Forget Bug-Out Bags, You Need a Get-Home Pack!

Editor’s Note: The following is a syndicated article by author Ed Combs that first appeared in USCCA’s Concealed Carry Magazine Volume 11, Issue 4 May/June 2014 under the title, “The Long Trip Back.” 

Whether we work in or outside of the home, whether we punch a clock or pound the pavement for accounts, whether we shower before or after work, Americans outside of a few giant cities often share one thing in common: we drive, and we drive a lot. Be it during a quick jaunt across town for groceries or an hour-long commute every morning and afternoon, we need to be ready to defend ourselves and our loved ones while in our vehicles.

It’s no secret to anyone that more and more responsible Americans are interested in gun ownership and concealed carry than ever before. I am obviously strongly in favor of this, but I’ve noticed another reassuring trend. Sure, I love to see millions of new gun owners and almost as many new concealed carriers, but something else—albeit sometimes misguided—has similarly warmed my heart.

In the wake of the natural and man-made disasters this nation has suffered over the last 20 years, some folks have concerned themselves with “Bug-Out Bags,” medium to large backpacks or duffels filled with gear that they would carry while fleeing their homes in the event of an emergency. This plan is a reasonable one if you live in a flood plain or in a neighborhood that will invariably deteriorate into Mogadishu on a Saturday night the moment the power goes out, but it’s not for everyone. In fact, I would say it’s not even for most, and as a lawman and firearms instructor, I would encourage interested parties to put their energies and resources into a “Get-Home Pack” that augments their Everyday Carry (EDC) gear before assembling anything more elaborate.

Moreover, what are you going to do, just run into the wild? Forever? What about everyone else who planned to do that? What about the supplies and goods you have stored in your home and the physical security provided by four walls, lockable doors, and a roof over your head? For a solid quarter of the year where I live in north central Wisconsin, it’s below freezing—day and night—and often as cold as 20 or 30 below zero. As a lifelong outdoorsman and survivalist, I would not wish an unprepared night out of doors in those conditions on anyone, let alone anyone who has a family with them. In short, not only is fleeing your home not always the best option in the event of an emergency, it is rarely even a viable one.

I draw upon my personal experience as well as the experience of coworkers and friends who have worked in some of the most hostile environments on this planet, often defending themselves from mammalian predators—bipedal and otherwise: the most important equipment during a dire emergency is the equipment you actually have with you. A bunker full of bullets and beans only does you so much good when the fact remains that you spend most of your waking hours in a vehicle or office with little more gear than a few drive-thru napkins.

A Get-Home Pack is just that: a small, easily-maneuvered belt pouch, shoulder bag, or backpack that contains the essentials required to get from your place of work back to your residence and family, possibly being forced to defend yourself while doing so. (Many law enforcement professionals refer to such kits as “Active Shooter” bags: small, highly mobile satchels of loaded magazines and medical gear they carry for when such horrific duty calls.) Regardless of terminology, though, let’s be honest—most of us spend four to eight hours a day sleeping, eight to 14 hours a day working, and the rest of the time somewhere away from home, be it at a child’s event or running errands. As such, we should be concentrating on our top priority: getting our families accounted for and to safety in the event of an emergency.

My Get-Home Pack is quite minimalist and consists of little more than several Israeli Battle Dressings (IBDs) and a few loaded magazines for my carry gun. The IBDs are excellent trauma bandages capable of staunching the flow of blood from serious wounds, and the charged magazines are just common sense. I keep the whole works in a very innocuous-looking blue nylon shaving kit under the front seat of my vehicle and, tucked inside, I have a nylon strap that can be attached for across-the-shoulder carry. In addition to the sidearm, extra magazine, phone, multi-tool, flashlight, OC spray, and folding knife that make up my EDC gear, I feel comfortably prepared.

Were I to expand my GHP—were I to, I don’t know, receive a really neat-o jump bag from a certain Executive Editor for my birthday—I would include the following items to augment my current rather austere selection of mags and rags:

  • An actual Trauma Kit. This is not a first-aid kit available at a big box sporting goods store…this is a gunshot-specific set of lifesaving equipment developed through hard-won lessons learned in this nation’s urban emergency rooms and on overseas battlefields. These include a half dozen pairs of quality nitrile gloves, chest seals for open chest wounds, large compresses for heavy bleeding, several QuikClot pads, and a CAT, or Combat Application Tourniquet. As goes without saying, you will require training in the use of these materials if you have not already received it.
  • Backup tactical and standard flashlights and batteries. As a rural Sheriff’s Deputy, there are few circumstances I fear more than being caught mid-emergency without a functioning flashlight. That said, a non-tactical flashlight is far preferable when looking for something in a vehicle, reading a map, or anything else where your night vision could be compromised as much as an attacker’s. AA and AAA batteries are a lot friendlier on the wallet than 123As, and you don’t always need a light that can be used to boil water or look through the sides of Christmas presents.
  • Glow sticks, Lazerbrite, or some other manner of illuminated marking device. Self-defense shootings and other dire emergencies have a tendency to happen in the dark, and you need to be able to see and mark where everything happened. Along those lines, you’ll also want to be able to identify yourself to law enforcement in the dark, and few things communicate “I am not a threat” like waving a glow stick at a squad car.

I’m going to preemptively head off a few questions I know are running through some readers’ minds. I am not offering recommendations for what to carry when making an assault on an Al Qaeda compound in Yemen or what to pack for your next exchange of gunfire after your bush plane goes down in the Alaskan interior. I am lending my experience as a law enforcement officer to help my fellow citizens better prepare themselves when they rig up with their EDC gear.

With regard to the actual bag itself, I would be looking for something that is not only compact and easily worn either across the shoulder or even like a standard backpack, I would also want something that looked as non-“tactical” as possible. There are some great options available that look no different than a tablet case or sports racquet bag, and when it comes to security, discretion is always better than overtness. I’ve never walked through the lobby of a hotel or across a parking lot with my GHP and worried that I was broadcasting the presence of firearms, and that’s exactly the way I like it.

We feature some great gear in each issue that can help you assemble a kit to keep in a vehicle, purse, or even on your belt to prepare for a, shall we say, hurried trip home. No one’s suggesting you rig out your minivan for battle against hordes of weirdoes dressed like Vikings on motorcycles fighting over gasoline in the desert, but a good Get-Home Pack is definitely something to think about integrating into your personal security plan. (That said, if you do choose to harden your Chrysler Town & Country, please send pictures.)

Stay safe out there and if you do ever have to fight, cheat your tail off.

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  • ROB RAMPY September 7, 2019, 5:35 am

    What gear you prepare with needs to be based on your situation. For instance, living on the East Coast of Florida, I have had to \”bug out\” of my residences because of life threatening approaching powerful hurricanes, on 4 occasions in the last few years. Having worked in areas following devastating hurricanes, I have seen countless thousands of destroyed homes–where there is little to go home to. So, I am a strong proponent of keeping a thoroughly equipped
    BOB in my vehicle, and two others in the residence for family members. I can get home or get out with the gear, tools, and sustenance needed for most unsavory situations. There are, of course, a number of duffle bag type containers packed at home as well. These contain clothing, camping gear, food, sanitary supplies, defense and other essentials which will enable a protracted stay in a temporary survival encampment.situations.

  • ROB RAMPY September 7, 2019, 5:31 am

    What gear you prepare with needs to be based on your situation. For instance, living on the East Coast of Florida, I have had to “bug out” of my residences because of life threatening approaching powerful hurricanes, on 4 occasions in the last few years. Having worked in areas following devastating hurricanes, I have seen countless thousands of destroyed homes–where there is little to go home to. So, I am a strong proponent of keeping a thoroughly equipped
    BOB in my vehicle, and two others in the residence for family members. I can get home or get out with the gear, tools, and sustenance needed for most unsavory situations. There are, of course, a number of duffle bag type containers packed at home as well. These contain clothing, camping gear, food, sanitary supplies, defense and other essentials which will enable a protracted stay in a temporary survival encampment.


  • larry July 5, 2019, 5:53 pm

    You need water and food. A filter straw for contaminated water

  • hiplnsdrftr July 5, 2019, 5:09 pm

    I have thought about this often, because “unfortunately” when I work it’s out of the country and never in the same location. So 1/2 the year I’m in roughly 6 to 8 different foreign countries. If the shit hit the fan it would be very difficult to get home quickly. So I’m faced with being trapped in a strange place with limited language skills and maybe no one that would take me in or stick their neck out for me.

    I was in mild versions of this situation several times already. Once on 9/11. I also witnessed thousands of stranded europeans during that Iceland volcano situation that shut down many flights, lots of dazed looking tourists milling around confused, kicked out of their hotels, lots of people sleeping at the airport.

    I try to bring a tactical flashlight, a multitool, good boots (that can handle broken glass) and $1,000 emergency cash anywhere in the world I go. But the odds are still against me.

  • Doug Williams July 5, 2019, 2:42 pm

    Exc thread, thank you all. I have several takes: Home is fortified already, and it is our safe cave. It needs to be lived in and protected — and returned to. If we survive a massive disaster at all, while away, we need comm with loved ones. Good luck with that, but keep cell phone charged and a full vehicle fuel tank. Vehicle is home away from home, keep a blanket & small pillow in it plus your larger backpack or guy bag. Most of my items consolidate into my guy bag. One option regarding comm is a pre-charged cell ph charger – small, fast. Full belt canteen in veh plus water bottle(s). Gatorade powder. Energy bar(s). I also keep a Benchmade Elishewiz (kydex sheath with quick, steel belt clip if I need to carry it) in veh, mags, floss, mouthwash, Tylenol, RX for a week, Equate wipes, pen & paper. Roll up poncho is light and small. Socks & underwear. Insect repellant and sunscreen. Ball cap. Sunglasses. When you plan for work, choose footwear that can pound pavement. Leupold Yosemite binos can’t be beat for price, size, & weight. I edc my F/A and switch blade w/ pocket clip. Don’t forget keys & IDs. Finally, I’m glad we speak a common language of readiness. Reckon I’d rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it.

  • mikeb July 5, 2019, 12:23 pm

    ” in a neighborhood that will invariably deteriorate into Mogadishu on a Saturday night the moment the power goes out,”

    Sounds a little racist to me. But hard to argue facts.

  • Irish-7 July 5, 2019, 10:17 am

    I switched from the larger Bug Out Bag to a smaller Get Home Bag concept a few years ago. We start filling our Get Home Bags with a mini survival kit, each holding 5 items. The mini kit contains a Swiss Army Knife or multi-tool with saw, a lighter, a space blanket, straw water filter and flashlight. The larger Get Home Bag container/pack/bag holds an All Weather Blanket (groundcloth), tarp (shelter), SOL Bivvy, first aid kit, DATREX Food Bars, water bottles, fire kit (tinder/matches/lighter), water filter, flashlight and either a saw-back machete or hatchet. The Get Home Bags are set up around a combination of weapon systems (Ruger 10/22 Takedown & Security-6 Revolver, Henry AR-7 Rifle & .45 ACP Pistol or Rossi Circuit Judge & Taurus Public Defender Revolver. Consequently, there is also ammo in the pack/bag. Handguns matched to Get Home Bags are in addition to my EDC, Ruger P345 or S&W 457 .45 automatic.

  • DIYinSTL July 5, 2019, 9:47 am

    Unless you are planning to commit a robbery or walk through an urban riot, it is unlikely for a civilian to need enough gunshot treatment for a platoon or extra magazines and flashlights. Your goal is to get home, not open up a second front. A far better use of the weight and space might be a change of socks, water bottle, paper map and compass, emergency blanket, poncho, and some calories (e.g. cashews are 160 Cal. per oz. with good shelf life.) Warm clothing in a separate pack is a good idea should climate and season of the moment call for it. You are far more likely to wish for some insect repellent or sun screen than extra batteries.

  • PF Flyer July 5, 2019, 9:09 am

    Good conversation starter. Like anything in our realm of concern it has to be tailored to our unique situation. I like the med aspect, but if you are that severely injured then your travel speed will be cut down, which means days to get home? You gotta have water capability, and perhaps food, and all the other needs, again based on your area of operation. Keep talking.

    • Gregory Romeu July 5, 2019, 11:05 am

      A good rule of thumb is if you haven’t used it in the last month you probably won’t need it in the next 72 hours with your exception of your concealed carry and extra magazines and the keys to your house.

      A typical car should always be packed with a typical 72-hour emergency kit anyway to include bottled water a couple of MREs or energy bars to munch on while you’re waiting for a tow truck or a friend and whatever common medications that you need.

      It is far beyond, cool looking at all the items that people have in their bug out bags to the point where I would love to start a reality TV show dumping these bags out on a table and making fun of the 1000 feet of 660 paracord when most people don’t know how to tie a common square knot. Let alone the bright shiny silver emergency blankets that tell the entire world where the hell you’re hiding? Jackets? WTH? Are they returning to the Daniel Boone days?

      People need to calm down and quit trying to build their tits around made up scenarios. I don’t mean to break anybody’s heart but the zombie apocalypse is not going to happen! Turn off your TV set and go outside and play get some fresh air in that brain!

      • Gregory Romeu July 5, 2019, 11:12 am

        Hmmmm… The “Auto-Correct” she seems to strike AFTER you hit the send button?

        “It is far beyond, cool” should be, it is far beyond ENTERTAINING

        “JACKETS? WTH?” should be HACHETS

        And, “build your tits?” KITS people… KITS!

      • Bill Miller July 5, 2019, 10:35 pm

        Gregory, excellent advice — do not prepare, nothing bad will happen. History shows us that nothing bad or unexpected ever happens.

        • Mark November 14, 2021, 10:18 am

          Exactly, since I haven’t used my EDC in the last 72 hours, why pack it?

  • Blake July 5, 2019, 9:08 am

    If anyone is interested, a good primer about “Get Home Bags” is contained in the “Borrow World” series.

    Yes, it is another in a long line of post apocalyptic series, but the author does seem present some very good ideas about the “get home bag.”


  • Brian Onuscheck July 5, 2019, 8:31 am

    I would’t leave a plastic water bottle in a car, especially a hot one. The plastic from the bottle can slowly leach into the water, and is highly carcinogenic.
    I work in a hospital OR, and we keep bottles and bags of sterile water, normal saline, lactated ringers, glycine, etc. in fluid warmers in a central core in the center of several ORs. The fluids have to be dated and have an expiration date on a sticker applied to them. They’re considered to be too dangerous to use after 2 weeks in the warmer which is set at 90 degrees F. We constantly rotate the stock and go through so many fluids they really never get a chance to actually expire, but if they did they would be disposed of.

  • Guido July 5, 2019, 7:41 am

    Great and informative article, Sir.
    As you mentioned, some of us work fairly long distances from our homes/emergency assembly points and sometimes the thought of making the trip can be daunting.
    For instance,I work in a refinery 38 miles from my home, and I would have to travel completely through the heart of Houston to make it back.
    I worry about an energy pulse throwing the virtual switch on things, and to that end I pack a folding bicycle behind the rear seats of my pickup. It’s amazing how cheap and efficient those things are nowadays.
    I also carried a spare ECU , crank and cam sensor for my last truck, it was recently totaled. They were carried in a wooden-lined small galvanized trash can in the bed tool box that hopefully would have protected them.
    I probably would simply hop on the bicycle with my GHB initially, however. Draw less attention, more travel options moving around obstacles, etc.

    Respectfully posted,

  • Andrew norris July 5, 2019, 7:38 am

    Excellent story I’ve often wondered about the concept of bugout since we live in the country land of suburbia.
    where would we bug out to?

    well put

  • David C. Telliho July 5, 2019, 7:07 am

    no water filtration gizmo ? I`ve done this get home pack thing for decades….includes a water filtration gizymo, couple canteens.

  • SWAN July 3, 2019, 4:04 pm

    Good article. Love the trauma aspect vs. the boo-boo kit; there is a huge difference but people really have a hard time grasping that concept.

    I would recommend the Sawyer Mini Filtration System over the Life Straw (as recommended by a Pacific Crest Trail through hiker). The Sawyer allows you to filter your water into a container (container remains clean) that you can carry with you as well as use it like the Life Straw. Whereas, the Life Straw needs a wide enough mouth bottle to support the rather large diameter of the “straw” that is only good for drinking out of a standing pool of water (dirty water held in your once clean container).

    In addition to this, as a Infantry Scout/LRS Trooper, I also suggest optics that allow you to analyze an area before you commit to a potential bad situation. This goes back to decades ago event where moving through a “danger zone” could have been avoided had we used our time wisely and used “stand-off” as our friend and avoided the area altogether after proper assessment through optics (binos/monoscope). My platoon sergeant really put the finishing touches on that experience.

    Finally, a communication plan that supports both in-area-communication with a network of “friendlies” also known as family and friends is also a good plan. Having an out of state contact is good when they cut-off point to point communications within affected area. Also, “texting” will sometimes be better than voice cell calls and you don’t have to wait for the lines to open up, it will sit in the queue until delivered. And, If all that fails, well, it’s on to FRS, GMRS or amateur band radio communications.

    Bottom line, have a means to stay hydrated, a way to see things you would not normally see with the naked eye and have a good grasp of communications to cover your get-home scenario. RLTW.

  • Glen Burke July 3, 2019, 1:09 pm

    I had the blessing of being invited to a few meetings of a group of fellow combatants who shared similar information thus my bag is so arranged for getting home. I am lacking some specific “gun shot” training and don’t know where to attain it locally; which I wold love to teach my children as they are learning proper weapons training. Thank you for sharing your experience. – Civilian Under Oath, Proud Vet
    God bless you sir.

    • SWAN July 8, 2019, 3:35 pm

      “Stop the Bleed” is a National Campaign to help people make the difference between life and death with very minimal training. Just as the name implies, by stopping the bleeding. Do a web search of your local area for a “Stop the Bleed” class that is being offered. Many of these courses are free and very helpful as a starting point to the general public. The equipment needed for a kit is very minimal and increases your effectiveness as a “first on scene” by leaps and bounds.

  • Ed July 3, 2019, 8:25 am

    water bottle include if you have to hoof it to remain hydrated

  • James Meador July 3, 2019, 7:42 am

    A couple life straws would be a good addition.

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