CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

Emergency Go Bag: Prepare Your Evacuation Survival Kit Now

Keeping these items on hand and ready to go can help you survive a earthquake, wildfire, tornado or other natural disaster.

Alina Bradford CNET Contributor
Alina Bradford has been writing how-tos, tech articles and more for almost two decades. She currently writes for CNET's Smart Home Section, MTVNews' tech section and for Live Science's reference section. Follow her on Twitter.
Katie Teague Writer II
Katie is a writer covering all things how-to at CNET, with a focus on Social Security and notable events. When she's not writing, she enjoys playing in golf scrambles, practicing yoga and spending time on the lake.
Expertise Personal Finance: Social Security and taxes
Alina Bradford
Katie Teague
5 min read
backpack and various emergency supplies laid out on a wooden table

Contents of a go bag.

doble-d/iStock/Getty Images

It could be a wildfire, earthquake, tornado or hurricane. You're facing an emergency that requires you to evacuate in a hurry. The time to start gathering supplies, important documents and irreplaceable photos is not when you have hours or minutes to leave. Being prepared is key when facing natural disasters. Whether you live in wildfire-prone states, on the Gulf Coast or in Tornado Alley, it's time to start preparing now.

Having a go bag, or bugout bag, on hand is one of the most important safety measures to take ahead of an emergency or natural disaster. Emergency services in areas with natural disasters recommend having a go bag ready at all times.

The idea behind the go bag is simple. If an emergency happens, you grab your go bag and... go. It has everything you need to help keep you safe and healthy until you can return back home. Often, it includes your phone, medications, important documents and other necessities. Here are a few ways you can your phone can save you during an emergency, too.

Reasons you should pack a go bag now

If you're lucky enough to have some kind of weather warning, you may have more time to evacuate. But many disasters are so damaging because they're sudden. At a moment's notice, you may need to flee your home to find new shelter because of:

a go bag with a water bottle, cord and other essential items

An example of a good go bag.

Alina Bradford/CNET
  • Earthquakes
  • Wildfires
  • Tornadoes or hurricanes
  • Tsunamis
  • Flash floods
  • Mudslides
  • Ice storms
  • Zombie apocalypse (just kidding... maybe)

Don't take three days of water with you

Though many experts recommend having a three-day supply of water at home in case of an emergency, evacuating with that amount of water can be impractical (especially if you don't have a car). The alternative is keeping a device in your go bag that can turn water from ditches, streams, ponds and other water sources into clean drinking water. 

Some options are the LifeStraw Go Water Bottle ($40) or the Liberty LifeSaver ($125). Both can be clipped to the outside of a go bag so they don't take up precious room in the pockets.

Be warned, though. Many emergency filtration devices like these need to be prepped with drinking water before they can be used as a filter for yucky water. Be sure to read the directions and prep your bottle before clipping it to your go bag.

Keep an LED flashlight handy 

Batteries may be in short supply in an emergency. That's why it's a good idea to put a lighting system in your go bag that can be powered by a renewable resource.

The ThorFire LED Flashlight ($26) can be powered by sunlight or a hand crank. A solar or crank flashlight that doubles as an AM/FM radio is a good choice, too. Here's a favorite rechargeable lantern that can fit in your bag. 

What kind of go bag is best?

The city of Chicago, no stranger to strong storms, recommends that each member of your household have their own go bag. If you're the parent of small children, however, you can use one big bag to hold everything you all need.

Remember, the best kind of bag is one you can carry. Don't get a huge duffle bag unless you're very strong and can heft it. If you're driving, you want a bag that will fit easily in your car. You don't want one that's so big you'll have to leave one of the kids behind to take it with you.

A hiking backpack with various pockets is your best bet. Make sure it's made from a strong canvas material and has a strap that secures around your chest. This will take some of the strain off your back if you need to walk a long way.

Also, look for a pack that has a water reservoir you can fill with drinking water. These are often called camelbacks or hydration packs. A water-resistant pack can help keep your items dry within, though you can also line it with a plastic garbage bag as well.

The Sandpiper of California bugout backpack ($155) is one example. 

Other emergency essentials to pack 

Water and light should be at the top of your list, but there are plenty of other things you should toss in your bag:

  • Nonperishable food: Meals ready to eat, aka MREs, are a popular choice, but freeze-dried items work too. Just be sure they're light; provide a lot of calories and protein; and have a shelf life of months, if not years.
  • A good multitool that includes a knife, pliers, a can opener and other tools. We like this lightweight and affordable multitool.
  • Paracord, also called 550 cord, can hold up to 550 pounds and is compact, so choose it instead of regular rope.
  • Carabiners: These metal loops with a spring-loaded latch have a million and one uses, like latching gear to the outside of your go bag.
  • A whistle to signal others if you need help and can't yell.
  • Something to start a fire with, like a lighter or matches.
  • Sunscreen.
  • A poncho and a change of clothes.
  • Your family's prescription medications for a week and copies of your prescriptions. You'll probably want to toss these in the go bag as you leave, since keeping extras in your bag will be impractical for most people.
  • A small first aid kit with bandages, antiseptic, painkillers and gauze.
  • Personal care items such as soap, a toothbrush, toothpaste, toilet paper, feminine hygiene products and so on. Put these items in waterproof baggies.

18 tips to prepare for a natural disaster

See all photos
  • Your extra house and car keys.
  • A warm blanket. Put it in a plastic bag, use the hose on your vacuum to suck the air out of the bag and quickly seal it to save room.
  • A recent family photo for identification purposes, also in a plastic bag, to keep it safe from moisture.
  • Cash in small denominations and coins.
  • A regional map and a compass so you can find your way without a phone when cell towers and GPS are down or busy, or you've run out of battery.
  • Paper, pens and tape to leave messages for others.
  • A dust mask.
  • Copies of important documents such as insurance information, IDs, proof of address and passports, all in a waterproof plastic bag.
  • Your family photos on a USB drive. This one is optional, but I like the security of knowing I have some of my family's precious memories with me.
  • Pet supplies such as a leash, collapsible water bowl and food.

More resources for you

Natural disasters and storms are only becoming more severe and occurring more frequently as climate change intensifies. While the devastation of these events can be harrowing, there are many steps you can take to protect yourself, your home and your loved ones from a natural disaster. Here are some additional resources: