I've been exploring low cost ways to increase resilience in the AI safety community as part of my work on Alignment Continuity; grab bags are one such intervention.
Since the Russia-Ukraine war kicked off, I've had a few EAs ask me about this kind of thing and so I decided that instead of just making a bag I'd make a guide too.

Thanks to everyone that helped and offered feedback and suggestions.


Banana for scale, not emergencies.

Grab bags are a tool for increasing your resilience in emergencies. 

Not to be confused with 'bug out bags' - they are not intended to be your sole resource for several days/weeks spent living in the woods  - it helps to think of a grab bag as an emergency toolkit.

A grab bag is defined as much by where it is as by what's inside it - it's something you have with you, or nearby, most of the time; it's something you can grab with only a moment's notice.[1]

For example, if there's a fire you should be able to reach your bag without delaying your exit from the building.

A few good places to keep a grab bag:

  • Your car
  • Your home office
  • By your front door

Contents and Packing

The contents are organized into several bags[2] - a first aid kit, [yourstuffhere], hygiene kit, utility kit, food and water, and spare clothes (also yours).
The bags are packed in a specific order so everything is easily accessible and the first aid kit is the first thing you see when you open the bag.

Unpacking the bag, also gif version

On the outside of the bag I've added a small LED dongle for ease of access in dark environments and a USB flash drive.

Packing the bag, also gif version

Your Bag

The Bag

A rucksack or backpack is a good option, but I've chosen to build around a drybag - highly waterproof, rugged and much cheaper than a waterproof backpack.

All drybags are more-or-less created equal - this one comes with reflective patches, plenty of attachment points, and a shoulder strap.


20 Litres is the sweet spot for a one person bag, if you opt for a 10L bag you're going to have to make difficult sacrifices with the contents.
 If you find yourself needing 30-40L, for example if making a grab bag for 2+ people, then it might be wiser to use a backpack.

Your Bag

An off the shelf grab bag isn't especially effective. Everyone's needs and situation are different and so the contents of every bag should be tailored to the owner.
Below are some suggestions to help you get started -

Stuff Everyone Should Include

  • Spare clothes (especially multiple pairs of socks and underwear)
  • A small amount of cash - not more than $100

Stuff Relevant to Your Needs

  • Prescription medications[3] (the stuff you literally cannot live without)
  • Spare glasses
  • Birth control
  • Epi-Pen
  • Cigarettes/Nicotine/Anything you're addicted to

Information and Data

  • Photocopies of ID and other important documents[4]
  • Important contact information - phone numbers, emails, addresses - on paper
    • Not just personal contacts, but also stuff like doctors, lawyers etc
  • Local map
    • Bonus points if you spend 15m with a highlighter marking important locations in advance.
  • Backups of important or useful data on a flash drive.[4][5]

High Utility Items

  • Old cell phone (battery stored separately, yes that old)
  • USB Power bank (don't forget cables/adapters)
    • Maintaining optimal shelf life for li-ion batteries: store them at 5-15c, 40-50% charged and discharge/recharge every 12 months.
  • Radio (this is perfect and cheap)
  • Multitool / Knife
    • Obvious caveats concerning legality.

Boredom Isn't Trivial
Seriously, this is something that comes up again and again in accounts of survival situations, e.g -

As his ship was sinking through the Antarctic pack-ice, Ernest
Shackleton allowed each member of his expedition to take 2lbs of
possessions with them as they abandoned ship. One exception was made;
Shackleton saved Leonard Hussey's banjo saying, "We must have that
banjo. It's vital mental medicine."

Some suggestions smaller than a banjo -

  • Playing cards
  • Book - novel, notebook, puzzles
  • Harmonica

First Aid Kit

(caveat: not a doctor or medical professional of any kind, I assembled these items based on fairly exhaustive research of what such people do include/recommend in first aid kits and I then sought feedback from a doctor friend.)

This is a first aid kit designed to be useable by anyone; no training or specialized knowledge required.
Most commercially available first aid kits are substandard, missing obvious yet critical components and rarely contain medicines, as the regulatory burden is too high.

Instructions are included wherever a components use isn't self-explanatory, and all medicines are packed with the official Patient Information Leaflet that they're sold with.

It is also intended that this kit will contain a first aid manual, or excerpts from one. 
But as yet I've been unable to locate the right candidate - something compact, preferably with less of a focus on '... and then call an ambulance' than common first aid manuals.


The first aid kit includes:

  • A woundcare kit with a wide variety of dressings.
  • A medicine kit provides selected[6] OTC medicines – common painkillers, and items that address diarrhoea, allergies, nausea, heart attacks, dehydration, tiredness.
  • ... and various other things.

Full table of contents:
(See footnotes for commentary on the less-obvious stuff)

Outer Bag#Woundcare Kit#Medicine Kit#
Trauma Shears1(Sterile Dressings)2Paracetamol 500mg16
Povidone Iodine[7] Dressing 5x5cm
Nitrile Gloves4 pairsGauze 7.5x7.5cm2Ibuprofen 200mg16
Alcohol Wipes4Gauze 5x5cm2Aspirin[8] 75mg14
Permanent Marker1Low-adherent dressing [9]10x10cm2Loperamide[10] 2mg6
Tweezers1Adhesive dressing 8.6x6cm4Diphenhydramine[11] 50mg4
Gauze for wound cleaning50 swabs'Patch' plaster(bandaid)4Cetirizine[12] 10mg15
Triangular Bandage1'Strip' plaster(bandaid)4Caffeine 50mg12
Saline eye wash2Hydrocolloid Blister Plaster3Rehydration salts[13]12 soluble tablets
  Gauze Bandage2Water purification tablets[14]6+10
  Steri-strips 6x100mm1x10 pack  
  Micropore tape 2.5cm1  
  Ethyl cyanoacrylate glue[15] 1g1  
  Savlon antiseptic cream 15g1  
  Paraffin[16] 15g1  
  Teabags[17] (black or green)2  
  Emergency Dental Filling[18]1  

Honorable Mentions

Certain items didn't make the cut for reasons that had nothing to do with how valuable they can be. This was usually because of cost, but also in some cases because of the potential for harm. I mention a few below that are worth considering:

Fish Antibiotics
Same as human antibiotics, just without the associated regulation and cost.

  • Antibiotics are not a silver bullet, one size fits all treatment.
    This is a better than nothing inclusion, a last resort.
  • Be aware that some people can have serious allergic reactions to some antibiotics[19].
    • These allergic reactions can be life threatening
    • You can become sensitized to antibiotics you were not previously allergic to
    • Reactions can occur immediately, or days to weeks after taking the antibiotic
      • Symptoms
        • minor: rashes, swelling, hives
        • see a doctor immediately: blisters, vision problems, difficulty breathing, dizziness.

Be very wary when purchasing a tourniquet - there's a lot of garbage, and a lot of fakes.
In terms of specific products it's generally agreed that CAT > SOF-T > Nato > don't bother with anything else.

SAM Splint
Easier to apply and more comfortable than an improvised splint.

Superglue for humans, for animals. Same thing, 1/10th the price. Still 20x the price of the stuff I've included, but undoubtedly more fit for purpose.

A Noteable Exclusion - Iodine 

Utility Kit

Low cost, low weight, high utility.

HeadtorchLED, cheap, waterproof, AA battery powered
FFP2+ (or equivalent) masksViruses (obviously), also smoke and pollution. Avoid Chinese (KN) masks as they're not independently tested.
Emergency Whistle 
Disposable waterproof poncho 
Work glovesIf I could have only two of the things from this list, it would be the headtorch and these.
Disposable gloves 
Hi Vis Vest 
Duct tapeNot a whole roll; just a decent length rolled around the lighter
Paracord 10mProbably the least generally useful item, but my inner Sam Gamgee won't let me cut it.
Bin bagsA source of plastic sheeting e.g. if you need a tarp/groundsheet or to seal a broken window. Also generally useful to have extra storage capacity.
Water purification tabletsNaDCC is so cheap that including a (probably/hopefully) redundant amount is still cost effective.
Sleep mask 
Ear plugs 
Emergency blanket 
Safety Goggles Full seal is important. Protection from smoke as well as some chemical/biological dangers.
Elastomeric Respirator100%(99.9~) filtration is significantly better than 95%. These also offer filters effective against organic vapours etc. The GVS Elipse is well reviewed in terms of comfort.
USB Power bankDon't forget cables/adapters.
RadioThis thing is perfect, and can be had off eBay for $20
Multi-tool / knifeObvious legal caveats.

Hygiene Kit

The essentials of hygiene are something we take for granted until we have to live without them. Poor hygiene quickly becomes an irritant, and can lead to serious illness.

SoapBar of
WetwipesPack of, can be used as toilet paper
Toothbrush and toothpaste 
Hand sanitizer gel70% alcohol, not a replacement for handwashing
Bottle bidetLiterally a screwtop bottle cap with an angled hole in the top. Some backpackers swear by these.
Tampons / Sanitary PadsNot gender specific, not optional. Under normal conditions if someone around you needs these and doesn't have them, it's a god awful day. In an emergency it's a potentially life threatening handicap.
Nail clippersEspecially toenail clippers, as mobility (and thus foot health) is critically important in a crisis. Ingrown toenails can easily lead to infections and often require surgical intervention.

Food and Water

We include food and water for the same reason we include painkillers and caffeine pills - in an emergency situation you need to be at your best; anything which limits your functionality, drains your energy, or distracts your focus can be life threatening in an emergency.

Thus food and water are included not in large quantities as med-long term rations, but as short term fixes for immediate problems.

A 500ml bottle of water and ~800kcal of non-sugary food (we want to avoid energy crashes) with a long (1yr minimum) shelf life are sufficient.

e.g. , or a bag of nuts/trail mix.

Costs and Suppliers

I've been highly budget conscious with every part of this grab bag. I believe I've struck a good balance between cost and effectiveness.

If taking advantage of economies of scale and producing these in batches, the cost per bag is around $120~[20] (roughly: $20 for the bag, $40 for the first aid kit, $30 for the utility kit, $20 for the hygiene kit, <$10 for food and water)

If producing only a single bag it will be significantly more expensive: $160~, mostly due to the first aid kit (and you'll have quite of bit of leftover medical stuff).


I wish I could point you towards a single source for all of this stuff, but I had to hunt around Amazon and eBay in order to find everything at decent prices. One suggestion I will make for those following this guide is to print off the list of contents for the first aid kit and take it to your local pharmacy - buying medical supplies online is a headache (even OTC stuff) and even sometimes more expensive than buying them from a bricks and mortar pharmacy.

The most efficient way of producing these is to get together in groups of 5~ or more and have one person do all the ordering/packing/distribution[21].
I'm currently available to do that for EAs in the UK.

  1. ^

    This doesn't mean you have to carry it around with you all the time - an inconvenient bag is just as useless as an unreachable one (because it is likely to become the latter when you inevitably get tired of it and stuff it in a closet).

  2. ^

    The 'kit' bags are ziploc slider bags in a mix of two sizes - gallon and quart (blame Ziploc for the imperial units). They're perfectly sized, quite sturdy, and reduce costs significantly compared to dedicated organizers or stuff sacks.

  3. ^

    Make a note of their expiry date and set a reminder on your phone/PC etc to rotate them. However most medicines are effective significantly beyond their expiry date so you've got a fair bit of slack.

  4. ^

    Caveat: if your bag is going to be left unattended in a publicly accessible or shared space, e.g. office, this could be risky.

  5. ^

    Good backup habits are hard, but increasingly relevant. You should expect to be the victim of a ransomware attack in your lifetime.

  6. ^
  7. ^

    The most potent antiseptic in the kit. 

  8. ^

    Not for use as a painkiller, but for use in preventing and mitigating heart attacks.

  9. ^

    Can be used wherever a large dressing is needed, but is especially good for burns.

  10. ^


  11. ^

    For acute allergies, also offlabel use as a sedative and to reduce nausea

  12. ^

    For chronic allergies (e.g. hayfever), non-drowsy (for most people)

  13. ^

    If you know where I can get the WHO ORT stuff, please tell me. The commercially available stuff is seriously overpriced.

  14. ^

    I've included two types, one (NaDCC) is very cheap and mostly effective - would be ideal for treating dubious tapwater. The other (CLO2) is 100x more expensive but far more effective and can be used with just about any water. I've also included instructions :)

  15. ^

    Using superglue to close wounds is usually a bad idea, but sometimes it's appropriate or necessary. Cyanoacrylate is the least-bad non-medical glue for this purpose. There are instructions included with the glue to help users determine when/when not to use it.

  16. ^

    Anything that can work as a moisturizer, basically. Paraffin (same stuff as vaseline) comes in more convenient tubes.

  17. ^

    A home-remedy for drawing out infections, especially useful for dental infections. Not a cure, but a practically zero cost intervention that could provide some relief.

  18. ^

    If/When you don't have access to dental care, a broken tooth or lost filling is an emergency in itself.

  19. ^

  20. ^

    At time of purchase, with inflation being what it is assume this is already 10% higher :S

  21. ^

    Distribution is also a problem in many countries as there can be strict regulations on sending many of the components via post (e.g. medicines, lighter)

New Comment
1 comment, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since:

Very nice. A couple of things that I'd add:

  • Needles and thread - very useful and very light. Though this is something worth having on you anyway
  • Lighters are vulnerable to getting wet - an alternative are non safety matches with the heads covered in wax. Either way, a waterproof container, like the ones that used to be used for camera films, is a good idea
  • A small compass - less useful if you have a good, local map and can tell where you are, but otherwise worth while
  • If you're liable to go into more wild areas, i.e. not only urban settings, and have extra capacity, then a hatchet is very useful
  • an aluminum cup/can - this allows you to cook stuff, or to collect liquids other than water (which you have your bottle for)