This topic came up because of a disaster preparedness seminar my wife and I were asked to do a few weeks ago for the local community. To be honest, she was asked to do it because of her job. I was asked to participate because I’m the one who designed our go-bags.
Since the event I’ve been asked a lot of questions regarding a “Go-Bag” and what should be included in one. So, here we go. I’m breaking out all my toys for show and tell. Hopefully this information will be useful to you.
- GO Bag or Go To Hell Bag?
- Selecting a Bag
- How to Plan your Pack
- What To Include
- Put it to Use
- First Aid Supplies
I mention this because it is a distinction I make in my own mind when preparing a go-bag. The article I wrote on Bear Creek about how to prepare a go-bag was for a disaster preparedness scenario geared towards animal owners and family preparedness in the event of a local natural or man-made disaster of low to moderate proportions. The general idea is that you’re making a plan and a bag to help you implement that plan. It’s a bag for a few days, with basic necessities you’ll likely need along the way. That is a “go-bag” – you know where you’re going and you’re preparing for that eventuality.
The other side of the coin is the “Go-To-Hell” bag, which I’ll shorten to GTH Bag for the purposes of this post. (primarily because I’m already tired of hyphenating).
Maybe it’s because I was a boy scout and the motto “Be Prepared” has never left me. I’m the type that like to be prepared for any eventuality, any scenario, and any emergency. Regardless of why you might want to build one, a GTH bag is just that.. you’re packed as if you’re marching into Hell and have no idea what you’ll be facing, how long you’ll be facing it, and whether or not it will end any time in the near future.
What are the differences:
- fairly lightweight if at all possible
- able to be carried by any family member.
- Has enough materials to last you a couple days, maybe up to a week.
- Can be assembled with a couple trips to your local outdoors store or local Wal-mart.
- Assumes things are civilized and will continue to be so.
- Not light at all. In fact, it’s damned heavy.
- Geared to each specific person individually regarding both weight and necessity.
- Has enough materials to allow you to survive indefinitely on your own; days, weeks, months.
- Takes a long time to assemble properly unless you have an unlimited budget to work with.
- Includes measures for self-defense. (weapons and ammunition)
Comparing the two side by side, it’s easy to see these aren’t at all the same bag. The differences are significant, right on down to the size and composition of the bag itself. You simply can’t fit the supplies for a GTH bag in a Go bag.
Let’s start with some basic thoughts on the bag itself. The picture above shows three distinct types of bags. The one shown left is a US Military 3-Day Assault Pack. The one in the middle is a Level III Assault Day Pack, and the one on the right is a US military Rifleman’s Pack. Even the names themselves should give you a good idea of what they’re designed to do.
Three Day Assault Pack
The 3-day assault pack is just that, designed for three or four days of supplies and provisions for a military service member to use in the field. It has a few MOLLE straps on the outside for attaching extra gear, is designed like a backpack, so it’s worn on the shoulders with shoulder and chest straps, and holds a moderate amount of gear. If you’re looking for a go-bag, this would be sufficient in my opinion for one person.
Keep in mind that even when the military uses these, they are sending out squads – small teams; each carrying gear specific to their needs. Not every person needs to carry the same gear because it’s distributed amongst the squad.
Level III Day Pack
The level 3 day pack (shown above middle) is just that – a single day-pack. I keep mine outfitted for hunting. It holds enough to keep me good-to-go for a day or more in the field, but lacks any real survival gear. It’s basically a man-purse; food, ammunition, hunting clothing, gloves, rope, knife, water for while I’m in the field. It does have a little MOLLE webbing, which I use for carrying more gear. You can see above that mine has three magazine holders attached to the front for my sidearm. This is a good pack for a day or maybe two, but isn’t feasible as a go-bag unless it’s for a younger member of your family who can’t carry the weight of a larger pack. Since the pack doesn’t have a lot of MOLLE webbing, I’ve added a few carabiners to the front so I can attach additional gear if needed.
A Note about MOLLE
This bears mentioning here since some readers won’t have any idea what I mean when I use the word MOLLE. You might as well understand it now, so you can focus on the other stuff. The military likes female names apparently. For years the standard method of attaching gear to other gear used a connector called ALICE; consisting of metal clasps that connected one piece of gear to another. They eventually came to realize two important things; first, that the ALICE system makes noise. Noise can get a soldier killed. Secondly, they decided newer, quieter, and better technology was available and settled on MOLLE instead, which contains no metal parts.
MOLLE stands for “ModularLightweight Load-carrying Equipment” and is basically a system of interlocking straps that secure one piece of gear to another. The photos show the two sides of a MOLLE system. The side with the straps (bottom photo) weave through the loops on the MOLLE gear (top photo), creating an incredibly tight, yet adjustable and removable, method of attaching items together. The more webbing on the gear, the more items you can feasibly attach to it. Different sizes of attachments require more webbing than others. (a compass pouch takes up less space than a canteen carrier would, for example.)
So, you know what MOLLE is now. Let’s continue with more information about bag selection.
The Rifleman’s Pack
What you’re seeing above is the fully loaded Rifleman’s pack. Well, technically it’s not really fully loaded at the moment because half my hear was laid out on a table to present. In reality my pack is about 12 inches taller when all the gear is back in it.
Basically this pack is HUGE. Rather than simply having shoulder straps, it’s connected to a plastic backpacking frame, includes padded kidney straps to lock around your waist and reduce shoulder tension, and holds a helluva lot of gear. This one has MOLLE attachments on both sides, the back, and the bottom – all of which are currently loaded out with gear. The right and left sides have sustainment pouches connected (basically big pouches for holding whatever you need them to.) The bottom of the pouch has my ACS sleep system ( hard core sleeping bag) attached.
Of the various packs my family has, this one is the only GTH pack we currently have.
I’m not going to go through all the hundreds of potential bags to choose from because I could spend days just comparing them. If you have a bag in mind and want to share it in the comments section below, I’ll be happy to take a look at it and let you know my thoughts on it.
My personal favorite is military for one simple reason – it’s been put to the test already. Companies that make survival backpacks, and believe me there are hundreds of them, have great marketing hype. That’s their job – to make you buy their product. However, the packs used by the military were already subjected to a ridiculously strenuous series of tests before they were adopted and they passed muster with guys and gals who use these packs in the most extreme of circumstances, and who do so for long periods of time. No amount of marketing hype, in my opinion, beats tried and true experience in the field. Military packs are made to a higher caliber, standardized with regards to construction and materials used, and are typically designed for maximum durability over the long-haul.
Prices for bags like the ones shown above can range up and down the scale. The first pack shown was picked up at a surplus store for $25 dollars. The second pack was purchased from Cheaper than Dirt for about $25 new. The rifleman’s pack was $86 and included the frame, the pack, two sustainment pouches, and the pouch for the sleep system. If you know your military gear, then you’d know that’s an incredible price. I’m very happy with that purchase. In fact, if you want to purchase the pack from where I bought mine, you can get it here.
Just like with a go-bag in general, there is no “perfect” GTH bag for everyone. We’re all different in physical makeup and all have different needs. I’m well over six feet tall, so I can carry this pack without it hitting me in the back of the knees. I’m fairly athletic, so I can carry a 70 pound pack for days on end if I need to.
There are a lot of questions when putting together a go-bag that aren’t relevant to a GTH bag. Where are you going to use it? How long will you use it? The simple answer is; you have no idea. That’s why you’re carrying it in the first place. This is your “Oh hell, I’m screwed” pack. If you’ve loaded this pack out right, you can reach across the back seat of your vehicle, or into your closet, grab the pack, and walk out the door with the full knowledge that you might not ever set foot back home again and might not have a way to resupply yourself. That’s why it’s a go-to-hell bag.
Forget amenities, and creature comforts – if you had to walk out the door and survive with only what is in this pack for an unlimited amount of time, you should be able to do so. If not, the pack does you no good.
Is it overkill? Absolutely. It’s designed to be. You’re gearing up to march to Hell itself, so anything less then actual HELL, means you’ve got it covered and you don’t have to worry.
Let’s cover some scenarios that are extreme but entirely plausible and see if any of these are relevant to you. These are relevant to me because of where I live, so adapt them to yourself as you see fit. Your mileage may vary.
I’m out of state for work and 400 miles from home and:
- Earthquake: Yes, we do have them, though rarely. Because they ARE so rare here, our state emergency management and continuity plans don’t really address this much. So an earthquake in NC, SC, or TN is severe, taking out bridges, tunnels, or suspended highway overpasses. Even two or three of these would cause immediate and unavoidable delays for days, weeks or months, virtually halting all traffic for miles in all directions. Cars will run out of gas on the highway, causing more traffic problems in more areas. Maybe I have fuel or maybe I don’t, but I’m 400 miles from home and have no way to get there via vehicle for the foreseeable future. I have to walk and can take only what I can carry.
- Dam Failure: I live in an area of relatively high-ground, but the surrounding counties are mainly protected by the dams that restrict water for power or water-treatment needs. If one of these dams were to break, small towns could be washed out. Certainly roads and bridges here would be underwater. Even if I’m only across the county, I could never get home before the event made vehicular travel impossible. Again I’m forced to walk in, possibly taking days or a week to circumnavigate flooded areas or enter the country from a different direction entirely.
- Nuclear Power Plant Disaster: No, we’re not talking nuclear weapons here. Any natural disaster that affects electricity or water can affect nuclear power plants, specifically with regards to cooling and threat of core meltdown. If you’re not at least 100 miles from a power plant, then you’re in the possible approach vector for trouble from contaminated water, air, or other unforeseen risks. How far away do you live from a reactor? Find out here. Even if I were home, I may be unable to rely on normal resources, such as county water or electrical power. Worst case, we’re back to the idea of people having to mass evacuate, meaning store supplies of water, batteries, and even fuel are consumed rapidly. If I have to leave on-foot to get out of the area (as opposed to in the area) like other scenarios, I’m only going to have what I can carry.
A thought about roads:
I’m going to digress again and speak on a related topic. If you’re preparing a GHB, or Bug Out Bag, then you’re planning for an immediate need to get out of dodge. The thing people most often forget to factor into their planning is roads. We’re all used to nice free-flowing highways, right? Think about the following scenario.
How many people live within 50 miles of you? How many of them are the type to leave their car with too little gas in it to make a major drive? Are you the type of person that makes sure you have over half a tank of fuel at ALL times before you park your car at night? Would you consider it feasible that at least a few people near you aren’t that much of a forward thinker?
It’s time to take off because there’s a hurricane coming, or flood waters, or whatever. If you live in rural areas like I do, with lots of two-lane roads, how many vehicles do you think it takes to make a two lane road impassable? If you said two, you would be incorrect. The answer is ONE. It takes ONE car breaking down on a road to make an entire interstate system impassable.
One car breaks down due to either equipment failure or lack of fuel – it’s driven by a single lady, elderly person, teenager, or just an idiot, who can’t feasibly push it off the road, or who isn’t of the right mindset to do so. Now one lane is blocked. You’ve immediately increased the odds of every car in that lane of traffic having a similar problem. Cars are not good at idling. They run hot and burn fuel, even sitting in place with the engine on. This leads to an exponential increase in the likelihood of another car suffering the same problems. Further, people are very much like cars in this situation – the longer they sit the hotter they get. Road rage, impatience, and fear take over what is a normally fairly sound individual’s state of mind. Parents are even worse. Any impediment to your egress from a dangerous situation is keeping your children closer to harm. It takes a very small amount of time for the mama-bear mentality to take over. Parents get fearful for their children, and then they get desperate to take action; whether or not the action would normally seem rational to them.
Within minutes, someone else in that lane of stopped traffic is going to get the bright idea to try to jump around, ride the shoulder, or pass in the other lane. Minutes later we have another accident. If you put enough stupid people on the highway together in an emergency, this WILL happen! You can bank on it. Within 30 minutes the entire road is closed semi-permanently because emergency responders can’t get there either now thanks to road congestion. More and more cars are running out of fuel because the Citgo you all plan on using is packed with cars trying to get out, cars trying to get in, and people at the pumps are trapped on both sides, unable to move. Maybe the station ran out of gas. Either way, more cars will start running out of fuel, further adding repeated scenarios mentioned previously all the way down the line. Within an hour, over 100 miles of road can effectively become impassable, along with all ancillary routes connected to it or crossing it.
Let’s say 20 miles back is a two-lane overpass or bridge. ONE car malfunctioning on that piece of highway could have major and long-lasting impact on your intended route of egress or ingress. My point is – don’t plan on highways being safe or reliable in an emergency situation. Plan as if every other person besides you is a complete bumbling idiot and that if given any chance, Murphy’s law is gong to rear up and bite you in the ass. With that in mind… keep planning your bug-out bag.
Likely Usage Scenario
I travel a lot – and I travel by vehicle, so carrying this pack with me is feasible. If you travel by airplane it’s not likely this bag is going to work for you. I also travel hundreds of miles from home in various climates, so I’m packed for most all of them I’d encounter. If you don’t travel much or don’t travel far, then you might adjust your pack load-out.
Again, this article is for a GTH bag, not a family go-bag, so the material I’ll present going forward is designed with that in mind. If you’re preparing for a more “normal” emergency, you might find the other article more useful.
Yes, I know you were waiting to get to this part, but you might not understand why some of the items are recommended unless you understood my previous reasoning. Assuming you have a bag you can work with, carry all day on a forced march, and are possessed of good health and stamina, let’s see what you might want to carry with you.
It doesn’t matter how strong you are. If you dehydrate enough, you will die. Your body becomes weaker. You absolutely have to have water to survive. A few facts to keep in mind while thinking about water.
- To remain healthy means more than just drinking water. You need it for washing your hands, face, and feet. (Feet? Yes. Your face and hands can go without longer than your feet can. Assuming you’re not used to walking for days on end, and you aren’t exactly dressed for the occasion because you didn’t plan on going all Rambo that particular Tuesday afternoon, you’re probably not wearing a great pair of hiking boots and wool socks. This means within hours your feet can blister. Within a day infection can set in. Within three, you can be rendered useless. Keep your feet clean and dry! They are the only thing keeping you moving in the direction you want to go!)
- The average person needs 1 gallon of water per day to properly hydrate, cook, and clean themselves up.
- Water weighs 8 pounds per gallons, plus the weight of the container. Therefore one week’s supply of water weighs 72 pounds per person. You simply can’t carry that much on your body.
Have a bottle or canteen of water with you. I’d suggest at least 1.5 quarts readily available. After that, more than likely you’re going to be relying on what you can find.
Cheap Idea to Keep In Mind: For whatever reason, you’ve just discovered you have the need to bug out. Great, you’re prepared! Who is with you though? Maybe you’re traveling in your car somewhere and have a passenger along. Are you just going to get out, grab your ruck, and wave as you walk off? Of course you’re not. Carry extra water ALL the time. Water is the single most important ingredient to your survival. You can pick up a case of 24 bottles of water from any grocery or convenience store for about $4.00. If you keep them in your vehicle, be prepared to replace them every six months. Going from hot to cold and hot to cold again makes the water in those cheap bottles taste bad after a few months.
Purification Straws: These are cheap and each one can usually filter 20 or more gallons of water. Use these as often as you can so you can rely on your carried water supply when there are no other options. You can get the same benefit as carrying 320 pounds worth of water from one straw that weighs a couple ounces. Will it taste great? Nope, but using a purification straw you can literally drink out of a ditch-bank safely without much fear of getting sick from it.
Purification System: Over time I’ve managed to upgrade my kit to include nicer items. One of those was this Sawyer Squeeze water filtration system. It packs up really small so if I don’t need to be carrying a lot of weight, I don’t have to, but when I need to refill canteens from a ditch bank or river, I can do so.
Purification Tablets: These are great. Basically they can make a huge amount of water drinkable via a chemical process that kills anything harmful in the water.
Carry Chlorine Bleach: If you’re already on a county or city water supply, then your water is already pre-treated with chlorine gas and fluorine as well. If you’re on the march and don’t have access to potable water, you can make it with bleach. Cary a small vial, package, or whatever is handy. 12-16 drops of household bleach per gallon of water will purify water for drinking. Add the appropriate amount of bleach and wait a couple hours for it to take effect. The bleach will kill anything harmful in the water and then will break down on it’s on after a couple hours. (try to remember to use cool or cold water. Hot water breaks down bleach much faster, but could also render it useless because it breaks down before it’s had a chance to kill all the bad stuff.)
If your bag has a camel-bak or hydration bladder, this is a great way to carry water because it distributes the weight across your back inside your pack, rather than concentrated in a jacket pocket or other area.
Next to water, food is the most important thing you need to survive. How much do you need? What kind do you need?
First and foremost, forget getting rid of the “I’m hungry” feeling. In a prolonged situation, you’ll just have to get used to it. We are used to eating until we feel full, rather than stopping at what our body needs to remain healthy. People who actively diet are more aware of this than others because they already count calories anyway as part of their diet routine.
What you need to know to survive long-term is caloric intake. Just like with water, chances are you can’t carry enough food on your person to last you a month, but you could easily take two week’s worth if you planned right.
Food in a survival situation is all about calories. The normal average person needs about 1,200 calories during their normal boring day to remain healthy. That’s assuming you drive to work, ride a desk all day, and aren’t outside running marathons. A person walking five to ten miles in a day carrying a 70 pound back will need a MINIMUM of double that to sustain themselves for a week. If you plan to go longer than that at a hard pace then you need to assume triple that. So, how do you get 3,600 calories per day and still be able to carry it? Think small… and not very tasty!
Everyone has heard of MRE’s, or meals ready to eat. They’ve been used by the military forever. Basically they contain all the calories, proteins, and nutrients needed to keep a soldier healthy on the field and to give him energy to get through his day. This is the goal you need to focus on – ENERGY. You can still walk if you feel hungry, but you can’t keep going if your body runs out of energy to propel itself forward. Think of your car as an example. It can be FULL of anything.. sand, water, or skittles.. but less it’s full of FUEL, you ain’t getting anywhere. Your body is the same way.
There are a lot of ways to get fuel for your body. I’m going to discount the majority of ones people use because they aren’t convenient to carry. Let’s face it – we could all survive on Ramen noodles for a month easily, right? (and some of us wouldn’t even call that roughing it.) And we could do it for about $10 per person. They’re light-weight too, which is great! However, they have one drawback; they’re big. It would take a LOT of room to carry approximately one case of Ramen noodles in your GTH bag for each day you were on the march. Ramen, or dried foods in general, are great for home preparedness, but useless in the field. Don’t waste your time.
The picture above shows two common types of rations packed in GTH bags. The one on the right is one everyone is familiar with – the standard MRE. On the left is a Coast Guard ration or Emergency Supply Ration.
MREs VS Emergency Rations: (Remember, calories count)
You can tell simply from the above photo that MREs are significantly larger than the rations shown beside them. They’re almost twice tall, over twice as thick, and more importantly – that MRE package contains ONE meal. That’s breakfast, lunch, OR dinner. Each meal MRE package contains 1250 calories, which we said earlier is enough for one person for a day right? No. It’s enough for one sedentary person for one day. It’s NOT enough for a person on the move, working at hard labor, or for example – soldiering. That’s why the military says each person needs three of these per day. Three MRE meals wouldn’t even fit in my day pack, even if it were empty of everything else. And having enough for a week would be impossible – there’s no way I can carry 21 packs of those.
The pack on the left is an emergency ration. That pack you see there contains nine square cookie-like meals – three rows of three. Each meal is 410 calories. The idea was that if you’re waiting out a maritime emergency in the coast guard, you’re really doing more waiting than working. So if you’re just hunkering down and waiting something out, then you can survive easily and healthily on simply three “cookies” per day. On the other hand, if you’re hiking or walking, and exerting yourself heavily you might truly need all 3,600 calories in one day. One brick of these per day is certainly easier than carrying three MREs per day with you. They’re lightweight, and it’s easy to carry a multitude of them. I carry enough for a week of heavy labor in my GTH bag and enough for ten days of light-labor in my other packs.
There are four critical factors that, to me, make the rations the best available choice.
- Once opened, they will still last a long time and they have VERY little trash. MREs have a lot of waste product to dispose of.
- They are non-thirst provoking. Remember; these were designed for sailors stranded in a life-boat scenario for days on end. They don’t have ready access to water, so foods that inspire heavy thirst are as bad as having no food at all.
- They are affordable. MRE’s cost about $6.00 per meal plus shipping. The rations on the left cost about $1.20 per day.
- They have ALL the nutrients and minerals you’d need to remain healthy, not just alive, for an extended period of time.
If you’d like to order them online, you can get them from a variety of places, but here is a link to them on Amazon. They seem to have about the best pricing, and shipping is free.
Do not rely on rations:
While we’re on food – and specifically as it relates to a GTH bag: don’t rely solely on your rations. Use your head and your wits to score food where you can, and use these to supplement that diet. If you can hunt rabbits or squirrel, great. If you can land a deer, perfect! You’re good for days.
What kinds of food can you safely eat? There is a good rule of thumb when you’re thinking of food for the purpose of necessity and if you’ve suspended your gourmet pallet. The rule is simple. “You can eat anything on land that has fur or feathers.” (Avoid vulture or buzzard. You’ll notice that not even another vulture will eat a dead vulture. Their diet consists of rotten guts of other animals and they taste like it no matter HOW you cook them!) Avoid amphibians and things from the water you don’t know to be safe. Many amphibians are toxic to humans.
Other than than that, if it’s cooked WELL then you’re safe with just about anything. (I don’t mean cowboy-steak-rare. You’d better cook it until you KNOW it’s done, then add a little more.) Here are some quick references for game meats that might be common (based on 3-5 ounce servings).
Bear: 259 cal.
Beaver: 212 cal.
Deer: 158 cal.
Dove: 219 cal.
Duck: 201 cal.
Goose: 305 cal.
Possum: 221 cal.
Quail: 234 cal.
Rabbit: 206 cal.
Raccoon: 255 cal.
Squirrel: 173 cal.
What, no cattle or horse?
No! I married a veterinarian and have picked up a few things along the way that have improved my own knowledge. Many drugs given to horses and cattle are poisonous to humans. If you KNOW you’re eating beef-cattle then you’re probably OK because veterinarians try to treat these animals without using these drugs. However, cattle and horses are often treated with drugs that make them unsafe for human consumption for up to nine years after the dosage has been given. Example: horses and cattle are given penicillin quite often. If you were to ingest meat from one of these animals and you are allergic to penicillin… well, do the math.
As far as plants, nuts, berries; take a guidebook to be certain you’re safe. Many plants look similar to other plants to the untrained eye and a mistake can kill you.
We’ve covered two major items already; food and water. Before we get to others, we’d better get to talking about distribution of materials. Even you ARE healthy and robust, tossing all this stuff in a pack and throwing it on your back and planning to hump it out for 150 miles will likely kill or debilitate you if you aren’t prepared for it. One step you can use to prepare is to distribute your goods across your body whenever possible. Pants and shirts with cargo pockets,on them are great for this. Since you need clothes in your GTH bag anyway, you can get ones better suited for a long time outdoors. Again, I come back to the military style clothing – because of durability. Your average pants and shirts are made of cotton, polyester, rayon, nylon, etc. Military clothing almost always contains 25% para-aramid yarn. That’s the stuff that makes them VERY resistant to ripping, tearing, or puncturing. It helps that they already have cargo pockets built in all over them as well!
Distributing some of your weight off your back during a long walk will help decrease your body fatigue significantly. Put a few items in your cargo pockets on your pants, a few in your shirt pockets, maybe a couple in your jacket if you’re wearing one. Simply removing ten pounds of gear from your back (which isn’t used to carrying additional weight) and adding it to your legs (which are already conditioned to carrying loads all the time) can make a surprising difference. Ok, back to things to pack in your GTH bag.
We’ve a few of the most important ones. Now we prepare for the unknowable and see just how well we can outfit you for almost any scenario. Keep in mind that not all things will translate well to your climate or terrain, so adjust accordingly. Some things are good for all environments.
Ok, so yeah, this is the most fun part for me. As a guy who likes toys, this part allows me to find an excuse to purchase some of the stuff that my wife would otherwise raise her eyebrows at and say “Honey.. do you REALLY need a tomahawk? I mean, really? Are we expecting an invasion from time-traveling native Americans from the past, intent on rectifying past wrongs? And f they ARE time-traveling indians, won’t you need a bigger cuttie-thingy?”
My wife’s sarcasm notwithstanding, you still have the matter of budget to think of. If I had an unlimited budget, my bag would be a little different, but not overly so. Anyway, on to tactical supplies.
I call these tactical because most items here are multi-purpose with respect to usage. Keep in mind once again we’re talking about a GTH bag, not a traditional go-bag.
Big Freakin’ Knife
Ok, yes, I said that just for effect. In all seriousness there are a lot of uses for a large tactical knife that you could feasibly have a use for in an extended emergency situation.
The one shown above is the one I carry affixed to the outside of my bag, and is my personal favorite. It’s the traditional KA-BAR fighting knife, favored by the US Marines throughout history, though mine is fully black, like the one above.
Whatever your knife choice, keep a few things in mind. First, this is one thing you do NOT settle on. Get a dependable knife from a dependable manufacturer. I’m not saying price isn’t important, but expect to spend close to $100 on a good, heavy tactical knife.
When selecting a knife, it’s important to know what you’re getting. The knife shown above is “full-tang” meaning it’s one solid piece of steel from the tip of the blade to the tip of the handle. Why is this important? It provides a much needed strength to this knife when you’re using it for things other than cutting. You’re likely to use it to pry a door open, lift a lid, break a chain-link in a fence, as a screwdriver, as a hammer, and a dozen other things. You do NOT want to be left with a blade and a busted handle down the road. The full-tang means it’s great as a hammer or chisel. Think of banging tent-poles in the ground, securing something, driving a wedge, splitting wood (Yes, I split logs with this knife all the time.) What if you have to punch out a window? The full tang helps. What if you need to cut rope or something tough very quickly – such as a seatbelt from someone? The serrated laser-sharpened steel cuts them like butter. Tie it to a pole with some string and you’ve got a gaffe for fishing or spearing small game. Worse come to worst, you also have a deadly defensive weapon. As a plus, they traditionally come with MOLLE attachments to rig directly to your pack, but can also be belt-worn. I’ve been carrying mine for a year now and intentionally never sharpened it because I want to see how it holds up to repeated abuse in the field. I’ve cut down trees with it, pried stones with it, and yes – it still cuts tomatoes like a razor blade.
Your main tactical knife should not be a folding knife. In order to be full-tang, it would have to be a fixed blade. It should also, in my opinion, have a blade no shorter than 7 inches, preferably 8 or 9. Try holding a cooking rabbit over a fire on it with a short blade and you’ll quickly determine you need a longer blade!
Wood Ax, Tomahawk, Camp Ax
There are a variety of uses for a camp ax, the most notable is for cutting wood. If you’re into military gear then you probably know about the military tomahawks as well. For me, both of these have a singular problem: they’re heavy.
The tomahawk shown above is made by SOG, and you can find it on Amazon as well as a variety of other locations online for a good price. (Less than $30 usually). I camp a lot, so I always need something for splitting wood, but I decided to get one of these myself and try it out. I’ve been in-love with this tomahawk since the day I first used it. The handle is made of polymer (plastic technically) but is very resilient. It’s also slimmer in profile than a traditional hammer or ax handle, which makes it easy to slip down the side of my pack and take up very little room. The bladed end is INCREDIBLY sharp right from the manufacturer and holds and edge well. The spike end is great for prying up stones, punching holes in brick or cinder-block, etc. Overall its weight is very nominal compared to others. The head is very thin and the balance is such that all your leverage is transferred to the head during your swing, meaning you can do very effective cuts with less force. The thin head also weighs less so your effort expended per swing is less. After comparing it with a more traditional camping ax, I put my camp-ax in the woodshed and won’t likely ever take it out again.
Like some objects that are terrain and climate dependent, you might not find a need for this in your GTH bag. But… think about this: You’re driving down the road and you’re making OK time getting out before this hurricane hits. Crap… there’s a downed tree in the middle of the road. If it’s a 1 ft thick oak, you’re out of luck. Nothing shy of a chainsaw is getting through it in any short amount of time. But if it’s a minor impediment, such as a small tree or group of small trees, even an inexperienced amateur can clear a road in a matter of 10 minutes with one.
On the other hand, having one and not needing it is always better than needing one and not having it. That is golden rule I follow when thinking about my GTH bag. I can always toss it or leave it behind if I don’t need it or need to reduce weight. But if I needed it and didn’t pack it, I’m screwed.
You’ve got knives and an assortment of bladed items. Do you have a way to keep them sharp? A good sharpening kit will never replace the skill of someone who knows how to properly keep a blade, but they’re great for someone who didn’t bother to study master weapon-smithing in their free time. Pick one up for a couple dollars. They’re cheap so get two!
In an extended emergency, fire is a critical need. You can cook on it, disinfect with it, signal with it, and stay warm using it. The ability to make fire can save your life or end it, depending on the severity of your situation.
The simplest and best method: a pack of Bic lighters sealed in the package or sealed inside a Ziploc bag. They last forever and you can’t ever have too many of them. Their only downside is that they don’t work well when wet and they can rust up pretty quickly if exposed to moisture too often.
The only thing that I’ve always known to work well even when wet is a good fire-starter. Do NOT spend $2.00 on a firestarter that’s 1 inch long. You’ll exhaust yourself long before you ever make a decent quality spark and you’ll be kicking yourself if you ever need to use one.
I’ve had a bunch of firestarters over the years, but one has stood out far above the rest and everyone in my family now carries one in all their bags. The FireSteel Armageddon, made by FireSteel, is an awesome tool. I taught my eight-year-old son to make a fire with it in less than 30 seconds and he did it on his first try. I can’t seem to find the Armageddon on Amazon anymore, but here is one almost identical to it.
What’s the difference between a lighter and a “real” firestarter? Heat! A Bic lighter, match, or candle put off heat in the range of 1600 F degrees. Sound hot? It’s really not. Gasoline burns at 1,878 degrees. If you’ve ever doused something in gasoline and then lit it on fire only to see it sputter out 2 minutes later then you know already that it either takes MORE heat or the same amount of heat for a LONGER TIME to get something to catch fire. (yes, all you physicists out there – I’m oversimplifying for the layperson.)
The Armageddon firestarter I carry puts off initial sparks at almost 5,000 degrees.Why is that important? It’s not so much important as it is convenient. Shave off a few slivers of material onto your potential pile of kindling, strike it twice and whoof… we have fire! At that temperature, it’s even pretty easy to light wet kindling. Ok, enough about cool firestarters. Just have one in your bag and know how to use it.
Whether it’s a Leatherman, Gerber tool, or just a generic multitool, have at least one in your bag with all the general common tools you’ll need. Most of them include something like a knife, small saw, screwdrivers, pliers, rasp or file, can opener, and a variety of other nice items to have handy. It’s a light-weight tool you can always find a use for. Alternatively a Swiss-army knife has many of the same tools with the exception of a good pair of pliers. My personal favorites for this item are the Leatherman Wave MultiTool and the Gerber Tool. In a pinch, any $15 dollar one from Wal-mart is better than nothing though!
If you tend to carry anything electronic, and most of us do, then try to think of everything you think you might want to have with you and then purchase them in styles that take identical battery sizes whenever possible. Everything we carry runs on either AA or AAA batteries, specifically because they are easily interchangeable If my radio dies, but I REALLY need to hear the weather forecast then I can rob the batteries from my flashlight, or my communications radios. When thinking of electronic items for home or your GTH bag, always try to settle on a common battery type whenever possible. It will save you time and money down the road. I’ve never been able to get everything I want in AA or AAA, so I have both, but I have been able to dispose of my old C-cell and D-cell items and replace them all with one of these two.
If all you know about is batteries is how to put them in a device then take a moment to pay attention. There are two main kinds of batteries you will come across in common sizes. (AA and AAA). They are alkaline and Nickel-Metal-Hyrdride (also seen written as Ni-Mh on the packaging). Your typical Duracell batteries are alkaline, meaning you use them up and throw them away. The benefit to these is that they hold a charge sitting on the shelf for longer than any other battery type. You can leave them untouched for two years and they will still work when you open them. The biggest negative against them in this situation though is they are single-use. Once they’re dead, they’re only good as fishing weights. Either you plan on carrying 10 pounds of batteries or you go with the other idea.
I favor Ni-Mh batteries because they are rechargeable. Since they are rechargeable they’re also more expensive; usually three to four times the cost of their alkaline counterparts. The positive side is they can be recharged 1000-2000 times before they’re completely worn out. If you decide to go with Ni-Mh rechargeable batteries, buy your first pack with a charger. They’re almost always easy to find in any store this way. Then you can just buy more batteries later without the charger and save a few bucks.
Sound dumb? It’s not. Whether it’s your cell phone, your GPS, weather radio, or flashlight; you’re going to be up a creek without a paddle when your batteries die. Toss the car-charger or wall-charger ideas out the window for the purposes of your bag. You’re likely not to have access to either of those things. What’s left that you can charge with? Remember that big glowing ball of gas up there? Use that! Or, if you’ve got the budget, they even make boots now with built-in kinetic chargers that use your walking motion to generate current to recharge things. For now though let’s stick with the mundane.
Solar chargers are awesome. They will work indefinitely and rely on nothing more than sunlight to function. The one shown in the picture here does a few nifty things. First, it charges both AA and AAA batteries, which means it’s versatile. I like versatility. Second, it also acts as a charging station using the USB port. Most every device we use today has USB charging capabilities. Charge the batteries off the sun during the day while you’re walking, or taking a break, and then use the charging cable to recharge your cell phone or GPS when needed. It also includes a battery tester to tell you whether a battery is charged or not, so you know which batteries need to be recharged and which ones you can use to power devices. The weight is negligible and it replaces the need to carry as many batteries with you in your GTH pack.
All-In-One Dynamo Radio/Charger/Flashlight
This is one of the most indispensable items in my GTH bag. Given a natural disaster you can almost always assume the NOAA weather stations will be broadcasting conditions of any major travel corridors almost continuously, along with any updates provided by state or federal government and Presidential updates if applicable. Being able to tune in and find out up-to-the-minute news is a critical thing for me.
This little thing has a host of features, which you can find out more about by clicking the picture. I’m not going to detail them all here.
The basics that you need to know are that it picks up all the NOAA stations, has a flashlight, AM/FM radio, good reception, a good speaker, an stand-by mode that keeps it on low-power until an alert is issued, and has a hand-crank! The hand crank means you are NEVER without power for your radio or flashlight. You can also use the USB ports similarly to the charger I mentioned earlier – to charge your phone or other device.
A cell phone is an obvious needed item to carry if you can, but personal communications are often overlooked. Modern phones depend on the carriers to have a signal as well as available bandwidth. The one thing you can 100% GUARANTEE during an emergency situation of state or national importance – is that all those channels will be jammed. It will be hell getting a call through to anyone. Depending on where you are and what happened, cell towers might be overloaded or even down completely due to power failure or natural disaster. You can’t get a call out to anyone.
Having a personal radio of some sort can help you stay connected to others (in a limited range), can allow you freedom
and mobility when searching or scouting, and can keep you in contact between vehicles if you’re still mobile.
There are two main types to pick from; one affordable to most everyone and one not so affordable to the common person. Both have their merits. I’m going to cover three options I have personally in semi-detail.
GMRS/FRS Radios – (the yellow ones above)These are the $49 radios you see everywhere. They’re common with campers, scouting, or even work crews. They usually run on AA batteries so they conform to your charging needs and they’re usually good for about one whole day of normal use without a recharge. The pros: everyone has them so it’s easy for other people to communicate with you. The cons: everyone has them so it’s easy for them to overhear you. Because these ARE so common don’t depend on any privacy when communicating with someone.
Garmin Rino 530 – (the second radio shown) This radio has literally saved my life in an emergency situation once already. Similar to the GMRS and FRS Radios mentioned previously, it operates on the same frequencies as the more common radios. Even if you have one of these and others have a normal GMRS, you’ll still be able to talk to each other. It has ONE more important feature that I find critical for a family or team emergency scenario. It has a GPS locator beacon built-in. Every time you key up the microphone, anyone else who has one of these and is listening for you can see you pinpointed on a map. They can click the image of you and the built-in GPS will guide them directly to you! If you’re thinking of a situation for possible search and rescue needs, this things is great! In case you’re curious, yes you can disable the GPS transponder if you actually do NOT want someone to be able to find you. You can preload the radio with GPS coordinates for your home, business, or other critical locations and use it as a military-style compass to direct you to your destination, regardless of how far away it is. The farthest I’ve personally used these radios was about 7 miles across open desert, and frequently within 2-3 mile ranges, so I can personally attest to their range.
Professional Grade Two-Way Radios – (the bottom radio) The last option I’ll cover is a police or military grade radio. The cost on these is higher, usually in the $300 to $500 range. They can be programmed custom for you from the distributor. The ones I purchased last were programmed with channels 1-4 to be the same as the common GMRS radios, so we could communicate with people using cheaper radios. Channels 5-8 were programmed with encrypted frequencies out of that spectrum, so no one but us could hear what we were saying. Even if the channel were monitored, no one without your specific code can descramble the signal. Overkill? Maybe for some and maybe not for others. Their downside is that they don’t usually run on common AA batteries, but instead rely on a non-standard charging pack that isn’t easy to charge on the move.
Update on Radios: Over the last year I finally managed to get the money set aside to purchase new personal radios. I purchased mine from the same supplier we used last time, Discount Two-Way Radio. The ones I found most affordable and with the best variety of features was the RCA BR250 UHF radio.
For a about two hundred dollars each, you get a 16-channel durable radio with custom programming. Here is a good idea about how to use the custom programming. I had mine programmed as follows:
- Channels 1-4: Private “team” channels – these are programmed on frequencies that are very unlikely to be used by anyone in my vicinity, so I can have secure communications between my team, hunting party, or bug-out group.
- Channel 5: Stanly County Sheriff Tactical Channel (Yeah, I can listen in on my local county’s police chatter. If I were ever in a life or death emergency, I could actually key up on this frequency and communicate directly with dispatch. (Do NOT take this lightly… using a police frequency to broadcast is a crime. However, in the event I’m lying somewhere in a ditch bleeding out, I’ll take the ticket. Otherwise, I just NEVER leave these radios on this channel in case someone else picks it up and decied to “play” with it.
- Channel 6: Stanly County EMS – same idea as above.
- Channel 7: My local fire district’s command channel.
- Channel 8: Red Cross for NC. I’ve worked rescue in years past and if there were ever the need, I could assist with a national disaster, or call for help if I was the one in trouble.
- Channels 9-16: These are programmed for the standard Walmart radio GMRS frequencies on channels 1-8, so in addition to talking in my own private team, I can also expand the radio group to include people with cheaper handhelds. They will still only get half a mile or so on their 1 watt radios, but my 4 watt radios have a range of about 3 miles in my area, so I can act as a manual repeater station to help other teams communicate or to simply expand my own teams commo capabilities.
Flashlights or Chem-Lights
Seems kind of trivial and like something you’d never forget doesn’t it? More often than not, you’ve needed your flashlight recently and put it somewhere else. How many times have you needed one and not remembered where it was? Keep it in your GTH bag and don’t take it out for around-the-house use for any reason. Also, be sure it charges and runs off your standard batteries (AA or AAA). Pocket lights and flashlight pens are common throw-away items companies sell for a dollar or give away as free gifts. Don’t toss them out. Put them in your bag. You can always dump them later if you don’t need them, but in the dark there is no such thing as being the person with TOO many flashlights handy. As an alternate, consider chem-lights (the glow-sticks you crack in the middle). Get professional ones, not kids toys. These will last you at least 12 hours if not more and in a pinch can be used like breadcrumbs to light your way through somewhere complex, or to leave a path for others to find you.
This is another thing that might sound dumb, but think it through again. Do you have rugged, dependable clothing that can stand up to repeated abuse for a month straight? If not, get some and keep it in your pack. Once again; military surplus to the rescue. I mentioned these earlier, and it’s worth repeating. A nice pair of rugged outdoors pants and shirts made of rip-stop (the civilian name for para-aramid yarn) can cost you over $80 per piece of clothing. Military surplus clothing can be purchased for VERY cheap if you get a good deal. I can usually find blouses for $15 or less and trousers for $10 or less.Toss two sets of each in your bag. If you’re on the go in an emergency, chances are you weren’t prepared for it, so you’re wearing whatever clothing you had on your back at the time. That’s ok. Wear it until you have to stop for the first night, then change into your BDUs, ACUs or whatever you have. If you can carry the load, bring your old clothes with you. If you can’t, leave them behind and keep the military clothing. It will outlast anything you’re used to wearing in day-to-day life ten times over.
Socks (Wool AND Cotton)
Whatever your sock preference, take at least two pair of wool-socks with you in your pack. Wool is great for wicking away moisture from your feet, keeping you healthier and also warmer. You lose a lot of body heat through your scalp and your feet. Keeping these two dry reduces the amount of energy your body expends keeping you warm. In the hot climates they serve the same purpose, wicking away sweat so your feet don’t prune inside your shoes and become overly soft and therefore more prone to cuts and other damage.
Wear your other socks over your wool socks for warmth. Cotton socks are great for comfort, but they’re not worth a crap for keeping your feet fry. The construction of wool socks also speeds their drying time. If they get wet, change into your other ones and dry the wet pair by the fire or just hang them on your pack to air-dry. They’ll be dry in no time.
You won’t likely be able to fit these inside your pack. That’s ok. Get yourself one good pair of sturdy books suitable for hiking, something with high ankles. Wear them around the house for a few weeks to break them in. (Taking off in brand new boots is NOT a good idea. It can destroy your feet and ankles if they aren’t broken in and leave you worse off than you were without them.) Once they’re broken in well and you know you can walk in them all day with no problem, retire them to your bag while they’re new. Just tie the laces to your pack and you’ll have them when you need them. If you’re a lady who left work that day in 3 inch heels, you’re going to thank me when you start slogging through wet ditch banks later!
Have a variety. They’re small and roll up compact. An undershirt, long-sleeve shirt, maybe a Columbia wic-away shirt if you can afford them.
Pack them. If you bug out in the middle of summer, you can always throw them away because you don’t need them.
The more brim the better, but even a ball cap is better protection than nothing. A good wide brimmed tilley-hat will keep the rain off your face, but will also keep it from dripping down the back of your neck.
Something to protect you against the weather and preferrably water proof. If you don’t have a waterproof one, use that old jacket you never wear – the one your great-aunt Mildred gave you that’s horrendous looking. It’s perfectly wearable if it weren’t so damned ugly, right? In this case, you don’t care about looks. If it’s not waterproof, toss in a poncho. They’re a couple bucks from wal-mart.
Yeah, I said bandana. They do more than make you look like Jesse James. You can get a five pack for $2.00 at any general supply store. They’re great as a napkin, dish rag, to mark a trail, as a sweatband, to make a sling for first aid, as a water-filter, to clean glasses, guns, or gear, as a tourniquet, a pot holder, keeps the sun off your neck, and finally as a breathable mask. (Keeps pollen or dust out of your mouth and nose.) Besides, if you can’t think of one useful thing from that list, you can throw them out later and reclaim 2 cubic inches of space in your pack.
One of the readers, Terrie, pointed out that I forgot this. Gloves are a great item to carry. Depending on the climate you could go with cold-weather gloves, but not everyone needs those. I carry half a dozen pair between my tool bags, and vehicles, so I forgot to include them as an item when I wrote this post, but they definitely come in handy.
Whether you’re a “Manly” man or a lady with soft skin, repetitive activities such as cutting limbs and branches, or wood for a fire will leave you blistered quickly without them. I learned this the hard way last year. I work with my hands and do carpentry every day, so my hands are very tough for the most part… however, the part of my thumb that connects to my hand… that soft webbing between them… yeah, that wasn’t conditioned to swinging my Ka-Bar or Tomahawk for long periods of time. Within half an hour I had blisters on my hands. Now, I wear gloves when given the opportunity. They also make it possible to perform routine tasks without damaging your hands – such as hauling on fishing line (try THAT bare handed… ouch), working in and around briars or barbed wire, or sharp rusty metal. There’s a hundred different reasons for adding a pair or two to your pack. They weigh only a couple ounces and are well worth it. (Thanks for the thought, Terrie).
Time to get on to the other stuff, or else I’ll be here all day detailing item after item. Let’s see if I can get through these a little more quickly. I’ll detail some items better later if anyone needs clarification.
These are incredibly cheap and they’re time-savers. You can roll one of these up into the size of a bracelet, yet cut through a tree with it in a matter of minutes. Coleman has a decent one I carry in my bag. I’ve never needed mine, but one day.. who knows?
If you don’t know how to use one, then they’re useless, but if you take the time to learn, they’re handy to have. I’ve carried a few over the years and my new favorite has been this one. It’s not military, but it’s made very similar and has a steel case and a MOLLE compatible carrying case.
Maps (Local, Regional, State, and Highway)
GPS batteries die. If you’re on foot or even in a vehicle and having to navigate around obstructions, natural barriers, or disaster damage maps can be invaluable. Local and regional maps show details such as lakes and rivers (sources of water), forests and heavily wooded areas (sources of food), bridges, and local landmarks. State and Interstate maps give you a much better overall glance at long-term travel options than scouring with a mobile GPS.
You don’t have to be signaling planes from the tops of mountains to find these useful. If you’re trying to attract the attention of a group of people, police, firefighter, whatever.. from over a mile away – a signal mirror can do what all your hand-waving and yelling can’t accomplish.
This is especially important if you are forced to shelter somewhere. Having copies in your bag of all the family information is vital. What if your children get separated from you somehow? When an officer can see their name, address, and your license and other info, your family can be reunited quicker. Include things like home mortgage documents, insurance documents, business licenses, driver’s license, passports, medical info, anything you can think of. (seal these in something waterproof, such as a ziploc bag). Whether it’s natural or man-made; disasters cause confusion for everyone. Being able to prove you own your business might be the only thing that will get you inside it. Having a copy of your mortgage can act as a re-entry permit when only land-owners are allowed back inside an emergency zone, such as after a hurricane.
Paracord (not rope)
Rope is great for your car, and if you’re stranded with your vehicle and you have some handy, certainly bring it along. However, for your main supply of emergency preparedness, ALWAYS have at LEAST 100′ of paracord. Paracord is named after parachute cord. It’s an aramid yarn reinforced with nylon strength members inside that has a certain strength rating. You most often hear about Para-550 cord. This means is has the strength to hold 550 pounds of tension with one thin strand. (Why do you think they used it for parachutes? Try dropping a 250 pound man with another 150 pounds of gear out of a plane flying 100 miles per hour and then use string to hold all that tension… no sirree.)
Paracord can be weaved into all kinds of things. My knife sheath has 20 feet of it weaved into the design. All my key fobs, firestarters, and anything with a lanyard hole in it has at least 12-15 feet weaved into a handle to carry it by. You can weave 100 feet into a belt that you wear every day, weave 8 feet of it into a bracelet, or simply roll up 100′ and stick it in a pouch on the side of your GTH bag. You will never regret having it. Fix shoelaces when they break, make a belt out of string, hold up your camp site, tie gear to your bag, tie snares for small game, set a tripwire, cross a ravine with it, whatever. Just be 100% sure you’re buying para-550 cord, not a knock off imitation. I bought 1,000 feet of it for $68 about a year ago. That’s .07 a foot. You can’t beat it for what it does.
Picture an 8′ square piece of super-shiny tinfoil that fits into the same amount of space that a Big lighter consumes. Now imagine that keeping you alive in cold climates. It does. They’re designed to reflect body heat back on to you as you release it, making your body work much less to remain warm and preserving vital energy. Your body WILL work as hard as it has to, and consume as much fuel as it has to in order to maintain your body temperature. It’s an involuntary mechanism you can’t shut off. When you’re on the move and food might be scarce, you need all the energy you can save. The most energy output your body produces is heat energy. Space blankets keep this heat close to you and keep you alive. A pack of ten will cost you about ten dollars. Take them all with you in your bag. The have no affect on your weight or space allotments.
Like an idiot I decided one day that bed rolls were for wusses and real men didn’t need one. We were camping together with friends, having an emergency preparedness test weekend to test out some of our new gear. I laughed at the guys with the bed rolls… until I tried to go to sleep.
At 41 degrees outside, I was freezing. Forget the rocks and forget the “comfy” factor of having a bed roll. That’s all I thought they were for. I was wrong. I got back home and did my research and found out the single biggest reason military personnel and survival backpackers carry them, and it has nothing to do with comfort.
I learned the hard way, even sleeping in my military ACS bag, the cold ground can literally leech the heat out of your body. Regardless of how well insulated you are, if you’re lying on the cold ground in freezing temperatures, you will be miserable. Poor sleep leads to fatigue and that leads to mistakes and that leads to death by stupidity. On the next trip, I carried a bed roll with me. It made all the difference. Keeping the moisture and cold from the bare ground off your body will more than make-up for the slight inconvenience of having to carry an extra three pounds with you. Now I have one strapped to every bag we have and I’ll never leave without it again.
If you can afford it, get yourself a military modular sleep system. These can run anywhere from $140 to $350 depending on where you can find them. (I’ve linked to one on Amazon that’s going for a really good price.) These are four-piece sleep systems, and they roll up into that bag shown beside it. That entire packags fits into the large oval pouch shown on the bottom of my Rifleman’s pack shown at the top of this page.
The Patrol bag is rated to 30 degrees. The Intermediate bag inside it is rated to -10 degrees. The Goretex cover is waterproof, non-flammable, and breathes well. The fourth piece is the compression sack that squeezes it all back into something that you can carry around easily. There really is no better sleeping bag for a full-grown adult that this one.
Speaking of full-grown, whatever sleeping bag you get, be sure you can actually SLEEP in it. I’m well over six feet tall. Before I finally found a really great deal on my sleep system, I tried a variety of sleeping bags from sporting goods stores that would fit well in my pack. With clothing and weapons on, I couldn’t sleep in most of them. In others I could sleep but not move well, which meant I slept poorly. This is the first one that has fit me well, even with all my gear on.
Leave the pole at home. You can always find a long stick and make one. Depending on your distance from a water source you might be able to live quite well for an unlimited amount of time on fish, but only if you can catch them. All the tackle it takes to fish for months would fit inside a pack of playing cards. Hooks, a few weights, maybe a bobber or two, and you can accomplish a lot. If you want, just purchase a pre-built kit, toss the packaging away, and cram all the contents into a small peanut-butter jar. Now you have everything together AND a watertight container if you need one.
They’re $5.00 at Wal-Mart. What are you going to eat/drink out of on the march or in the woods? If it’s too cumbersome, drop it later, but they only weigh about 1/4 pound.
Entrenching Tool/ Shovel
You can use a military e-tool or a coleman camp shovel. Either one works just as well. Regardless, get one. I carry the military camp shovel simply because it comes with a MOLLE webbed pouch that attaches to my pack, so it can rest outside my pack rather than take up valuable space inside it.
They’re cheap. Get some. They have lots of handy uses, from connecting complex things together to simply clipping something to your belt.
Various sizes, but a couple large ones. They can be used to water-proof things, as a poncho, to collect rainwater, and have a variety of good uses.
Yeah I said books, but I don’t mean 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, unless your situation calls for that I suppose… None of us have all the information we need to survive in our heads. We can’t possibly be prepared for every emergency. There is a great little pocket-guide I carry in all my bags that is chock-full of information on everything imaginable. The SAS Survival Guide gives you way more information at your fingertips than I could possibly describe here, so I wont try. It occupies slightly more space than a pack of playing cards in your pack. Get it! I’m serious.
Read through it after you’ve purchased it. You might find you require more information on specific topics that don’t apply to most people. Consider a book on what nuts and berries are edible, a medical reference, or other book that relates to your specific needs. Just be sure you get one that’s pocket-sized. Space is at a premium in your GTH bag and so is weight. The smaller and lighter it is, the better it will help you in the long run.
Guns and Ammo
Oh come on. You knew I was going to get to it eventually didn’t you? Be practical when thinking of how you’re going to gun-up in the event you’re forced to. Most of us can’t afford to have spare firearms lying around in our GTH bags or Go bags. If you have a favored sidearm, carry it with you at all times (when practical and permissible), but remember to carry spare magazines and ammunition for your weapon in your bag.
What kind to carry?
I realize this could turn into a debate that rages for decades, but I’ll tell you my personal thoughts on the matter. I carry a 1911 style .45 ACP for everyday use. So, in my case it made sense to purchase a few MOLLE magazine holders for a few dollars each and attach them to the outside of my bags. Each of them holds three magazines. My weapon holds 9 rounds when fully loaded and each magazine holds 8 more, so simply by grabbing my sidearm and my GTH bag, I’ve already got 33 rounds loaded and readily available outside my pack. (If you need it, you certainly don’t have time to search inside your pack for your ammo! Put it somewhere accessible in a hurry!) I would also suggest carrying one spare box of ammunition for your chosen sidearm. That’s another 50 rounds of ammunition for most conventional sidearms.
Now, the practical person in me is screaming to be let out, so I’m going to speak for a moment on tactical situation and realistic scenarios.
Regardless of how the situation arises that requires your use of a sidearm, the choice over what kind to carry needs to be made with the same pragmatism as all other decisions. What can you carry the most of and get the most use of while minimizing your weight and expense.
The ONLY sensible answer is .22. A decent .22 revolver or pistol costs around $200-$450 usually. A decent .45 costs $600-$1,200+. Financially a .22 makes more sense.
A box of ammo for a 9mm, .45 ACP, .38 revolver, or other caliber handgun runs about $25-$40 per box of 50 bullets. A box of over 500 .22 rounds of ammo costs about $20.00. Financially a .22 makes more sense.
One-hundred rounds of .45 ACP ammo weighs about ten pounds. Fifty shotgun rounds weighs about 10 pounds. 1,000 rounds of .22 weighs about ten pounds. Logistically, .22 caliber makes more sense. You can carry 1,000 of them in less than half of one sustainment pouch on your pack and they weigh very little compared to larger calibers.
Other factors to think about:
- Noise: The report of a large caliber handgun can be heard for miles. Do you REALLY want to be advertising to everyone within 3 miles that there’s a person with a firearm in the area?
- Noise: If you want to hunt for your food, nothing beats a .22 pistol. If you miss with a .22, you’ve scared every animal within a quarter mile. If you miss with a .45 you’ve scared off every animal within 3 miles in every direction.
- Recoil: If you’re an expert marksman then it won’t matter. If you’re not, being possessed of a firearm with little to no recoil means you’re incredibly more accurate with your shots, which also translates to being effective at a longer distance. I can reasonably drop a moving rabbit with my .45 at 15 feet if I’m lucky. A rank amateur can hit that same rabbit from 100 feet away with a .22 pistol and doesn’t have to get close enough to spook it.
Quality of your firearm: If you’re talking absolute best performance in a horrible situation, revolvers are better. Less moving parts means less parts to break, jam, or get fouled up with trash, mud, sand, water, etc. If you’re a fan of the semi-automatic (as I am) then just keep that in mind. Having a few tools necessary to disassemble and clean your weapon aren’t a bad idea either. Even the best firearms will start to show signs of rust in a matter of mere days when exposed to the elements.
If we’re talking .22 pistol, again in my opinion, there is no better manufacturer of .22’s than Ruger. Any of their Mark II or Mark III semi-automatics are well proven to be reliable and they shoot great.
So, things to carry with your weapon:
- Cleaning kit, oil, rag, etc.
- Spare ammunition
- Spare magazines
- Spare key parts that are most likely to break or foul up. (Bolt extractor, mag release, trigger, springs, etc)
Once you start assembling your pack, USE IT. Take it with you, and I mean everywhere. If you leave home, it needs to be in your car. If your car goes off with someone else, your bag comes out of it, unless you have another identical bag in each vehicle. The point is – never be without your bag. The idea of a GTH bag is that within 30 seconds you’re ready… for whatever. You’re prepared to walk 400 miles, to hike out of a dangerous situation, or to survive on your own for an unknown amount of time under unknown conditions.
You also need to carry it back and forth with you for the simple practice of getting used to carrying it. No matter how you stack it – this bag is probably going to weigh in at around 70 pounds. That’s OK. You’ve packed for every contingency after all. Remember, you can always drop gear you don’t need. As you eat more, your pack will get lighter. As you drink your water, you pack will get lighter. As you consume supplies and gear wears out, your pack will get lighter. You can ALWAYS leave stuff behind if you make an informed decision to do so. You can’t go back and pick it up later if you’ve forgotten to pack it in the first place.
Let me start this section by apologizing to the people who make first-aid kids. I mean you no dis-respect. Having said that – a store bought first-aid kit is useless for the purposes of a GTH bag. Unless you really need 400 bandaids of various sizes, shapes, and colors, or have a boo-boo on your knee, they’ll do you no good. That doesn’t mean you throw it away. If you already have one, keep it, but let’s go through some forward-thinking scenarios and analyze what you need this for.
You’re building a GTH bag, not going to little Jimmy’s birthday party. What will you encounter along the way? Chances are you don’t know, right? OK let’s think of some of the likely scenarios you’d encounter if you’re really ever going to be forced to walk somewhere for days on end over various unpredictable terrains, in unknowable climactic conditions, for an unforeseeable amount of time – and work backwards from there. What are you likely to encounter?
- Contaminated Water! (causes diarrhea and dehydration among other things). This is a HUGE risk you’ll likely face.
- Extreme temperatures – well, we can’t fix that so ignore it Plan for it in your clothing preparation instead.
- Massive lacerations (chain link fences, rebar, sharp metal, animal attack, etc)
- Deep puncture wounds (same as above but include potential gunshot wounds, stabbing, etc)
- Massive Tissue Trauma
- Broken Bones (assuming it’s not your femur, neck, spine, or collarbone it can likely be managed)
- Disease (airborne through insects, or contact via pathogen, animals, or human contact)
- Infection – brought on as a secondary effect from any of the previous.
- Headaches (are definitely distracting and can be debilitating)
- Fever (usually brought on by infection)
- Blunt force trauma to tissue
- Internal Bleeding (you’re likely screwed. Get right with your maker.)
Reading that list sounds more like you’re preparing for a third-world scenario than basic first aid doesn’t it? I mean hell, you’re walking through Spokane, not delving into the jungle fighting wild tigers, right?
Let’s assume any number of natural disasters have occurred. Earthquakes, hurricanes and floods are very common scenarios for most of us. If we’re talking about humans being displaced, don’t forget about displaced wildlife. When you flood or destroy the natural habitats of wild animals in huge quantities, they’re going to move and they’re going to move much more rapidly than you are. They’re stressed. They’re territorial. They’re also dying most likely in large numbers, depending on a variety of factors. Non-native diseases will be brought in to naive populations of wildlife in a matter of days, causing abnormal death in the wildlife population, causing abnormal behavior and an abnormal amount of carcasses rotting in rivers, canals, and on roadways. (You learn a lot marrying a veterinarian. I’m just sharing things I never thought of because I wasn’t educated in it previously. It’s a whole new spectrum to think about isn’t it?)
I said gunshot? Really? Sure. If it’s a bad enough situation for you to be on the move, then others are too. Those others also likely aren’t prepared like you are. One out of 100 will be adequately prepared for a disaster. That’s a real fact. When people get over-stressed, scared, fearful of their lives, or are forced to watch their children starve after a week of no food – things change. People change.
In addition to the dangers you already think about, you now have to face the very real possibility of both animal and human issues causing you harm. Now… build your first aid kit for THAT scenario and you’re well prepared.
First off, let’s stop even bothering to call it first-aid anymore. Truthfully you need a trauma kit. Further, you need TWO of them. Why? Well, because reality dictates it.
Outside Trauma Kit
In the military, every soldier has the exact same trauma kit. They all wear it in the exact same place on their body. Do you know why they do it that way?
If they’re injured, the first person that gets to them knows EXACTLY where to look to get that kit out in seconds, not spend minutes rummaging around the pack trying to find it. You NEVER use your own trauma kit on another person. If you do, and you’re injured, guess what… you wont’ have your trauma kit on you for someone to use on you. They’ll lose valuable time trying to come up with a replacement idea. Meanwhile, you’re bleeding, and if you’re bleeding enough to need someone else to get that kit for you, it means you’re bleeding out fast or are already unconscious.
Your first-line of defense is your trauma kit. It’s worn OUTSIDE your body and OUTSIDE your pack. If it’s bright-red and says First Aid or has the emergency medical cross on it, even better. The point is, it needs to be where someone ELSE can get to it rapidly! The one shown on the right here is the one I carry on my pack – because it’s got MOLLE straps and because anyone who’s ever been in the military knows exactly what it is just by looking at it.
Your Main Surgery Kit
So you’ve got your personal trauma kit handled. Now it’s time to talk about actual first-aid and how to prepare for the events we’ve described above. Once again, most store-bought first-aid kits are pretty useless for this, though the box or pouch they come in might serve you well. Personally, I went with a military medic bag (only because I finally found one for $12 at an out-of-the-way surplus store one day.) Whatever you decide on; it needs to have compartments so you can sort and inventory items quickly and easily. Putting your bloody hand into an open bag of supplies can quickly taint everything in it. At least if you compartmentalize, you’ve got a chance of not ruining everything because you were too panicked to think clearly. Mine is pictured on the right. You can get it on Amazon if you’re interested in one like it.
Your main kit is where you store everything not stored in your personal trauma kit. If you have a trauma kit pre-purchased like the one I mentioned above, then there’s no spare room in it anyway. Get something fairly large for your pack medic bag, fairly compartmentalized, and flexible enough to be manipulated into a pouch or inside your pack. Don’t get something large and boxy. It takes up too much space.
Keep a few things in mind when packing this kit:
- What level of care are you planning for? (in my case, up to and including bullet-wounds and treatment thereof)
- How many does this kit support? (Just you? A family of three?)
- What specialized medicines do you personally require?
Now on to what we pack in this thing. Again, it’s up to you, but here are some ideas I’d consider.
If you’d like to shop some of these items on Amazon, I’ve tried to find the best-rated, yet most affordable options for most all the items below. You can view our “First Aid Supplies” section to see pricing options if you don’t want to do the price-shopping yourself. You can also check out a few fully prepared kits here.
- WARNING LABEL – Read below this list to see more.
- Any Prescription Drugs you Take (remember to account for shelf life and expiration)
- Ibuprofen/Acetaminophen – one 500 count bottle at least.
- Penicillin – it’s a broad-spectrum antibiotic that will great a variety of infections. (If you’re allergic, pack one of the alternatives you can safely take, such as doxycycline)
- A book on how to use this stuff! I’d suggest the Special Forces Medical Handbook. (It would behoove you have read it once or twice before you have to actually ever USE it.)
- Benadryl or diphenhydramine
- Ammonia Inhalants
- Pen light
- Surgical Needles
- Suture Material- various sizes.
- Field Transfusion Kit
- Surgical Tools (Hemostats, Forceps, Scissors, etc)
- Pack of Scalpel Blades
- Vetwrap (better for splinting and compression that a lot of other common items sold)
- Various sizes of gauze
- Compression bandages
- Tampons( They are waterproof in their package, sterile for medical use, and can plug a bullet wound with amazing efficiency)
- Maxi Pads (they are adhesive and absorbent and great for covering wounds)
- Latex Gloves (lots)
- Blood Pressure Cuff and Stethoscope (depends on whether you want to go this far. I would)
- Safety Pins of all sizes.
- REALLY GOOD SHARP scissors
- Surgical masks (cheap, small, and multipurpose)
- Betadine or Iodine for disinfecting areas around wounds, Alcohol
- Iodine wipes, alcohol wipes (for smaller needs)
- Triple Antibiotic Ointment (such as Neosporin)
- Variety of Hypodermic needles and syringes
- 1 Liter of saline solution (flushing or irrigating wounds)
- 1 Liter of dextrose (intravenous sugar solution and volume expander)
- Salt Packets (the ones from a fast food place or buy salt tablets – Salt helps your body retain water and helps to prevent dehydration. Use with plenty of liquid. If you are ALREADY dehydrated, salt will make it worse, possibly fatally.)
- Tongue depressors
- Bug Spray
- Moist Towelettes
- Quick Clot
- Bandaids- Assorted
- Small bottle hand sanitizer
- Duct Tape, Medical Tape, etc.
- 4×4 gauze, 2×2, gauze
- Elastic Bandages
- Burn Spray
That’s a lot of stuff huh? Like I said earlier.. get yourself a good flexible bag with compartments that can hold all this stuff.
Great, you have a kick-ass medical kit with everything under the sun. What if YOU are the one injured, delirious from fever, or incapacitated somehow? If someone tears open your kit to use it on you, pumps you full of penicillin but doesn’t know you’re allergic … oopsie! My bad! The VERY FIRST thing you have in the top of your medical kit is a laminated or plastic card that says what conditions you have and what things you’re allergic to. If you’re depending on someone else to save your life, you’re already in trouble, but it would really suck to get to heaven earlier than planned because you didn’t have a warning label on that bottle of aspirin!
Mine says “My name is Tommy Jordan. My phone number is xxx-xxx-xxxx. My emergency contact is wife’s-name-here. I have no allergies. I usually need 1.5 times the dosages because of my metabolic rate. My blood type is O+.”
It would be REALLY good to know if you were hypo-glycemic, or hyper-glycemic! The treatments are opposite depending on which one you have. Are you diabetic? Do you take Nitro tablets? Are you allergic to Tylenol? Whatever you need to list.. list it boldly and legibly!
Ok, so now you have a first aid kit for your GTH bag. My last piece of critical advice is to put this where you can get to it quickly. If you have a pack that will take MOLLE pouches, a military sustainment pouch is significantly large enough to hold everything I’ve listed here – and they’re waterproof.
If you’ve made it this far, you have my thanks. You’ve been reading for about 20 minutes. I, however, have been writing for almost nine hours and I’m exhausted. Tomorrow, or some time later in the week, I’ll take the time to review comments and think about items I’ve missed. If you have a suggestion, please leave it in the comments section on the blog (not on the Facebook comments section) and I’ll get an email about it.
Disclosure About Amazon Items
Most of the items on here have an Amazon link attached to them, at least if they were something I personally can attest to the quality of or recommend. I have embedded Amazon affiliate links within all the products. This has no effect on your price for the items. It DOES however mean I will make a 1-3% commission if you click on an item and purchase it. I figure if the information is free, maybe at least I can make a few dollars over the long-haul on recommending items – especially since it doesn’t affect price.
If you happen to see a broken link or know of the same item available for cheaper on Amazon, please let me know and I’ll update the link here on this page to reflect it. Building a GTH bag is an expensive and time-consuming process so if I can make it more affordable for readers, then I’d very much like to do so.
And now… have a good day y’all!