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As events this winter have proven, it’s a good idea to have a “get me home bag” (GHB) at all times. That 15-mile drive to work will feel a whole lot further away if you are ever forced to make the trek on foot.
Although determining every item that should be included in a get-home bag will differ from person to person, the basic tools and gear needed are the same. When planning a bag supply list, carefully consider the types of natural disasters which are common in your region and address those needs first when budgeting for bag contents. A power grid down scenario, terrorist attack, or civil unrest can occur everywhere, but severe winter storms, tornados, and earthquakes are more prone to specific regions of the country and should be primary concerns when determining how preparedness funds will be spent.
How Long Will It Take To Get Home?
After deciding the likely emergency scenarios you could face while away from home, it is time to move onto the next important task on the get-me-home bag consideration list, and it involves doing a bit of math. The average person can walk about 3 miles per hour when on a flat surface and mild terrain. A physically fit person might be able to keep that pace up for 12 hours and walk a distance of 36 miles during that time. But even physically fit people will have to adjust their pace to accommodate the pack on their back and breaks. An average person walking with a pack over varying terrain can most logically expect to cover between 10 to 20 miles per day maximum. Estimating traveling distance at a 2 miles per hour rate should give most folks a reasonable figure to work with when determining food and water needs.
What Kind Of Bag Should I Buy?
GHB bags should be lightweight and only large enough to hold all of the supplies absolutely necessary to help you get home safely. Ideally, a get-me-home bag should weigh about 20 pounds, if packed with items needed to aid you during a single to two-day trek on foot.
Backpack capacity is typically measured in liters. A bag of approximately 35 liters should be appropriate for a walk no longer than a few days. The pack needs to be sturdy, and zipper pockets for organizational purposes are always a plus.
Here is a starter list for any get-me-home bag:
- Shelter supplies such as a bivy, mylar blanket, tarp, or emergency ponchos are a must. Being exposed to the elements will hamper even the most well-trained and physically fit person. A lightweight poncho in a small package will also fit easily inside a child’s school backpack. Hand warmer packets are also very useful and take up little space. Also, include rope to set up your shelter and for dozens of other survival uses.
- Food items should be lightweight, easy to prepare, and be energy dense. Smell and sight discipline might be concerns during the walk home, so do not solely rely upon food which must be cooked. MREs and long term food storage pouches are feasible lightweight options, but they do require at least heated water. Granola bars and similar protein bars typically have a long shelf life and will not take up much space in the bag. Dehydrated fruit and trail mix are also viable options. Make sure to rotate food items before they expire so money is not wasted.
- Water is the most basic survival need and cannot be overlooked. We need between two to three liters of water per day minimum to maintain health and function. That figure goes up when increased physical activity is factored into the equation. The average water bottle holds a quart of fluid. A water bladder commonly holds between two to three liters of water. Carrying any more than three or four liters of water will be difficult. Survival water filters and purifying tablets are a get-me-home bag must in order to replenish your supply during the long walk home.
- First-aid supplies are also a needed component. Tea tree oil is nature’s antibiotic and can be used to disinfect wounds and treat lips blistered from the sun. The highly concentrated oil will not take up much space in the bag and is inexpensive. The oil is also useful in helping soothe sore muscles and help reduce swelling. A bottle of witch hazel will have some weight to it, but naturally repels insect pests and poison ivy. Bandages, especially ones designed for quick clotting, should also be included. A small sewing kit could be used to suture wounds and repair damaged clothing and sheltering materials. Over-the-counter pain medications and a spare bottle of prescription medications is also recommended. Scissors or a small knife are useful for both first-aid and self-defense purposes. Jock itch spray’s antifungal nature will help prevent and clear rashes. Super glue is a great way to seal cuts in a pinch and also takes up very little space in the bag. A one-time-use ice pack, the type that are activated via squeezing the bag, and a tourniquet.
- Self-defense needs can obviously be addressed by a legal concealed carry or open carry handgun, but other personal protection items are useful, as well. Pepper spray, a hunting knife, or a taser packed into the bag are also great self-preservation tools.
- Flashlights with extra batteries, a headlamp, and even some glow-in-the dark sticks should be placed inside the bag. Cheap and lightweight solar yard lights could be strapped onto the bag with the roll of duct tape that should also be put inside the bag, and can be used as a rechargeable and hands-free light source.
- Spare socks and a jacket to suit the season should be included in the bag. If feasible, a full change of clothing should be added to the bag. If hiking home in the cold, warm and dry clothing could save your life if stricken with frostbite or hypothermia. Don’t forget several pairs of gloves and toboggans. Temperatures drop quickly during evening hours and even a nice sunny day could lead to shivering.
- Fire starters stored within a moisture-proof container could keep an emergency scenario sinking from bad to worse. Cotton balls soaked in rubbing alcohol and dryer lint wrapped in wax paper make great fire starters. Plenty of matches and lighters should also be stored in small waterproof containers.
- Old-fashioned paper maps are a must. Buy two paper maps and cover at least one of them in clear contact paper to help protect it from the elements. Pay close attention along your driving route and take note of landmarks and land formations to help guide you home in case the maps are lost or stolen. Staying along the roadway the entire journey might not be an option, so purchase a topographical map and if possible, become familiar with the wooded areas you may have to traverse. An inflatable pool ring could also come in handy. If you or your get-home bag could float along a waterway for at least a portion of the trip, your feet will thank you for the break. A plastic trash bag can double as a makeshift poncho and a protective covering for your bag if you do opt to wade along a creek or encounter heavy rain or snow. Don’t forget to add a compass and signaling mirror to the navigational section of your get-home bag.
There are dozens of smaller items which can also be useful and can be added to your get-home bag after the essentials have been stored away. Other popular items include zip ties, pens and permanent markers, small camping kindling saw, toilet paper, walkie talkie, whistle and paracord bracelet – just to name a few.