Protecting your home and community

If You Can Pack a Gym Bag, You Can Pack a Disaster Bag

Graphic of how gym items can be used as a base for emergency items

You probably don’t need those Muay Thai shin guards

A lot of people are daunted by the lists that the Red Cross, the CDC, and FEMA put out. The truth is, there are a few things that you NEED TO HAVE, and there are a few more things that you really SHOULD HAVE, and then there are some things that it would be REALLY GREAT TO HAVE.

The point is, if you have those things you NEED TO HAVE in one place, or can put your hands on them quickly, you’re in pretty darned good shape. If an emergency happens, and you have a gym bag around (probably with your Muy Thai shin guards in it), you can dump all that stuff out. BUT fill up that water bottle and put THAT back in. Better yet, fill up all of those water bottles that you’ve collected over the years. If the sweats aren’t too stinky, keep ‘em in there too. Toss in a sweater or a jacket, extra socks and any personal care items (having 2 or 3 days’ of any prescription medications is a good idea) you need. Isn’t there a towel in there?

Photo of Cat on a duffel bag

Photo credit: Amy Stephenson

Oh, and don’t forget the food bars. Whatever kind you like, although if you’re going to be living on them for a few days, you might not want them all to be oatmeal blueberry bars again for your whole life, or longer.

The key to all this is giving it a moment or two of thought before you need it. Put some cash in an envelope and stick that in there. How about a spare key? If you have kids or disabled persons to take care of, or are disabled yourself, it gets a little more involved.

Okay. Here are the THINGS YOU NEED in a convenient list:

  • Water (This can get heavy. You hope you won’t need more than a few quarts, but if you can carry it, and you think you’ll have to make do for a while, you’re going to need one gallon of water per day per person)
  • Second set of clothing (sweats are fine, clothes need to be appropriate for the season)
  • Outer layer
  • Prescription drugs
  • Food bars
  • Cash (The bank machine won’t be open. If you can afford it, put aside enough money to stay in a motel for a few nights)
  • Spare key
  • Pet items.
  • Bag to put everything into

So, now that you’ve put that stuff in your bag, PICK IT UP! Carry it a few feet. Can you carry it a block? If it’s too heavy, you might want to reduce the amount of gear that’s in there, reconsider carrying those wrist- and ankle-weights, or considering picking up some packages of ramen soup (backpackers swear by ramen—it’s cheap, super-light, and (outside of being extremely high in sodium), relatively nutritious.

A still from a video of a man eating uncooked ramen noodles

Link: Man eats uncooked ramen noodles in under 3 minutes

Plus, some people like to eat the dried noodles and the flavor powder without water.

It’s true.




Okay, so those are the THINGS YOU NEED.

What about the things you also REALLY SHOULD HAVE? These are important things that take a little more effort:

  • A flashlight and extra batteries (LED flashlights are cheap, often tough, and very easy on batteries)
  • A whistle (if it’s ever cold in your area, get a plastic one: it won’t adhere to your lips and tongue)

    Lauren Bacall from To Have and To Have Not

    You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve?

  • A map of the area
  • A list of emergency contacts (consider two or three distances: under a mile, ten miles and fifty miles or more)
  • A copy of your family’s emergency plan
  • Copies of your ID
  • A first aid kit
  • If you’re going to put cans of food into your kit, you will need a can opener
  • Something to cover your mouth and nose in the case of hazardous dust (N95 masks are the ones the professionals use)
  • Other items that are specific to the season and your location. Those could be sunblock, bug repellant, or other items.
  • Pet items

Are you still here? Here’s the last category: THINGS IT WOULD BE REALLY GREAT TO HAVE.

  • Moist towelettes (for those times that you just need to freshen up)
  • Playing cards or other small and light game to play when you’re bored of looking at the snow, the water, the rain, the ice, and all the nice people in emergency clothing walking around
  • Small towel
  • Duct tape (You were waiting for this, weren’t you)

For those of you who really get into it, there are lots of other things that you could have on hand, JUST IN CASE. You better have several large duffel bags and strong family members. The full list is at

photo of heavily burdened bicycle

Photo credit: Graeme Newcomb

A jacket or coat  Long pants A long sleeve shirt Sturdy shoes A hat and gloves A sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person Emergency reference materials such as a first aid book or a print out of the information on Rain gear Mess kits, paper cups, plates and plastic utensils Cash or traveler’s checks, change Paper towels Fire Extinguisher Tent Compass Matches in a waterproof container Signal flare Paper, pencil Personal hygiene items including feminine supplies Disinfectant Household chlorine bleach You can use bleach as a disinfectant (diluted nine parts water to one part bleach), or in an emergency you can also use it to treat water. (Use 16 drops of regular household liquid bleach per gallon of water. Do not use scented, color safe or bleaches with added cleaners.) Medicine dropper Important Family Documents such as copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records in a waterproof, portable container

And in case you’re wondering, if you can pack a diaper bag,
you can pack an emergency bag.











Gym bag infographic from Fairfax County Emergency Information

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