HIGH-SPEED, LOW-DRAG GET-HOME GEAR BAGS
“I’ve got to get home!”
How many of us have said these words in the face or wake of a critical event? As often as our minds might dwell on bug-out scenarios, long-term wilderness survival situations or post-apocalyptic hypotheses, our first instinct when the SHTF is to head for the safety of our homes.
Many of us plan for large-scale, long-term survival situations. However, we are more likely to be challenged with circumstances that, while not rising to the level of being apocalyptic, can result in equally dire outcomes.
Most of us spend quite a bit of time away from our homes. Between work, commuting, running errands, visiting friends and family, or going to the gym, we spend at least as much time away as we do at home.
If you are like me, you have many more supplies stored in your home than you do in your vehicle or bug-out bag. If you have a family, simply donning your backpack and marching off into the wilderness isn’t an option. Our obligations to others do not end at the onset of a crisis. If anything, those obligations only become more critical.
There are countless scenarios that can leave us stranded away from home. Weather events, civil unrest, acts of war, power grid failures and disturbances in infrastructure can all conspire to force us to seek alternative methods of getting back to our homes and our loved ones.
Building a get-home bag doesn’t need to be an overly complicated or daunting task. We must all evaluate our unique environment—taking into account terrain, weather, the distance that may need to be traveled and what lies in between. The get-home bag for someone in Los Angeles with a five-mile commute will likely be quite a bit different from the person in Maine who drives 40 miles to work every day. However, both get-home bags should be designed to address the same core concerns.
THE PURPOSE OF THE GET-HOME BAG IS TO ALLOW YOU TO MEET THESE SURVIVAL PRIORITIES WHILE PROMOTING MOBILITY AND SAFETY. SHELTERING IN PLACE AND WAITING FOR RESCUE IS NOT THE GOAL.
WHAT IS A GET-HOME BAG?
Instead of focusing on the specifics of what each bag should contain, let’s instead try to create a framework each of us can use to gear up based on our own needs and circumstances.
I’ll start by defining what I mean when talking about a “get-home bag.” Simply put, a get-home bag is a survival kit designed to get you back to your home in the event of an emergency.
Typically, it is differentiated from a full bug-out bag by the duration of time for which it is designed to work. Whereas a bug-out bag is designed to sustain you for up to 72 hours, the get-home bag is designed around a 24-hour window. These definitions can be fluid based on how far away from home you will be.
How you decide to equip your get-home bag should be largely dictated by the priorities of survival. The rule of thumb is that, in extreme circumstances, we can survive three hours without shelter, three days without water and three weeks without food. Concentrating on filling the needs of shelter, water, food and fire are only part of the equation, however. The purpose of the get-home bag is to allow you to meet these survival priorities while promoting mobility and safety. Sheltering in place and waiting for rescue is not the goal.
HOW YOU DECIDE TO EQUIP YOUR GET-HOME BAG SHOULD BE LARGELY DICTATED BY THE PRIORITIES OF SURVIVAL.
MY SELECTION PROCESS
There are many different backpacks of all quality levels available today. While a cheap, $20 bag from Walmart might serve your needs, I am of the “Buy once, cry once” school of thought: Purchasing high-quality gear suited to your needs could cost more up front but will ultimately pay off in the long run by providing longevity, durability and peace of mind. As a result, I want to talk about the three systems I have chosen to serve my get-home bag needs for a variety of different activities and environments.
When I set out to find a get-home bag to keep in my vehicle, I had some very specific requirements in mind. My commute to and from work is about 16 miles and has me traveling through everything from a residential urban environment to industrial parks and suburban developments and finally, through farmland.
First, I wanted something that was going to be very high quality. I wanted a bag that was going to be lightweight and functional without being flimsy, and I wanted it to look very unassuming.
It needed to be something that would blend in and not draw attention to me by looking too military or tactical. I needed something that would be flexible enough to fit me—no matter if I were dressed for the heat of summer or the frigid cold of winter and be large enough to carry the supplies necessary for me to spend one night on the road if the need arose.
ULTIMATE DIRECTION FASTPACK 30
After much research and consideration, I settled on the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 30, and I couldn’t be happier. Unfortunately, it has since been discontinued. However, Ultimate Direction’s new Fastpack 35 is coming out soon and promises to be as functional as the 30.
The entire pack weighs in at 24 ounces and is made of a very lightweight, durable, water-resistant ripstop nylon. The pack is expandable from 20 to 30 liters using an adjustable roll-top closure system. The closure works just like a dry bag and provides a waterproof seal without the need for zippers or drawstrings. The buckles for the closure system clip into a set of side-mounted compression straps. Drawing these buckles tight cinches down the top and helps compress the entire pack.
Instead of the PALS webbing found on other packs, the Fastpack 30 uses a system of external loops and daisy chains to allow you to strap a variety of gear to the outside of the pack. On the sides of the pack, two large pockets are formed via a stretchable mesh fabric to allow you to carry water bottles and canteens. The back of the pack is covered with this same stretchable mesh fabric. This forms a very large, expandable pocket for even more external gear storage. Built into the left side of the pack is a hidden, low-profile pocket. The pocket uses one of the few zippers found on the entire pack and, as you would expect, the zipper is tape sealed to maintain water resistance.
The inside of the pack is fairly spartan. It does away with the extra weight and complexity of multiple zippered pockets and organizational compartments. Instead, it uses a single, large, expandable compartment. The pack is water bladder compatible and has a loop for hanging the bladder, as well as a protected tunnel for routing a drinking tube. The only other item found inside the pack is the removable foam back panel that gives the pack its form and helps make it extremely comfortable to wear.
None of the features I have described so far is particularly groundbreaking or unique. Where the innovation of this pack really shows is in the suspension system. Ultimate Direction caters to adventurers and extreme athletes, so the company makes a wide variety of hydration vests for marathoners, ultra-marathoners and other extreme sports enthusiasts. These vest systems are designed to distribute their load throughout the torso, leaving the hips and waistline free for maximum mobility and maneuverability. Ultimate Direction has successfully integrated this load-bearing vest system into the Fastpack 30. For my purposes, this setup allows me to comfortably carry my pack while still being able to carry a belt knife and a holstered firearm.
Ultimate Direction utilizes a patent-pending system in its harness setup called “InfiKnit.” Simply put, the InfiKnit technology uses a single piece of breathable mesh fabric to form both the exterior back panel of the pack and the shoulder harness system.
This creates a seamless transition from the pack to the harness, greatly reducing the potential for chafing and hot spots. The front of the shoulder straps includes a generous system of pockets and pouches. These allow for easy access to items such as maps, compasses, food, cell phones, water bottles, etc. without the need to remove the pack, all while maintaining a very low-profile appearance. The harness is secured using two fully adjustable sternum straps in the front and a set of adjustable compression straps that tie the harness to the bottom of the pack.
While the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 30 wasn’t designed specifically as a get-home bag, I have found that it serves very well in this capacity. Its lightweight, yet rugged, construction, coupled with a design philosophy targeted at the extreme athlete, makes for a pack uniquely able to comfortably carry a moderate amount of gear quickly and over long distances while still maintaining a low profile and allowing me to carry a firearm on my waist.
Ultimate Direction Fastpack 30
❰ Patent-pending InfiKnit harness is a continuous, seamless back panel and shoulder strap system designed to prevent abrasion and discomfort
❰ Large, main roll-top compartment
❰ Rear stretch-mesh pocket with low-profile daisy chain system
❰ Dual adjustable sternum straps and side straps for stability and fit
❰ Integrated side compression Z-straps for varying load capacities
❰ Removable foam back panel for comfort
❰ Capacity: 20–30 liters/1,220–1,892 cubic inches
❰ Weight: 24.8 ounces
❰ Dimensions: 24.4 x 11.4 x 10.4 inches
❰ MSRP: $179.95
HILL PEOPLE GEAR RUNNER’S KIT BAG AND TARAHUMARA PACK
Hill People Gear is a family-owned business founded and run by brothers Evan and Scot Hill.
One glance at the Hill People Gear website will tell you that this company knows a thing or two about preparedness. A cursory look reveals a variety of gear intended to equip the backcountry traveler. All the products made by Hill People Gear are made in the United States by FirstSpear LLC and use only U.S.-sourced materials.
The Hill People Gear website has one of the best breakdowns for personal equipage in the backcountry I have seen to date. Clicking on the “Equipage Taxonomy” link on the site reveals a series of pages that breaks down everything from what to carry in your pockets every day to gearing yourself up for long-term backcountry living. Included with this breakdown is a series of corresponding gear recommendations.
How does this translate to building a get-home bag? Having the equipment necessary to get yourself out of a bad situation and back to your home is not limited to being stranded in a city without access to your vehicle. Many of us—myself included—enjoy spending time in wild places. This might range anywhere from a week of solo elk hunting in the Rocky Mountains to trail-running at a local park. Your situation will dictate exactly what you need to carry to consider yourself adequately prepared.
Fitness should play an integral role in everyone’s preparedness plan. Finding yourself 20 miles from home in the midst of a crisis and in need of getting back to your loved ones is not the time to come to terms with the fact that you are not physically up to the task.
When I decided to take up running to get myself in better shape, I resigned myself to the fact that I would not be able to carry all the things I normally want to have access to. (Carrying a firearm and a knife is not easy to do while wearing lightweight running clothing.)
Enter the Hill People Gear Runner’s Kit Bag. This chest-mounted pouch was exactly what I was looking for. The Runner’s Kit Bag is large enough to be able to comfortably carry a full-sized handgun, cell phone, flashlight, knife, keys and a few other personal items. Yet, it is still compact enough to be completely unobtrusive while running.
Like all the other Kit Bag models offered, the Runner’s Kit Bag utilizes a central hub of lightweight mesh material from which four straps originate and work together to secure the bag to your chest.
The system has enough flexibility to be able to accommodate most body sizes, as well as to be able to fit over multiple layers of clothing. For running the roads and trails around my home, I have found this piece of kit to be completely indispensable.
When I want to do more extensive trail-running and be able to carry water, first aid supplies and additional layers of clothing, the Runner’s Kit Bag can be coupled with the Hill People Gear Tarahumara Backpack. The Tarahumara is a compact pack designed to be able to comfortably carry 2 quarts of water and enough gear for a day in the field.
It utilizes a unique shoulder harness system that, while it differs greatly in materials and construction, mimics the functionality of the Ultimate Direction harness setup. The shoulder harness conforms tightly to the body, keeping the Tarahumara pack close to your center of gravity and distributing weight over a larger area. This allows the pack to virtually disappear on your back and makes for a very comfortable running and hiking companion.
The pack utilizes a series of compression straps and tie-down points to allow the user to add additional pieces of gear, thereby expanding the capabilities of this pack. It also incorporates a hidden sleeve between the padded back panel and the main compartment of the pack. The sleeve is large enough to carry a machete, a folded tarp or even a lever-action rifle.
When used together, the Tarahumara pack and Runner’s Kit Bag make for an exceptional get-home system for everything from short fitness trips off the beaten path to longer hikes. You may find that this system is large enough to serve as your main get-home bag. If not, Hill People Gear offers several other kit bags and backpacks of varying sizes to suit your needs. The flexibility, modular nature and extreme comfort level of the Hill People Gear equipment have quickly elevated these items to being some of my all-time favorites.
Hill People Gear Runner’s Kit Bag
❰ 500D Cordura nylon construction
❰ Quick-access concealed pistol compartment
❰ Comfortable mesh-backed H harness allows you to wear the bag by itself or underneath a pack
❰ Hook-and-loop and dummy cord loop in pistol compartment allow for various retention options
❰ Tabs with GrimLOCs at the top for hanging on another pack or for use with optional Lifter Straps for docking to a host pack
❰ Tabs on the bottom for attaching to another pack or for use with the Stabilizer Kit when running
❰ Front zippered-access flat pocket with two interior slot pockets with dummy cord loops above them
❰ Capacity: 86.25 cubic inches
❰ Weight: 13 ounces
❰ Dimensions: 1.0×11.5×7.50 inches
❰ MSRP: $85
Hill People Gear Tarahumara Pack
❰ 500D Cordura nylon
❰ Two generous wand pockets big enough for U.S. GI-type canteens
❰ Hang tab for a water bladder on the inside
❰ Quilted padding on the body side with an exposed flat slot pocket
❰ Comfortable contoured shoulder harness
❰ Can be used as a back pocket on larger packs
❰ Parachute and cordlock compression/ lashing system on bottom
❰ Dual horizontal compression straps
❰ Capacity: 612 cubic inches
❰ Weight: 1.44 pounds
❰ Dimensions: 4.0×9.0x17.0 inches
❰ MSRP: $125
FINDING YOURSELF 20 MILES FROM HOME IN THE MIDST OF A CRISIS AND IN NEED OF GETTING BACK TO YOUR LOVED ONES IS NOT THE TIME TO COME TO TERMS WITH THE FACT THAT YOU ARE NOT PHYSICALLY UP TO THE TASK.
PRIMAL OUTDOORS ESSENTIAL CARRY SYSTEM
I first became aware of the Primal Outdoors Essential Carry System while watching a YouTube video. The creator of the Essential Carry System, Jason Darrah, was demonstrating an extremely innovative approach to carrying gear into the backcountry. He explained that as an avid outdoorsman from Oregon, he was searching for a way to carry all the items he considered necessary for backcountry travel without having to load his pockets each and every time he went on an excursion. After exploring multiple options offered from a variety of available sources and finding all of them lacking, he decided to take matters into his own hands.
It is said that “necessity is the mother of invention.” Jason sat down at the drawing table and the sewing machine, and after much trial and error, the Primal Archer E.C.S. was born. As soon as I saw it, I knew I had to try it for myself.
The E.C.S. is a lightweight, low-profile, vest-based system handmade by Jason from premium materials. The core of the E.C.S. consists of a two-panel vest, tied together using a mesh back panel and a series of highly adjustable stabilizer straps. Each vest panel incorporates a single, large, zippered pocket with PALS webbing on the exterior. There is enough adjustability in this system to allow it to conform to most body types. It can be worn directly against the body and, when used in this manner, it can be easily concealed under a loose-fitting garment. However, to realize its full potential, the E.C.S. should be adjusted to fit over the clothing.
Jason recognized that while the vest, by itself, was an excellent way to carry the smaller items that might otherwise take up room in your pockets, there was a need to be able to carry some other, larger, items, as well. With this in mind, he designed the E.C.S. Expansion Pack to seamlessly integrate into the vest.
Instead of designing the pack with its own independent suspension system, Jason designed the Expansion Pack to attach to the vest using four quick-release clips. The pack can be accessed without ever fully removing it from the vest. This assures that your gear is always attached to your body and cannot be inadvertently dropped or forgotten. The pack, like the rest of the vest, is made from 500D Cordura nylon and has just enough PALS webbing to be able to strap on some extra gear without going overboard. The pack incorporates an external zippered pocket, a zippered pocket built into the inside of the top-loading lid and a pair of integral compression loops for holding a bedroll, tarp or extra clothing.
A welcome addition to the latest version of the E.C.S. is the inclusion of a water bottle pouch to the bottom of the expansion pack. Held in place by MOLLE webbing, this pouch is big enough to fit a 32-ounce Nalgene bottle and nesting cup. A drawstring at the mouth of the pouch ensures that whatever container you decide to use will stay put; and the large zipper running down the side of the pouch grants easy access to nested items such as cups, lids and stove bases.
The Primal Outdoors E.C.S. has proven to be everything I had hoped it would be. Its light weight and superior design have allowed me to use it while hiking, trail-running and especially hunting. It has more than enough capacity to serve as a dedicated short-range get-home bag and is exceptionally well suited for low-profile, rapid movement. Since receiving my first E.C.S. a few years ago, it has become my preferred system of carry while hunting.
Primal Outdoors Essential Carry System
❰ 500D Cordura nylon construction with military-grade fasteners and hardware
❰ Two quick-access chest pockets
❰ MOLLE expandable front panels
❰ Comfortable H harness suspension system with a broad range of adjustment
❰ “Always on” quick-detach expansion pack with easy access
❰ Hidden internal lid pocket
❰ Large external zippered accessory pocket
❰ MOLLE attachment points to exterior of expansion pack
❰ Integral 25-inch accessory loops
❰ Removable easy-access bottle pouch
❰ Expansion pack
- Capacity: 360 cubic inches
- Dimensions: 10 x 4 x 9 inches
- Weight: 15.5 ounces (with bottle pouch)
❰ (Two) survival vest pockets
- Capacity: 102 cubic inches (each)
- Dimensions: 5.25 x 9.75 x 2 inches
- Weight: 12.7 ounces
❰ Total system capacity: 564 cubic inches
❰ Total system weight: 28.2 ounces
❰ MSRP: $200
PURCHASING HIGH-QUALITY GEAR SUITED TO YOUR NEEDS COULD COST MORE UP FRONT BUT WILL ULTIMATELY PAY OFF IN THE LONG RUN BY PROVIDING LONGEVITY, DURABILITY AND PEACE OF MIND.
All the systems featured here offer their own, unique strengths and abilities. Each comprises a well-thought-out platform that can be tailored to your specific equipment needs and environment. Their premium materials, construction and designs assure that they will help get you home from wherever the crisis finds you.
Hill People Gear
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the April 2017 print issue of American Survival Guide.