented chlorine bleach for disinfection+ bandana for filtering sediment from water (Source: US EPA)
  • Option 2: Iodine drops or tablets for disnfection + bandana for filtering sediment (Source: US EPA)
  • Option 3: Equipment to boil water (lighter, container) + bandana for filtering sediment (Source: US EPA)
  • Option 4: UV water disinfectant (Source US EPA)
  • Option 5: Sunglight disinfection (Source: US EPA)

Click here to learn more about water disinfection and portability at the US EPA

Containers for carrying water in a bugout scenario: A large, collapsible jug + a simple “disposable water bottles”

In a survival situation, plan to maintain at least 2 to 3 liters per person per day, and aiming for enough water for 48 to 72 hours at a time, especially if you are very active or in a hot area.

To carry and store water, beware of planning to carry large, bulky jugs. Instead, carry a smaller, quick access means for drinking (such as water bottle) and a collapsible water jug such as this as the larger container.

For actual water bottles, simple, plastic “disposable water bottles” are the lightest, most efficient, and cheapest variety, and just as reusable as expensive, bulky, heavy ones. These mislabeled “disposable bottles” are favorites of hikers who trek the thousands of miles on the Appalachian and Pacific Crest trails as light and efficiently as possible.

Clothing: Stay dry, stay warm, and stay protected from the elements

Though water is essential to life and can only be forgone for up to 3 days, exposure to the natural elements – rain, cold, and wind – can zap a person’s energy and take a life in minutes.

To ensure you stay healthy and able to take care of yourself, pack the clothing necessary to stay dry in wet weather, and stay warm in cold weather.

Water and exposure to cold water for long periods is a major cause of hypothermia, and exposure to the elements (extreme cold, wind) can make it just as possible. To prevent this, always carry sufficient layers to keep a dry layer of warm air next to your body at all times

The exact clothing and how much is needed will vary from climate to climate, but pack the following at a minimum and add based on your climtate

  • Rain Jacket: A 100% waterproof and windproof jacket that will be your most important layer for staying dry
  • Insulation Layer (for torso): A packable jacket or synthetic sweater made of material that still insulates when warm (wool or polyester) and can be worn under rain jacket, such as the M-65

Additionally, in cold climates, such as common in North American or European fall and winter, insulating the torso alone may not be enough. If you risk needing to survive cooler climates, consider packing the following items

·  Additional Insulation Clothing for Cold Climates:

  • Wool or polyester beanie, ideally not cotton**. A beanie delivers some of the highest heat retention (for your body) compared to its weight
  • One pair of medium to heavy weight wool socks (absolutely not cotton)
  • Long Johns (long underwear) made of wool or a polyester blend, ideally not cotton**
  • Thicker loft layer for insulation (waterproof down, polyester, or wool), not cotton (I like the M-65 field jacket liner)
  • Cold Weather Gloves (if cold will be a risk),ideally not cotton**

If you risk survival in a hot weather climate, be sure to pack sun protection. Sunglasses and a hat may be useful, but shamagh’s are additionally extremely versatile tools for shielding unprotected skin from the sun.

Sleeping Bag (bivy Sac optional but useful)

Compressible, minimalist style mummy bag, synthetic fill

If there is any chance that you will have to sleep outside without shelter or will have to sleep in a shared situation such as a refugee camp or a disaster relief center, do yourself a favor and carry a sleeping bag.

Staying with our theme of keeping thing light, ready to move, and efficient, aim for a light to midweight, mummy bag style sleeping bag made with synthetic (not down) filling, and that can be compressed into a small sack. Additionally, consider packing a waterproof “bivy sack” to create an all in one camping and sleeping system.

Why go for a synthetic fill sleeping bag?

When picking sleeping bags the major options will be synthetically filled, or (more luxuriously branded) down fill. Go for synthetic as it is better for varied use and survival situations. When goose down-filled sleeping bags get wet – from sweat, rain, or spills – they lose their insulative properties, while synthetic will still insulate and keep you warm while wet.

Why a mummy bag?

Mummy bags contour to your body, compared to square bags, leaving less air for your body to heat up between you and the insulation that keeps you warm. The result is with mummy bags, you stay warmer (and comfier) while your body works less.

Why a light to medium weight sleeping bag?

Though sleeping bags are comfortable and useful, the layers you are wearing – a beanie, sweater, wool socks, long johns – will more efficiently keep you warm because they are closer to your skin, and you can wear those within the sleeping bag to add warmth. If you have the choice between making room for a bulkier sleeping bag or adding a few key layering items, add the layering items and stick with a medium weight sleeping bag

First Aid Kit: Take care of your feet, disinfect, close wounds

In a survival situation, your goal is to stay healthy and (possibly) keep moving. To do so, you will need to treat the small injuries and maladies that are common in every day life and stretching your performance to the limits.

This first aid kit is simply meant as an 80/20 solution to quickly handle the small issues that pop up before they become big issues, and stave off real issues until you can reach medical care.

  • Simple Band Aids**
  • Neosporin or antibiotic ointment**
  • Medical tape (for makeshift bandages) ideally water resistant**
  • Gauze, tissue, or sterile option for bandages**
  • 70% alcohol or peroxide (for sterilizing wounds and scrapes)**
  • Pain reliever and anti-inflammatory (Ibuprofen or Acetaminophen)**
  • Super glue – liquid stitches**
  • Anti-histamine (Benadryl or Loratadine)**
  • Anti-diarrheal medication**
  • Needle and nylon thread**
  • Minimum 2 weeks supply of any specialty or hard to access medications, ideally more

As general rules to reduce medical issues in survival situations

  • Aim to keep any breaks in skin clean to avoid infection, cleaning as early as possible and covering if there is risk of getting dirt/grime in the wounds
  • Wash/disinfect your hands before eating and avoid unnecessarily touching face and orifices – to avoid common gastrointestinal issues
  • Review basic survival first aid and CPR well before needed
  • Consider taking a wilderness first aid course, such as offered through the Red Cross
  • Always keep an ample supply of need specific medications packed for bugout situations

Emergency Food And Water: Access water anywhere, keep high calorie food for 72 hours

Though a person can survive up to 3 weeks, every day without food makes us a little weaker and a little less capable and efficient.

As such, pack enough calories for 72 hours minimum, and for an extended period (1 to 2 weeks) if your situation is very questionable.

As a rule, the average person needs 1,200 calories per day to stay healthy, so pack food accordingly, aiming for 2,000 calories per day as a comfortable target.

Pack shelf stable goods that are dense in calories, to provide food options that can stay for long periods and will be light to carry while sustaining you for long period.

Good examples of bug out bag friendly foods are nuts, shelf stable grains that can be prepared without cooking (rolled oats), calorie-dense packaged foods with lots of fat (snickers), dried packets of instant noodles, calorie dense oils such as olive oil or coconut oil, and dried meats for protein.

For “in-place” emergency kits, plan on supplying for extended periods and include canned goods, shelf stable pastas, dried beans, and protein sources such as canned meats or legume grain pairings. Additionally, pack plenty of oils (coconut oil, olive oil) as they are shelf stable and extremely calorie dense

Light: One torch, one pen-light, one hands free

Whether you are walking and moving at night, or navigating a new temporary home at night without electricity, having light is something we take for granted, so pack accordingly.

For maximum efficiency, pack 2 sources of light :1 small light, small enough to hang on a keychain and deliver long life on a single battery, and 1 large light for shining into empty areas and walking at night.

I love these tiny, keychain lights and carry them everywhere I go, as well as keep a couple in the bottom of my bag

For the larger light, consider either a head torch or a Maglite style flashlight, but pack extra batteries for both

Fire

Fire is a primal and very useful tool, whether preparing food or staying warm, fire will prove very useful in a survival situation.

Pack a lighter (or two) in a Ziploc bag (for waterproofing). Extra points for packing a few, small pieces of paper to make lighting the fire easier.

Signaling

If there is a chance that you will be traversing wilderness or wild terrain in hopes of finding a friendly party that is hoping to find you, having a means to “signal” or catch their attention from a far-off distance is very valuable. Light and sound are the best signaling tools, however, the human voice is not sufficient for signaling in a survival situation

A mirror, a flashlight, and a whistle are the 3 most useful survival signaling devices

A mirror can be used to send a long-range visual signal by day, indicating location.

A flashlight can be used to a long-range signal at night, indicating your location in the process.

A whistle can be used to signal by day or night when the environment is too dense for visual signaling.

Because of the overlapping benefits and weaknesses of all three signaling means, throw all three in your bag for the best effect.

Smart phone with charging brick (charged), keep it in airplane mode

Though smartphones may be ubiquitous, using them conservatively is not. At the same time, a smartphone can be a valuable to for storing important information, finding directions, and staying contact, so ensure that you are always able to access your smart phone when you need it.

In order to ensure you have access to your phone 1) keep your smartphone charged in case need to get out quickly, 2) while moving keep your phone on airplane mode to conserve battery and 3) keep a fully charged recharging pack with you to allow you to recharge your phone during long moves.

Also consider using your smart phone as a digital safe, by taking photos of all of your important documents that you may need to show at border crossings or to recovery personnel, in the event your original documents are lost

Several heavy ziploc bags for waterproofing phone and documents

Whether it is a smart phone, passport, personal documents, or cash, getting caught in the rain or wet conditions can quickly ruin plans. Prep for this by using heavy duty ziploc bags to waterproof anything thing that is important but vulnerable to rainy and wet conditions

Download of offline maps (Google Maps or Maps.Me)

Whether you are navigating urban environments or making your way through back country, knowing where you’re at, finding your way, and ensuring you’re headed in the right direction are essential. This is not only to reach your desired destination but also to keep your support network (or recovery personnel) updated on your movements.

Being able to send coordinates or a screenshot of your position can cut down a recovery effort by hours, days, or weeks, saving precious time that you may not have.

As such, download the apps Google Maps and Maps.Me, ensuring to download the appropriate offline maps. Maps.me is much better for hiking, backcountry, and finding trails in non-urban environments.

Google Maps will be much better for urban environments, finding public transit options and roads, but downloaded maps expire in 30 days if not refreshed, so act accordingly.

If you ever do need to bug out, check your maps on the way out the door.

Personal Protection

If you fall into an emergency or survival situation, you may need to protect yourself – from other people or from animals.

Plan to take something that you know you can use for defense. Though firearms may come to mind, this may create legal concerns, and not all people are trained to use them. However, I do recommend some kind of personal protection spray, such as pepper spray or bear spray, that works equally well against people and animals, and can easily be used by virtually anyone.

Additionally, consider bringing an additional protection device that serves extra utility, such as a sturdy walking stick, a suitable knife, or a trust baseball bat. Used correctly and assertively, all three items can be trusty deterents.

Additionally consider a taser as a personal protection option.

ESSENTIAL DOCUMENTS (PERSONAL, FINANCIAL, PROOF OF STATUS)

If there is a chance that you can’t go home, or home is destroyed, being able to prove who you are, maintain access to your accounts, and starting a new life will be important and will require essential documents.

Keep in mind that these documents should always be kept in a safe place, in normal times, and not necessarily in your bug out bag. However these documents should always be stored together, protected against water, and quickly accessible. I recommend keeping these documents clustered in a heavy duty ziploc bag to keep them safe and dry, always.

Additionally, keep several double-sided copies of all important documents to give to authorities when necessary and facilitate quick processing and to keep in the event you lose your original documents.

Important documents + copies should include

  • Passport
  • Credit cards + copies of front and back
  • Social security card
  • Birth certificate
  • Bank account information and one statement with proof of address
  • Proof of relationships (spouse, children, parents)
  • Medical history, vaccinations, and allergies – especially for people with unique conditions and ongoing medical issues

Travel Insurance

This may seem like an awkward afterthought but, as a nomad and traveller, I maintain traveler’s insurance as part of my permanent bugout bag – and it served me well during the pandemic with an optional evacuation flight.

For traveler’s and nomads, traveler’s insurance may offer “evacuation coverage” in the even of natural disaster, political unrest, or medical evacuation, covering the cost of an evacuation flight and evacuation travel to safe grounds. I experienced this offer as a one time offer for a one way flight from Bali (where I was traveling) to California (home) at the start of the pandemic, thanks to my coverage with Safetywing.

If you are traveling, I can’t recommend this coverage enough and advise against traveling without travel insurance. The only two coverages I have used and recommend are World Nomads, which I used extensively through my travels, and Safetywing which is a pocket friendly alternative.

A few friends with World Nomads coverage received emergency medical evacuations from Everest Base Camp in Nepal, proving to me the value and trustworthiness of their services.

At the start of the pandemic, when the situation was official, one of the first emails I received was an all expenses covered offer from Safetywing for an evacuation flight from Indonesia to my home grounds in California, assuring me of the quality of their coverage.

Click here to learn more about disaster and emergency insurances here

Keep in mind that traveler’s insurance will only apply when you are outside of your own country. Additionally, consider that individual travel insurance policies may have restrictions on where the coverage applies based on the countries State Department Travel Rating and CDC risk rating – so check those ratings for your country, as well as your potential travel insurance policy’s fine print, before purchasing.

Useful Accessories

Beyond our basic list, there are a plethora of small tools that will prove invaluable, depending on your situation (moving or staying in place), natural environment (weather, season), and situation (urban, rural). The following are “additional accessories” I always keep in my bug out bag and travel bag due to their versatile utility, and would recommend adding to yours

KEY POINTS TO REMEMBER WHEN “ON THE MOVE” IN A SURVIVAL SITUATION

  • Be careful with water: Understand how to filter and disinfect water beforehand and disinfect all water before drinking, and do not drink any untreated water source in urban or wilderness environments
  • Stay dry: wet clothes zap energy quickly and become a heavy risk for hypothermia at night fall
  • Stay alert: To your surroundings, where you are, and what is happening
  • Avoid extra weight
  • Understand how to care for feet and manage blisters: Remove your socks and treat your feet every night
  • Keep your hands clean: Use soap and water or disinfectant spray and avoid touching your face to avoid gastrointestinal issues
  • Use airplane mode on your smart phone: To conserve battery and stay off the radar (literally)
  • Every stop you make – care for your feet, drink and refill water, check in with contact points at your destination or supporters
  • Place a written and waterproofed copy of your emergency information in a place accessible to those traveling with you
  • Tend to the morale of your group: If you can stay in good spirits, your chances are better
  • Know basic first aid beforehand.

TACTICAL GO BAG PACKING LIST FAQ

What is an emergency go bag?

An emergency go bag is a kit intended to help you survive an emergency situation for 72+ hours while either hunkering down until recovery services arrive or moving to a safer location.

What should be in a tactical go bag?

A good tactical go bag should have the essentials to keep you dry, warm, watered, fed, and healthy for 72 hours minimum. This likely includes a rain jacket, loft layer, water disinfection method, food, and minimalist first aid kit.

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