Monday, April 10, 2017

A get-home kit for emergency use

In the light of potential disruptions to our everyday lives, we need to think about preparations for emergency situations when we're not at home, where our supplies can be a lot more extensive and ready to hand.  There are any number of articles about so-called 'bug-out bags', designed to get you away from trouble and keep you going for a certain amount of time;  but they vary widely in their usefulness, and some are so elaborate and complex that they're frankly unusable for the average person.

You'll need to account for your physical environment, of course.  Someone in the middle of winter in Minnesota will have very different needs in terms of clothing, nutrition, etc. compared to someone in the middle of summer in Arizona!  You also have to take into account factors such as your own capabilities.  For example, I'm partly physically disabled.  I'm not capable of walking very far, even if I want to!  My get-home-safe needs will, of necessity, involve a vehicle of some sort, whether I like it or not.  Also, thanks to my disability (caused by spinal injury), I can't carry a heavy load for any distance.  A fit, strong person will have a wider range of options.

Nevertheless, we can make a list of headings, and outline a minimum get-home outfit for each.  That can then be supplemented according to local and seasonal needs and concerns.  I suggest you should provide for at least 24 hours, and preferably 48 to 72 hours.  Here's my approach.  I invite you to adapt it to your own situation, as you see fit.

1.  Nutrition.

We need food and water to survive, and to support our expenditure of energy.  At a minimum, I suggest that a day's supply of each must form the basis of our get-home kit.  I advise four 16- or 20-ounce bottles of water, rather than a single larger container, because the smaller ones can be stuffed into pockets if need be, or refilled after use, or discarded once they're empty if they're getting in the way of other things.  (Buy bottles that are strong enough to be re-used, and have waterproof screw-on caps - cheaper bottles are sometimes not crush-proof or fully watertight.)  I also strongly recommend an emergency filter such as a LifeStraw, in case you need water and no fresh supplies are available - only pools of water in a ditch, for example.

As for food, I strongly advise using compact, long-shelf-life supplies such as Mainstay emergency food ration bars (which are my choice, but there are many alternatives).  A 3,600-calorie supply (sufficient for one day of high-energy activity, or two days of lower activity) is very cost-effective, and has a shelf life of several years in your emergency kit.  If you wish, you can add some hard candy or chocolate for flavor and variety.

A single pack of emergency ration bars (3,600 calories), plus four 20-ounce bottles of water, plus a LifeStraw, will weigh less than 7 pounds in total.  Add that weight for each extra day's provisions you pack.

2.  Clothing.

You'll need at least one set of comfortable clothes that are easy to walk or run in.  Build your kit around an average summer in your area, then add clothes for colder seasons.  I'd suggest a pair of lightweight hiking shoes (already broken-in to your feet), a good pair of socks, underwear, a pair of trousers and a comfortable shirt as a minimum.  It's probably a good idea to double up on the socks and underwear:  you can wear dirty outer clothes, but clean underwear can be a big boost to your morale!  If you expect the nights to be chilly, add a light fleece zip-up jacket or a hoodie.  A lightweight emergency rainproof poncho is very desirable, adding little bulk or weight, and is probably more useful than a raincoat, in that it can cover a small backpack or shoulder bag as well.

The weight of such an outfit, including shoes, should probably not be more than 10 pounds.  If you need to add or substitute heavier items for colder climates or seasons, obviously, that weight might double;  but you'll probably be wearing them, rather than packing them, so the weight will be evenly distributed.  Don't forget warm gloves, a scarf, etc. if needed for your area.

3.  Equipment.

A get-home kit isn't a fully-fledged survival outfit.  It can't be.  You have to be able to carry it with ease.  Your vehicle can, of course, contain a much more comprehensive selection of gear, but it may not be available if the roads are blocked and you have to abandon it.  This is a minimum selection.

I'd include the following:
  • A way to make fire (matches, lighter, etc.).  This should be weatherproof if possible.  Small items of kindling (which can be as simple as pages from a small notebook, or something better) are probably a good idea, too.  I use Esbit cooking tablets, which can both start a larger fire, and prepare food over a pocket stove, if necessary - since you never know when you might have to do that, even if you haven't planned for it.
  • A source of light.  I strongly recommend an LED flashlight powered by AA or AAA batteries, which are more readily available than specialized cells.  (Check the batteries regularly, and replace them every year.)  Since light may be critically important, I'd suggest a second flashlight or a battery-powered pocket-size work light, to back up the first unit.  Pack at least one set of spare batteries for each light.
  • A good utility knife.  You don't have to spend an inordinate amount, but I strongly suggest that quality is important.  I currently use this pocket knife, and back it up with this Mora knife in my emergency kit.  There are many alternatives.  Remember to check your local rules, regulations and laws to ensure that your knife won't get you into trouble with the police, if it's seen or found during a search of your possessions.  I'd also suggest a multitool of your choice, to take care of minor tasks or maintenance needs during your journey;  and a pair of work gloves might be useful, too.
  • Eating utensils.  You can pack a camping set, or even just a spork and a few paper plates and cups;  nothing fancy, but they'll be there if you need them.  Believe me, you won't miss them until you don't have them - and by then it's too late!  (I like this set, for economy and convenience, but there are many alternatives.)  If there's a chance you might have to cook food, the pocket stove mentioned above is very compact and useful, and you can add a set of camping cookware to your kit.
  • String and/or twine and/or paracord.  There are many alternatives out there.  Choose something that can serve as emergency shoelaces, tie up parcels or packages, substitute for a belt if necessary, and so on.  I'd suggest you carry at least 50 feet of it, and double that if possible;  or, carry 50 feet of lighter string or twine, and 50 feet of paracord.  A roll of fishing line might be handy, too - it's low-bulk, but very versatile.
  • An emergency space blanket, for warmth and/or shelter at night.  I prefer this heavier-duty one, which resists tearing and has pre-punched grommets to allow it to be hung from any convenient support for use as a shelter.  They make it more versatile.
  • A few ziploc bags in quart and gallon size.  These are amazingly useful.  They can contain wet and/or dirty clothes, to keep them segregated from the rest of your gear;  they can hold food or even water (make sure to buy quality bags that seal properly!);  they can even serve as makeshift first aid bandages, if you tape them over or around a wound after cleaning it.  They can also compartmentalize your gear;  for example, you could keep your fire-lighting equipment together in one bag, your food in another, your flashlight(s) and spare batteries in another, etc., making them all easier to find and keeping like items with like.
  • A roll of duct tape.  This has innumerable uses;  repairing shoes and clothes, rigging up a shelter, a makeshift bandage, even twisting it into rope if nothing else is available.  Don't be without it.
  • A small first aid kit.  Pre-packaged ones are widely available, but you can build a better one yourself by buying individual components.  It's a specialized subject, so I won't go into detail here.  An Internet search will provide much food for thought.  You should add any prescription medications or specialized hygiene items that you require - I'd suggest at least three days' supply of your needs in those areas.  More might be advisable.  I also strongly suggest a bottle of eyedrops, preferably the anti-allergy type, so that you can wash out your eyes if any contaminants (smoke, dust, pollution, etc.) get into them.
  • For hygiene, I suggest a package of personal cleansing wipes.  You'll be amazed at how much better you feel if you can clean yourself, even if no bath or shower is available.  Add deodorant, feminine hygiene items, etc. to suit your own needs.  Toilet paper is an essential item, and can double as facial tissue.  A small hand towel and/or a facecloth might be useful, if you have space for them, or a few shop towels might suffice.  I add some anti-chafing powder as well.
  • Eyeglasses.  If you have prescription spectacles or contact lenses, include a backup set in your get-home kit.  A pair of sunglasses is probably a good idea, too;  I suggest protective safety glasses with shaded lenses, for toughness.  If you use reading glasses, have a set of those as well.  Hard protective cases for your glasses are probably a good idea, too, since they'll be bounced around in your get-home kit and may be crushed by other items.
  • Personal defense items.  I'm not going to go into detail here, because jurisdictions vary in what they'll permit, and individuals have different ideas about what's important.  Suffice it to say that at a minimum, I'd carry a stout cane or walking stick, which can double as a defensive instrument if necessary.  Get training in how to use it!  I'll almost always have a firearm available as well, and I strongly suggest you do the same if it's feasible (and, of course, legal).  (Don't leave one in your vehicle or an unsecured place - it's an invitation to thieves, and you'll have to live with the moral responsibility if a thief later uses your weapon against another innocent person.)  If you can't carry a firearm, consider something that can appear innocuous, but double as a weapon, such as a pry bar, a large wrench, a camping axe or hatchet, or a machete.  They add a lot of weight, but may be useful enough to offset that.  (Again, watch out for local laws and regulations!)

Almost everything mentioned above can fit into a cheap, simple day pack.  (Pack it carefully;  for example, socks can be folded inside shoes, underwear can be tucked into your mug, etc.)  You can leave the day pack in the trunk of your car, or lock it in a cupboard or drawer at work.  It's easy to grab in an emergency, and it'll give you everything you're likely to need to get from wherever you are, to your home, even if you have to walk for a day or two to get there.  The whole thing, fully packed, should weigh no more than 20-25 pounds.  (If you're carrying more than one day's food and water, that'll be extra, of course, and you may need a larger pack.)  Add extra equipment and/or clothing as needed for the season of the year and your local climate, as well as local threats and difficulties you're likely to face.  (No, I don't suggest walking through a high-crime area carrying all that stuff.  Why make yourself a target?  It may take longer to walk around, rather than through, a danger zone, but that's preferable to becoming just another crime statistic!  Simply pack extra supplies to allow for the detour.)

If your journey home might be longer than average, there's another very useful item you can add if you have secure storage for it at or near your place of work;  a folding bicycle.  This can provide extra mobility and speed to get home in an emergency, particularly if you have children or others depending on you to look after them.  On the other hand, others may find it equally desirable, and try to steal it or take it away from you, which brings up additional defensive considerations.  Nevertheless, it's a useful option.

There's also the question of money.  I always have at least $100 in cash on my person, in $20 bills or smaller;  and I try to have double that.  I recommend that to you, too.  Credit cards are all very well, but they only work in businesses.  If you want to buy some food from a house you're passing, or some bottles of water from an itinerant street vendor, your credit card won't cut it.  Cash is king, particularly in an emergency.

These are my ideas.  Yours may vary, and your needs will almost certainly be different from mine, depending on your age, physical condition, location, season of the year, etc.  There's no 'one-size-fits-all' solution to a get-home kit.  I suggest you take my ideas as no more than suggestions, and build your own kit based on them and your own needs.



Jonathan H said...

I have a few comments to add based on what has worked for me:
- Water Bottles: Another good point about small bottles is that if 1 bottle gets damaged/lost/dropped you don't lose all of your water. I suggest using bought bottles of a good brand that will stay drinkable and decent tasting for a long time; bottles you fill yourself or cheap bottled water from Walmart, Kroger, etc won't taste good over time. Personally, I like Dasani - at $5/24 it is more than some brands but still reasonable.
- If you can, try to store most of your items out of casual sight in your vehicle - not only are they less likely to get stolen, or be a reason for someone to break into your car, they will be less in the way and less beat up by your other activities. In my car, I have space above the spare tire (and below the hard partition that forms the trunk floor) and in 2 side compartments for my emergency kit items.
- The longer you can keep your vehicle running, the quicker and easier your trip home will be. If you are at all handy with tools, I would suggest a compact inexpensive tool kit in case you need to make repairs to your car, as well as a simple tire patch kit and if possible a 12 V compressor. I've patched tires and even replaced an alternator 400 miles from home on a weekend - it was much cheaper and less of a delay than waiting for a shop to open and do it.
- Glasses: I suggest inexpensive prescription safety glasses for regular use; my single vision ones were only $60 at Walmart. I use safety sunglasses that fit over my glasses for driving in sunny conditions - they are easy to take on and off while driving and the change is less of a distraction than clip ons or a separate pair of prescription sunglasses (which are more expansive and which I keep losing quickly).
- Clothing: I would suggest keeping a cheap rain coat and a light jacket or sweatshirt in your car at all times to deal with unexpected weather changes or forgetting to grab something when you leave home.

Anonymous said...

Some trip wire or similar is very useful for repairs. Cordage can be manufactured but wire can be much more difficult to cobble up on the go. A few feet of bailing wire would be useful to have.

If you plan on moving out during nighttime hours and are in the woods, some safety googles to keep your eyes protected from damage is recommended as well. If you are blinded, you are in trouble !

raven said...

Water- for some odd reason, plastic Ice Tea bottles are about twice as thick as "water" bottles. Drink the tea and refill. They also tend to have wider mouths for refilling.

There are few things as complete, emergency food wise, as an MRE- Food, snack, TP, Matches, drink mix, tabasco, etc.
Two pint bottles (of water!) and an MRE will take you a ways. The disadvantage is, they are heavy.
A tiny bottle of booze can help too...
A brimmed hat- essential for sun and rain.

For the average American, 25lbs is a lot of weight to carry.

Anonymous said...

I'd suggest shifting some of the "get home" stuff to EDC. Long story longer, but once where I worked a main breaker failed in a breaker panel and not only did all the elevators stop (they did what they were supposed to do - immediately go to the ground floor, open the doors and not move further without a fire department key) but the stairwell emergency lights went out (to save a few bucks they were not individually equipped with batteries, but fed from a building-wide UPS system that happened to run through the panel with the failed main breaker). That meant 24 floors of pitch black stairs. AFAIK, I was the only non-facilities employee who EDCed a Tube of Dark Repellant on his belt (AA LED Maglte) so I and the clump of employees with me had no problems. To use your "get home bag" you first have to get out of the building.

Pro tip: LED flashlights are great, batteries weaken incandescent bulbs just get dimmer and dimmer, but when batteries go below threshhold voltage for an LED it simply goes dark. And stays dark. Very, very dark. Develop a calendar-based battery replacement regimen. I replaced the batteries in my AA Maglite every other Monday whether it needed it or not, and if I had used the light much, or couldn't remember if I had replaced them, I replaced them immediately. Batteries in bulk are cheap, too much dark can be fatal.

As for your list, I'd add a small compass and an area road map, plus the smallest AM/FM personal radio I could find. I may need to take a very different route, one that I'm not familiar with, to get around a permanent (lake, etc.) or temporary (flood, riot, fire, etc.) obstacle, and a local broadcast news station may be helpful in knowing about such obstacles to avoid.

Pro tip: Ear buds use less power than a radio speaker, don't alert everyone around you that you're there, and allow putting only one ear bud in so you can still hear what's going on around you.


Anonymous said...

Forgot to include this: RE: guns. Whether you do or don't is up to you (and local conditions) , a gun in a hip holster is very handy but also very obvious. Something like a wilderness dot com Safepacker on your belt allows almost as fast access but doesn't look like it holds a gun. If you're forced to "bug to home" there's a good chance there will be local or regional turmoil, and very edgy gendarmes and citizens. Low profile is best.


BFR said...

For clothing, a food-saver vacuum sealer significantly reduces the packing volume. As an alternative, packing clothing in a zip-lock and then sitting on it to exhaust air while zipping it closed also works. Extra zip-lock bags are handy to have.

Socks are best used in a system approach. This prevents blisters and hot-spots.

A sock liner, and then an outer sock. I have used these for more than 15 years, and have not found a better product. Smartwool (Wool is a wonder fabric winter and summer.) Mountaineering socks for outer sock; Fox River X-Static Liner socks. These are silver impregnated to prevent/reduce bacteria growth.

Anonymous said...

I'd point out that it isn't just about getting home. It is about the much higher odds of a mechanical problem that either you can solve on the side of the road or that needs triple A. I'm female and sometimes I need to be wearing heels, Nice heels, and business wear. Every tried to change a tire in that? You can't. A broken pair of my other shoe type (steel toed work boots) and a long mid weight coat are very useful!
So yes, should you have a good kit? Yes. But at least, make sure you can change the tire, climb into the tow truck, or answer twenty questions by the cops, in the rain.

Jonathan H said...

Yes, exactly - being prepared isn't just about the 'big' things, but also the little things. Even when what comes up isn't an 'emergency', having supplies handy makes the day go easier - like the time last year I was caught in a rain storm and for the first time used the spare clothes had been carrying around for years.

Will said...

Any suggestions on good wipes? When they first came out in the 80's, you could clean everything but your hair with them, and feel as good as if you had a shower. Not with the newer ones. Butt-wipe is the only thing they can accomplish, since they took out the "alcohol", it appears.

A normal IWB or OWB may not be compatible with a backpack, so consider using a shoulder rig for your handgun, provided the weather allows a cover garment to be worn. The innocuous Safepacker or other bag type holster may be wearable on the backpack waist belt, but you need to check if it fits.
I'm a little leery of mounting the holster to the pack, or carrying the gun in the pack, as that backpack is the first thing someone is going to try to take from you. Plus, to access most of it's contents, you have to remove it first, and you really don't want to be separated from your gun while in the focused or distracted moments of utilizing it's contents.

Peter said...

@Will: No suggestion, I'm afraid. I find the same problem as you - the no-alcohol wipes don't clean very well. You could always add your own alcohol, I suppose . . .


Anonymous said...

I use baby wipes. All I can remember at the moment is they are in a mostly red box at costco and are name brand (I only have one of the inner bags here at home ATM.) They are refreshing, have a fibrous texture that cleans well. I use them on face, neck, chest and underarms, as well as the more traditional use. No fragrance and no irritation. Re-pack into a gallon size ziplok freezer bag (they are heavy duty and the zip works better)for your vehicle.

A good 12 pound fire extinguisher should be in your car too. If that's bigger than you can fit, then carry a smaller one, but you should carry one. In the last two years I've used my vehicle fire extinguisher four times. You won't put out a car fire if it's more than a minute old but it might buy you the time you need to get a passenger out (or save your own vehicle from total destruction).

Traditional road flares are inexpensive and last forever. Put a couple in your car. In addition to use as a warning, they can be used for signaling and will start anything that will burn on fire, including your spare tire, or your whole vehicle. (Spare tire will make a nice column of smoke if your emergency is one that needs people to find you (more common than a zombie outbreak by far.)

I have a compact shovel under the seat. It can be used as a weapon, to chop, or dig. Don't waste money on a cheap chinese copy.

A folding bow saw or pruning saw will help you clear any downed limbs from your path (a very real concern here in Hurricane Alley. One of the EMgnt 'lessons learned' from Sandy was that EVERY emergency vehicle needed a chainsaw to move after the storm. If you can't carry a chainsaw, a pruning saw is the next best thing.)

A 20ft piece of stout rope doesn't take much space and can be used to drag limbs out of the street. I don't usually carry a rope, but I always have a heavy duty ratchet strap that can be used for the same thing, as well as strapping something to my truck or used as a come-along to move something heavy. Even a pair of lightweight ratchet straps can be used for a bunch of different things. If nothing else, cut the webbing loose and carry just that.

Remember too that much more common emergencies require the opposite of a 'grey man' approach. In most emergencies (which occur daily, grid up) you want to be seen. Super bright safety vests are cheap at thrift stores or even new. Blaze orange hats are everywhere around here. I can even imagine several scenarios where looking like construction worker or emergency response is a GOOD THING. I have a white hardhat in my vehicle too. I can put on my hardhat, safety vest, and glasses and pass unhindered thru MANY places where I'd be stopped if I just looked like a refugee.

It sounds like a lot of stuff, but there are numerous empty spaces in most cars to tuck things into. Spare tire areas, little compartments behind trim (like the access door for your fuel pump shutoff), under the hood, under seats, in door pockets, etc.


Mad Jack said...

$100 in one dollar bills. It can be divided into packets if needs be.
The ubiquitous international orange safety vest. Not only does it make you visible, but given the right look you might be confused with officialdom and allowed through the checkpoint.
A compass.
Candy bars / food.
Very basic toolkit for cars, even if you don't know what you're doing someone else might.
Your pistol and trunk gun - a rifle or shotgun that's inexpensive and durable.
Backpack, whether you hike or not.
Booze. If you don't drink it, you can trade it.

It's what I carry in the trunk, more or less. The things that have most often saved my worthless hide are the tool kit, which I've used many, many times. The money, natch. My maps.
I'm armed, and never needed to be. I'm careful about where I go.