Selecting a Get Home Bag (GHB)

February 6, 2013

Bugging Out, Survival Kits

Selecting a Get Home Bag

The following article has been generously contributed by Alex Smith, author of Getting Home. It’s an exert from his book and has been republished with permission of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of

Your GHB should stand out as little as possible, but let’s face it – you are going to stand out with a ruck on your back.  However, try to minimize your visibility as much as possible:

  • Avoid tactical bags (MOLLE, military surplus, etc.).
  • Avoid camouflage patterns.
  • No military/survival/firearms patches on your GHB.

Instead, opt for a pack that a hiker might wear.  Select from quality, brand-name bags with earth tones.  Remember it must be relatively comfortable when loaded, and you must be capable of carrying the load.

Sizing Your GHB

Before you choose your GHB, consider the following:

  • How long will it take you to get home?  How many miles are you from home?  How many miles can you hike (because you will basically be hiking with a pack) in a day?  Remember, walking is not hiking; hiking works different muscles and will exhaust you much quicker.  Your physical condition will dictate how far you can hike; some may be able to only hike 5 miles, while others might be able to hike 30.  Terrain will affect your progress as well.  Divide your miles/day into the total distance from home and you will know approximately how long it may take you to get home.  The following is a very rough guideline with regards to pack capacity (Note – CI = Cubic Inches / L = Liters):
    • Trip Length = < 2 Days:  Pack Capacity = < 3,000 CI (50 L)
    • Trip Length = 3 Days:  Pack Capacity = < 3,600 CI (60 L)
    • Trip Length = 4 – 5 Days:  Pack Capacity = < 4,900 CI (80 L)
    • Trip Length = > 5 Days:  Pack Capacity = > 4,900 CI (80 L)
  • Will you pack light or pack heavy?  Does your physical condition and preferred level of preparedness require you carry a lot or very little?  What use is a large pack if you are unable to carry more than what a small pack can carry?  Opt for the smaller pack and save several pounds in pack weight.
  • What is your body type?  By body type, we mean torso height, since that is what the GHB will interface with.  Measure your torso and determine what pack size will be most comfortable for you (requires help):
    • Locate your C7 vertebra (the bony protrusion at the top of your back when you lean your head forward).
    • Locate your iliac crest (the pelvic “shelf”):  Have your friend run their hands down your side until they feel your hip bone.
    • Have them place their hands on top of the hip bone with thumbs pointing inward.
    • Measure from C7 to the point that your friend’s thumbs “point” to. Now that you know your torso length, the following are some guidelines for your body type:
      • Torso Length < 15.5”:  Extra Small Pack
      • Torso Length 16” – 17.5”:  Small Pack
      • Torso Length 18” – 19.5”:  Medium Pack
      • Torso Length > 19.5”:  Large Pack
  • Gender?  Take a long look in the mirror and determine what gender you are.  Many brands offer packs that are designed specifically to fit the contours of the female body.
  • Climate?  The colder your climate, the larger the pack you will need.  Cold weather sleeping gear and clothing take up much more space.

GHB Options

Now that you have an idea of what to look for in pack size, let’s examine several options you have to improve fit and make the pack more comfortable:

  • Load-lifter Straps:  Found at the top of the shoulder straps, load-lifter straps prevent the pack from pulling away from your body, disrupting your balance.  When pulled snug, they should form a 45 degree angle with your shoulder straps and the pack itself.  The heavier your load, the more important load-lifter straps are.
  • Sternum Straps:  The strap across your chest.  Improves stability and balance.
  • Hip Belt:  The strap across your hips.  Improves stability and balance.
  • Pack Frames:  Internal (usually lacks ventilation), External (often heavier) and Perimeter (a hybrid that strives to combine the benefits of internal and external) Frames are all designed to direct pack weight towards your hips – one of the body’s largest bone structures supported by some of the body’s largest muscle groups (the upper legs).  Hikers and adventurers have debated which frame system is superior, but there is no clear winner.  Choose based on what “feels” better to you.  The heavier your pack, the more important it is to have a frame.
  • Pockets/Panels/Compartments/Attachment Points:  To easily access your gear, you will need a pack with a variety of storage compartments and attachment options.  Imagine choosing an old military-style duffel bag as your GHB and needing a pair of socks located in the bottom.  You will have to remove everything from your GHB to get those socks.
  • Ventilation:  Very important in hot humid climates, especially if an internal-frame pack is chosen.  In such a scenario, your GHB needs a ventilation system to prevent your back from getting drenched in sweat.
  • Hydration:  Most packs allow you the option of inserting a reservoir (such as a Camelbak).  Water is very heavy, but if you live in an arid climate with little access to surface water, you may be forced to carry much of the water you will need for your trip.
  • Padding:  Padding is important, especially if your pack is heavy.  Ensure the padding on your hip belt and lumbar pad is sufficient for your needs.
  • Durability:  Your pack could be the most important component of your GHB; buy a quality pack from a respected brand.  Be careful if you decide to purchase an ultralight pack.  Ultralight packs utilize lighter materials that are often not as durable.  Some brands to consider include:  Osprey, the North Face, Black Diamond, Kelty and Gregory.

In my new book, Getting Home, we discuss what to load your GHB with.  We also cover other topics such as:  Every Day Carry, the Daypack (such as a purse or a man’s briefcase, etc.), office preps, vehicle preps, caches and other tips and tactics.  Getting Home (ebook) is currently 99 cents, but will go up in price on Friday (probably 3.99); paperback is also available.  Grab it while it’s cheap!

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63 Comments on “Selecting a Get Home Bag (GHB)”

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    I would disagree with the concept that the bag must be larger and the load carried must be heavier when the time period of the expected trip increases. I certainly understand the need for more food and other necessities but the reality is the bag should be light and adequate for 1 day or 7 days. If you have ever hiked any distance with a heavy pack you will agree that the pack becomes your enemy and it tires you and slows you quickly. This effect could doom your goal of getting home in 4 days hiking. The weight takes a toll on your feet, your knees, your back and your shoulders. My goal when planning an extended hike is to have a pack under 25 lbs and preferably under 20 lbs and that includes any rainwear or cold weather gear. I can assure you that a light pack makes it much easier to walk/hike 20 miles a day and if necessary walk further. It makes a huge difference when you are dealing with altitude changes. Paring down your load isn’t easy, everything will look like necessites but the choice is do it now or do it 20 miles down the road. There was a reason why immigrants would leave household items along the trail in their Westward migration to California and Oregon.


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