Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
Building a personal bug out bag is central to prepping, even though the prevailing philosophy in the prepping and survival community is to bug in, rather than to bug out. There are always situations that can occur, where bugging in is the wrong thing to do. Flooding and wildfires, even hurricanes can destroy your home while you are in it, if you don’t bug out. The bug out bag ensures that you have the basic equipment for survival, should you be forced to bug out in a hurry.
There are many different opinions about what needs to be in a bug out bag. Since each person’s situation and needs are unique, that’s actually not surprising. But regardless of the specific items in your bug out bag, there are certain requirements that have to be met.
Your bug out bag is your lifeline to survival, fitting in with your specific bug out plan. Therefore, the items you choose must fit in with the plan you have for bugging out; where you’re going, how you’re going to get there, and how long it will take to get to a place of refuge.
In a very real sense, a bug out bag is like a super survival kit. Its one and only purpose is to help you survive in very specific circumstances. However, rather than a minimalist survival kit that you can carry in a pocket, it is intended to provide more tools, food, and equipment, ensuring that you can get to your survival retreat.
We must keep in mind that regardless of our bug out plans, things go wrong, causing us to have to survive in the wilderness for some amount of time, as we travel on foot to our ultimate destination.
Some people confuse a bug out bag with what is known as an INCH bag, which stands for “I’m Never Coming Home.” Part of this confusion is that there is a very real overlap, especially for those who intend to bug out to the wilderness, rather than to another town or to a prepared survival retreat.
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Let’s Talk Requirements
Since the bug out bag is all about survival, it must provide for our basic survival needs, all packed in an easy to carry way. For most people, this means in a backpack. The contents should include:
Either a prepared shelter, such as a tent, or the means to make a shelter in the wilderness, as well as clothing, a warm coat and a rain poncho. Few people carry one, but a sleeping bag adds to shelter, especially in colder climates and times of the year.
Water is heavy, so it is impossible to carry enough water for survival. Nevertheless, some water should be carried in canteens, water bottles, or bladders. More importantly is the ability to purify water found along the way. This is such an important requirement that a backup method should be carried, in case something happens to the primary method.
Ideally, enough food to last the trip to your survival retreat. Most people think in terms of three days worth of food, but five is better. If you are not sure you can make it to your survival retreat in that amount of time, then survival caches with more food are necessary. In addition to the food carried, consider fishing gear, snares for small game and the means of cooking the food (cookware and a camp stove).
We sue fire for so many things that it becomes its own survival category. The old rule of thumb is to carry two primary and two secondary means of starting a fire. Be sure to include some sort of tinder or accelerant to make fire starting in bad weather easier.
There is always a chance of injury, so it is a good idea to carry some basic first-aid supplies, as well as over-the-counter medicines and even antibiotics. Personal hygiene supplies will help you to keep clean, reducing the risk of infection and disease.
This is the area where people tend to get into trouble – weight wise. While some tools are necessary for cutting firewood, building shelters and other survival tasks, it is very easy to get carried away with tools, adding a lot of weight to the bug out bag. Whenever possible, tools should be multi-purpose, as long as that can be accomplished, without sacrificing the quality and integrity of the tools.
While not technically a part of the bug out bag, most people include some sort of weapons and ammunition in their plan.
Please note that there are a wide variety of other things that people include in their bug out bags, which aren’t included in the list above. While useful, these radios, solar phone chargers, waterproof paper and other things aren’t as critical as the items listed above and should be added on a space and weight available basis.
Let’s Talk Weight
The big challenge in building any bug out bag is weight. There’s so much we want to bring along with us; but we can only carry so much. The heavier our bug out bag is, the slower we will move, the more energy we will expend carrying it and the faster we will tire. It is critical that we be realistic about the amount of weight we put in our bug out bags.
Backpackers use ¼ of their body weight as a general guideline for the maximum weight they carry in their packs. But keep in mind that those are usually people who are in shape, for whom carrying a pack all day over rough terrain is no big deal.
People who are overweight don’t get to carry more; they will probably have to carry less. The average man in good shape can probably carry about a 40 pound pack. The average woman in good shape can probably carry about a 30 pound pack. That’s not a lot.
There are things that can be done to get the most bang for the buck, when it comes to that weight. First, we need to make sure we’re not taken in by the desire to buy every survival gadget out there. I don’t care how cool a particular gadget is or the features it has, if it isn’t actually going to be used to perform all the myriad of purposes the manufacturer promises, it’s not worth having.
That may seem to contrast with the idea of buying items which will perform multiple purposes; but it doesn’t. I’m just saying that we should make sure that the purposes we are buying them for are realistic ones that will help us survive. It’s probably not going to be necessary to repair a bicycle on your bug out, so having tools included in your shovel that allow you to repair a bicycle isn’t a net gain, no matter how much it might be advertized to be one.
For many things, the best source is the same sources that backpackers use. Backpacking is an old sport, and the practitioners of it, as well as the companies which build their gear, have spent years perfecting the equipment they manufacture, providing gear that is extremely lightweight, while still being strong enough for the task. This includes backpacks.
Packs with a frame and belt are always better than rucksacks which hang from shoulder straps. The frame and belt combination transfer the weight to the hips so that it’s carried by the legs, not the back. Since the largest muscles in the body are in the legs and butt, one can carry more weight in a pack with a belt than in one which is being supported by shoulder straps. But even with that, another important factor is how the pack is packed.
- The heaviest items, such as tools and a tent, should be up against the back.
- The next heaviest items should be placed in the bottom of the pack. This is a good place for food.
- Light items that need to be accessed quickly, such as a rain poncho or jacket should go on the top.
- The lightest items should be towards the outside of the pack, farthest away from your body.
One of the big mistakes many preppers make with their bug out bags is to hang tools off the outside of their packs on the MOLLE straps. This puts some of the heaviest items in the pack the farthest away from the person’s body, where they are hardest to carry. While that is convenient, it makes the pack harder to carry.
What to Include
While the final list of what you carry in your bug out bag must be determined based upon your bug out plan, there are a number of things that probably should be included in any bug out bag. This is a list of basic items to be considered. It is not a complete list; but for most people, this list would be complete enough to allow them to successfully bug out.
Of course, it makes no sense to include something in the bug out bag, if the owner of that bag doesn’t know how to use the item. Take snare wire for example. Snaring small game is usually a more efficient way of harvesting food from the wild than hunting big game. But that wire isn’t going to do any good for someone who does not know how to make snares.
- Ultra-light tarp or tent for shelter
- Tough rescue blanket (the kind that won’t tear)
- Two disposable rescue blankets
- Emergency tent (made from same material as rescue blanket)
- Two person emergency sleeping bag (made of the same material as rescue blankets)
- Rain ponchos
- Small roll of duct tape
- 100 feet of paracord
- One change of rugged clothing
- Seasonally appropriate coat, hat and gloves
- Five days of dehydrated food
- Granola bars (for snacks)
- Folding camp stove (essentially a rocket stove) – allows me to cook, without building a fire pit
- Aluminum backpacking cookware set
- Plastic bowl
- Stainless steel cutlery
- P-38 can opener
- Various spices
- Survival fishing kit, including automatic reels
- Aluminum water bottles – can be put in the fire to purify water
- Collapsible stainless steel cup
- Sawyer portable bag-type, hollow-fiber water filtration system; good for 1 million gallons at 0.02 microns
- Lifestraw personal water filter (each family member needs one)
- WAPI (water pasteurization indicator) – lets you know when water reaches 160°F, the temperature at which all bacteria are killed
- Water purification tablets
- Stormproof lighter
- Stormproof matches
- Metal match
- Powdered magnesium (good tinder)
- Wetfire fire starting cubes (tinder) (I actually have a lot more than these three)
I’m not providing details on the first-aid kit, as that depends a lot on personal needs; but at a minimum an IFAK kit should be carried, along with over-the-counter medicines.
- Folding pruning saw
- Folding shovel/pick combination
- Camp hatchet, with hammer back
- Sheathe knife
- Knife sharpener
- Tactical light with spare batteries
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