How to Pack a Family “Go Bag” For Disaster Preparation

USAA Community Disaster Preparedness Go Bag.png

The very idea of having to quickly and effectively leave your home when disaster strikes is a less than calming image. For me, an image of a calm evacuation was quickly replaced with one of reality: iPad, stuffed animals, blankets and bags of chips all getting in the car simultaneously. 


I realized that I needed a better plan in case we had to leave. My goal was to create a “go bag” for the family for three days and food for 1 ½ days.  Here are my recommendations.


USAA Disaster and Recovery Center

USAA’s Natural Disaster and Recovery Center provides catastrophe preparedness resources and tips. For more information, please visit our Natural Disaster and Recovery Center.

  1. A small suitcase with both wheels and carry straps. The best idea for a go bag is something with both wheels and straps in the size of a carryon bag. It is very tempting to build an enormous go bag for every possible contingency but resist this idea.

  2. Food & Water. The food should be high calorie, well preserved, protein rich, low sugar, and not require cooking. Food such as pasta, fruit, peanut butter, beef jerky, granola bars, energy bars, crackers, and other similar food keep for a long time, are durable, and pack well. Baby formula and baby food can also be included. Don’t forget to pre-pack any baby bottles! A small knife, lighter, lifeboat matches, a manual can opener, 10-12 paper plates, and a few “sporks” with your water bottles round out your food and water.

  3. Cell Phone Chargers. Cell phone chargers, cords, and portable (already charged) batteries are a must for all electronics. Old tablets can be loaded with kid’s games or an old portable DVD player with 3-4 kid movies can be a morale saver during an evacuation.

  4. Toiletries and Medicine. This is easy to forget. Pack at least a week of medicine along with children’s cold medicine, diapers, anti-diarrhea medication, soap, hand sanitizer, adult cold medicine and two rolls of toilet paper. Glasses, extra contact lens, contact lens solution, and old sun glasses are a must.

  5. Records on Thumb Drive with Money. Printed records of insurance policies, bank records, etc. can become overwhelming. Instead, put all your records on a thumb drive and double seal in in closable plastic bags. Having your records, photos of your possessions, etc. will be invaluable. To prevent identity theft, make sure that you use a password protected thumb drive and update it at least once a year with relevant financial information. Place $75 to $100 dollars in cash in each bag to ensure some emergency spending money.

  6. Clothes & Shoes. Pack one extra outfit, a jacket, hat & gloves, a light rain jacket and an extra pair of shoes with socks (X3), underwear (X3) and a sleeping outfit. Kids can have a very small stuffed animal included.

  7. Blanket & Yoga Mat on Outside. Plan to not have anything to lie down on. Yoga mats and a fleece blanket work well because they dry quickly, cannot be punctured, even three-year-old can set them up, and they are inexpensive.

  8. Pets. Have five days of pet food, empty pet bowls for water & food, and a pet carrier or a pet leash. For large dogs, a pet muzzle to prevent biting and reduce barking is a great idea and makes it easier for evacuation crews.

  9. Packing. When you are ready to pack, lay out all your suitcases and all your clothing items. Follow the military concept of cross loading, so some food, water, clothing, and blankets go into each suitcase. Be sure to pack items in each suitcase in heavy plastic bags and put food in freezer style, resealable clear plastic bags. Expect that every bag will be soaking wet. Store the bags together, close to a door, and in a location where no one will move them.

  10. Garage. Get a high quality and safety approved five-gallon plastic container of gasoline for each vehicle. Fill it and store it in a cool, dark location in the garage. Even if your car is on “empty,” five gallons of gas will allow you to start evacuation and move you inland or away from the disaster area.

Once your disaster “go bag” is packed, go through and repack it at least once a year. Remember, inexpensive is best.  Unfavored kid’s clothes, old jackets and older items work great for disaster preparation items.  In a disaster, preparation and comfort trump fashion every item. 


As the gulf coast prepares for Hurricane Ian, it is important to adhere to evacuation orders and stay informed by subscribing to updates from government agencies and your local base Facebook page if you are in the affected areas..


What items do you put in your disaster preparation bag?


Related Information:

  1. USAA Disaster & Recovery Center
  2. Military Family Preparedness –

About the Author: Chad Storlie is a Retired US Army Officer, the author of Combat Leader to Corporate Leader and has published over 350 articles in over 175 publications on military veterans, career advancement, business, leadership, strategy, education, financial planning, and national security topics.  Chad excels as an author, mentor, speaker, and teacher showing business leaders and military veterans how military skills make lives, careers, and businesses better.  Chad is an adjunct Professor of Marketing at the University of Minnesota, Carlson School of Management.  Chad has a BA from Northwestern University and an MBA from Georgetown University.  Follow Chad @CombatToCorp


Post originally published in 2019 and updated in 2022