Many of the posts in this forum have discussed the vehicle Bug Out Bag (BOB), however it’s been my observation that most of them are not designed for a family. As an example, many articles have discussed having a full change of clothes including shoes. I can attest from my personal experience that packing a single change of clothes, including shoes, for a family of five takes a large duffle bag. Fitting a large duffle bag inside the trunk of our vehicle along with our BOB would take up most of the room in our trunk. Extra clothes are a part of our household Get Out of Dodge (G.O.O.D.) kit but not our BOB. Below I’d like to offer my personal observations for creating a vehicle G.O.O.D. Kit for a family of five and the reasons why I chose those items.
As the items that are needed in a BOB may change slightly by locality, I’d like to set the stage. I live in Southern California but my family and I travel routinely. We also live within fifty miles of a nuclear power plant. Temperatures can range from 25 degrees in the winter to 125 in the summer where we travel. As such, I’ve loaded my BOB keeping the basics in mind. Shelter, water and food are my primary focus. Other items can, and should, be added as weight and space permit.
Shelter provides us a safe place from being exposed to the elements – hot, cold, windy, wet, etc. Being exposed to extreme elements can kill people faster than not having food or water. Children are even more susceptible. That makes shelter a priority. We have a total of six emergency solar type blankets in our BOB. Three of them are the classic silver mylar style that are small enough to fit in a pant pocket. The other three are the sturdier kind with a plastic backing as these are more durable and more resistant to tearing. Remember that we’re preparing for as many different contingencies as possible. Our emergency may only be a few hours such as a vehicle stuck in the snow or it may last weeks such as a societal breakdown, earthquake, or terrorist event where the only time you have is to load your family in a car and leave. I’ve chosen six blankets, even though my family only has five members for several reasons: 1) if one blanket gets torn or destroyed, I have a backup; 2) if I have an extended family member over I can provide them some minimal protection; 3) they can provide shade in hot desert environments; and 4) it could be a good barter item. These are small and light enough that I think it’s worth having an extra.
As a quick side note, I think it is important to be the first one out in an emergency with minimal supplies versus having a fully stocked emergency trailer but stuck in traffic with thousands of other people because you took extra time to get ready at home. Having a tent and sleeping bags would be ideal but not if it may delay me to the point of keeping me in a danger zone.
To supplement my emergency blankets, I’ve added a heavy duty 12’x20’ tarp. Using compression straps, this fits nicely on the outside of my backpack. I chose brown for concealment reasons should I have to shelter in a non-urban environment. Tarps can be used for a variety of reasons – makeshift tent, collecting rain or dew for water supplies, privacy in a group setting, shade in the desert, etc.
My last items to supplement for shelter are fire starters and tinder. While technically not shelter, they do provide protection from the cold so I’ve added them as a shelter necessity. They can be used for other purposes such as food preparation, water purification (directly through sterilization or providing charcoal), tool/weapon preparation, light, morale booster, etc. I keep a set of storm-proof matches and a magnesium block for my fire starters. I recommend saving the matches for times when the magnesium starter won’t work. My own experiences with magnesium blocks and strikers is that they take patience and skill. Practice now so that you are ready and know what to expect. I have several sets of matches just in case I really need them but also for barter or charity. Again, they are small and light enough that a second or third box of matches isn’t an issue in my pack. I also keep a small box of commercial wax fire starters for tinder. All of these are stored in a plastic Ziploc. This helps organize my pack and also provides another level of protection from water.
After you’ve secured your shelter, the next most important thing is to acquire water. It’s important to know where and how you can acquire water if away from your home and also how to purify it. However, depending on your situation (having to move away from a threat, injured in a vehicle accident, etc), you may not have the time or ability to acquire water. Water should always be included in your pack. I use the Coast Guard approved emergency water packets that come in the 4 ounce size. I use these for several reasons: 1) they have a 5 year shelf life; 2) they are pre-packaged in 4 ounce sizes so that they are easy to ration and use for cooking; 3) they are easy to disperse to other family members if you need to walk any distance. Remember that water is relatively heavy – one gallon weighs eight pounds. Redistributing that weight can be useful.; 4) I am comfortable bartering in 4 oz increments; and 5) the packaging is tough and unlikely to break as opposed to plastic water bottles that from my experience degrade and break down within two years.
I store my water in three separate containers – 1) clear plastic Nalgene bottle (wide-mouth); 2) metal water bottle; and 3) a dry sack (which holds the majority of my water.) Again, I have multiple reasons for storing my water this way. The most important is that if the water packages do break, I haven’t lost any water. It’s still in a safe container and hopefully consumable. Secondly, I can use the two water bottles as part of my purification process if I find water along the way. There are multiple ways to purify water, which I won’t go into here. However, some methods include UV sterilization using the sun (a clear Nalgene plastic bottle) and sterilization by boiling (the metal water container.) The second benefit to the dry sack is that if I find a large source of potable water the dry sack is a secure way of transporting it.
Remember, this pack is designed for a family of five. If I use conventional wisdom, a family of five needs five gallons of water per day. At eight pounds per gallon, that’s 40 pounds of water per day. A three day supply would weigh 120 pounds. And that’s just in water. No other supplies. This is a daunting task and not realistic for securing in a car or traveling on foot. That being said, my packs contain 128 oz. of water. Many references state that the bare bones basic water needs are 12 oz per day, which accounts for three water packets per person per day for two days. Assuming I find zero water within two days, I at least have some in which to live. This accounts for 10 pounds of weight between water and containers.
I also have iodine tablets for purifying water that I may find on my travels. If money and space permits, I would also include a water purifier, which I don’t have yet. My personal preference are purifiers that use ceramic filters as they usually don’t have an expiration date and their storage is unaffected by temperature. Remember that I travel to places where the temp reaches a 125 externally. Internal temps in a car can surpass 160 degrees which membrane filters (and many other items) have trouble dealing with and may break down.
The final must have in a basic family BOB is food. The core of my food supply are the 3,600 calorie Datrex food rations. I’ve chosen these for several reasons: 1) they have a five year life span; 2) a single 3,600 calorie packet takes a quarter of the space of two MREs and has more calories; 3) within the main packet, the rations are individually wrapped in smaller packets making them easier to ration; 4) the smaller individual packets make them easier to barter; 5) they have the basic food needs such as carbs, protein and fats in a balanced formula along with vitamins and minerals; 6) my family likes the taste – we get the coconut flavored ones but there are others; and 7) there’s no preparation necessary other than opening the package. I can store five 3,600 calorie Datrex rations and only take up a moderate amount of space.
I supplement the Datrex rations with Mountain House food packages. These do however take up a lot more space and require water for re-hydration. While Datrex bars may keep you alive, there’s nothing like a hot tasty meal at the end of a very long day. I’ve stored these strictly as a morale booster. People can survive and endure a huge amount of stress if their morale is high.
All of the above items need a place to be stored and easily transported. While some people use plastic tote bins, I’ve found it difficult to carry them anywhere but a short distance. A decent quality backpack is my choice. I’m currently using the CamelBak Motherlode and the 5.11 Rush 72. I’ve found both of these to be decent quality and modular. Using MOLLE attachments or regular straps, I can add additional items to the outside of my pack as needed.
There are certainly more items in my packs than I’ve listed here. Remember, this is a basic pack for a family of five. Additional items should be added as space, weight and finances allow. Some suggested additional items are cash (nothing larger than a $20 bill), knives, medical supplies, maps, pencil (no ink unless its indelible) and paper, gloves, sewing kit (to repair clothes and backpack or suture if critical), camp cook set, shovel, playing cards, etc.
It’s important to manage weight. My packs weigh approximately fifty pounds. This is a lot of weight to carry for an entire day if we had to walk. It’s also the upper limit to what my wife thinks she can carry. It does my family no good to create a BOB if they can’t take it with them (especially if I’m not there to help them.) Another consideration is the amount of space we can donate in our cars. I also keep an empty regular school backpack in the truck with my main BOB. This allows me to redistribute the weight and reduce the weight I carry or allow me to add additional items that I may find/barter while away from home. The second backpack also allows the children to be help out and feel useful.
Finally, work with your family so that they know what’s in the BOB and how to use the items. While my family isn’t into prepping as much as I am, they do support me in it. My wife has tried on the pack to make sure she can carry it, the family has seen an inventory of what’s in the packs, the family has eaten all of the food stored, and most importantly my family understand the reasons why we have each and every item in our BOB and when they could be used. I have received a fair amount of emergency management preparation and recovery training but my family has not. It does my family no good if they don’t know what’s in the BOB or how to use what’s there. And the fact is, an emergency may strike when we are not at home together. I feel much better knowing that if I’m away from my family and an emergency like an earthquake or terrorist attack strikes, then they have a much better chance of surviving.