How To Choose And Use A Bug Out Bag

Posted: 29th January 2013 by admin in Bug Out Bags
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“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
― Benjamin Franklin

A BOB, a go bag, a GOOD (get out of dodge), a grab bag, a bail bag – whatever you want to call it, a Bug Out Bag is a crucial component of any good survival or emergency preparedness strategy.

With the recent rise in interest in preparedness as we see more and more natural and man-made disasters disrupting lives on a large scale, there’s also been an increased interest in and lots of questions about Bug Out Bags.

So what is a BOB, exactly?

A bug out bag refers to a prepared, portable kit of gear and supplies you’ll need to survive if a disaster or some sort of civil disruption caused you to quickly evacuate your home. The general recommendation we hear from disaster relief groups and the like is that your BOB ought to have the necessary supplies for 72-hours of self-sufficient living. This magic number is based on the amount of time they figure it will take them to get relief to affected people. And that right there is about where we disagree. We all learned through the horror that was Katrina that relying on relief agencies may not be the best plan. So, we prefer to outfit our bug out bags for a longer period if possible – two weeks is a decent timeframe, and reasonable in terms of pack weight and space as well. In addition, a smartly outfitted pack will include many items that will serve to keep you alive well beyond that two-week timeframe.


How To Choose A Bug Out Bag

Before you can pack your bug out bag you’ve got to own one and if you’ve ever been on a long hike with a crappy backpack you’ll be familiar with the value of a decent pack. Technically, just about any old bag could serve as a bug out bag but when it comes to comfort and functionality nothing compares with a proper pack. Even if you plan to bug out by vehicle, you never know what you’ll run into… roadblocks, bumper-to-bumper traffic as everyone and their mother tries to flee urban areas – you get the picture. Investing in a proper BOB will ensure that you can get out on foot if need be.


Multi-day hiking backpacks are generally the way to go. There are a multitude of hiking packs available in a wide range of prices. Some of the higher-end packs can get pretty darn expensive but can be worth it if you’re going to be on foot for an extended period and hauling around survival gear that weighs ¼ of what you do.


When choosing your bug out bag there are a few key areas of consideration. First, it’s really important that the pack properly fit your specific body. Backpacks are sized by torso length so get a friend to measure your back from the base of your neck to the hipbone. This measurement will tell you what size pack you need.


In addition to proper sizing, pack construction is also important. Your best bet is a pack with an internal frame. This frame serves to make the pack more durable as well as to assist with load bearing and weight distribution.


Which brings us to the next consideration: weight distribution. Look for a pack that maximizes weight distribution between the shoulders and the hips. Packs that do this well will have easily accessible straps so that you can adjust your pack as you go changing how the weight is distributed to stay as comfortable as possible.


The next consideration is capacity. Planning survival gear for 2 weeks takes some space and can get heavy especially if you’re carrying gear for dependents, small children, for example. Pack capacity can be tricky and how much each of us can carry can vary greatly. Depending on what kind of shape you’re in and whether you’re used to carrying a pack around you may be able to carry more or less than someone else your size. In general ⅙-⅕ of your body weight is deemed pretty reasonable, if you’re in good shape ¼ or even ⅓ of your bodyweight may be doable. The key to figuring out your ideal capacity is to practice. Buy the best pack you can and then pack your bag and practice carrying it until you figure out how much weight is comfortable for you for how long a time. Remember that a bug out situation probably won’t be quite like a stroll through the park in the spring. Stress levels will be high and there will plenty of unknowns thrown at you. All of these things will affect your ability to carry your pack comfortably so don’t overdo it.


You’ll want to find a pack that offers a smart layout. Internal compartments where you can keep bigger and less often needed items or those that need more protection and external pockets that are easier to access and can hold smaller or more frequently needed gear. You certainly don’t want to have to stop and unpack half your bag to get to that energy bar.


How To Pack Your Bug Out Bag

This is a hard thing to generalize. Since space and weight have limits in a BOB you’ll have to make decisions about which items are absolutely necessary and which you’ll have to leave behind. While we can offer suggestions and generalizations, the specifics of what you put in your BOB will ultimately be a very personal decision based in large part on where you live, what specific emergency you might face, where you’re headed, who you’re packing for, and your level of training. Someone living in a colder climate will have different survival needs than someone living in a tropical climate. Likewise, someone bugging out to a retreat location with survival storage in place will have very different needs than someone headed into the wilderness to ride it out until things settle down.


The best approach to packing your bug out bag is to think about the specific points mentioned above and create a very specific, specialized bag that you have customized to your location, potential emergency, destination, group members, and training. Unless you live somewhere in eternal summer (or God forbid winter) your bag will need to be updated and modified depending on the season. Thinking of your bug out bag as a work in progress will ensure you constantly make the necessary changes to keep your bag relevant and seasonally and situationally appropriate.


In addition to keeping your bug out bag packed and ready you’ll also want to keep a few things ready and by your bag. A set of appropriate clothing so you can change, grab your bag, and get the hell out of Dodge… You don’t want to be wearing that nice business suit when you head out into the bush now do you? A pair of sturdy boots – hiking boots or combat boots are generally the best in terms of support and durability. A spare set of keys if you’re planning on using your car… nothing like spending that critical 20 minutes searching for the keys. Having these items on hand a ready will make your bug out run more smoothly and give you the best possible head start.


What To Pack: The Basics For Survival

There are five key elements to survival that every good survivalist should know and use as the foundation for building their bug out bag. From there you can begin to add other more specific items for your situation. Below are the five elements of survival generally explained. For a specific list of suggested items in each of these categories see our Sample BOB section below.


  1. HEALTH & SECURITY: These are the items that keep you safe and alive. Things like weapons for personal defense and protection, first aid and trauma kits for injury or illness, and signaling and rescue gear like whistles, radios, or mirrors.
  2. SHELTER: Items that will keep you warm and protect against the elements. Depending on your environment this could include things like an emergency blanket, sleeping bag, clothing layers, tent, or tarp.
  3. WATER: Humans can’t live long without water and the better your hydration level the better off you’ll be. Water itself as well as the necessary equipment to collect and purify water is extremely important. This may include water purification tablets, a microfilter or purifier system, and/or a salt water desalinator.
  4. FIRE: In a survival situation fire is relied upon for warmth, safety, cooking, and possibly signaling. Your bug out bag should include the necessary items to start a fire in any weather conditions.
  5. FOOD: Last but not least, sustenance. While humans have been known to survive for extended periods of time without food, being fed will increase your energy level and morale. Aim for high calorie, lightweight foods like MREs, freeze-dried meals, and energy bars. Don’t forget the stove or other gear you’ll need to cook it.


What To Pack: The Specifics

  • Your weapon(s) of choice for self-defense and/or hunting for supplemental food – don’t forget the ammo
  • Survival knife and sharpener
  • Basic First Aid Kit: ACE bandage, Band-Aids, gauze, medical tape, antibiotic ointment, Ibuprofen (for pain, fever), Benadryl (antihistamine), cortisone cream, tweezers, sanitizing hand wipes, sunscreen, snake bite kit, bug repellant, Epipen (for severe allergic reactions), any prescription medication you need for survival
  • Trauma Kit: sterile suture and needle kit or sterile skin staple kit, sterile scalpel, latex gloves
  • Whistle and/or signaling mirror
  • Maps (in waterproof bag) or GPS
  • Compass
  • Flashlight or headlamp (preferably self-powered, if not don’t forget spare batteries)
  • Sewing needle and heavy duty thread
  • Soap and toothpaste
  • IDs and cash
  • Seasonally appropriate tent or 2 (8’x6’) tarps
  • Sleeping bag in compression sack and pad or hammock (depending on the climate/season)
  • 100-ft paracord
  • Dry bags
  • Bandanas (3) (useful for all sorts of things from sweat band to tourniquet)
  • Underwear (2 in the bag 1 on your body)
  • Wool socks (2 in the bag 1 on your body) (cotton does not retain thermal properties when wet)
  • Wool or sun hat (depending on season)
  • Gloves (if seasonally appropriate)
  • Thermal base layer
  • Cargo pants (1 in the bag 1 on your body)
  • T-Shirts (2 in the bag 1 on your body)
  • Fleece or synthetic long sleeve shirt
  • Cotton long sleeve (1 in the bag 1 on your body)
  • Rain outerwear
  • Belt
  1. WATER:
  • Pre-filled water bottles of your choice (2 qt.)
  • Water purifier tablets
  • Water filter or purifier system (like Katadyn Pocket)
  1. FIRE:
  • Disposable lighters (at least 6)
  • Fire Steel (2) or waterproof matches (plenty)
  • Fire Starter (like Firepaste, Ignite-o, or Vaseline soaked cotton balls)
  • Multi-purpose knife or utility tool
  1. FOOD:
  • MREs and/or freeze-dried meals (at least 3-days, as many as you have space for)
  • Energy Bars (as many as you can)
  • Regional guide to edible plants
  • Stove and fuel (if needed)
  • Cooking pot with lid (preferably lockable)
  • Multi-utensil tool or spork


Once you’ve covered the basics you can tweak your bug out bag to suit you and your family’s specific needs. Keep in mind, the bag is only as useful as the person carrying it so make sure you’re in the best shape you can be and that your training is up to snuff. Take a survival course to buff up your wilderness skills and talk to other survivalists and preppers to share information and ideas. It is also important to make sure your entire family or group is on the same page. Go over your bug out plan with your family and practice getting your gear and getting out quickly – just  like a fire drill – so when the SHTF you’re ready!

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