“Be prepared” is more than just the Boy Scouts motto; it should be the mantra of every RVer. In fact, most seasoned travelers have had their share of close calls and likely even implemented new practices to ensure they don’t happen again. What about the ones, however, that you don’t have any control over?
Storms and fires can result in natural disasters that can cause serious bodily harm and property damage. There are even times when you may need to quickly evacuate to ensure your personal safety and that of your family or pets. If that is the case, you want to make sure you can quickly gather what you need in case of an extended stay elsewhere. The best way to ensure you have what you need to weather a couple days away from home is to compile your evacuation essentials ahead of time. Consider the following:
Evacuation Essentials List
The first thing you want to consider is the bag itself. It needs to be something that is versatile, has plenty of room, yet doesn't take up too much space, and most importantly, allows you the ability to organize your belongings. You might assess any extra backpacks you have in your RV before going out and buying one.
If you’re like us, however, you may keep the amount of things you travel with to the bare minimum, in which case, it is necessary to find a bag that works best for your personal needs. It may be a good idea to compile the items you plan to include before buying the bag so you don’t end up having a bag that is too small or too large for your needs.
Organization Make sure there is plenty of space in the backpack, as well as several different sized compartments. The greater the number of pockets, closures and zippers on your bag, the more organized you’re likely going to be, which is very important in an emergency situation.
Lightweight In a perfect world, you would never need to evacuate your RV. In an emergency, hopefully you will be able to merely carry your bag of evacuation essentials to your chase car and zip away safely. If your “toad” is still hooked up to your rig, however, or you are traveling without one, you may need to escape on foot. In a true emergency, you may not be able to rely on roads to get where you need to go.
Consider, for example, the scenes that plagued the Gulf Coast region in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The roads were full of traffic jams and many people ended up stranded on top of buildings for days or longer. Therefore, the best bag of essentials is one that is lightweight and comfortable. For example, you should be able to carry your bag of essentials to the nearest storm shelter, whether that be several several blocks or miles away. Look for one with padding along the straps and belt-line
Make a List
In order to make sure that you have the things that are important to you, spend some time making a list. Begin with the list at the end of this post, which provides many common items that people typically include in their survival kits. Cross off any that you think don't apply to you. The goal is to only pack things that you will need and use. You don’t want to needlessly fill your bag with items, however, also think carefully before removing an item.
From there, begin adding to the list. Add everything that comes to mind. Over the next couple of days, keep your list handy; as things occur to you, add them to the list. You'll want to go over the list and remove anything you have decided you don’t need before putting together your bag of essentials; that way you have a lean, yet comprehensive list, tailored toward your specific needs.
Assess What You Already Have Many of the items you will want for your evacuation essentials bag, you probably already have on hand. Rather than buying a new version of each item, try to use any you have on hand first. Especially in the limited space of a motorhome, it is always better to minimize the amount of additional belongings you bring in. If you happen to have a spare of something you need, like as a pair of glasses or contacts, a flashlight, or spare phone charger, go ahead and put it in the bag.
Necessities If your RV ends up totaled after you evacuate, it’s important to have what you need to “rebuild.” For us, that includes our computers. These are our means of accessing our records, as well as earning an income. For this reason, when they aren’t being used, our computers are placed back in the bags in case we need to retrieve them quickly.
They aren’t actually in our bag of evacuation essentials, but are easy to grab and always accessible. For others, quick, easy to reach necessities might include important paperwork. Spend some time thinking about what you might need to help you get back on your feet after a major event (forms of identification, insurance policies, banking information, for example) and make sure you either have a copy in your bag or secured elsewhere.
Clothing Even if it is merely for a day, it is better to have a change of dry clothes when you get to a safe shelter than not. When we had to evacuate, the first thing that we noticed was how incredibly soaked our socks and shoes were. These are the most likely to get wet and cause problems down the road. Additionally, you will want to pack at least two sets of clothing that you can swap out as needed.
It is always important to keep a spare blanket in your bag. Inflatable pillows are also a good idea in case you ever find yourself trying to catch a quick nap. It's also Survival 101 to keep some shelter basics in your vehicle at all times. A few things that could make a difference in an emergency include a sleeping bag and a tarp or tent.
Regardless of the level of emergency or how long you will be inconvenienced, it is important to maintain communication to check on family, keep an eye on the weather, etc. It is also a good idea to keep a spare phone charger in your bag. Perhaps an even better idea would be to invest in a prepaid phone just for emergencies and leave it — along with its charger — in the bag at all times. It was only when we had to evacuate that we realized that both of our phones were nearly dead and that our car charger was still plugged into the outlet in the RV.
Lighting In addition to keeping an adequate light source, such as a headlamp or flashlight in your vehicle, which is necessary for nighttime roadside emergencies, it is also a good idea to place a second one in your bag of evacuation essentials. This way, if you are unable to take or stay with your vehicle, you still have a good source with you.
Buying What You Need When possible, buy spare copies of things that you would use otherwise, as well as things just to be used in case of emergency. Also, make sure to regularly check things that may expire, such as medications, first aid items, and food. Make sure to use and replace them before the date.
Since you don’t know what sort of emergency you may be facing in the future, it is advised to prepare for the worst. In this case, you would definitely need to have some drinking water at your disposal. You should pack a minimum of one liter per day, per person.
You might also want to get some water purification tablets. These enable you to utilize whatever water is available. They’re generally inexpensive and are very small, making them ideal to include in a lightweight bag.
Whether you’re gone for a few hours or a few days, it’s a good idea to have some food, as well as a few gift cards for stores or restaurants. Even if you’re at a storm shelter, you might get hungry and the last thing you want to worry about during a time of emergency is your blood sugar. Plus, being hungry tends to lead to short-tempers and poor decisions, so pack some protein bars or the equivalent in your bag. Make sure to occasionally check the expiration date and exchange as needed. And if you have pets, make sure to pack food and enough water for them, as well.
Additionally, in your chase vehicle, it is a good idea to keep a few basic survival items. Place a few protein bars in the glove box. Keep a small metal cooking pot and perhaps even a small portable stove in your trunk. These could come in handy if you become stranded somewhere.
Firestarter Again, this is a bag of evacuation essentials designed to help you survive nearly any short-term emergency, which is why you should carry some sort of fire starter. You probably won’t need it, but if you ever find yourself stranded in the wilderness or even snowbound in your vehicle, it may be a lifesaver.
It’s also a good idea to pack multiple sources in order to avoid failure. If you plan to bring matches, make sure they’re waterproof and pack them, along with a flint and some tinder like cotton, in a waterproof container.
First Aid Kit
There are many first aid kits that you can buy at most retail stores. Technically, you should have one kit in your RV, one in your toad, and a third in your survival bag. The one in your bag should include a seven-day supply of any needed medication, as well as vitamin C. If there is any flooding involved in the emergency, disease may spread quickly.
Since preparing for an emergency means planning for the likelihood that you will be away from your RV for an undetermined amount of time, it’s a good idea to have a week’s supply of toiletries. You can do this a couple of different ways.
- When you buy a replacement for one of your existing products, buy a spare and put it in the bag
- When you are buying a replacement product you're running low on, buy a new one and place the used one in the bag
- Pick several multi-purpose products.
A cheap roll of toilet paper, for example, can be used as facial tissue, Kleenex, and to wipe one’s hands on, as well as for its intended purpose. We usually keep one container of “baby wipes” in the RV, one in the chase vehicle, and another in the bag. These satisfy multiple functions.
You will want want to find a couple of multi-purpose gadgets that can be used for a variety of tasks. Truthfully, this is where buying a ready-made “survival tool kit” may be a good idea. They often combine a variety of items that you wouldn’t often find together, like a sewing kit, a Swiss army knife, etc. Otherwise, a good Swiss army knife and another multi-tool would probably be all you need.
Self-Defense Whatever your personal feelings are about owning a weapon, it is important to ensure the safety of you and your loved ones. At minimum, this should include a survival whistle, which can help you alert authorities to your location.
Shopping Around Most items in a basic evacuation bag can be found at typical everyday retailers. It is always best to start where you can find the greatest number of items for the least amount of money, then buy the remaining necessities at specialty stores. Just because you want to be prepared, doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of money.
Discount Stores Many of your evacuation essentials an be purchased at discount stores. For example, you can find many toiletries, food items, and flashlights at Costco, Dollar General, or Sam's. Not only are the items here more reasonably-priced, but each store carries such a variety that it can become a virtual “one-stop-shop.”
Outdoor Retailers and Sporting Goods Stores For items that you are unable to find at a discount supply store, or you are looking for a higher-quality or more versatile option, outdoor retailers and sporting goods stores like Bass Pro Shop or Cabela's would be your next bet.
Online If you are still unable to find exactly what you need, you can always look online at places like REI.com, Sportsmanguide.com, or Campmore.comjust to name a few. Many of the items you need can also be found at Amazon, Overstock.com, or on eBay.
Preparing an evacuation kit for your RV is definitely something you hope you will never have to use. Unfortunately, like so many other things, it is much better to have one and never need it than to need one and realize you don’t have it. It was only when we had to quickly evacuate our Tourmaster to avoid the threat of an approaching tornado that we discovered how unprepared we were.
Learn from our mistake and consider assembling an evacuation bag for situations that require you to leave your RV. Check out the following list and feel free to tweak it to make sure you have the items that are necessary or important to you. And remember, if you have children, you may need to have a separate bag set aside with their necessities.