Pretty soon, some people began putting a bag in their vehicles and calling that a bug out bag. "Hey, I may need to leave work because of the Great Meteor and I might need this stuff to get home!" Obviously true enough, but the naming offended those of us with a sense of orderliness (also known as "you OCD a-holes") and we decided to give it a name more descriptive of it actual use, the "Get Home Bag" or "Get Me Home Bag".
Your Plan A should always be "drive home", which means you probably won't need anything in this bag. Plan A is a wonderful thing, but as the old saying goes, "All plans are out of date upon contact with the enemy." If there is a sudden catastrophic event, say the Great Meteor, panic may well clog every road in sight, leaving you to resort to Plan B, which is grabbing your Get Home Bag and hoofing it home. Aside: While you don't resort to Plan B too quickly, but don't wait too long, either. There's no rule of thumb to know when it's time to abandon your vehicle. You'll have to trust your finely honed sense of survival to tell you.
The purpose of the Get Home Bag is simple--to get you home in one piece, safely and quickly, in the event you find yourself on foot and need to walk home. It isn't going to allow you to get 10 people to their homes and it won't allow you to venture off into the woods and restart Western Civilization after a collapse. It's the minimum stuff you need to get home from where you are when things get hairy, in an expeditious fashion, in good health and without getting hurt.
Note I said "minimum". This is a key concept. Some of the get home bag content lists I've seen posted make me think they aren't going home, since they've packed home in their ruck. This is contrary to the driving idea of getting home in a hurry. If the world has suddenly went pear-shaped, the longer you are outside the boundaries of your home, the greater the chances that you will be outside them permanently. You aren't some spec-ops super soldier and you aren't going to hump an 80 pound ruck 25 miles a day. Most of us will do good if we can carry 20 pounds 10 miles a day, and that's the ugly truth of it.
So, how do you build a get home bag that fits in that 20 pound limit but that still covers all the possibilities you might find yourself confronting? Simple. Take everything with you.
Yep, if your vehicle will allow it, take everything you think you might possibly need with you. If it doesn't, obviously you'll need to reduce your list to what the vehicle will allow, but I'm serious--take it all. Take summer clothes, winter clothes, rain gear, two weeks of food, whatever you think it will take to get you home. Stuff it in some big cheap duffel bags, plastic totes or whatever fits your vehicle best. And take a good ruck that will let you carry 20 pounds of gear. Pack that on top. Explanation in a bit.
Let's take a bit of an aside into "What constitutes 'everything'?" While that could be an entire topic of its own, we'll keep it simple. Apply the 80/20 rule. Consider the places you find yourself 80% of the time. Plan your list based on those places. For example, 90%+ of the time, I'm within a 35 mile radius of home. Given my health, my physical abilities, the terrain I'd have to travel and the density of population, I allow for a 5 day trip. That means I only have to cover 7 miles per day. If I do better, great, but I only have to manage 7. I know that, barring accident or injury, I can manage that while carrying 20 pounds on my back.
Knowing that I'm planning on a 5 day trip, that tells me how much I need in terms of consumables, such as food. Knowing the terrain tells me what I will need in terms of shelter (this will also vary dependent on the season) as well as the availability of water. Population density guides me in terms of knowing will I be able to walk the roads or stay concealed, moving at night and thus moving more slowly as well as how well I need to be armed. My physical abilities dictate my load.
Time of year will figure into this as well. If it's summer, you'll probably want to wait out the heat of the day, moving in the cooler mornings, evenings and nights, potentially slowing down your travel. Cold weather will dictate warmer clothes and more shelter, including sleeping gear, plus more food.
I'm going to assume at this point you're starting to get the idea. You know where you are most of the time, you've considered your routes home, you have paid attention to them and have some idea what it would be like to walk them, and you've considered what and how much gear you'd need to make it happen if you had to do it on foot.
So gather up all that gear--the spring, the summer, the fall and the winter. It will probably be a pretty big pile. Start sorting--do I absolutely have to have this item? Is it something for comfort, something for safety or something that I will die without if I really need it? Under what circumstances will I need it? Only you can say if it stays in the pile, but you're going to have to be hard-nosed about it unless you drive a tractor-trailer to work. Try to keep it down to food/water/water purification, shelter, rain gear, minimum clothing (but enough clothing for all possibilities), enough food, a very basic medical kit, sleeping gear and the following items that I do not believe are optional:
- A small pair of binoculars
- Two small LED flashlights that use the same battery type and spare batteries
- The smallest AM or AM/FM radio you can find, preferably one that uses the same batteries as the flashlights
- Maps that cover your area and a good compass, plus a backup compass (can be a button compass, but have a backup)
- A small bag that will attach to your belt and hold one of your flashlights, some spare batteries, a couple of space blankets, 25' of paracord, and good knife or better a multitool, matches in a match safe, a lighter, a 55 gallon trash bag and your spare compass
- A pistol, holster, spare magazines and spare ammo
We're getting ahead of ourselves, but time for a Pro Tip: The pistol, spare mags and the small bag stay on your person at all times when you are on your way home. Period. If you get separated from your main bag, you still have a chance. It won't be fun, but you have a chance.
Some people will also feel the urgent need to add a two-way radio of some sort. I don't recommend it as I feel it's wasted weight, but if you feel it's worth it, you're the one humping the weight, not me.
So, you have all this stuff in your vehicle, taking up half the trunk. You wag it around, you have to pull it out to vacuum the trunk and you have to pull it out to inspect it every so often. You have to replace some items, such as food, periodically. It's a pain.
And one day at work, the Giant Meteor shows up.
Intelligent you, rather than wait around for someone to say "Go!", you make the executive decision to bail. Out to the parking lot, into your vehicle, out onto the road and in 15 minutes you find yourself in another parking lot because a trucker has jackknifed his big rig trying to miss some panicked fool who cut him off. Great. Now you and everyone who was behind Mr. Panicked Fool are stuck. AAA is nowhere in sight, neither are the state troopers.
But you are prepared. Time to saddle up and take a walk. You already have your pistol on, right? Be sure it's concealed, because there is no sense adding to the building panic. Be calm, act calm if you can't be calm, get out and go to the trunk. Pop it open and grab that empty ruck. Next to it is that bag with the binoculars and so on. Put it on your belt. Try to keep an eye on what is going on around you, because you'll probably attract attention. From all the gear you have, select the things you need based on where you are, the time of year and how far you're going to be walking. Get it in the bag or attached to the bag and don't worry about neat for now. Get the bag on, slam the trunk and leave. You can find a quieter place to pack the bag properly in a little while. For now, you just need to leave the milling herd behind. You have miles to walk before you sleep. In your shelter, in your sleeping gear, after you have eaten a reasonably decent meal. You're way ahead of the herd, and you'll be home in a day or two. Heck, your cell phone even worked for a while, and you were able to text the wife and kids, confirm they were OK, that they were at home or close and let them know what your situation was.
You, my friend were prepared. Congratulations.