The majority of those casually prepared for survival and disaster situations have come into contact with prepackaged emergency bags called bug-out bags. These bags typically present several types of tools, water pouches and other trinkets marketed as everything one would need to survive at least 72 hours after the emergency.

The problem with some these prepackaged kits is that they are generally loaded with cheap gear, are not designed for real disaster or emergency use and are based on the bare essentials—they do not take differing heights, weights, personal fitness levels or appetites into consideration, and all of these factors come into play when disaster strikes. Also, there is a trend that markets all of these types of bags as bug-out bags, as if they are all one needs to evacuate an area. In reality, there is a difference between a get-home bag, which is what prepackaged kits are typically more suited for, and bug-out bags.

Get Home Alive

A get-home bag is a kit that includes gear specific to your region that you will carry with you daily, either on your person if you’re in a congested city or in your vehicle in a more suburban or rural area. This kit will be updated seasonally. That’s right, update it up to four times per year so that you will be able to replenish your clothing, food and tool options. The get-home bag is designed to get you home—nothing more, nothing less, regardless of the circumstances you are faced with. Needless to say, a get-home bag fills a tall order. Just think of all the emergency situations you may come up against, including terror attacks, extreme weather, earthquakes, flooding, wildfires and rioting.

The average person drives 25 miles one way to work daily. Therefore, the get-home bag will take this into account. For example, if you’re an office worker, you would want a change of clothing and footwear in your bag so that you can travel more efficiently and comfortably. You’ll likely be familiar with your roadway route, but how familiar are you with the surrounding terrain if roadways were impassable? Again, the get-home bag should be designed to get you home safe and sound.

For my personal get-home bag, I chose a UTG Tactical Messenger bag to carry my tools due to its value (less than $35) and the options available, including magazine pouches, a hidden holster pocket and belt retention, along with multiple pockets and a bottle holder. The framework for the kit should follow the “10 C’s of Survivability,” must-have emergency items.

Recommended gear includes The Colonel carbon-steel knife (; a Ferrocerium Rod and Sure Fire with Fire Kit (; a 32-ounce Stainless Steel Bottle and Nesting Cup (; #36 Bankline and 25 feet of 550 cord (; a SOL Emergency Blanket and Emergency Bivvy (; a Quantum Lightworx headlamp and flashlight (; a Silva Ranger Compass (; a Bahco Laplander (; three feet of cotton cloth and a canvas repair needle; and one roll of 1-inch-wide Gorilla Tape.

Added to these 10 items are high-calorie meal replacement bars that do not require heating or cooking and a defensive weapon, in my case a pistol. With these 10 items, meal replacements and firearm I have all I need for my specific region to care for the priorities that must be addressed in an emergency situation: fire, shelter, water, security and food.

Remember, the top priority is to get home quickly by evacuating an area by as much as 30 miles. Because we’re trying to get home, we don’t want to have to stop and build a fire every time we want to eat. It’s not practical and may not be possible since it’s an emergency after all. We carry gear for a shelter because we may become tired, be forced to shelter while on the move or camp a night due to exertion or injury. Again, the items within the standard 10-piece kit are sufficient for treating common injuries and will get us through a night in the woods while we’re trying to get back home.

Escaping Disaster

The bug-out bag is a whole other animal. This bag is (or should be) designed as a kit to evacuate a region or area that may exceed 100 miles, thus it must be capable of sustaining the user for the amount of time it takes them to walk 100 miles, which will be different for everyone. Generally speaking, this would be somewhere between seven to 10 days.

While the get-home bag can be used as the basis for the bug-out bag, redundancies or layers of equipment will be essential. We can layer our equipment by using the simple adage “two is one, one is none.” We need to have two types of each tool so that when one fails, we have another to repair, recreate or replace the first. Think of this along the lines of survival’s “Base 5”:

1. Fire: We need multiple ways to make fire that may include primitive techniques. Having a ferro rod can make this chore a lot easier in the wild.

2. Shelter: We need our emergency shelter in addition to a proper blanket, tarp or sleep system. You need to stay out of the elements and retain your body heat.

3. Water: We need our water bottle in addition to another container capable of cooking and processing water in addition to filter systems. Clean drinking water is essential to survival.

4. Security: We need our defensive firearm in addition to a hunting firearm, and perhaps some trapping implements. This will go a long way toward sustaining our food supplies.

5. Food: We need short-term meal replacements in addition to lightweight MREs or similar food packages to supplement food we procure as we bug-out.

We will additionally want to address first aid, hygiene, communications, and rain/snow gear along with extra clothing. For communications I suggest a radio that can be wound up, solar charged or powered by batteries in addition to a “burner” phone that operates on a network other than your standard network. That way, if you’re tracked or your network is down, you have another option.

What we don’t want to do, however, is create an 80-pound monster that we have to carry with us. The larger the pack you choose for your bug-out bag, the more stuff you will naturally try to put in it to fill it. The fact is, unless you have been training to carry a heavy pack, you won’t be able to do it for more than a day after a disaster occurs.

The better method is to first get the gear you know is essential and then select the pack to carry that gear. If you properly pre-plan your evacuation routes and take the time to set up cache systems in advance, be it at a friend or relative’s place just off the beaten path, you will have a good shot at a successful bug-out, with the ability to swap out or replenish gear as you go along a pre-planned route.

When you go down your bug-out bag checklist, remember that these items would be added in addition to your get-home bag. The get-home bag serves as the framework and now we’re building the structure to cover all situations.

The debate between whether you need a get-home bag or bug-out bag shouldn’t even be a debate at all—you need both to affect your long-term self-reliance in a prolonged emergency.

Again, the get-home bag should be designed to allow you to evacuate an area, such as your workplace and city center, to get you home to rendezvous with other members of your family, your friends or survival group. At that point, and only at that point, should the decision be made as to whether or not a regional evacuation may be necessary, which is where your well-stocked bug-out bag will be called into action.

Trying to cut corners by having one bag to do it all will lead you into either situation carrying too much or too little gear, and in both cases you’ll be limited in scope as to how the kits will be able to address certain emergency situations. The fact is, it takes two to tango and two bag loadouts to address getting home and then bugging out. By integrating both of these important systems into your long-term survival plan, you will be better prepared to overcome whatever comes your way. Plan now, stock up and make sure both bags are ready to go in the event of an emergency.

For More Information


Self Reliance Outfitters, (317) 791-8777

Survive Outdoors longer; (800) 324-3517

Quantum Lightworx

Silva Compass; (800) 572-8822

This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE™ Winter 2016 edition. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.

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