What Goes in a “Go Bag”? My Summer of Apocalypse Preparation
It’s around 11:00 pm and five of us are sitting outside in our shared courtyard, taking stock of what weapons we have between us. Helicopters buzz overhead and the local news shows downtown Long Beach literally in flames as protestors run through the streets in rage over the murder of George Floyd. It’s the summer of 2020, and the world-as-we-know-it is actively collapsing around us.
It’s a global pandemic. It’s the Trump era. It’s anything but business as usual. Neighboring businesses board up their windows. The streets are ghostly silent. This is not a time for pretending everything is okay. The cracks in our racist, capitalist system are showing and everyone is caught in the crosshairs.
My partner travels during the week as an essential worker, leaving me to prepare for the end times as a single woman with my cat. We live only a couple miles outside of downtown and our house faces a main street.
So, one of the first things I do is pack a “go bag.”
A “go bag” is shorthand for portable survival kit. Usually, it’s a backpack with your essential doomsday items. You know, for when you’re on the run…from the law, civil war, fascism, disease, etc. My go bag is a men’s High Sierra army-green military-style backpack from Costco I got 10 years ago—durable, made to last. It has three different main storage compartments, two front pockets, and two side pockets with straps and zippers galore.
What goes in a go bag? This is the question I ponder during that tumultuous summer of 2020. How many pairs of clothes? How much food? How much money? What’s essential and what’s not? How would I grab my cat in time to avoid the oncoming disaster—civil war, race riots, increased militarization—? What exactly am I preparing for?
Well, even if none of that happens, an earthquake could shake us up at any time. Anyone who grew up in California knows that. I spent my childhood navigating Orange County’s San Andreas fault line. I learned how to pack peanut butter, tuna, and batteries in an earthquake kit in 4th grade. Wouldn’t that be terrible—civil war and an earthquake? So, packing a go bag is not just timely, in fact, I am overdue.
I have every reason to believe that things could easily get worse. Look at United States history. Look at the National Guard parked outside our local 7-11. Something is happening, and it’s uncertain where this path might go. Internment camps? An actual war? General chaos?
So, I open my backpack and stuff it with:
- a pair of sweatpants
- a T-shirt
- two pairs of underwear
- two pairs of socks
- a sports bra
- AAA batteries
- a flashlight that uses AAA batteries
- my social security card
- my birth certificate
- two water bottles
- a first aid kit
- four energy bars
- four cans of tuna
- a can opener
- a box of raisins
- two bags of trail mix
- a notebook
- rubber bands
- two ballpoint pens
- a Sharpie
- a carabiner
- some hair ties
- a pair of ear plugs
- a bag of tissues
All in all, it only weighs about 10 pounds.
These items are the baseline; I’ll grab everything else as I needed to. Will I be heading out on foot or driving? My survival choices depend on the situation. I figure I’ll have 5-10 minutes to collect what I need. The checklist is in my head. I’ll throw my cat in his carrier (or the backpack itself if I’m on foot) and toss a few cans of wet food in the backpack. I’ll run to my camping bin and pack whatever makes sense—durable spoon and bowl, headlamp, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, backpacking stove and fuel. I’ll grab my phone charger, laptop, wallet, phone, keys, masks, jacket. Importantly, I’ll need to make sure I have my glasses, contacts, and contact solution because without these items, my vision is severely impaired.
I may not be the most likely apocalypse warrior, but there is one thing I am sure of: I will do everything in my power to survive. Perhaps because at 5’1” I’m not big on brawn, it makes me feel better to use my brain ahead of time.
Just by packing my go bag, my anxiety subsides.
Thankfully, I haven’t needed to use the go bag, but I’m glad I packed it. In fact, it’s still packed, because disaster can strike at any time. We also have 10 gallons of water stored for emergencies, just in case. Some people call this level of preparation overreacting, but I call it basic planning. Outside of global pandemic and civil unrest, the climate emergency has already arrived, and natural disasters are becoming both more common and more destructive.
It seems outrageous to think we are indestructible and invincible. Modern amenities should not be taken for granted; where would we be if the power grid went down? Rather than live in fear, I pack a go back and go on with my life, ready to activate survival mode at any time. Life is long, and we’re not out of the woods yet.
Full disclosure: I have since invested in an actual backpacking backpack, which I use both for fun camping adventures and also keep on hand for survival shenanigans. I’d love to know, what’s in your go bag?
Nancy Lynée Woo is a poet, community organizer, and 2022 Artists at Work fellow. She has received fellowships from PEN America, the Arts Council for Long Beach, and Idyllwild Writers Week. Her work has been published in The Shore, Tupelo Quarterly, Stirring, Radar Poetry, and other journals and anthologies. Nancy has an MFA in creative writing, poetry, from Antioch University and a BA in sociology/environmental studies from UC Santa Cruz. Her work is largely inspired by the magic and power of the natural world. Find her cavorting around Long Beach (Tongva land) in California, and online at nancylyneewoo.com or @fancifulnance on social.