Why every doctor needs a go bag (and what to put in it)

By Physician Sense
Published September 29, 2020

Key Takeaways

While wildfires raged in Northern California, a physician we follow on social media created a Facebook post that caught our attention: “As I review our med kit under this red, opaque sky, I wonder which supplies for your go bag and first aid kit do you find indispensable?” 

You’re likely well-versed in first aid kits, but go bags may be a new concept. And for the initiated, now may be a good time to take stock of your go bag, and possibly add a few things. After all, September is National Preparedness Month.

What’s a go bag?

A go bag is a bag — preferably a backpack — that contains essential supplies to help you survive in the elements or on the road for at least two days. It contains basic survival tools, food, and water. Furthermore, your go bag should contain essential first aid supplies. If you had 30 seconds to leave your house, your go bag would contain what you need to get you through.

Why you need one

There are two general reasons why everyone should have a go bag. The first reason is natural disasters. This is what the doctor at the post was alluding to. If a forest fire, hurricane, mudslide, or virulent pandemic is bearing down on your house, your go bag will get you through the ensuing fallout. Natural disasters tend to displace people and force them to contend with the elements. The contents of your go bag will help keep you warm, dry, and nourished enough to think clearly.

The second reason is man-made disasters. This could be something like a terrorist attack, a major infrastructural failure (like a power plant), or civil unrest. The latter in particular seems like a possibility, given the fraught nature of the upcoming election. A well-stocked go bag will help you put distance between you and the threat. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s to be prepared. Who knows what might happen next.

What you should use for a go bag

Dig out the battered JanSport (or something similar) that got you through med school. A backpack is the preferred bag because it’s easier to carry and you may, at some point, have to hoof it. The more inconspicuous your backpack, the better. Spend enough time in the prepper rabbit hole, and you start to notice a fondness for all things military-inspired. Nothing says “I’ve got a bag full of useful survival supplies” more clearly than a black or olive drab, nylon backpack with MOLLE webbing and an American flag patch. You want a bag that nobody notices.

Where you should keep it

Keep your go bag near your front door. If you’re going on a trip, it might not be a bad idea to take it with you. In a perfect scenario, everyone in your household has one in case you get separated. But one is better than none. Maybe you even have a go bag for each of your vehicles. Ultimately, you need to decide what’s right for you. It’s better to have and not need than to need and not have.

What to put in it

First Aid Kit: You’re the doctor, you tell us. What should be in a bug out bag first aid kit? What meds would you have on hand? Email us and we’ll share the results in a follow-up post. Here’s what’s in our household go bag’s first aid kit (in addition to prescribed meds):

  • Trauma shears

  • Tourniquet

  • Nasopharyngeal airway

  • Rolled gauze

  • Hemostatic gauze

  • Compressed gauze (2x)

  • Neosporin

  • Duct tape (Unspool several feet and re-roll. You don’t want to lug around a full roll. It tends to stick better than medical tape in field conditions.)

  • Ace bandages (2x)

  • Israeli bandage

  • Space blanket

  • Nitrile gloves

  • Small flashlight

  • Whistle

  • A bag

Water bottle: Go with a single-layered metal one, like a Kleen Kanteen. You can use it to heat liquids in a pinch. Include water purification tabs or a purification straw.

Food: Keep in mind, you may need to travel on foot. You want something light. Some MREs, Ensure powder, energy bars, nuts — all are relatively compact and nutrient dense. You likely won’t feel satiated, but you’ll be nourished enough to think clearly. Coffee drinkers: Include some caffeine tabs. Caffeine withdrawal may worsen an already tense situation.

More duct tape: Again, not the whole roll. Unspool a few feet and re-roll it. Or, wrap it high around your Kleen Kanteen (a fat layer will provide insulation so you can grab the bottle without burning yourself, should you need to heat it).

A multitool: Something like a Gerber. It should have pliers, scissors, and screwdrivers. A blade isn’t a bad idea. Two is one and one is none.

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