The BOB. The GHB. The EDC. There are so many acronyms for emergency kits. It’s like Scrabble for preppers. Do you ever get confused? What do they mean? Why do I need them? When do I need them? Do I need them all? All good questions. The answer to them all really comes down to purpose, though.
Before I get into discussing my advice for picking the emergency kit that best fits your needs, it will be helpful to go through a list of the eight most common styles of emergency kits. Knowing the purpose of the kit will help you understand how it’s used and what should go in it.
Glossary of Emergency Kits
The Bug Out Bag, or BOB. The ubiquitous rockstar of the prepping world. It contains supplies to sustain a person who must leave home for any reason, but only temporarily, usually about 72-hours.
Each person in your household should have their own BOB, although there may be some communal items. Kids should have them, too, tailored to their age and ability.
The Survival Mom has many (many!) informative articles covering different aspects of BOBs. Just search for “bug out bag.” To get you started, here is one about building a BOB on a budget.
The Everyday Carry (EDC). This kit contains items you carry every day, regardless of what you’re doing, to help you handle little inconveniences and unexpected emergencies. Think portable and small. One can easily go overboard here, so think carefully about your purpose and build accordingly. Some people like to include a firearm when assembling their EDC, but you certainly don’t have to.
The Get Home Bag (GHB). In the event of a widespread but still local disaster where you can’t drive, use mass transit, or wait it out at work, you need supplies to get you home. This emergency kit is for traveling light in short-term survival situations where you can get home in a short period of time, say in a few hours or perhaps overnight.
Whenever I think of the GHB I immediately think of September 11 and all the people rushing to get out of Manhattan, but it could also be long-term transportation gridlock, impassable roadways, or destroyed bridges.
You might be across town or across the river. You may drive or you may use mass transit. Perhaps you rarely travel more than a mile or two from home on an average day. Some of the needs may be different, but the purpose is the same. Get home to your loved ones and your stockpile of supplies.
Key survival items and portability is the name of the game here. And just as important, think about what is unique to your particular situation. For instance:
- How far will you travel?
- Is the environment urban, suburban, rural? (A silcock key like this one could be useful for accessing water in urban/suburban areas, less so in rural.)
- What is the topography? (My husband would have to cross a major river with only two bridges six miles apart in order to get home.)
- Are you typically alone? With children? An elderly person?
A couple of things to note: You don’t need to carry enough for full meals–just enough to sustain you until you get home. Make sure you don’t have to cook it, and that you can eat it while moving. Water is important as well, but still keep it minimal because you’re planning to be home shortly. Carry a bottle you can refill and a filter, like this water bottle from Berkey.
4. 72-hour Kit
This is essentially a BOB by another name. 72-hours has traditionally been the magic number in terms of the length of time it can take for disaster relief and management to reach and help a stricken area. However, judging by how long it can take for government entities to begin to effect relief, I wonder if 72-hours isn’t a bit short anymore! You can put together a 72-hour kit by simply following the same guidelines as a BOB. What you decide to call your emergency kits is up to you!
5. Vehicle Kit
The vehicle kit always remains in your car, and contains items for vehicle repair so your plans to get away from danger aren’t completely thwarted by a flat tire. The kit should include things like tools for basic repairs, safety equipment (e.g. flares or LED lights, high visibility vest), as well as chains for driving in ice or other extreme weather gear. These supplies would also be helpful if you stopped to help someone who has broken down or been involved in an accident.
Also included are some food, water, and other items you would need if you had to wait for help to arrive or were stranded. Think through some likely scenarios and consider adding blankets, a tarp, and possibly some items for entertainment.
6. Work Kit
What would you do if you were stranded at work for some reason, possibly overnight or multiple nights? Perhaps hazardous conditions have made driving too dangerous and mass transit inoperable, but it’s temporary. That’s what this survival kit is for.
Think through a scenario where the safest course of action is to remain at your workplace. What would you need? How long would you want your supplies to last? Storing a work kit in a backpack or duffel is one option, but since its primary purpose is for sheltering in place at work, rather than for traveling, tucking items into a desk drawer or in a small tote under your desk is also an option, and could be less conspicuous.
Ideally, this stays at work. If that’s not an option, leave it in your vehicle. And if that’s not an option, and you have to carry it during your commute, then combine the work kit, the GHB, and the EDC together. Better to have one multi-purpose bag than nothing!
This article from the Survival Mom archive helps you think through items you might want to include. Read the comments on this one for real-life examples of why you need one and why you should customize it for YOUR circumstances.
The Get Out of Dodge Bag is essentially the next level up from a BOB. The GOOD bag sustains you for a few weeks or even a few months away from home, but typically at a location where you’ll be able to access food, water, and other amenities. Weather-related disasters, landslides, wildfires, or chemical spills, are all more extreme scenarios where you may have to stay away for an extended period of time.
The idea behind getting out of dodge is evacuating ahead of a disaster while still planning to return home when it’s safe (although you may not be sure when that will be). You should have a destination in mind and a plan already in place for that location–some people choose to purchase cheap property out in the country for their GOOD location. If possible, you can travel by vehicle instead of on foot, and can carry larger containers or haul a small trailer. If you’ve never considered the possibility of evacuating, you need to make a plan.
Since some of these events could result in the loss of your home, including irreplaceable items as space allows is an important consideration.
My GOOD bag is actually a couple of totes for evacuation due to wildfire. While I consider them part of my shelter-in-place supplies, they are kept separate and stored for easy transfer to a vehicle.
The I’m Never Coming Home Bag. This would be a situation where you’re forced to leave home and there is no conceivable circumstance that will allow you to return, ever. On top of that, there is no destination you can go to. This is nomadic gear for long-term survival in total societal collapse.
The INCH bag assumes you can only count on yourself and what you have in your pack. And you’re still limited by the weight you can safely and comfortably carry.
Most of us won’t use this, but the contents will be similar to a BOB. An INCH bag would likely have more items for cooking, more clothes, and supplies to set up or build a shelter if needed.
A Quick Side Note About the “Go Bag”
The term Go Bag has confused me in the past. For some, it’s synonymous with their BOB, while others also use it for their GHB. Still others think of it as something a professional might use when working a double shift, traveling without advance notice, or as part of a task force where one can’t go home to prepare first. Basically, a “Go Bag” is a chameleon that can be tailored according to each individual’s needs.
I prefer to call emergency kits according to their purpose as it has provided clarity and focus in selecting contents and assembling them. For example, it wasn’t until I reframed my husband’s Go Bag as a Get Home Bag that I realized he needed some different items than were on the average Go Bag list. And while my wildfire evac supplies mostly fit the definition of a GOOD Bag, calling them by their purpose gives me laser focus on their contents.
What emergency bag should you assemble first?
So, where should you start? There are lots of different orders you can assemble these in. Common sense really is going to determine this. What do your circumstances dictate you should prepare for first? Decide which emergency kits you are most likely to need based on your lifestyle and the disasters that are most likely to occur in your area, and begin there.
Of course, you do not have to put together each one of these kits in order to be prepared! The majority of preparedness is going to look different for everyone, so please don’t be overwhelmed by the number of possible emergency kits I’ve listed here. Work on them one or two at a time and always tailor them according to your needs and limitations. The five-S framework for building an emergency kit is a great tool to use if you need extra guidance or ideas for what to include in your preps.