It could be a flood, or a fire, or something man-made, but sometimes you’ve just gotta get out of Dodge. In the event of a crisis that forces you to leave your home, you need a grab bag filled with the basics you’ll need to keep you safe and in touch. While that bag is undoubtedly going to contain things like water filtration and a first-aid kit, it also needs to be outfitted with the proper tech essentials.
A good tech bug-out bag will already contain the stuff you need and a spot to the stuff you use daily. If you keep this bag ready, you can throw the last couple of things in there and be out of the door in a few seconds.
(A quick note here: My focus is on the tech element. For tips to building a more general bug-out bag, check out the City of New York’s guide, or FEMA’s checklist.)
This one is obvious, you might think: Just grab your cell phone. Fair enough: for most people, a cell phone is the main way you keep in touch with the rest of the world, so you should make space for it in your bug-out bag. But it won’t help if you can’t charge it, so get a to-go charger. The Anker 735 ($59.99) can charge three devices simultaneously from one wall socket.
Don’t forget USB cables. You should have as many cables as you do devices. I recommend the Nomad Universal Cable USB-C ($44.99) because the kevlar sleeve can handle rough treatment. An attached USB-A and micro USB adapters mean it can charge pretty much any Android phone or tablet. For Apple devices that use the Lightning port, Nomad offers a Lightning port version.
You might also be tempted to grab an old smartphone and throw it in your bag as a backup. Don’t. Smartphone batteries break down over time, eventually becoming a fire risk. That’s the last thing you need in your bug-out bag.
If you travel a lot or go off the grid, consider a satellite device like the Garmin InReach Mini ($299) or the $199.99 SpotX. These devices ping a satellite that keeps track of your location. Plus, they can send an SOS to the emergency services with the push of a button, perfect if you find yourself out of cell phone network coverage. They only work with a subscription, though, and these cost $14.95 and up monthly. (You can also buy month-to-month service.)
One thing to note here: An old cell phone called the SpareOne Emergency could run off a couple of standard AA batteries, but it is no longer available. You can buy SpareOnes on eBay, but the 2G cell phone networks they rely on have been turned off, so they won’t work in the U.S.
You should always store vital documents like your passport, credit cards, and IDs in a fireproof safe, but make sure that they are all easy to get hold of at once. I stash my essential documents in a Pelican 1040 Micro Case inside my safe so I can grab them all at once, and the case keeps them safe and dry.
You should also have copies of these documents (it is far easier to get a replacement passport if you have the details of the original). The same is true of credit cards, state IDs, birth certificates, and other important bits of paper. So, take photos of them and store them on an SSD drive with a fingerprint reader like the Samsung T7 Touch ($157). If you lose the device, a thief can’t access them to steal your identity. The USB-C connection works with laptops and phones, plus the drive has enough space on the drive to store music or videos to keep the kids amused. Don’t forget to set up your family’s fingerprints on the SSD drive, so they can access this data as well.
Having all the tech with you won’t help if the batteries run out, so you’ll need a way to charge these devices. A portable battery like the Mophie Powerstation Go Rugged AC ($75) can charge phones, includes a 110V AC output, and even jump-start your car. (In fact, you can charge it from your car battery.) The AC output tends to run the battery down quickly, and it is heavy, weighing in at 1.6lbs; if that’s too much for you, try a smaller option like the Mophie Powerstation with PD ($34.99), which has enough juice to charge your cell phone twice.
As noted above, cell phone batteries shouldn’t be stored without use, but AA batteries like the Duracell Coppertop or the Energizer Max will last 10 to 12 years in storage. So, why not combine the two? Throw a pack of AA batteries in your bag with a MintyBoost, a compact device that takes two AA batteries and converts the voltage to power a USB device.
Your smartphone includes a GPS receiver that can find where you are and share that with others through services like Google Maps or Apple’s Find My app. That won’t help if family members become separated from you. To keep track of everyone, buy an Apple AirTag or Samsung SmartTag+ for each family member and pet. Set them up and test them out with the Apple Find My or Samsung SmartThings app, then remove the battery. Then, if you have to bug out, put the battery back in and give a tag to each family member or pet. These devices are surprisingly effective because other phones receive and forward the signal. In effect, they can track people even if you aren’t nearby. That’s invaluable if your kids get separated in a crowd.
Your bug-out bag doesn’t need to be fancy. Instead, you need something that won’t draw attention to itself and something that will be hard to steal. I use an old Peak Design messenger bag, which looks innocuous and, with its over-the-shoulder design, is pretty hard to steal. It can carry a lot, with room for a laptop, tablet, and all the stuff I have listed here.
It isn’t waterproof, so I keep a few Pelican Marine Floating Pouches ($21) in it. These neat pouches can hold a phone, batteries, cables, and other tech, keeping it safe and dry. I also keep a couple of rolls of dog poop bags in there because, apart from the obvious use for my dog, they are waterproof: just throw your phone in one, tie a knot in the end, and it is protected. It may be low-tech, but it does the job. And, when you have to bug out because the world is going to hell, that’s what you need.