The year 2020 tried to teach us the value of being prepared, and if we listened, one of the first things we did was create a bug-out or INCH bag for serious survival situations. Soon, though, we realized that wasn’t enough. We learned that sometimes, the most important thing in the survival arsenal is a go bag, so we can make it home safely no matter what the situation or calamity. Go bags (a.k.a., get-home bags) contain all the essentials, from food and water to medical gear and shelters. These bags supplement EDC gear with just the bare necessities to keep us healthy, mobile, and alive as we trek our way across familiar territory to the old homestead.
Each bag’s contents are unique to each individual and their specific needs, but no matter the environment, a go bag needs to be tough, durable, and capable of getting its owner home safely and quickly.
While there are plenty of go bag options available on today’s market, our favorite has got to be the 5-11 Tactical COVRT18 2.0. This casual-looking 32-liter backpack comes with some serious capabilities. The main compartment uses a clamshell-style design, allowing you full access to all your gear, and is constructed with a combination of 500D and 840D nylon. Both the main and secondary compartments include a number of smaller storage spaces, and the exterior boasts its fair share of discreet pockets and pouches, including dual water bottle pockets. Other main features include an external stuff pocket, a dual-access CCW compartment, and a dedicated TSA-friendly laptop pouch which doubles as a hydration reservoir compartment. While this is a tactical bag, 5.11 understands the value of discretion, and as such, the company provided this backpack with little details designed to make the switch from covert to overt and back again as simple as possible — things like tuckable 5.11 logos, a front pocket with removable ID panels, MOLLE-compatible webbing, a flex cuff channel, and more. This pack comes in two colors and boasts a number of creature comforts, including a padded, ventilated back panel, thickly-padded shoulder straps, and a sternum strap. The only major drawback with this pack is the lack of a waist belt. That said, it does come with waist belt attachment points designed to accommodate third-party add-ons, such as the Fire Force Backpack Waist Belt. All in all, the COVRT 18 2.0 is a solid choice with its combination of features, durability, and price, despite the need for a third-party waist belt.
The Speedo Teamster 35L is a simple, straightforward backpack that provides you with a low profile and plenty of space to get you home safely. While not a dedicated go bag, this pack still offers plenty of valuable features to get the job done. The main compartment features YKK zippers and a laptop sleeve with dual D-rings and a small “dirt bag” to keep valuables protected from water and the elements. The pack’s exterior also boasts a variety of pockets and pouches, including one with a mesh panel designed to perform much like the included dirt bag. The bottom of the bag features highly water-resistant paneling to keep your gear dry should you accidentally set it in the wrong location. While you may not find yourself sitting on any metal bleachers during your trek home, the included seat pad hidden inside the back panel is a handy little bonus that could still come in handy. The Teamster’s back panel is both padded and ventilated, while the padded shoulder straps, sternum strap, and hip belt help keep everything securely in place. This tough Speedo pack comes in a wide variety of color options and at a price point that is sure to make you smile.
For a go bag that is quick and easy to access at a moment’s notice, we go with the Mystery Ranch Scree 32. This 32-liter bag incorporates some of the best features found in tactical and hiking backpacks into a single unit. The Scree 32 is constructed with 210D Robic nylon to provide both strength and durability without adding an excessive weight penalty. The main compartment employs a unique three-zipper design which allows you to easily rip away the top panel without having to fumble around with a single polyurethane-coated YKK zipper. When ready, you can open the centerline zipper as well and discover the dual storage pouches and space for your hydration reservoir. The outside of this pack includes a number of discreet pockets, dual water bottle pockets, a loop daisy chain, trekking pole/ice tool loops, and compression straps. This Mystery Ranch backpack comes with a padded and ventilated back panel, shoulder straps (with sternum strap), and removable waist belt (with pockets) for maximum comfort. The pack comes in multiple colors and two sizes: Small/Medium and Large/Extra-Large, providing you with a custom fit. The biggest knock against the Scree 32 has to be its price which tends to hover somewhere near the $200 mark.
When it comes to finding the perfect go bag to handle virtually any situation, the Vertx Gamut Overland lands atop the heap. This 33-liter bag has it all and then some. The main compartment uses a clamshell design to provide easy access to all your gear and includes an adjustable, padded laptop sleeve, five internal pouches, a zippered mesh pocket, a light-colored liner, and a hydration-friendly layout, just to name a few features. It also comes with a dedicated CCW compartment and hidden MOLLE-compatible webbing with Velcro panelling. Externally, this bag includes multiple pockets and pouches, including water bottle pouches and a stuff pocket. Those expecting a potentially hot extraction will be thrilled to discover that the main compartment was designed to store an SBR, a PDW, or an AR or to house body armor panels (with arm slots on the external back panel to turn you into Captain America…sorta). Those looking for a more traditional experience will appreciate the rigid yet ventilated back panel, the padded shoulder straps, the adjustable sternum strap, and the padded, adjustable waist belt. The Gamut Overland comes in a variety of practical, low-profile colors and tends to run a little over $200.
Looking for a go bag that can handle 48 hours of rough going without blinking? Then the 5.11 Tactical RUSH72 is the bag for you. While most people tend to see this as a three-day or bug-out bag, most people needing a 48-hour bag will appreciate the 55-liter cargo capacity. (Imagine trying to stuff two days-worth of water and winter survival gear into a 40-liter bag without any headaches!) This pack is constructed with glove-friendly YKK zippers and water-resistant 1050D nylon (1000D for the Multicam option), and it boasts a whopping 30 different internal and external pockets and pouches with plenty of gear attachment points to boot, including plenty of MOLLE-compatible webbing. While this pack may not be the stealthiest option in an urban setting, it does come with a handful of color options, including an urban-friendly gray. The back panel, shoulder straps, and waist belt are ventilated and come with plenty of padding. The contoured yoke and adjustable sternum strap help to keep the pack stable and comfortable during hours of trekking through hostile environments. Between its water-resistant construction, drain holes on the bottom, and compatibility with hydration reservoirs, the folks at 5.11 Tactical tried to account for any water-related issue you could ever encounter short of SCUBA diving. Like anything of quality, the biggest downside to the RUSH72 is the price tag, especially for the Multicam version. Still, you get what you pay for.
Why should you trust us
No matter where I go, my EDC bag, the now-discontinued SJK Spur, is always close at hand. After years of daily use and travel around the U.S. and abroad, it has proven itself as a tough, reliable pack with the space to serve either as an EDC bag or a go bag, should the need arise. I love this bag and have an appreciation for durable packs that can handle whatever comes their way. This is why I cover critical gear for you, our dedicated readers. Whether you need a dedicated pack, like a bug-out bag (such as a CamelBak) or carry-on backpack that can handle life’s unexpected adventures, or mission-specific gear, like flashlights, fire starters, knives, or watches, I am looking out for you, writing about the gear you and I both appreciate.
The most common types of go bags
Most go bags fall into the category of 24-hour bags. Most people gearing up for an circumstance-induced extension to their commute will find themselves less than 24 hours away from home at any given time. As such, the majority of go bags must have the capacity to store 24 hours worth of critical survival gear without any extra fluff. These packs tend to be relatively small and lightweight while keeping a low profile for when you’d prefer to be ignored or forgotten. Depending on the local climate and environment in which the bag will be used, these bags usually have a capacity between 30 and 45 liters.
While most people can expect to return home within 24 hours of a new calamity hitting the scene, some people are not so lucky. Breaking down on the side of a Wyoming ranch road outside of cell range may be one of those rare situations in which you find yourself more than a 24-hour walk home. Despite the rarity of such situations, a 48-hour go bag is just what you’ll need. While not quite as large as a bug-out bag, expect a 48-hour go bag to have somewhere between 40 and 55 liters of storage space, depending on your particular environment.
What to look for when buying a go bag
The quality of your gear can make the difference between a successful return home or a worst-case scenario that could have been avoided. When purchasing a go bag, find one that uses tough materials and double or triple stitching along the seams. Most go bags use polyester or ballistic nylon which use the Denier rating system to indicate durability and toughness. As a general rule of thumb, look for a bag with at least a 600D rating.
Most go bags will require a maximum of 24 hours worth of minimal gear, and depending on your region’s climate, you may find yourself needing a small, slim bag or one with plenty of space for extra layers. Most go bags fall somewhere in the ballpark of 25 to 40 liters of internal space, although for the rare 48-hour bag, expect that number to jump up somewhere around 35 to 50 liters instead.
Fit and comfort
An uncomfortable, poorly-fitted go bag will convert your extended commute from a major inconvenience into 24 hours (or more) of unending misery. Before purchasing, make sure it has adequately padded shoulder straps, a sternum strap, and a hip belt. While other features, like a padded and ventilated back panel, are excellent as well, these three elements are the most valuable assets for extended periods of wear, especially with larger loads in tow.
In stressful situations, the last thing you need to be thinking about is where to find that pair of dry socks. A proper go bag will provide you with plenty of organized storage spaces which allow you to keep everything in just the right place for just the right time. When it starts to rain, the last thing you need to is unpack half your bag just to get to your poncho. Use your bag to plan ahead.
One of the critical keys to self-preservation is situational awareness. When selecting a go bag, carefully consider the environment(s) in which you anticipate using it. If you spend 95 percent of your life in populated areas, and riots are breaking out, the last thing you need is a tacticool bag with PALS webbing (for MOLLE components) that screams, “I have weapons!” Go with something “normal,” something with a low profile. Is your job focused on feeding cows or clearing trails? Then feel free to MOLLE up.
Do you need a go bag?
Do you ever travel more than a mile or two from your house? Then the question really is: Why don’t you need a go bag? When inclement weather closes the roads or civil unrest makes public transit a pipe dream, the last thing you need to hear yourself say is, “I wish I’d been ready.” Do you have a family to consider? Throw a go bag (or two) in the minivan and teach the family what to do when “adventure” comes knocking. Instead of hiding out in your car on the side of the road or finding yourself and your loved ones dependent on the kindness of strangers for survival, grab that go bag out of your trunk, throw it over your shoulder, and point your compass in the direction of home.
Pricing ranges for go bags
Due to the high standards of quality to which a go bag must attain, you likely will not find one going for $20 at your local Walmart. No, you need a tough, durable bag with all the right features: proper fit, good organization, and the right profile for your environment. That said, expect to spend roughly $50 for a good entry-level go bag. These packs will cover all the basics, although they may go a little light on the padding or other creature comforts, and they likely will come with plenty of MOLLE-compatible webbing to boot. If you want something more comfortable and with a lower profile, be prepared to spend somewhere between $100 and $150 instead. These packs usually include the critical features plus a few bonuses, and many of them are specifically engineered to give you what you need without screaming “look at me!” Of course, you can always spend more. Anything that costs you over $150 will include all the little goodies you ever wanted, plus quite a few you never could have imagined (and now can’t live without).
How we chose our top picks
When reviewing new gear, we much prefer to go the hands-on route, but sometimes, a lack of resources may thwart our attempts to get our mitts on some cool gear. To make sure we don’t let you down, we take the time to listen to those who have firsthand experience, combing through reviews on Amazon, professional publications, enthusiast blogs, and more to bring you the best intel available. We sift through it all, keep the gold, and toss the rest. We found the expertise from the folks at Pew Pew Tactical, Rogue Preparedness, and Survivalist Network to be extremely helpful in pulling this guide together.
Task & Purpose and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.