Assembling a 72 Hour Survival Kit

In times of trouble, having what you need close at hand to better endure or even survive a crisis is crucial.

Disasters and other emergencies come in all forms and kinds, either natural or man-made, and all but the most minor will be necessitate some type of material preparation in order to ensure sustainment of yourself and loved ones.

You don’t have to be a seasoned prepper or survivalist to see the value in having a ready, easily transportable pack of needed and useful pieces of equipment and other supplies.

A 72 hour go-bag (or Bug-Out Bag, Jump Bag, etc.) is simply a bag that will hold enough items and supplies to sustain you for three days.

Certain items needed for survival are universal, like food, water or a way to purify water, and shelter, while others are preferential or optional. The only truly common thread in go-bag is that the contents are assembled by the user, and are unique to their needs, wants and requirements

In this article we’ll examine some concepts and rules of thumb that you should find useful when it comes to assembling your kit and a guide on what items you may want to include depending on your anticipated response to a crisis.


Before you set about stuffing your bag full of every item and goody you lay hands on, you’ll need to assess what specific event, if there is one, you are preparing for, and then pack according to both your appropriate response to the threat and your typical climate conditions.

Different climates mandate different gear. This is not so obvious to some. Someone preparing for any kind of disaster in a very hot or dry environment will need significantly more water. Frigid climates will mandate better insulation and clothing. The list provided later is just a generic guideline; you must analyze your surroundings and plan accordingly.

Consider also your response to the desired threat. Are you keeping your go-bag handy as a “get home” kit, if caught at the office or distant location, or more as a general preparedness setup, one that will increase your chances no matter what occurs? Is it instead what you think you will need to flee a disaster and reach a secondary safe place or shelter?

Space is limited, and your plan will dictate what you carry. Packing everything plus the proverbial kitchen sink will turn into a massive amount of weight and bulk.

Speaking of packing, your “software,” or skills will also dictate what you choose to pack. The rule of thumb is that the greater your personal skill sets and knowledge of your location, destination and route the less you can carry.

Think of it this way: if you are moving from point A to point B on foot, and know every source of water along the way, the emphasis on carrying water is reduced.

A person with extensive knowledge of living off the land and austere living skills who knew his locale like the back of his hand could take off into the woods with a basic kit, a couple of tools and a weapon and conceivably construct a shelter, avoid hazards and harvest enough food to last for weeks or months in relative comfort.

I am not advocating this as any kind of ideal, only illustrating what is possible with enough knowledge and experience.

Note that whatever skill level or knowledge you may possess, having the right tools and modern equipment invariably saves you a lot of work and effort. Sometimes the old ways are best, but those instances are kind of rare.

Take fire starting, for instance; the ability to start a fire with nothing more than a few sticks and perhaps a rock along with some found tinder is priceless, but it takes a lot more work and time than simply gathering fuel and lighting a tinder bundle with your trusty lighter.

Personal Considerations

After ID’ing your most likely threat or set of threats and assessing environmental concerns, now look to more personal factors. Will you be traveling alone, or with your family or group?

If a group, who else are you responsible for? Do you need to devote space in your pack to items for taking care of them, and if so how much? Is this person capable of carrying their own go-bag, or at least a smaller pack to lighten the load?

If you are responsible for carrying food and water for three, weight is going to skyrocket and this is before anything else is added to the pack. A set of circumstances like this may mandate a change of plan or route to allow for water resupply, and water resupply means more emphasis on purification.

Thinking through scenarios like this clearly is essential to ensuring you have the best chance of enduring a crisis safely.

Your personal fitness level is another major factor if doing anything else except slinging a bag into the car before pinning the gas and burning rubber out of town.

Carrying even a modest pack of 25 pounds over level terrain will work muscles you didn’t know you had. Now add in rougher terrain, or trails, stress, weather and so on and you’ll be running low on steam in no time.

Plenty of backcountry woodsmen and outdoor survival teachers will caution students about their energy expenditure. Your base energy tank is determined by your fitness level, and is comprised of your general athleticism, how fatigued or rested you are, and how stressed you are, both psychologically and physically.

You must counter keeping your desire to keep weight down as much as possible with packing the right items and enough of them to ensure you are prepared for worst case scenarios. This is not as easy as it sounds.

You might be able to save a few pounds of weight by omitting heavier insulating clothing or choosing a tarp and line instead of a proper tent, but is it worth it if the situation turns against you? Only you can decide. You must weigh the risks, decide what is worth more, and then take your chances.

Packing List

The list of items below is separated into categories for convenience, in no particular order: Tools/Weapons, Water, Food, Clothing/Shelter and Medical. Lack in any one of the categories could spell disaster in the wrong circumstances.

Dehydration is a major threat under any conditions, and kills in days. Exposure can kill much faster than that. Being weaponless could mean death in a confrontation. Don’t assume that water and provision is your only concern.

Tools and Weapons

A knife is an obvious requirement. Choose a fixed blade or sturdy folding knife. Emphasis should be on model that can handle utilitarian tasks more than one specialized for fighting, though most any knife will work as a defensive blade.

If in a wooded region or planning to flee to or through woods, a folding saw and good hatchet or camp axe are valuable. A hatchet will also serve well as a defensive implement and extrication tool.

hatched with wooden handle
hatched with wooden handle

A smaller, backup knife or support blade should be included if not carried in your pockets as a rule. This knife will serve for more precise or delicate tasks as well as saving wear on your main knife. A small sharpener should be included if you know how to use it.

Consider also taking a multitool, either one of the Leatherman-type pliers gadgets or a Swiss Army knife. A set of good vice-grips are heavy, but do a far better job for any task you may need the multi-pliers for.

Flashlights and headlamps should be considered mandatory for navigation and signaling. Choose models with good output and throw, but emphasize run time over raw brightness.

Don’t forget spare batteries. Snap-lights, or chemlights, are another option, very lightweight and a great source of safe, heatless light.

Very useful for signaling and soft, close in light, but have a drawback in that once activated they will emit light until they go out, no clicking them off or on. Emergency or survival candles are preferred by some but not my preference.

For starting fires, nothing beats a lighter. Bic-brand lighters are ubiquitous, cheap and reliable. Keep a couple in your pack, but if in cold conditions transfer them to a pocket in your clothing to keep them warm for reliable striking.

Secondary fire-starters can include a steel and striker, weather-proof matches or similar. Keep a small quantity of tinder with your fire starting kit; jute, pieces of innertube, cotton balls soaked in accelerant, everyone has a preference.

Before you omit your fire starting kit because you live in a warm climate, remember that cold is a big killer in the “died of exposure” category, and even in a warmer climate a wet and windy night can drive you down into hypothermia quickly.

Your dedicated weapon for defense should include whatever your daily carry weapon is, be it blade or pistol. If it is your pistol, have a few spare loaded magazines in your go-bag in addition to what you have on your belt or in your pocket, whatever makes sense.

If you decide to keep a rifle or shotgun with your kit, keep spares in the bag. Some people like more, some like less, but keep in mind ammo is heavy.

A small cleaning kit of a cleaning rod with brush, patches and a bottle of oil is a good idea to toss in. Plenty of guns run fine even when filthy if kept well lubed so prioritize the lubricant.

For navigation, toss in a small button or field compass at your preference depending on your plan. Topographic and road maps are always a good idea.

Electronics should not be discounted for navigation or communication, as there are many situations even post-disaster where they will continue to work normally so long as they are powered. A smartphone, dedicated GPS or hand radio are all options.

Don’t forget batteries and chargers as appropriate. Portable, lightweight solar chargers and power cells should be included if your equipment is electronic centric; the power grid may be down, but that does not mean your handheld device has to be.

Tools and Weapons Packing List

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  • Blades
  • Tools
  • Lighting
    • Flashlight
      • Batteries
    • Headlamp
      • Batteries
    • Chemlights
    • Survival Candles
  • Fire Starting
    • Lighter x2
    • Striker and Steel or other backup tool
    • Tinder
  • Weapons
    • Pistol
    • Long Gun
    • Spare Ammunition
    • Cleaning Kit, small
    • Bottle of Lubricant
  • Navigation and Electronics
    • Button or Field Compass
    • Maps
    • GPS
      • Charger or Spare Batteries
    • Smartphone
      • Charger with Spare Battery if applicable
    • Solar Charger System
    • Power Cell

Water: Supply, Containers and Purification

Water is essential to survival, not just for hydration, but also for hygiene. Count on consumption of no less than 1 liter of water per person per day, more in hot climates or when strenuously active.

Procuring of water from anything besides a known drinking water source will mean purification is a must. Water is very heavy, so deciding on how much to start with bears much thought.

I advocate carrying both a hardware and chemical method of purification. The survival straw type filters are convenient and easy to carry, as are water purification tablets.

Keep in mind you can also boil water to help purify it if you build a fire or pack a small stove so long as you also have an appropriate metal vessel to boil the water in.

For containers, you can choose from the classic Nalgene bottles or equivalent, canteens, bladder-style water carriers or collapsible water pouches. All have advantages and disadvantages.

I like the Nalgene bottles for their light weight and general bulletproofness, but also carry a steel bowl that nests around the bottle for both eating and boiling. The military style canteens are often sold with a similar cup included.

The collapsible water pouches save space when empty and add almost no weight on their own but are awkward to handle when full and can be difficult to fill when empty.

Pack-mounted hydration bladders are extremely convenient to drink from, but troublesome to keep clean and fill from a standing water source.

Water Supply Packing List

  • Water
    • 1 Liter per person, per day min.
  • Purification
  • Containers
    • Bottles
    • Canteens
    • Bladders
    • Pouches
    • Metal Vessel for boiling.


The focus here is on sustainment calories, not proper meals. Think portable, stable proteins, carbohydrates and sugary items for quick energy. Don’t skimp on food though, as stress alone will increase your energy expenditure, to say nothing of strenuous exertion.

Include in this category a simple mess kit of a metal bowl or mug along with sturdy utensils. A lightweight camping stove with fuel is an option for hot meals, and also allows the easy boiling of water.

For foodstuffs, foil pouches of tuna, burrito filling, or similar ready to eat meals are good, compact choices, as are staples like jerky, nuts, energy bars or gels, granola and such.

MREs are bulky, but highly stable, very calorie dense and pretty tasty. Dehydrated food is an option, but will require precious water to prepare.

Avoid canned food if possible, as it is bulky and heavy. Toss in some instant coffee or tea bags at your preference for caffeine and morale boosting.

Food Supply Packing List

  • Food
    • Proteins
    • Carbs
    • Energy supplements
      • All foodstuffs should be temperature stable in sturdy packaging.
    • Instant Coffee or Tea Bags
  • Mess Kit
    • Utensils
      • Knife
      • Fork
      • Spoon
      • Metal Mug or Bowl
    • Stove
      • Fuel
go bag clothes

Clothing and Shelter

Your shelter itself, if you chose to carry one, tent, tarp, bivvy or whatever is a subject that is constantly debated in intricate detail. A tarp and line may be ultra light, but is very dependent on user skill to setup effectively and its efficacy further dictated by the terrain and weather.

A proper tent weighs more, but is usually more weather resistant and faster to set up properly. A blanket at a minimum is mandatory, and a sleeping bag is a great idea if you are going to be outside, along with some kind of ground pad to insulate your underside. Any sleeping bag should be rated for serious cold.

Concerning clothing, whatever you pack aside from essentials like spare socks and underwear must be climate appropriate for keeping you alive when the temperature dips to its coldest.

Remember: you may be battling the elements outdoors and need significant insulation. Add an extra jacket, fleece or the like and some kind of warm headgear at the minimum. Gloves are mandatory; you may choose lightweight technical gloves for dexterity or heavier leather gloves for protection.

Aside from whatever you are wearing when you leave, if those clothes may be inappropriate to the task you should have also packed a good pair of pants and spare shirt.

Same for footwear; if your daily kickers are not appropriate for surviving a disaster, have boots or hiking shoes with your go-bag.

Also bring a weatherproof parka or rain poncho so you don’t get totally soaked in case you are caught in the rain.

Clothing and Shelter Packing List

  • Shelter (you don’t need all of them, of course)
    • Tarp and Cordage
    • Sleeping Bag
    • Ground Pad
  • Clothing
    • Spare Socks
    • Spare Underwear
    • Shirt
    • Pants
    • Jacket or Fleece
    • Rainproof Parka or Bic lighters
    • Warm Headgear
    • Gloves


Having the tools to take care of injuries, great and small, during a crisis will be essential. Even small open wounds may become infected, and infection can become debilitating, leading to incapacitation or even death.

Medical kits should be segregated into minor and major lines, one for small cuts, burns injuries and the like (a “boo-boo” kit) and the other for serious trauma like lacerations, penetrating injuries and serious bleeding.

Any necessary prescription drugs should be packed in quantity as resupply or refilling a prescription may be out of the question for an indeterminate period. Items like extra prescription eyewear or contacts along with solution and items for cleaning them should be securely stowed.

For your minor first-aid kit, band-aids, small gauze pads, butterfly strips, antiseptic solution or wipes, burn cream, tweezers, moleskin or equivalent for blisters and a variety of single dose medications for pain, inflammation, allergy and upset stomach are adequate for most minor gripes.

Your major kit, or trauma kit, should include hemostatic gauze or sponges, rolled gauze, compression bandages, tourniquets and chest seals. Advanced kits may include nasopharyngeal airways, decompression needles and more. Note that all of the items in the advanced kit require training and practice to employ effectively. They won’t amount to much good at all if you or someone in your party cannot employ them effectively.

first aid kit

Medical Packing List

  • Drugs
    • Prescription Meds
    • Pain Reliever
    • Anti-Inflammatory
    • Antihistamine
    • Anti-nausea
  • Prescription Eyewear (if required)
    • Spare Glasses
      • In hard case
    • Contacts
      • In case
      • Cleaning Solution
    • Boo-Boo Kit
      • Band-Aids, various sizes
      • Gauze Pads, small
      • Butterfly Strips
      • Antiseptic Solution or Wipes
      • Burn Cream
      • Tweezers
      • Moleskin
    • Trauma Kit
      • Hemostatic Gauze or Sponges
      • Rolled Gauze
      • Compression Bandages
      • Tourniquet
      • Chest Seals
      • Nasal Airway
      • Decompression Needles
      • Latex or Nitrile Gloves


Any serious crisis or disaster will result in a drastic change in your day to day life, at least for a short duration. Surviving such an event will require a considerable amount of equipment and the skill to employ it properly.

By taking the time to assess, plan and prepare for the most likely events that could befall your locale, you will have done much of the needed work to ensure you, and those in your care, can endure and survive society getting turned on its head.

Your go-bag is your first material line of defense against lack when disaster strikes.

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