Why Every Doctor Needs A Go Bag (And What To Put In It)

Discussion in 'Doctors Cafe' started by Mahmoud Abudeif, Sep 29, 2020.

  1. Mahmoud Abudeif

    Mahmoud Abudeif Golden Member

    Mar 5, 2019
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    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 (Rolled bandage with built-in pressure bar.)
    • Space blanket
    • Nitrile gloves
    • Small flashlight
    • Whistle
    • A bag to put all of this in (This bag will hold all of the aforementioned items.)
    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.

    A knife: Any EM physician will tell you: This is a tool, not a weapon. You do not want to be in a knife fight. You want your knife to be sharp and weighty so you can use it to make other tools in a pinch. Bonus points: Carry a small sharpening stone and learn to use it.

    Flashlight: Headlamps are best. Headlamps with a red-light option are even better. You’ll get some visibility, you won’t destroy your night vision like you would with white light, and you won’t be telegraphing your location to anybody with a line of sight. Store batteries separately so they don’t corrode inside your flashlight.

    Spare batteries: Two sets.

    Paper maps: Think of a destination you might want to reach by foot, and another destination you might want to reach by car. Have paper maps for both. In a natural disaster, cell service may be down or spotty. Bonus points: Obtain and learn to use an orienteering compass.

    Phone accessories: Cable, charger, battery backup, possibly a solar charger. It may not work, but if you find service, you’ll be glad you maintained a charge. Bonus points: Nothing drains your battery faster than searching for cell or LTE service. If both are down, power your phone on periodically to check instead of leaving it on.

    Shoes and socks: The shoes should be comfortable and sturdy — something you can walk a long distance in. The socks should be wool. Wool is one of the few fabrics that will still insulate when wet. Wool is also naturally moisture wicking.

    Cash: Debit and credit card service may be down. Cash may go a long way in getting what you need or getting you out of any trouble that might find you.

    Fire starters: Once again, two is one and one is none. Get a Bic lighter and ferro rod. If you can, practice building a fire with it. It’s not easy.

    A hat: Depending on where you live, this could be a baseball cap, a knit cap, or maybe both. The visor on the cap will protect you from sunburn, but it won’t retain much heat. The knit cap will help keep you warm.

    A base layer: This should be a moisture-wicking material, not cotton. It will help keep you warm and dry.

    A poncho: Poncho, not raincoat. A poncho is more like a tent for your body. It has better drip lines and will keep you drier longer. You can also wear it over your go bag to keep it and your supplies dry.

    Pet supplies: You’re not abandoning your pets, are you? Make sure they have enough food for two days.


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