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Do We Need A Go Bag?


Do We Need A Go Bag_350Do you have an emergency go bag/survival kit? We don’t. Unfortunately, this means we were not prepared for any kind of emergency at the beginning of 2020. In February, the COVID pandemic started to spread around the world. I was following the news in Asia pretty closely so I knew we had to start preparing for a lockdown. I picked up plenty of TP, dried and canned food, soap, and various supplies so we could hunker down at home for a while. Luckily, we acted early so we didn’t have to fight for TP like many families did. Even then, I didn’t think we need a go bag. It just seems like we could stick it out at home for almost any emergency. However, 2020 had more in store for us.

This month, wildfires broke out all over the West Coast. In Oregon, many structures and over 1 million acres burned. Thousands of people were evacuated and about 500,000 were told to be ready to leave their homes. The roads were choked with families trying to get out of the evacuation zones. Hotels and emergency shelters filled up and some people had to sleep in their cars or tents. The smoke choked the state and we stayed mostly inside for about 10 days. It smelled like a campfire even inside our duplex. Fortunately, we live in a dense urban area and didn’t have to evacuate. I don’t think our area has enough trees and vegetation to burn out of control. However, this made me reconsider a go bag.

Do you have a go bag?

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Why we didn’t have a go bag

The main reason why I didn’t think we need an emergency go bag is because we don’t have many natural disasters here. I lived in Portland for over 25 years and never needed a go bag. Let’s go over some disasters.

  • Earthquake – IMO, this is the only serious disaster that might happen in Portland. The Cascadia earthquake occurs every 300 to 900 years. It’ll be a huge one when it hits. However, nobody knows when it’ll hit. It probably won’t happen in our lifetime so it never seems like a high priority.
  • Floods – I think we’re pretty safe. There was a huge flood in 1996 and we can kind of tell where the water will go. Our home should be pretty safe from flooding.
  • Wildfires – Our urban area has too much concrete for a fire to get out of control. I think we’re okay.
  • Tsunami, volcano, hurricane, and landslide – None of these apply.
  • Riot/unrest – Portland has been in the news frequently this year. Protesters have been clashing with the police and each other for over 100 days now. People watching the news think the whole city of Portland has descended into anarchy. Families and friends were worried and called to check on us. Actually, the clashes are concentrated in only a small area near the Justice Center or other specific locations. Our old condo was 6 short blocks away from the Justice Center, but we moved in 2019. Whew! That was lucky. We are still in Portland, but we are out of the protest zone. There hasn’t been any problem in this part of town. I don’t think the unrest will spread, but you never know with this crazy 2020 election. Are you better off than 4 years ago?
  • Pandemic – No need for a go bag. Just hunker down at home.

Our emergency plan is to hunker down at home and wait it out. I guess the one good thing that came out of the pandemic is that we’re a lot better prepared to hunker down now. If things worsen and we can’t wait it out, then we’ll drive down to my brother’s home in California or North Carolina. In that case, we’ll need a go bag.

Putting together a go bag

An emergency go bag should help you survive for 72 hours. Also, it should be easy to carry in case you need to walk. With these in mind, here is what I’m putting in our bags.

  • Bag – a backpack for each person. We have plenty of bags so this is not a problem.
  • Food – I think I’ll order Mountain House freeze-dried food from Amazon. These will last 30 years so we never have to buy them again. Also, we can use one for RB40Jr’s food challenge. Heh heh heh.
  • Water – We have a 5-gallon camping water container. That should be okay for 72 hours. Although, we’ll have to ditch it if we walk. I guess we should get some water purification tablets.
  • Hand crank radio – I don’t have one of these so we’ll need to order one. Here is a radio with hand crank, solar charger, and light. Nice!
  • Flashlight – We have a few.
  • First aid kit – We have a small first aid kit. Do we need a bigger pack?
  • Fire starter – We have some lighters. These should be good enough. Maybe I’ll order some fire starters rods later.
  • Mask – We have plenty of these too.
  • Whistle – To signal for help.
  • Personal documents – These are all in one place in our home. We’ll grab these when we need to leave.
  • Emergency blanket – We don’t have these and probably should order a few Mylar blankets.
  • Clothing – I think we can put old clothes in the go bag. Two changes of old clothes should be plenty. For our climate, we probably will need a water resistance jacket as well. I’ll stick an old jacket in there for each of us.
  • Multitool – We have several nice Swiss army knives, but I’d like one of those plier multitools.
  • Personal care items – Hand sanitizer, TP, toothbrush, and soap.
  • Solar cell phone charger – This sounds like a neat gadget. I’m not sure if we need this or not. I guess it would be nice for when we go camping as well.
  • Cash – It’s nice to have some cash in small bills when disaster strikes. You never know if you can use the ATM or not. $200 is probably enough.
  • Self-defense? – I don’t want to get a gun because we have a young child at home. Maybe a tomahawk would be nice. We can take this camping and use it to trim the tree in the backyard. What do you think?

Whew! We have most of these items, but we need to buy quite a few things too. It’ll probably cost $100 to $200 to put together 3 go bags. This is another reason why I never put one together before. Why spend when you probably won’t need it? However, this really isn’t a huge amount. We spend this much on groceries every week. I think it’s worth it to be prepared for an emergency.

Do you have a go bag? Do you think urban dwellers need one?

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Image credit: Timo Stern

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. He spent 16 years working in computer design and enjoyed the technical work immensely. However, the job became too stressful and Joe retired from his engineering career to become a stay-at-home dad/blogger at 38. Today, he blogs about financial independence, early retirement, investing, and living a frugal lifestyle.

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{ 37 comments… add one }
  • mary stone September 29, 2020, 8:00 am

    There’s lots of emphasis on natural disasters and civil unrest here with only 1 commenter acknowledging chemical spill. Man-made disasters like 9/11, Flint, MI toxic water, and mass shootings/violence come without warnings and do a lot of harm in a short timeframe, often with long-lasting effects. Water’s more critical than food, although hauling it without wheels is challenging. I find the panic over snowstorms sad and funny – if you’re not prepared for something that has days of warnings, regularly occurs during specific months, and most often may constrain your ground and air transportation for a few days, you’re grossly unprepared for life in general. Yes, weather-related events can also impact electricity, but even epic ice storms such as Quebec has encountered are usually resolved within a week or 2. If you live within 60 miles of the US’ primary target cities NY & DC, you need a go bag for man-made disasters.

  • Steveark September 24, 2020, 12:04 pm

    I can’t think of a single situation that could occur where I live where a go bag would be of any use. Either you have plenty of time to pack what you actually need in case of a wildfire or flood. Or you have no time to run at all, in case of a tornado. You don’t get flash floods in flat areas and you don’t get fast moving forest fires in Arkansas. We do have our hiking packs with water filter sitting next to our normal hiking gear, it wouldn’t take three minutes to stuff those and go, but like I said, can’t think of where that would be necessary. The only thing I might ever need to grab in a hurry is a gun and a flashlight, those I keep handy. We do have a generator that will run everything we need plus air conditioning. That was nice when we lost power for three days from the recent hurricane.

  • drplasticpicker September 23, 2020, 7:43 pm

    Thanks for the tip Joe. We had an emergency bag given to us years ago by our medical group. I have 2 old back packs laying around. Started two bags. You never know.

  • FITrailHiker September 23, 2020, 12:33 pm

    In Texas gulf coast area we are having very frequent storm and flash flood. I am thinking to buy at least an inflatable kayak or boat… haha

  • Mr. Grumby September 23, 2020, 10:39 am

    We stayed with friends for a couple nights, 1 night in a hotel and then the rest in another friends floating home near Sauvie Island. She’s selling it and it’s furnished but vacant.
    Yeah, shelf life is an issue for food, and Mt. House has a long shelf life.

  • nicoleandmaggie September 22, 2020, 11:14 am

    We have all those things but not in the same place as bags… Important papers are in a fire-safe safe in the office and emergency things are in the guest bathroom (which is one of two places in the house safe from windows, the other being the pantry) and bags are in a closet elsewhere. I guess we could move a couple bags to the guest bathroom…

  • Angela @ Tread Lightly Retire Early September 22, 2020, 8:50 am

    Since we live in the PNW like you, we’re well equipped to hunker down at home but don’t have go bags set up. With the wildfires so close to home along with the craziness of 2020, I’m thinking this is going on my list of preps. After all, we live backed up to a forested park that covers much of our hill….

    • retirebyforty September 22, 2020, 9:22 am

      Yeah, wildfire is a real danger these days. You really should put together something.
      Even if you have an hour to leave, it’s really stressful. You can grab the go bag and then figure out what else you need to take. One hour is very little time to put something together.

  • Mr. Grumby September 21, 2020, 10:39 pm

    I live very close to where the fires are, in Silverton, and we had to evacuate for 7 days. It was surreal. We didn’t have go bags, but have a lot of camping and other gear, and we had time to pack.
    But what this convinced me was that we need go bags. The earthquake you mentioned could hit,and fires could happen again. We will be getting some 5 gallon water jugs and take 1 with next time.
    I’m a fan of Mountain House meals because they are good and, as you said they have a long shelf life. There are also options available at the grocery store like Knorr and things like instant potatoes as well.

    • retirebyforty September 22, 2020, 9:20 am

      Wow, 7 days. I’m glad you’re okay. Where did you evacuated to? A hotel?
      I’ll look at the grocery store a bit closer. Maybe some tuna in a pouch, but then we need to check our bag every year.

  • revanche @ a gai shan life September 21, 2020, 9:33 pm

    We have some basics: water, mountain house foods, crank radio and light, and another light. We mostly picked up things that would double well for power outages since we were having plenty of those for a while. We have a portable generator but I do wonder about getting a whole house generator because I’m spoiled and I like to have electricity at all times. I’ve lived without it for weeks and given the option, I’d rather have it. But I haven’t come close to committing to the cost.
    I do want us to practice actually cooking our emergency foods so we know what we’d need in case we ever did have to evacuate. I’ve lived through some serious earthquakes near my area so I have a sense of how tough it’d be if we were totally cut off from help here. We also need a larger water supply in case we need to shelter in place after a quake.

    • retirebyforty September 22, 2020, 9:18 am

      Hey, you’re very prepared. A generator is a good idea. Unfortunately, we don’t have any space for it. Also, I don’t think we’ll need it. We’d probably be okay for a few days without electricity. Any longer and we’d get out of town.
      Yes, try one of the pack to see if you can really eat it. 🙂

  • Done by Forty September 21, 2020, 9:16 pm

    We’re big fans of the Mountain House meals. They are surprisingly good and some of their products are really compact: you can get a week’s worth of food in a backpack. All you need is some water and a little stove, and you’re set.

    We don’t have go-bags…yet. But you’re making me wonder if it’s just foolish not to spend a little time and money to have it ready to go.

    • retirebyforty September 22, 2020, 9:16 am

      They are quite expensive. We’ll order some and try one. 🙂

  • Jim @ Route to Retire September 21, 2020, 12:57 pm

    I’ve had to-go bags (aka bug-out bags) and a a few totes of other supplies ready to go for probably about 8 years now. I’m not worried about zombies or other nonsense, but you never know when something could happen like a major power outage for days, civil unrest, etc.

    Luckily, we never really needed most of the stuff in it. The problem I ran into was that we couldn’t take that stuff with us to Panama. And then, what are the chances a pandemic hits within our first year there?! All our resources including N95 masks were just resting comfortably in our storage unit far from reach.

    Since we’ve been back, I grabbed a bunch of that stuff like the masks to take with us back to Panama. You might never need the stuff in your bags but it can’t hurt to have it just in case. It’s just like buying insurance – you hope to never need it, but if you do, you’ll be glad you have it.

    • retirebyforty September 22, 2020, 9:15 am

      I never thought we have to worry about civil unrest, but this year is crazy. Politic is so divisive now. Who knows what’s going to happen next.

  • FullTimeFinance September 21, 2020, 8:07 am

    Honestly no go bag here. We are considerably rural in location so we’re more prepared to stay here. To that end we have things like a generator, extra food, alternate ways to prepare food or get water, ect.

    • retirebyforty September 22, 2020, 9:14 am

      Rural? Do you guys get wild fires? I think it’ll be worse in the future with global warming.
      I think it’s best to hunker down at home as well.

  • David @iretiredyoung September 21, 2020, 7:25 am

    Like the other people who have commented so far, no go bag for me because I can’t see why it would be required where I live.
    However, it is something of a sobering/sad indictment of where we are today that this is even a topic for a post.

    • retirebyforty September 22, 2020, 9:06 am

      My wife was thinking about one for a while. It’s just low priority for us because we don’t think we’ll need it. It would come in very handy if we need to evacuate, though. Yes, 2020 is crazy…

      • nicoleandmaggie September 22, 2020, 11:20 am

        We only had very basic (first aid, 3-day emergency supplies etc.) stuff until the past few years. When you can trust that the government will get things running after a tornado or hurricane or other natural disaster you don’t need to last as long. Now we’ve got so much stuff… water purifiers in addition to bottled water, solar generators for cell phones and laptops etc. We’ve essentially become preppers because we don’t trust state or federal governments to step in when needed.

  • michael September 21, 2020, 6:17 am

    Like many, I do not live in an area where a nature related to-go bag would be necessary. If I have a weather emergency, its likely going to be either a snow storm or tornado. The snow storm is easy because that is just a few days where I cannot leave the house (I bought a whole house generator about 5 years ago so we are covered on any power issues as long as the natural gas keeps flowing). For tornadoes, I am also covered by that as all our camping stuff is in the basement so I can survive for a little while. Other than that, the only other things I would need to grab on the way to the basement are the kids (duh), computer and/or hard drive backup. Everything else can be easily replaced/is unnecessary in a true emergency.

    That all said, it does make sense to have something sort of organized (or at least a list of things you need). I actually read a story a few years ago that the most likely scenario for a bug out bag is not a natural disaster but actually related to chemical spills, the article specifically noted train derailment/container leaking but for others it may be a chemical/oil/etc. plant fire. In this case, you would likely have to leave for only 48-72 hours (ie your house will be fine when you return) but you would have to get out very quickly. Since it only takes a few minutes to create a quick list of the true, there is really no reason to not have at least that done.

    • retirebyforty September 22, 2020, 9:05 am

      You’re right about a chemical spill. I didn’t think about that. We live pretty close to the train track. Although, I’m not sure if they haul chemical through here. Thanks for the feedback.

  • Matt @ OMB September 21, 2020, 6:06 am

    We’re quasi prepared simply because we camp a fair bit, our trailer is a small home on wheels and if necessary that covers most contingencies. The challenge is in a real emergency most precautions go out the window. For now I think we are adequately prepared (though I was thinking of getting a good water filter)

    • retirebyforty September 22, 2020, 9:03 am

      A trailer would be really useful if you need to evacuate. We have a small van so we could load it up if we need to go. Walking is unrealistic. We’d have to hunker down at home if we can’t drive.

  • Lazy Man and Money September 21, 2020, 4:08 am

    When we moved to San Francisco in 2006 it was one of our priorities. We didn’t know much about earthquakes, but we didn’t want to caught in anything like what happened in 1988. We went on Amazon and got a couple of all-in-one backpacks and one of those crank radio, lights.

    We never used them. Most of the stuff is probably expired now. However, like you, we don’t live in an area where a go bag is necessary. I view it as insurance. Even if you don’t use it, there’s value in having it.

    • retirebyforty September 22, 2020, 9:02 am

      That’s good. We lived in southern CA when we were young. Actually, I went to Jr high in Northridge. I was in college by the time the Northridge earthquake hit, though.

  • Xrayvsn September 21, 2020, 3:58 am

    Haven’t created a go bag and like you not sure if there is a need for one given where I live.

    I suppose it would be good to have some sort of freeze dried food on hand in case something drastic happens. I doubt there is anything that would require us needing to flee the house in minutes so I could probably whip up the essentials at the last minute anyway

    • retirebyforty September 22, 2020, 9:00 am

      I thought you have a lot of land. Is there any risk of wild fire? Climate change is going to make many areas more susceptible to wild fire.

  • Dave @ Accidental FIRE September 21, 2020, 2:06 am

    I “kind of” have one I guess you could say. I have so much camping and backpacking gear that you just wind up owning that kind of stuff. People used to make fun of preppers, then COVID comes and now fires etc. They don’t look so goofy anymore 🙂

    • retirebyforty September 22, 2020, 8:59 am

      Right. I always thought it was a good idea, but I’m too lazy to put one together.

  • Mr. Tako September 21, 2020, 12:34 am

    No go bag at our house either. Like you Joe, I don’t see the need to put something together. The odds of us needing to bug-out and abandon our home in just a few minutes seems really unlikely.

    Granted, I believe it’s important to have the ability to put something like this together in an hour or two if necessary. This means having all the tools on-hand, should you need them.

    • retirebyforty September 22, 2020, 8:58 am

      For most problems, I think we should have a day or two to put things together.
      The only one that can be really sudden is the big earthquake. In that case, it’d be good to have a bag ready.

  • Ernie Zelinski September 21, 2020, 12:23 am

    I don’t have a go bag with all the things you mention.

    However, I have seriously thought about purchasing a portable generator in case the electricity goes off for a day or several days. With my being in a very cold climate in winter, at least with a generator I could have a few lights on as well as the furnace motor.

    • retirebyforty September 21, 2020, 10:49 am

      A generator is a good idea. That would be nice here too, but we don’t have any space for it.
      If the electricity goes out for a few days, we’d probably have to drive somewhere.

  • [email protected] September 20, 2020, 11:14 pm

    Boy, with the fires out there I might be really thinking about putting together a solid go bag if I was where you are. It feels like cheap insurance and risk mitigation. I know what you said about being in an urban area, but the smoke has to be a consideration too. We’ve got friends down in Pasadena and while they’re urban enough they’re not going to burn, their air quality is the pits.

    So far as a tomahawk: I think you’re on the right track 🙂 Some sort of axe, machete, quality knife is going to be useful in multiple ways. Perhaps a serious slight shot could also be protective while being useful and something to build skill with.

    • retirebyforty September 21, 2020, 10:48 am

      The smoke was pretty bad, but we were okay. We stayed inside and we have 2 HEPA air purifiers.
      Those helped a lot.
      Sling shot? I’ll see what I can find.

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