Estimated reading time: 21 minutes
INCH Stands for “I’m Never Coming Home” and If That’s The Case, You Had Better Think Twice Before You Pack.
A common survival concept is the idea of the 72-hour kit or bug out bag. It’s the stuff you would need in case you had to abruptly evacuate your home for three days and were totally dependent on the contents of the bag. But an INCH bag requires a whole different mindset and approach.
It’s not about what’s going to get you through 72 hours but what you’ll need to sustain yourself day after day. The basic assumption is that you don’t have a pre-determined bug out location and are essentially wandering towards a better destination.
But packing an INCH bag is one thing. Understanding why you would have to embark on such an extreme evacuation and acquiring the skills to survive it come long before you pack your bag.
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Why Would You Never Come Home Again?
It seems implausible to think about leaving home and never returning. A few people have sadly made that choice for personal reasons, but this has more to do with conditions and situations beyond someone’s control.
A current example is the combination of the severe economic downturn due to the pandemic and the raging fires across the American West. People who have lost their homes to fire and are both broke and unemployed may have no alternative but to turn their back on ever going home.
The worst-case scenario for an INCH event is following a widespread and catastrophic disaster. The fires in the west are certainly catastrophic but still localized. When all of society is pushed to extreme degrees, the rules change and permanent relocation becomes desirable for many people.
There is a long historical precedent for this behavior, and a word has emerged to define those forced to do it. They’re called “refugees.”
An INCH Kit is Just a Start
If you take it literally, never coming home again means you’re packing a bag for life. That’s unrealistic to a large degree, although many photos of refugees from the past show them doing just that, and many carried what they could on their backs.
Like any refugee, packing an INCH survival kit is about assembling the items you need to sustain yourself until you figure out how you’re going to reestablish your lifestyle and your new home. This isn’t about a long camping trip; it’s about starting a new life because you have no choice.
Does It All Have To Fit In A Backpack?
No, but in an effort to prioritize equipment and supplies, we’re going to take the INCH backpack approach. In actual fact, if you were leaving home for good and had options, you would most likely pack a vehicle with a trailer attached and a loaded roof rack.
That type of journey would present its own set of challenges, but in an effort to keep this simple, we’re only going to cover what one person would need and could carry on their back in an INCH scenario. However…
Common Sense Considerations
Just you or others?
Most of what we read about bug out bags and INCH kits seem to assume that one person is going to set out and have no one to think about but themselves. In actual fact, most people bug out or evacuate with family or friends. If only one of you has any equipment or supplies, things are going to get challenging quickly.
If you’re traveling in a group, plan to pack individual INCH bags for each person in your group. Keep in mind that with numerous people and packs, you don’t have to assemble each pack the same way. Everyone should have a sleeping bag, but how many tents do you really need for four of you if you have one tent that sleeps four?
In the woods or in the city?
Another common assumption is that everyone who evacuates or bugs out is heading for the woods. Anyone with any wilderness survival experience knows that a forest or wilderness area offers plentiful resources and relative safety, but you may find that you are stuck in a city or suburban environment, at least for a time.
Think about equipment and behaviors in an urban environment and how that differs from what you would need or do in a wilderness environment. It’s easy to assume you can always build a fire for heat and cooking, but is that a viable option if you’re spending a few days in an abandoned parking garage? You need to think about, plan, and possibly pack for other possibilities.
Location, destination, and climate factors.
Think about where you live and where you may end up for any permanent evacuation. Terrain and weather factors vary across North America. If your ultimate destination is in the desert of the American Southwest, your gear and other items are going to be very different than they would be for the Canadian Rockies. The same is true if you plan to stay in a city or a suburb.
You also have to consider seasons. Most INCH kit information seems to assume summer with a bit of planning for cold weather. If you are going to be living through four distinct seasons, you need to think about what’s to come. Our tendency is to sometimes pack for the immediate season. Think ahead to what’s coming in your area as time goes on.
The world will go on.
Too many INCH scenarios seem to assume a Mad Max environment where technology is back to the stone age. Ironically, it doesn’t take armageddon to put some people into an INCH situation. The world will go on to varying degrees and things like cash, debit cards, cell phones, and the Internet will most likely still be fully functional depending on the area and conditions.
It’s worth noting that the Internet was specifically designed by the Defense Department to survive global thermonuclear war.
You may also find that resources like stores are still available, but you’ll need some form of currency or at the worst, barter items to buy anything you need since credit and debit cards may not be accepted. Once again, it’s all a matter of degree depending on events, location, and how things evolve.
An INCH level bug out may not be possible for some.
Even if events are extreme, some people won’t be able to pursue this level of bug out. Large, extended family groups are a good example.
There’s a reason so many people continue to live in desperate cities and towns around the world that are constantly threatened by civil war, famine, and worse. They have no choice, and their devotion to their young children, elderly family members, or family members with medical conditions simply make this level of extreme evacuation impossible.
In those situations, people do the best they can and wonder if the day will ever come when they can get away and leave the worst behind. For those who have the physical ability and knowledge to make the move, here’s how to make it happen.
3 Critical Success Factors in an INCH Scenario
How you pack to sustain yourself for 72 hours is a far cry from what you would need to survive day after day. Here are some classic fails and some better alternatives:
Batteries. Forget about it. Anything that requires batteries to function is going to fail you and relatively quickly. Better alternatives are any powered device that can be recharged either with solar power or hand-cranked. You could try using a solar charger to recharge some rechargeable batteries if you must, but a common complaint is that they charge less and less with each recharge.
Matches. Bad idea. A box of waterproof matches might get you through a few days of fires but eventually, you’ll run out. The same goes for a disposable lighter or a lighter like a Zippo that requires regular refilling and flints. It makes sense to learn some basic fire-starting skills without matches, but think about magnesium fire sticks or rechargeable lighters. Fire is going to be very important, so make sure you think long term.
Food. Think about it. It’s wise to carry some food to get you through a bad day or two, but over time you’re going to need to find your own. Basic fishing gear is a good start and anything you can use to hunt game. Wild foraging knowledge is a good idea as well. And maybe some seeds to plant for when you hunker down at an established spot.
Water. You can’t take it with you. Always carry some, but know that finding and purifying water is going to be a constant challenge. It’s actually more important than food. You can go for weeks without food. You won’t make it past 3 days without water.
Camouflage. Good idea. You want to blend in. But while military camos work well in the woods, they make you stand out in a city. Dress for the environment if you want to keep a low profile.
You can have the best and most expensive equipment and supplies in the world, but they’re meaningless if you don’t know critical survival skills like shelter building, wilderness cookery, water purification, and other fundamental survival tactics. And don’t ignore the unique challenges of surviving in a city after a disaster.
Take the time to learn and practice some fundamental skills. A desperate situation is a bad time to learn how to do anything for the first time, and there will be more than enough first-time events to keep you busy. Here are some basic skill sets you should take the time to master:
Fire starting. Learn how to construct a fire from various materials, how to start it without matches, how to sustain it, how to build a fire in rain and snow, how to design fire for cooking, warmth, signaling, or incognito.
Water collection. Learn how to locate, collect, purify, and store water. Learn all of the different methods for filtering, purification, and some of the obscure locations and techniques for finding and collecting water from digging to evaporation to desalinating saltwater and collecting rainwater.
Wild foraging. Learn about which plants you can eat and which are toxic or poisonous. The same goes for basic fishing and hunting skills. And think about what you would do in a city or suburban environment where natural foods aren’t as prevalent.
Orienteering. Make sure you know how to find your way as you travel. Basic map and compass orienteering is a good place to start. And then practice.
Medical knowledge. Learn basic and advanced first aid. You can sign up for classes at a community college or find information on the Internet or in books. And don’t stop at bandages. Learn about suturing open wounds, burn treatments, choking, and other serious conditions that you can actually do something about. And it’s not just about treatment. Knowing how to diagnose basic conditions is crucial.
Shelter and other construction. If you find a spot where you think you may remain for a while, think about constructing a more permanent shelter. But you’ll need the skills to do it.
And while you’re at it, take time to learn how to build other basic things from furniture to latrines to other survival items you can build from nature or found materials. In fact, urban and suburban environments may offer you more options for improvised construction than any field or forest.
Repairs. If it breaks, you need to fix it because you may not be able to replace it. Think of what you might need for repairs—anything from a sewing kit to duct tape to baling wire. Look at your equipment and think about what supplies and knowledge you would need to fix it.
Communication. Pack your cell phone and make sure you can do a solar recharge, but take the time to learn basic survival communication including Morse code, semaphore (flag and hand signals), ground to air hand signals and body language, trail marking symbols, and if you have the portable equipment and are so inclined, Ham radio. Phoning home isn’t easy for someone who’s never coming home.
It’s hard to imagine leaving home forever, but in many respects, you’re simply moving to a new home under extreme and threatening conditions. If you’re reading this, it may be in the back of your mind that it could happen, and it may be worth taking time to make some basic plans:
- What could happen to cause you to make such a serious decision?
- Where would you go?
- Who would accompany you?
- Who should you inform and not inform of your departure and destination?
- What preliminary steps would you have to take immediately, from consolidating and collecting investments and cash on hand to figuring out how to keep in touch with any companies, financial institutions, or other organizations that you depend on?
- Where would you forward your mail and yes, the mail might continue to go through. At least that was the idea in the movie The Postman.
- What other decisions or notifications would you implement if you were simply moving to a new home or apartment? An INCH scenario is a radically different approach to relocating, but it may be presumptuous to think that everything in the world is falling apart just because things are so bad in your part of the world.
Long-Term Survival Basics
We’ll cover some lists for items you should put into an INCH kit, but it may be more important to think conceptually so you can adjust items to your current situation and destination. On a fundamental level, here are the things you’ll need to keep going. And here again, all specific items are assuming one person.
It’s probably a good idea to carry a basic shelter that’s camouflaged to your surroundings, has a low profile, and sleeps one comfortably. Remember, you’ll probably want to build a more permanent shelter when you decide to stay at a location.
Never put an emergency blanket over the top of you when sleeping. They are waterproof and capture condensation from perspiration. Put them underneath or use them to wrap around you on a cold day. They can also be used to collect rainwater.
You should have a weapon for defense and you can use that for hunting in a wilderness area. Shooting at squirrels in a city park may be a bad idea. A slingshot might be better. Seeds are small and light. Bring some.
Two concepts to remember: Purification and storage. A LifeStraw is a great idea for on-the-spot purification of water. Water purification tablets are also important, and you should always have a way to boil water for purification and cooking. Storage containers from canteens to camelbacks are the best way to store and transport water.
Think about what you’ll be cooking and how you plan to cook it and eat it. A basic cook kit is obvious but also think about a portable stove in case you have to cook in an urban or suburban environment where an open fire might be a problem, or if you just want to keep a low profile while cooking.
You should pack for the weather, but you can only pack so much. Think about an extra bar of soap for doing laundry. Priorities include socks, at least one pair of pants with multiple pockets, a hat for summer and one for winter, and gloves.
Other clothing is up to you, but clothes take up a lot of space in a pack, so keep it to a minimum in terms of quantity and make sure you have enough to stay warm. Don’t forget rain gear and the best boots you can buy. It’s going to be a long, long walk.
If you have a recurring condition, pack accordingly. Put together a kit of OTC medicines and if you take prescription meds, pack as many as you can get and learn about natural alternatives if refills are unavailable.
A kit of personal care items would include soap, razor, comb, handkerchiefs (more sustainable than tissue), toilet paper (learn about natural alternatives), toothbrush and toothpaste, and any other items you would need to take care of yourself. Rarely mentioned are tampons or feminine pads, and that’s another area where natural alternatives are worth understanding.
This is not just about cutting firewood but constructing everything from shelters to camp equipment and furnishings. Tools with built-in, multiple functions are a good idea including a shovel, ax, saw, multipurpose tools, sheath knife, portable tool kit, baling wire, duct tape, nails (worth their weight for basic construction), and a machete.
Take your cell phone even if the service isn’t working at the time of departure. Have a way to solar recharge it, and think about how you’ll pay your monthly bill.
You should also consider a solar rechargeable or hand crank rechargeable all-purpose radio/flashlight with a USB recharging slot for other electronics, including your phone.
There is a brand of lighters known as Tesla that uses sparks across a gap to light a fire. It can be recharged in a USB port. That’s another reason why a dedicated solar panel or a solar-powered radio with USB ports to recharge electronics is so important.
You should also have a few magnesium fire sticks. They’re cheap, reliable, and last and last. Don’t take fire for granted.
Maps and Orienteering
Bring as much cash as you can. Spread it around in your pack, socks, pocket, money belt, and anywhere else in case you get robbed. Bring credit cards and some prepaid debit cards.
Don’t assume you’ll be forever wandering deserted streets like in the movie “The Book of Eli.” Even in a worst-case scenario, there will be pockets of civilization that will increase over time.
Driver’s License, Passport, Birth certificate, Marriage certificate, pack any papers that define you legally in any way. Seal any paper in a watertight plastic sleeve or tube. If you leave them behind and you’re never coming back, they’re gone.
Title and deed to property, life insurance policies, anything you value or may have stored in a safe deposit box should also be sealed in a watertight container and carried with you. As bad as things may be at the moment of your departure, hope for the best.
If it’s small, sentimental, and means a lot to you, take it with you. This could be as simple as some treasured photos or your grandfather’s watch.
A consistent recommendation is a rifle and a sidearm. Plan to carry more ammo for the rifle than the sidearm. It won’t be cheap in this kind of environment or easy to come by if you run out. Use it judiciously. The caliber, type, and brand are up to you. Spare ammo can be used as barter.
This is going to be a very heavy load. It could be up to 60 pounds or more. Make sure you have a backpack with a frame and padding and adjustments to organize the weight and the load.
Here are some other things to think about when packing:
- Compartmentalize gear based on function and need.
- Cooking gear should be consolidated in one smaller pack but can be packed internally in the larger pack along with other items that you only use when you make camp.
- Items more frequently used should be in outer pockets or compartments that are easily reached.
- Everything should be packed together in smaller packs or stuff sacks based on their general function.
- Your tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad should be attached to the outside of your pack. Make sure the sleeping bag and pad are contained in waterproof stuff sacks.
- Keep frequently used items like a compass, a knife, fire starters, and a small first aid kit in your pockets.
- Pants with multiple pockets. With time you’ll figure out better what goes in your pockets.
- There are other pack options for various parts of the body including thigh/waist packs.
- Figure out how you’ll transport any weapons. A holster for a sidearm makes sense and a sling for your rifle or straps to attach it to a pack.
- Consider a military-style belt that allows you to carry things at your waist like radios, ammo, sheath knife, or other gear you need frequently but too big or heavy for pockets. A tactical vest is another option.
It Will Be An Expensive Proposition
INCH kits add up. That stands to reason. After all, you’re packing for the rest of your life. One way that some people defray the cost is to supplement a pre-packed 72-hour kit. You just add those items that are more sustainable or that you’ll need at a new, permanent location. That saves you some time and could save you some money.
You could also think of it as a “just in case 72 hour kit” if you’re having a hard time rationalizing the cost. It will easily get your through 72 hours but take you a whole lot farther…just in case.
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