Another Get Home Bag Approach – Part 2, by G.P.

(Continued from Part 1. This concludes the article.)

Medical concerns

Note: This is not actual medical advice, simply a description of military methods. I am not a medical professional and if I were, I’d still have no idea of your needs, conditions, capabilities, and allergies.

I have a trauma kit, aka blowout kit, in my bag. The kind of situation that might leave you stranded far from home might also expose you to trauma, immediately or in the aftermath. Trauma is something unexpected. If you saw it coming, you’d most likely avoid it. This is a whole topic of its own, and there are many people better qualified to address it than me.

The kit is the standard Individual First Aid Kit (IFAK) stuff: self-applied tourniquet, gauze, medical tape, clotting agent, airway, needle kit. I add antibiotic cream, ordinary adhesive bandages, tweezers, and some meds. Duck tape will hold wounds closed, unless it gets too greasy from blood. Surgical glue used to close clean cuts is just ordinary superglue, it really makes skin stick to itself. A pill pack of Imodium, strong Tylenol, and some antibiotics may help you get through some bad hours and keep things from getting worse. These supplies are about 40-50 dollars at retail outlets.

As a matter of information, the SOF community issues a combat pill pack, or wound pack, that includes acetaminophen (for pain), meloxicam (aka Mobic) (for inflammation), and moxifloxacin (as a broad spectrum antibiotic). The pack has a National Stock Number (NSN) so it should be available to any medical unit, but only the high-speed guys seem to issue it. It’s meant as a pre-hospital care intervention to help someone make it for a while after being badly injured. There are allergy and reaction risks that are considered worthwhile when balanced against the benefits. Again, this is information – not medical advice! If the medication pack idea makes sense to you, check with your medical provider to go further with it. This is a very light and compact option that could be a decisive help in certain situations.

This morning a police patrol vehicle pulled in behind me a coworker. The officer warned us about the hazardous nature of the neighborhood we were working in. His final remark, and this is a verbatim quote, was “Keep it on you or keep it in your truck.” No need to wonder what “it” meant. Many people choose to be armed routinely now, when things are relatively calm. How much more might this armed option be necessary in a time of upheaval? Personal defense and foraging would be the main uses for those who choose to be armed in our scenario, with portability a key concern.

Since there are probably as many opinions on this as there are readers, I’ll just state what’s in my bag. There’s a folding single-shot in .22 Magnum for foraging targets of opportunity and a mini revolver in the same caliber as a close confrontation weapon. It would be nice to have a M6 survival rifle for the first purpose and a SAW (Squad Automatic Weapon) for the second, but weight is still a big consideration. Overall, a good rimfire semiautomatic pistol might be the single best answer, but there’s a lot of solutions that I wouldn’t argue with.

Someone I served with said the only time he really felt like he needed a personal weapon in over twenty years of service (including Somalia and Iraq) was in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina. Between the wild creatures displaced from their usual haunts and the pets gone loose, he felt uneasy whenever he was out and about.

A flashlight is a necessity in some situations. Using the light of a phone might get you by, or using your lighter or firelight, but for many purposes a dedicated light is best. Headlamps are the most practical for close up work, some flashlights seem about as bright as a vehicle headlight. The little lithium battery-powered lights are great because the batteries stay up for years. There are lights that are just end caps for 9volt batteries, and tiny “pinch” lights that can go on a zipper pull or key ring. All these are field soldier approved for various purposes. The simplest answer is a pinch light in red to help preserve night vision. Also, many hunters know that blood trails show up best in blue light.

A staff might sound a little medieval, but if conditions are getting a little medieval, why not? A staff in Elizabethan English didn’t necessarily mean the kind of long stick that Robin Hood’s friends carried, it meant a pole with almost anything on it. Often, they were shod, meaning metal tipped for surefootedness and wear. Spears, glaives, halberds, and poleaxes all counted as staves. A popular version was a stout stick as high as one’s waist or chest with a small ax head on it, something of a really long tomahawk. That could be very useful.  Hikers often use hiking sticks; some are telescoping and lightweight. If you don’t hike much, these could be a big help, especially in rough ground. Saving your knees on downhills is as important as using your arms for the uphill scramble, and it gives you a way to probe watercourses before wading in.

A multi tool might be invaluable. A SERE exercise convinced me of that when I reflected afterward that the tool that I’d only brought because it was on the packing list turned out to be the very item that I reached for all the time. These tools do a lot of things fairly well and nothing especially well, as a rule, but they’re issued to deploying soldiers for good reason. One of those little pliers that fishermen carry would work well, too. Cutting and manipulating wire, cordage and cable ties is a main task.

A hatchet can serve more than one purpose, including digging. A light roofing hammer will do well, and do it inexpensively. If woodcutting is likely in your situation, then another good tool is a pocket chain saw, which is a saw chain with the user being the motor. Of everything in my bag, this is one of the items that’s been pulled out and used for routine tasks over the years. It really will cut through just about any wood you might need to saw, and do it quietly too.

Knives are another area where there are about as many opinions as there are individuals. The traveler should at least have a small blade to cut lines or open plastic bags. If you’re going minimal, hobby knives will serve you well, among many other options. It might make sense for some people to carry a miniature fishing kit.

An important tool that St Funogas mentioned is optics. It could be critical to be able to scan ahead, or behind for that matter, since you’re in a 360-degree environment. There’s an old monocular from my bow hunting days in my bag. A night vision monocular might be useful too, if you’re planning to travel at night.


A couple of years ago, a large group of Dutch students was on a sailing trip in the southern Caribbean and found themselves stranded when the Covid panic shut down international flights. After a bit, they wound up provisioning the vessel they were on and sailing it back home. To be clear, it was a Dutch vessel and the adult crew was likewise stranded, but it’s an illustration of looking for alternatives.

Long ago, in the pre-Internet world, the top concern of “survivalists” was nuclear war. One of the most common scenarios presented in books and periodicals of the day was that of evacuating a large metropolitan area for an unknown future in a more rural setting. Anyone who has seen a hurricane evacuation can guess what this would look like, except that hurricanes have the good manners to announce their arrival a few days out. If everyone in a large city were trying to escape at once, most wouldn’t get far. Just witness the ordinary jams of everyday traffic in many cities. This kind of locked-up roadway problem might be what sets the traveler afoot in the first place.

The suggested solution in that day was the second stage vehicle. Carrying a bicycle or dirt bike in your vehicle would give you a way to keep going once motor vehicle progress was stopped. This is still a valid answer. The bicycle is the most efficient human-powered method of travel ever devised. Folding bicycles are on the market, if trunk space is a problem. If the bicycle doesn’t work, you might still be able to make a push bike out of it to carry your pack. It worked for North Vietnam.

Today there are all kinds of unpowered wheeled contraptions out there and all kinds of electrically powered devices as well. Could you put your load on a skateboard or a sled and pull it down the road behind you? There are inexpensive kick scooters on the market that fold in half for easy storage. One of these could help speed your trip up, even if it seems a little undignified.

What about water? Crossing a large water feature might be your best travel option, or even the only route. (Escape from New York?) An inflatable kayak or stand-up paddle board (SUP) doesn’t need much room, but they are heavy.

The Army has its own approach to this problem in Combat Water Survival Training (CWST). Part one of this training involves making an improvised life jacket out of one’s issued trousers by closing the waist and leg drawstrings tightly, then blowing air into them with the legs tied together. Once the fabric swells a little in the water, it will hold air for quite a while.

In the second part of the training, soldiers take the waterproof pack liner they were issued and blow air into it, contents and all. On the older style bags, the top fabric was twisted and tied back on itself to make a seal, then the whole inflated bag was stuffed into the pack. The class put their packs back on and went into the water in a snaking single file, discovering that the method really did work and that they were moving around looking like a group of swimming turtles.

The current Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment (MOLLE) packs are issued with a heavyweight liner that’s a huge triple zip-lock sort of bag. Any civilian dry bag would work as well, or something improvised from a large garbage bag could work too. Empty drink containers also make good floats, if you can secure them. A familiar shipping pallet could make the beginning of a pretty decent emergency raft.

It might change a lot of things for you if water is a route for your movement and not an obstacle. A simple outfit of fins, mask and snorkel is compact and inexpensive, if the water isn’t too cold. Some farther out ideas might include climbing equipment to deal with a “high angle” route, or even a paramotor aircraft to carry you over an obstacle, or “break friction with the ground” in Army-speak. There are many situations where crossing a ridge, a canyon, or a body of water could save days of travel and avoid dangerous bottlenecks.

If there’s a distinct theme to this essay, it’s to prioritize hazards and have a range of tools to deal with unexpected and messy situations. I’m in favor of arriving at your destination as quickly as possible and in a healthy and injury-free condition. The right clothing, tools, and provisions will set you up for success. And keeping alert to opportunities as well as to dangers is a great idea too. The US is overall the wealthiest country that the world has ever seen. So there’s an excellent chance that you’ll be able to find all kinds of things to help you in an emergency.