Go bags are finally getting some mainstream attention, and we couldn’t be happier about it. After all, having all your essentials in one place, ready to go, is one of the most important steps toward emergency preparedness.
Don’t believe us? Just reference some of our favorite movie scenes. It seems like every spy eventually opens a safety deposit box to find passports, cash, and a pistol. My thoughts on The Patriot are well-documented, and the movie even features a 1776-style go bag. Remember when Mel Gibson’s character runs into his burning house to retrieve a box of gear? It sure was a good thing all that stuff was organized and ready to go.
You may not have to worry about global super-villains or marauding British cavalry, but there are plenty of other reasons to have a bag of essentials ready to go at a moment’s notice. By the time a natural disaster or civil unrest reaches your doorstep, it’s too late to start thinking about what you need to grab on the way out the back door. To that end, we selected some of the best go bags to get you home or survive on the go for various amounts of time.
Your first mission after disaster strikes will likely be to get from wherever you are to your home, where you can either hunker down or gather the resources you need to move to safety. Get-home bags prioritize speed and mobility, and you’ll likely pack only a day’s worth of sustenance. Forget about bushcraft skills and camping gear; your goal should be to get home as quickly as possible. The 5.11 Tactical AMP10 bag we tested is perfect for the job.
The AMP10’s 20-liter capacity is adequate for the bare necessities: water, a snack bar or two, a small first aid kit, and whatever navigational aids you might need. There’s a loop to hold a hydration bladder and three zippered compartments — one of which is hidden to keep your valuables safe. A second, full-size compartment is padded and makes a great place for your laptop or tablet if you want to make this bag part of your daily routine. Most of the compartments, including one of the mesh pouches in the main compartment, have zippers on each side rather than one on the top. This is more useful than you might think, especially if you convert this to a cross-body bag with its removable straps.
Having some means of protecting yourself beyond your EDC knife is usually a good idea. If you’re a CCL holder, the AMP10 has a discreet but easily accessible compartment just for you on the face of the pack. It’s padded and large enough for a full-sized handgun with a light and red dot. Other tactical gear like an IFAK or radio pouch can be attached quickly using the hex grid. If that’s not your style, you can remove the panel completely and replace it with any of the accessories in 5.11 Tactical’s Gear Set system. We love the modularity and ability to customize this bag.
The AMP10’s size and intended use should keep loads light, but the padded straps are some of the best I’ve used and punch way above its size. The materials are overbuilt and leave no doubts about this bag’s durability. At first, I thought a hip belt would be nice to prevent this bag from flopping around while running, but tightening up the shoulder straps to keep it snug to the shoulder blades did the job just fine. Running and climbing over obstacles with this low-profile backpack is no problem. It doesn’t really need side straps and those four buckles add a step to accessing your gear, but if that’s the worst thing I can say about this backpack, it must be damn good.
Black, kangaroo, ranger green, tungsten
5.11 Tactical Gear Set accessories
Rugged without being heavy
Carry as a backpack or cross-body bag
Customize with additional Gear Set accessories
Excellent colors for real-world use
Side buckles probably add an unnecessary step
Tactical image is unavoidable, even in black or gray
Space is very limited
The general consensus is that you should be able to sustain yourself for 72 hours once you leave the front door. This is the size of many assault packs, so it should feel familiar to military types. This Goldilocks of backpacks is small enough to allow quick, agile movement while carrying enough gear for multiple nights in the field. Mystery Ranch seems to make everybody’s “best of” lists, and it’s easy to see why as soon as you get your hands on one.
The Y-zipper is more than a marketing gimmick and the build quality is impeccable. The exterior boasts side pockets and enough MOLLE to attach all the IFAKs, optics cases, and admin pouches your little gear-crazy heart desires. The top pouch has two pouches, one of which is ventilated into the main compartment with a mesh bottom. What impresses me about the main compartment is how versatile it is. If you want to organize a bunch of small items, you can take advantage of three large open pockets and two small zippered compartments. There’s also a bit of MOLLE and a loop where you can attach a hydration bladder. Dual zippers let you feed the tube out over either shoulder. This space can also be used to store bulky items since the bag isn’t permanently divided. The ability to tailor the 3 Day Assault BVS to your mission is a major selling point. Unlike the 2 Day Assault BVS we reviewed a while back, this bag knows exactly what its role is, and it fills that role very well. It also comes with nice touches like Velcro retainers to tame all those loose adjustment straps.
I loaded the 3 Day Assault BVS with 30 pounds and took it on a brisk hike on varying terrain to test its chops. The hip belt isn’t as substantial as what you’d find on a dedicated hiking pack, but it is padded and does a good job of keeping the load on the hips rather than the shoulders. When you don’t want to mess with it, you can tuck it away in compartments that are easy to access with the pack on your back. The shoulder straps have ample padding and are adjustable to fit a range of torso lengths. The hard plastic frame can be used to adjust the yoke while the pack is being worn, so you can get it sized by yourself right out of the box. If you wear this pack with a plate carrier, two soft foam blocks hold it in place nicely. When you’re not armored up, you can remove the blocks or leave them where they are. I never felt them when I wasn’t wearing a plate carrier.
If there’s one thing to keep in mind with this pack, it’s the need to exercise a little self-control when packing it. Fill the 34-liter capacity with a mix of food, water, a poncho liner, and assorted hard gear, and you’ll be in great shape. Pack it full of radio batteries and ammo, and this pack is going to put your shoulders in a world of hurt. That’s not a knock on the bag, it’s just a consideration you can’t afford to overlook. This is also an overtly tactical backpack that might have limited applications in your everyday life. If you don’t want to look like you’re itching for a fight, this deployment-ready assault pack might not be for you.
MOLLE, elastic side pouches
Easy access thanks to the Y-zipper design
Built to fit over a plate carrier
Adjustable yoke allows a custom fit
Super durable materials and sealed zippers
Easy to overload with heavy gear
No flying under the radar with this bag
More diverse color options would be nice
Using your go bag for long-term survival involves a few unique considerations. First, you’ll need to carry a lot more gear than you would for a quick patrol outside the wire or a weekend camping trip. You’ll need to be well-equipped enough to establish a legitimate campsite but remain mobile enough to pick up the whole thing and leave on foot. You might want to have space for items you find along the way, too. Hunting packs seem like they’d be perfect for this role, so we got our hands on a Kuiu Pro 6000 to see what works and what doesn’t.
The Pro 6000 is an imposing presence right out of the box, partially because of its size. The 98-liter capacity makes an average hiking pack look like something you’d carry to the fourth grade. Then there’s the price. The pack, frame, and suspension system combine for a grand total of $570 at the time of writing. That’s a lot, but it’s also a bit like buying power tools that work with your existing battery collection — once you have the frame and suspension system, you can buy other sizes of Kuiu packs by themselves and mount whichever one suits your mission.
The Pro 6000’s main compartment is huge and can be accessed from the drawstring top, or the front panel, which unzips to expose the entire interior. Internal retention straps let you secure your load. Outside, there are zippered compartments on the side, in the top pouch, and on the hip belt. Because this is a hunting pack, Kuiu assumes owners will have more to carry on the return trip. By loosening a few straps, the pack can be separated from the suspension system to make room for meat bags or other gear without unzipping a single compartment or reorganizing your gear. That could come in handy in a survival situation if you come across something worth keeping.
The real star of the show is the suspension system, though. It must be ordered to fit and offers a huge range of adjustments. If you can’t get a perfect fit with this bag, it’s your own fault. On the trail, carrying 50 pounds felt like nothing. This really is the high-end luxury car of the hunting pack world.
Unfortunately, as with a high-end luxury car, there are some drawbacks. After just two miles with the Pro 6000, I checked for wear and found a small hole worn into the main compartment. Some of my pack weights had rubbed against the carbon frame and worked their way right through the single layer of 500-denier Cordura. To be fair, I am extremely hard on test gear. Because I have a limited amount of time to simulate years of use, I go out of my way to torture it and expose weaknesses early. I also know why the Pro 6000 had an issue when others did not. This test showed that placing a hard frame up against the pack’s body with no padding can be a problem if you don’t pack carefully. To avoid this, it’s important to wrap hard items in something soft before packing; I don’t think you’d ever have to worry about this if you take that precaution.
What will make or break the Pro 6000 for you is Kuiu’s prioritization of weight savings. Compare this pack to its competitors, and you’ll see that its sub-six-pound weight is truly impressive. Manufacturers can’t make a pack this big and this light with a bunch of extra padding, so you have a choice to make: Do you want to load your gear carefully, or lug around extra pounds? That’s something only you can answer.
Valo, verde, vias, ash phantom
Load shelf, elastic side pouches
Sizes and adjustment options create a superb fit
Lightweight for its size
Load shelf provides room for extra gear without unpacking
Good selection of camouflage patterns
Not the best pack of this size for extra-heavy loads
Takes time and effort to dial in the right fit
Thin fabric riding on a hard frame can spell trouble
Every mission is different, and every emergency calls for an appropriate response. Just because you have to evacuate on foot doesn’t mean you should impersonate your favorite action hero on a combat patrol. Maybe you should just cover as much ground as you can in as little time as possible. For that, we recommend the Osprey Atmos AG 65.
We published a review of this bag a while back to hit the high points of several years of ownership. To put it simply, the Atmos AG 65 is a ringer. It’s less than five pounds empty, fits like your favorite T-shirt, and stores enough gear for several days on the trail. The 65-liter capacity comes in the form of a massive main compartment, a removable top pouch, and several zippered pouches on the outside for smaller items. There is an easy-access compartment for a sleeping bag at the base of the pack, as well. A built-in rain cover can be deployed in seconds to keep your gear dry. It doesn’t come in tactical colors or camouflage patterns, but it will make you look like everybody else who’s trying to get from point A to point B the hard way — and sometimes that’s a tactical advantage.
What really makes the Atmos AG 65 stand out from the crowd is its suspension system. The more packs I use, the more impressed I am with this one. Putting it on feels like slipping into my favorite hoodie — uncompromisingly comfortable. It’s hard to overstate how well this pack makes weight seem to disappear. The creative use of materials also creates a tremendous amount of airflow, so I experience minimal sweat and hot spots even in the dead of summer. The shoulder straps can be adjusted to fit your torso in seconds, so getting a great fit is a snap. It may not have as much space as an expedition or hunting pack, but I’d be willing to shorten my packing list to use the Atmos 65 AG in most situations.
Because this pack is built for recreational hiking, it doesn’t offer MOLLE for all your extra pouches and accessories. It isn’t intended to haul heavy items like ammunition and radio equipment. It’s built to get hikers to their campsite as quickly and comfortably as possible. There may come a day when that’s all you need.
Rigby red, abyss grey, unity blue
Elastic side pouches
Extremely comfortable; makes weight disappear
Very lightweight for its size
Not overtly tactical in appearance
Peace of mind from Osprey’s All Mighty Guarantee
Not as durable as some of our other picks
Color options are limited and not exactly tactical
Not recommended for loads heavier than 50 pounds
Who says you have to evacuate on foot? Depending on your reason for leaving home, there might be a chance to travel by car if you play your cards right. That has a massive effect on what kind of gear you can take with you and eliminates the need to keep loads light. Our advice is to bring a three-day bag anyway, but you can store more discretionary gear in a heavy-duty duffel like the North Face Basecamp and vastly improve your odds of survival — and quality of life.
The North Face offers multiple sizes of this duffel, but we recommend the Basecamp XL for this kind of situation. The huge main compartment can easily fit larger items that wouldn’t make the trip if you were limited to a backpack. We’re talking about things like cooking supplies, fishing gear, bushcraft tools, medical supplies, and maybe a sizable collection of emergency rations. There’s just enough storage in mesh compartments on the underside of the lid to keep smaller items organized. The body is made from 1,000-denier PVC (recycled, for your conscience) coated with a water-repellent finish. This is the duffel of choice for all kinds of extreme outdoor enthusiasts who require the very best gear, so you know it’ll get the job done for you, too.
Duffel bags are a dime a dozen, so shelling out $170 for one can be a tough sell — until you load one to the gills and try to move it, leave it in the rain, or drag it across rocky ground. The Basecamp series is built to be used and abused. It’s a favorite of rock climbers, overlanders, world travelers, and all kinds of other adventure-seekers. I’ve had mine for almost a decade and it’s barely broken in. If you’re building a go bag, the last thing you want to do is put your gear (and yourself) at risk with a cut-rate duffel or seabag that’s likely to fail as soon as the going gets tough.
One camouflage pattern was available at the time of writing, but color options vary by year and can sell out quickly. If you like what you see, you’d better act fast. Remember that although this duffel can be carried with the supplied shoulder straps, it’s not comfortable to carry for long distances. You’ll still need a primary go bag–preferably a three-day pack.
TNF black, summit gold
Single row of MOLLE on two sides
Massive 132-liter capacity
Carry with handles, sling, or shoulder straps
Water-resistant and made from recycled materials
High-quality materials and components
Cumbersome to carry for more than a few minutes
Act fast, these tend to sell out
Doesn’t offer much in terms of organization
We love obsessing over gear and hypothetical opportunities to use it, but you may prefer to buy once and be done with it. We respect that. So, why would someone pay $350 (when it’s not on sale) for this ready-made go bag from Echo-Sigma when there are so many options available for less? It’s about what’s inside.
More often than not, pre-made kits are filled with items that technically check the box, but do little to actually solve your problems. That’s not the case here. The multitool is small to save space, but it’s not cheap — it’s a Gerber Dime. The flashlight is a Fenix E20 and it comes with six Duracell AA batteries — four more than it needs. You’d expect to find a mask of some kind these days, but Echo-Sigma included a KN-95 and a pair of shop goggles to protect your eyes. We could go on, but every piece of gear is better than it would need to be if Echo-Sigma was chasing big profit margins. It also comes with a discreet drawstring cover that doesn’t draw attention when you have this bag stowed in your car or by the back door of your house.
We always recommend choosing each piece of gear carefully and gaining proficiency with it. We also recognize that not everyone has the time or expertise to meticulously assemble optimal go bags of various sizes. If you aren’t in a position to assemble one from scratch, this approach can be a great solution. Echo-Sigma does its customers right by selecting quality items. The fact that a field survival guide is included speaks volumes. Even though this isn’t a perfect solution, it is a great way of increasing your level of preparedness. If this is your first foray into the world of prepping, dig into this bag and find out what you’d like to do differently. Add gear as you see fit. Understand what it can and can’t do.
While this is a great go bag to keep in the car or get you out of immediate danger, it’s not one we’d recommend for covering long distances on foot. The narrow shape places weight far from the spine and just isn’t very comfortable. The included rations are mostly water and the snack bars — while packed with calories — won’t be filling. That makes sense because you need water far more than food. There’s a fair bit of space left for extra gear that you can use as you see fit. This isn’t a one-click guarantee for success, but it’s a good start.
15 pounds (packed)
Coyote brown, black, red
Included gear is high-quality
Comes with survival gear, first aid items, food, and water
Compact enough to keep in the car
Quite a bit of room left over for extra items
Not an automatic preparedness plan
Bag isn’t very comfortable to carry
Available space limits longer use
Why you should trust us
Like you, we’re deeply immersed in the world of tactical gear — gear that’s specifically designed to accomplish a certain mission. Some day, you may find that your mission doesn’t come from the chain of command, but from your own survival instinct and a pressing need to skip town in a hurry. We’ve taken the expertise that comes from reviewing things like first aid kits, water filters, and compasses and used it to sniff out the best go bags available. In this case, we went a step further by buying some of our own and testing them first-hand to see what works and what needs work. As always, only gear we personally trust made the final cut.
Types of go bags
If you ask 10 people to describe their ideal go bag, you’ll probably get 10 different answers. That doesn’t mean your friends prepared improperly, it means everyone has specific circumstances they need to account for. We chose to break this down by size. At the small end are bags designed to carry enough gear to get you from work back to your home on foot as quickly as possible. On the other end of the spectrum are massive bags meant to sustain you for months (or more), possibly with the help of a vehicle.
You’re probably away from your house most of the time during the day. If disaster should strike, your first priority would probably be to get home, where you can regroup with family or friends, grab as many supplies as possible, and evacuate the area. Often, one of the first casualties of a natural or man-made disaster is freedom of movement. Roads become deadlocked, power may be cut, and public transportation will likely cease to exist. You need to be prepared to move on foot.
The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the average American commute time is 27.6 minutes. That’s in a car and presumably includes highway driving. Your 30-minute commute could easily turn into an all-day physical event in an emergency. Get-home bags are designed to be light and comfortable. You should be able to run at least a mile without difficulty. The bag you choose should also be small enough to be stored out of sight in your car so it’s always there when you need it without drawing unwanted attention. Choose a color that’s subdued and makes sense for your environment — camouflage isn’t a great option for urban environments, but shades of brown and green are pretty versatile.
The general consensus for midsized go bags is that they should be able to sustain a person for three days. That covers food, water, a first aid kit, ammunition, clothing, and anything else you might need. These bags tend to be in the 30- to 50-liter size range and should have some way to add gear with MOLLE panels. While you probably wouldn’t want to run more than a few hundred yards wearing a three-day bag, you should still be able to cover ground at a good clip with short bursts of running and climbing when necessary.
So, what goes into your three-day bag? That’s up to you, but spend some time thinking through situations you’re likely to encounter and how you want to respond to them. Remember that the goal of a go bag is to get you away from trouble rather than to establish a campsite. This gear list is a good starting point, but you’ll want to think long and hard about what your specific priorities are, taking into consideration your location and the time of year. Packing for Arizona in the summer is very different from packing for Minnesota in the winter, after all. You’ll want to bring enough gear to sustain yourself for three days while still being able to hike all day — and all night, if you have to.
Long-term go bags
In a worst-case scenario, you may not be able to return home. Circumstances may force you to keep moving for weeks on end or cover great distances on foot. In that case, your pack will look more like something an Appalachian Trail through-hiker would use than what you’d see during a week-long field exercise. Simply put, your pack should be able to sustain you indefinitely.
That means that instead of food and water, you’ll need to bring equipment for acquiring food and water. Maybe a sleeping bag and small tent are worth some extra weight. Bushcraft tools, a more comprehensive medical kit, and a solar charging system might make your packing list. If you need help getting started, give this Garand Thumb video a look.
Because you’re preparing for a survival situation rather than a military mission, you may have the option to bring a vehicle — especially if you bug out early enough relative to everyone else. In that case, consider using a duffel or locking hard trunk that can carry all the niceties that can sustain you long-term but aren’t worthy of space in your three-day bag. If you’re lucky enough to bug out with wheels, you’re lucky enough to bring all three kinds of go bags.
Key features of go bags
Matching capacity to your mission is key, and more is not better. Having a tent, sleeping bag, and a camp stove is great if you’re driving away from danger, but that kind of stuff would be a liability during a dead sprint to get home when every second counts. As a rule of thumb, get-home bags should be 20 liters or less, three-day bags should be 30 to 50 liters, and the sky’s the limit for long-term bags.
The heavier your pack is, the more support you’ll need. Look for padded straps regardless of size. Hip belts aren’t a big deal on little get-home bags, but they’re important on three-day and long-term go bags. Long-term bags should have ample padding on the shoulder straps, hip belt, and back area. We chose several options that offer extensive customization opportunities to create an excellent ergonomic fit. Some can be ordered with different sized frames, so enlist a buddy to measure yourself accurately. Manufacturers like Kuiu, Mystery Ranch, and Osprey offer detailed videos that show exactly how to achieve a proper fit.
There’s a reason there aren’t any seabags on this list. Aside from the vehicle-specific duffel we chose, every go bag here allows you to organize your gear as you pack it. The camping technique of packing heavier gear toward the bottom and close to your body holds true. Separating gear by its purpose is also a good idea; keep rations, medical supplies, and tactical gear together in easy-to-reach compartments to minimize the amount of time you spend rummaging around.
It’s also a good idea to use separate containers inside your go bag. Air-tight plastic bags are great because they’re cheap, light, and clear so you can see what’s inside without opening it. MOLLE-compatible first aid kits are great because they can be removed and attached to another pack or plate carrier if need be. Use compression sacks to squeeze things like a sleeping bag or spare layers of clothing into less space. Once you’re done, it’s a good idea to unpack and repack your gear about once a month to stay familiar with it and keep an eye on consumable or seasonal items that might need to be replaced.
There is no perfect go bag. What works in the summer won’t be adequate in the winter, and preparing for a natural disaster is very different from dealing with a hostile force. One trick you can use to stretch your gear’s utility is incorporating removable compartments. Go bags with MOLLE panels on the outside allow you to quickly swap out pouches to suit the mission at hand.
This approach can also save you money. Instead of having multiple first aid kits, you can have one that can be moved from your vehicle to your pack, to your plate carrier or chest rig as the situation evolves. The same goes for navigation and comms gear, magazine storage, and optics. Laser-cut MOLLE is lighter than traditional webbing, and products like 5.11 Tactical’s Gear Set system add even more flexibility.
If the world around you is bad enough to warrant a go bag, it’s bad enough to necessitate keeping a low profile. Most manufacturers offer some form of green, brown, and camouflage pattern. Whether you choose digicam, jungle, old-school tricolor, or something out of the hunting world should depend on your surroundings. What kind of vegetation is common in your area? Are there a lot of contrasting shades, or would a solid green or tan pack blend in best? When in doubt, ask your local hunters what they wear.
This is where the obligatory reminder comes into play: Camouflage is about blending in with your surroundings. There are places where the best MultiCam pack in the world will make you stand out like a neon light in the dark, and we call those urban areas. You may not want to advertise your tactical side, in which case a pack that makes you look like everyone else could be your best bet. That’s why we included the Osprey Atmos AG 65. One of our favorite waterproof backpacks could also be a viable option.
Dedicated go bags aren’t really aimed at the budget segment. The kinds of materials, features, and research and development that go into a good go bag aren’t cheap and prices reflect those investments. Still, there are options for those of you who want to spend as little as possible.
If you need to keep costs under $150 or so, a basic backpack can be a workable option. Your average bookbag and military-style backpacks can both work, depending on your environment and needs. Just look for something durable with a few compartments to keep everything organized. Subdued colors are generally preferable, although the usual army green and coyote tan can actually make you stand out in an urban environment.
We consider any go bag between about $150 and $300 mid-range. For that kind of money, you’ll be able to take your pick from a wide selection of quality bags from most manufacturers. Assault packs, hiking packs, and duffels can all fall into this category.
Some of our favorite mid-range go bags are the rugged assault packs from companies like 5.11 Tactical and Mystery Ranch. You can also get high-end camping packs from brands like Osprey, Gregory, and Deuter at similar prices. Materials and craftsmanship tend to be very good, and you’ll likely get peace of mind from an outstanding warranty. Features vary among styles, so you can choose something tactical or everyday practical. If we could only shop one category of go bags, this would be it.
Premium go bags commonly cost more than $300 and open up a new level of build quality and features. That isn’t to say mid-range go bags aren’t capable; these are built to carry much heavier loads across much further distances. Most are designed for hunters who need to pack gear, weapons, and meat across miles of rough terrain.
This is where you’ll find brands like Kuiu, Sitka, and Exo Mountain gear. Compared to traditional hiking packs, these are heavier but more robust. Capacities tend to be much larger. This kind of pack makes heavy loads much more manageable, but carrying one is still a physical event. Treat this kind of go bag like a last resort that can be thrown in a vehicle and taken with you when you run out of road. They’re a long-term survival option for indefinite survival situations.
How we chose our top picks
For this gear guide, we started by revisiting the whole idea behind go bags. How long will you be gone? What will you need to carry? How will you be traveling? What does your environment look like? Your answers will vary, so we chose a range of bags that satisfies a range of needs, including getting home from work, indefinite wilderness survival, and everything in between. We turned to the best brands in the business to find a great solution for everyone. Whether you want something that can tag along during a deployment, get you to the campsite every weekend, or ride shotgun in your car every day, there’s something here for you.
FAQs on go bags
You’ve got questions, Task & Purpose has answers.
Q. How much does a good go bag cost?
A: We found small, well-built backpacks for as little as $150. Larger packs that can sustain you indefinitely cost closer to $500 by the time you add the necessary frame and suspension system.
Q. Do I need a go bag?
A: In most cases, staying put is better than taking your chances on the road. Don’t be too quick to assume that the grass is greener somewhere else. There are times, though, when circumstances dictate that you evacuate. When that happens, a go bag is very necessary.
Q. What makes a good go bag?
A: A good go bag holds everything you need and lasts as long as you need it to. That’s situation-dependent, so buy what works for you –– not someone else. In general, durability and ease of customization are big advantages.
Q. How big should a go bag be?
A: Go bag sizing is directly related to time. If you just need to get home from across town, a small backpack is great. Assault packs are best for stints of three days or less. Beyond that, look for a hiking or hunting pack to travel on foot, or a large duffel to travel by vehicle.
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