What Belongs In A Go-Bag?
July 24, 2021 9:53 PM   Subscribe

What with the state of the world I've been thinking about fire and flood recently. If I had to get up and go right now, what should go in my go-bag? How do I avoid putting all my eggs in one basket? Computer/digitisable stuff I guess I can have a back-up offsite or on a hard drive ready to go, but what about irreplacable/sentimental/unique stuff? How to keep important things safe but also separate?
posted by I'm always feeling, Blue to Grab Bag (22 answers total) 86 users marked this as a favorite
I live in wildfire country and this may be just me, but. There's never just one bag. You keep loading until the time runs out. I have three lists, a 5 minute, a 30, and a 2 hour. They are also priority ordered. Plus there's a zero collection in the car, contingency items that I need on common trips.

It's nice because I can hop in the car without packing and spend a weekend away. But since I have time, I pack more nice things...

Take photos of your rooms and slowly build and keep an inventory too. Good luck.
posted by circular at 10:35 PM on July 24, 2021 [24 favorites]

The things you take are the things that keep you alive and well. That shouldn't include just stuff you want to preserve - if it's a crisis, you won't want that distraction.

If you are going to fret about things then consciously choose, now, that you will leave them, or move them offsite to somewhere safer.

I had this last year. I was on the very edge of an evacuation zone, and, while I may not have had to leave - some neighbours didn't, and the messaging was unclear - I found I had to for my own sanity, versus constantly worrying about what I should do. I took too many things. In the end I worried more about whether what I took was safe than I would if I'd just left it and couldn't do anything about it.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 10:46 PM on July 24, 2021 [4 favorites]

I’d want to scenario plan a little. What I plan to grab if my apartment is on fire isn’t what I’d grab if I get an evacuation order for a hurricane coming tomorrow, or if a pipe bursts, and I don’t have much planning for earthquakes or wildfires because where I live they’re so rare. Digitizing is a good call, though of course has its own risks to mitigate.

You’re probably already looking at advice for the basics of a go bag. Since you’re asking about personal items specifically and not stuff like cash and can openers: my bag has hard copies of a few important financial/ID docs I might need if I don’t have power/internet and need them right away, sealed up in ziplock bags (which have many other uses.) I also have a firebox full of important stuff, that’s theoretically resistant to both fire and the enormous quantities of water/foam/etc the fire department would be using to put it out. It’s portable and could come with me if I had time to grab it and thought I might not be back for a while, but if there’s a fire alarm at 3am, I’m leaving it where it is. So it’s in one basket, but it’s a pretty good basket. NB, thankfully I’ve never had to test this out.

But just going through this exercise of priorities in protecting your most important stuff is a good one IMO. With time to prepare you can probably make your photos quite safe, your grandmother’s baby grand piano maybe less so. Smaller things you love and don’t want to lock up, but would be heartbroken to lose, can be more dependent on the situation, but you can do that thinking now and not mid-crisis.
posted by jameaterblues at 11:04 PM on July 24, 2021 [7 favorites]

Mine's also from a wildfire mindset, with a history of having been through a total-loss house fire almost 25 years ago. We've also been in evacuation zones more times than I can count, including one time where I'm honestly not sure they told us a level, it was just pack til they tell us to go. .

The "crisis grab" for us is important paperwork, wallets/purses, pets, my medication & glasses, laptops/hard drives/devices/usb sticks, photos, and a small bag of jewelry and keepsakes. (My jewelry and keepsakes are still almost entirely in the ziplock from LAST summer.)

We keep pet stuff ready-to-go during fire season. Cat carriers put together and easily accessible, food & water dishes in them, towels for padding, zip lock bags with food, a bag of treats. We also have a large crate that is big enough for a litter box if necessary. (I've lived in my car with my dog and cat more than once.) My small dog's leash, halter, wheelchair, and poo bags live right near the door. Food and dishes for him are stashed with the cats' stuff currently, but I'm working on putting together his own travel bag as it is.

In super-fast crisis mode, the most difficult part is gathering the cats. That's what the treats are for. If necessary, all three get stuffed in one medium carrier and sorted out later. My 19 & 21 yo kids can have that accomplished in the 2-3 minutes it takes me to go check and see WHY THERE IS A FIRE TRUCK WITH SIREN OUR APARTMENTS. (Um, yeah. PTSD and massive anxiety... all it takes it a fire truck driving in silently on a medical call and just the noise of the truck itself still wakes me from even a medicated sleep.)

Give us a half an hour, and we've got all the above, including devices gathered and in the car, and are debating what else to grab. Chances are, my daughter will have all the video games boxed, a week work of clothes packed, have her makeup, good headphones, and snacks in her backpack.

And that's where we spend a level two. Ready to leave. If we're only on level 1, or just think we might get there, everything is packed and put near the door, ready to load, and the cats' location is checked pretty regularly, along with information sources. It might seem kinda crazy to spend so much time half-packed... but we sleep better during fire season that way.
posted by stormyteal at 11:14 PM on July 24, 2021 [16 favorites]

Is there a case for a stay-box buried in the garden? Like Samuel Pepys in 1666 "Sir W. Batten not knowing how to remove his wine, did dig a pit in the garden, and laid it in there; and I took the opportunity of laying all the papers of my office that I could not otherwise dispose of. And in the evening Sir W. Pen and I did dig another, and put our wine in it; and I my Parmazan cheese, as well as my wine and some other things." I see jameaterblues has a no-garden alternative.
posted by BobTheScientist at 11:18 PM on July 24, 2021 [7 favorites]

After hurricane Harvey passed through Houston, I was evacuated by boat with only a backpack. I was luckier than most and only lost a few things that could not be replaced. I still grieve for those things, but I would not have put them in my go bag. (I wish I would have taken photos of them though.)

After boating out I was at a temporary shelter for a few days then couch surfing until I could get back to my own space. During this time, my stuff was drying out in a friends garage and somewhat inaccessible. I needed changes of clothes, meds, toiletries, phone charger and a power bank. I had my birth certificate and a few other important papers, my laptop, and a hard drive backup of important files. Now I would also include some cash, a change of work clothes and shoes, and a list of important phone numbers in case my phone died. Also granola bars. And wet wipes.

Like I said, I wish I had pictures of certain things and some things will never be replaced. But I didn't drown, and that's what matters. So for me a go bag means a way to survive until I find a safe place to stay. YMMV
posted by rakaidan at 11:55 PM on July 24, 2021 [16 favorites]

This might not exactly fit your situation, but I live in an old block of flats in Hong Kong where the biggest risk is fire; there are no sprinklers in the hallway and only a single stairway out. I'm only a few floors up and could climb down out a window into a back alley, but obviously that's not a great option.

I assume that my evacuation time from me hearing my smoke alarm to getting out in a fire is pretty short, perhaps 20 or 30 seconds. I'm also a renter, which makes things a bit less complicated - I don't have a lot of space, or a ton of possessions. Honestly, there won't be time to grab much, and as horrible as it sounds, I have made my peace with the fact that anything sentimental but not vitally important to my life and safety will have to be left behind. Fires that consume whole buildings are rare here, so I assume that I might be able to go back if the fire isn't in my flat but one above or below or next to mine.

My go bag is a light duffel that is flattened, open and unzipped, on one shelf of my wardrobe, on top of which the contents of my go bag are arranged as if it was a normal shelf. The duffel can thus be zipped over the contents of the shelf and taken as a whole if I need to leave, but remain accessible otherwise. It weighs almost nothing, a few pounds at most, and can be worn as a backpack.

The go bag shelf contains the following:

- a single folder with all my truly vital, very-irritating-to-replace documents (this is more important because I live overseas); Marie Kondo suggests having literally just the one folder, and they're all in there, from passport to diplomas
- two changes of clothing (one casual, one for work), a pair of flip-flops and two face masks
- a set of house keys
- some cash and a loaded-up transit card
- my hard drives and my laptop (which charges on the shelf, so it'll be there if the alarm goes off in the middle of the night) and extra cables for these

I feel like this would be enough to get me through at least the first 24-48 hours and help me set up at a temporary shelter if I had to abandon my flat forever, because evacuation in such a densely populated place will be a matter of, happily, just crossing a street or walking a few blocks. I also have a locker at the office where I keep a few extra things I might need, like:

- another set of work clothes and my work shoes (which I leave at work anyway)
- another set of house keys
- a spare bank card
- some basic toiletries and a quick-drying sports towel
- everything related to my employment that isn't digital (happily, this isn't much)

Good luck. It's better to be prepared than not - a few friends lived in a building a few floors up from a flat that went up in flames and were quite panicked to find themselves outside with only their keys and their phone for hours until they could return after the firefighters gave the all-clear. Don't be them, wondering if your most important, expensive or annoying-to-replace items will be OK.
posted by mdonley at 12:09 AM on July 25, 2021 [17 favorites]

Don't forget some clean socks, clean underwear, maybe a couple of light t-shirts, toothbrush etc, maybe some wipes. Some water and granola bars or similar for emergency rations.
posted by thelonius at 2:16 AM on July 25, 2021 [3 favorites]

I strive to be a minimalist, but also have a minor degree of sentimentality. I have taken pictures of most of my sentimental paperwork that are stored in the cloud. I have a single 12x6 box of old photos, boyfriend letters etc. If I had a couple hours of warning and suspected my house would be destroyed I would probably grab it. So, if possible keep all your sentimental stuff in a downsized container then it's ready to go, aside from what has been copied to the cloud.

Our evacuation kit is similar to a camping or travel kit. Power supplies, food that doesn't necessarily have to be cooked, basic tools, medications, pet stuff including rabies vaccination proof.

I keep all the important identity papers in a small fire proof safe and would just grab the whole thing if needed as it's got insurance forms, car titles etc also.

Depending on your value system and the problem in question, a legal and registered firearm and ammo might he part of that kit. If things go sideways enough for lawlessness, some form of defense is often recommended. We don't have any guns but we would work on alliance building, such as if a hurricane wiped everything and we are hanging on our roofs awaiting boat evacuation, helping those around us in crisis with hope that would afford some protection if needed. Thinking about how you'd deal with looting or territoriality or other similar issues might help give you peace of mind.
posted by crunchy potato at 7:44 AM on July 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

Make a fire-resistant storage space, preferably below ground, safer from heat. There are instructions online. I don't have the expertise to assess them. This is for valuables and relatively important papers and stuff.

-My go bag has an emergency radio/flashlight, headlamp, batteries, altoids tin with some cash, tiny 1st aid kit, couple bottles of water, granola bars, fleece pullover, trash bag (emergency rain gear), extra plastic bags, socks, hat, gloves, some instant handwarmers, mylar blanket, pocket knife, cheapass multi-tool, hard candies, deck of cards, book. I should add a charger for my phone.
-My car has a few tools, at least 1 blanket, 1st aid kit, water, rope, paracord, socks, jacket. I just got a battery jumpstarter with USB because I like to car camp and it's easy to kill the battery by leaving a door open or whatever.
-Make a list of what to grab, this will save real time and you'll feel better if you have to leave, knowing you have the critical stuff. Pet & carrier (leash), phone, charger, laptop, purse, charger, go bag, hard drives, documents, jewelry, etc.

This is a smart ask.me, preparing can save your stuff, maybe your life. Keep the car at least 1/2 full of gas during fire season, keep a blanket, water, change of clothes and spare toothbrush in it, that kind of thing. Right Now, make a plan to back up data online, document accounts, insurance, etc., photograph/ digitize stuff. Honestly, disasters are going to be a new way of life for most of us; how we prepare may vary. Get a backpack or container that looks okay, because it should be ready most/all the time.
posted by theora55 at 8:06 AM on July 25, 2021 [6 favorites]

Hey there. I live in Fire and Earthquake Country. I've also had a couple of friends lose everything in fires, so this is a personal subject for me.

I have a fire resistant large briefcase, that contains roughly the following:

An accordion folder with all of my crucial papers and documents. Especially important for me, as I am Transgender.
Some cash.
A change of clothes.
A pair of sturdy boots and socks, in case I need to go somewhere without shoes on.
A few day's supply of my medication.
A travel mug.
A mala - I'm Buddhist.
A notebook and pencil/pen/eraser/sharpener.
An older cell phone, that I can put a sim card into later. But it'll at least work on wifi.
And last but not least, a couple of magazines and a small, portable chess set. I imagine that there'll be lots of downtime and not lots of internet; this will keep me from being completely bored.

I do need to change it up, so I can take out a few unnecessary items, and replace them with crucial ones - like my mac backup hd. Also need to add a thumb drive, with important info on that as well.
posted by spinifex23 at 2:00 PM on July 25, 2021 [2 favorites]

I have 2 go bag backpacks. One is at the office. My office was across the street from the WTC on 9/11. In that bag is a portable radio, flashlight, masks for breathing, bottled water, an MRE (from my son in the Army.) a small box cutter, some rope and matches and a lighter.

At home, I have a fire safe. All of my important papers such as birth certificate, and other government type docs that would be a nightmare to replace are in there. They have also been scanned and put on a usb drive that I keep in another location. Family photos have all been scanned in. I have my grandfather's immigration papers in the fire safe. Also some family jewelry. My to go backpack is simply a change of clothes, and anything I need for an overnight or two trip such as toothbrush, toiletries, etc. I keep bottles of water in my truck. My plan is to get the fuck out and buy whatever I need when I get to where I am going. I would also take my firearms from the gun safe. I also keep about $500 in cash handy to grab. I would also grab my medications if I had time, but those too can be replaced. I have 3 cell phones I use interchangeably switching the sim card so I would probably grab as many of those as were right available. I also keep a first aid kit in my truck.
posted by AugustWest at 4:54 PM on July 25, 2021 [3 favorites]

I took this thread as a prompt to rearrange my go bag, and I took this chance to add something that I had missed before - my pair of old prescription glasses. They're not perfect, but they're better than having to go without glasses at all.

Also, chocolate. Having something both comforting and caffeinated will probably also help.
posted by spinifex23 at 8:31 PM on July 25, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Here's the list from FEMA - Ready.gov
posted by Miko at 12:23 PM on July 26, 2021 [5 favorites]

The following are just some old links I've saved on this topic. I'm not going to try to merge/sift the advice vs. the loads of good advice above. I just figured I'd provide the links for whatever they might be worth (???). I also realize only portions of these may touch on the Go Bag itself (but look for synonyms like "Bug Out Bag" or "Get Out Of Dodge Bag"). FWIW.

AskMeFi 2020
AskMeFi 2019
AskMeFi 2013
A blogger post from 2015

One particular bit of advice I'll provide is that we bought this collapsible hand truck if we ever have to actually walk away from our home and/or get the stuff to our car quick. Since then we've found lots of uses for it where our real hand truck won't fit or is too heavy. Unfortunately that one doesn't seem to be available anymore but the picture gives you the idea.
posted by forthright at 3:43 PM on July 26, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for yr comments. Gonna go back through them all for specifics. Like many of you have mentioned I've lost important things to sudden, unexpected events too, so I really appreciate the responses/suggestions
posted by I'm always feeling, Blue at 5:22 PM on July 26, 2021

The right bag is essential.

Last year when there were fires here I wanted to make a ditch bag.

I narrowed it down to nine bags and decided that I would fill my favorite one with the most important stuff and my least favorite with the least important stuff. If needed I could drop each one in order of importance/favorite.
posted by bendy at 10:17 PM on July 26, 2021 [1 favorite]

My daughter lost her house in a fire last fall-she and her boyfriend had just an hour or so to leave but the fire was far away and they really didn’t anticipate losing the house. They got out because trees were falling in the wind and they thought they’d be trapped (and thank god they left when they did-I can’t think too hard about that). I will say what she still mourns, a year later, is a quilt and photo album I made her when she was a baby, and some Christmas ornaments. The biggest annoyance is her lost passport. So if there are a few items that you would mourn a year from now, have a plan for them if you have time to take more than just a go-bag.
posted by purenitrous at 10:20 PM on July 27, 2021 [3 favorites]

That's quite good advice. Think in terms of replaceable/irreplaceable. Most items are replaceable with enough money. But handmade things, sentimental things, cannot be replaced - if you have time for more than essentials, prioritise those.
posted by Miko at 9:53 AM on July 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

All of the advice above is good, but I'd add that you should rehearse finding your bag and leaving with it. It will reveal any hitches with where you plan to store it, how heavy it is, etc. And having even a vague muscle memory of the grab and go process will be helpful when you're in an actual stressful situation.
posted by harriet vane at 7:45 PM on August 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

Consumer Reports Prepare Now for Wildfires also has a go-bag list.
because AskMe comes up in searches.
posted by theora55 at 9:27 AM on September 2, 2021

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