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A Grab-and-Go Bag Could Save Your Life

By James and Terry Hyde, R.N., B.S.N.

Katrina is absolutely the best example we know of the need to be prepared for a disaster, be it man-made or the work of Mother Nature, especially if you have to leave your home during a storm, fire or civil unrest. Disaster comes in many forms and a lack of preparedness could cost you your life. That‘s what happened to way too many people in New Orleans. More people were taken by Katrina than needed to be, and most perished because they weren‘t prepared.

In these times of uncertainty, stronger storms, blizzards, earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes and the ever-present terrorist threats, disaster preparedness is perhaps more important now than it has been at any time in the modern era!

Many people believe that having a few extra cans of beef stew, a few gallon jugs of water, lots of batteries, candles, and a battery-powered radio will get them through. It will if whatever disaster you face is a big snow storm and it‘s short-term. But if you find yourself in the midst of another Katrina, staying at home is not likely the best thing to do. If you must leave your home, you will need a grab-and-go bag or pack.

The ideal grab-and-go bag should be filled with essentials for at least 72 hours of surviving solo or with your family. If you‘re thinking of hanging around home for a few days during and after a disaster, you need to change your thinking. The aftermath of a catastrophe can be worse than the event itself. Just ask the people of Haiti. Help might not come for 72 hours or longer depending on the situation. You need to depend on yourself for food, water, shelter, warmth and safety.

One of the biggest factors in preparedness is maintaining a calm, positive attitude. People who panic often don‘t survive. The need for the peace of mind involved in being prepared ahead of time is critical.

Flood waters
Floods drive more people from their homes than do many other types of disasters. This was taken in Northern Vermont after a record rainfall.
The list below is inclusive, and you may not need all of it, but some elements are essential, among them water most of all. You can go without food for quite some time, but water only for 48 hours. If you plan and organize carefully, you might be able to put even more supplies in your pack for an extra couple of days.

While what I‘m writing about is called a grab-and-go bag, it should really be called a grab-and-go backpack. When you are choosing a backpack (one for the whole family or one for each family member), when full, they should weigh one-quarter of the weight of the person carrying their pack. Any more than that will be too heavy to carry for any length of time.

Your backpack should be of good quality and sturdy. It‘s going to carry many items! It needs to be waterproof from rain, snow or if you have to cross a flooded area, river or stream. It should also have extra outside pockets for those items you might need right away.

Many of the items you need to think about including in your pack can probably found in your home right now. Some items might have dual-purpose usage (garbage bags, for instance, which can provide a waterproof shelter, a poncho or be used to keep your backpack dry or to capture rain water). To find the other things on the list, you don‘t need to spend a fortune. Go to dollar stores, drug stores, military surplus stores, camping stores, thrift shops, Ebay and online stores for your supplies.

The list below will seem to go on forever, but you really have to think through everything and decide on what is best for you and your family, where you live, where you can escape to and what kind of disaster you might face. Most of all, only you know what is best for you and your family!

After buying and filling a backpack, the contents should be checked every six months to update and change out expired food, water and medications.

What‘s below is a great video about grab-and-go bags (backpacks) and an extensive checklist of the various things to have in a backpack or grab-and-go bag, but you do not need to pack everything on it. Pick and choose what is important to you and your family. Essentials on the list are water and food and a compass or GPS equipment, fire starters, flashlights and some form of shelter. Other things on the list will make your survival a good deal easier, but not all need to be included.

As far as backpacks go, we strongly recommend buying a used Gen II USMC (U.S. Marine Corps) ILBE (Improved Load Bearing Equipment) MARPAT (Marine "Camo" Pattern) main pack. We've discovered that buying the packs used is far less expensive than a new one, which can sell of $249. We bought several from eBay and they looked as if they were brand new. They can be bought slightly used for as little at $35. The difference between anILBE and older model backpacks, such as an ALICE military backpack, is the ILBE's internal frame. With ALICE and other backpacks with external frames, you can carry only one-third to one-quarter of your body weight, whereas with an ILBE pack, you can carry 120 pounds.

The Emergency and Disaster Check List


As mentioned, water is far more important than food. That‘s especially so if you‘re in a situation at a location that is hot and humid and there isn‘t a reliable water source nearby. Keeping yourself hydrated is critical to survival.

2 liters of water, per person, per day. They can be: Water bottles, water pouches, water boxes.

Never drink out of a stream, river or standing water. Various bacterial microbes and parasites in unfiltered or treated water can make you very ill and even more dehydrated. If you don‘t have a water filter or purification tablets, boil it for ten minutes, let it cool and then drink it.

  • Small water purification filter
  • Purification tablets
  • Collapsible water container for carrying water


  • Emergency food bars 2,400 or 3,600 calories
  • MRE‘s (Meals-Ready-to-Eat)
  • Instant coffee, tea, powder fruit drink (i.e. Tang)
  • Powdered milk packages
  • Freeze dried food
  • Dehydrated food
  • Beef jerky
  • Candy bars, hard candy, gum
  • Stainless steel mess kits with utensils


  • Tent or individual tube tents for each person (very light weight)
  • Emergency sleeping bag
  • Emergency space blanket
  • Emergency poncho


  • Multipurpose knife
  • Multipurpose tool
  • Duct tape
  • Nylon rope
  • Swen saw
  • Samurai survival tool
  • Leather gloves
  • Scissors
  • Large and small plastic garbage bags


  • Flashlight (a hand-cranked model is best)
  • Light sticks
  • Waterproof matches
  • Butane lighter
  • Magnifying glass (you can magnify the rays of the sun to start a fire)
  • Candles
  • Flat-fold stove
  • Heat cell fuel cans
  • Hand and body warmers
  • Batteries (AA, AAA, D and C)


  • First aid manual
  • Latex gloves
  • N95 Respirator masks (in the event of a chemical or biological terrorist attack)
  • Assorted size gauzes
  • Rolls of gauze
  • First aid tape
  • Assorted sized Band-Aids
  • Steri-strips (which can be used as butterfly sutures)
  • Cleansing agent (such as hydrogen peroxide or alcohol)
  • Tincture of iodine
  • Triple antibiotic ointment
  • Ace bandages
  • Scissors
  • Tweezers
  • Thermometer
  • Tube of Petroleum jelly
  • Aspirin, Tylenol and Motrin
  • Anti-diarrhea medication
  • Anti-nausea medication
  • Laxatives
  • Vitamins (especially, C, D and E)
  • Syrup of Ipecac (this induces vomiting if someone eats something they shouldn‘t)
  • Prescription medication (one week‘s worth)
  • Extra eyeglasses, contact lenses
  • Moleskin


  • Bar of soap
  • Shampoo
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Deodorant
  • Disposable razor
  • Comb
  • Female monthly products
  • Disposable diapers if you have an infant with you
  • Toilet paper (a good trick is to remove the cardboard tube from each roll, which allows you to pack more than one)
  • Washcloth
  • Small towel


  • Keys for your home, car, safe deposit box, lock boxes, etc.
  • Copies of important documents (i.e. birth certificates, passports, mortgage papers, driver‘s licenses, insurance policies, Social Security card, etc.)
  • Money
  • List of phone numbers to contact people
  • Radio (a hand-cranked model is best)
  • Books, pad of paper, pen, pencil, Bible
  • Deck of cards, tennis ball (these are great for having something to do to pass the time)
  • Whistle
  • Compass or a hand-held GPS system
  • Maps of your area, preferably topographical so you can find high ground
  • Watch
  • Sewing kit
  • Extra socks
  • Extra underpants

While this may seem like a lot, if it‘s packed well, it will afford you a greater degree of comfort, especially if you‘re exposed to the elements. The most important first step is buying a backpack for each family member. What you put inside them could save your life if the worst should happen.


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