The idea of a Get Out of Dodge or Bug Out Bag (or simply GO Bag) is simple in theory, but in practice takes some thought, time and effort: it contains everything you might need to survive, for the short term, during a serious disaster situation. The key element here is time: typically, these are seventy-two-hour solutions and part of a larger plan for longer evacuation or survival scenarios … they are not going to last you forever, but are a good place to start larger-scale emergency planning.
Food & Water: These are things we take for granted, but they are not always available – and snacking on a leather belt or dropping tablets in seriously contaminated water … well, those are not as romantic, practical or safe as they may sound in the stories of war heroes. While essential, this category is easy: some dense, high-impact CLIF Bars and a few liters of water will do the trick for a few days. But wait, what about filtration? Forget it – better to bring along something simple, small and stainless steel in which to boil your water clean. Most filters that would be sufficiently useful are not going to be small enough for a BOB.
Fire: Heat is nice, light can help you see – combined with smoke, it works well for signals too. All that, and boiling water. A disposable BIC is often overlooked but in most cases will work just fine – best, of course, to supplement it with some waterproof matches and other weatherproof fire starting tools to be doubly safe, though).
Shelter: The tricky part about shelter is that it that serious ones tend to take up a lot of space, and there are often organic (in nature) or build (in urban environments) places one can hole up if need be. Still, it never hurts to have a reflective emergency blanket or two and definitely a change of clothes if they fit – ideally ones to provide weather-appropriate protection (which can double as a DIY solar cooker too). Should you carry a sleeping bag and/or tent if you can? Sure, it should help more than hurt, but can also weigh you down unless you live in some place with extreme temperature variation from day to night (or perhaps seasonal – but then you can adjust your BOB by time of year as well).
First-Aid: While food, water, fire and shelter are common-sense basics, we tend to take access to medicine, bandages and so forth somewhat for granted. Why? For one thing, we do not need them in our cushy day-to-day lives terribly often. For another, when something truly bad happens we know there is always an emergency vehicle on call and functional hospital close by. That may not always be the case. It helps to carry everything from the obvious basics (aspirin and band-aids) to base-covering items that can help deal with sprains, breaks, burns and bites from long or short-range disaster travel.
Navigation: Used to your GPS and following regular roads? That landscape can change quickly under certain conditions, so having a few maps in hand and a compass cannot hurt. Best to pack these in a waterproof container (or buy laminated maps in the first place). Make sure to cover a few scales – very local, regional and perhaps even a whole state topographic map. Trouble finding laminated ones? You can always buy a regular map, cut it up (so it folds more easily when laminated, like the store-bought ones do) and then have it professionally plasticized – REI also lets you print out maps of particular regions on demand in various formats and with moderate moisture resistance.
Weapons & Tools: Hopefully you won’t find yourself face to face with a predator (animal or human), but a sharp knife is good for more than just self defense. From chopping wood to cutting rope, it can help prepare traps for food, build fires, assemble shelters and perform emergency surgeries under extreme conditions. Ideally, take three types: a folding one you can fit in your pocket, a stronger full-tang one for heavy-duty work and a multi-tool packing other odds and ends. Now, it might be tempted to pack all kinds of things, but remember: this is a temporary survival kit – not a full-on wilderness expedition pack.
Odds & Ends: Some other good things to include: flashlight, duct tape, a tarp, a small gun or other shooting implement (can even be a simple slingshot) for hunting. Essential medicines are a must as well – so either include those in a first aid kit or put them in a more-accessible pocket. Got glasses? Pack your extra/old pair – better an outdated prescription than simply relying on the ones you are wearing not to break. And there is no reason not to add a survival guide into the mix – though reading one beforehand is probably better.
Missing Something? One way to double-check that you have what you need is to consider what you would need to pack in other situations. What do you carry with you when you travel on a plane, or go camping, or simply take a road trip? You might not need all the items you come up with but there are bound to be a few you will want from the mix. Regardless, best to build a checklist first and start from the most to least essential contents – you do not want to gear up with a tactical rifle you cannot ultimately fit in your backpack. Whether you are stuck in the wild or worried about an urban zombie invasion, consider the order of things presented above – weapons come later for a reason.