72-Hour “Grab-and-Run” Survival Kits

There are many situations in life where leaving your home or vehicle and all your possessions could be the difference between life and death.  Sometimes having to evacuate from your well-prepared home becomes a necessity.  Whether it is due to fire, flood, or stranded on a remote roadside, having a Grab-and-Run Kit that will allow you to more easily navigate various situations will add mobile resiliency to your life. Consider your Grab-and Run Kit to be an important extension of your overall preparedness plan.  Here are some specifics to consider when planning ways to increase your mobile resiliency:

The Basics

A short-term 72-hour emergency kit, or Grab-and-Run Kit, should be readily accessible and ideally cover the basic daily needs of your family for a period of at least three days. Please note that three days is a minimal time period (after the 1995 earthquake in Kobe, Japan, it was 9 days before many survivors received food and water) and that you should still have at least a two-week supply of food stored in or around your home. You may purchase ready-made 72-hour kits from various survival supply outlets, or you can put together your own. Large families can divide the stores between several easily-grabbed small backpacks or plastic containers.

One advantage to building your own kit(s) rather than buying ready-made is that you get to choose foods and include supply brands that you like. Remember that all foods have some kind of shelf life. Rotate stores, and use them or lose them. Bug-infested, rancid, or rotten food doesn’t do anyone any good. Consider placing all of the following items in your Grab-and-Run survival kit:

  • First-aid kit with instruction and survival handbooks (my books cover both).
  • Water, water purification chemicals, and/or a purifying filter sufficient to provide 1 gallon per person per day. Also one or more lightweight containers for collecting water for purification. Retort (foil) pouches can handle freezing in a car trunk, but most other water containers can’t handle freezing without the potential for bursting. Three gallons per person is heavy (24 lb), so consider including a water filter and water treatment chemicals rather than trying to transport that much clean water. I suggest pump-type backcountry filters, such as those made by Katadyn or MSR, that are rated to filter out all bacteria and contain a carbon core to remove toxic chemicals. Also, supplement your filter(s) with purifying iodine crystals (or other chemicals), such as a “Polar Pure” water purification kit, to kill all viruses. Pump filters that are rated for virus removal have tiny pore sizes and tend to clog quickly (a clogged filter is worthless). Sports bottle–type purifying water filters are simple, reliable, compact, and inexpensive, but they clog easier and won’t purify nearly as many gallons of water as the pump-type filters.
  • Food for three days per person, minimum. Use foods you will eat and that store well, such as nuts, sport bars, canned vegetables, dried fruits, meats, dry cereals, and military-type preserved meals (available at surplus and survival stores).  Consider including a multivitamin as well.
  • Portable radio, preferably one that works even with dead or no batteries, such as by a hand crank or combination powered with solar cells (available through survival and surplus outlets).
  • A Swiss Army knife, Leatherman, or other stainless steel multi-tool knife with scissors, can opener, blades, and screwdrivers.
  • Map, compass, and whistle. When you are in a weakened state or have a parched throat, a whistle may draw someone’s attention and save your life. In smoke or fog, a compass may be the only thing pointing you in the right direction. The dial on the compass should glow in the dark. Put a string on your compass so you can hang it around your neck for quick referral.
  • Waterproof and windproof matches in a waterproof container a utility-type butane lighter (large size with extended tip). (9 ways to start fire without matches)
  • Candles (useful for lighting fires with damp wood) and/or cyalume light sticks (emergency light when nothing else works or explosive gases are present).
  • Blankets: Wool or pile blankets because they are warm when wet (avoid cotton), and/or a sleeping bag. Also, a heat-reflective, waterproof “space blanket.” Fiber-pile, mountaineering-quality sleeping bags are great if you have the space (avoid down sleeping bags, except for extremely cold climates, because they are worthless when wet).
  • Flashlight with spare batteries, or a solar recharge flashlight. I highly recommend that you purchase a headlamp with LED bulbs. Headlamps leave your hands free to carry things or work on things. LED bulbs use a fraction of the power, are far more shock-resistant, and last far longer than traditional light bulbs, so your batteries last many times longer.
  • Toiletries, including toilet paper, toothbrush, soap, comb, sanitary napkins, dental floss (also for sewing and tying things), lip balm.
  • Sunscreen, mosquito repellent.
  • Sewing kit with extra-heavy-duty thread and appropriate needles. Should be strong enough to stitch a torn strap onto your backpack. (I never travel in the backcountry without a sewing kit and have had to use it several times).  Also safety pins.
  • Towel or other absorbent cloth: handkerchief, dishcloth, bandana, etc.
  • Knives, forks, spoons, cup, bowl, and so on. A camping “mess kit” comprises a conveniently compact set of utensils.
  • Extra clothing, such as long underwear, socks, warm hat, brimmed sunhat, jacket, waterproof mittens, leather work gloves, rain poncho, sturdy boots, and so on. Remember that cotton is very cold when wet, but wool and specialty outdoor clothing (usually polyester) wick moisture and are warm when wet.  Consider including at least one item of clothing in bright red or hunter orange for visibility.
  • Supplies for special needs (prescription medicines, baby sling or carrier, diapers, extra glasses, etc.)
  • 25 kitchen-size garbage bags and lime or sewage treatment chemicals (powdered-type preferred) for garbage and toilet sewage. A few large heavy-duty garbage bags can double for raincoats, ground cloths, and shelter.
  • 50 feet of heavy-duty nylon string, paracord, or light rope.
  • Record of personal information, bank numbers, and important telephone numbers.
  • Spare checks and cash, preferably in small bills. Many Katrina victims were caught without any cash. Consider using a bank that has widespread branch locations so their records won’t disappear in a severe local disaster, which could leave you with no bank account access.

Optional Items to Consider

  • Tent and/or 50-foot roll of plastic sheeting for shelter.
  • A colloidal silver generator for making a broad-band antibiotic solution that can kill all known pathogenic bacteria (if you are without access to pharmaceuticals, this could save your life someday; see my books for details). Can also be used to preserve drinking water so it won’t grow bacteria, and will slowly purify water by killing pathogenic bacteria, although it takes a long time (typically several hours).
  • A compact stove with fuel, like one of the MSR multi-fuel stoves, along with a cook set. Good for boiling water, warming hands and feet, as well as for cooking.
  • Small container of dry tinder.
  • Pen and paper (i.e., something to write with and something to write on).
  • Deck of cards; reference sheet with card game rules.
  • Length of paracord or a paracord bracelet.
  • Small shovel, spade, or trowel.
  • Several freezer-duty, waterproof, zip-top plastic storage bags.
  • Small mirror for signaling.
  • Anything you can think of that would be useful to you on the run and can reasonably fit in your kit and be carried for three or more days.

Each person in your family should have their own Grab-and-Run Kit if they are capable of carrying one. Many people find that pre-packing a different backpack for each person in the family and keeping them together in one place makes for an easy grab-and-run plan. Others also pack a plastic tub or keep supplies in their car for additional support.  Backpacks for healthy adults can be larger and contain the heavier/larger essentials; kits for children, elders, and others can be tailored to their needs and abilities. If you are assembling your own Grab-and-Run Kit(s) from scratch, shop around for the most lightweight and/or quick-drying versions of the items you need.

Do you already have a Grab-and-Run Kit or other 72-hour kit (also known as a "bug-out bag" and by various other names)?  Are there any other essential items that you feel are must-haves in a basic kit?  Have you ever used your Grab-and-Run kit in an emergency -- and if you did, what did you learn from that experience?  Share your ideas with us in the comments section below. 

Mobile resilience is an important part of an overall preparedness plan, and it is a relatively simple way to build your ability to ride out emergency situations where sheltering in place is not possible.

~ Matthew Stein


About the author: Matthew Stein is a design engineer, green builder, and author of two bestselling books: When Disaster Strikes: A Comprehensive Guide for Emergency Planning and Crisis Survival (Chelsea Green 2011), and When Technology Fails: A Manual for Self-Reliance, Sustainability, and Surviving the Long Emergency (Chelsea Green 2008). Stein is a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where he majored in Mechanical Engineering. Stein has appeared on numerous radio and television programs and is a repeat guest on Fox News, Coast-to-Coast AM, Alex Jones’ Infowars, Vince Finelli’s USA Prepares, and The Power Hour.  He is an active mountain climber, serves as a guide and instructor for blind skiers, has written several articles on the subject of sustainable living, and is a guest columnist for the Huffington Post. www.whentechfails.com and www.matstein.com

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://peakprosperity.com/72-hour-grab-and-run-survival-kits/

Hi Matthew,
Great article, I really enjoy your work. Quick question, is there a bag you would recommend? My current BOB is a traditional backpack and is not especially efficient or organized. I have two small children and anticipate being the “pack mule” for the family, a role I’m used to, LOL.
Thanks for your time and reply.
With gratitude,