Pray for the best, they say, but prepare for the worst, and that goes double when it comes to readying you and your children for an unexpected emergency. In 2020, both urban and rural families have fled brushfires, evacuated the site of earthquakes, and dashed away from floods and hurricanes. When every second counts and every item is critical, skip the emotion, grab your fully stocked go bag, and get out of Dodge.
Whether you’re auditing a readymade bug-out bag or building your own from scratch — and we’ve included guidelines for both, below — it’s never been easier to be well prepared for the unexpected. A well-provisioned pack includes everything you and your loved ones need to make it through 72 hours, including first aid supplies, water, basic survival equipment like flashlights, shelf-stable snacks, and tools to construct a basic shelter. But even pre-assembled go-bags should be viewed as a starting point — you’ll want to customize all go-bags to fit your family’s needs.
“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,” 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,” says Stroud. “It takes such little effort to prepare, yet the payoff can be profound.”
One final 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
- Water purification pump: The LifeStraw Mission, a gravity water purifier, weighs a little more than a pound but has the capacity to purify 12 liters of water per hour
- Long-lasting food items. Think: Beef jerky, instant noodles, trail mix, and calorie-rich peanut butter packets.
- Extra clothes: The specifics depend on your location, but clothes should be comfortable and useful for a wide variety of activities and temperatures.
- Fire-starting items: Warmth is a necessity. Such products as Tinder-Quik Fire Tabs, stormproof matches, and a wind- and waterproof lighter are all necessary inclusions.
- Cookery gear: Multi-use utensils, such as this versatile titanium utensil from L.L. Bean, as well as items like collapsible cup/bowl
- Flashlights: A lightweight solar-powered and hand-crank option is a good place to start.
- Medications Based on your personal health needs.
- First-aid supplies: The Adventure Medical Kit, which is waterproof, ultralight, and packed with essential medical supplies is a good option.
- Cutting implement. Something like the Victorinox Hercules pocket knife will do.
- Sleeping bag: Consider the Bearhard Emergency Survival Sleeping Bag, which is durable, heat-trapping, and weighs only 5 ounces.
- A tarp or tent: The aptly-named Don’t Die in the Woods Survival Tent is a good option.
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 to 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 and Older
- 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
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. When buying a pre-assembled emergency kit, make sure there’s enough additional space for copies of vital documents, personal medicines, extra cash, and anything else you’ll need to personalize your kit. Also essential is the quality of the bag itself — this will be your “home” in the aftermath of a disaster so it needs to be well-made, weatherproof and durable.
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.
For families who step out their front door to the Great Outdoors, having a few of these handy is a godsend. A two-liter hydration bladder, excavation tool, rope, and more make this a decidedly survivalist-y option, but its component parts will pay off in a jam. While it doesn't include provisions, the 42-liter pack can be easily supplemented with a few kid- and parent-friendly favorites.
This bag contains enough provisions for four people to survive a disaster. 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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