Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Bugging out is one of the more challenging topics in the world of prepping. Few of us have done any serious backpacking before, and many haven’t even gone on a serious hike. The idea of walking for twelve hours a day, carrying a heavily laden pack on our backs, while trying to survive, may be stretching the limits of credibility.
If not, then it will surely stretch our limits. I know at my age and physical condition; it would definitely stretch mine.
There are things we can all do to increase our chances of success in the event of a bug out on foot, like getting in shape. But even if we get in shape, the terrain that we’re going over, the type of trail we’re on, and even the way we pack our bag can make a huge difference.
Those who backpack regularly have elevated the packing of their backpacks, including what they’re carrying, to a fine art form. We can learn from them, drawing on their experience, rather than making the same mistakes ourselves.
From experience, I can say that a properly packed backpack is much easier to carry than one in which everything is just thrown in.
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Start with the Pack
The best starting point is with the pack itself. Many preppers buy “tactical” backpacks, often rucksacks, with MOLLE straps on them. Most of these are deep rather than wide, which puts more of the weight away from your body, making it harder to carry. Some don’t include belts, which is a big problem once you get some weight in the pack.
Pack size can be tricky. Ideally, you want a pack that is just a touch larger than the amount of gear that you’re carrying. Going too large creates the temptation of carrying more than you can handle, while going too small leaves you without room to use if you find something along the way, such as food.
For most of us, it would actually be better off to put off buying the pack until we gather the things that will go inside it. This way, we can figure out the right size to get.
Hand in hand with the size is the weight of the pack. The heavier your pack is, the less weight capacity you have for other things. Tactical packs tend to be made of stouter material, which weighs more. True backpacking packs will be made of lightweight, but strong material. The lightest ones are usually more expensive, but are better made.
Another thing you want is for your pack to be water-resistant, whether that is due to the construction and material used in the making of the pack or due to a cover placed over the pack. Wet gear, clothes, sleeping bags, and gear aren’t very useful. If you can’t find what you need, get a good water-resistant cover, or make one from rip-stop nylon.
Finally, the pack needs a belt. Properly tightened, the belt allows the weight of the pack to be transferred to your hips, where the strongest muscles of your body will be carrying the weight, rather than your shoulders and back. With the weight transferred to your hips, the shoulder straps are only balancing the weight there, so that you can carry it easily.
Properly tightened, the shoulder straps should hug your body, without any gap between your body and the strap, or between the pack and your body. At the same time, you don’t want the straps so tight as to dig into your body.
There should be a smaller strap that goes across your chest, between the shoulder straps. Its purpose is to help hold the shoulder straps in place.
How Much Weight Can You Carry?
The biggest question with any backpack is just how much weight you can carry in it. It is the weight, not the bulk, which is the limiting factor. While too much bulk might make it difficult to get through closely-spaced trees, too much weight will wear you out and slow you down.
The rule of thumb is that you can’t carry more than about 20 percent of your body weight in a pack. But, and this is a really big but, if you are out of shape or overweight, you probably can’t carry that much.
Just because you weigh 220 pounds doesn’t mean you can carry a 44-pound pack, unless you’re in incredibly good shape. But if that extra 70 pounds or so is just fat, you’re probably going to have trouble carrying yourself, let alone a heavy pack.
Keep weight in mind when buying your gear. True backpacking gear is designed to be ultra-light, with the lightest usually costing more. Those few ounces that you pay so much to lose make it possible to carry other things, which you would otherwise have to leave behind.
Not everything you buy for your bug out bag has to be backpacking gear; but you should always be thinking about just how much it weighs.
If you’ve been in the military, 20 percent probably doesn’t sound like much. It’s not. But back when you were in the military, you were probably in much better shape. I know I was. That was under a different set of rules, and the Army really didn’t care if they treated soldiers like they were mules.
Packing Your Pack
Most backpacks are designed in such a way as to mean that they have to be filled from the top, although there are a few with full-length zippers, allowing you to lay them on the ground (or table) and pack them more like a duffel or suitcase.
For our purposes, we’re going to assume that the pack has to be filled from the top, so you’ll be putting the items that go in the bottom into the pack first.
The pack can be broken down into six zones, each of which has a purpose:
- The bottom of the pack is a great place for bulky items that you won’t need until you make camp.
- The area closest to your back, in the center, is where you want to put all the heavy items, so that the weight is closest to your body. Food is often in this area.
- The area outside the heavy zone is a good place for things like extra clothing.
- The top of the pack should be used for things you might need along the trail, such as a change of clothing, cooking gear and your rain poncho.
- Bulky items, like tents and sleeping bags, can be strapped to the outside of the pack, usually the top and bottom, with the sleeping bag on the bottom and the tent on the top.
- Pockets on the outside of the pack are the best place for emergency gear, and items you need regularly, like a flashlight, water bottle, fire starters, and a first aid kit.
You might have noticed that I mentioned a tent and sleeping bag, which are items you rarely find on bug out bag lists. However, backpackers pretty much always carry these items. If they can, why can’t we?
The ones used for backpacking are light and extremely effective. That can add a lot of comfort to our bug out, rather than sleeping in a sleeping bag that’s made of the same aluminized Mylar as rescue blankets.
Be sure to take a test run with your bug out bag, once you have it packed. That means going on a weekend backpacking trip somewhere overnight and seeing how you do. You’ll learn a lot from the experience and be able to identify areas that need improving.
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