The word tactical refers to anything that relates to or is part of your carefully thought plan to gain a desired position or achieve a specific end. However, when you think of tactical gear or tactical supplies, you likely think of something along the lines of a bad ass super soldier with Kevlar body armor, MOLLE tactical vest, and mean looking Rambo bowie knife taking down anyone and everything that gets in their way. It’s hard to shake the bad ass image, but it’s important to remember that in a survival situation, your survival gear needs to be practical and have a purpose. Otherwise, your tactical gear just makes you bulky, slower moving, and an easier target for opportunistic individuals who might like to have those fancy supplies. And that can be a problem, too: being all tricked out in the latest all-black tactical gear makes you stand out, it makes you look different than everyone else -and that can bring you some unwanted attention.
Don’t get us wrong, we love tactical gear, too, but we also love making it through a survival situation as comfortably as possible and as fast as possible. And that’s not something you can do when weighed down with too much gear and having to fight off scared and hungry people who noticed you bogged down with 40 pounds of gear pretending to be a 20-year-old soldier.
It’s also important to remember that while super cool, if you don’t know how to use your tactical gear, how to properly put on your body armor, or how to load that AR-15 then none of it will do you a bit of good. This is where having the right kind of skills are also necessary for a survival situation, but that’s an article for another time.
So, let’s look at the basics for what you need when it comes to survival gear. Ideally, your survival gear should be able to keep you covered through a variety of situations, whether that’s a getting trapped in an office building due to an earthquake or raging against the zombie apocalypse in order to make it back to your spouse and kids. It also needs to get you through any medical emergencies and help you to defend yourself -if necessary (one of the big rules of survivalism: don’t go looking for a fight.)
At the most basic, your survival gear falls into three categories: your every day carry, your get home bag, and your bug out bag.
Essential Every Day Carry
Your every day carry items (EDC) are the things that you carry on you every single day. This is inherently not a lot of gear. It’s basically what you can comfortably fit on your person, tucked away in pockets or strapped to your belt. Your EDC isn’t bulky, doesn’t weigh you down, and isn’t something that anyone else is likely to be aware of in most instances. But, these few small items are the most basic and crucial of survival gear, the absolute minimum that you need if sh** hits the fan.
At the most basic, you’ll want to have a good pocket knife with a variety of blades (drop point and clip point are the most useful) and tools (with a bare minimum of saw and can opener); a tactical flashlight (this will be small, lightweight, and LED); and the ability to start fire (ideally, you want a lighter or storm/waterproof matches. These three items are enough to for you to start a fire for warmth, signal, or cooking food; to make a spear or gig to get food; to defend yourself; to cut fibrous plants for lashings for a shelter or further weapons; and to make a shelter.
Minimum Every Day Carry
- Pocket knife
- Tactical flashlight
- Ability to start a fire: lighter or storm/waterproof matches
From there, you can add on items as is practical and useful for where you live and the situations you face every day. A good start is a steel water bottle that can withstand high temperatures (that way you can boil water in it to purify it for drinking,) paracord (this can be a simple paracord bracelet -survival fashion and could save your life,) and a multitool (having pliers, a variety of blades, and additional tools.
When living in the Southwest, I always appreciated having sunglasses, a hat, mountain boots, lip balm, canteen, snakebite kit, machete, and a shotgun on me -this in addition to my standard knife, lighter, and flashlight. These were items I always had on me when I left my homestead because they were the minimum needed if something went wrong while I was in the wilderness. However, when living in the marshy forest of the Northern Midwest, I trade out the snakebite kit, hat, and sunglasses for paracord and either insect repellent or a parka -depending on the season.
Your location, the season, and personal situation may very well entail a few additional but highly valuable items, too. For example, urban dwellers will want to be sure they always have their wallet (with personal ID and cash,) cell phone, and keys on them, as well as a safety whistle to call for help in the event of an earthquake and getting trapped beneath rubble or in a building. Safety whistles are also useful if you get lost while hiking in order to signal rescuers as they’re really loud and can even be heard during high winds.
Dependent upon local laws and personal preference, you may also want to include a handgun and maybe an extra magazine. But, anything more, really, and you’re looking at either a get Home bag or a bug out bag -both of which contain more items than you can practically carry on your person in every day situations.
Bug Out Bag vs Get Home Bag: Why you Need Both
There’s frequently some confusion between a get home and a bug out bag. Essentially, both are some sort of tactical backpack or bag that is filled with a variety of survival goodies to help you get through a variety of emergency situations. But, within that broad purpose, each has a specific function and, thus, the survival gear contained within will differ sometimes dramatically.
Your get home bag (GHB) is a collection of supplies that are the basic items that you need to get through a situation and keep you alive until you make it back home. This means it’s lightweight, no more than 20-30 pounds, and generally has enough food, water, and other essentials to last you 1-3 days, tops. Of course, your GHB could be packed for longer and contain more items, but your goal isn’t to pack for comfort but for survival. We’ll take a better look at what your GHB should contain in just a second.
Your bug out bag (BOB), on the other hand, is for leaving home (or wherever you are) and traveling to another location where you will be staying for an extended period of time. This means that some of the contents will be the same as your GHB but the BOB is packed with a greater span of time in mind. This means it will hold more food and water (that you may very well refill at one of your stash locations en route to your long-term survival location,) have greater items for personal defense, and naturally be heavier.
While the BOB can be packed ahead of time and not worried about except to go through, double check supplies, and refresh food once a month, your GHB is very situational and will be packed prior to leaving home. In this way, it will have whatever you need in order to get home and back to your family from exactly wherever you’re headed to. As you can see, what your GHB contains will vary considerably whether you’re traveling out of state to visit friends or family or if you’re heading across town to go to work while your BOB will stay the same.
Packing your Get Home Bag
When assembling items for your GHB, the first thing you need to do is consider how long it will take you to get home under ideal conditions (e.g. car got stolen and you can’t get a ride so you have to walk home) and in the worst case scenario (e.g. terrorists have attacked, the city is in panic, looters are running amok, people are hurt and freaking out everywhere.) For example, if you have a half hour commute to work every day just driving across town, that could easily take a day -or longer- depending upon your physical fitness level. However, a healthy adult with no physical impairments should be able to walk a mile in 15 minutes, with a short (5 min or less) break every 2 to 3 miles. So if you travel 5 miles to work, it should take you between 1 hour and 15 minutes to 1 ½ hours to get home -that’s without anything getting in your way or other situations appearing.
It’s also important to consider what situations you could face throughout that time. For example, if it’s winter, could temperatures drop below zero? If it’s summer, could high temperatures become an issue? Depending upon the distance and any unforeseeable events, will you need to stop to rest and sleep? But what about your job: are you required to dress in a certain way that wouldn’t be practical for getting home, such as dress shoes, high heels, or a swimsuit (in the event you happen to be a lifeguard)? All of these require the packing of additional items just for practicality and safety’s sake.
So, what are some of the basic survival items you should put in your get home bag? Remember, you’ll already have your every day carry items so a knife, flashlight, and ability to start a fire (your minimum EDC) won’t be necessary. Start with a tactical backpack. You want something lightweight, tough, and water repellant. A variety of organizational pockets can be handy, but they can also keep you from finding what you’re looking for right away, so the exact style of bag is really on you and your personal preference. After all, you’re the one who’ll be using it, make sure it’s a bag you like and that is functional for you. In the bag, you’ll want to have walking shoes or comfortable, broken-in hiking boots; a jacket and hat to protect you against the elements; work gloves; first aid kit, with supplies to handle greater emergencies because stopping to put a bandaid on a blister will be the least of your worries, but having supplies to staunch heavy blood flow or create a splint for a broken arm come in real handy real fast; paracord; dust mask or bandana (useful if you live and/or work in a large city where destruction of buildings could be an issue); handgun and extra magazines; energy bars (2-5); canteen or bottles of water, one of which better be steel and able to withstand high temperatures; duct tape; and a space blanket –don’t you even think about trying to bring a sleeping bag, buck up.
Suggest Minimum for your Get Home Bag
- Tactical backpack (to hold everything)
- Walking shoes or comfortable hiking boots
- Jacket and hat
- Work gloves
- First aid kit that covers larger emergencies that would slow you down, e.g. broken bones and deep cuts
- Dust mask and/or bandana
- Handgun and extra ammo
- Energy bars (2-5) or a high energy food like pemmican or a jar of peanut butter at the very least
- Canteen or bottles of water (one of which better be steel and able to withstand high temperatures)
- Duct tape
- Space blanket
You can also add in some of the other items that make great additional EDC, such as a safety whistle and multitool, as well as any other items that your personal experience and exact situation could call for.
Packing your Bug Out Bag
As mentioned earlier, your bug out bag is packed with a greater time period in mind and a very specific purpose: to get you from home to your long-term survival location. That means it will contain some of the same items as your GHB, but it will also have other items that just aren’t practical to have in your GHB -such as long guns and a sleeping bag. Under ideal conditions, you’ll be bugging out the moment that it looks like things are getting sour, so you’ll very likely be driving to your next location. This simple fact allows you to carry more survival gear and be able to sustain more people more easily.
Now, there are a lot of differing opinions on what a BOB should contain. What exactly you need, and in what quantities, will vary based upon how many people you’re traveling with, how far you need to go, and how many stashes you have along the way. So, keep in mind that this list is merely a suggestion based upon my own experience, as well as personal and family requirements.
Suggested Minimum for your Bug Out Bag
- Tactical backpack for every member of your party (for personal necessities, change of clothes, etc.)
- Duffel bags for additional items
- Firestarters (it’s good to have a few varieties)
- Additional means to start a fire (extra matches, extra lighters, flint, etc.)
- First aid kit (should cover basic and more extreme emergencies: supplies to handle cuts, abrasions, insect bites, rashes, as well as pain relievers, fever reducers, digestive aids/laxatives, triple antibiotic cream, alcohol wipes, sunblock, moisturizing cream or lotion, hand sanitizer, and all necessary prescription medicines and feminine hygiene products.)
- Plastic sheet (can be used for an impromptu shelter)
- Food (minimum is energy bars, a high energy food source such as pemmican, or a jar of peanut butter for every person at the very least, see our post on Survival Food for more on this topic.)
- Water (ideally, a gallon per person per day for drinking and washing)
- Extra set of clothes for each person
- Machete that can chop wood (such as the Woodsman’s Pal by Pro Tool Industries or the SOGfari Kukri Machete by SOG Specialty Knives.)
- Camp cookware
- Personal care products (i.e. soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste)
- Sleeping bag, one per person
Add additional items as you see fit, just be sure that they are items that will contribute to your survival and not just inhibit the speed at which you can travel.
Of course, all of these are merely suggestions for the necessary basic survival gear to make it through most emergency situations. You may disagree with some of the items listed here or feel that there are several that weren’t listed but it should have been -such as a map or GPS. Here is a good guide on a more complete list. But, as stated repeatedly, these items were chosen as the absolute minimum for what could be useful. These items were also all chosen because they require the least amount of specialized skill or training to properly use them -the only exception to this being a gun (which you should be absolutely sure you know how to use properly if you’re going to choose to own one, don’t be stupid.) These survival items will help you to get through a variety of situations. While you may get through those situations cold and hungry, you will have at least survived. And that’s what matters most.