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The Best Bug-Out Bags, Emergency Kits, and Go-Bags for Your Family

If disaster strikes, it's essential to be prepared. Here, with assistance from survivalist Les Stroud, is how to create a bug-out bag for your needs.

It goes without saying that we live in a world full of uncertainty. But when you have kids that uncertainty suddenly becomes way less abstract — action’s required. There’s truth in the adage Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. At a minimum, the act of preparing helps alleviate the very real worries around hurricanes, floods, wildfires, super viruses, and other such events. You can’t control everything — or even much — but you can control how ready you are.

“The majority of people never think that a disaster will happen to them,” cautions Karina Warshaw, a first responder and the co-founder of VLES designs, a company that specializes in emergency go-bags. “When things do go bad, they are struggling to get by.” A 2015 FEMA study that found that fewer than 60 percent of Americans are practicing emergency preparedness.

“Throw away the thought that it can’t happen to you, because it can,” says Les Stroud, famed Canadian survival expert from the hit TV series Survivorman and author of such books as Will to Live and Survive! – Essential Skills and Tactics to Get You Out of Anywhere–Alive.

“Natural disasters and society disasters, such as a loss of power, are not going to stop happening — we all know there will be something happening again sooner or later,” says Stroud. “It takes such little effort to prepare, yet the payoff can be very profound.”

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You can either build your own family emergency kit or look to companies like Uncharted Supply Co., Echo-Sigma, and Emergency Zone for premade go-bags that suit families and needs of all sizes (see below for our recommendations on prepacked survival kits). Affordable, portable, and packed with short-term survival essentials, their sole purpose is to arm you with the gear you need to get out of town should a life-or-death situation develop.

Stroud strongly advocates creating your own family emergency go-bag — one that “works for your own family’s individual needs” — for the simple reason that the hands-on nature of putting one together makes you aware of its contents and is an act of mental preparation in and of itself. “People must become comfortable making their own bug-out bags through research and learning,” he adds.

It’s important to keep in mind that you aren’t planning for a fun family escape to the woods. These evacuation essentials are designed for survival during the first 72 hours after an emergency strikes. You’ll want to source items that are easy to carry and durable in unpredictable conditions. And take note: In light of COVID-19, the CDC now also recommends that every family survival kit include face masks or cloth face coverings for everyone over the age of 2, soap, hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes to disinfect surfaces.

What to Pack in a Bug-Out Bag or Family Go-Bag

There’s no shortage of online communities and websites completely dedicated to survivalism and preparedness. Popular digital destinations like The Ultimate Bug Out Bag Guide, The Prepared, and Ready To Go Survival are teeming with resources related to the topic, ranging from how-to-videos to in-depth gear reviews.

All of these sources keep updated master lists of everything you could possibly need in a bug-out bag. But at the end of the day, only you can ultimately decide what needs to be included in your family’s survival kit. Personalization is paramount.

“I recommend one bug-out bag per person,” he says. “Each family member, including all adults and any children capable of carrying, should have their own bug-out bag — personally designed — that they are familiar with.”

In addition to the general must-have survival elements, what should parents evacuating with kids in tow bring? Consider the below list as a starting point. Include any additional items that you feel would be absolutely necessary, and engage your kids in preparing their own bags so they’re familiar with the contents.

Go-Bag Essentials for Babies

  • Diapers: Diapers are so lightweight, it’ll be easy to bring enough to last a 72-hour period. The absorbency of diapers also helps them come in handy as cold or hot packs when emergencies strike.
  • Dry formula: Even if your baby is still breastfeeding, you’ll want to make sure to keep a healthy supply of dry formula packets on hand, just in case.
  • Bottle: Bring a bottle should you need to resort to using dry formula (plus, you can use the nipple as a pacifier, or store other items inside the bottle for extra protection).
  • Pacifier: Because a pacified baby beats a crying baby.
  • Antibacterial wipes While these can be used for the whole family, they’ll come in handy for a quick baby bath or other sanitation purposes.
  • Baby carrier You’ll want to be able to use your hands and carry your baby comfortably.

Go-Bag Essentials for Children Ages 3-6

  • Snacks: Food may be scarce, so be sure to bring some of your kid’s favorite snacks along. Bonus points if the snacks also pack a jolt of energy or nutrition.
  • Oral hygiene supplies: Keeping to some routine habits, even in extreme situations, can help instill a sense of normalcy and independence ― plus, healthy oral hygiene habits never hurt.
  • Multivitamins: Your child’s diet can be severely challenged in an emergency, so stash a daily vitamin supplement in their bag.
  • Study walking shoes: terrain may be rough, so plan to pack a durable pair of walking shoes.
  • Thermal blanket: A light, metal-coated space blanket is ultra-lightweight and designed to retain heat in colder temperatures. It can even be used as a make-shift shelter.
  • Earplugs: Depending on the scenario, earplugs can help drown out frightening noises during the day and ensure a night of more sound sleep.

Bug-Out Bag Essentials for Children Ages 6+

  • Gum or hard candy: Whether they’re leveraged as an energy-booster or a pick-me-up when morale is low, you’ll be glad you brought a handful of sweets.
  • Pedialyte powder: Children aren’t the best at communicating when they’re thirsty, so avoid dehydration with a few packets of this electrolyte-infused powder.
  • Books: We’re not talking heavy, hard-cover books, but the mind can weaken faster than the body in times of stress ― so keep a favorite paperback close by.
  • Other mind-occupiers: should boredom set in, it’s not a bad idea to have a deck of cards, coloring book, or other such extras on hand.
  • Emergency whistle: Kids 6 and older can let curiosity get the best of them, so arm them with an emergency whistle in case they get separated from the family.
  • Walkie-talkies: When whistles won’t cut it, or the family is planning to temporarily split up, a pair of walkie-talkies will definitely come in hand.

Additional Emergency Items to Keep in Mind

  • Power bank: pack a fully-charged power bank or two to keep cell phones and other necessary electronics charged. Ideally, you want a solar-powered bank that can be refueled via sunlight.
  • Document protection: during periods of uncertainty, it’s imperative to keep your family’s important documents (like birth certificates, social security cards, and passports) with you at all times, so invest in a waterproof document pouch for when you’re on the go.
  • Super Glue and duct tape: in an evacuation scenario, you never know when you’ll need to take a page from the MacGyver playbook (plus, Super Glue and duct tape can be used in a range of medical emergencies).
  • N99 masks: These face masks are effective at filtering out 99 percent of non-oil-based airborne particulate matter, including most pollution, bacteria, and viruses.
  • Extra money: In emergency situations, cash is king. Five-hundred dollars in small bills is a good amount.
  • Sunscreen: Because sun exposure is likely in emergency situations.

The Best Premade Survival Kits for Families 

Many disaster prep and survival companies sell premade bug-out bags: rugged backpacks you store in your home that are stocked with the basic survival tools to help you make it through the first 72 hours of an emergency — the most important period after any disaster: “That’s when almost 95 percent of all issues in disasters are resolved,” says first responder Warshaw.

These pre-made bug-out bags come in different sizes for different families and are made for different time lengths (some are built to sustain you for more than three days). Whether you’re building your own go-bag or buying one readymade, all should follow FEMA’s recommendations and contain first aid supplies, water, basic survival equipment like flashlights, food, and the tools to construct a basic shelter. It’s also critical that there’s extra room to store copies of vital documents, critical personal medicines, extra cash, and maybe a change of clothes. Even more important is the quality of the bag itself — this will be your “home” in the aftermath of a disaster so it needs to be well-built and able to take a beating.

Here are three of the best pre-packed survival backpacks out there to keep you and your family safe.

This particular premade bug-out go bag was created to meet the Federal Emergency Management Agency guidelines for survival and has enough stuff for your entire family. This is the fully tricked-out bug out bag for your entire family. Including Fido. You get two backpacks, four food bars, 30 water pouches, a folding water container, water purification tablets, and a folding dog dish plus dry dog food. In terms of creature comforts, you get four toothbrushes, toothpaste, razor, comb, shaving cream, shampoo, soap, toilet paper, and other sundries. There's a first-aid kit, plus tweezers, trauma shears, and sterile gauze. But that's not all: Four sleeping bags, ponchos, light sticks, hand warmers, and two tube tents, plus duct tape and a multitool knife. And a dog leash and dog toys.

If you live in a hurricane zone, this bug-out bag has you covered. Though it's designed for folks living in earthquake-prone areas, this two-person go-bag works for other disasters as well. It was customized by military veterans, and contains a first-aid kit, 24 packs of emergency drinking water, and water purification tablets that can treat up to 25 quarts of water. All this is housed in a molle tactical backpack. You also get a crank flashlight, a thermal blanket, tourniquets, poncho, whistle, safety goggles, heavy-duty gloves, pliers, a fire starters, and six glow sticks.

This is a four-person emergency go-bag with its own water-filtration system. You get a Sawyer Squeeze water-filtration system, as well as four liters water and portable stove. The bag also includes 24 servings of food, eight snap lights, two LED lanterns, two flashlights, a fully stocked first aid kit, four emergency blankets, four bowls and utensils, four whistles, a MoraKniv knife, and a fire starter rod.

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