How to Put Together an Emergency Go Bag


We never want to think about what we’d do in case of an emergency. While it’s hard to imagine, there are sometimes instances where you and your family need to leave your home immediately or with little notice. In these moments, you need what’s known as an emergency go bag. 

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An emergency go bag is literally a grab-and-go bag that’s always packed with essentials. Even if you don’t live in an area prone to natural disasters, an emergency can strike at any time. The key is being prepared just in case, no matter where you live. 

From knowing how to safely store important documents to making plans for every member of the family, here’s how to put together an emergency go bag. Keep this checklist handy just in case. The more prepared you are today, the fewer worries you’ll have about tomorrow. 

What’s an Emergency Go Bag?

What exactly is an emergency go bag? In short, it’s a bag that’s always packed and ready to go in case of any type of emergency. It includes food, water, first aid supplies, important documents, and other things you’ll want at the ready if you need to leave quickly. 

In a perfect world, we would all have plenty of advance notice before needing to flee our homes in a crisis. Unfortunately, this is the best-case scenario. There are many instances where you get little to no warning that you need to pack and go, and time really is of the essence. 

A go bag comes in handy in case of any of the following:

  • Hurricane or storm
  • Earthquake
  • Wildfire
  • In-home fire
  • Tornado
  • Flood
  • Mudslide
  • Pandemic
  • Power outage

Even if you live in a part of the world that isn’t prone to storms or natural disasters, you never know what the future will bring. Something as “small” as a multi-day power outage can also be an emergency situation, so it’s always better to be safe than sorry. 

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How to Choose Your Bag

Before we share the checklist for your emergency go bag, we need to talk about how to choose the right bag. Since you should have one for every member of your family, make sure each bag a reasonable size that’s easy to handle. For instance, when creating a bag for a child, make sure it’s lightweight enough for them to hold it themselves or for an adult to handle it for them. 

It’s a balance between choosing something that’s not too large and ensuring it can hold enough supplies for at least three days. Because you might be running with your bag, it should be something that’s easy to carry and won’t get in the way. The best options are any of the following:

  • Backpack
  • Suitcase (with wheels)
  • Rolling backpack
  • Large tote bag
  • Crate with handle

Your emergency go bag should also be water-resistant. It’s very likely that it will be exposed to the elements, so you want something sturdy and hard to damage. 

Many bags and containers are both water- and fireproof, but you should choose something within your budget. Once you’ve chosen a bag, review the checklist below to stock it with essentials. 

Food List for an Emergency Go Bag

Food and water supplies are some of the most important things to add to your go bag. You’ll want to check in with your food and water selection a few times a year to be sure it hasn’t expired. Remember, you’ll need at least three days of food supplies for your entire family, including pets. 

1. Bottles of water or filtration straws

Potable water can be hard to find in a crisis. Carrying enough water for every member of your family is a must. A filtration straw is also an option since this purifies water that might otherwise be contaminated. 

In general, it’s a good idea to have at least one gallon of water, per person, per day. This amount might be less for young children and pets, but you should always pack more than you think you might need. 

2. At least six meals

Because you’re working with limited space in a go bag, we recommend packing at least six meals for a 72-hour period. If possible, you can pack more. You’ll want to make sure you’re getting enough calories per day, which can be anywhere from 1400-2500 depending on your age, weight, and sex.

What kind of food should you pack? The best choice is dehydrated and freeze-dried foods since they’re lightweight, filling, and dense in calories. These can be found in camping supply stores, but it’s a good idea to try them first at home before you add them to your go bag. 

Aside from dehydrated foods, these are good options:

  • Dry pasta
  • Peanut butter
  • Meat pouches
  • Cooked beans
  • Rice
  • Dried fruit and nuts

These are all things that can be prepared easily and add a lot of nutrients to a meal without a lot of effort. In most cases, you only need boiling water to create a filling meal. 

3. Snacks

Aside from two meals a day, you’ll also want a few snacks to help with on-the-go hunger. These don’t need to be anything complicated, but look for healthy options that pack a lot of nutrients. Junk food doesn’t have a place in your go bag. Some ideas are:

  • Granola bars
  • Cereal
  • Seeds
  • Crackers
  • Jelly
  • Meat jerky

These are things that hold you over until your next meal, and they’re easy to find. Just make sure you choose something with a long shelf life. 

4. Caffeine, sugar, and seasoning

These might be seen as “extras,” but they’re small enough not to take up much space. These added things can also bring a bit of joy and flavor to what might be a really lack-luster meal. Plus, they can boost your energy in a pinch. Some ideas are:

  • Powdered milk
  • Instant coffee
  • Tea packets
  • Sugar packets
  • Salt packets
  • Seasoning packs
  • Honey packets
  • Electrolyte drink powder
  • Chocolate bars
  • Small candy

Like with your other food items, choose things that you’re used to eating regularly. The last thing you want during an emergency is caffeine withdrawal or a drop in blood sugar. 

5. Vitamins and supplements

It’s a good idea to also pack some vitamins and supplements. Since you might not be eating as many calories or as balanced meals as you’re used to, supplements can fill in these gaps. 

A multivitamin that’s matched with your dietary needs, age, and health is a good option. In addition, consider packing vitamin C tablets, probiotics, and rehydration tablets. When in doubt, talk to your doctor about the best vitamins and supplements for you.

6. Pet food and water

Last but not least, don’t forget about your furry friends. Pack dry food for them, in addition to their own water. Stick to your pet’s daily recommended food intake. You could ask your vet for more specialized recommendations. 

Your pet also needs his own water. A 60-pound dog needs around a half-gallon of water a day, so adjust your water rations accordingly. It’s also helpful to pack a few treats and things to occupy your dog. You should also consider creating a plan for your pet for emergency situations where you can’t take care of them or take them with you.

Paperwork for an Emergency Go Bag

Your emergency go bag also needs your most important paperwork and documents. You can use the original document, but make sure they’re secure in a sealed, waterproof bag within your bag. You might also use copies, instead, or store them on a flash drive. 

7. Passport

Make sure you have passports for every member of the family. This should be an original copy. There are many secure, waterproof passport holders available, which is a great idea for your go bag. You never know if you might need to take an emergency flight or drive to another country.

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8. Birth certificate and social security card

You’ll also want copies of your birth certificate and social security card. These are must-haves in case of emergency, but you don’t need to bring an original copy if you’re worried about losing them. A photocopy of these is usually sufficient, and replacements can be obtained through your state. 

9. Emergency contact information

When you’re putting your go bag together, it’s also a great opportunity to create an emergency contact list. This should have information for who to contact in case of an unexpected emergency. 

From doctors’ numbers to your kids’ schools, include anything you think you might need at a moment’s notice. Make sure someone outside of your household has a copy of this, as well. 

10. Health insurance and medical records

You’ll need access to your health insurance information, as well as your medical records and history. Immunization records are good to keep with your passport since they might be necessary, especially in a pandemic. You can also store copies of these records online.

11. Banking information

Finally, make sure you have access to your credit card and banking information. If you’re unable to use your bank cards, you’ll need a way to access your accounts. You may want to include your account numbers on your emergency contact list. 

Personal Items for an Emergency Go Bag

There are a number of personal hygiene items you should keep in your emergency go bag, as well. These will depend on your lifestyle and personal choices, but at a minimum, you should make sure to include the items listed below. 

12. Basic toiletries

While you don’t need to go overboard with toiletries, you should make sure you have the necessities. This varies by person, but you’ll want to have the following:

  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Floss or dental picks
  • Soap
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Full-body moisturizer
  • Tissues
  • Feminine hygiene supplies, if needed
  • Eyeglasses or contact lenses, if needed

Keep these toiletries together in a small, waterproof bag within your emergency kit. Avoid full-sized products that take up too much space. Travel-sized is best. 

13. Cash or traveler’s checks

If there’s no power, you might not have access to bank accounts through your cards. Having at least $100 in cash on hand or traveler’s checks will come in handy. Store this somewhere especially secure within your bag so it’s always ready to go. 

14. Portable blanket

A portable blanket is a lightweight but efficient blanket that can provide warmth if you’re in a chilly situation. Because packing a full-size blanket is impractical, a portable blanket is a must for staying comfortable on cold nights. 

15. Local maps

Because you might not have access to GPS, make sure you have local maps. No matter how well you know an area, you might need to travel off the beaten path or somewhere new. City and state maps come in handy in a pinch. These can also be stored in your car just in case. 

16. Prescription medications

If you personally take any prescription medications, have enough of these to last you at least three days. Always check the expiration date on your medications to ensure they’re effective, but keep in mind they generally stay functional even after this date passes. 

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17. Cell phone charger and battery

Again, you can’t count on electricity being functional after a disaster. A cell phone charger can come in handy if you leave your home in a rush or if your phone runs out of a charge. In addition, a charged portable battery may be a lifesaver. 

18. Books or activities

Don’t neglect to bring a few entertainment activities. A favorite book, playing cards, activity books, or puzzles can provide much-needed relief in difficult times. They’re also great for children. 

Other Supplies for an Emergency Go Bag

Last but not least, there are some vital emergency supplies you should always have in your go bag. These are the emergency basics that everyone should keep on-hand. 

19. Flashlight and batteries

A flashlight is necessary for dark nights or if you’re in a shelter. Make sure you bring batteries to operate your flashlight and keep it shining for a long time. 

20. Battery or hand-crank radio

When you don’t have access to phone data, news sources, or TV, you need another way to get disaster updates. A battery-powered or hand-crank radio will always be functioning as long as there’s a local broadcast, so this is an emergency must-have. 

21. Duct tape

Duct tape really can do it all. From patching up leaks in your bag to keeping your shoes from falling apart, you never know when you’ll need this powerful adhesive. Keep a roll in your bag just in case. 

22. First aid kit

The most important part of a go bag, aside from food and water, may be your first aid kit. This should have basic medications (like acetaminophen and ibuprofen), rubbing alcohol, scissors, bandaids, gloves, a face mask, and other important, life-saving medical equipment that makes sense for your family. Make sure your first aid kit is waterproof and well-stocked. 

Where to Keep Your Go Bag

Where should you store your emergency go bag? There’s no one-size-fits-all place that works for everyone. Consider your lifestyle to see which option is the best fit for you. The key is to choose somewhere that’s accessible and practical. 

You might only have a few minutes to grab your bag, so the entire family should know how to find it quickly and easily. The most common places to store your bag are:

  • Home: The most obvious place to leave your go bag is at home. It can be in a supply closet, the garage, or even right by the door. Make sure the entire family knows where to find the bag. 
  • Work: There are times when you might need to shelter-in-place at work for up to 24 hours. Keeping a mini go bag in your office might make sense.
  • Car: Some people like to keep their go bag in their car so there’s no need to grab-and-go if they’re fleeing by car. However, you might not have access to your car, so keep this in mind. 

Are You Prepared for Anything?

Preparedness can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Regardless of where you live, everyone in your family needs an emergency go bag. This can be as simple as including everything on the checklist above. 

It’s all about expecting the unexpected. A natural disaster can strike at any time, and you’ll rest easy knowing your family is ready. Take a few hours to create a go bag of your own using the checklist above. 

infographic of things to include in an emergency go bag

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