Dash bag, Dash pack, Grab bag

Fleeing the home:
Making a Dash Pack (Grab Bag).

(Also called a "bug–out bag," "72–hour kit," a "grab bag," a "battle box," a "Personal Emergency Relocation Kit" (PERK), a "go bag" or a "GOOD bag" (Get Out Of Dodge).

by Survival Expert James Mandeville ©2020

This article is primarily for:
Military Personnel, Outdoor and Extreme Sport Enthusiasts.


Dealing with a major emergency
dash pack

How to Prepare
Making a Dash Pack is a relatively small investment in time, money and effort but it can make a huge difference if you have to flee your home because of a major emergency or disaster. If you follow these simple suggestions, and also teach your children how to take care of themselves, you will be better able to cope and protect yourself and your family.

What is a Major Emergency?
A major emergency is something on a scale that needs special arrangements to deal with it. For example:
  • Serious accidents (plane cash, train crash, spillage of toxic substances, etc.)
  • Extreme weather and the aftermath of it (freak storms of all types, tsunami, flooding, mudslides, etc.)
  • Forest fire.
  • Terrorist attack; public riot.
  • Industrial accident: (Toxic chemical/radioactive release.)
  • Shortages of essential utilities like water, food and power.
  • Infectious disease outbreak, use of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons during war or by terrorists.
The emergency services, local government, hospitals, police, the armed forces and public utility companies all have coordinated emergency plans in place for such eventualities. They have joint training exercises to help them to contain damage and save life. However, the truth is that they cannot role–play a full–scale emergency and they have restricted (or sometimes no) first–hand experience of managing a major disaster outside of a training environment. If you think through a couple of disaster scenarios that could affect the area where you live and how the authorities may respond, it is obvious that:
  1. They have to mobilize and coordinate all the different emergency services.
  2. They have to attempt to contain the disaster itself to minimize the extent of damage to life and property.
  3. They have to deal with the initial casualties and evacuate them to the appropriate medical centres.
  4. They have to inform and instruct the civilian population.
  5. They have to deal with panic, fear, confusion and possibly looting and other crimes.
  6. Only after dealing with all of the above can they help the remaining civilian population with emergency shelter, water, food and lesser medical attention.
It can happen that emergency and rescue services cannot access a disaster area until it is safe, an example of this recently is the terrible bush fires that ravaged parts of Australia. This can also apply to flood areas and contaminated areas. In these scenarios the local population have to fend for themselves.

With the best will in the world, the professionals dealing with a major emergency will also be tired, frightened and capable of making mistakes by the time they get round to helping the civilian population. They may all do fantastic work but they are only human beings too, so everything you can do to help yourself and others is prudent and reduces the load on the emergency services. At the best, it means you know what to do, have food, water and essential supplies and are independent of the help that may be a long time arriving.

Being prepared for a major emergency also means that you can deal more effectively with a minor emergency. In most situations, you will need either to seek immediate shelter from the threat or hazard or to move right away from it – so it makes sense to have a plan to do either. Useful steps you can take beforehand include:
  • Making a list of important contacts such as family, friends, neighbours, schools, doctor, veterinary surgery, gas supplier, electricity supplier, water supplier and your insurers. Know where all the hospitals in your area are located and what area of medicine they specialize in (for example if they have a specialist burns unit).
  • Make a note of all essential documents so you can replace them if the originals are destroyed. (Birth certificate, driving licence, NHS number and National Insurance number (UK) (Social Security USA), resident card, passport, blood group, academic qualifications, etc.) Print out the key information necessary to replace these documents onto a card the size of a business or credit card and have it laminated in plastic; most copy shops can do this for you. Keep copies of these cards in your wallet or handbag and in a readily accessible, secure place in your home and at work. Make sure you have one of your laminated cards in your Dash Pack. Bear in mind that this information could be used for identity theft, so if you are concerned about this, alternatively, scan all essential documents and keep the information on a miniature, password protected USB or flash drive. Keep a copy with you and in your Dash Pack. Once the disaster is over, this information will speed up the process of having documents re–issued. Keep credit cards and credit card information separate from all your other personal information.
  • Make a reciprocal agreement with a relative or friend out of your area to be the family contact point in case your family or theirs become separated during an emergency. Bear in mind that citizen band radio, telephone land–lines and cellular networks will become jammed with traffic. If you have a portable computer and can link into the Internet, you may be able to make contact by e–mail, social media or live chat. You may think about investing in a mobile satellite phone, as satellite links are less likely to be jammed by excessive communications traffic.
  • Make up an emergency pack (Dash Pack) for home, work and car. Make sure everyone in the family has a pack and they know where the packs are kept. Train them to use the items in their pack. This is especially important if you have children. Do not scare them, make it fun, but bear in mind that if the very worst should happen you may be injured or dead and the children may have to fend on their own until help arrives.
  • If anything does happen to you, your children should know where to go for help; this could be a neighbour, relative or the police.
  • Know how to turn off your gas, electricity and water supplies.
  • Even if you normally listen to other radio stations or never use a radio at all, know how to tune into your local radio stations for public safety information in an emergency. Make sure that everyone in your household knows how to do this.
  • If instructed by the authorities to move, never be tempted to stay behind to protect your property, check that your insurance cover is up to date so you have peace of mind leaving if the need arises, then you are free to lock the place up and go.
  • If in a flood risk area, keep stocks of empty sandbags and sand. (Carrier bags filled with soil will also be adequate as a temporary measure.) Make sure that everyone in your family knows how to fill a sandbag and close it and how and where to stack them to best protect your property before you leave.
  • Have emergency money in small and medium denomination bank notes equivalent to 2 month's salary. These notes should be divided up into separate amounts, sealed in plastic bags and kept in your Dash Pack. Each family member, including the children, should have their own Dash Pack; spread the money between the packs. Although unthinkable to many people these days, your credit card may be no good if all the phone lines and Internet links are down.

Making a Dash Pack: The Concept
Other names for such a bag are a "bug–out bag" "72–hour kit," a "grab bag," a "battle box," a "Personal Emergency Relocation Kit" (PERK), a "go bag" or a "GOOD bag" (Get Out Of Dodge).

The Dash Pack is simply a pack that can be grabbed in an emergency when you have to leave your home or vehicle and flee. It should contain everything needed to support you for up to 72–hours; with full survival skills a carefully constructed Dash Pack can help you for months. The Dash Pack needs detailed planning and attention to your needs or the needs of your family. Escaping a disaster doesn't necessarily mean heading for the nearest forest, it could mean going to a hotel, B&B, a friend's home or staying with a family member. If this is how you plan to "escape," the contents of your Dash Pack should reflect this (fishing hooks and fire–making equipment are not much use in a hotel suite). Regardless of where you do go to, your situation will be much easier to manage if you have given it forethought and planning. Share your plans with your loved ones (after all, you may not all be present when disaster strikes) and gather together enough items and equipment to make your unexpected "break" more bearable. 72–hours should be the minimum time limit that you plan for.

You need to give consideration to what course of action you will take in the event of an emergency. The incident may occur whilst your children are at school, you and your partner are out at work or shopping etc.

Depending on the nature and location of the incident it may be safer to leave your children at school until such a time as you have met with your partner/wife and collected your Dash Packs. This is a decision only you can make, but either way, you need to know who will contact the school and make them aware that you are removing your children and who will be actually picking them up. You need to establish a meeting place should you be unable to get access to your home. Your whole family need to know where your escape location is situated and you need to work out multiple routes in order to get everyone to that destination. These routes should not just be viewed by maps and Google Earth but should actually be visited regularly. Whilst no plan can cover every eventuality, having a plan directs one's thought processes and helps reduce the panic and confusion later.

Choose a pack of approximately 15 – 30 litres (26 – 52 pints) for children, 90 litres (20 gallon) for women and 130 litres (30 gallon) for men. It should have a carrying handle, a comfortable harness, exterior pockets and be waterproof. Any waterproof rucksack or backpack will do; choose bright colours or add fluorescent orange strips to Army–type packs to help rescue services spot you. Avoid using a sports bag or holdall as this will become tiring if you have to carry it a long way. This also applies to a Dash Pack kept in your vehicle – bear in mind that you may have to leave the vehicle and walk. Not many rucksacks are fully stormproof, so buy a rain cover to fit the pack if it does not have one built in.

The basic Dash Pack
Each pack should contain these essentials. If you want a lighter pack, substitute these products with quality smaller items. Only you can decide what you need to pack, but here are some suggestions if you need to rough it for a few days:
  • A battery powered radio (with local radio emergency radiofrequencies marked) and spare batteries. Try to standardize on batteries so that one type (i.e. 'AA' batteries) suits all equipment.

    The radio (photo, right) is a Grundig Emergency AM/FM/Short wave Radio Model: R200Y. (Built for the North American market). This emergency radio has rechargeable AA batteries and a simple hand crank that winds up the power generator giving nearly 1 hour of playing time. It has a built in torch and splash proof case. Similar radios are available in most countries, for example, in the UK, the Roberts "Windup Wanderer,", retails forRoberts radio around £40.00. Cheaper wind up radios are available; the thing to check before you buy is that the playing time quoted for the winding time is true. Some cheaper radios claim 30 minutes playing time for 1 minute winding, but I tried a few and they did not reach this specification.
  • A powerful torch:
    For your main torch, avoid LED torches, as these are not as powerful as a Peli Stealth Lightstandard torch. Choose a waterproof torch that is powerful but not too heavy. The torch featured (right) is a Peli Stealthlite 2400®. (This 4 AA–cell torch is water resistant with an unbreakable corrosion proof ABS body and hi–impact polycarbonate lens. Its Laser Spot Xenon® Lamp module gives an unsurpassed white collimated beam, which can cut through water, smoke, fog and rain making it a perfect light source for all applications. The StealthLite® has a one–handed on/off locking switch, plus a heavy–duty lanyard and it is approved for use in gaseous or electrical hazardous environments. The Nemo version is submersible. Cost range: £30 – £39 ($48 – $62; €36 – €47).

    An LED back up torch. There are many dynamo LED torches on the market ranging from £20 ($35, €29) to twice or three times as much. At the top end, consider buying a Jonta. The state of the art ultra bright 1 watt white LED in this torch is highly efficient and never needs replacing.

    Both wind up and rechargeable, this torch has an effective beam of over 160 feet (50 meters) and signal visibility over 1.9 miles (3 kilometers).Jonta LED light Thirty seconds of winding gives 10 minutes of use. Microprocessor control gives a choice between energy saving, full power and flash settings for emergency signalling.

    Cheaper, 3 to 5 LED torches have their advantages;Cheap LED Light they often include a cable to allow the dynamo to recharge a mobile phone, which is a smart addition. All these LED torches allow the user to select full or partial use of the LED's. The beam is only useful over a couple of metres, even on maximum, but as a standby light coupled with the recharging capability for a mobile phone means they are a useful item of kit for any emergency pack.
  • Cooking/water boiling:
    Outlander gas cooker

    Choose a good quality gas cooker and pack two spare cylinders. The picture (left) shows an Outlander gas cooker. Some makes of stove have auto ignition. If the weather is good and you think you may be in the survival situation for some time, keep the gas for a rainy day and cook over a wood fire. For prolonged periods in the open, a gasgas lantern lantern is practical. A good idea is to use the same type of resealable cylinder for both cooker and lantern. The Flexi Fuel cooker (below, left) is a stable, high performance cooker that burns on a variety of fuels: petrol, unleaded petrol, paraffin and gas. It has a sturdy aluminium pump and a pre–Flexi fuel cookerheater. It takes a valve gas cartridge used on 90% of other cookers and can also burn diesel oil. If weight or economy is an issue when putting your pack together, consider using an Army Gel Cooker (available from Army Surplus shops). The tin holds gel fuel and includes the cooking support and even a book ofGel cooker matches. Found in military surplus stores around the world, they are cheap and relatively effective.
    Illustrated in the photo (right), is a German Army gel cooker. The NATO version is refillable and can be bought as un–issued stock from Army Surplus stores: Costs around £3 – £5 ($5 – $8; €6 – €10).
  • Windproof matchesare useful items to have in your pack. Windproof matchesIllustrated are windproof matches supplied by Lifesystems®. Available in Canada and most cities in Europe from outdoor supplies shops. The case is waterproof and has a lanyard ring, which is a nice touch. It is wise to also carry several disposable cigarette lighters or invest in a turbo gas lighter. The Windmill Trekker lighter is particularly good with an extra–large fuel tank giving over 1,000 ignitions on a single fill. This Windmill WindproofWaterproof lighter Lighter is the latest design and includes a wrist lanyard. Fuel capacity of four grams, yet weighs only 70 g (2.5 oz). (Works in high altitude places where the amount of oxygen is limited. Wind, water and high altitude proof and it will operate under the toughest climate conditions: Rain, storm, heavy snow in the mountains or swirling winds in the desert.) Costs around £35 ($55; €42).

    cooking foreLearn how to make a cooking fire. The picture (photo, right) shows how not to do it! The whole point is being prepared, so this section does not go into details of fire making without matches or a lighter. (To find out how to make a cooking fire visit this site again to see my future articles on making a cooking fire and making a fire drill).
  • Mess tins: Buy good solid mess tins and keep mess tinsthem in your Dash–pack.
    Remember to add knife, folk,Army mess tins spoon and a metal heat–saving mug or plastic cup to your kit.
  • Maps and compass:Pack a map of the area you live inmap and compass and a compass. Illustrated in the photo (right) is a Silva Ranger compass. Silva compasses are inexpensive and reliable.
  • An emergency whistle is the best means of emergency whistleattracting attention. Illustrated is the Perry Whistle that emits a dual–tone international pitch distress signal. See also: Attracting attention.) Costs around £1 ($1.60; €1.20).
  • First Aid Kit: A first aid kit should include as the minimum:

    Adhesive fabric stripfirst aid kit
    Woven bandage
    Disposable latex gloves
    16 x 500mg strong pain killing tablets
    6 x Antiseptic wipes
    6 x Safety pins
    Triangular Bandage
    3 x wound closure strips
    Micropore tape
    Crepe bandage
    Disinfectant ointment
    Prescription medicine*

    *Remember to include any medicines a family member needs – make sure you have a supply in the Dash–pack and replace them when the expiry date is up – consult your family doctor for advice.

    Depending upon your level of expertise you can add to the above basic list accordingly.

  • Insect repellent and sun cream are useful items to have in the Dash–pack.
  • A strong knife: A military knife is excellent, but military knifeavoid the large 'Rambo–style knives' as these are heavy, unwieldy and can be dangerous in untrained hands. Bear in mind that countries have differing regulations relating to knife ownership. Avoid 'survival knives' with survival equipment stored in their hollow handles – if you lose your knife, you have also lost your compass, fishing line, hooks etc. These knifes are not strong enough to withstand prolonged heavy–duty use, such  preferred military knifeas, splitting up wood. A military knife (such as, the standard issue British Army knife, illustrated left, is ideal), it must be kept in a sheath on a belt or in your pack. It can be cumbersome to have on your person and it may also be provocative in certain situations and against the law to carry it on display. A good compromise is a folding locking knife. A folding knife must have a lock and all good ones have a dual locking system (in some EU countries it is against the law for a folding knife to lock). A folding knife that does not lock will cut you at some point and you do not want a sharp knife cut. Good folding knives are expensive and you should invest the most you can afford in this piece of equipment. Illustrated in the photo (below) is the author's favourite all–purpose knife, the Applegate–Fairburn double edge knife from Gerber, which has an 11 cm (4.5 inches) blade and an ingenious fail–safe locking system (even a fail–safe lock is now banned in some EU countries).

    Gerber knife
  • Survival blankets: Carry two survival blankets for each family member. survival blanketPack two of each type, an all–weather blanket, which is silvered on one side and material or plastic coated on the other and a foil anti–hypothermia blanket, which is specially aluminized to reflect & retain more than 90% of radiant body heat. These "survival blankets" are vacuum packed, light and reusable but become bulky once opened.
  • A Sabre Cut Saw:

    sabre saw
    There are various marks on the market. These are tougher than the "Commando–style" wire saws. The Sabre Cut is designed to cut through hardwood. The blade is flexible for cutting from a variety of angles and in places where you have little clearance. The 60 cm (24 inch) chainsaw blade has bi–directional, self–cleaning cutting teeth to ensure a smooth, fast action and cuts in both directions. When sharpening is needed, use a standard chainsaw blade sharpening kit. Buy a saw with a treated blade to help retard rust and corrosion and in a case that floats with the saw in it. Costs around £20 ($30; €25).
  • Polythene sheeting: A large polythene sheet is useful for making a temporary shelter. Binding the edges with Duct Tape will strengthen it and you can fit eyelet holes through the tape to lash it to a tree branch etc. Place everything in your Dash–pack in plastic bags and have several spare bags with you, ranging in size from food bags to bin–liners.
  • Rope: 6 metres (20 feet) of nylon rope 3 – 4 mm (0.12 – 0.16 inches) diameter.
  • Bottled or packaged water/canned drinks: Each Dash–pack should contain at least 2 litres (3.5 pints, 0.5 US gallons) of drinking water. One litre weighs 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) so children may have to carry less according to their age. In hot Camel Packweather, carry as much water as you can. Some rucksacks are designed so water bladders can be fitted in the top part of the sack. The advantage being, one can drink whilst on the move by using the attacked drinking tube. (Photo, left.) Alternatively, purchase purified emergency water packs like the ones illustrated below from a supplier of survival foods.

    water sachets

    Carry a good supply of water purifying tablets.
  • Food: Buy packs of survival food from a commercial supplier – such as illustrated below.

    survival food

    Alternatively, put together your own supply of food based on foodstuffs you know (remember baby food and pet food if you are taking the family pets with you).

Below is a guide to the sort of foods you may think of keeping in your Dash–pack:

food chart


For American readers

bug–out bag (bug out bag) is a portable kit that contains the items one would require to survive for seventy–two hours when evacuating from a disaster. The focus is on evacuation, rather than long–term survival, distinguishing the bug–out bag from a survival kit, a boating or aviation emergency kit, or a fixed–site disaster supplies kit. The kits are also popular in the survivalist subculture. Illustrated below is a Red Cross standard off–the–shelf bug–out bag available commercially.

bug out bag
According to Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia, 'the term "bug–out bag" is related to, and possibly derived from, the "bail–out bag" emergency kit many military aviators carry. In the United States, the term refers to the Korean War practice of the U.S. Army designating alternate defensive positions, in the event that the unit(s) had to displace. They were directed to "Bug–out" when being overrun was imminent. The concept passed into wide usage among other military and law enforcement personnel, though the "bail–out bag" is as likely to include emergency gear for going into an emergency situation as for escaping an emergency.'

There are many retailers of bug–out bags in the USA. Some work on the 72–hours strategy, others work on the strategy of longer–term survival. As with all commercially packed survival items, make sure that the one you choose has top–quality items in it. Select a backpack bag, rather than the holdall or grip bags because you may have to travel some distance with the bag and a backpack is less tiring to transport than any bag you carry in your hand.


Other important advice

Make an evacuation check list of additional items to pack quickly if you are suddenly advised to leave your home. This might include:
  • Your Dash–pack.
  • Warm clothing.
  • Essential medication and personal items e.g.
  • Baby food/nappies
  • Wallet, purse and bankcards.
  • Mobile phone and charger.
  • Pet carrier/collar, lead & pet food.
  • A pocket–sized emergency pack.

Financial Survival
Essential and immediate survival items such as water, food, and shelter are the main priorities in case of evacuation, but after the crisis is over it is often difficult to recover the personal and financial aspects of one's life. Making insurance claims, proving home ownership and ownership of assets, replacing key documents, etc., can be a long drawn–out and harrowing experience. This may be especially true at a time when the social infrastructure may not be functioning normally. Having backups of personal and financial documents are also key elements to an effective emergency survival kit.

Some documents can be digitized copies burned onto a small disk or USB drive, others should be original documents (with certified copies carried by other family members) laminated or otherwise protected. Here is a check list of some important items to consider when creating your own personal disaster or evacuation survival plan for you and your family's personal and financial records. It isn't exhaustive and you must add to it to suit your own circumstances.

Financial survival tip 1:
Personal documents:
  • Photographs of every member of your family (write name, age, address, relationship and contact details on the back of hard copies or add this to digitized copies).
  • Copies of passports, birth certificates, social security cards, driving licences.
  • Academic awards (Keep originals and certified copies, some universities will not re– certificates).
  • Military records (discharge papers or related records).
  • Medical documents such as immunization records.
  • Medical directives in case of emergency.
  • Marriage licenses and divorce certificates.
  • Copies of wills, powers of attorney.

Financial survival tip 2:
  • Create a list of items in each room / photograph of each room and photographs of valuables. Have copies of proofs of ownership for valuables.
  • Copies of mortgage documents.
  • Copy the declaration page of insurance policies proving you have cover for: Home owner – Flood – Life – Auto – Health cover.
  • Copy of property tax bill (to prove home ownership in insurance claim).

Financial survival tip 3:
Other items:
  • Monthly statements from bank accounts.
  • Copy of credit report. Not so common in some European countries, but can be purchased, and this will have the names, addresses, and account numbers for all financial responsibilities.
  • Bills will still need to be paid and this is often overlooked in a crisis, so have all the information in one place and make sure you have on–line banking to keep your financial affairs in order wherever you are. Keep contact phone numbers and account details of the organizations you have to make regular payment too so you can phone them if you cannot make a payment on time.
  • Banking and credit card details.

Creating a financial survival kit will not lessen the severity of a disaster, but being prepared will certainly make the recovery process much easier. Just remember that size, portability, and easy access to your personal and financial survival kit are crucial factors in the case of a rapid evacuation.

Burn financial and personal documents to USB drive or mini CD in order to maximize portability and convenience. Store important papers in fireproof box. Remember to take your personal and financial survival kit with you!

In the Car
This may vary according to the time of year, but keep these items in the car as a basic emergency kit:
  • Bottled water (all year round).
  • First aid kit (all year round).
  • Torch and batteries (all year round).
  • Cigar plug lead for mobile phone (all year round).
  • Sweets, long life snacks (all year round).
  • A blanket, warm tracksuit and woolly hat.
  • A waterproof coat (autumn (Fall) to winter).
  • Wellington boots (all year round).
  • Spare socks (these can also be used as gloves) (autumn (Fall) to winter).
  • Snow shovel, spade, snow chains (autumn (Fall) to winter).
  • Sabre cutting saw (all year round).

Know the emergency procedures for your workplace thoroughly.
In some situations, you might have to remain at your workplace for safety. Your building may have good facilities; even so, it pays to think about what additional items you would need if you had to stay a night or two. The greatest risk is from fire or terror attack, consider owning your own respirator.

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