Think of it this way:
Any time you leave your home, you’re “going” somewhere. By taking a “go bag” with you, the basic survival necessities will always be with you.
Few people do it. Most don’t even have a go bag — and those that do think it is a “bugout bag” — useful only when circumstances force you to leave home and head for more secure shelter.
I’ll go out on a limb and say the chances of you going to the grocery store or dentist are a whole lot more substantial than the chances of a catastrophe forcing you from your home. Not only will taking your go bag with you on ALL away-from-home trips insure you have first aid supplies, a knife, and other basics with you when needed (not IF needed … WHEN is the only question), but should the situation warrant and you are unable to return home … you’ll be darned glad you have your go bag with you.
Moral of the story: Take your go bag with you. Not only will you be better protected from unplanned and unseen conditions, you will have to develop a lightweight (25 lbs maximum) pack that contains all the essentials for urban survival.
What Should My Urban Survival Go Bag Contain?
My go bag carries essentials … and nothing else. No sleeping bag, no traditional tent, no cook stove — that can all go in my backpacking bag, but my go bag can’t handle the weight or size of larger items.
You can get as creative as you wish with your Go Bag, but be sure to cover the basics and keep it lightweight.
Here are the current contents of my own Go Bag:
- First aid supplies: Mine is a standard personal first aid kit in a plastic box. It measures six inches by five inches and weighs 6.5 ounces. Contents are standard antiseptic and wound care items. I also carry a one ounce of the “first aid kit in a bottle” — melaleuca oil. If you take prescription medication, the first aid kit is a good place to store some. Better yet, walk a few miles daily and eat for health instead of pleasure. It may be possible for you to make health changes that allow you to get off the drugs completely. I did, and it wasn’t that difficult.
- Warmth makers: I carry a pair of wool war surplus gloves, a wool watch cap (“boggin” style that can cover my ears), a pair of wool blend socks, a foil emergency tarp/shelter, two lighters and a box of matches. In addition to the foil shelter, I carry a rain parka that can also help with protection from the elements and a hoodie-type sweatshirt for warmth or to use as a pillow.
- Direction finders: If you live in Florida, a map of Oregon won’t be helpful. My map covers my state (Oregon) and my typical stomping grounds (the Willamette Valley, the Cascade Mountains, and the Oregon Coast. If I’m going hiking or foraging in a specific area, I take the best map I can find of that locale. The right map can save your butt. I keep a handheld magnetic compass with the map(s).
- Survival knives: Knives are handy items. You can use a knife for protection, for eating, for opening packages, for leaving messages … the list goes on. I carry a small utility knife (Swiss Army style) and a larger non-folding knife in a sheath for common camp-related tasks. I also carry a stiletto knife for protection and eating.
- Foraging guide: Nature’s supermarket is open 24/7 if you know where to look. I keep a pocket-sized foraging reference guide for the Pacific Northwest (safely stowed inside a ziplock bag). You may also want to keep a small survival guide in your pack for refreshers on fire-building and other campcraft topics.
- Firestarter: I carry pitch-soaked pieces of wood cut from an old stump. Dryer lint, wax, paper … all can serve the purpose, but it sure is nice to have some firestarter when you REALLY need the heat. While you’re at it, get a flint-steel sparking tool and learn to use it. You will want to carry a baggie of toilet paper, but best to use that for its original intent instead of fire starting.
- Parachute cord: Any rope or cord you have will probably do in a pinch, but parachute cord provides incredible strength, doesn’t weight much, and fits easily into your pack. It’s good stuff, and there are hundreds of uses for it.
- Toiletries: Toothbrush, toilet paper, and a shatterproof mirror. That’s about all you really need, and the mirror doubles as a signalling device. Throw in a comb if you would like and a small tube of toothpaste if you absolutely must.
- Kitchen utensils: A metal cowboy coffee cup sure comes in handy as an all-around utensil. I also carry an 18-ounce metal water bottle. A fork and spoon can be helpful — especially for the familiarity they bring. A little touch of home. Put half a dozen or more baggies into a baggie (I like the quart size) for easy storage and protection of sensitive items.
- Hiking shoes: Unless you are always wearing shoes that would work for urban survival, don’t forget to keep a pair in or tied onto the outside of your Go Bag. Style is totally up to you. My current Go Shoes are Keen weatherproof walking shoes. Use whatever you like best, but make sure they are durable.
- Survival food: Water is your primary concern, but there’s no way you can carry enough to last more than a day or two. That’s why you’ll need water-finding skills and a purification method. Check my article, “Finding Water Sources for Urban Survival” for survival water methods. It’s handy to have a handful of power bars or bag of trail mix with you, but not essential. The main thing you need is a knowledge of how to collect your own food in the wild.
- Communications: It’s rare to find someone who doesn’t have a smartphone these days, so we’ll assume you are carrying one. Here’s the first thing to do with your phone when you really need it: Turn it off to conserve power. Use it only when you are sure it can benefit you. The most important app on your phone is the one that delivers emergency broadcasts and news. Make sure you have it and that it is activated.
- Let there be light: A flashlight is a good thing to have on a dark, lonely night in the woods. Check my article about urban survival flashlights for the info you need.
One of the most important parts of your Go Bag is the bag itself. You want one that’s durable and that lends itself to urban survival situations: D rings, special compartments, shoulder strap padding, and adjustments on the straps.
Remember, the Go Bag isn’t your only bag. You’ll also want to prepare a backpacking-style bag to carry a regular sleeping bag, tent, and cookware. Ideally, you can just strap your Go Bag onto the big bag and hit the road.