The Importance of Having a Last Minute Packing List

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On the wall of my dining room is one of my pride and joys—a beloved painting purchased during a trip to Venice. It’s the one thing in that room that I would want to save if I needed to evacuate. But it’s not something I can stuff into a Go Bag in advance. What I need for these and other things that don’t make sense to pack away or that I use on a daily basis is a last minute packing list.

Now I know you’ve heard more than enough about packing emergency kits, Bug Out Bags, Go Bags, or whatever else they may be called. I even have a list here on my site of what should be included.

However, in a scenario in which you’re running out the door, that pre-packed kit is going to be missing something. A lot of important somethings, actually, because many items can, and should, only be packed at the last minute.

In this article, we’ll cover how to create a checklist for last minute things that you use and enjoy daily that don’t make sense to pack in advance into an emergency kit.

image: woman in jeans and black shirt running out door using last minute packing list

The Importance of a Last Minute Packing List

Why You Want It

Not to beat a dead horse but it bears repeating: When an emergency hits, some of us must fight our natural inclination to run around like chickens with our heads cut off. This list is for all of us, but is ESPECIALLY helpful for those folks. You want a list to help you remember those things that you either can’t or don’t want to pack away in advance.

You want to remove as many decisions as possible, so you don’t even think about it.

Another consideration is that whatever you leave behind might end up in the hands of criminals. Homes left vacant after evacuations are targets for thieving low-lifes. Just know that whatever you leave behind may not be there when you get back, so plan ahead as to what you must take with you.

When You Would Use It

The checklist for last minute things is not the list you use to prepare in advance, although you will prepare the list ahead of time. You’ll use this list when:

  1. you have a very short amount of time to get out of your house, OR
  2. you have minimal time to put things up in a safe place (think a flood)

How To Use It

When an emergency happens, that’s the time to act, not sit down and think of the things you want to save. That’s where this list comes in.

While my other emergency lists help you to plan in advance, this one is going to help you save those important items you use regularly and that don’t make sense to pack away ahead of time. You’ll grab this list and go through as much of it as you have time to gather important and beloved items not already packed.

Questions to Decide What to Include on a Last Minute Packing List

How do you decide what to put on the list? It can be overwhelming, so I suggest going through the following questions on a room-by-room basis. Breaking a big task down into more manageable chunks is helpful. For the contents of each room, think about these things:

  • Is it literally irreplaceable? It’s highly unlikely that I could replace my dining room painting.
  • Do you depend on it for your life? A CPAP machine, for example, or another piece of medical equipment.
  • Is it in use up until the moment of evacuation? You won’t want to pack homeschooling supplies away in advance if you are a home educator.
  • Can you scan it? Think priceless, irreplaceable family photos. If it’s something scannable, then this is something that you could prepare for in advance and have one less thing to gather when time is of the essence.
  • Does it have a high monetary value? This might be an antique or a collector’s item.

Once you’ve identified everything to go on this list, then order the list in terms of priority. Don’t have the most important things at the bottom of this list. You might not have time to go through the whole list in an emergency. Put first things first!

You’ll also want to assign a person(s) to each item, taking into account age, physical ability, and mental and emotional resilience in high-stress situations. Then, make sure everyone knows their responsibilities.

Will you know what to do when an emergency occurs?

Prepare and survive an evacuation, both urgent and planned, with solid advice for your family’s unique set of circumstances. When that single, terrifying moment comes when you must get out now, you’ll be ready.

Items to Include on a Last Minute Packing List

Click HERE for a downloadable checklist you can print out.


You may already have packed a few dollars in your emergency kit, but if you have cash stashed around the house, be sure to take it with you! A vacant home is more likely to be burglarized, plus that extra money comes in handy for travel expenses and food.


Any prescription or over-the-counter medications you regularly take should be packed at the last minute. If it needs to be refrigerated, have a small ice chest and several cold packs in the freezer.

Medical or special equipment

Supplies such as a wheelchair, walking aids, diabetic meters, or nebulizer can be hard to quickly replace, especially if regional emergencies or if you must go through insurance.

Firearms and extra magazines/ammo

If you have a collection of guns, decide now which you will grab at the last minute. No one likes to leave these behind, but in the case of a house fire or oncoming tornado, you’ll waste precious minutes lugging them to your vehicle.

If your gun safe is portable, then be sure you can transport it out of the house. A furniture dolly would come in handy for this task.

The right clothing

What clothing is needed for current weather conditions? Your emergency kit probably doesn’t contain heavy-duty winter clothing or rain boots. To stay warm and dry, know ahead of time where these items are located.

Heirlooms, valuables

If the house is on fire, you’ll have to leave these behind, but other than the direst emergency, you’ll be glad you packed these along. Packed in a fireproof and waterproof safe, they’ll be safe from flood, fire, and smoke damage, if the safe is left behind.

Photo albums

Over and over people say how glad they were that their photos survived a calamity. Place your most valued photographic treasures in a fire-proof safe. Display scans instead.

Small safes and/or strong-boxes

If something is valuable enough to be kept in one of these, remember to take these with you. I like having a safe that is small and lightweight enough to carry, along with one or two that are much heavier that I plan on leaving behind in case of a fire, flood, earthquake, or similar disaster. Unless stolen, it will be there when we return.

Precious metals

If you have been buying gold and silver coins, please don’t leave them for burglars or for Mother Nature to wash away with flood waters! They can be heavy, so you may want to store them in smaller containers to make transporting easier.

The right shoes

Proper footgear is so important I include it separately from clothing. Sometimes we must leave our house in a hurry and in the middle of the night. Plan which shoes each family member will grab, along with socks. (Have extra socks and some moleskin packed in your emergency kit.)

Vital electronics

If you keep personal and financial records on a computer, and most of us do, you’ll want to have a plan for securing that information and, if possible, taking it with you.

At the very least, someone should be trained to download information to a thumb drive. It might be easier just to grab the laptop or unplug the desktop computer and make a run for it.

Your Grab-and-Go binder

If you haven’t already assembled one of these, read this post for more about gathering this important household information.

Perishable foods

If you expect to be on the road for a while and have the time to pack it, a cooler filled with food will eliminate the need to stop at fast food joints or restaurants. This will help you get to a safer location more quickly.

Comfort items for family members

These could be stuffed animals, favorite pillows, or blankets.

Family pets and their supplies

Read this Pet Emergency Checklist to help you prepare for your animals’ needs.

Camping supplies

If there’s a chance that you may not reach a hotel or other lodging, a tent, sleeping bags, and a few other supplies will provide shelter and rudimentary living quarters temporarily.

A Final Thought

When an emergency strikes, you don’t want to waste precious seconds trying to decide what last minute precious and important items you want to save. Preparing a last minute packing list helps you act more swiftly and effectively to save what matters most.

What items are on your last minute packing list?

Originally published August 13, 2013; updated by the Survival Mom editors.

12 thoughts on “The Importance of Having a Last Minute Packing List”

  1. I was just saying to the hubby last night I wish I had a last minute packing list. We were doing our weekly prepping meeting and I mentioned both things you talked about here… The everyday emergency kit and last minute packing..

    Thanks for reading my mind and providing me just what I needed. 😉

  2. Pingback: Prepper News Watch for August 13, 2013 | The Preparedness Podcast

  3. A better thing to do with family photos is to get them transferred onto CDs and/or flash drives (both preferably, one can serve as a backup to the other). They are more portable and take up way less space than albums. And unless it is truly the end of the world as we know it, the photos can be reprinted at a later date if the albums at home are destroyed.

  4. I live in wildfire courty and was told once that Red Cross, shelters and I’m assuming most others, will not let your animals inside the sleeping areas with you (rightly so). Unles you want to sleep in your car, or have somewhere else to stay, I might suggest packing a large enough tent, and sleeping bags for your family and animals. You can keep a good eye on your vehicle, and know that everyone can stay together during a stressful time.

  5. Quite good list for a last minute pack, I didn`t tought untill now for a photos fire-proof safe.
    Also to all your readers: don`t forget your survival tools! I think you could put the in your “Camping supplies”.

  6. Just finished this task a couple weeks ago. Under the rear seat of my van looks like a Tetris game. I also posted my list inside one of the kit hen cabinets. I figured it would go much faster with a list to go off of. But in reading this I ne
    ed to add to my list.

  7. I love this blog! So well written. I read a lot of survival blogs and take something unique out of nearly each one. I did share this page in my group (Let’s talk coupons) on facebook. We practice putting back essentials on a budget. I started “prepping” 2 months ago on as little as $10 a week and have come SO far thanks to people with great blogs like yours. Love this! Feel free to join our group! 🙂

  8. Pingback: Survive the Family Road Trip With These 13 Tips | Prepper Junkie

  9. I built my husband & I a new pair of desktop computers, so we have our old ones and the new ones.

    All of them have 2 Kingwin ‘hot swap drawers’ one case with drawer is installed, the other case holds the second hard drive drawer safely on the shelf. This way one good desktop is both a Linux and Windows computer, depending on which drawer is inserted. The inserted drawer is always the C: drive. This also means we can grab the 2 drawers for each computer if we can’t spare time to grab the whole computer. So for about $20 per drawer, and one extra hard drive, we have both a fast, inexpensive way to get the hard drive to safety if we can’t drag 4 or even 2 large desktops out, and we also each have 2 nice desktops that are set up for either drive to be the C: drive, so effectively 2 separate computers in one, more if we get another drive and drawer. Hope this helps.

  10. I have a list of items and tasks to be completed if leaving home is necessary…it is set up in time segments. What to grab/do if you have 10 minutes or less to leave. If you have 20-30 minutes. If you have 4hours or more. After family members had to evacuate their two homes due to a wildfire and understanding the difference requirements they each had, we felt it prudent to make the different lists. One had to leave in 3 minutes. ( yes his house burned down) The other had about 40 minutes lead time. We have two to-go -bags ready for the emergency- leave NOW, your life is endanger bags. And a list of other things to do if you have more time. Don’t forget to decide what bag/tote/box you will use to pack items at last minute. You don’t want to be running around trying to find a tote or bag large enough at the last minute.

  11. Plano Plastics makes “Sportsman”s Trunks” in several different sizes; I have several of the mediums – about 26″ L X 12″ H X 12″ W – pre-loaded with necessary supplies and labeled “BOB 1” through “BOB 6” – “Bug Out Box.” 1&2 are food and meds, 3-5 living/camping/survival supplies with #6 “emergency clothing” for everyone and a little bit of basic laundry supplies. The requirement was each one must be “carriable” by everyone in the family which drives the number of BOBs. If we have to “Bug Out” they go in the covered truck bed with six 5-gallon water cans (Sceptre cans, laid flat between the boxes), an additional Plano box with “truck supplies” (tow strap, some tools, safety flares, a few basic spare parts like headlamp bulbs, fuses, etc.) a sheet of 3/4″ plywood laid on top of the boxes to provide space for light, bulky items and a sleeping platform if necessary.

    We have a master “Bug Out checklist” with sub-lists for specific tasks assigned to specific family members to prevent “headless chicken syndrome” and useless duplication of effort, and a separate “secure the house on the way out” checklist – water off, certain appliances unplugged, thermostat set to X degrees depending on season, doors and windows secured, etc.

    Those items normally kept secured (important documents and firearms and money in safes, for example) are a specific item, assigned to one adult. You will also need to plan for family members not home, at work, school, etc., so there may be some “doubling up” on the tasks lists.

    IMHO, there should be included a 30-second “last possible second review” before driving off to make sure everyone completed their assigned tasks and discover what got missed. This is not “story telling time” it’s “Joe Friday just the facts” time – fast, accurate, complete.

    Pro Tip: Do the planning up front – and it will take a great deal more time than you think – THEN TEST IT. If you live in hurricane country you will have days to prepare and leave, in wildfire, flood or riot country you may have only 5 minutes. You will discover things pop up during your test drills, such as, “I need my X” which need to be added to the list. You will discover there are necessary lifestyle changes that must be implemented because if family member X leaves his/her shoes, or laptop, reading glasses, or whatever, just anywhere there will not be time to search for them. And, test your escape routes – roads may be closed or unpassable, so have a Plan B, and a Plan C. You may have a family member whose “Bug Out Job” is “pick up your overnight case and go sit in the vehicle” while everyone else performs their Bug Out tasks.

    Pro Tip: If it’s possible, a small storage unit – we have a 5X5 – with a few extra basic supplies in it “just in case” can be very useful. Select one in a safe and secure neighborhood, as far away as can be reached with no more than moderate inconvenience, and nothing goes in it that it irreplaceable or hazardous.

    The list and the procedures it drives must become gospel. And, it will not work the first few, perhaps the first several, times you practice it. Plan to persevere.

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