I believe that the get home bag is the survival kit that you’re most likely to use. The chances of you being affected by a disaster are much higher in an urban environment than in other places.
An urban get home bag is an emergency kit with the equipment that you need to get from where you are back to your home if an emergency occurs. An urban get home bag is specialized to meet the obstacles faced in an urban environment.
Do you work or live in an urban environment? If you do, I suggest reading through this article to see what you should put in your get home bag so you can face that type of environment with gear that’s tailored toward cities and suburbs.
If you’re looking for a general get home bag loadout, please check out our get home bag article.
Why Would You Need an Urban Get Home Bag?
Almost everyone works away from their homes and most of those people work in some kind of city or suburb that has a high population and, even worse, a high population density. This means that when a disaster stikes that area there are more people to get hurt, more people to try to push past to get where you need to go and more people to lose their minds and panic.
This is where an urban get home bag comes in.
The more time that you spend away from home, the more likely it is that when some kind of disaster hits, you’ll be away from home and your family. An urban get home bag is designed to get you back home to your family. When everyone else is unprepared and panicking, you can relax knowing that you’re prepared and start heading home.
Urban areas are more likely to feel the effects of the following disasters:
- Civil unrest like riots
- Terror attacks
- Food shortages
- Water shortages
- Economic collapse
Urban Get Home Bag Basics
This get home bag is tailored to the needs of those of us that work in a city or other areas with a high population density.
Most Americans work within 25 miles of where they live. This is also about the distance that an average person can walk in one day.
Because of this, the basic idea behind this kit is that you have to walk from where you work, back to where you live and that trip will take you about one day.
This assumes that there are probably cars blocking the roads, police not allowing traffic down the roads or some other kind of obstruction that’s keeping you from driving home. If you can still drive home after a disaster, then you should.
When you’re trying to get home, drive for as far as you can and abandon your vehicle if you have to! This kit is there only as a last resort.
Throughout this article, I’m going to discuss a lot of different options and the reasoning for bringing (or not bringing) certain things. Look at your situation and make educated decisions when you’re packing your urban get home bag.
Your Everyday Carry
Your everyday carry (EDC) is the gear that you carry every day. These are things like your wallet/purse, ID, cell phone, concealed carry pistol, knife, etc.
If you already have these with you, then there’s no reason to add them to your get home bag unless you’re in some kind of special circumstance. If you have some reason to add more to your get home bag, then do what’s right for you!
Get Home Bags
The bag that you choose should be able to blend in with the city. It should look completely normal and not draw any undue attention to you.
I like backpacks that don’t have an overly tactical look, but they’re getting more and more popular in offices and around cities so you can probably carry a so-called “tactical” backpack and never draw any attention from other people.
Backpacks like this North Face Unisex Classic Borealis Backpack fit the urban role really well. On the outside, there are two pouches for water bottles and an elastic cord that you can use to attach comfortable shoes and even some rain gear if you needed to.
It also has the benefit of looking completely normal in just about any environment and it’s mostly black which would make hiding with it a lot easier than if you had a bright backpack of some kind.
Other than backpacks there are a ton of different shoulder bags and sling bags that you could use too. I would only go that route if you have a few hours to walk home because they usually can’t carry as much and they just aren’t as comfortable after that.
I consider water to be one of the few things that you really need in a get home bag. Walking 20+ miles a day requires some water even if you’re not pouring sweat. It’s even worse if you’re walking down the city street in the middle of a hot summer day.
Luckily, there are a lot of areas in the city that can provide you with water as long as you have some kind of water filter to make sure you’re not going to get sick.
You can find water in cities in these areas:
- Rainwater (pooled up in the area or collected)
- Shops and restaurants (bottled water and other drinks)
- Bathrooms (sinks and toilets)
- Mechanical rooms (water heaters)
- Fountains and water features
- Rivers, ponds, and lakes
- Any buildings that still have running water
To just sit still and survive, you need at least 1 liter of water to keep going at an unhealthy level. Once you start doing anything, that quickly increases. I suggest having 2 liters of water in your get home bag (about 68 oz.).
I go with 2 of these 38 oz. Nalgene Stainless Bottles. They’re a little heavier than other water bottles, but they give you the option to boil water to purify it and you can use them as a cooking container. You’re probably not going to be cooking or boiling water over a fire on your way home, but the option is there if you need it.
Water filters are a good idea. The Sawyer MINI and Lifestraw are both small, lightweight and work well. The one that you choose is really up to personal preference or what you have available.
If I had to choose between the LifeStraw and the Sawyer MINI, I’d go with the MINI. It normally only a couple of dollars more than the LifeStraw and gives you the option to use it as a straw, attach it to a water bladder and squeeze water through it so you can filter water for a group.
Another tempting option is to get an all in one water filter and water bottle like the LifeStraw Go Water Filter Bottle. This has the same water filtering capabilities as a regular LifeStraw.
Even if you’re walking for three days straight, you technically don’t need food. That being said, I’m not going to willingly not eat for three days and neither should you!
I usually put a stripped-down MRE in my get home bag. Just pull all the non-food items out of it and take the foil-wrapped food pouches out of the cardboard, then reseal it with duct tape.
You can also add some Clif Bars or other meal replacement/energy bars in there to keep you going without having to stop.
Having comfortable footwear is another key part of a get home bag. You’re about to spend the next day or more walking so you should make sure that you have a pair of shoes that aren’t going to tear up your feet.
Either throw an old pair of sneakers in your bag, attach them to the outside, or just leave them in your trunk. That way you can change out of whatever you wear to work before you start walking.
You probably don’t need to worry about shelter in a get home bag, but you may want to add a poncho if you think you may be going for a couple days. If you just want to cut as much weight as possible I’d suggest throwing a space blanket in there for some kind of emergency shelter.
I’d suggest reading our Urban Survival Shelters article to learn about several types of shelters you can make in the city.
Shelter includes the clothing that you have on so make sure you take that into consideration. As an example, if you’re wearing a heavy coat, decent gloves, and a beanie, then you can probably still get by with just a poncho to keep you from getting wet if you have to sleep for a few hours.
Use common sense and think about your situation.
First Aid Kit
A first aid kit is pretty much a requirement for any kit that you’re going to rely on during an emergency.
The standard first aid loadout that I recommend is the Adventure Medical .5 Kit, the Adventure Medical Trauma Pak, and the SWAT-T Tourniquet. Together they give you the ability to treat small cuts and injuries and also let you treat severe trauma like gunshot wounds or traumatic amputations.
If you have any special medical needs or medications that you have to have, you should also add what you need to treat them. For example, if you’re allergic to bee stings you should have an epi-pen.
Hygiene isn’t a huge concern if you’re just walking for one day. You can clean yourself when you get home. It gets more important if you have to travel for multiple days, but even then, it’s not all that critical.
A pack of baby wipes and some toilet paper rolled up in a ziplock bag is probably more than enough even if you have to go for several days. You can add something like these Crest Mini Brushes so you can brush your teeth but it’s not necessary.
For a light source, I suggest a quality headlamp like the PETZL – TACTIKKA + Headlamp. I just find a headlamp to be much more useful while walking than a flashlight.
If you prefer flashlights over a headlamp there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It all comes down to what you like and what’s going to work best for you.
In an urban get home bag, you really need to think about what you need from a weapon standpoint. You’re probably the most likely to need a weapon in a high population area, but you’re also more likely to not be legally able to carry weapons and have to interact with the police. It’s a difficult decision.
You should at least have a knife that’s legal in your area for defense, but I would only suggest that if you can’t legally carry anything else. If carrying a firearm is an option for you then you really should go that route.
A short-barreled AR or AK pistol are at the top of my list for getting out of an urban area. If those aren’t available to you then go with a reliable pistol like the Glock 19/17 or M&P 9.
A knife should be part of your EDC. As long as you’re carrying one then I wouldn’t add another one to your get home bag. The only time I would add a separate knife is if you’re going to be relying on it for defense.
If you can’t carry a gun and need a knife for protection, then I would suggest adding the largest knife you can legally carry in your area to your bag. That way you can carry a smaller knife as part of your EDC and have a bigger knife for defense that probably would draw unwanted attention if you carried it every day to the office.
Just about any Gerber or Leatherman will work in your kit. If you have an extra one at home, just throw it in your bag and you should be good. If you’re going to buy something specifically to build your get home bag, then something like a Gerber Suspension fits the role perfectly.
I normally go with a Gerber because I like their stuff, especially their newer models, but as long as you have a decent multi-tool you’re good. The only thing I’d recommend against is buying a no-name cheapo model. I’ve had too many of them break just when I really needed them.
You can fill the communication aspect of your get home bag with the cell phone you carry every day. I’d also suggest adding an extra battery or a battery pack as well. You never know when you’ll need to head out and it could be at the end of the day with a nearly dead phone.
You can also add a signal mirror and an emergency whistle if you want to have some ability to signal to others in an emergency.
550 cord is pretty much the standard for cordage in survival kits. You’re probably not going to need much in the way of 550 cord, but adding 10 – 25 feet just in case can give you some options to build shelters if you get stuck along the way home.
This isn’t supposed to be a bush crafting kit! Add one or two Bic lighters and call it a day.
If you have a reason to go above that then, by all means, add as much fire building stuff as you want. I just personally can’t see a reason for it.
It may seem strange to put binoculars in an urban get home bag, but I think it makes a lot of sense! You can see for quite a long way in some cities and other high-population areas which lets binoculars really shine.
If you have a small, lightweight pair of binos in your kit, you can check out crowds from a distance to see if they’re armed, watch police checkpoints to see if they’re checking IDs or taking weapons, you can also scout out a choke point up ahead before you’re too close to try to go around our choose a new route. Not having binos means that you need to get much closer before you can make an accurate assessment of what’s ahead.
Certain types of disasters that could affect urban areas make it necessary to protect your hands, eyes, and lungs.
Consider adding these to your urban get home bag:
- N95 rated dust mask
- Mechanix gloves
- Clear glasses or goggles
Dust, ashes and airborne particles are all very likely in many natural and man-made disasters. Earthquakes can cause buildings to collapse and fires can run rampant in some areas or be started by rioters. You can always try to wrap a dust towel or shemagh around your face but an N95 mask is going to be a lot better.
These should be part of your everyday carry, but it’s also a good idea to add some cash to your urban get home bag so it’s there just in case.
If you have an extra photo ID it may be worth it to add it to your kit, but I rely on the fact that I always carry an ID.
Maps and Navigation
Don’t overlook the need to have maps of the local area. Even though you may drive to work every day and can find your way home in your sleep, it doesn’t mean that that route is going to be the best way to walk home and it doesn’t mean that you’re going to know the best route to walk home!
I suggest having a primary and alternate walking route marked on your map. It also makes sense to mark points of interest like areas where you can find water, chokepoints or high crime/gang areas that you may need to pass through or travel near.
When you’re planning your routes, only go through “bad” areas if you absolutely have to!
You can also pack a GPS in your kit or wear a GPS enabled watch as part of your EDC, but that’s going to double or triple the cost of your get home bag. A compass is the cheapest way to have a real navigation device in your kit, or you can try to rely on your phone if you absolutely have to.
Urban environments add a lot of complexity to survival situations. When you have so many people in close proximity to each other things can get ugly really fast!
It’s not always possible to plan for what we can’t predict, but you can look at your situation and try to think through the logical reactions that people in your area may have. Are the police likely to try to prevent people from getting from place to place? Are riots likey? Is it possible for criminal activity to pick up during a disaster? Any or all of these could affect your ability to get home after a disaster.
Packing for travel longer than 1 day
My first suggestion if it’s going to take you several days to get home on foot is going to be to try to find a job that’s closer to home. I know this really isn’t an option for many people but if you’re really serious about preparedness, then it’s the best option.
The good thing about packing for multiple days is that it doesn’t add a ton of extra weight to your bag!
Add more of these items to stretch your kit out for additional days:
- More robust shelter (if needed)
- Additional food
- Extra socks and underwear
- Extra batteries as needed (consider a small solar panel for longer trips)
The urban get home bag is probably the one emergency kit you’re most likely to use.
If you work in a less population-dense area then you can probably make the drive home without any problems. When you pack a ton of people into a small space, it doesn’t take a lot to completely jam up the streets and make them unpassable. That’s when this kit shines and can make the difference between life and death.