How to Pack a Go Bag

In the Age of Climate Catastrophe, everyone needs an emergency kit next to the front door

By Katie O'Reilly

August 31, 2021

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2019 print edition, under the headline "Ready or Not."

As climate change exposes more people to heat waves, hurricanes, and wildfires, the "go bag"—filled with the things you'll need in the event of a hasty evacuation—has become trendy. You can find plenty of prestocked go bags for every emergency, including the zombie apocalypse. (A company called Preppi sells luxury ones with bergamot body cleanser and deluxe shortbread.) But since you know best what you will need in a crisis, why not make your own? Contents, naturally, should reflect your region and medical needs. Start with the following items, keep your car's gas tank at least half full or the battery charged up, and you'll be good to go.

Food and Water

Food and Water
Only a small amount; it's just to get you from home to a shelter. Pack snacks you like—they're good for morale. Set up a calendar alert so you can check expiration dates and replenish your supply.

Waterproof Map

Waterproof Map
Bring a map of the area where you live in case you get lost. Don't expect to have internet service on your phone.

N95 Masks

N95 Masks
Unlike paper versions, these masks will protect your respiratory system from smoke and other airborne particles.

Cash in Small Bills

Cash in Small Bills
If the electricity is out, credit cards are useless. Stock up on $1s and $5s.

Copies of Important Documents

Copies of Important Documents
Include birth certificates, Social Security cards, medical prescriptions, bank account info, and insurance policies. (You could also store this info on your phone.)


Sturdy Bag
Backpack, duffel, or rolling suitcase

Flashlight or Head Lamp


Portable Cellphone Charger 
Ideally solar

Go waterproof



Pick a bright-colored one that floats

Change of Clothes
Including socks, underwear, and perhaps a windbreaker

Water Purification Tablets

Extra Eyeglasses or Contact Lenses and Solution

Small Tent
In case you can't make it to a shelter

Emergency Radio
Preferably hand-crank or solar

Toilet Paper

Pet Supplies
Leash, carrier, food, medication

Roll of Duct Tape 
Mends everything except a broken heart

Illustrations by Brown Bird Design