How to Make an Emergency Bag Part 1: Getting Started

Emergency Bag


You may have heard the terms “Bug Out Bag”, “72 Hour Bag”, and “Get Home Bag” and come to the conclusion that you and your family members each need some kind of bag filled with emergency supplies in case of a potential disaster or emergency. The term most often used is Bug Out Bag and often conjures images of a person decked out in camouflage, wearing a gas mask, holding a foot-long survival knife with a gun slung over his shoulder. While some may want to outfit themselves to that degree, most of us are just looking for a backpack containing basic survival and emergency essentials. My focus in this series of posts titled “How to Make an Emergency Bag” is on the basic and essential supplies that each member of the family should have access to in the event of an emergency or disaster.


So Why Should You Have an Emergency Bag?


There are many potentially unpredictable emergencies and disasters that we may encounter in our lives. I live in the Pacific Northwest, where experts say that we are long overdue for a massive earthquake, commonly referred to as “The Big One”. Some experts predict that more than 10,000 people might perish in such an earthquake. Beyond the potential tragic loss of life, basic services like water, electricity, sewage treatment and the supply of food to the area may be completely or seriously disrupted for 30 days or more. With those prospects, a basic level of preparedness can help most people ride things out after the disaster. I try not to live my life in fear and not to contribute to others living in fear but doing a few simple things can bring some peace of mind for those of us whose responsibility it is to take care of our family members.



Emergency Bag Contents

72 Hour Bag Contents



I use the term “emergency bag” as a generic term to describe a bag full of supplies that may serve the purposes of getting home in an emergency, evacuating to some secondary location, or to hunker down somewhere for a few days. The basic idea for an emergency bag is to have a collection of supplies to keep at home, work, school, in your car, or in some other place that’s likely to be accessible in the event of an emergency or disaster. These supplies are intended to provide basic necessities if you or a family member ends up in a situation in which the contents of the bag is all you have for some number of days.


It is essential that you have enough basic supplies to survive for at least 2 or 3 days, and these supplies should be kept in a bag that can easily be carried for long distances in case you need to travel on foot while getting home or evacuating. For these reasons, backpacks are ideal for storing your emergency supplies in and make great Get Home Bags and 72 Hour Bags.


Different Types of Emergency Bags for Different Purposes


The type of emergency bag you need will dictate to some degree the supplies that you should include in it. And you and each family member may need more than one emergency bag and more than one type. For instance, you may want to keep a Get Home Bag in the trunk of your car or in a locker at work while also keeping a 72 Hour Bag at home. To help you decide what type of emergency bag you need, below are brief descriptions of the main types of bags.


  • A 72-hour Bag (72HB) or Bug Out Bag (BOB) has at least 3 days (72 hours) of supplies and can quickly be grabbed and thrown in the car or packed on your back if you must evacuate. The evacuation can be from any number of locations like one’s primary residence, work, school, or frequent recreation spot, to an evacuation location. The evacuation location could be a place like a vacation home, a friend or family member’s home, or some location other than one’s primary residence. Regardless of the evacuation routes you’ll take while carrying your bag, the basic requirement is that it should have at least 72 hours (3 days) worth of supplies. However, 72 hours’ worth of supplies is the minimum and you may want to include supplies that will last longer than 3 days if you anticipate it might take you longer than 3 days to evacuate. At a minimum, each family member should have a 72 Hour Bag at home that is readily available if you have to evacuate with little notice. For the rest of this post and this series of posts on emergency bags, I use the term “72-Hour Bag”, abbreviated “72HB”, to describe a 72 Hour Bag or Bug Out Bag.


  • A Get Home Bag (GHB), as the name suggests, is primarily intended for getting back home if you are away during a disaster or emergency. Since most people spend a considerable amount of time at work, school, or other locations, most people will want to have a Get Home Bag to help them get back home and reunite with family members if a disaster were to occur. The distance you’re likely to travel while using your Get Home Bag will drive how many days’ worth of supplies to include. I recommend having at least two days’ worth of supplies in case you have to stay put for a night before starting your journey back home. A get home bag is typically kept in places like your vehicle, at work or at school. For the remainder of this post and for this series of posts on emergency bags, I use the acronym GHB to describe this type of emergency bag.


Now that you have a better idea of the different types of emergency bags and their purposes, it’s a good idea to think through some of the scenarios and conditions you might have to use one in.



Consider the Setting and Conditions You Might Use It In


Here are a few questions to ask yourself when planning out the contents of your emergency bag(s):


  1. Where will I store my bag? Will you store it in the trunk of your car? In your bedroom closet? In a file cabinet or locker at work or school?


  1. What temperature and weather extremes might I encounter? Can it get really cold, wet, windy, or snowy where you live? Can it get really hot? What types of clothing and shelter would you need in typical weather conditions and what types might you need in extreme conditions?


  1. Are there fresh water sources in the area that will provide water that you can filter or purify? If not, you’ll want to carry more drinking water than those who have reliable fresh water sources in the area or along the travel route.


  1. How far might I have to travel with the bag? Do you work or go to school 5 miles from home? Or is it 25 miles or more? If it’s farther, you’ll want to carry more supplies.


You may consider your unique situation and come up with some other important factors when planning out your emergency bags.



Emergency Bag Essentials


There are many items that are considered absolutely essential by most experts to have in a disaster scenario, and these items fall within the following categories:

  1. Water
  2. Food
  3. Shelter
  4. Clothing
  5. Navigation
  6. Fire
  7. Illumination
  8. First Aid
  9. Hygiene and Personal Items
  10. Communication
  11. Tools and Other Supplies
  12. Information and Documents


In this series of posts titled “How to Make an Emergency Bag”, I’ll go into further detail on the items to consider in each of these categories for both 72 Hour Bags and Get Home Bags. I also offer recommendations for gear, skills to learn, and tips that I’ve picked up over the years while backpacking, hunting, mountaineering, and preparing for disasters.


Items are labeled as either essential, recommended, or optional to include in either a 72 Hour Bag or a Get Home Bag. Essential items are what I consider the bare minimum to include in your bag. Recommended items should be strongly considered for inclusion in your emergency bags. Optional items may be great to have but might not be as important as essential and recommended items. However, please keep in mind that all of the items I recommend are simply suggestions for you to consider, and it is ultimately up to YOU to decide what’s best for you and your family.


You may also decide that instead of putting together an emergency bag entirely from scratch, you’d prefer to buy one that’s already been pre-assembled. If you buy a pre-assembled bag though, I recommend that you consider adding at least a few things to the contents to ensure you have all of the essentials covered.


I hope this series of posts helps you to better prepare yourself and your family for a potential disaster. To help in putting together your emergency bags, you can download my free 72 Hour Bag and Get Home Bag checklists (below) to assist you in putting together your own emergency bags.


In the next post, I describe the food and water supplies needed for your emergency bags.


 The content provided in this post is intended for informational, educational, and entertainment purposes only. I am not a professional and the information provided does not constitute professional advice. If you choose to use any of the information or recommended products, you do so at your own risk. For more information, read the full disclaimer here.


Copyright © 2018 Savvy Disaster Prep. All Rights Reserved.



9 thoughts on “How to Make an Emergency Bag Part 1: Getting Started

    1. I’m glad you found my post useful! Yes, lots of places have the potential for disaster that could be like “the big one”. Preparedness can go a long way towards making a disaster more survivable.

  1. Lots of good ideas here, thank you. Definitely need to remember to put an actual map in my car cause I am so dependent on my phone’s gps to get around!

  2. We are not prepared for an evacuation emergency but certainly need to be more aware of the possibility. There are wildfires around our area every year. This is an informative post, I will be back to read and learn what to pack in our 72 hour bags.

    1. Yeah, the yearly threat of wildfires can be stressful. Even just thinking through what you might do, what you’d take with you, and where you’d go, is a valuable step in preparing for an emergency such as a wildfire.

      I’ll be posting additional articles about 72-hr bags in the next several weeks, so stay tuned!

  3. Great information that you provided! Can’t wait to start working on ur emergency bag for the car. We have one inside our home, but have not gotten around to making one for our vehicles.

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