Luggage: Packing for Collapse

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on December 17, 2017

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A Baggage Planning Guide for Kollapsniks

You may be wondering what Luggage has to do with Collapse and why I am writing this article for the Doomstead Diner?

If you have been following the stories of the last week in Sunny Incendiary California, you have no doubt been treated to many stories of people who escaped "just with the clothes on their backs".  Others with a bit more warning packed some things at the last minute, but it was relatively willy nilly, whatever was around to grab.  A few relatively intelligent people had their carz pre-packed and ready to go, but that was only AFTER the Ventura fire really got rolling.  Just about everyone was taken by surprise when Ventura ballooned up from 50 acres to 50,000 acres in a matter of hours.

Your Luggage, that which you can carry with you by hand if necessary, constitutes your FINAL BUGOUT set.  I have written about this before in the Bugout Bags series, here I'm going to expand on this and go into a little more detail on the bags you want packed and ready to go ALL THE TIME.

I've been a Luggage Freak since my first years in Elementary Skule after Kindergarten, when I first needed to start carrying with me my notebooks, pencils and pens, rulers and eraser and my Lunch bag too!  Then maybe a rain slicker and hat if the weather looked like it might change later in the day.  There was a lot of stuff to pack for a day at Skule! I was living in Brasil at the time, and back in those days pretty much the only school bags you could find were the kind you carried with your hand by a handle on top.  Sometimes they had an auxiliary shoulder strap, but it was always very thin and cut into your shoulder uncomfortably with any significant weight. They also broke at the attachment point of bag to strap in short order if you carried them this way regularly.  On these cheap bags, the attachments weren't well reinforced. Carrying by hand of course took one hand out of service for doing other things, plus your arm gets tired if you carry a heavy bag by the handle for any significant length of time.

Having some experience with Backpacks as a camper, I always wanted one of those for carrying my Skule Gear.  However, the ones available in those years were too big.  Chinese and Indian women and children were not yet sewing up millions of backpack-sized school bags in endless configurations in those years.  That didn't take off until numerous years later, in fact it wasn't until I had graduated from HS bags of that style began to appear, now including well padded shoulder straps as well as wheels, copying the airline bags.  This has driven down the price of these bags, and you can get really nice ones in the $20 range.  2 or 3 of these bags in different configurations is an important aspect of your Luggage Arsenal. One of these bags should contain copies of all your most important documents, themselves encased in some kind of case or water-tight bag inside the backpack.  It is the Essentials Bag. Birth Certificate, Passport, Property Titles, Auto Registrations, Marriage documents, tax records etc.  You want the originals similarly protected, but they need additonal protection and should be stored separately.  Bank safe deposit boxes are one choice, burying them in a waterproof safe box another..  For the scramble to GTFO of Dodge though, copies are good enough.  Your Wallet with your Credit/Debit Cards, Medical Insurance Cards, CASH, Blank Checks, FSoA Passport Card and Drivers License is even more important, this NEVER leaves my person.  I sleep with it in the pocket of my pajamas.  My smart phone also is also never more than an arm's reach away.  At the desk, it is plugged in to stay topped off on charge all the time.  When I go to sleep, I plop it next to my pillow.  When I visit the Throne, it comes with me to surf the web while I exert the effort necessary to excrete.  There is no Bugout Situation I can envision where I would not have my Wallet and my Smart Phone with me.

The Essentials Bag is always kept in a "go out the door" location.  This can literally be by the front door, or in my case I keep it by my desk where I am sitting almost all the time I am not sleeping, which itself is a location only a few feet away from the desk.  If I feel a quake (happens regularly here), I am out the door with my essentials bag in under a minute.  That is on Cripple time.  When the legs worked right, I was out the door in 10 seconds.  I made that trip out the door twice in the last decade, in neither case did the building come down but if it did I would not have been crushed under it.

Even in a Wildfire situation though where a neighbor or a fireman pounds on your door to rouse you and inform you of the MANDATORY EVACUATION and you look up on the hillside and see an inferno bearing down on your McMansion, you generally have more than a minute to get packed up and rolling.  Again in the reports from CA, residents evacuating usually took 5-10 minutes to throw a few possesions into bags, throw the bags into the SUV and put the Pedal to the Metal to run the gauntlet through the Inferno and hopefully to safety.

If you have that 5-10 minutes, you can do a lot better than just the Essentials Bag, with the Full Luggage Kit, previously packed and also all ready to go at a moment's notice.  What is the FLK?

The FLK is the full gamut of bags you can take with you on an airplane, bus etc but still manage to carry them all yourself in some manner.

The typical FLK consists of 4 bags, the aforementioned Essentials Bag, a Carry-On Wheely Bag you can bring yourself on the plane and 2 more larger Wheely Bags you can check in the baggage compartment, now at $25/each as long as you stay under the 50# limit for each of those bags.

RE's current FLK (approximately, not the exact models I have but close)

How do you carry all those bags at once?  There are a couple of alternatives.  Usually, I stack the two medium size bags with the smaller one on top, and the Essentials Bag on top of the large bag, then pull each of them with one arm.  At least I used to do that, now I get the Airport Wheel Chair Jockeys to do it for me.  However, you can also carry the Essentials Bag on your back and make a "train" out of the wheely bags to pull them with one hand if necessary.  Only do that on flat ground though, uphill too heavy, downhill uncontrollable.

The luggage manufacturing people over in Pakistan also provide these in many configurations made of different materials, from very soft-side stuff like Duffels to semi-soft side ballistic nylon to true hard side made from various polymers or sometimes aluminum.  Each type has advantages and disadvantages. Soft Side

Advantages: Generally the lightest in weight themselves, and when empty can be folded up and stowed away taking up little room.  Also usually the cheapest alternative.

Disadvantages: Provide the least protection from damage to interior items, and little to no security against theft.

Best Use: Extra clothing you can easily replace if stolen, sleeping bags, tents etc. Semi-Soft Side

Advantages:  The rigidity provided around the edge of the bag to hold shape offers some protection to interior items.  They also usually come today with their own wheels, so you don't usually have to fully carry them, just wheel them around from the luggage carousel to the taxi, etc.  Because this is the most popular type sold in stores like Walmart & Target, they also come in pretty cheap.

Disadvantages:  Significant increase in the weight of the bag itself, meaning you have less cargo capacity (mainly an airline problem).  When empty, you can't fold them up for stowage, although when purchased in sets they will usually "nest" when empty so you only have the footprint of the largest of the bags to stow in a closet or under the bed.  Almost as low security as soft bags, all it takes is a pocket knife to cut through the fabric of the bag, so if you are in a shelter for instance, your personal property is not very secure when you are not around, even if the bag is locked. Hard Side

Advantages: Provides the most protection for interior items, both from damage in transit as well as security against theft.  It takes a bit more than a pocket knife to break into one of these bags, although granted not a lot more.  They are also more waterproof than either of the other types of bags, although they will not survive a complete submersion without the interior items getting soaked, unless you also seal them in waterproof bags.  If you live in a neighborhood where Flooding is a problem, you definitely want to waterproof your valuables as best you can.  If they are Full Aluminum, they also will serve as Faraday Cages and protect from EMPs and identity theft of RFID chips you may have inside.  Weight varies tremendously on hard side luggage.  You can get some variations even lighter in weight than semi-soft, but the materials used can be expensive or they skimp on thickness and they are not as strong and will develop cracks over time.  They can also get "torqued" with bad baggage handling and misalign when trying to close them, rendering them pretty much useless.

Disadvantages:  Like Semi-Soft, they don't fold up for stowage but they also do nest when empty, so not too much difference here.  Possibly a more attractive target for thieves, since they figure if you are using hard side luggage you probably have valuables in it.  Rather than break into it, they may simply take the whole case if they have the opportunity.  Use a cable lock on some fixed object to minimize this risk.  The frame on your cot in the shelter probably will work for this.  In the airport, lock to the row of seats you are taking your nap on while waiting for your plane to be deiced.

What goes in them?

If you add the 3 bags of a typical luggage set to your Essentials Bag as already packed and ready to go out the door bags in a fast evacuation scenario, you have a LOT more room to work with and can carry much more of your personal belongings.  Now it becomes a challenge of deciding what should go in these bags and how it should be organized?  There is no single answer to that question, since for some people it might mean photo albums and family memoribilia, for others it might mean stuff you will need while you live on the road or couch surfing with friends and relatives until you (hopefully) can return home. On the photo albums issue, in the modern world this shoudn't be a problem at all.  Nobody has so many pictures in photo albums they won't all fit on a Micro-SD Card that fits in your wallet.  You can also store on DVD-R and have copies sprinkled around to friends and relatives.  Also store them up on the Cloud.  The folks who have this problem are generally older folks who never figured out how to scan a picture, or who were too lazy to do so.  I don't have a lot of sympathy for this problem.

Other memoribilia though can be tougher.  Your dad's Purple Heart from WWII maybe fits, but you're not going to pack his Dress Uniform.  Your daughter's Gold Medal from L5 State Championships for Gymnastics maybe fits, but you're not going to pack all her leotards from the time she was 5.  Your prized Fender Guitar signed by Eddie Van Halen won't fit any of the luggage, but maybe you can carry it on the side.  You definitely can't carry the Steinway Piano though, that is firewood.

I'm not big on the memoribilia conservation, so I allocate my space more to what I think I will need with me to make my time as an evacuee a little more comfortable and tolerable, if not pleasant.  In order from smallest to largest, here is how I distribute out what I want ready to go in an emergency situation.

22" Wheely Bag

Mostly electronics and communication equipment.  Laptop, Tablet, Spare phones, Small Cameras, Flashlights, Chargers, SW Radio, Walkie Talkies, Batteries.  Also in this bag goes some road food, water bottle and various small tools.  Since all these things are rather dense, the weight of this bag can be quite substantial and you have to watch the weight more than the volume of stuff you drop into it.  Remember you may have to hoist it into an overhead compartment on the plane.

25" Wheely Bag

Change of clothing, underwear, socks, hoody sweatshirt, rain jacket & hat.  Not a massive amount of clothing, this can mostly be easily replaced at the nearest Target once you reach a safe location.  Still good to have some extra clothes though in case problems are more widespread and there are no open Targets.  This bag still has at least half the space empty, which I have my big camera kit in, a camping stove, mess kit and some freeze-dried Mountain House food.

28" Wheely Bag

This gets 3 items which take up just about the whole bag: sleeping bag, pad & popup tent.  Since I live in a cold climate, remaining space is for additional layers of winter clothing: Hat, Gloves, Scarf, Insulated vest, long underwear, insulated jacket.  Bulky stuff but not heavy.  If you are not worried about real cold weather, you have a lot more room to work with.

The only bag not packed and ready to go all the time is the Electronics bag, because I use that stuff all the time.  It also needs to be regularly charged up.  However, it is all also close by me all the time and it doesn't take long to throw it in the bag.  The two larger bags sit packed all the time in the front closet.  Total time to get out the door and into SaVANnah (my full-size raised roof conversion van & emergency home-on-wheelz, aka BUGOUT MACHINE!) in the event Mt. Redoubt goes Ballistic, about 5 minutes.

SaVANnah on a Bugout Rehearsal Run

What type of luggage you choose is to some extent a matter of preference, although soft side is really only appropriate for clothing and your sleeping gear made of cloth.  Stuff that can't be damaged by the luggage monkeys handling your bags.   For the rest of the bags, it's either semi-soft or hard side.  When I moved to Alaska, I had already been living out of bags and containers during my trucking years.  However, the containers (PVC generally) really weren't good for taking on a plane, so I bought a set of 3 semi-soft bags from Victorinox, the Swiss Army Knife people.  I always was satisfied with the quality on their pocket knives over the years, and the bags held up pretty well. This set of luggage has lasted me over a decade for many trips.  However, recently one of the carry handles on the largest bag ripped off, but even more disastrous was I used the medium size bag to transport some frozen Sockeye Salmon and Alaska King Crab down to Seattle for the Great Tombstone Adventure, and they leaked melting fish water into the bag.  It STUNK on arrival in Seattle and had to be sent to the Land of Away.

So I decided it was time for a new set of luggage, and this time I went for a 2 piece true Hard Side set with aluminum frames which came in at the amazingly low price of $70.  For BOTH of them.  I remember when Samsonite luggage like this sold for $100s of dollars a piece.  There has been a lot of deflation in luggage costs.

I was concerned the quality might not be too good, but they have already arrived and seem sturdy enough to me at the moment.  We'll need to wait for the next Adventure to do a field test on them.

To finish up here on organizing your Emergency Bugout luggage, I mentioned that it was a good idea to have at least 2 or 3 of the smaller backpacks as part of your ensemble.  Why do you need that (or at least want it) when you are already maxed out with 4 bags, 2 for carry-on the plane and 2 more to drop in checked baggage?  Well, you can drop more than that in checked baggage, but it will be expensive.  Besides that, more than 4 bags and it becomes about impossible to move them around yourself, even just from baggage carousel to a cab outside. The reason is for organizational purposes where you do "Bag in a Bag".  Particularly with larger luggage, if you don't have your stuff inside organized in some way and just throw it in the bag, digging around to find it when you open up the bag messes up the whole bag.  Also you often can't find what you are looking for at all!

These bag in bags differ markedly from the ones you use independently.  For those, you like to have a heavy duty material for the bag along with some exterior compartments and attachment points for bungees and other stuff.  For the bag in bags, it is just the opposite.  You want thin lightweight material for the bag, and few to no exterior pockets.  Extra pockets on these bags just makes it too complicated, you forget which pocket on which bag you stored something.  Many bag configurations work well for bag in a bag.  There are lightweight backpacks, gym bags, mini-duffels, laundry bags etc.  Generally you should spend no more than $10 for a bag in bag.

Also mentioned was waterproofing the interior contents of your bags, particularly if your main concern is flooding.  No bag that is light enough to be a travel bag is going to be completely waterproof.  Generally all 3 types will shed water pretty well from light rain/drizzle, at least if not left out too long.

For harder rain, the soft side luggage fails first.  If you haven't done anything else to protect and waterproof the clothing inside, it will be soaked in at most a couple of hours.  However, it's EZ to vastly improve on this problem with a simple disposable lawn waste bag lining the interior when you pack it.  Or you can use multiple smaller trash bags.  The same is true for semi-soft side luggage.

Hard side luggage is pretty much impervious to rain no matter how hard it is coming down, with this exception: Hard Side Zipper Closure bags.  The zipper has cloth to either side where it attaches to the bag, and this is a failure point for the leakage of water.  Besides that, it makes the hard side luggage as vulnerable as the other two types of luggage to EZ theft with a pocket knife.  Don't ever buy hard side luggage with zipper closure!  It defeats the entire purpose and all the advantages of hard side.

Hard side does have one advantage in flooding situations, which is if it is not to heavily loaded it will float, at least for a while.  They are not water tight to submersion though. If you are really obsessive and worried about water damage, particlarly to electronic devices, you'll need to get water-tight cases or bags for them.  These are available in a myriad of sizes and configurations as well, generally sold in the Fishing & Camping dept of your local Superstore.  The issue here is the more of them you use, the less actual serviceable room you have inside the containing bag.  I don't bother with these, flooding is not my major concern and I don't see much likelihood of the luggage getting submerged in an evacuation.

Once you have your complete Evac Luggage Kit organized and ready to go, for the Kollapsnik Prepper it offers great peace of mind that you have done the best you can to be ready for collapse when it shows up on your doorstep, as it can at any time, anywhere, as the folks in SoCal are now aware.  When it does show up, there is often little warning and no time to figure out all the stuff you need, find it and pack it up.  If you have done it in advance though, you can be out the door in 5 minutes with a decent kit of stuff that will keep you fairly comfortable for a week or two at least of couch surfing while you figure out how you will afford to rebuild your McMansion, considering your workplace also burned down and you have no job either.  Your luggage system will not solve this problem.

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