How to Pack an Emergency Go Bag for Home Evacuations

Emergency To Go Bag

 Jul Nichols/Getty Images

Natural disasters like hurricanes, tsunamis, tornadoes, floods, mudslides, wildfires, and even volcano eruptions seem to be happening more often all around the world. In the United States, 80 percent live in an area that's been affected during the past decade. Fortunately, technology has evolved to help scientists predict disasters earlier and give those living in affected areas more advanced warning than in years past.

If a natural disaster is looming, every household should have an emergency go bag or bug out bag ready for each family member should the authorities or common sense call for the need to evacuate. Taking even a few minutes to look for medications or documents can cost a life. Even if you hope to "ride out" the danger with a store of supplies, packing an easy-to-carry bag with essentials will prove helpful in the aftermath.

While protecting our homes and businesses from disaster is important, protecting human lives is absolutely crucial. But when disaster strikes, each of us should take every measure possible to be prepared for life after the crises is over.

Choosing a Go Bag

An emergency go bag should be lightweight enough for the adult or child to easily carry it, but large enough to hold essential items needed for up to three days. A backpack is a good choice because it leaves your hands free to hold onto other items, but a small suitcase with wheels or even rolling backpack can also work. Remember, you may be running with your bag.

Place the bag near an exit with your purse or wallet, phone, and car and home keys.

Start With the Essentials When Packing

A go bag doesn't need to have all of the things you would normally keep in a home preparedness kit like gallons of bottled water, canned or dried foods, candles, and blankets. Hopefully, the evacuation shelter will be able to supply those items. The go bag should have essentials that may not be readily available for you.


Pack at least three days of each type of medication you must take in the original prescription bottles. This will save countless hours if you need to refill them later. If you use supplemental oxygen, invest in a portable tank, if possible, to have on hand. 

Personal Items

Pack an extra pair of glasses or plenty of contact lens. Ideally, include a small first aid kit, sanitary hand wipes, a multi-functional tool with a can opener and small knife, and a comfort item for each child.


While you may not land in a spot with electricity, be sure to pack at least one phone charger and any extra battery packs. An LED flashlight or headlamp will be welcomed and purchase a radio that can be charged by hand-cranking. A metal whistle may also prove invaluable in finding you if your cell phone dies.


Aim for clothing that is lightweight and can be worn in layers. For babies, pack extra diapers and warm clothes. Select shoes that are waterproof, if possible.

Food and Water

You won't be able to carry a lot of supplies but be sure every bag has a bottle or two of water. Water filtration straws in each bag will ensure potable water. Add some staples like granola bars or dried fruit that are lightweight but will boost drained energy. For babies, include premixed formula, baby food, and extra bottles.


Whether you choose to bring along the original documents or photocopies of important papers, place them in a sealed, waterproof bag within the go bag. Even if you have scanned the documents onto a flash drive, paper copies should be in the bag because there may not be electricity available to use an electronic device. Have these documents available for every member of the household:

  • Birth certificate
  • Passport
  • Social security card
  • List of emergency contact information
  • Current family photograph with contact information in case members get separated
  • Health insurance or medicare cards
  • Medical and immunization records
  • Driver's license
  • Marriage, adoption, citizenship certificates
  • Home deed
  • Insurance policies on home and auto
  • Credit card and banking information
  • Power of attorney and will
  • Pet records


Long before the need arises, go around your home and take digital photos of valuable items like art and antiques and create an electronic record that can be stored in the cloud or on a flash drive in a waterproof container in your go bag. Also, keep some cash in small bills and change in your go bag. 


Pet go bags should have a leash, dry food, water, and a lightweight carrier.

The Best Way to Maintain a Go Bag

To be truly prepared, you should have an emergency go bag ready year-round. Check it every six months to rotate food and water supplies, refresh medications, update documents, and, especially for children, make sure clothing still fits.