Back in 2014 I completed an exercise in preparedness and created a Zombie Apocalypse Go-Bag and then shared my results. Since then I have taken the bag with me whenever I have gone on over-night travel more than 60 miles from home. In doing so I realized the bag I chose was a poor choice, that I didn’t have any idea how to pack such a bag, and that I may not have made the best choice in the items I chose to pack. So I took to the web and read what the experts had to say; not preppers but recreational backpackers. The folks who know how to pack, hike, and survive for 5+ days in the bush. What I learned forced me to make some changes, and now I share what I have learned with you.
In preparing myself for a disaster, I have to keep in mind the reality of what a disaster in my region would look like and how long to get to my destination. The first thing I considered is the type of disaster, and the most likely will be a natural disaster of some sort that you can see coming, Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Katrina being the best examples. In such a scenario it is likely that I would have a pretty good window of time to gather my bag and supplies in order to evacuate. My plan is a 12-24 hour response to get out of dodge, giving me time to properly pack my bag with everything that needs to travel with me. In planning for how long I would be on the toad, most preppers will tell you what you need for 72 hours of supplies in your bug-out-bag. In my region, that would not get me very far without a vehicle (and these plans revolve around not having a vehicle) so I have to plan for 5+ days of hiking to get to a relatively safe area. I chose this time window and distance because if I have less than 12 hours to leave, then the disaster is such that driving out would be impossible, and hiking out of the region would take too long, so sheltering-in-place is the only option and these supplies augment my shelter-in-place plan.
First off the base item is the bag. My original bag was a generic 80L pack with internal frame. It could not be adjusted for height, waist size, or chest size, resulting in a back that was uncomfortable from the start. With the idea being that we would be on the road for 5+ days if something were to happen in our area, most backpacking groups suggest a 80L+ pack to accommodate all gear. Further, internal frames have become the norm, but it is important that your pack have an adjustable frame to provide a better fit. Then there is the issue of waste and shoulders, my original bag could fit around my waste provided I was wearing a t-shirt, anything bulkier and I could not close the waste, nor the sternum straps. Finally, as a personal choice, I wanted a pack with plenty of pockets externally so that certain items were much easier to reach. In the end I chose the High Sierra series, specifically the Appalachian 75 (75 liter) for my short wife, and the Long Trail 90 (90 liter) for myself. This bag solves every issues listed above, and meets my personal requirement of having external pockets. It also has a rain cover in it’s own storage pocket on the outside of the bottom of the pack for easy access.
The heaviest thing that will be in my pack is a water supply. The two packs I picked up both have special pockets for hydration reservoirs, but I did not go with that solution yet. While this would make hiking with water easier, I have concerns that the reservoirs could be punctured, or the bit valve damaged. For this reason I have decided to stick with a personal use LifeStraw, and a 2 liter canteen. The LifeStraw allows me to fill and drink from the canteen from any flowing water sources. Another solution, which I keep in my Get-Home-Bag, is the LifeStraw Go Water Bottle but feel it doesn’t hold enough water for the traveling very long distances. Mind you if I do bug out, I am not bugging out alone, so I also have the LifeStraw Family Water Purifier to make filling the canteens easier, and unlike the personal straws that filter 1000 liters, the family unit filters 18,000 liters.
For food, I have 3 days of emergency rations (2400 calories bars) to allow me to travel quickly for the first few days without having to stop to prepare meals. These bars are light and easy to eat on the move, and you can easily forage for roots, nuts and berries while on the move to augment. Once these run out I hope to be far enough away from the disaster zone to be able to set up camps and prepare meals. For this part, I will have raided my long-term food supply that is part of my shelter-in-place plan. Wise Company is the company I have chosen for my long-term food needs, with the best prices for meals that only require you add water, have a 25 year shelf-life, and come in a good variety. 2-6 days of these meals does not add a lot of weight, and will be appreciated after the 3 days of emergency rations. Of course, knowledge of foraging, and hunting will help ensure long term survival and doesn’t weigh anything.
You will need to carry some sort of shelter with you, or try to find shelter each day. A shelter can be a small tarp held up by a single stick, but I purchased a small 2 man single pole tent for myself and my partner. To go along with the shelter is a place to sleep, and there are a variety of bags and pads out there but I chose to go with US Army Patrol Bag stuffed into a waterproof case. I also have a ground pad with my regular camping gear should I decide I want to carry it. The Mylar space blankets are amazing at helping retain heat, and are very light, so you should be packing one or two of those for your trip as well.
To prepare the emergency and dried foods you only need add water, but you will want a hot meal at some point so fire and food preparation tools are a necessity. There are a lot of cooking options out there in the hiking community but I have found most of them require a small stoves and what we need is something that can be used on a hiking stove, as well as a campfire. I picked up a couple Swedish mess-kits which includes a oil and esbit stove, small cook pot, and small pan. Being all metal, the pot and pan can also be used over a campfire. The downside to this kit is that it is heavy, so I am considering picking up a commercially made titanium cooking set which is less than half the weight for the single person set, or about the same for the family set. Don’t forget to need a means to start a fire, and while it may be ‘cool’ to be able to rub sticks together, the best method will be a phosphorous and steel firestarter. FInally, you have to have eating utensils, and grabbing something from the kitchen as you leave is just as good as having a dedicated set in the pack. Add to that some sort of saw, machete or hatchet to make wood collection go easier. Also you may want to add an entrenching tool or folding shovel to dig a firepit making it easier to conceal and put out.
Backpackers carry all sorts of small first aid kits, but I am going to suggest you get something a but more substantial. While weight is a concern, being able to reach your destination is more important than how quickly you get there. With a little research you may be able to build one yourself rather inexpensively from supplies found at any pharmacy. You should plan for this to contain a lot of supplies for cuts, gashes, strains and sprains, and possibly a broken bone. So be sure to include gauze, tape, splints, gloves, medicated ointments and of course alcohol. You also need to include pain killers, to include ibuprofen and acetaminophen.
Something I have not changed since my initial article is my orienteering equipment. I have plastic folding maps of the regions around me, as well as local maps to help find the best routes. I have a grease pencil so that I can write on these maps, as well as a small rain or shine notebook and pen, and a military grade compass. I also have a crank/solar multi-band receiver so I can listen to emergency stations and get weather reports if available.
Just as my knowledge of the backpack has changed, my clothing needs have changed as well. I have taken up a new hobby that results in hiking with a lot of gear in near any weather, and from it I have learned some lessons. Hiking boots and socks are going to be a must. For these I suggest going to your nearest outdoor store, such as REI, and get with the professionals and try on several pairs of boots. In the end I went with a waterproof model, build for moderate terrain, and ankle protection. A good pair of boots won’t need a break-in period but I do suggest going for walks or even day hiking to get a good feel for them. Then there are the socks, of which you should have 8 pairs of hiking socks for a 5+ day hike. This may seem like a lot but you will want to change socks twice a day to avoid injuring your feet, since even in cold weather you feet will sweat. You will also want to wash the socks as you rotate their use but if you can’t just being able to let socks dry so you can wear them again is important.
For clothing specifically, jeans are good but I have found ripstop cargo pants with tied ankles and waste are better. Not only do they have pockets, but they also protect better from insects, and when wet they do no weigh as much as denim. I have 3 pairs of these pants that I wear as part of a hobby and can speak for how rugged they are. Long sleeved shirts are still the norm, even in warm weather. This is to protect you from the sun, as well as insects and terrain. For cold weather, the best gear I have found is the cold weather heat gear from Under Armor as the base lair, and having 2 sets of these shirts and leggings would suffice. Do not forget to pack a hat, a rainproof jacket such as a poncho, sunglasses, and a belt.
You still need underwear so be sure to pack at least 4 pairs (women should back 2 bras as needed), again with the idea you will wash them as you go. When it comes to underwear though what you wear on a daily basis may be the worst choice. Cotton underwear is going to be terrible on the road, as it will not wick away moisture, and if they are briefs won’t protect you from chaffing. Chaffing will force you to stop hiking if not properly prevented or treated. The best way to prevent it is to wear underwear, or something over the underwear, that prevents your thighs from rubbing, and absorb moisture. Various companies make compression shorts which are good for this, but I have found bamboo boxer briefs also can help. For my go-bag though, I will take my compression shorts as they do not ride up my leg and are designed for hot and cold weather workouts.
You may note I do name some pretty specific clothing, this is due to my current lifestyle which makes me susceptible to an unusual injury – chaffing. My wife and I are not hikers or backpackers, and we don’t walk or run great distances. We are average American’s, and so some of the clothing items are not what more active individuals may need. These special clothing items will help assure we are able to reach our destination without having to stop more frequently than just resting or eating.
The last items included in my pack are the small necessities. I have added 100 feet of paracord in case things need to be tied up in a tree, or strapped down. I have included a small pocket knife that has a couple types of locking blades, a screwdriver, a corkscrew, toothpick, and tweezers. A fixed blade hunting knife is useful for cutting larger objects, or field dressing animals, and even self-defense. A LED flashlight that uses watch batteries, and extra batteries. And of course you will need toiletries such as toothbrush, toothpaste, toilet paper, and feminine hygiene products.
Readers of my previous article may remember that I included a gas mask and filters in my pack. I still have these items, but I have removed them from my bug-out-bag necessity list and moved them to my get-home-bag, actually stored them in my vehicle. The reality is, the gas mask is good for civil unrest and not a major natural disaster. Where I live is not in a place where I would expect civil unrest, but I would expect it closer to where I work. So by moving it to my vehicle I am prepared for its use closest to where it may be needed.
The final lesson I learned was the packing of the backpack. While in storage the pack just contains all the items I don’t use, so when it comes time to pack I have to empty it out and start from scratch. The first thing to remember is that the heaviest items have to go closest to your spine, between the shoulder blades. This will include any spare water packs, tent poles, cooking gear, ammunition, etc. The lightest bulk items, such as the sleeping bag, tent, and tent fly, go in the bottom of the the pack. The remaining light and medium weight items, such as clothing, jackets, and items you need to access easily go into the top and outer portion of the pack. If you have a sleeping mat attaching it to the outside side of the pack is good, but remember you may also want to put the cover over the pack and anything strapped outside of the pack may hinder that. When packing, remember to compartmentalize to make things easier to find. Waterproof stuff sacks are best for this, and come in many sizes. I have separate bags for my socks, underwear, toiletries and in varied colors so I know what it is a sack just by looking at it. Finally, once fully loaded use the compression straps on the pack to tighten everything as it will prevent the load from shifting while on the move.
As a final note, I have duplicates of everything I have listed in this article. The packs my wife and I carry contain all the same basic items on the chance we are not together when we first set out. If we are lucky enough to be together when we have to evacuate we would leave behind many of the duplicate items allowing us to carry more clothing and food. I also did not list ammunition or firearms, this is because having such a tool may not be for everyone. I myself have two handguns, a rifle, and a shotgun that will go with us if we evacuate. I am also not covering how to travel with pets, as taking a pet with you with is dangerous for you and the pet, leave them at home with water running in the sinks and bathtubs, and sacks of food torn open or let them loose if you do not expect to return.
I hope this helps other non-preppers, non-survivalist types recognize and prepare for an emergency that calls for evacuation. You never know when another Superstorm Sandy or Hurricane Katrina will happen, and figuring out and gathering what you need at the last minute will just result in failure. The best time to build your pack is right now, before anything happens. It also happens to be outside of hurricane season so you have a few months before those big storms become an issue again, so get started and good luck.
Just in case you missed anything, here is the complete list of items:
- backpacking pack
- Water carrier
- Water filtration
- Emergency food
- sleeping bag
- space blanket
- camping pad
- fire starter
- cooking utensils
- eating utensils
- wood cutting tool
- First aid kit
- Crank/solar multi-band receiver with USB charger
- hiking boots
- 8 pairs wool hiking socks
- 4 underwear
- 2 pants
- 2 shirts
- 2 bras
- 1 jacket
- 1 rainproof jacket/poncho
- 1 hat
- 1 pair of sunglases
- a belt
- 100 paracord
- pocket knife
- fixed blade hunting knife