How to Test Your Ability to Carry a Bug Out Bag

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A couple of months ago, I posed the question “What is the Baseline of Prepper Fitness?”  Although there were varied responses, at the end of the day most everyone agreed that having the ability to walk some distance with a pack of supplies was paramount to survival.

At first blush this may seem contrary to my stance that bugging in is always preferable to bugging out.  But what if you are forced to evacuate for safety reasons?  History teaches us that homes can be severely damaged or destroyed by earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, wildfires and other errant acts of Mother Nature.  Quite often, these disruptive events occur at a moment’s notice, with no warning.

How to Test Your Ability to Carry a Bug Out Bag | Backdoor Survival

That is when you need to head to the door, grab your Bug Out Bag, and go.  This is easy to talk about but the reality is that many of us have not practiced bugging out with a 20 or 30 pound pack on our backs.  Could you do it?

In a recent conversation with Dan Sullivan (aka Survival Sullivan), he related his experience testing his own physical endurance during a practice hike while toting a 40 pound pack.  He is a youngish guy so I figured that it would be a piece of cake, but nope, it wasn’t.

When I asked him whether I could share his experience on Backdoor Survival, he graciously agreed. Here is one man’s experience and advice for testing your ability to carry a bug out bag.

Testing Your Bug Out Bag

Let’s talk about your bug out bag for a moment… Anyone can blindly add dozens and dozens of survival items thinking:

I’m gonna need this when I bug out… and this, too. And this… and this… because you just never know!

One thing they don’t know, however, is that carrying too much stuff when it’s time to flee is going to be nearly impossible. Heck, heavy backpacks are challenges even for trained military soldiers. I’m willing to bet most preppers won’t be able to walk a single mile with a BOB on their back and they’ll end up ditching some of the equipment or even the entire bag in a survival situation.

Yesterday I decided to test my own and I want to share with you how I did it and some of the lessons that I’ve learned. There’s a gorge 20 miles from me that’s fairly popular (about a mile in length and 800 feet deep), and I decided to go on a small hike with a few friends.

The Goal

The most important thing I wanted to test was not the bag but… myself. I wanted to find out how tired I’d be when I got back. In retrospect, it was better than I expected, I did feel exhausted driving back but that was it. To my surprise, to my amazement, my back didn’t hurt one bit (I actually have back problems from too much sitting in an incorrect position on my laptop). Mission accomplished.

The Preparation

One thing I did was alter the contents of my BOB for this mini-trip. I kept the essentials but took the non-essentials out and replaced them with things such as two more bottles of water and my jacket. I didn’t actually weigh the bag but I’d say it was at least 40 pounds.

The Hike

We left the car near the gorge and started walking on an apparently super-easy trail. I was the only prepper in the group and they didn’t even have equipment as the hike was supposed to be a piece of cake.

We hiked for about 30 minutes before we decided to go back. The first 10 were like a walk in the park but then the trail became rocky, muddy and wet. At some point there was water flowing at our feet and, from that point on, it got narrower and narrower to the point where we had to use hold on to the rocks and safety cords to keep our balance.

The biggest surprise was getting back. This time, the two girls in the group lead the way and I got left behind on more than on occasion. Though I didn’t feel tired, the extra weight forced me to be more careful and watch my step. I almost slipped a couple of times.

How did this happen? When most preppers try on their fully loaded BOB in their living rooms, they have no idea that, in the real world, they’re going to get tired extremely easy. I’m in decent shape but most of them aren’t and that’s going to be a big problem during a bug out.

When we returned, I had to watch in amazement how the two girls in our group moved quicker despite the slippery rocks and I constantly got left behind. In fact, most people we encountered along the way were severely unprepared for this (it was funny to watch them through the eyes of a prepper) and I’m sure that if any of them had my load, they would have had the same problems.

Conclusions

Though everything went according to plan, I plan to increase either the load or the distance next time. I learned a few valuable lessons, which I now want to pass on to you, namely:

· You need to get into shape and hiking is a great way of doing that. It’s a great full-body workout and is a lot more fun than those boring gym exercises. It’s better than running, too, because you don’t grow tired that easily and you can always stop to admire the view.

· You don’t need a heavy bag; you can start with a smaller one and see how that goes. I had it on my back for about an hour and, frankly, I don’t know how many preppers would last this long given that many are out of shape.

· You need proper equipment. In order to avoid slipping or twisting your ankle, you need hiking boots. I know it’s popular nowadays for people to ditch their boots in favor or trainers when it comes to short hikes but in my case, this wasn’t an option. We’re not looking at this from a hiker’s perspective but from a prepper’s perspective.

· Last but not least, if this is the first time you’re testing your BOB, don’t go too far. Remember you have to come back so that’s double the distance. Sure, your bag may be a little lighter when you return because you’ll eat your sandwiches and drink your water but you’ll also grow tired. Don’t overestimate how strong you are unless you’re in shape.

Bottom line: you need to test your B.O.B. Even if you’re planning to bug in, you still need to prepare for the event that you might need to evacuate. One other thing you can do is to increase the level difficulty. Pack more weight in your bag or increase the distance or even the difficulty by taking on a different trail.

Last but not least, do use your survival gear. Get your compass out, see where North is. If you get a minor cut, do use a Band-Aid even if it’s really small. Practice now because when SHTF… it’s going to be too late.

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The Final Word

Something I have learned over the years is that you don’t have to be stick-thin to be fit.  Quite the contrary.  Having a bit of “meat” on your bones in not necessarily a bad thing and can even be an asset when it comes to your ability to transport heavy objects.  Keep in mind, though, that having a strong muscle support system is preferable to flab.

In my own case, I have successfully hiked more than a few miles with a 20 pound B.O.B. on board. There is no question that I need to build up my endurance so I can go further.  My goal is ten miles, and then from there, 15 miles.  For now, increasing the weight of my pack is not an option.

Testing your ability to carry a bug out bag including how heavy (the pack) and how far (the distance) is a personal decision based upon factors such as age, health, size, and how far you would need to go to find safe shelter.  These are questions you should be asking yourself now, well in advance of a disruptive event.

If you need to start with a five pound pack and one mile, so be it.  It is never to late to start and never too late to become PrepperFit!  Just stay the course and don’t get discouraged.  No one said that prepping was easy but I know for sure that if I can do it, you can too!

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!
Gaye

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Bargain Bin:  Below you will find links to the items related to today’s article as well as links to many of my favorite preps. They cover a mixed bag and none will break the budget.

Military Prismatic Sighting Compass & Pouch:  I have owned this compass for a long time and given its $10 price tag, consider it a bargain.  It is the #1 best seller in the compass category on Amazon.

Timberland Hiking Boots:  When it comes to hiking books, I favor Timberland boots.  They are comfy and never wear out.  There are styles in all price ranges for both men and women.

Nexcare Active Extra Cushion Bandages:  I like to stock lots of bandages so I purchase in bulk.  I found that purchasing my favorite Nexcare bandages (8 packages of 30 each) was far more economical at Amazon than locally.

UltraFire Mini Cree LED FlashlightFAVORITE! At the time of this writing, this one is only $3.40 with free shipping.  It is super mini sized, bright and waterproof.  Plus, it uses a single, standard AA sized battery.

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LifeStraw Personal Water FilterThe Amazon Top Ten Most Wanted Survival and Outdoor Items Backdoor Survival:  The LifeStraw is considered the most advanced, compact, ultra light personal water filter available. It contains no chemicals or iodinated resin, no batteries and no moving parts to break or wear out. It weighs only 2 oz.  making it perfect for the prepper. For more information, see my LifeStraw review.

Grabber Outdoors Original Space Brand All Weather Blanket:  I was interested in a re-usable emergency blanket so I purchased one of these based upon the excellent reviews.  This space blanket is definitely “heavy duty” compared to the cheapies (not that they don’t have their place because they do).  A Backdoor Survival reader passed on this tip:

We place one of these blankets silver side up on our mattress underneath the fitted sheet or mattress cover.  It reflects body heat like you wouldn’t believe, instead of the heat being absorbed into the mattress.

Emergency Mylar Thermal Blankets (Pack of 10): I do believe in helping my neighbors in the community so a supply of these will be handy to hand out to those in need. You will be surprised at how warm these will keep you. Be sure to test one out in advance so that you have the confidence to trust the blanket in an emergency. About $6 for 10.

Maximal Power FC999 Universal Battery Charger: This nicely built charger will charge charge AA, AAA, C, D, N, 9V, Ni-MH, Ni-CD, and Alkaline batteries. It has an LED display so that when you first put a battery in the charging bay, you know whether it is viable for charging or simply bad and ready to go back to the recycle box.

Maximal Power battery charger from Amazon

Yes it really works, even under solar power.  Read about in this article: How to Recharge Alkaline Batteries.

The Survival Medicine Handbook: A Guide for When Help is Not on the Way: This book teaches how to deal with all the likely medical issues you will face in a disaster situation, including strategies to keep your family healthy even in the worse scenarios. It covers skills such as performing a physical exam, transporting the injured patient, and even how to suture a wound. This medical reference belongs in every survival library.

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Smith’s PP1 Pocket Pal Multifunction Sharpener: I wrote about this is in the article The Easy Way to Sharpen a Knife Without Spending a Lot of Money. It sharpens everything from pocket knives to kitchen blades. Very portable and easy to use.

Alkaline Battery after recharging

SE BT20 9-Volt Battery Tester: I do not know anyone that is sorry they purchased or gifted an inexpensive battery tester.  Mine sits in my desk drawer and is used 3 or 4 times a week.

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Comments

How to Test Your Ability to Carry a Bug Out Bag — 17 Comments

  1. In my younger years I backpacked for a week with a 50 pound pack, hiked down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and then back out (14 miles) all in the same day. I used to run 10K races for fun. Just the other day I made a few short trips with a pack frame packing out driftwood from a lake side over rocky loose ground. It has taken 3 weeks for my knees to recover. My advice is to weigh your packs and then take a known distance hike and see what the results are. I also have several bugout packs ranging from the kitchen sink pack frame that is too heavy but a 20 something friend might be able to carry to a day pack with water filter and vital stuff down to a larger fanny pack that is just enough to hit the trail for a night. Weigh your pack , take a known distance hike and then try increasing weight and distance and charting the results to see what you really can do. Unfortunately saying you will rise to the challenge to save the day only works for superman, the real people have to deal with the reality of bad knees and backs and debilitating injuries from doing more than their body is capable of.

  2. My bag includes freeze dried meals plus several cans of ready to eat food like Beefaroni or ravioli. Heavy yes but if you compare an mre plus the water to prepare it , not so much difference.The advantage would be to use them for the first meal, no prep time, no water needed, can be eaten cold if you have to and the can could come in handy for a number of uses. Also it is child friendly food.

  3. Re; “Something I have learned over the years is that you don’t have to be stick-thin to be fit. Quite the contrary.”

    Ain’t that the truth! When I was in my teens and 20’s I used to walk a lot, still-hunted in rolling hills, and my favorite fishing spot was always down a long brush filled path, usually with a steeep hill or three along the way and the trip meant carrying bulky/heavy five gallon buckets over-filled with gear or water for the bait or the days catch. So I was used to walking distances. Back then, running the 600 wasn’t something I could do, however; I was friends with some skinny guys who could run the 600 with ease and they spent A Lot of time at the gym lifting weights, way more than I ever did. They boasted often of their weight lifting abilities and athletic prowess. I took those guys fishing with me a few times down one of my long winedy paths, and even when there wasn’t a steeep hill to walk up, three quarters of the way they would moan and complain and say things like children do, “Are we there yet?” (every. single. time.) while telling me they were tired. They were tired! I wasn’t in the least.
    Never once could I talk any of them into going hunting again a second time in rolling hills either, they often had to stop and rest.

    Then there’s the farmers with pot bellies I used to work with. They could work me into the ground while they hardly broke a sweat or lost their stride. Endurance, extraordinaire.

    That was then, this is now. Today, for a lot of different reasons, there’s no way I’d want my camping bag (I have a camping bag, not a B.O.B.) to weigh more than 25 pounds. The biggest reason is that I don’t live anywhere near a national forest. Perhaps it’s a case of urban bug-out, as opposed to, wilderness bug-out?
    I don’t pack a tent, I have a light-weight tarp. The tent and the sleeping bag are in a separate and leave-behind-able duffel bag. A two-bag strategy for being ready for whatever. …Ready, except for walking great distances with a softpack without an external frame – and – while carrying a Winter rated sleeping bag. I can’t even imagine trying to do that.

    Yeah, a duffel bag with two wheels on it, is definitely on my wish list. …Or, maybe get a big dog and hook it up to the bag, and viola! Mush! Mush! Mush!

  4. Three years ago, I took my four daughters {and a college girl from church} on an all girl, 24 mile, 4 day backpacking trip in the mountains. I wanted my daughter {who at the time were ages 9, 11, 16, 18} that they could survive in the wilderness alone with no men to help take care of us. Because as much as I love and appreciate the men in our live who usually go camping with us – I needed to know and I wanted my girls to know that no matter what, they were okay and could take care of themselves.

    I should mention that I am just a regular mom and I had never done anything like this. We do enjoy hiking, but I can’t boast to being extremely fit. I was 35 years old and a mother of five.

    It was the first weekend of October and on the first day the weather was warm, especially for hiking with heavy packs. My pack weighed 35 pounds. My girls carried 15 lb. {9 yo} 20 lb. {11 yo} and 25 pounds {16 and 18 yo.}

    Honestly, I weighed every ounce that was put into those packs, making sure I did not go over what we had decided was a good weight limit to carry based on the girls’ weight and ages. But that 35 pounds on my back didn’t feel nearly as heavy until I took that first upward step. We hadn’t even reached the trail when I started feeling lightheaded and weak. Right then and there I started praying. And with each step over the very steep and rugged terrain, I said a prayer asking God to help me take one more. The Mishawaka Trail in Cumberland Gap {near where we live} is very strenuous and indicative of the terrain we would face if we ever needed to leave home on foot.

    That first day was the toughest for us as far as carrying the packs went. Each day got easier as we got used to carrying so much. But that first night the weather changed dramatically and the temperatures dropped into the 30’s and stayed there for the next three days. It was cold and it rained almost the entire trip.

    We slept on a tarp, with a tarp angled above us for shelter, but it did not completely protect us from the weather. We got wet. We were cold. And it poured down rain all night long every night. We were alone on the trail, miles away from our car – so there was no turning back. We had to finish.

    That first night when I went to tuck my two younger girls into their sleeping bags before cleaning up our meal and I shined a flashlight over their sleeping bags so they could crawl in – well, the sleeping bags were crawling with spiders. I brushed them away and said, “Just close your eyes. It’ll be okay.” As disconcerting as the idea of spiders crawling on us in the middle of the night was – we were okay and we survived with no bites. We also heard a pack of coyotes howling in the dark. Thankfully we’d brought our black Lab along for the hike and she growled at anything that came near in the dark that we couldn’t see.

    We learned so much on the trip. We learned how to snap large branches leveraging them between two trees for firewood. We practiced making fuzz sticks. We learned that we could have a decent fire – even in the rain. We learned that water is really important and that boiling water is not as easy as one would imagine when the wind is blowing and you’re at higher altitudes. And we learned that wet feet and socks and shoes do dry out by a nice hot fire and dry feet are important.

    We learned that we are tough, and that we can survive – at least with some food in our packs. We haven’t tried foraging for food, but we have been learning about the plants in our area that are edible. I do know however, we could carry our packs and get away.

    • I thought of your impressive all-girl hiking adventure while watching the film, ‘A Town Like Alice’. The writer claims it is based upon a true story about a group of western women who were forced by the Japanese to march for months (and 1200 miles) on foot in Southeast Asia during WWII.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Town_Like_Alice

      Two things that stood out for me: the women dropped their bulky heavy luggage they thought they ‘needed’ along the route, and the image of one woman carrying a pole the length of a broomstick with a strainer/scoop on the end and using it as a walking stick.

      A worthwhile prep film to watch, imho. It was a little on the chick-flick side, but it had enough realism in it that I watched it to the end, even if it did take me four days to watch the whole thing. It’s a long film.

  5. Gaye,

    That is a great idea to test out the BOB before you need it. I have been working out a lot lately, so it would definitely help. However, when I carry my laptop bag around I can definitely feel the weight (probably only 10-15lbs) after half a mile or so.

    Generally, however, these walks are no longer than 1-2 miles on flat terrain. Not sure how I would do on rocky, sloped, or wet terrain.

    Tanks for the inspiration!

    Andy

  6. I want to say something here that deals with the source of the problem, not the problem itself, although the ‘problem did get solved’ by going to the root of the cause. Time was my problem, my ‘to do’ list which controlled my time was out of focus in the extreme for what I really wanted to accomplish. Let’s put it this way, I would love my home, if the house wasn’t there. I found out the hard way, no matter if you own a thousand acres or a modest home with a small yard, such as myself, there is never ever a lack of things to do. Never! Something always needs attention. Gardening, laundry, cooking, cleaning, neighbors, the dog, fence, and etc. The ‘to do’ list always consumed the day and left me with no time for fitness. I stopped that crap, put my health first, ahead of everything else, no exceptions, and the ‘to do’ stuff can just wait until I can get to it or it can just fall off the cliff. My day starts with a bicycle ride, walk the dog, biking again, work out at home with my own equipment, and then another walk. The benefits have been remarkable with weight loss, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, better heart efficiency, and just all around feel a heck of a lot better. Not to mention it dramatically increased my chances for survival during the coming teotwawki. Best wishes and thanks

  7. Hikers know that trailing is much easier with walking sticks. Think collapsible ski poles, these can be used in a variety of ways for your campsite. Not only will they help you carry your BOB, if someone is injured in your party they can be like crutches for a sprain or worse a broke leg splint.
    I’m an avid downhill skier, and notice when I pole plant my chest and arms get a workout. Walking daily 2-3 miles keeps you limber and healthy. Try small workouts first, just climbing a regular set of stairs with your BOB will give you a feel of how heavy it becomes when hiking on an incline, or descending an incline.

    • I bought some walking sticks at an estate sale awhile back and thought I got a good deal only to find there’s been a price drop recently on new ones, making my purchase seem like a bad move on a good product.

      They Do seem like a good option, however; practicing with them in my city seems like a no-no. I kind of think if I were to walk down my local bike path with them people would look at me kind of funny or maybe even call the cops on me for using them in public or something.

      …Just another indication we live in a police state?

      • Helot,
        If you’re on this site you really don’t care what people think. Use them, have people question you about them, you’ll make a believer going down the trails.
        I’m in my 50’s and used them quite frequently when I lived in Colorado, they really enabled me to hike further and more stable on uneven footpaths.

  8. Gaye, I read this article (and a few others) and I feel the need to express my concern for “others”. You call it “preppers”, I call it what it is- “survivalists.” The need, the desire, to survive is within all of us. Nothing at all wrong with being a survivalist. Now, with that said….

    1. What concerns me is I’m hearing “get from point A to point B-ASAP!” No. DON’T DO IT! Bad idea. Speed is your enemy. You are not being pursued. This is not the TV shows with zombies or cops chasing you. You’re on foot because you have no alternative means of transportation. If you are pursued, whoever is after you is likely better equipped and you’re likely no match. Unless they are the kind of people that want to take everything you have, the “bad guys”. Anyone else, government or corporate, it’s a losing battle.

    When Dan was in the canyon, if he twisted his ankle, what good is that 40# bag? What if he slipped and broke his leg? Could his team mates help him? What if he was alone? Do not try to catch up to anyone. Instead the team should be as fast as their slowest member and make sure you know where everyone is. You are better off going slow and easy than lickety split, because unless everything is going your way you’re on your way to a disaster.

    Take your time no matter what.

    2. Maybe this has been said and I missed it, but where do you plan on going WTSHTF? My advice is get a couple aeronautical maps. Plan ahead. The maps do not need to be updated, because the important stuff will be there. Having a few 7.5 minute topos is nice, but remember that you need more than one goal. More than one prospective camp location. And in a crisis, not only have a few of those prospective sites, make sure they really are not in the same area. May seem like a bad idea to most folks, but remember that unless you own it, anyone else can be there. And even if you do own it, unless you live there 24/7, someone else could be there. You get there and they are far greater in number than you with better weapons. Have maps and have options.

    3. Go to the store and buy a couple of fleece summer sleeping bags. These work wonders for your regular sleeping bag. Use them as a sleeping bag liner. First, in cold weather it adds to your insulation (remember, I come the high country). Second, it keeps the inside of your main bag clean. This helps when it’s muddy or yucky outside. Third, if you have suitable thermal underwear with you, you can use a bag rated for -10F even in the summer. You have your -10F bag, and you sleep in the fleece bags. Or unzip them and use them as blankets.

    4. Compartmentalize your BOB. I have three in my truck. Emergency, short-term, and medium-term. Emergency is to get me back to town if my truck breaks down. The “emergency BOB” is a fanny pack, and I’ve used it before when my truck broke down on me 25 miles from town. The short term is a small pack, lasts me twice as long. The medium term is fairly decent and under optimum conditions can last me 2-3 weeks. Under less than optimum conditions, about a week.

    5. Get an inflatable dry bag. Keeps your gear dry when hiking and when you get to camp or prep a camp, it’s also water storage. 25 liter bag holds 5 gallons easy. 5 gallons of filtered water is worth it’s weight in gold. BTDT.

    In closing, Gaye, if everything is going your way, you’re in trouble. The likelihood that everything is going your way and going to be good is so minuscule it’s not funny.

    Take your time.
    Take it easy.
    Prepping on the cheap is good, but some tools you are better off making an investment in.

  9. I have taken up some serious weight lifting this past year and it is paying off. I believe I am stronger now than I ever have been, as well as running 3 to 6 miles every other day.

    With that said, I try to go on as many hikes with my packs as I can to see how far I can make it, and judge when my legs give out. I am constantly adjusting what is in my pack.

  10. I enjoy the posts as always. I have health issues and my wife has more than I. Losing my balance and falling on dry, level ground is a real possibility. Therefore, I have added a collapsible golf bag holder used by golf walkers to my equipment. The theory, un-tested as yet, is that upwards of 100 lbs. can be moved safely for me going up hill or down and much more may be hauled. These golf bag holders come in various types and prices, but can be picked up at garage sales. Just sell the clubs and use the cash for a better BOB. I plan to test this out soon and will still use a smaller pack and frame. Additionally, having something to hold on to when walking provides confidence and in my case at least, helps with my balance problem. I plan to bug in but if not an option, I am working towards options.

    • Adam, that’s a great idea! I have one of those old luggage carriers with large wheels. It will help me move a lot of equipment by myself if need be, along with some bungee cords it’s very useful setting up camp.

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