Ounces equal pounds. Pounds equal pain. Bug outs and evacuations are stressful enough without 50 pounds on your back. Oh, don’t forget, because your get-home bag (GHB) is 50 pounds, you never practice with it.
That’s a lot of odds to stack against you when you need everything to come up in your favor. One factor you don’t need is weight. Survival gear does not have to be heavy. With attention to detail and a few key choices, you can be just as prepared as anyone with a painfully heavy bag.
Let’s look at lightening up your GHB without cutting corners.
What is a Get Home Bag?
The first task when outfitting your GHB is to define its purpose properly.
A GHB gets you home from your normal day-to-day travel in the event of an emergency. That’s it. That’s all.
A GHB isn’t a Bug Out Bag (BOB) that you can throw over a shoulder and disappear into the woods. Nor does it take you hundreds of miles to your Bug Out Location. Its purpose is much more narrow.
Look at your daily life patterns and gauge it from there. Ask yourself the following questions. How long is my daily commute? How far away is the grocery store? In some cases, this may be a few miles. In others, it may exceed 100 miles. These daily activities define the distance you need to cover with your GHB.
Your get-home routes should be familiar, albeit possibly off road. With luck, your travels will begin shortly after the disaster. This will hopefully make the human terrain easier to navigate.
What are the Chief Sources of Weight in a GHB?
The first step in improvement is identifying where you have a problem. So let’s look at the heavy things.
Water! Can’t live without it… Pain in the back to carry it… Water is 8 pounds per gallon. The average person needs one gallon per day. Do the math and you have a lot of weight to manage. On a multi-day hike, your water could weigh more than the rest of the items in your bag combined.
Your environment will dictate how you manage water. If you are fortunate, you have one or more water sources on your routes. If you’re not as fortunate, then it’s time to bulk up the muscles.
Next is shelter. We tend to go overboard on shelter. Staying out of the elements is a comfort we are used to. A get-home route won’t need much in the way of shelter. Most people, when well-motivated, can hike straight through for 24 hours or more with minimal breaks. Leave the tent at home.
Tools! Preppers love their tools and toys. A flashlight, or six, three sizes of leatherman tools, and an even dozen knives may look nice in a blog post, but they suck on the lower back. Keep it simple. Keep it light.
What do I Pack in My Lightweight GHB?
Ok, let’s look where we can shave a few ounces.
Conserving weight starts with your pack. Choose one that isn’t oversized. A smaller pack forces you to prioritize every ounce. An overly large pack makes it too easy to store too much, and the result is a heavy pack.
The Prometheus Design Werx S.H.A.D.O. 24 liter pack is right-sized for the task.
The ample storage compartments and organizational elements are perfect to keep your gear accessible and in order. At a little over 60 ounces, you’d be hard-pressed to find a lighter pack with as much organization.
Keep in mind, there are a lot of options that fit the bill. However, this is the model we are using for this particular build.
Fire is a necessity if you get cold, wet, or need to purify water. The good news is that you can get away with a Bic lighter and some tinder. You can even throw in a small fire steel for redundancy. In other cases, you will need to be a little more self-contained.
If it’s inadvisable to have an open campfire, then a small cook stove is the perfect lightweight companion for a solution on the go. Considering fuel stoves, you can use one such as the venerable SnowPeak GigaPower.
At 3.2 ounces, it is one of the lightest on the market when you consider its sturdiness. You must, however, add the weight of a fuel canister which can really add up depending on the size you choose. My recommendation is to go for the smallest size you can.
I like being able to nest my fuel canister and stove inside my titanium Toaks Cup.
If you wish to gather wood for fuel, you can substitute a folding stove. The Gulrear Ultralight Camping Stove is a titanium folding stove that uses the rocket stove principle to generate ample heat to boil water or to cook any meal.
If you wish for a more complete set, consider a solid fuel set such as the Esbit 3-piece cook set.
Weighing just about 7 ounces, this includes the tablet holder and a 16 fluid ounce pot with a lid. The fuel tablets weigh 0.48 ounces each. One suffices to boil a pot of water. You can also use twigs in place of the tablets.
Shelter and Tools
Shelter has the potential to be one of the heaviest components of your GHB. For most get-home situations you will be able to power through with no shelter. Therefore pack a poncho and just keep walking.
That being said, you may need to rest, camp overnight, or just get out of the weather for a few hours.
The lightest option is a garbage or a contractor’s bag. It’s not pretty, but it keeps the rain off.
For something slightly more elegant and comfortable, use a tarp. The ultralight and bushcraft communities swear by their tarps. There are configurations for every use and every size.
It’s easy to find a lightweight example such as the Sanctuary SilTarp. Large enough for one person, it weighs only 10 ounces.
Shelter doesn’t end with a tarp or tent. It starts there. You must also include your first layer (clothes) and tools.
The first layer of shelter is your clothes. Depending on your climate, it may be best to invest in a set of lightweight socks, pants, and jacket. You may not need to pack these in your GHB, as when you leave your vehicle you’ll have some awareness of the weather ahead.
Keep them in a box next to you your GHB and change into them if necessary. Otherwise, save the weight and leave them behind.
Next is tools. Never leave home without a knife. In this case, make it just big enough to meet your needs. A lightweight GHB is no place for a Becker BK2, otherwise known as “The Sharpened Pry-Bar.”
Preppers are finicky about their knives. I’ll make two recommendations, but ultimately your choice depends on your needs and your budget.
The Morakniv is a stalwart of the prepping community. At 5 ounces, they take a beating for a decent price.
For a more compact option, with half the weight, consider the ESSE Izula Fire Ant. This skeletonized knife is 2 ounces and I’ve put mine through its paces, batoning firewood, and other more delicate tasks.
Finally, you need cordage. Leave the paracord at home if you want to save weight and pack Kevlar string!
Stronger, smaller, and lighter, you can pack 50 feet and never notice the added weight. You will sacrifice the use of the inner core of the paracord but you’ll make up for in weight savings.
I pick up small rolls on Amazon and cut it into various lengths depending on what my need are.
Water is heavy, filters and purification tablets are not. Spend your weight budget on your water bottle and not on water. The only exception to this is if there are no opportunities to refill along your route.
You don’t need a big filter, just one that will provide a few gallons of clean water. The Sawyer Mini fits this need in only 3.5 ounces.
For an even lighter weight solution, pack water purification tablets. Add two tablets per quart and wait an hour for potable water.
As I stated, save your weight for the bottle. While lighter bottles exist, I still recommend a single-walled stainless steel bottle. With this setup, the bottle also provides you a container to boil water. With a wide mouth bottle, you can even cook in it.
Freeze-dried foods win the weight wars. While you need water to rehydrate them, you can gather what you need for a day or two of travel, thus limiting your weight.
Most get-home routes will be relatively short, so you shouldn’t need much food. Therefore, a few snacks may suffice. Protein bars are a great lightweight snack.
For an even lighter option, food ration bars are a perfect fit. DATREX bars are a little larger than a box of matches however they pack over 200 calories.
Not as appetizing as a full freeze-dried meal, but they’ll get you through in a pinch.
Medical is not an area to skimp on weight. While you don’t need a complete aid kit fit for your retreat, you still need to manage common injuries and trauma.
This is one area that I recommend you build from scratch. Most first aid kits are packed with extra gear, and you need a minimalist kit. In fact, you can probably build a kit from spares in your other bags.
At a minimum, you need to manage the following:
- Scrapes, cuts, and blisters (bandaids and moleskin)
- Common and prescription medications (only pack what you need for the length of your trip)
- Orthopedic support (SAM splints, ace wraps)
- Trauma (tourniquet, hemostatic agents)
COMMS and Intelligence
In the opening hours of a disaster, information is king. You need the means to listen in and exchange information with others.
Listening is easy while saving weight. In most disasters, short of a full-blown EMP, local broadcasts will still be live. Think back to 911. For many in the urban areas affected by the disasters, roads were closed but the radio stations were still broadcasting.
There are several inexpensive portable radios on the market. Look around and find one that fits your needs.
If you require two-way communications, then skip the blister-pack radios and go straight for a small HAM radio. Unless it’s an emergency, you need a license to transmit.
The items above are a sampling of the “very” minimum categories you should be looking at. Your training, expertise, and environment will dictate how and what you should pack. Be sure to take a detailed look at your individual needs as you are working on your kit.
Packing up GHBs
Hiking is a pleasure when you have time, energy, and just the right amount of gear for the journey. Add a sense of urgency, perfectly bad timing, and a pack stuffed to the gills, and you have a get-home trip!
As preppers, we plan for the worst, and what can be worse than a trip home under emergency circumstances. Things will be bad enough with the stress of leaving your vehicle, separation from family, and the timeline of collapsing society. There’s no need to make this any worse than it already is.
What you don’t need to add to this is a pack that has three times the stuff and three times the weight of what you really need. Slim your get-home bag down with these ultralight ideas. It’s the least that you can do to remove one stressor of a long walk home.