It’s hard to even think about having to evacuate from where I live. Sure, there are days I’d like to move, but taking my little family, kissing my home goodbye and heading out on an emergency basis does not appeal to me in the least. If I’d given that prospect no thought or preparation, however, I’d be immeasurably more uneasy about the possibility.
While staying put is preferable if it can be managed, there are some circumstances where heading out would be your best or only option. Here we’ll look at several aspects of evacuation to consider to make this a realistic option, starting with emergency bags.
BOB, GOOT OR GOOD BAGS—You need one of these. If there are multiple adults and school age children in your home, each of them should have one as well, unless they are physically unable to carry a load. What are they? BugOut Bags, Get Out Of Town bags, Get Out Of Dodge bags…everyone has their own name for them, but they all refer to that one bag you can grab when the sirens are wailing and the walls are shaking.
There are many things to consider when putting together a bag. Weight and type of bag are two of them. While you may be able to evacuate in your car, you may also end up on foot. A duffle bag with 60 pounds of supplies is fine for your trunk but will not be something you’ll want to carry for miles. A backpack or some type of wheeled bag is preferable. Load backpacks with only as much weight as the person carrying it can manage for an extended hike. Mine are roughly 15-20 pounds.
You may be able to lay out a few hundred dollars to have a very well-equipped bag, but you’ll likely be starting with the basics and adding items as you learn more and foresee different eventualities. There are pre-packaged BOBs available, but I’d recommend against them as they are often composed of cheaper quality components and aren’t tailored to your locale or experience. So, what are the basics?
SHELTER—Minimally, you should have a couple contractor bags per person. If you’re not familiar with contractor bags, look for them at Home Depot or Menard’s. They’re large, heavy-duty trash bags that can serve well as a poncho, sleeping bag or lean-to type shelter (good as waders, too). A box runs around $10. “Space Blanket”-type bags are another inexpensive option. They are compact when folded but are somewhat fragile, so don’t count on too many repeated uses. Include some duct tape in your bag. Not a whole roll but several feet folded flat upon itself. The uses are endless but include creating and repairing temporary shelter. There are also disposable ponchos that you can fit in a shirt pocket and nearly disposable tube tents that are a bit bulkier/weightier but offer more shelter. The ponchos are typically $2-3 while an emergency tube tent costs less than $10.
FIRE-STARTERS—Fire is your friend, providing you with heat, light, signaling, edible food, potable water, sterile tools, etc. While you should learn how to make fire without dedicated fire-starting implements, I’d recommend at least three tools/methods for starting fire easily: 1) a simple Bic-type butane lighter, 2) windproof/waterproof matches and 3) a sparking fire-starter, such a Sparklite (which usually comes with good tinder), magnesium fire-starter, Blast Match, etc. All three are relatively inexpensive and simple to use with a little practice. Some petroleum jelly-soaked cotton balls or other quick-lighting tinder is a good idea, as well.
FIXED-BLADE KNIFE—In my opinion, you should carry some type of knife daily, such as a small locking folder, a Swiss Army knife or a multi-tool with a blade. The fixed-blade knife would be in addition to that one. This type of knife is valuable for splitting wood, cutting shelter materials, starting fires, skinning game, etc. A knife with a blade no longer than 6 inches and a full tang (the blade material extends the entire length of the knife) is preferable. Non-serrated and partially-serrated are both fine with advantages both ways. A plain, non-serrated blade is much easier to sharpen but serration can be very helpful when cutting cloth, seatbelts and other heavier materials. Stainless steel is preferable due to its low maintenance with 440C, AUS-6 or AUS-8 all being good, fairly affordable steels. Figure anywhere from $25-50, including sheath. A simple sharpening stone or the easy-to-use Gerber Pocket Sharpener can be had for less than $5. Be aware of local laws regarding carrying knives.
WATER & TREATMENT—It’s a good idea to have some quantity of water with you. At 8 pounds per gallon, however, you’re not going to be carrying much on foot. Include 1-2 liters or quarts in durable bottles (Lexan/Nalgene or GI canteens are good) in your bag but be sure to have a means to get more along your way. While there are many ways to treat water, boiling and chemical treatment are probably the most cost-efficient. Good water filters can be a valuable addition but will run you $50 and up and don’t filter viruses (not a big deal most places). As with all things, redundancy is good; if you do get a filter, be sure to have a backup way to treat water. For chemical treatment, MicroPur MP1 ($13 for 30) is one of the better options out there. One tablet treats one liter, no funky taste and it kills viruses, bacteria and cysts. Iodine and plain chlorine bleach can also be used to treat water but have a shorter shelf-life and are less convenient to use. To boil water, be sure to include a metal cup or a few square feet of heavy duty aluminum foil to be fashioned into a pot. I like the Olicamp stainless steel cup that fits on the bottom of a Nalgene bottle. It runs about $6.
NAVIGATION—A compass and a map of your area and any anticipated retreat area are important. Even if you know your area well, disasters can easily alter the landscape and make your usual route impassable. It is wise to consider retreat locales in advance. Following the herd is not a great idea. The best possibilities are friends or families who are out of the immediate disaster area. Simply evacuating your area without a destination in mind is a recipe for a second disaster.
SIGNALING—A whistle is a cheap signal device and can be effective even when a person can’t yell or ambient noise is loud. As recommended in the “Every Day Carry” post, a Fox 40 or ACR whistle would both be good, pealess designs. A signal mirror is probably more valuable to someone in a rural area than someone in an urban environment full of reflective items but is useful and takes up little room. There are a number of fine signaling mirrors available.
FIRST AID KIT (FAK)—This doesn’t need to be anything fancy or expensive. A basic FAK can be found at any drugstore, Target, etc. One that is well-organized will help you find things quickly in an emergency. Look for a variety of items; some bargain kits are essentially a bunch of Band-Aids and some antibiotic cream. Look for shears, tweezers, suture strips/wound closures, latex gloves (nitrile if you’re allergic), trauma pads, cleansing wipes and instructions. There are other additions you can make, but this is a good foundation. Campmor sells a good variety of FAKs at different prices.
SPARE MEDS—If you’re on prescription medications, set aside some spares. If your doctor is understanding and you’re willing to pay out of pocket, you may be able to get him/her to write you a prescription for extras. Otherwise, get your prescription refilled a few days before you run out and stow the extras. Do this for a few months, and you’ll have a week or two in spare meds.
SURVIVAL MANUAL—This is often left out, but unless you’re ex-Special Forces or an Eagle Scout, it’s a good idea to have a small reference book. There are many good ones out there, a number of which are reviewed here. The SAS Survival Handbook and smaller Guide are solid picks. The US military SERE manual is available as a free PDF download here.
This should get you started. My bags have much more in them than this, and you have likely already thought of things you'd like to include (some cord, spare clothes, a good book, The Good Book, etc.). This should get you started. Let me know if you end up putting a bag together; I'm always curious to see what people do. As always, let me know if you have questions or need recommendations. I'm no expert, but I'll share what I know.