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Published on June 05, 2021

A Millennial’s Guide to Packing an Emergency Go-Bag

10 essential items for an effective emergency pack

emergency go bag for millennials

Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash

This is a guest post by Sarah R., an energy & environment professional based in Washington, D.C. For more on these topics, please follow her on Twitter!

When I moved to Washington, DC a few years ago, I immediately realized that I lived in a global city. Not just the U.S. capital, but the center of American politics, policy and foreign influence. I had moved from Houston, a city that subsequently experienced record-breaking flooding over three consecutive years.

The unique risks of living in these cities crystalized the need to be prepared for emergencies. No matter where you live, the modern world faces more frequent natural disasters, increasing security concerns, and heightened political uncertainty. To prepare for these challenges, it’s important to have a go-bag ready and packed with essential gear. If the time comes that you need it, you can grab it and “go” without delay.

When selecting gear, remember the 3 survival “rules of three”: A person can survive three hours without shelter in extreme conditions, three days without water, and three weeks without food.

You may not have all of these go-bag essentials on hand. But don’t let that stop you from being prepared. Start organizing what you have and add the rest to your next online order!

Start with a sturdy, field-tested backpack (or pull out that used one in the back of your closet) and include the following items:

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1. Water

Being able to collect and filter water is a crucial part of any emergency kit. Make sure you pack at least one metal bottle and a couple lightweight collapsible bottles. You will also want to pack some water purification tablets. You may only have access to untreated water, so being able to purify your drinking water is key.

Pro tip: add a personal water filter as a bonus item. It’s a lightweight option that can filter out most microbes.

2. Food

It’s important to have a supply of food, even if it only lasts you a couple days. Pack lightweight canned foods with long shelf lives, like sardines, tuna and beans. Make sure you choose options with the easy-open tab. Snack bars are also a good option. You’ll want to occasionally check the expiration dates, eating foods that are close to expiring and replenishing with fresher versions.

Pro tip: you can step it up by packing a few meals ready-to-eat (MREs) or emergency rations that come with extended expiration dates.

3. Clothes (and eyeglasses)

A spare set of clothes is a must in any go bag. It’s good to have a set of undergarments, pants, shirt, sweater, socks and tennis shoes. If you wear glasses, put a back-up pair in your go-bag.

Pro tip: Every time you’re cleaning out your closet, consider whether an item would be a good addition to your go-bag. I call this the Marie Kondo-plus. Tennis shoes worn out and ready to be tossed? Wrap them in a plastic bag and put them in your pack.

4. First aid kit

A good basic kit includes hand sanitizer, latex gloves, gauze bandages, a tourniquet, and an assortment of medications (ibuprofen, diphenhydramine, ranitidine, oral rehydration salts, and topical antibiotic ointment). If you take any prescription medications, you may want to include a few doses in your bag. Here’s a good pre-made option (link).

5. Maps and compass

In an emergency, cellular signal may be disrupted and apps that rely on internet or WiFi will not function. Prepare ahead by packing small foldable maps of your state or region in your go-bag. Rand McNally makes a reliable option that folds down nicely.

Pro tip: Download maps.me on your phone or device. It is an app that allows access to pre-downloaded maps without Wi-Fi or cellular data. They have maps for just about every state and large metropolitan area in the United States, as well as a long list of country maps that are also useful when traveling abroad.

6. Emergency radio

Choose an option that picks up the NOAA weather radio frequencies. A standard AM/FM radio does not have the ability to pick up those frequencies. My favorite version is a solar, hand-crank radio that doubles as a flashlight. It also has a power bank with a USB port for charging your mobile devices. Here’s another solid option.

7. Flashlight/Headlamp

Night visibility is essential in emergencies. Make sure your go-bag is stocked with a flashlight or two and include a few sets of spare batteries.

Pro tip: in addition to a reliable option, you can pack the cheap, giveaway flashlights from events and conferences in your go-bag. It’s a great way to put these to use as back-ups in emergency situations.

8. Solar charger

For most millennials, a cell phone is our life line. Pack a solar phone charger to make sure you have access to communications, maps and other essential functions.

9. Survival blanket

Be prepared to evacuate during harsh weather conditions. A space blanket is a lightweight, portable and effective solution for retaining body heat in cold conditions. It can also double as an emergency shelter and a signaling aid. Here and here are some good options.

10. Knife

No survival kit is complete without a sturdy, fixed-blade knife with at least a six-inch blade.

Pro tip: Pack a smaller, foldable knife or a multitool in an exterior pocket of your pack for more delicate tasks. You can also squeeze one into a pill bottle emergency kit.


You may go a step further by including copies of important documents and photos of family members. You can also include the following items: batteries, lighter/matches, whistle, paracord, disposable respirator mask, and duct tape.

If you have kids or pets, you may need to account for their needs in your pack. The most important first step, however, is getting together items you already own and starting your go-bag. Most of the other items can be ordered online or purchased in a single afternoon outing.

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