Travel Gear We Use: What to pack in a car emergency bug-out bag

You may not be a doomsday prepper or preparing for a zombie apocalypse (or maybe you are), but every family should have a car bug-out bag for road trips and emergencies.

emergency-bug-out-bag

So what’s a bug-out bag?

Not familiar with the term? Preppers define bug-out bags as gear they can grab quickly in case of emergency, that’s ready to go when they are. For families who like to road trip or car camp, a car bug-out bag can be any kit that contains supplies that may be needed in an emergency while away from home.

Our car bug-out bag fits in the back of our all-wheel-drive Toyota, and we dip into it (and restock it) often during our road trip travels for minor injuries, sickness, or weather conditions. We’ve never needed it for a serious emergency, and hope we never do.

Ready to make your own car emergency bug-out bag?

Start with any large backpack or duffel. We use an old one that’s a bit beat up. Next, find a convenient place for it in your primary vehicle. You don’t want to put it anywhere it will need to be frequently moved. Ours is in the back, near the space reserved for the car jack and jumper cables.

What to put in your road trip bug-out bag:

2-4 emergency blankets: These blankets are made of vacuum-metalized polyethylene and reflect 90% of your body heat, allowing you to stay warm despite their thin shape and low weight. They are the size of your palm when still folded, and can also be used as shelter or a ground cloth. We use SOL emergency blankets, which are less than $5 on Amazon.

fire-cubes1 small first aid kit: Ideally, you already have a family-sized first-aid kit in your car (if not, check out our recommendations). However, since your car bug-out bag is meant to be portable, opt for a smaller sized one. We use Adventure Medical Kits’ .5, which is housed in a lightweight, waterproof pouch and includes all the essentials (and not much else). At $15, you can’t make a cheaper one at this weight. Place some extra easy-access bandages in there, too. These nifty band-aids require only one hand to unpeel and place on a cut.

Gloves and winter hats for everyone: Reuse or buy a cheap pair of fleece or knit gloves for everyone in your family, and place them in the bag. Ditto for winter ‘beanie’ hats. These don’t need to be anything fancy; after all, you’ll want to wear your good ones regularly, and you’ll likely never use these. But in case of bad weather or the need to put chains on your tires, you’ll be glad to have some protection for your hands and heads. In winter months, we also add a lightweight jacket for everyone, which just stays in the bag until summer. Remember, you’ll have extra seasonally-appropriate clothing for everyone in your car already if you’re on a road trip or camping trip.

Pocket survival pack: These neat packs fit into your pocket, and include only the barest of essentials for outdoor survival. We have a pack in our backpacking gear, in the ‘just in case’ category, and one more in the car. In the case that someone needed to leave the shelter of the car to seek help, I’d want him or her to have this kit on them. Included is a whistle, mirror, sparker and tinder for an easy flame, and tiny portions of helpful items such as duct tape, safety pins, wire, and foil. It doesn’t seem like much now, but as a former Search and Rescue volunteer, I’ve seen people do amazing things with these items. We like the SOL pocket survival pack, because it comes with a waterproof card of instructions. Pick one up for under $30.

motorola-talkabout2-way radios: Sure, you have mobile phones, but as we all know, they can be unreliable. If you’re out of coverage area, low on battery power, or–unlikely but possible–if cellular service is down, you’ll want another way to communicate. We recently tried out the Motorola Talkabout 2-Way Radios (in other words, walkie-talkies), and they’ve now been added to our bug-out bag. Why we like them: they’re easy to juice up, they have a long range, and you can receive NOAA weather alerts through them. The Talkabout runs on either alkaline or rechargeable batteries (or can be charged using a mini-USB port, if you have access to that). They work in a 23 mile range, and has a scan feature which allows you to search a programmed list of channels. In the past, we’ve found that walkie-talkies can be useless if too many people are using them, but the Talkabout filters interference from non-Motorola units. They’re not toys, by any means, but still under $50 on Amazon.

Supplies for your car: Hopefully you already know where your car’s extra tire and jack are housed, but in addition, most families should carry chains for winter weather (depending on where you live), and jumper cables. We also store a small, collapsible shovel in our bag, which can (and has been) used to dig out of snow or mud.

Matches and firestarter: If you need to, you want to be able to make a fire for signaling help, warmth, or cooking. If you’re on a camping trip, you’ll have these supplies anyway, but we keep a waterproof case of matches and fire cubes in our bug-out bag all the time, so we don’t have to remember to grab them on each trip. What are fire cubes, you ask? These sugar-cube sized fire starters burn at 1300 F in any conditions…even a downpour. Use them to start a campfire or even boil water. Speaking of which…

medications-for-bug-outWater: This is the only item we do not store in our bug-out bag, because we all carry personal water bottles with us in the car for any trip, so we already have them at the ready. For longer trips, however, we buy a case of water and place it in the back by the bag. If we don’t need it, we use this water on our travels, and buy more.

Want to be even more prepared? Have a water filter handy, or do what we do: pack your bug out bag with a LifeStraw or LifeStraw Go. This award-winning personal filtration system uses a filtering straw, so you have safe water to drink anywhere, anytime. We use ours on international travel days, too, so we get use of it regularly, not just during emergencies. After our son Nate lost his on a trip to Costa Rica, we replaced it immediately!

Basic over-the-counter medications: You can place these in your first-aid kit if you’d like, but because we use these often as we travel, I have a separate, small pouch which houses our supply of basic medications like Benadryl, aspirin, antibiotic ointment, and motion sickness remedies. It’s also helpful to have Vitamin C and medication to help boost your immune system and recover from colds faster. We use Cold Eeze natural immune support sprays.

Basic foods: We don’t go overboard on this, which would probably dismay true preppers. But our bug-out bag is only meant for short term emergencies and even car-ride inconveniences, so we pack snacks with a long shelf life, like beef jerky and Nature Made granola bars. We change these snacks out every 2-3 months. I simply like knowing they’re in our bag should we get stuck in traffic for a very long time or need to leave our car for any reason.


Find more Travel Gear We Use!

Do you have a car emergency bug-out bag? What’s in it?

Photo credit: Richard Riley

About the author

Amy Whitley AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly as a family travel expert at Go Green Travel Green and Practical Travel Gear, and contributes to Outdoors NW as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.

Comments

comments

Comments

  1. Very sensible and practical advice! I guess you are ready for every possibility when you travel! We don’t have a bugout bag for every day trips, but I do try to prepare for emergencies. Not as well, though, I’m afraid.

  2. What a useful post! I had never heard of a bug-out bag before and nor do I have one in the car…. but I will do so shortly. Thanks for the tips!

  3. I need to make one of these for our upcoming road trip!

  4. We’ve had our share of stuck in traffic experiences. We even thought we were going to spend a night alongside the interstate after an ice storm and the road shut down. Thankfully, we saw a hotel in our line of vision- only one for miles- and found a room. You’d think I would be better prepared for these instances, but I’m not. It’s time for me to create a bug-out bag of my own. Thanks for sharing all your tips!

Leave a Comment

*

Shares