DIY Emergency Bag and Get Home Bag (GHB) – A Guide for Preparing the Essentials When Things Go South
A wise man once said, it never hurts to be prepared.
You never know when you might get a flat tire, get into a fender bender, or hit a deer foolishly trying to dash across the street in front of your rig. In those instances, you’ll likely need a few tools at your disposal to get you and your vehicle back to “road-worthy”.
In addition to having an overland bag for your vehicle, you’ll need a bag for yourself. Whether it’s due to natural disasters, civil unrest, careening off of a cliff, or any mechanical problems, you will likely need some gear to get home.
If you search around the internet, you’ll find an endless supply of articles and videos telling you what you should and shouldn’t have in your get home bag (GHB) and your vehicle’s emergency bag. This is in no way the be-all, end-all, most fully comprehensive list in the world. But, this affordable bag and the contents work for me and it’s a good start for most people.
Find it Online:
- Voyager 12-inch tool bag: Check Price
So, What Do I Pack Away?
Well, quite a bit. Again, you never know what situation you might come across, so it’s good to be prepared for most (if not, all, depending on your type of adventuring):
- Stowable four-way lug wrench: Check Price
- Hi-Vis gloves: Check Price
- Yellow reflective vest: Check Price
- Durable work gloves: Check Price
- Rain poncho: Check Price
- Magnetic pocket light: Check Price
- Portable work light: Check Price
- Compact lantern: Check Price
- Magnesium fire starter: Check Price
- Emergency sleeping bag: Check Price
- Sun hat: Check Price
- Rubber tie downs: Check Price
- Alarm clock: Check Price
- Binoculars: Check Price
Vehicle Emergency Bag
There is an infinite supply of bags or cases you can choose to use as your emergency kit. Smittybilt also makes another popular tool bag but there are tons of them on Amazon that fit every shape and size tool setup.
I didn’t want anything oversized, so I opted for the Voyager 12-inch tool bag from Harbor Freight. The bag is big enough to carry essentials you may need that you otherwise couldn’t secure in the available in-vehicle storage. I used a bungee cord to secure the bag to keep it from bouncing around the truck.
Although not technically part of the emergency bag, the supplies you keep in your truck’s available storage are part of your emergency kit. The 5th gen 4Runner has two good-sized storage compartments on each side of the cargo area, a generous center console, and a medium-sized glove box to lug around extra gear.
The driver’s side storage compartment already comes loaded with the provided bottle jack and associated tool bag. With room to spare, I added a stowable four-way lug wrench and a canister of fix-a-flat.
I didn’t even know the foldable four-way lug wrenches existed. The ability to get some extra torque when removing lug nuts is beneficial. It is significantly more useful than the standard lug wrench/tire iron combo hunk of garbage that comes with most vehicles. Another popular option is this GTE Tools lug nut wrench that can be stored in a very compact manner.
I wrapped the lug wrench with an old t-shirt to both eliminate rattling and give me something absorbent to use if I need to clean up a spill. Truthfully, I’m not a fan of fix-a-flat, but it’s what I had laying around. I would say it’s better than nothing, but that might not be true. At some point, I’ll replace it with a full-size tire repair kit, Multi-Seal, or something simple like the Smittybilt tire repair kit.
I don’t carry much in the passenger side storage compartment and could probably use this space better. I have a bag of Craftsman wrenches, and a small bag of Craftsman allen wrenches. I also have a Husky multi-tool and bungee cords that I often use to secure cargo, groceries, and luggage. Again, I use some towels to cut down on noise, and they’re handy to clean up spills or leaks.
The only thing I carry in my glove box (besides insurance info and my owner’s manual) is a Benchtop socket set. I’ve had this set in all my vehicles for at least 20 years. In the past, these bad boys have helped me out of a few jams on the side of the road. But so far, Toyota’s reliability has led them to collect dust.
What’s in the Bag?
Most of the gear in the emergency bag I was able to grab at Harbor Freight. At full price (including the bag) you can put this all together for around $100. With Harbor Freight’s overwhelming amount of coupons, you could probably knock off at least $25 too. Of course, everyone’s emergency bags will differ based on geographic location, time of year, where you often travel, and more. For those not wanting to make the trip to Harbor Freight, Amazon can be your best friend!
If I find myself stuck on the side of the road working on my truck, I really would like to avoid getting struck by a passing car. The high visibility gloves and reflective vests provide a slight sense of security. If mechanical problems or roadside emergencies require heavier-duty hand protection, I have gloves for that purpose too.
Should inclement weather present itself, the rain poncho will keep me comfortable. The only thing worse than being stranded is being stranded and wet. Of course, depending on where you live and where you’re traveling, this might not be important to you. As someone who travels through the desert, a floppy hat for sun protection is necessary most of the year.
There is a bit of redundancy here with three lights in the bag, but each has its own purpose. The magnetic pocket light is handy for getting into tight spots and is ideal for illumination while being hands-free. If you need to hike out of a bad situation, the compact lantern will provide light in all directions as you set off on foot. And, the portable work light is a backup for both and it has a strobe function for flagging someone down. If you’re actively using one light, the other two can be positioned near the roadway to alert oncoming drivers of your presence. Conversely, any light can be used as a signaling device too.
The foam rubber tie-downs can be invaluable when needed. I have a set of ratcheting tie-downs that I use when I know I’ll be moving large items, but I don’t carry them around every day. If I clipped a coyote or donkey (or downed tree) and tore my bumper off, the rubber tie downs could secure it to my roof rack or hang out of my rear window without any further damage. You can also use them to mount lights to your vehicle to alert others.
Suppose you happen to be stuck somewhere off the beaten path and it looks like you’ll be spending a night in your truck – in that case, the emergency sleeping bag will help keep you comfortable overnight, and the alarm clock will allow you to get an early start on getting yourself unstuck the next day. In the event your cell phone dies while you’re stuck, the alarm clock will also provide you some sense of time and help keep you sane. If you wear a watch with an alarm function, you could easily scrap the alarm clock.
If you’re stuck overnight, the firestarter and matches provide you an easy way to start a fire to keep yourself warm, boil water, and/or cook food. The only thing worse than being stuck and stranded would be trying to start a fire, feverishly rubbing two sticks together while being stuck and stranded.
Finally, the binoculars might not be a necessity, but if you get stuck in a remote, obscure location, being able to look for help and resources over vast distances will be valuable.
Depending on your personal needs, a lot could be missing. In my case, the only items I want to add are a heavy-duty jump starter and air compressor. There are plenty of options for each, but I’m looking at an Audew jump starter and VIAIR compressor. They both seem to have great reviews, and more importantly, both are among the smaller options on the market.
You might also consider including a pair of shoes. I always wear boots or sneakers, but if you often find yourself in dress shoes or sandals, you should consider keeping a pair of boots or sneakers in your car at all times. I can’t think of any emergency situation where flip-flops or dress shoes would fare better than a pair of boots or sneakers!
Get Home Bag (GHB)
The vehicle emergency kit should meet most of your vehicle’s needs if things go bad on the road. On the other hand, your “get home bag” (GHB) should meet most of your needs, should things go bad in life. If you’re not familiar with a GHB, the name says it all. This is a bag with enough gear to help sustain you if you had to abandon your truck and hoof it back to your home over a 36ish hour period.
Why would you ever need to walk home? As we’ve seen with recent wildfires on the west coast, hurricanes on the Gulf or Atlantic Coasts, tornadoes in the midwest, floods, and blizzards (as well as the threat of terrorist attacks, bridge collapses, or brown and blackouts), mother nature and human nature can dramatically impact your travel plans. And, this says nothing about recent civil unrest, which has led to multiple road closures in cities across the country. Nevertheless, if you need to get home, you need to get home, and walking might be your only option.
As mentioned with the vehicle emergency bag, your personal situation is going to dictate what you need. For example, I spend approximately 90% of my time in Las Vegas and 10% of my time in Phoenix, with a decent amount of time on the road in the desert and mountains in between. As such, I need heat and sun protection. Therefore, cold weather gear is not a significant consideration for me. However, if you live in a mountainous region (like in northern Montana), you and I would have very different needs.
Find it Online:
- TravTac Stage II Sling Bag: Check Price
So, What Do I Need to Get Home?
- Morakniv Eldris fixed blade pocket-sized knife: Check Price
- Victorinox Swiss Army Tinker pocket knife: Check Price
- Titan Paracord Survival Bracelet: Check Price
- Lighter Long Stem: Check Price
- LED pen light flashlight: Check Price
- First aid kit: Check Price
- Space Pen: Check Price
- Weatherproof notebook: Check Price
- Pepper Spray Gel: Check Price
- Leatherman Surge Multitool: Check Price
- Rain Poncho: Check Price
- Emergency sleeping bag: Check Price
- Stainless steel water bottle: Check Price
- Sillcock key: Check Price
- Compass: Check Price
- Shemagh: Check Price
- Sawyer mini water filtration system: Check Price
- Water Purification Tablets: Check Price
- UCO Titan stormproof matches: Check Price
What’s in the Rear Pouch?
If you need to get your feet on the pavement to make it home, you’re likely in a less-than-ideal situation. As a result, you may need to protect yourself. If things are bad enough, people will be desperate, and you’ll need to ensure you don’t become a victim. Depending on where you live and where you’re stranded, you may need protection from bears or other predators as well. The padded pouch on the rear of the bag comfortably holds both a handgun, a spare magazine, as well as a small knife. If I were on the move, I would move the gun to a belt holster and the knife to a more accessible location as soon as my boots touch the ground.
An Important Disclaimer: Be certain to check, double-check, and triple-check laws, both at home and where you’ll be traveling. Different cities, counties, and states have vastly different laws regarding open carry, concealed carry, magazine capacity, length of edged weapons, and more. Don’t do anything illegal and make your situation worse. You may be in need of temporary shelter, but I wouldn’t recommend jail! If you choose to carry weapons, you must absolutely do so responsibly and within the law. You should also get some training with everything you plan to carry. Any weapons in your control will do you no good if you’re unable to use them effectively.
On the exterior of the bag, I’m keeping a few items for quick access. As soon as I head out, I can put the paracord bracelet on my wrist, toss the knife and lighters in a pocket, and I’m on my way. The bracelet provides over ten feet of cordage and the lighters are handy if I need to start a fire. With more than one lighter, I have something to barter if the situation arises. The Morakniv is more of a self-defense knife and useful for camping, but the trusty Swiss Army Knife is a small, handy, quick access knife for small, immediate needs that may pop up.
The small pocket has a few items that I would like to access quickly. The Leatherman multi-tool has a belt loop, and I can get it on my belt quickly to lighten the load of the bag. Leatherman has many options, but I selected the Surge. I liked the saw-file combo and the scissors, compared to other multi-tool accessories. But, again, everyone’s needs will be different, and there are countless multi-tool options out there.
If knives and firearms are a little too much for you in terms of self-defense, the Sabre pepper spray gives you another option against both man and beast. If you come across an obstacle that you need to climb over or move out of your path, the gloves will give your hands some protection. An emergency situation isn’t the time to sustain a hand injury.
If you do get injured, you’re going to need a quality first aid kit. It’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. The kit I chose vastly exceeded my expectations. To say it is fully loaded would be an understatement, and its size is very manageable. I didn’t see anything else on the market that combined the size and amount of usable items as this kit.
Let’s get into the meat and potatoes of the GHB. In the main pocket, I have several survival essentials. It contains an emergency sleeping bag, an N95 mask, a compass, a shemagh, gauze and medical tape, a rain poncho, and a water bottle, both of which have even more items stashed inside. I also carry a sillcock key, but more on that later.
Beyond bandaging and wound care, the medical tape and gauze have several other uses as well. It’s all flammable if you need something to help start a fire, and the medical tape is very strong, waterproof, and versatile (especially the cloth tape).
The face mask was in the bag before all of the Coronavirus craziness. Chemical weapons, fires, and collapsed buildings will kick various amounts of smoke, dust, and debris into the air. The mask should provide you some level of protection if needed.
In addition to the face mask, a shemagh (or bandana) is also useful. In warmer climates, you can soak it in water before wrapping your head and neck, and it will both keep you cool and provide a layer of protection from the wind and sun. There are multiple ways to wear a shemagh. Hundreds of tutorial YouTube videos can show you the various ways to tie, wrap, and wear the shemagh to find the best option for you. If it’s good enough for the people of the Middle East for nearly 100 years, it’s good enough for me in the American southwest.
I keep a sleeping bag in the GHB and a rain poncho. If I’m mobile, especially overnight, I’ll need both. More importantly, the Terra Hiker poncho has built-in grommets and would enable you to use it as a makeshift shelter as well. With the poncho as shelter and the emergency sleeping bag, you’d be able to spend the night almost anywhere in a pinch.
A compass is only handy if you know how to use one properly. Again, YouTube is jammed full of tutorial videos to help you learn how to use a compass properly. Maps are not pictured because I’m very familiar with the areas I frequent; however, if you’re not too familiar or are going to be in a region you’re not familiar with, you should get maps of the areas you’ll be in.
Hidden Within the Main Pocket
I wrapped several yards of twine around the poncho. You can use rope or paracord, but twine was what I had laying around. You can’t have too much cordage.
Next, an ace bandage is wrapped around it all to keep it tight. You can use it if you sustain a sprain or strain. There are several tourniquet options you could also use. I then wrap a bandana around everything before I place it all back into the poncho bag. The bandana can be used as a face covering or a makeshift bandage and you can cut it to shreds for use as fuel for a fire.
In the Water Bottle
Making the most of your space, you can fill your water bottle with additional items until you locate a water source and fill up. Additionally, all of these things are small enough to mush back into the bag once you’ve taken them out of your water bottle. As far as the water bottle itself, any single-walled stainless steel bottle will work. You can boil water in it and could cook food in it if necessary.
I have a set of lightweight camping utensils. You can pick up a spoon/fork combo almost anywhere. If you’re on the move in a chaotic situation, your hands are likely to be filthy. If you end up eating something, the last thing you want is to get sick from germs on your hands. Walking for 20 hours would be bad enough without diarrhea and vomiting.
If you’re in the unfortunate position of being on your own for a day or so, sometimes little acts of normalcy can bring you some comfort. It may not seem like much, but a travel toothbrush and toothpaste may make a world of difference. If you have to hunker down in the woods or in an abandoned building or something for one night, being able to brush your teeth as part of your usual bedtime routine might bring you some comfort while everything else around you is out of place.
A small needle and thread kit might not be a huge game-changer, but mending a torn shirt or pair of pants might be needed. It’s not perfect, but you can use it to mend your rain poncho as well. It takes up almost no room and weighs nothing.
As far as essentials go, I believe in redundancy. I have lighters, but these UCO Titan stormproof matches are better than lighters. They’re completely waterproof and windproof. If you could only have one easy fire starting option, these UCO matches would be my pick.
I pack an extra set of boot laces. Odds are, if I ever need this bag, I’m going to be doing some walking… likely lots of walking. If you’ve ever walked in a shoe or boot without laces (or with a busted lace), you’ll know that’s no way to go about an extended trek. I opt for the longest backup lace possible. If you don’t end up needing them, you have extra cordage at your disposal. You can tie a door shut, secure a tent flap, keep your gear together, anything really. So, I’d recommend a good quality boot lace.
In almost any situation, obtaining water is going to become a priority. I have both water purification tablets and a Sawyer mini water filtration system. If you have access to water, but it’s questionable, the purification tabs will work if you want to fill your canteen and keep moving. The mini filtration system is better if water is scarce and you might have to drink directly from a puddle or stream. This tiny filter claims to be able to filter 100,000 gallons of water. In an urban setting, the average swimming pool has more than 10,000 gallons of water. That said, you could potentially drink ten swimming pools worth of water safely through the Sawyer mini filter. It comes with a straw, and as previously mentioned, you could simply dip the end into a shallow puddle and have access to clean drinking water.
If you spend most of your time in urban settings, I can’t stress enough how vital a sillcock key could be. You’ll need water, and if stores are closed, burning, or overrun, this handy little device can be the difference between life and death.
Keep your eyes on the lookout the next time you’re out and about in the city. Most commercial and municipal buildings have these small doors that allow you access to a water spigot. Although this example is unsecured, most are locked and you would use the sillcock key to unlock the door and gain access to the spigot inside. Once you make it a habit to look for these as you run errands, you’ll be shocked that you didn’t notice them before; they’re everywhere.
Some buildings don’t have the exterior door as pictured above, but the interior spigot setup looks similar either way. In addition to unlocking the door, the sillcock key allows you to turn the water on and off. If you already know you frequent certain areas in your community, take a few minutes out of your day once and make it your purpose to set out and look for them in those areas. For example, take an investigative lap around your local Wal-Mart, grocery store, fast food joint, or strip mall. If you ever needed to make a quick in-and-out run for water, your ability to quickly get to the right spot undetected could be of utmost importance. It’s probably not the time to be walking around a building aimlessly with empty water jugs searching for water access.
The first thing I realized I need to add is some way to clean my hands. A travel-sized soap would work, as would camping-style soap petals. The other option would be a mini hand sanitizer, and those are everywhere now.
Additionally, If I know I’m taking an extended road trip or traveling into the mountains or desert for a while, I’ll usually pack some food just in case. Of course, you can go without food, but there’s no need to make yourself miserable. One or two of those Starkist tuna pouches take up no room at all and don’t need to be heated.
I previously mentioned maps; again, if you’re in a new area or traveling somewhere unfamiliar, a map could be essential to getting you where you’re trying to go.
Another item you might add to your first aid kit is super glue. For example, if you end up with a cut that a band-aid or butterfly bandage isn’t going to close, you can pinch your skin together and seal it with superglue. It’s a good enough, temporary fix, until you can get proper medical attention.
Hopefully, you never need an emergency kit or a GHB, but as we’ve seen in recent history, you’re not always going to be sure what is awaiting you whenever you head out every day. The above items are in no way a one-size-fits-all for everyone. Your experience, climate, topography, habits, and local laws will all have a significant impact on what you will feel is necessary for you, should you choose to put together bags for your truck.
Obviously, if your 4Runner has a significant lift, you might want to have a Hi-Lift jack since your bottle jack will be worthless. If you do lots of overlanding or off-roading in remote areas, an onboard air compressor might be a bigger need for you. Tow straps, snatch blocks, and recovery straps might all be a need for some people but not others. The build of your rig and how you tend to use it will greatly impact your emergency bag.
Everyone’s get home bag will also be heavily customizable for each individual. If you almost always travel with a child or spouse, you might need to include more gear and require a larger bag, maybe even diapers, and 24-hours of baby formula. If you live in colder climates, you’re going to need weather-appropriate items. If you live in an area with prevalent biting insects, some bug repellant becomes a need. This was in no way a fully comprehensive wish list for the worst-case scenarios in life, but hopefully, it was enough to get you started down the right path and helps you put together something that will be of assistance to you should you ever need it.
Have fun on those trails, and be safe.
Excellent write up John with lots of good ideas! I’ve kept a BOB or GHB along with some other supplies/tools in my Toyota’s for years. Luckily, I’ve never had to use it for anything major. Better to have and not need, than need and not have. I’ve always subscribed to the redundancy theory or preparedness. 2 = 1 and 1 = None. It’s always good to have a backup (flashlight, knife, canteen, firestarter, etc.) I also read this somewhere and if you had 1 of each of the “5 C’s” you’re more prepared than almost everyone on the road. Cutting tools, combustion device, cover, cordage and containers.