There is plenty of advice out there about how to make your “go bag” — the apocalyptic backpack you’re urged to fill with survival supplies well before the hills go up in flames. 

But the truth is that actually making your bag involves shopping for a weather radio and digging through your closet for a whistle. It’s a chore that’s all too easy to delay or ignore.   

Read the Berkeley Wildfire Guide.

After publishing a nearly 20,000-word guide to preparing for fire season, Berkeleyside’s staff looked around the video conference room and realized that most of us had yet to pack a bag of our own! 

To encourage you to actually get prepared for wildfires this year, we’re holding Berkeleyside’s first ever go bag photo contest. 

The Berkeley Wildfire Guide includes a list of what to pack, but experts say the best go bags are personalized, and we want to know what you’re putting in yours. 

Snap a picture of your bag and its contents and tell us a little about the choices you made while packing. What’s needed to sustain you for at least 72 hours?

We’ll give you two weeks to assemble your kit before publishing photos of go bags that catch our eye.

If we decide you’ve made the best bag in Berkeley, you’ll win a free Blue Pure 211+ air purifier, which retails for $300 and will be donated by Blueair, to help filter your home’s air of wildfire smoke. Runner-up gets a whistle. 

Submissions are due by Monday, Aug. 23.  

Scroll down to enter the contest, or take a look first into a couple of our go bags:

Zac Farber, managing editor, Berkeleyside

Credit: Zac Farber

I made my first go bag this spring as I packed for my move from Minneapolis to Berkeley. What else would I have done with all my long underwear and midweight fleeces? Inside a spacious, solid red backpack that I’ve toted around since the ninth grade, I stuffed flashlights, spare pills and glasses, a nice warm pair of socks and a hopefully palatable quantity of Clif Bars. After all the tear-gassing in Minneapolis last summer, I’d acquired a half-face 3M respirator with some serious-looking N95 cartridges. I packed that, too. The only item I purchased new was a $30 NOAA weather radio with a hand crank capable of charging a cellphone. Also in my go bag: a copy of the U.S. Constitution that’s been in the backpack since high school and an unread softcover of Kafka’s diaries because … when else? (Not pictured: A 24-pack of plastic water bottles I keep in the trunk of my car.)

Frances Dinkelspiel, co-founder, Berkeleyside

An emergency to-go bag
Credit: Frances Dinkelspiel
emergency kit.
Credit: Frances Dinkelspiel

You’d think that since I lost my house in the 1991 Oakland-Berkeley hills fire, I would be supremely prepared for the next blaze. And I have made a number of emergency kits over the years, stuffed with gloves, toilet paper, canned food, an emergency radio and a book to read. But this contest made me realize all those plastic bins had become buried in my garage, not particularly accessible in an emergency. So I pulled those bins out, reorganized them and placed them outside. Then I realized that what I most missed from when my house burned down 30 years ago were mementos. So now my real go bag has family photos, tape recordings of relatives, videos, some jewelry and legal documents. 

What is a ‘go bag’ and how do I make one?

When you get the order to evacuate, it means now. A “go bag” (also called a “go kit”) is a pre-packed emergency supply kit you can grab quickly as you head out the door, usually a backpack or small duffle bag.

A go bag should contain the supplies necessary to sustain you and your family for a minimum of 72 hours. This is different from a home survival kit, which assumes you’ll be stuck in place without access to water, power or stores.

Prepare one bag for each adult or older child in your household, packing enough supplies for babies and younger kids. If a child is old enough to carry a bag, he or she should have his or her own.

Everything should be as lightweight and portable as possible and in a place that’s easy to remember. You should keep a go bag in the trunk of the car.

Pre-assembled go kits can be purchased on Amazon and at other stores. This may be a helpful solution. The Berkeley Disaster Preparedness Network is passing out free go bags to seniors and people with disabilities.

Many credible sources publish go-bag checklists, and we’ve got one, too. But think beyond the list. What do you need to survive for a few days without guaranteed access to any other source of supplies? The best go bags are personalized. 

What should be in my ‘go bag’?

  • Water: one gallon per person for three days is ideal.
  • Food: a three-day supply of non-perishable protein bars and canned goods (pull tab or pack a small can opener), plus infant formula as needed.
  • Lightweight flashlight or headlamp.
  • Local map with Berkeley Path Wanderers Association walking paths. Highlight two evacuation routes you can take by car and two by foot.
  • First aid kit.
  • Whistle.
  • Back-up cellphone chargers and batteries.
  • Lightweight but warm blanket or sleeping bag.
  • Essential prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications.
  • Spare eyeglasses or contact lenses.
  • Copies of important papers, passports, birth certificates, insurance policies, extra credit cards, cash, and car keys, all in a plastic bag.
  • Printed list of important phone numbers and email addresses
  • N95 or KN95 masks for protection from smoke.
  • Change of clothing.
  • Personal supplies: sanitary pads or tampons, wipes, diapers, toilet paper, hand sanitizer.
  • Diapers and baby wipes, as needed.
  • Mess kit with cups and utensils.
  • Pet supplies, food, leash and medicines.
  • Portable radio or weather radio with back-up or solar batteries.


  • Paper and pen.
  • Laptop or tablet and charger.
  • Puzzle books or small toys for kids.
  • Small comfort items such as stuffed animals, blankets or favorite books.

Evacuation tips (time permitting)

  • Wear sturdy shoes or boots and thick socks.
  • Wear long sleeve shirt, long pants, preferably in cotton or wool in bright colors.
  • Wear a dry bandana or cotton mask (keep the N95 in your bag so it doesn’t melt on your face).
  • Wear a hat with a brim to fend off embers.
  • Have goggles or eye protection.
  • Carry leather work gloves.
  • Do a quick check on your neighbors to the left, right, front and back.

Make sure your go bag isn’t too heavy to carry, and don’t forget your wallet and cellphone as you head out the door.

Learn more about how to prepare for and survive fire season in the Berkeley Wildfire Guide.

Berkeleyside is Berkeley, California’s independently-owned local news site. Learn more about the Berkeleyside team. Questions? Email