Most of us have heard of bug out bags. The idea is that critical supplies are packed in a bag that you can grab in a hurry in case you need to evacuate your area. The whole concept is a bag which is usually a backpack or duffel bag packed with necessary items to survive away from home.
FEMA’s standard recommendation for a bug out bag is called a “72-hour kit.” The idea is that you have the necessary items to survive somewhere for 72-hours.
Unfortunately, some evacuations or “bug outs” last longer than 3 days. If you’re bugging out on foot, you have to do the best you can with the contents of your bug out bag; but if you’re evacuating in a vehicle, it makes sense to pack more than just a bug out bag. That’s when you need the “bug out box.”
Regardless of how much you can transport in a vehicle, many evacuations are sudden and rapid events. That’s why there’s more to a bug out box than knowing what to pack.
The Essential Idea
The concept of a bug out box is to pre-pack additional items so they’re ready to go the same way you would pre-pack a bug out bag. Having the items pre-packed helps in the event of an emergency evacuation, and it also gives you the added security of knowing you’ll have the supplies and other items for an unexpected, long-duration evacuation.
Here are some priorities to consider for a bug out box. And yes, you can pack more than one. A lot depends on the size of your vehicle and your determination to pre-pack these items ahead of time.
Just remember that pre-packing and storing them ahead of time means you don’t want to pack things that you already need on a regular basis. Or just buy extras.
It also makes sense to clearly identify the contents of each box in case you ever need to find something you packed away. (Wouldn’t it be great if we did that with every box in the house?)
1. Extra Clothing
Clothing is bulky and even the bare minimum can fill a bug out bag fast. A bug out box gives you the extra room for extra clothes like:
- Jackets or sweaters
- Shirts and pants
- Gloves and hats
- Shoes and boots
- Underwear and sox
- Seasonal clothes like winter coats, snow-pants and heavy-duty rain gear
- Extra clothes and shoes for kids
2. Extra Water
Water is another burden in a bug out bag because of its weight. One gallon of water weighs 7.5 pounds. A gallon of water is about the bare minimum for one person for one day. That’s why most recommendations for bug out bags is that you take a portable water filtration system like a LifeStraw.
Carrying three gallons of water adds 22.5 pounds to a bug out bag. That’s where a bug out box really starts to make sense in your vehicle. In fact, if you have room, you could have a dedicated box filled with water bottles.
Then again, you can always pack an extra water filtration device like a Katadyn Water Filter or even a Brita Pitcher and filters. No matter how you do it, remember the math: One gallon of water per person per day.
3. Extra Food
Food is another bulky item that is potentially heavy. That’s why most bug out bag recommendations are for foods like backpacking foods, energy bars, and other nutrient-dense but lightweight food items.
With a bug out box, you can actually pack some cans of food and even snacks. Just make sure they have a good shelf-life because your bug out box will most likely be in storage waiting for that day when the worst happens.
Here are some food items to consider that may be heavier and bulkier but still have good nutrient density:
- Canned beef stew
- Canned deluxe soups with multiple ingredients
- Canned chili with beans
- Canned foods that uniquely appeals to kids (think of it as kid comfort foods)
- Foil wrapped snacks or snacks in a sealed tin (shelf-life)
- Extra packets of powdered drink mixes (vitamin fortified if possible)
- Canned seafood like tuna, sardines, and herring
- Canned meats like Spam, chicken, or beef
- Canned fruits
How much you pack depends on your vehicle and the size of your group, but it makes sense to make room for more food even if you’re only packing one bug out box.
4. Extra Medical Supplies
It makes sense to have a first-aid kit in a bug out bag, but like other items it will be a smaller, lightweight version. A bug out box lets you add more first aid items you might need, especially after any kind of disaster where the likelihood of serious injuries and illness increases.
Here are some items to consider for a bug out box that may take up too much room in a bug out bag:
- Splints and slings
- Complete burn kit
- Dedicated first aid kits for eye injuries and dental first aid
- Additional items for wound care including large gauze pads, surgical tape, suture kit, additional antiseptics, and elastic bandages
- Better yet, just buy a larger first aid kit that’s too big for a bug out bag but fits nicely in a bug out box.
5. Very Important Papers
Many recommendations state that you should pack very important papers in a bug out bag. These include things like copies of driver’s licenses, marriage licenses, passports, birth certificates, and insurance policies and titles and deeds to property.
A bug out box lets you expand the quantity and variety including:
- Treasured family photos
- Key financial documents
- Tax returns
- Family heirlooms like grandpas watch or grandma’s quilt
- Jewelry and other valuables (You might want to have these in your bug out bag to begin with. Looting after a disaster is common).
- Other papers and items vulnerable to water damage, fire or theft
- And anything you can think of that you would never want to lose
6. Backup Communication
Most people will remember to bring their cell-phones and the well prepared will have a solar power bank to recharge it. But if a single cell phone or laptop is your only device for communication, you might want to pack a backup or two in your bug out box.
- Got an old cell-phone that still works? Throw it in the bug out box as a backup.
- Old and bulky CB radios
- An old laptop that still runs
- An extra solar power bank to recharge any additional equipment
And these don’t have to be old equipment. If you’re seriously concerned you can purchase another unit solely as an emergency backup. Pay-as-you-go Burner phones are one possibility as well as those off-brand and always on sale basic laptops.
7. Robust Shelters
Most evacuations result in a few uncomfortable nights in a school gymnasium or church basement. Some leave you outdoors and on your own. A bug out bag can carry a simple shelter or lightweight tube-tent, but any duration will make life complicated, especially if there’s any degree of inclement weather.
A bug out box could allow you to pack a more robust shelter if you think you’ll be outdoors during an evacuation. Even 4-person pop-up tents are relatively compact, but they’re still too large for a bug out bag.
Think about a shelter you can include in your bug out box that might give you a little more privacy and protection from the elements than a tube-tent. And while you’re at it, got room for sleeping bags?
8. Cooking Equipment
A bug out bag should have some level of cooking equipment, but typically they end up being backpacking cook sets on a par with a Boy Scout cook kit.
A bug out box lets let’s you pack more civilized cooking gear like a cast-iron frying pan, Dutch oven and other cooking equipment that’s just too heavy or bulky for a bug out bag. Here are some possibilities but don’t overdo it:
- Cast iron frying pan
- Dutch oven
- Stock pot with lid
- Barbecue utensils for open-fire cooking
- Pot support chain for open fire cooking
- Small and portable charcoal grill for use with firewood
- Paper plates and plastic utensils
Few would leave home without toilet paper, but the sanitation list also is a little short when space is limited and weight is a constant consideration in a bug out bag. A bug out box expands the possibilities:
- Paper towels
- Terry cloth towel
- Moisturizing lotions and skin creams
- Brush instead of a comb
- Shaving cream
- Feminine pads
- Other personal care items based on kids or other unique needs
It’s Not As Easy As It Sounds…
If you think you may be evacuating in a vehicle someday, the bug out box concept makes sense. But it only works if you pre-pack and store the box or boxes so they’re ready to go at a moment’s notice.
Take the time to think about what and how much you might pack in a bug out box and pack it away for that frantic and very panicked “someday.”