What if TSHTF and you are at work, school, on vacation, at the grocery store, or simply travelling to visit relatives? The short answer is that while you may be inconvenienced, perhaps horribly inconvenienced, you are not screwed because you, being a perceptive person who is aware that civilization has a thin and fragile veneer, have a Get Home Bag (GHB). This puts you at least ten steps ahead of anyone who doesn’t have one.
Everyone should have a GHB. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it’s anything from a daypack to a full sized backpack or even a suitcase on wheels that contains supplies to help you “get home” in an emergency. There are as many notions about what to put in a GHB as there are people who have them but pretty much everyone agrees on certain basics. Water, food, a first aid kit, something that can be rigged as a shelter, extra clothing (at least socks), a flashlight, a knife or multi-tool and several ways to make fire.
My personal GHB is a daypack that resides in the trunk of my car and if I switch vehicles it goes with me. In addition to the basics it holds toilet paper, a two-way radio (recharged weekly), and, unless I’m travelling to less enlightened States than Arizona, a pistol with extra ammunition. (Explanation—In Arizona, where we believe your right to defend yourself against criminals and government tyranny is guaranteed by the Second Amendment, you aren’t required to get a permit to carry a weapon either open or concealed. But if you get pulled over you are required to inform the officer you are carrying—so as to avoid misunderstandings).
My get home bag also holds a portable water filter. As I said in Chapter 2 (Water) I’d have killed for one of these things when I was backpacking in the Rockies. No boiling. No chlorinating. Just stick one end the the water supply and suck and you get potable water. I have upgraded my portable water filter from the LifeStraw to the Survivor Filter, but I still have the LifeStraws as a backup.
So that covers the basic generalities so now let’s get specific.
1. Plan—The first thing you need to do in any emergency is stop and think, take a deep breath, anything that helps you to keep a cool head. Then you use that cool head to rationally assess your current situation and develop a Get Home Plan. This means not flying off the handle (panicking) and dashing off for home without considering your circumstances.
Is the weather good or is there a blizzard raging outside?
Has martial law been declared and travel restricted?
Does your car even run? Are the airports open and functioning?
If you can’t access an ATM do you have cash?
What route home is best in the current situation?
What will you need to get there that you don’t have with you now? In the blizzard example and if your car isn’t running you might need skis or snowshoes.
Has law and order started to break down—i.e., are the good citizens of your city rioting and looting?
You get the idea. Stay calm and develop a plan that has you arriving home safely.
2. Water—being a desert rat I always make sure I have water. I carry two sixteen ounce bottles of water in my GHB at all times. One of them is stainless steel so I can use it to boil water for cooking, sterilization or cleaning. I rotate them frequently to assure a fresh tasting supply. If I’m going out of town I carry a wheeled cooler packed with ice and several more bottles of water in the back seat of my car. As mentioned above my kit also contains a Survivor Filter.
As a backup in case my portable filter is broken I carry a bottle of Potable Aqua water purification tablets. And just in case I also have a 4-Way sillcock key that will allow me to open most outside valves and faucets on commercial structures. It’s cheap, lightweight insurance I won’t run out of water so long as taps are flowing.
If you’re in your car and it’s still mobile another good idea would be to have a pair of siphons in your trunk—one for water and one for fuel—just don't mix them up. :)
3. Shelter—I carry a lightweight, nylon poncho that has grommets at the corners and along the edges in case I need to rig it as a tarp/shelter; however, it’s primary function is as raingear. But if my car is still mobile during the emergency that would be my primary shelter. I’d just rig a lean-to beside it so I could have a cooking fire.
I also carry a pair of Grabber Outdoor Emergency Blankets. These are like the thin Mylar space blankets you may have heard about but on steroids. They are much thicker and tougher. The reason I carry two is so I can rig one as a tarp/shelter or ground cloth and wrap one around me to keep me warm. Again they have grommets so I can use some paracord to convert them into everything from an “A” frame tent to a lean-to. A fifty-foot roll of paracord has a permanent home in my GHB.
And I still carry a couple of the old-style, cheap, lightweight Mylar space blankets. They fold up credit card sized and weigh just a few ounces. That way if I ever have to use both my Grabber blankets to form a shelter I'll still have the lightweight mylar blankets to wrap myself in.
4. Fire—in addition to stormproof (water and wind proof) matches I carry a Bic lighter, my Gobspark Armageddon Fire Steel, a small magnifying glass and two film containers full of Vaseline soaked cotton balls for tinder. If I can’t start a fire in any conditions with those I’m a hopeless klutz. I also have a tiny, lightweight, butane backpackers stove.
5. Food—I carry a five-hour energy drink, a few energy bars, some hard candies in butterscotch and peppermint flavors, a bag of Gorp, and a couple of freeze-dried meals and a bit of salt and pepper. I’m partial to Chicken a La King and Beef Stroganoff. This amounts to enough food for two, or in a stretch three, hungry days of hiking. If I’m going farther from home than a two or three-day hike I throw my old Kelty backpack in the trunk, which contains additional provisions. It has saved me more than once, but the best story of how a Get Home Bag (and we didn’t call them that then) can turn a scary, life-threatening situation into a comfortable and somewhat fun adventure occurred in the early 70’s, when I was in my twenties.
As I’ve often stated, I did a lot of cross country skiing, winter mountaineering and backpacking when I lived in Colorado. One day my wife and I finished up a day of skiing in Winter Park and headed back home to Northglenn. The fastest and easiest route was to follow US 40 over Berthoud Pass to I-70 then east. Mother nature had other ideas.
It was spitting wind driven snow and the road was snow-packed and a bit slick in spots, but the plows had been out so it all looked good. We’d had a cold snap and heavy snow following several days of above average sunny temps. That weather pattern had been repeating itself for about a month and, in fact, I’d cancelled a mountaineering trip to the San Juan Range in SW Colorado because of avalanche danger.
Anyhow we’re puttering along up the pass in a four vehicle caravan, three of us trapped behind a slow moving pickup with a camper shell. We had just rounded a cut back curve when the ground trembled and a terrible sound filled the air along with a blast of wind. Having had some direct experience with avalanches before, I immediately cut the wheels of my old, metal-topped International Scout 4x4, pulled over as close as I could get to the cliff we were next to and stopped.
The two cars behind me followed my lead but the pickup just stopped in the middle of the road.
When you see an avalanche on TV or in a movie the are always silent, beautiful plumes of racing snow. This myth is so prevalent they are sometimes called Silent Death. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In real life a slab avalanche creates a terrible crackling, grinding roar of sound—a bit like a jet passing way too close overhead—that is scarier than hell. And if you’re close, the ground trembles, adding to your personal jitters. Even if the slide misses you the air is filled with a billowing cloud of fine snow particles making it impossible to see. And the gust of air alone can knock you down or blow a vehicle off the road.
That’s what happened to us. As the avalanche roared past just in front of us we were buffeted by a blast of air that shoved the top heavy pickup off the road. We were then engulfed in a fog of snow so dense I thought for a second we’d been buried by the slide.
I checked my wife but aside from being frightened like me, she was alright. I’d seen the pickup as it was swept off the road so as the air cleared I grabbed my collapsible snow shovel and a length of climbing rope from the back of my Scout and my wife and I trudged up the road to see if we could help. A couple from one of the cars behind us came along too. The wife, whose name I learned was Betty, scurried back to keep their three kids inside the car. The man, Earl, stayed to help. They were here on a ski vacation with their kids from Kansas.
As we neared the edge of the road I could hear someone cussing up a storm. Turns out their pickup had slid sideways off the road about fifteen feet before crunching into a couple of solid trees. The guy who’d been driving was doing the cussing. He’d seen the smashed camper shell and the damage the trees had caused and he was trying to climb up to the road—take one step up, slide three steps back. Meanwhile his wife was already rooting around the damaged camper throwing out stuff they could salvage.
Both of them were bruised and he had a split lip where he’d hit his mouth on his steering wheel but neither was seriously injured. I threw the rope down to them and the four of us up top went “on belay” as they used the rope to climb up to us. They introduced themselves as Tom and Ginny.
By that time the people from the other car had joined us—college girls (Christine and Amanda) from Denver University. The girls had more room in their vehicle than my wife and I had in our Scout, or than Earl and Betty had in their car full of kids, so they offered the old couple (must have been in their fifties—you know, old) a ride as we all decided to turn around and head back down the hill to Winter Park.
At that point our only concern was if we could find lodging for the night. But before we could even get turned around the ground shook and that ear shattering roar hit us and we all dove into our vehicles and prayed. (There are no atheists in avalanches).
This one bellowed down an old slide slope behind up and, as we discovered when we walked back to check out the damage, had buried the road to a depth of about a dozen feet. The slide in front of us had been larger, dumping around sixteen feet of snow and ice on the road. No way we were shoveling our way through that without it taking us several days. We were blocked in fore and aft—trapped as it were.
Christine started to cry and my wife, Jane, comforted her while the rest of us sorted the situation out. I told them about my mountaineering experience and that I thought we’d be okay if we camped out up against the cliff as it looked like that would divert any other slides past us. Some were worried about falling rocks—a fist-sized chunk had banged off the top of our Scout during the first slide, but our options were somewhat limited.
I told them I could get us a fire going for warmth, had a camp stove, and a backpack full of food (an eight-day supply from my cancelled trip that I hadn’t unpacked). I said I could also rig up a tarp for shelter from the breeze and still falling snow near the fire.
At that point Tom and Ginny said if we could help them retrieve some stuff from their camper they had even more food, some pop, beer and blankets. Tom had a white gas Coleman lantern to compliment my flashlight—which we would soon need if we didn’t get a move on.
I pulled a camp saw and a hatchet from my Scout and Earl, along with his two oldest boys, started gathering firewood while Tom and I salvaged goodies from his camper. Jane got a fire going—she blew the others away by using a couple of my Vaseline soaked cotton balls as tinder and sparking it off with my old Buck knife and a magnesium rod. Showing off, but it worked. It got the others interested in our survival skills.
We set a few rocks around the fire and laid a cookie rack across it to set the frying pan on. Betty cooked up bacon, while Amanda and Christine whipped up cheese omelets. By the time dinner was ready Tom and I had the tarps rigged up and we even had some wet blankets hanging over poles near the fire to dry. Earl and his boys had cut and stacked a large pile of firewood.
After dinner I pulled out my bag of Gorp (mostly M&Ms and peanuts, remember?) which Earl and Betty’s children loved, and a few packages of Mountain House freeze-dried Neapolitan ice cream. I’m telling you hardship sucks.
By the time dinner was done we were all feeling pretty good, figuring we’d be here at most overnight and possibly not that long as reopening a US highway would be a top priority. Oh, for all you youngsters out there, this occurred before the advent of cell phones, laptops, the internet, and even before cheap two way radios were available. None of us had CB radio, so we couldn’t simply call for help.
Amanda pulled out a guitar and for a while we all sat around singing folk songs and Beatles tunes (Hey! It was the 70’s).
With Jane’s blessing, I offered my sleeping bag to Betty and her young daughter. I had a couple of old-style lightweight, flimsy space blankets and that’s what Jane and I wrapped ourselves in. Since it was winter everyone had heavy coats, hats and gloves. The college girls, Tom and Ginny, and Earl and his boys divvied up the blankets and we all settled down for the night.
I didn’t get much sleep as all through the night I could hear the distant rumbling of avalanches cutting loose.
By the time the road crews broke through the upper slide the next morning we’d had breakfast and were packed and ready to go. A sheriff’s posse volunteer had shown up on a snowmobile just before daybreak. We thanked him, gave him a mug of hot chocolate (courtesy of my never-ending supply of Swiss Mix), and told him we were fine.
Some of those fine folks have passed on and I’ve lost touch with others but to this day my wife and I exchange Christmas cards with Amanda.
While the supplies old Tom and Ginny had in their camper were certainly helpful, the knowledge Jane and I had plus the survival gear we had in our Scout and in my backpack made all the difference. It turned what could have been a cold, miserable, hungry and possibly hypothermic night into a somewhat fun adventure. I’ve never forgotten how a little preparedness can go a long way and that’s why I ALWAYS carry a get home bag.
Okay, enough digression, back to GHB contents.
6. First Aid Kit—The kit I have in my GHB is very basic. Bandaids in ¾ inch and larger, Neosporin, a roll of gauze, a roll of surgical tape, some duct tape, a clean bandanna, a needle, tweezers, nail clippers, a pair of forceps (the vise grips of EMT’s, doctors and nurses), a small tube of New Skin spray on liquid bandage, some moleskin pads for blisters, a small tube of SPF 50 sunscreen and another of zinc oxide for my nose (and ears if I’m wearing a ball cap), some Imodiom AD, Advil, Claritin D, A&D ointment, Vaseline, and Tinactin cream. It sounds like a lot but it all fits in a three inch by four inch by one and a half-inch container. Note: Items like Vaseline and other creams and ointments are stuffed into drinking straws with the ends folded over and secured with paper clips and rubber bands. Then those are stored in a Ziplock baggie.
Back before menopause my kit had a few tampons and pads in it. I probably should keep the tampons. I’ve heard they are good for plugging bullet wounds (though I’d just as soon never find out), and also make good tinder for starting fires.
Since I’m type II diabetic I also carry a pill box with a weeks supply of my diabetes medication.
YOUR first aid kit will be personalized for your needs.
7. Extra clothing—In the winter time I wear jeans but most of the year I’m in shorts. I know that in our hot summers I should dress like a laborer in long pants a long sleeved shirt and a wide brimmed hat with a neck flap, but I don’t. I should also always wear my hiking boots, but I don’t. In the summer it’s tennis shoes or sandals. So to overcome this failing I carry a wide brimmed hat, a pair of jeans, a belt, a long sleeved shirt and a pair of hiking boots in the trunk of my car. If TSHTF, I’ll change clothes before starting any serious trek. maybe I should go with camouflage pattern pants and shirt, but I intend to blend in, not stand out. I think that’s safer.
The only extra clothing that actually resides in my GHB are a pair of leather gloves and two pairs of alpaca wool socks—warm in winter, warm when wet, cool and absorbent in summer. These are my favorite socks. They are soooo comfy wearing them should probably count as a sin. I got them from Alpacas of the Southwest.
Oh, I forgot. I also carry an Endora Cool Neckwrap for those hot summer days. Wet it, wring it out, snap it and wrap it around your neck like a bandanna and you will feel much cooler than the outdoor temperature. I guess it’s technically an item of clothing but it functions like a miniature air conditioner. Here's a link thought I got mine from Lowe's.
Well, hell, I also forgot my sunglasses. Since I’m almost always wearing them they’re more a part of my Every Day Carry kit.
8. Tools—In my car I have several road maps that cover the entire western United States, a Swiss Army knife (one actually made in Switzerland—not some cheap knock-off), a full size Buck Pathfinder hunting/skinning knife, a hatchet—not a warrior’s war axe, but a wood chopping tool, a folding camp shovel, a file and whetstone, a folding camp saw, a couple of roadside flares, a solar and battery powered flashlight, a Voyager solar powered/hand crank powered/battery powered emergency radio, a pair of Minolta binoculars and, on long trips, a two-gallon gasoline can full of fuel.
Residing inside my GHB is a Leatherman Wave multi-tool, a Smith’s PP1 pocket-sized knife sharpener, my Hoffman Richter Tactical Folding knife—a larger, heavier, hilted version of my Kershaw (see below). It is spring assisted and snaps open with one finger, a folding solar battery charger and a headlamp style flashlight.
In my pocket (actually clipped onto the lip of my pocket) I carry a Kershaw Leek Serrated Model spring assisted folding knife I can flick open with one finger. It’s part of my Every Day Carry kit. Warning: Even in Arizona, which is perhaps the most gun and knife friendly State in the union it is illegal NOT to inform a policeman you are carrying a knife if you are pulled over.
Since I’m a writer I carry a notebook and an assortment of pens. I’m also an avid reader so I carry whatever book I happen to be absorbing at the time. Don’t know when I expect to find time to read in an emergency but I’m a lifelong, hopelessly addicted reader so I refuse to be without one.
I also carry a couple of big, black garbage bags, a roll of toilet paper, dental floss, a toothbrush and a package of wet wipes. Yeah, the TP is bulky but it’s light and is another one of those items I’d rather have too much of than too little.
9. Weapons—Let’s start small. Inside my GHB I have a folding wrist-rocket style sling shot and a package of ¼” ball bearings. I used one often as a kid but this isn’t one of those “it’s like riding a bicycle” things. I can’t believe how much ammo I wasted before I could hit something with that thing. It would be good for small game and could discourage, and at close range seriously hurt, an attacker.
I have the knives listed above and a folding lock blade Gerber. But I’ve been seriously thinking about replacing my venerable Buck Pathfinder with a Cold Steel Bushman (standard blade design) simply because they are so well made and I think the fact you can convert the knife to a spear simply by shoving a piece of wood up its hollow (but still very strong) handle is cool. The steel and knife have been tested to two tons without breaking so it seems like it’s a quality product. The only think stopping me is it’s made in China. Sigh, sometimes having principles is a bear.
I carry a small container of pepper spray and while it might not ward off a bear it’s likely to deter most human attackers and dogs.
One of the reason I love living in Arizona is that people here respect the Second Amendment and consistently vote for politicians dedicated to protecting our right to bear arms. So, in Arizona, I carry a pistol—sometimes a Smith and Wesson Model 586 .357 magnum, sometimes a 10mm Colt Delta Elite. Both are holstered and worn open carry style.
When I carry the S&W I add a couple of speed loaders and when I’m wearing the Colt I take along a couple of extra clips, one of which fits in my holster. It’s always better to have more ammo than you think you’ll need.
Now you might think folks would look at me funny when they see me packing but it’s so common a sight around here no one pays any attention to it. In fact, when I’m at a restaurant or grocery store and see someone carrying I feel more safe, not less, because I know folks who carry tend to be level-headed and well-practiced with their weapon.
10. Communication—Anytime I leave home I carry my cell phone, but at home I don’t and it’s usually turned off. On trips I also carry my Midland two-way radio. I no longer have a CB radio in my car but it’s a good idea and I’ll probably get one installed.
11. Extra Cash--pretty self-explanatory, but in places like Argentina and Venezuela where economic chaos is now running rampant, cash is king.
12. The Bag itself—My get home bag is a simply Hi Tech six pocket day pack. When fully packed it weighs about 25 pounds and is medium comfortable to carry. It has a belt strap to help you carry the load on your hips instead of on your shoulders—something any backpacker knows is a good idea. But the belt strap is thin instead of thick and padded as it should be so it cuts in to me at times. However the shoulder straps are nice and wide and padded.
Still, I’ve been considering upgrading my GHB to a 3V Gear Paratus 3 Day Operator’s Pack. 3V makes top quality, tough, durable, functional gear. It costs about $80 but should be a once in a lifetime purchase.
13. Packing tips—Always pack the heaviest items closest to your back. The exceptions to this rule is your water bottle, which should be accessible in an outside pouch, your sheath knife which again should be on your hip belt and your gun which should also be holstered on your hip. Packing this way gives you a better center of gravity and helps you walk easier under load.
Be certain your pack comes with a well-padded hip belt.
Get or make smaller versions of everything. Remember how I stuffed creams and lotions into straws? I’ve considered dumping my Hoffman Richter folding knife and just going with my Buck Pathfinder because of the weight. You don’t need a whole roll of duct tape. I use about ten feet of black Gorilla Tape rolled around a pill bottle.
Get items that are good for more than one purpose. A multi-tool could replace your pocket knife. Reading glasses could substitute as a magnifying glass to start a fire. Your poncho or Grabber space blanket can be a shelter.
Design the contents to fit your locale. If I lived someplace where there was lots of water, I might add lightweight fishing gear to my GHB. Hey, I might even have a boat. If I lived around tons of mosquitoes I’d have insect repellent in my pack. Part of your planning—remember item one—is considering any obstacles you might encounter getting home and putting items in your bag to help you overcome those obstacles. Several Preppers recommend the N95 Face Mask to protect you from dust or debris but around my neck of the woods such a mask would make you stand out like a beacon on a dark night. But YOU might want to consider one.
That’s about it for my advice on Get Home Bags. Next month I’ll touch on a few more items you might need.
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