How to Build a Get Home Bag (+Book Giveaway)

by A Manly Guest Contributor on May 10, 2012 · 2,228 comments

in Manly Skills, Survival

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Creek Stewart, Senior Instructor at the Willow Haven Outdoor School for Survival, Preparedness & Bushcraft

Just over one year ago I wrote a post about how to build a 72-hour disaster survival kit called a Bug Out Bag.  Much of my time between then and now has been spent writing a book on the same subject–a more detailed and thorough version of that post.  The title of that book is Build the Perfect Bug Out Bag: Your 72-Hour Disaster Survival Kit (to win a copy, see the giveaway section below).

If you liked the post about how to build a Bug Out Bag, then you are going to like this post as well.  Your Get Home Bag is just as important as your Bug Out Bag.  Look at it as your Bug Out Bag’s little brother.  They are similar in concept and design, but the end goal is altogether different.

I’d like to open this post with an excerpt from my book–actually the first opening paragraph:

You can hear the sirens in the distance. Your electricity is out, and your home phone has no dial tone. When you try to use your cell phone, you get the same message over and over: “All circuits are busy.”  You know a disaster is quickly approaching. And you know that waiting this one out is not an option. In the breath-taking stillness, you can hear the clock on the wall. Tick-tock, tick-tock. The eleventh hour is here.

Now, imagine this… YOU ARE AT WORK!  As you reach under your desk to grab your Get Home Bag (GHB), thoughts of your wife and children rush through your mind.  Then, you quietly say to yourself, “This isn’t going to be my typical commute home today.”

As a whole, we spend surprisingly little time at home.  Between our time in a vehicle, at work, in school, running errands, visiting friends, attending meetings and making appointments, some of us spend more time AWAY from home than AT home.  Many of you are nodding in agreement.  These countless hours away from home must be considered when developing your disaster preparedness plan.

What Is a Get Home Bag?

The name says it all.  It is a survival kit designed to get you home in the event that a catastrophic disaster occurs while you are away.  I sometimes call this bag my 24-hour bag, and you’ll rarely find me away from home without it.  A Bug Out Bag is a much more substantial supply kit (typically 72 hours) and stays at home.  It’s not practical to tote your BOB back and forth to work every day.  Your Get Home Bag bridges that preparedness gap.  Depending on the situation, just getting home can be a survival journey in and of itself.

A GHB can take a variety of forms depending on your personal preference.

My GHB is a small backpack and that is what I recommend.  However, I have friends who use duffel bags, fanny packs, web-gear, sling packs and even spare briefcases.  Ultimately that is your decision, but I prefer the hands-free utility of a backpack.

Is a Get Home Bag Even Necessary?

There is an infinite list of events that could warrant the use of a Get Home Bag.  Many are regular occurrences.  A GHB doesn’t have to save you from TEOTWAWKI (the end of the world as we know it) to be a worthy investment.  Even if never put to that grave test, a GHB can provide for you in countless other less catastrophic scenarios.  Below is a short list of events from the news headlines in the past few years that could possibly interfere with your immediate and uninterrupted commute home.  I’m certain several people reading this article can account for some of these from personal experience.

  • Severe weather
  • Power grid failure (black-outs)
  • Vehicle Break-Down
  • Terrorist Attack
  • Acts of war
  • Bridge collapse
  • Tornadoes
  • Tsunamis
  • Flooding
  • Winter storms
  • Zombie apocalypse!!!

Certainly, some disasters are more devastating than others.  Millions of people have found themselves in need of a Get Home Bag at some point in their lives.  For some, not having one has cost them their future.

I was watching a documentary the other day which interviewed survivors of the 9-11 terrorist attacks years later.  I was surprised at the severe lung problems people have developed from inhaling the dust, fumes, smoke, and pulverized building material while escaping from in and around Ground Zero.  It was an after effect I had never considered.  An N95 face mask (mentioned later) in a Get Home Bag could have eliminated these ailments.

Assembling a GHB is not a daunting task and can easily be done in one afternoon.  For the investment of time, money, and energy, I know of very few other things in life that can have such a dramatic and lasting effect on your future than a Get Home Bag–should you ever need to use it.

Your Get Home Bag Packing List

Below is my list of recommended GHB supplies.  I fully expect for you to make your own additions and subtractions from this list.  After all, it is YOUR kit.  Different lifestyles, careers, and environments are all factors that will dictate the items in your kit.  These kits are very personal.

1 Liter of Water in a Metal Container.  I suggest a metal container because it gives you the option to boil water and/or cook in if necessary.  I also carry a metal cup that fits snugly on the bottom of my metal Nalgene.

Food + Water

3-6 Energy Bars.  Don’t over pack with elaborate meals.  High calorie bars are simple and sufficient meal substitutes.  They require no heating or preparation–now that’s my kind of meal!

Rain Poncho + Tarp

Rain Poncho.  I personally use a military version with grommets in the corners which can be used as an improvised shelter if necessary.  Being wet is not only miserable, it’s deadly.  Hypothermia is the # 1 outdoor killer, and your vulnerability skyrockets when you are wet–even in temperatures as high as 50 degrees.

Lightweight Tarp.  I pack this to use as a shelter canopy.  It can also be used as a ground cover and many things in between.

Boots + Change of Clothes

Walking Shoes / Hiking Boots. Especially for people who wear dress shoes to work, this is a really important addition.  Pack a comfortable pair of tennis shoes at the very least.  A good pair of wool hiking socks isn’t a bad idea either.

A change of clothes and a pair of leather gloves allows you to change out of your suit and into something that offers more protection and maneuverability.

A Change of Weather Appropriate Clothing.  Trade out your 3-piece suit for a more practical survival outfit.  This should include a durable pair of leather gloves and a hat.

Lighters + Fire Starting Tinder

Fire Starting Tools and Prepared Fire Tinder.  Pick up a couple of bic cigarette lighters.  They are inexpensive and dependable.  Also pack some fire starting tinder.  I prefer the WetFire brand but a quick do-it-yourself substitute is cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly.  If you need to start a fire, these 2 items will get you 98% of the way there.

A quality mulit-tool is an essential.

Quality Multi-Tool.  This tool should have a solid knife blade, a saw blade, pliers, flat head and cross point drivers, and wire cutters.  When you need one of these tools, no substitute will quite do the trick.  Many will add a fixed blade knife as well. (Machete is optional.)

Pack a headlamp along with an extra battery.

Headlamp.  Pack a good quality, hands-free, water-resistant headlamp flashlight.  Toss in an extra battery while you’re at it.

First Aid Kit.  This kit should include basic first aid supplies such as bandages, gauze pads, medical tape, splint, tweezers, lip balm, moleskin, insect repellant, sunscreen, small mirror, and a variety of basic medications–Tylenol, aspirin, antacids, Dramamine, etc.  If you wear contacts, be sure to include a back-up pair of glasses as well.

Hygiene + First Aid Kit

Hygiene Kit.  This kit should include items such as a small towel, toothbrush and paste, bandana (multiple uses), toilet paper, and soap.  A pack of disinfecting wet napkins are perfect for quick “spit-baths.”  Hand sanitizer is always a winner.

Emergency Blanket

Emergency Blanket.  Emergency mylar blankets are cheap, lightweight, and compact.  Not only can they save your life in a cold weather environment, but they can also double as a quickie shelter, waterproof gear cover, and rain poncho.  I prefer the Heatsheet brand from Adventure Medical Kits.

Face Mask

N95 Face Mask.  Whether from debris, dust, or sickness, protect your lungs with a N95 face mask.  Your t-shirt is not sufficient.

Pepper Spray + Pistol

Self-Defense Items.  Disasters are a breeding ground for frustration, desperation, and confrontation.  Violent crimes skyrocket in the wake and aftermath of any large scale disaster.  Ideally, your self-defense items should keep some distance between you and an attacker.  Avoid hand-to-hand combat at all costs.  I pack some pepper spray (attached with Velcro to the shoulder strap of my pack) and a compact Kel-Tec P-32 Pistol with 4 extra clips (28 rounds) in my Get Home Bag.

Paper Map and Compass.  Having a paper map of your surrounding area can be invaluable–especially in large cities.  If you are trying to get home–so is everyone else.  Expect and plan for detours.  Ideally, you will have marked several alternative routes home from your place of work.  Do not rely on your cell phone or GPS system.  Your brain is more impressive anyway.

Map, compass, cash, pencil, and paper

Cash Money.  Cash doesn’t need to communicate with the power grid and it speaks everyone’s language.  Pack small denominations in a variety of places.  Never reveal all of your duckets at once.

Paper & Pencil.  Perfect for recording information or leaving notes.  I use the Rite-in-the-Rain brand.

Paracord and Emergency Radio

100 Feet of Paracord.  1000’s of uses, only a few ounces.  Trust me on this one–just pack it.

USB cell phone charger for radio

Emergency Radio.  Pick up a small Dynamo hand-crank emergency radio.  Make sure it receives NOAA All Hazard Weather Alerts. I picked mine up at Radio Shack for $40.  This could be your only source of disaster-related information in an emergency.  Get a model that has an integrated USB cell phone charger–very cool feature and highly recommended.

Rescue Signal Items. Small signal mirror (mentioned in First Aid) and a whistle.

The weight of my GHB is only 14 lbs.  The items could easily be packed into a smaller bag, but I like the flexibility of more space–especially in cold months when I toss in a heavy fleece, gloves, hat, and shell.


I’d like to close with another excerpt from my book which discusses the importance of preparation:

Clearly, there is more to consider than just a [Bug Out Bag]. Hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, terrorists, wild fires, plagues and foreign invaders will show you no mercy. None of these disasters will pause while you argue about where to go or whether or not to take Freckles the Ferret with you. Survival is not about guarantees—there is always a gamble and the disaster typically has the house advantage. The only way to increase your odds of living is to plan and prepare in advance.

HOME not only represents safety and security but many of us also have families who depend on our safe and timely return.   When getting home becomes your first priority, reach for your Get Home Bag.  What’s in your GHB?

Remember, it’s not IF but WHEN,


Build the Perfect Bug Out Bag: Your 72-Hour Disaster Survival Kit Giveaway

Creek’s new book, Build the Perfect Bug Out Bag: Your 72-hour Disaster Survival Kit, is out now and available on This awesome 200 page book includes 350 photos and goes much more in-depth about building and using your Bug Out Bag. The book covers:

  • A complete Bug Out Bag checklist that tells you exactly what to pack based on your survival skill level
  • Photos and explanations of every item you need in your bag
  • Resource lists to help you find and purchase gear
  • Practice exercises that teach you how to use almost everything in your bag
  • Demonstrations for multi-use items that save pack space and weight
  • Specific gear recommendations for common disasters

The book also includes sections on special considerations for bugging out with children, the elderly, the physically disabled, and even pets.

Creek is giving away 3 copies of his book to three lucky Art of Manliness readers. To win a copy of Build the Perfect Bug Out Bag: Your 72-hour Disaster Survival Kit, just leave a comment telling us one thing you consider essential for packing in a Bug Out or Get Home bag.

Three comments will be randomly drawn as the winners. Giveaway ends May 17, 2012 at 12:00 pm CST.


The giveaway is closed. The three winners are:

Colin S. from Dallas, TX.
Michael H. from Oakland, CA
Scott S. from Islip Terrace, NY


2201 PilotWithNoName May 18, 2012 at 6:13 pm

This article is great, a grab bag is essential. In mine I have a small mag compass, and a map of the local area. Also a few Iodine tablets to purify water, in addition to everything you mention above (exception on the gun, I have a Seecamp .32).

2202 10th Ammendment Yankee May 18, 2012 at 7:17 pm

Number 1 and 2 items are so you can go 1 and 2. TP and or Wipes. Don’t leave home without em!

You can go awhile without chow, short ime without water, but everyone will need 1 pit stop to take a 2.

2203 Steve Orman May 18, 2012 at 7:27 pm

Great post! I loved the previous bug out bag post. The toughest part of getting it together was not anything related to the BOB or it’s contents, it was getting my wife to understand the necessity of it. Since she was in SFO for the Loma Prieta quake in ’89 she may understand the GHB more. The one essential item for both bags really is the will to put it together and keep it together.

2204 Jo May 19, 2012 at 12:20 am

Ok so you ask for our thought on you GHB, so here are my thoughts and I will say that my thoughts are tainted in the needs of my GHB. For me a GHB is only need for a max time frame of 24 hours, so all the tools in my GHB are to aid me to survive for 24 hours and get home. So here are my thoughts on your list:

-Water I like you thought but a good hydro pack can contain all the water you need for a day.
-Food like your thoughts
-the Rain poncho I like being wet can be a psychological downer, but again the need for overnight shelter I do not agree with, I will sleep when I get home. Rest is one thing I may need but sleep can wait till home.
-Same for the light tarp I need not a shelter; I am not making camp I am pushing on till home.
- Walking Shoes / Hiking Boots I would agree good Hiking boots (or shoes) and at least 1 par of extra wicking socks. Dry feet are happy feet.
- A Change of Weather Appropriate Clothing. This is great I do not think of it as I work in all I would needed, and the glove that was a great thought one that I had missed but is in my GHB now.
-ok fire is nice and a BIC is in my pack, but again I go back to this is my GHB and unless in it winter and freezing I am not going to take the time to have a fire. I know this as some on that one night walk ~10 mile in the winter with no winter clothing looking to just get home; fire is not needed for a GHB.
-some may not agree but you always need a good Multi-tool it is worth is weight in gold (just my thought). As well I thing a good fixed blade is a must too, a machete like took is a great option too.
-Headlamp with extra batters cannot bet it.
-Your first aid kit seemed to me to be right on the mark too
-Hygiene kit this to me is a west of space and weight. I will brush my teeth and wash my hands when I get home. BUT I do agree with having some TP and some hand sanitizer for after.
-Emergency Blanket – well how can you argue with having one of these?
-N95 Face Mask, well I thought this was to specific thing, BUT then after a little bit of thought this is a great idea and I need to get one.
-Self-defense items, well I cannot agree more with a gun ( my chose is a little bigger than yours but that is all good), but the pepper spray is a great idea. That is a nice non leather option.
-Paper map and compass is just given
-Cash I know for me I would hope that I would not need in and as only a 24 hour GMB I do not see what I would need to buy. Any one that you meet that you have to pay off will just take all you have, that is why you have a gun.
-paper & pencil this like maps are a good think on case one you way home something changes you can levee a not for some one that may be looking for you.
-Paracord is in nice but I do not think this is need in any way. BUT with that said it is so none intrusive and light it is worth having it.
-Emergency radio this is nothing but brilliant, I was so focused on getting home I had forgotten that I should also be thinking of what happen and what is happing because it?
- Rescue Signal Items this too is good.

2205 Dominic Scavo May 19, 2012 at 5:06 am

Go ahead and drop, give me twenty!!!! THOSE ARE MAGAZINES, NOT CLIPS!

Great article, though.

2206 Joey R May 19, 2012 at 5:15 am

I would throw in a little book to keep me busy if I have down time and I have to wait something out (assuming I’ve already found shelter, food and water)

2207 Seth Martin May 19, 2012 at 1:07 pm

Iodine tablets/Backpacking Water Filter. If water is knocked out, you can disinfect water which is arguably one of the most important things.

2208 josh May 19, 2012 at 8:12 pm

Besides Strretwise maps and printing something like Google maps, who else sells small maps of your area or has them for download? Especially parks/ bodies of water so I can grab some water if needed. I live in Queens NY.

2209 Chuck May 19, 2012 at 8:26 pm

@ Luke – I was in DC on Capitol HIll on 9/11/01.There were plenty of people who did with a LOT less than this and still got home. Same for NYC. That being said, there were a lot of folks who would have been a lot happier had they been prepared with a bag like this. MOst of the folks that I knew that had the worst time were trying to get home back in the District. My wife and I had a plan of action from that day forth and have kept supplies in our vehicles ever since. She goes so far as to never let her gas tank get below 1/2 a tank, but I’ve relaxed on that. I need to start doing that again, too.

2210 Dox May 19, 2012 at 8:56 pm

A pocket survival guide as a quick reference so even while stressed you will have the basics down if needed .

2211 Dan the Man May 20, 2012 at 1:09 am

A “Dead On Annihilator” or a “Crovel” would make a great addition to a BOB. The Annihilator is a Demo Hammer/Wrecking Bar made in two sizes 18″ and 14″.
It can be used for; prying open doors, lifting manhole lids, breaking windows, removing nails, self defense, removing bolts, I would recommend you pick it according to your personal needs. With a pipe over the end you can increase the leverage exponentially.
The Crovel has a handle with a pic axe on one end. The space end of the shovel has a serrated saw on one side and a knife-edge on the other. The other side of that crowbar/pickaxe is a hammer.The handle is wrapped in 15-feet of 550 paracord so you can climb to safety if need be. This very interesting tool has 13 tools for all sorts of tasks.

2212 Dave May 20, 2012 at 11:36 am

I feel that you would be better served with a strikeforce flint and steal over the lighters. It does not depend on fuel, and would work in a wider variety of situations.

2213 Betamale May 20, 2012 at 2:32 pm

A small canister of baking soda, a survival knife, and roll of duct tape. All three of them have a million and one uses.

2214 don May 21, 2012 at 12:58 am

A devotional book to make sure you keep your spirits up – HOPE.

2215 Isaac May 21, 2012 at 1:47 am

I like what your doing here, but…
when you say “a compact Kel-Tec P-32 Pistol with 4 extra clips” I think you mean “mags” or “magazines” (clips are what little girls wear in their hair).

2216 Felipe May 21, 2012 at 10:28 am

A pistol.

2217 Steve May 21, 2012 at 11:35 am

I wear contacts so I would need a pair of perscription glasses and a set of clip on sunglasses for them so I could take out my contacts and still see.

2218 Patrick May 21, 2012 at 11:41 am

A gun? You are advocating that people store Pepper Spray and a weapon at work? You better check your bag, because in most states this will land you in jail.

2219 Kris May 21, 2012 at 12:20 pm

Sunglasses and/or a hat with a brim. I wear sunglasses all year. Normally I don’t like to wear hats, but they help you stay warm and protect your eyes.

2220 Debbra W May 21, 2012 at 6:02 pm

I’m an old lady who lives in the forest. The only thing that could make me leave is if we had a very large earthquake (I live in the S Bdo mountains) and there were landslides here. If we had to leave I would be taking two children and their mum with me. How would we prepare for so many and young people?

2221 Kenny L. May 21, 2012 at 11:05 pm

I’ve found that quick dry underwear is a must have for such situations…

2222 JT May 22, 2012 at 1:24 am

Items missing are water purification tablets, cash because cash is king and photo ID

2223 Glenn May 22, 2012 at 8:12 am

Multi-tool and cash. Though the top item will always be attitude.

2224 Victor May 23, 2012 at 5:13 am

great article.
i would love to gave this book

2225 Matt May 23, 2012 at 10:18 am

A great edition to this, and especially the BOB would be a kel-tec sub2000. I have one and it compacts super small into a provided cloth case. It can double for hunting as well as self-defense.

Great post though. The book looks awesome

2226 Mike K May 23, 2012 at 12:26 pm


The book looks great i will be picking it up if i dont win.

2227 JB May 23, 2012 at 1:38 pm

50 SPF…travel size with provisions for carbiner connect.

2228 Colin May 23, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Great to see such a great tutorial for this! I plan on building my own BOB and BHB! Scouts taught me to always be prepared.

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