Bug Out vs Get Home Bags

Sometimes it is easy for people to assume that an emergency bag is an emergency bag. The truth is that it is very important to distinguish your purpose when designing a bag. Lets get started by comparing the major difference in a bug out versus a get home bag.

Most Important: Time Frame

  • Bug out bags are usually meant for longer emergencies or even making a start at living in the bush indefinitely.
  • Get home bags are usually designed with the purpose of allowing you a few days supplies and tools to get back to your home or get to a location where you can get the assistance you need to make it back.  

man backpack mountains

A lot of people consider that a get home bag is for 24 hours while a bug out bag is for 72 hours or more. I think that it is wisest to err on the side of caution and make sure you have enough food for 2 days in a get home bag if you are like the average person and have a commute under 50 miles. Those that travel greater distances from home must be more prepared. For you I would recommend 3 days worth of food.

Medical kits are usually more inclusive in a bug out bag.

There are a ton of medical supplies that are great to have in a SHTF scenario. A bug out bag should have supplies that can last awhile where a get home bag can have a more menial selection.

For example, you might want a bottle of fish antibiotics in your bug out bag medical kit but your get home bag that is designed to get you home if something happens on your 40 mile commute, doesn’t need to have antibiotics.

Of course – those that travel a lot in areas that they have no connection to or anyone they can rely on for help, may choose to keep some more extensive supplies in their car just in case. Getting stranded 200 miles from home during good times is one thing, having to walk that far might take you a few weeks. Your bag should be designed for your travel and commute habits.

First Aid Only All-Purpose First Aid Essentials Kit

While I know a lot of small and inexpensive kits exist that are lacking. This kit from First Aid Only is one of the better small ones I have found.

I actually have one of these kits myself and it is very compact but has some supplies like butterfly closures and a trauma pad. This is excellent for cars or get home bags and as a starter kit for a bug out bag.

Weight

  • A bug out bag is going to have more in and be heavier.
  • A get home bag needs basic supplies to keep you on your feet and should be designed to be light so you can make good time and also not draw too much attention.

A person with a huge pack stands out more than someone with a smaller tactical bag.

Get Home Bags & Traveling With Kids or Pets

A lot of people travel a lot with kids and dogs. This means you need to include them and all their needs when designing a get home bag. Extra food, waterproof clothing, medications, etc, can all help. If you have the room, a small toy or activity book can be a big help if you find yourself waiting somewhere or in need of moment of calm to decide your best option.

kid woman trail

The post on Best Pet Survival Kit Ideas can help get you started for preparing for pet.

Personal Defense

While your bug out bag may contain a firearm, some people may not be comfortable or even be allowed to have a firearm concealed in their get home bag. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have something to defend yourself and your family.

Women that travel alone or with kids should definitely consider something. Sorry, but it is far more likely for you to be hassled and seen as a good potential victim to a criminal if you are walking down a highway or trying to get out of a situation.

woman highway backpack

Check out my post on Best Non Lethal Weapons for a list of possible weapons that you can stash in your car or get home bag. Please note the weapons on the list may be considered “non-lethal” but that really depends on how you wield them. They are less lethal than a firearm but easier to get and they are legal in some places that guns may not be.

Food

  • A get home bag should have foods you can just open and eat
  • A bug out bag can have foods that take some cooking or heating. With a get home bag, you want food that you can eat while on the move, too.

Chowing down on a Cliff Bar is something you can do while walking and gives you 220 calories. If you want to be very frugal about weight you can get some very calorie dense rations that while they may not be exactly be the tastiest, they will keep you healthy, moving, and ready to deal with what awaits you at home.

For a list of quick energy options, consider the rations in the BDS post “Best Food Bars For Preppers”

Consider A Small Radio For Bags

Remember that during a get home situation you may have no idea what is awaiting you as you approach your own town or city. If you happen to keep a small radio as part of your bag you may be able to get some info but there is no guarantee, especially if a situation is very dire.

radio

Handheld radio units the size of a walkie-talkie are fairly light and compact enough for a bug out or get home bag. Some of the MURs radios featured in “The Best MURS Radios” have multiple capabilities that can come in handy during a survival situation.

Water

  • A bug out bag doesn’t necessarily need to have much water but it should have a good water filter that can least for an extended survival situation.
  • A get home bag needs to have a few liters of water and a small filter that can be used without causing you a major delay. The Sawyer Mini or Survivor Filter with a squeeze bag are good options because they allow you to just fill and go. Moving fast is important when you are trying to get home.

For instructions on how to make your own water pouches to outfit your bags or just have on hand at home, check out the Backdoor Survival post  “DIY Emergency Water Pouches: Taking Care of Dehydration”.

We also have a lot of posts on water filters and your water supply to help you choose which one is best for you.

Choosing Your Bag

A get home bag should look pretty common. A major tactical bag is great for bugging out but considering how paranoid people can be in the age of exploding backpacks and shootings in public places, I would recommend your get home bag look less conspicuous.

A common looking yet quality backpack is fine. I love my Molle bag too but it would make me stand out like a sore thumb if I was trying to walk home.

I had barely anything in my bag this day just walking around our property. But I have loaded this bag with quite a bit of weight and I have to say that it was comfortable. Below is a close up pic and link to purchase this pack for those interested.

Rothco Medium Transport Pack

A Note On Footwear

While it may be taken for granted that bugging out means putting on some boots made to cover some ground, those that have to dress well for work or that like to wear fashionable shoes, in general, should make sure they have a practical pair of shoes in their bag that they can cover some miles in.

A good pair of running shoes or trainers is okay but it is better to have hiking, hunting, or work boots that are waterproof and offer good protection over rough terrain and ankle support. A twisted ankle is a lot more serious when you are trying to cover ground alone and medical help may be far away or otherwise busy due to a widespread event.

For some footwear suggestions check out this post on “Best Boots For Preppers“.

You Need Separate Bags For Get Home & Bug Out: No sharing supplies between bags

I get that quality gear is not cheap and you have limited space but don’t fall into the trap of having gear that you share between bags. A bug out bag needs to be ready to go and so does your get home bag.

backpack

You do not want to have your only water filter in one bag or the other. You need a water filter in both!  The same goes for any other gear that would be useful in both bags. Your get home bag is for a shorter time period so you may want to just have a water filter bottle or something like the Sawyer mini with a squeeze bag for a get home bag whereas your bug out bag might have your water filter with hydration pack in it.

You really don’t want to find yourself in an emergency realizing that you forgot to put something in your bag because you were trying to make your gear do double duty.

Pre Made Vs. Putting Your Own Together

While there are some kits out there that are a good starting point for a get home or bug out bag, I think that most people will be far better off and have an easier time budgeting for quality gear if they put their own together over time.

People’s needs vary a lot. Pre-packaged meals often do not meet the dietary requirements of a lot of people. A survival situation might mean making some sacrifices in terms of quality and type of food and supplies you have to use but putting together your own can reduce or eliminate the need at least for a short time period.

There will always be things you need to add to any pre put together bag. Medications are one example but I also have yet to see a pre made medical kit that is compact and includes the supplies I think are necessary. Benadryl for allergic reactions is just one thing that I always see lacking in medical kits. Occasionally a kit will have some type of blood stopping trauma bandage but it is rare.

Backdoor Survival has some helpful older posts on bug out bag options for those that want to buy a starter kit or put together their own as well as how to design a well put together get home bag.

Here are the links to help you get started or at least think about what you have and what you need:

What differences are there in your bug out versus EDC or Get Home Bags? Any suggestions on what should be included and what should not?

Have you ever actually had to use a get home bag or EDC bag for an emergency? Please share with your fellow readers so we can all learn together!


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  1. Dear Samantha, your articles are getting better and better. Great to see an article actually comparing two different types of bags. There are several fiction books about a man who was further from home due to a business trip. Then an EMP hits. So his trip home is grueling. I don’t get bored reading basically the same plot written by different writers. By the way, my favorite bag is the INCH bag. It stands for I’m Never Coming Home.

  2. This comment is off topic. I just noticed the picture of Gaye pouring grains into a manual grinder that will turn them into flour for making bread. Bread tastes delicious, but it’s a fair amount of work. I would love to see a discussion about what to do with various whole grains and beans. These can be prepped for long term storage. Or a few pounds can be carried in a bug out bag designed for those who will head to the woods instead of a shelter. My personal opinion is that I need these foods until I get better at trapping and gathering.

    1. Hey Karen, have you ever tried to cook your whole grains like you would rice? Most people don’t think about whole grains being like rice and never try this. I enjoy the different taste with my meals rather than rice all the time.

  3. It’s not the bag that makes you stand out…. it’s your hair. You best find a way to cover that bright red signal flag.

    1. Yep my plan is to dye it a plain color if it comes down to it lol. Part of my preps is an emergency bottle of hair dye. I don’t plan on bugging out for any but the very worst situation. For me it doesn’t make sense for a lot of the more likely scenarios. Wildfires and some nuclear events maybe but for a lot of things I am better off staying put on our 11 acres.

  4. Several items to consider when determining the amount of supplies to place in your bag. First, the average person will only be able to hike 10 miles per day. Yes, people who hike all the time can push 15-20 miles per day, but ask yourself when was the last time you did that and if kids are present – will they be able to keep up? Determine how far you can hike each day for three days, that number will determine the quantity of supplies you must pack along.

    Second, consider having a second pack and non-motorized transport (bike, wagon, etc). The second pack would contain additional supplies and could be brought along if transport is available (you could always abandon or trade extra supplies). If you regularly commute 20 miles to work, shop, or visit relatives then most people will require 2 days of supplies to get home.

    Finally, consider the terrain that must be covered. Water is available along the route? Stores? Danger? These are things to consider.

  5. The Rothco Convertible Medium Transport Pack isn’t that good. I bought one a couple of years ago to keep in my car as an emergency medical bag. The zipper pulls are cheap plastic and broke with some minor use. I had to make a new pull and one can’t be repaired at all. I am going to have to take this bag to a tailor that can do heavy zipper work. Perhaps a full replacement of the zipper with YYK zippers would be better.
    Considering the price of this bag which keeps going up I advise looking for a better one.

    1. Thanks for the feedback Bill! I have not had mine long. I got it as part of a 72 hour kit for review. I have just used mine for light duty. I agree that for the price you would expect good quality. I hate to hear the zippers are bad but that is so common with packs in general. I have an LL Bean pack I have used for years and that seemed to hold up to regular use. My husband used to have a LL Bean pack he got in 6th grade and we used until about 5 years ago.

  6. As I have posted prior, if I have to bug out it would have to be pretty dire here in the desert. Without a vehicle, I cannot get very far with the amount of water I could carry.
    I carry a get home bag in my work vehicle which is about the same as most peoples BOB, I’m usually 150-200 miles from home daily and doubt I could “hike” 10 miles a day. My trip home will be multiple days; there are sources of water enroute most of the way back although I’ll have to carry at least a gallon between those sources.

  7. In my opinion, the CountyComm GP-5/SSB is an ideal “situation awareness” radio. It’s small enough to ride in a shirt pocket, runs on 3 AA batteries (which it will recharge from a USB cable, which might be connected to a portable solar panel, which I have in fact done), and receives European longwave (in Europe), AM broadcast band, AM&SSB/international shortwave, and FM local broadcasts. So, if it’s broadcast in your area, you can receive it. With SSB, you can hear ham radio operators. This is my “every day carry” for the last few years to hear news, entertainment, and Morse Code practice, because gear that you have safely tucked away may not be where you are when you need it. Costs < $100. (I have no financial interest in its sales.)

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