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What you should carry in a GO bag

While I still feel being a little over-gunned is better, my personal active shooter response “kit” has shrunk dramatically


The 5.11 2-Banger has two Velcro-flapped pouches in the rear section for two 30 round M16/M4 magazines.

Photo/Dick Fairburn

About six years ago I wrote an article about GO bags – a grab & go kit for instant response to an active shooter event. The GO bag was comprehensive; all you needed beyond the bag was your normal duty sidearm/spare ammo and a carbine, plus a portable radio for communications.

At that time the Beslan school attack in Russia was still fresh in our minds and we planned for a worst-case scenario of stumbling into a hornet’s nest – a team of trained terrorist killers. Both LTC Dave Grossman and I quoted the standard U.S. Army infantry loadout of seven 30 round M4 magazines, about 200 rounds of carbine ammo. This made my GO bag and my buddy’s GO vest/fanny pack total up to about 12 pounds. I have since discussed this issue over a few brews at training conferences and some of the “Tackleberry” types mentioned more than a dozen loaded carbine magazines, several extra pistol magazines, plus, plus, plus. Their bags didn’t need shoulder straps, they needed wheels.

Why my GO bag is shrinking

While I still feel being a little over-gunned is better, my personal “kit” has shrunk dramatically.

Part of my weight loss program is because as the public safety director in my community, my primary role is to become the Incident Commander and take charge outside the kill zone of an active shooter event. But should the dreaded radio call come reporting a shooter in the high school, I’ll still be going in with the first wave.

Our school resource officer (SRO) bounces between all the schools, so might not be on scene when the trouble starts. In fact, the shooter will probably base the attack on finding the SRO gone. That leaves my three day-shift patrol officers, three detectives (if they are all working and in town) and little ’ole me. For the first few minutes, before we get a second-wave response from the sheriff’s office, state police and neighboring PDs, it’s “Y’all come” for everybody from my PD with a gun. I have trained my Fire Department shift commanders to assume the initial Incident Commander role and run our pre-plan for perimeters, casualty collection points, command post and staging area(s). As soon as more cops arrive, I’ll back out, get a briefing from the IC and assume command of the overall response.

Another reason for shrinking my GO bag is that all of the police engagements involving carbines in the last few years have been settled with very few rounds expended. The hit ratio and stopping power of a modern 5.56mm carbine means two 30 round magazines should easily get you through the biggest gunfight in U.S. police history (short of the SLA shootout in LA in 1974), assuming you spend your rounds wisely and score hits. If you lose focus and resort to spray & pray techniques, even the 200 round GO bag wouldn’t be enough.

Since we don’t have a true SWAT team, our city/county team is trained and equipped for medium-risk warrant raids so we have no sniper capability. Therefore, my vest is rigged to carry either two 30 round M4 magazines or two 7.62mm P-mags for my AR10 Designated Marksman rifle. Again, after a scene is contained, I will have to back out to become the Incident Commander unless the bigger rifle is the only viable solution for a given critical incident. Then I would have to stay on the rifle until the state police SWAT team arrives. My police shift commanders are prepared to assume the IC role in my absence.


The 5.11 2-Banger chest pack holds two 7.62mm P-mags in the front zippered pouch.

Photo/Dick Fairburn

When you leave 4+ magazines behind, you drop 5+ pounds of weight, so a vest or small pack should suffice.

My bag choice six years ago was the 5.11 PUSH pack with a single shoulder strap to carry the weight, hanging it on your reload side. It has a Velcro loop to attach it to your belt to keep it from swinging, but the loop is not quick to use when fully loaded.

The newer designs from 5.11 loop over your neck and feature a behind-the-back strap to secure it on your chest that is easy to snap and secure.

The 2-Banger model is designed to carry two M4 magazines (30 rounders) in the back section, with either Velcro or elastic keepers. The front zippered pouch has two pouches that are a perfect fit for 20 round 7.62mm NATO AR10 magazines.

A center zippered section can carry med gear (tourniquet and Israeli battle dressing at a minimum) and other incidentals.

A couple of MOLLE strips on each side allow additional small pouches to be added…say a drink holder with a bottle of G2 or G1 diluted 50/50.

The 4-Banger pouch is twice as wide with rear-section pouches to carry 4 M4 magazines, but the front section will not carry a double load of AR10-sized magazines, due to a different zipper configuration.


The 5.11 2-Banger and 4-Banger chest pouches, designed for either 2 or 4 M16/M4 30 round magazines, plus other incidental gear to carry you through an active shooter response.

Photo/Dick Fairburn

The other stuff you add to the vest or chest rig you choose will depend on your locale – urban or rural – and personal preference.

My list includes:

  • A ziplock bag with a small supply of TP and baby wipes;
  • Two Clif bars;
  • A spare knife;
  • CR123 flashlight batteries;
  • A small waterproof notebook;
  • Pencil and Sharpie pen;
  • A police whistle (great for commo/signaling in case of radio failure);
  • A couple of 10-foot sections of 550-paracord;
  • A lens-cleaning cloth;
  • A small roll of orange surveyor’s tape;
  • A stripper clip guide;
  • Some band-aids and second skin.

A tactical vest/body armor carrier can carry spare carbine mags and other gear in pouches added to the MOLLE strips. These elastic magazine carriers will securely hold either a 30 round M4 magazine or a 20 round 7.62mm magazine for a Designated Marksman rifle.

Photo/Dick Fairburn

Prepare for the worst event you can imagine, and then pray the day will never come. Not preparing, and trying to respond with inadequate training and gear because you lived in denial, will haunt you.

Dick Fairburn has had more than 26 years of law enforcement experience in both Illinois and Wyoming. He has worked patrol, investigations and administration assignments. Dick has also served as a Criminal Intelligence Analyst, and as the Section Chief of a major academy’s Firearms Training Unit and Critical Incident Training program.