Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
Bug out bags are full of supplies that we hear about all the time. Supplies like MREs or backpacking meals, cordage, tools, tarps, knives, flashlights, water bottles, and whatever else makes it into a pack.
One of the most important items in a bug out bag is a first aid kit, which does not get a lot of attention. And within that first aid kit is one of the smallest but most helpful items that you can carry, medications.
I know there may be some people who think they are big and bad and can power through anything. To those people, I say more power to you, but no matter how big and tough you may be, sometimes we do need a little bit of help to get where we are going.
Remember, bugging out is all about getting away from an unsafe area to a safe area as fast as possible. Additionally, there is a good chance there will be other people in your group who you need to think about and look after. So before you disregard the idea of putting time and effort into the medications you carry, really think about the goal you are trying to accomplish.
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When it comes to carrying medications in a bugout bag, there are a few things you should keep in mind.
The first is that bugout bags are usually meant for short-term use. Generally, they are meant to serve a person for just a few days (or however far your safe location is) so it may not be necessary to carry an entire bottle of every medicine. Medications can be split up and packed away in more compact containers. This will help to shave weight and save space.
Secondly, and this is especially true if you do split up medications, they need to be stowed away in hard and waterproof containers. Back in my early days of learning through trial and error, I thought I could get away with putting medications in a Ziploc bag and then placing the bag into my pack. It didn’t take long for the bag to tear, and the pills spilled everywhere inside the pack. The last thing you want to deal with are pills that have gotten wet or smashed and separated while bouncing around in a pack.
Lastly, do not just take medication advice at face value without personalizing the advice to your needs. For example, most first aid kits contain Tylenol. But for some reason, if Tylenol doesn’t sit well with you or doesn’t work or it can’t be used due to other medications you are taking, then there isn’t a reason to pack it unless it can be used for another member of your group.
Types of medications and dosages also vary according to other variables such as age, so keep that in mind when deciding what to make. Guides, like this article you are reading, are just that—guides—and not an absolute procedure you must follow.
Before jumping into the list of medication recommendations, I would like to say that I am not a medical doctor. It is best practice to always consult your physician before taking any kind of medication.
Medications For Your Bug Out Bag
During a bug out situation, a person will need to have the energy to stay alert, focused, and awake more than they normally would. The caffeine in coffee and other types of drinks does a good job of helping a person accomplish this. But carrying a bunch of extra caffeinated drinks or stopping to brew a pot of coffee may not be realistic.
A substitute would be caffeine pills. They are easy to take, easy to carry, and they can be purchased over the counter, meaning you won’t need a doctor’s prescription. Caution should be used when taking these as they are not meant to keep a person awake for days on end but just to provide a little bit of a boost until you can find a safe place to rest.
There are three common and over-the-counter medications that are used for pain relief and the active ingredient in each of them is different.
There is acetaminophen, which can be found in Tylenol. Ibuprofen can be found in Advil and Motrin. And lastly, there is naproxen which can be found in Aleve.
Generics can be found for all three drugs and generally, all three are used to alleviate aches and pains such as headaches, muscle, back, and joint pains. These drugs affect everyone differently but generally speaking ibuprofen and Aleve last much longer and work as an anti-inflammatory over Tylenol.
Their effectiveness and whether or not they can even be taken will depend on age, other medications you may be taking, and any preexisting conditions. To find out which one is best to take and who in your group can take them, always consult with your family physician.
There sometimes is a bit of confusion with activated charcoal because it is different than regular charcoal. Activated charcoal is put through a process that basically creates more pores within the charcoal and therefore makes it a better absorbent.
Activated charcoal can come in pill form or just as the charcoal itself. While it can be used topically for wound care, it is more often used internally to absorb toxins when a person has consumed something that they shouldn’t have.
Quite a few antibiotics can be difficult to come by due to the fact that they may require a doctor’s prescription. Also, having the knowledge of which antibiotics are best used for which ailment is another requirement. But if you can find a way through these speedbumps, having antibiotics on hand can be a great help in dealing with a variety of infections that may otherwise severely drag a person down.
Diphenhydramine is an antihistamine that can be found in brand-name drugs such as Benadryl or as a generic. Antihistamines are used to relieve the symptoms (sneezing, coughing, rashes, watery eyes, running nose) that you can experience with the common cold or an allergic reaction.
Loperamide is the main ingredient in IMODIUM, which is an antidiarrheal medication. Left untreated, diarrhea can lead to death and in 2017 it accounted for over one million deaths worldwide.
At one point or another, almost everyone has experienced diarrhea in their life, so you know it is not a pleasant experience. Bugging out can be a physically taxing experience that will require all your strength and fluids, both of which are severely and quickly depleted if you have a case of diarrhea.
As mentioned earlier, it is critical to plan for your specific medical needs. Perhaps you have high blood pressure, or an inflammatory disease, or any number of medical conditions that need to be addressed daily. Whatever your medical history is, planning for those needs should be a part of what medications go into a bugout bag.
People tend to disregard sunburn as nothing more than a minor inconvenience. Lasting exposure can lead to long-lasting effects such as cancer. But in the short term, sunburns produce itching, blisters, and they can be extremely painful. All of this can hinder movement, which is the enemy of bugging out.
Sunburns can be avoided by wearing extra clothing, covering up exposed skin, and not traveling during peak hours of the day (10am – 3pm). Sunburn can also be prevented by applying a topical treatment of sunscreen that provides a layer of protection. Sunscreen should be applied to all exposed skin including the nose, forehead, ears, back of the neck, and the top of the head if you do not have much hair up there.
General Burn Ointment
Like sunburns, other types of burns can be just as debilitating especially when they are on a high traffic areas of the body such as the hands, forearms, legs, or feet. Burns can lead to blistering, but even if they don’t, they can still be quite sensitive and painful. A topical application of burn ointment can help soothe minor burns so that they do not become a distraction at best and a hindrance at worst.
Insect Repellants and Balms
It’s not always the big things that get you but the small things, or the accumulation of small things. Everyone who has spent any amount of time in nature can tell you that insects, especially mosquitos, are not just an annoyance but can literally be a wall that stops you in your tracks. They can get into places that you never imagined and in short order, they can drive a person crazy.
When dealing with insects, a person can be proactive, reactive, or both. Being proactive entails using an insect repellant that can be sprayed or rubbed onto the body as well as clothing. Being reactive entails dealing with the aftermath of insect bites which usually produce a red bump that is itchy and irritating. This can be dealt with by applying a bug balm, suave, or hydrocortisone cream. The bump will still be present, but the constant irritation and itchiness will become much more bearable.
Water Purification Pills
Water purification tablets may not be drugs or medications like others on this list, but the need for drinkable water is so critical that they should be in every first aid kit.
Most people know about the rule of thumb that we cannot survive for more than three days without water. When a person is bugging out, they may only be traveling a few miles or they may be traveling hundreds of miles. In either case, water is heavy and be problematic to carry. Having ways to disinfect water while on the go will not only allow you to move faster but will give you a better chance of not becoming ill from consuming contaminated water.
Just like the water purification tablets, electrolyte packets are not a medication. But when a person is bugging out, they are putting their body through stress and physical exertion. When this happens, we burn through electrolytes which our body needs to function properly. These are nothing more than a small packet of powder that can be added to water to help you restore balance within your body.
These are cheap, lightweight to carry, and super easy to use. The upside is that many brands make these as a flavored drink which is nice on the taste buds and can be a morale boost. Additionally, you can make your own basic electrolyte powder at home with some simple ingredients such as salt and sugar.
I mentioned several times throughout this article that you may not be traveling alone. Perhaps you are traveling with friends or family and loved ones. If that is the case and you are reading this, then it is likely you are the person in charge of making emergency plans for your group.
While medical history can be a sensitive topic with some people, it is incredibly important to talk about this subject with each person who will be carrying their own bag. It is equally important to have a detailed record of who in the group can have what medications if they are not carrying their own bag, such as very young or older individuals.
Medications are easy to forget about in a bug out bag because they do not take up much space and we may not need them all that often. However, when we do need them, you will be glad that you took the time to plan accordingly so that you can make it through a tough time much more easily.
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Great list! May want to consider a couple more things:
Heartburn medication-Tums, Zantac, pesto Bismol, etc.
Non-sedating antihistamines, like Zyrtec, Claritin, etc. They are equally effective at treating allergic reaction, last longer than Benadryl, and aren’t nearly as sedating. (Anaphylactic reactions still require epinephrine though).
Topical antibiotic ointment. I prefer ones without neomycin, as a significant number of people are actually allergic to it and may not realize it, since the reaction looks very similar to a wound getting infected.
Finally, while I totally agree having bug repellent is a good idea, you have to be REALLY careful with DEET containing products around plastics. It dissolves many plastics. I learned this the hard way when my child got some on my kindle. After doing some reading, apparently lots of people find this out when it is sprayed on their car, boat, expensive camping gear, etc and the plastic bubbles up. I won’t carry it in my gear now. Picaridin-based insect repellents are equally as effective and won’t eat through your gear.
Alan Urban says
I had no idea DEET could do that! I usually try to avoid it anyway, but this is good to know. Thanks for the heads up.
Old Lefty says
Military personnel have long taken the instant coffee in C-rations and MREs straight, washed down with ambient temperature water from a canteen to get the stimulus from caffein. You can purchase individual packets of instant coffee or just have a small jar and a teaspoon and do the same to get your caffein jolt. It doesn’t have the same effect as a cup of steaming hot coffee on a wintery morning after resting in a tent or snow cave at below 0 temps, but it does provide the caffein stimulation.