For years, my bug out bag has languished in a closet, stuffed to the gills with the gear that I “thought” I might need if forced to flee my home following a disruptive event. My bag, as precious as it was, weighed over 40 pounds and the zippers were to the point of bursting. It was full of gear to cover every contingency I could think of.
How did this happen? Quite honestly, it happened gradually over a period of years. It started six years ago with my first B.O.B. That first effort included mostly the basics: fire-making supplies, water purification tabs, a couple of knives, TP, a first aid kit, personal items, documents, and cash. At the time, I thought I was set. Of course, I was wrong.
Should you bug out?
The main reason we need to be prepared to bug out is that at a moment’s notice, our homes could become unsafe. Starting out with the laundry list of predictable disasters such as hurricanes, wildfires, flash floods, winter storms, pandemic, and more, finding a safe haven out of harm’s way is just good, common sense.
Not so easy are unpredictable disasters such as an earthquake, tornado, chemical spill, nuclear implosion, and terrorist attacks. There are others but you get the point.
Regardless of where you live, the risk of a potential disaster will always be there and so we must be prepared to bug out. That said, bugging out should be a solution of last resort; something you do when harm is headed your way and it is no longer safe to stay at home.
How To Build Your Own Perfect Bug Out Bag
- 1 I Already Have a Bug-Out Bag. Why Change?
- 2 What’s Inside My All-New Bug Out Bag?
- 3 Bug Out Bag On a Budget
- 4 A Quality Pack Builds the Foundation
- 5 A Word About the FAK (First Aid Kit)
- 6 What Is Missing?
- 7 James Walton’s 14 Most Over Looked Items For Your Bug Out Bag
- 8 1. Good Shoes and Good Socks
- 9 2. Environmental Preps
- 10 3. Maps
- 11 4. Short Range Comms
- 12 5. Head Cover
- 13 6. Rain Gear
- 14 7. USB Power
- 15 8. Cash
- 16 9. PACE Plans
- 17 10. Sleeps Systems
- 18 12. Simple Emergency Radio
- 19 13. Survival Guide
- 20 14. Thumb Drive
- 21 Testing Your Bug Out Bag
- 22 Traditional Bug Out Bag Vs. Wilderness Bug Out Bag
- 23 Long Term Planning
I Already Have a Bug-Out Bag. Why Change?
Over the last six years, my knowledge of preparedness has grown exponentially, and with each new month, a light bulb has gone off and another piece of gear added to the pack. Clearly, it was time for a change.
Why change? My bag had become a mishmash of items, most of which I would never need. The bag was too heavy and even if it was not, in an emergency I could not get to its poorly organized contents easily.
This time I wanted to do it right. Before setting out to reconfigure my bug out bag, I set down some assumptions and goals.
1. First and foremost, my bug out bag needed to address what I felt were the most likely disruptive events to occur in my area. Yes, this would be a subjective risk evaluation but before continuing, I knew it had to be done lest I suffer another 40-pound behemoth backpack.
2. My B.O.B. needed to be road-worthy. It had to get me both away from home and back to home, depending on the circumstances.
3. Since my intent is to hunker down and bug in, this was not going to be a traditional survival bag. Its contents would not need to provide for my survival needs in the wilderness for days on end.
4. On the other hand, if my home became unsafe, I wanted to be able to deploy the contents of my bag while making my way to a secondary location for a few days up to a week.
5. Knowing that becoming sick or injured can prove deadly during an emergency, my primary Bug Out Bag would be supplemented by a separate First Aid Kit (FAK) that could be picked up an toted with me while carrying the B.O.B. on my back. Included in my FAK would be a large assortment of essential oils.
5 The total weight could not exceed 20 pounds.
Once I set down these ground rules, it was easy for me to empty my existing bag and start gathering the goods.
What’s Inside My All-New Bug Out Bag?
The following bug out bag list represents the items that are currently in my all-new bug out bag. This is a simple list, organized by broad category, with some links if you want to investigate further.
2 Lifestraw Water Filters
Aqua Tabs Water Purifier
Nalgene Water Bottle
2 Flashlights with batteries
Luci EMRG Solar Lantern
SunJack Light Stick
4 Glow Sticks
Mora Companion Fixed Blade Knife
Tac-Force Folding Knife
100 feet of Paracord
Fire, Warmth & Shelter
Swedish Fire Steel
Cotton balls soaked in Vaseline
Mylar “Space” Blanket
2 Pocket-sized Mylar Blankets
2 Coleman Rain Ponchos
Reusable Hand-warmer Hot Pack
Food & Cooking
Flamelite Burn-box Stove
Nesting Cook Pots
GI Can Opener
New Millenniums Bars
4 Mountain House Food Pouches
Kashi Protein Bars
Voyager crank radio
2 Baofeng ham radios
Hygiene & Personal
Toothbrush & Toothpaste
Toilet Paper squished flat in a Food Saver bag
30 Day Supply of Prescription Meds
No Rinse Bathing Wipes
Personal wipes (“Butt wipes”)
Choetech 19W Solar Panel
$500 cash in small bills
Copy of passports and other important documents
Why You Should Include Pantyhose In Your Bug Out Bag
- You can wear pantyhose as extra layer beneath your normal clothes to keep warm in cold weather.
- Use pantyhose to prevent bites and stings. Wear pantyhose under your shorts or pants to protect against chiggers, ticks, and other biting insects.
- If you are going to be trekking through water, wear them to protect yourself from jellyfish stings and leaches.
- Stretch a pair of pantyhose over a “Y” shaped branch or stick and use as a skimmer or a fishing net. You won’t catch a 10lb catfish in this, but you may be able to pick up a few smaller fish to eat or use as bait for a larger fish
- Use pantyhose to secure bait while fishing. Place bait in the pantyhose and secure it to a tree or anything sturdy in order to to keep from losing bait while fishing.
- Use pantyhose as a pouch or bag to carry things.
- Use pantyhose to fasten or bind things together instead of twine or bungee cords..
- You can use pantyhose as a belt to keep your pants hiked up.
- In first aid, you can utilize pantyhose as a tourniquet or to hold and/or secure a bandage or hot and cold pack.
- Use pantyhose as a first round filter to strain any collected water. The water will still need to be treated or boiled but this first line of defense will help to clear the water of any large particles.
- Use pantyhose to prevent blisters. I saw a lot of comments in one of my previous articles about using pantyhose to keep your feet blister free and I just wanted to highlight it again here. Cut the feet off of a pair of pantyhose at the ankles and wear them under your socks. They will help cut down on the friction between your shoe and your foot, thus reducing the risk of blisters.
Bug Out Bag On a Budget
I do have a recommendation or two if you are just getting started with a limited budget. Then simply take a run through your house and gather up any items that help accomplish some of the key areas. (Remember I mentioned water, first aid, light, warmth, and shelter?)
Here is a short bug out bag list for those on a budget that want to get started on a preparedness path sooner rather than later.
- bottled water or can get some for just a few bucks.
- Add a lighter
- an old flashlight and some extra batteries
- bandages and gauze
- an old blanket
- toilet paper
- a pocket knife
- contact lists
- poncho or raincoat
- a section of duct tape
Add other items as you can and improve your bag. You don’t have to start out with a huge budget to be more prepared for a survival situation!
To this day, I really believe in the Rothco Medium Transport Bag. It has plenty of pockets to organize your stuff as well as straps to keep it secure during a survival situation. There is room for a water bladder (although I did not use one) as well as plenty of MOLLE for adding pouches of additional items to the exterior.
What I like most about the Medium Transport Pack is its slim form factor. It is only as wide as my body which means I can pass through narrow passages and hallways without bumping into things. If you are looking for a new pack, please do consider this one. For me, at least, it is perfect. It is tough, sturdy, and just the right size for carrying your bug out gear.
A Word About the FAK (First Aid Kit)
I did include a few bandages in my pack but for the most part, my intent is to tote my Ammo Can First Aid Kit with me. It is in the car during road trips and back in my closet while at home. Definitely, it moves around a lot. And, it gets used. A lot.
Call me clumsy or accident-prone, but the Ammo Can FAK has become the most used prep I own. The fact that it also includes remedies and essential oils increases its usefulness. Want to build one of your own? Read How to Create an Emergency Ammo Can First Aid Kit.
What Is Missing?
Good question. At this point, I have not added clothing, extra socks or underwear. Also missing are hiking boots which will already be on my feet or in the car. Also, items from my EDC and personal weapons and firearms are not included (my OSO Sweet pocket knife, Windstorm Whistle, and Ruger, for example).
All that being said, my B.O.B. has some room to spare. It came in at 17.5 pounds so I have a bit of room before reaching my weight limit. Most likely I will add a few items but, equally likely, I plan to start a second kit that includes the aforementioned clothing, a sleeping bag, and some amusements and comfort items. I never plan to have to go to a shelter but if I am forced to do so, I want a separate bag set up for that purpose alone. A survival situation doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to be in the woods in a tent.
One thing for sure. I am not going to run off and stuff anything and everything into a bag again, willy-nilly style. This time I plan to use my head and not my wallet, if you know what I mean.
James Walton’s 14 Most Over Looked Items For Your Bug Out Bag
1. Good Shoes and Good Socks
I used to wear clogs to work. It was a dream of mine to wear the long bistro apron and those black clogs in the back of the house at some swanky restaurant. I lived that dream for a while. Almost a decade.
My next profession put me in a warehouse, in boots. It was there I learned how important it was to break boots in and wear proper socks.
Hot spots are real, blisters, and raw skin. This stuff would happen to me in a matter of hours if I chose to use the wrong socks. To add context here, I was no soft-footed person. As a chef, I spent as much as 14 hours a day on my feet. On the weekends I put on waders and went fly fishing for hours.
Still, dry land booting requires some preparation. It would be a sin for you to find that out on the second mile of your 30-mile bugout route. While the boots might not be stored in your bag, I would pack a few good thick pairs of wool socks.
2. Environmental Preps
Some of the cheapest preps to get your hands on but some of the lamest things to talk about! You can’t start a prepping blog on suntan lotion and bug spray. However, these two things can make a world of a difference in austere situations.
“The float is like 4 hours long when the river is running like this.”
8 hours later I arrived onshore after floating the James River with some friends and family. I was a different shade of red than I had ever seen a man become. Nothing hurt yet but I was in for a life-changing experience. A sunburn that is bad enough can turn into an actual emergency.
I applied suntan lotion but only once in 8 hours.
That night I was in the most agony of my entire life. I couldn’t even lay in bed because my skin was so raw. I just remember laying in the back room of my home doing deep yogic breathing in order to clear my mind and fall asleep.
This went on for three days and when Monday rolled around I had to call out of work because I couldn’t even put a shirt on!
Now, I am a pale Irish boy but I have never been sunburnt quite like this. That is what waits for you out there if you get caught without protection from the environment.
What on earth do you do with a map that is not on your phone? How do you zoom in and where are all the Starbucks?
Before we had maps we mapped the stars but once we could navigate using a map and compass things became very interesting. That was a skill that helped us explore this great continent of North America. Unfortunately, that skill is all but lost thanks to GPS.
Maps are very important for preppers. We need to have maps at our disposal and particularly of our area. Be sure you have a map of your bugout location and that area, as well.
If you are traversing on foot you will really want a good map. This map will help you if you get off track or if you just don’t know the way on foot. When your bugout plan is based off Google Maps it will look very different if you have never walked it.
A good map and compass can get you back on track if you have to go around a marsh or some new environmental hazard.
One very important thing about land navigation, its a skill that decays like all others. If you are going to get good at it, its not so much about getting out and doing it once. It has to be built into your life on a regular basis.
4. Short Range Comms
The sun is setting and your family was separated because of an unforeseen situation during the bugout. This could happen for a number of reasons but if you don’t have a plan to rally at a predetermined location you are going to be in big trouble.
Unless, of course, you have short-range communications. Two-way radios seem like toys until you need them. You might have a set sitting on a shelf somewhere. Your kids likely have some that are shaped like superhero heads or something to that effect.
One of the best ways to familiarize your family with these two-way radios is to bring them on your next camping trip. As you travel around the campsite you can call back to home base and get used to staying in touch with this method. A radio is really a great piece of gear to have for a variety of situations.
These two-way radios are short-range communications and that is all you should expect from them. While the package might say they reach 21 miles, take my word for it, count on them for a mile or less.
5. Head Cover
Something so simple yet often overlooked.
No matter where we went fishing or how long we’d be out, my Dad was always sure I had a hat. It was vital to cover the head and protect yourself from the sun. Dad would later get a little ear cancer and this would be his greatest lesson.
It was cut off and he survived but he drove the point home ad nauseam.
If you are not a hat person an essential for your bugout is going to be the Shemagh. The Shemagh is a powerhouse with several survival applications. It also offers up a number of ways to wear the large handkerchief.
One of the best uses for a Shemagh is as a face and head cover or a Keffiyeh. While the average American will look at this use of the Shemagh and think ‘Taliban’ its actually very effective. If you don’t have sunblock or bug spray the Shemagh offers as much protection as you could ever want for the head and neck.
6. Rain Gear
This one is pretty straightforward. If you are cold and wet it is about the quickest route to hypothermia aside from floating in the cold lake itself.
What most people get wrong about rain gear is that you need to invest big money on an Acrtyrex raincoat with a hood.
The reality about rain gear is that it can be very, very cheap to outfit your entire family. How cheap?
Well, you can spend a few bucks a person on ponchos. Ponchos, while not designer pieces of prepper or survival gear are incredibly effective rain gear. They will keep you dry and baseball fans depend on them every spring!
Don’t have the money for rain gear?
Those trash bags will provide you with plenty of protection from the rain if you just cut a space for your face. if you pack trash bags you can also quickly wrap your bugout bag, as well.
7. USB Power
Power is essential in this modern age. Hate it or love it, your cellphone is on of the most powerful survival tools you have. Its comms, maps, intel and much more.
I like to download an offline survival manual on my phone. This gives me access to great information even without service.
Outside of your phone, there are lots of items that can be powered via USB. If you pack a simple foldout solar array that can power these items, you have a lot of options for power generation.
Here is a simple list of items that can be charged using USB power.
- Rechargeable Batteries
- Stun Guns
- Kids Toys
While all of these items might not be in your bugout bag, if something like a drone is part of your bugout plan it will need power. USB Solar power is renewable and makes for a perfect example of essential bugout gear
Less than 50% of Americans have $500 dollars saved. The American public is laden with debt just like the government!
Setting up an emergency fund is a very effective way for us thwart disasters ranging from the cataclysmic economic collapse to just being out of work for a few weeks.
This is easily the hardest of the bugout bag essentials to commit to. It’s not easy to throw $500 in cash into a safe or a cache and leave it there. Life is tough! Things come up that your bugout cash could really help.
In desperate situations, and the bugout is despair, cash can solve problems that many things cannot. You can get the things you need if you have the cash to on hand. This could be information or something else.
Even in today’s society cash still has a certain swagger to it. It can make things happen that shouldn’t or it can smooth out rough situations.
Maybe building an emergency fund to float your living costs for 3 months is just out of the picture. If so, put a few hundred away so you can grab it if the bugout ever becomes a reality.
One more thing! Don’t take three Ben Franklin’s out into the world and expect people to make change for you in a disaster. Be sure your cash is broken up into smaller bills ahead of time.
9. PACE Plans
The PACE concept is often left to things like communications and security. However, it fits snug into bugout planning.
For the uninitiated PACE is an acronym.
The reason this is such an important bugout bag essential is because the bugout should not be as simple as a point A to point B gameplan. You know, there is a good chance that your one bugout location could be compromised in one sense or another.
That means that you are now without a bugout location or plan!
When you develop a PACE plan for bugging out you can create a few different locations or checkpoints where you can set up a shelter or wait things out for your primary location to be accessible.
The most important part about these PACE plans is that they should be hard copy and stored in your bugout bag. Maps of the locations are vital and maybe some notations.
You need a reference if things get messy. There is a good chance that your bugout meets resistance in a disaster.
Hard copy PACE plans are undoubtedly one of the bugout bag essentials.
10. Sleeps Systems
The variety of sleep systems on the market that deserve consideration. While it might seem like you need a family-sized tent to bugout properly, that may not be the case.
How you sleep has so much to do with your success. You heal, you rest, you recover and you process the stress of the prior day. Sleep is one of the most overlooked survival “skills” that exists.
Craig Avery, a survival school owner and creator of the Hunters Hammock, changed my outlook on survival sleep systems. I was not well versed in the world of hammock sleeping. I was a tent guy!
After playing with the hammock, adding a tarp and bug net, I realized that each family member could be outfitted with a hammock and we could sleep off the ground and spread out the weight of carrying sleep systems.
Someone has to carry a tent or two. Its a big deal and it takes up a lot of room and weight. What I like about hammocks is that they can be carried by everyone.
My 4-year-old can carry a backpack with a hammock, tarp, and stakes in it! He can manage his own sleep system on the bugout. Of course, he will need help setting it up but this is just an example of sleep systems outside of tents.
This section is not about converting you from a tent sleep system to a hammock family. It’s about emphasizing your sleep system. Spend some time considering the pros and cons of what’s out there.
I have a radical theory that if more people in America knew how to stop others from bleeding to death in a disaster and were equipped to do it, that it would deter the rash of mass shootings in our nation.
Things like QuikClot and tourniquets go a long way in saving people’s lives.
In a bugout situation, a tourniquet could save your life in many ways.
In the fantastic and unlikely scenario, you could find yourself in a firefight and need a tourniquet to stop the bleeding from a gunshot.
You might just drive an ax into your foot because you’re tired but you need more firewood at your BOL. Ax injuries like this happen all the time and people’s lives are saved by tourniquets, all the time!
Add this to your bugout bag list.
Most preppers have a simple emergency radio in their home. This could be one of those hand-crank models or something a little more sophisticated.
While you might look at that little radio as insignificant, it’s likely your greatest weapon in gathering intelligence during a disaster!
Most of us depend on our cell phones for news and news updates. This is for good reason! The cell phone is a very effective survival tool despite the way our community often frowns upon it.
If something happens to our phone we need an alternate means of gathering information on the disaster.
Something small and rechargeable is perfect to include on your bugout bag list.
13. Survival Guide
Do you think there is a bit of ego that goes into all this survival and preparedness?
It’s impossible to know everything about survival, navigation, homesteading and self-sufficiency. I pack books in my bugout bag for just that reason. Preppers Survival Navigation is a small book that I swear by and Dave Canterbury’s Bushcraft First Aid are bugout bag essentials.
Our very own Samantha Biggers sent me a copy of Jim Cobb’s Preppers Home Defense and I think that might make its way into the bag, as well.
Securing your BOL is going to be a big deal when you arrive.
14. Thumb Drive
Who are you?
Can you prove it?
While a thumb drive can be used to store hundreds of gigs of survival information it can also store all the important information about your property and identity.
I have a collection of thumb drives that really matter. One is just filled with wedding pictures. Do I want to leave that behind in a bugout situation? NOW WAY!
For me to fully understand what a Bugout Thumb Drive should look like I had to sit down and write it all out on paper and then review it. This really helped me and helped complete my bugout bag checklist.
Sleep is essential.
Testing Your Bug Out Bag
Let’s talk about your personal bug out bag for a moment… Anyone can blindly add dozens and dozens of different pieces of survival gear 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 in an emergency 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.
It is very important to take a few hikes with your bag and see how it feels. It is better to realize that you need to make changes when it is not a real emergency than to find yourself struggling or totally unable to carry what you packed for even a short distance. Too many preppers assume they will just strap their bag on and walk 10 miles with no problems. The truth is that most people are going to struggle to do that or not be able to do it at all. Practice and good planning can change all that.
Traditional Bug Out Bag Vs. Wilderness Bug Out Bag
To some people, a bug out bag is just a bag to get them through some really basic situations, some may not even consider the situation a real emergency. If your idea of a bug out bag is living in the wilderness for any length of time beyond just a few days then there may be some additions you want to make. Here are a few suggestions from Backdoor Survival writer James Walton and a little advice about planning out a wilderness bug out bag.
Trapping can be ugly. Who would want their life to end in the clutches of a cold steel trap?
The problem is that steel traps work! They work all the time and they work while you are away doing other things. Its the most effective means of passive food gathering.
Conibear traps are heavy but effective. The DF-4 deadfall trap by Self Reliance Outfitters is a lightweight trapping option.
If you are squeamish about trapping animals, employ killing traps. Your meal will be lifeless and waiting for you upon arrival…in most cases.
Wrapping some bannock dough around sticks and cooking it over the fire is a fun way to eat during a weekend camping trip.
If that becomes your nightly meal prep, it could get old in a hurry. If you are truly planning on bugging out to the woods, you should have a cooking plan.
It only takes a few pans and some reliable utensils to make up a good mess kit. Your container can double as a pot for boiling water. You might also consider some cast iron cook wear as part of your bugout setup.
Long Term Planning
Your wilderness bugout is not a weekend camping trip. It could become your new way of life. This should change the way you look at things like food, shelter, and water.
Food and water go from being short term fixes to long term processes. Trapping food, collecting, and sanitizing water will have to be parts of your life that require attention almost every day.
Your tent is not a long term shelter. You will need the cutting tools we described above to fashion a shelter from strong hardwood.
There is one word that I would like you to mull over when you consider your wilderness bugout plan.
Conclusion: A bug out bag needs to suit the unique needs of the person it is for. Having the fanciest emergency gear doesn’t actually mean you are prepared. Putting together a bug out bag checklist can help you concentrate on your true needs instead of getting distracted with gear that just looks cool to you. Start out with bug out bag essentials and then add extra items as you can afford them. Remember that over time your bug out bag checklist may change.
One area where you do not want to skimp is when it comes to tools. A good multi-tool doesn’t cost a lot and can be a real lifesaver in an emergency survival situation. Choose a brand like Leatherman, Gerber, or any other recognized brand with a good reputation.
Always have a good water filter that you know how to use and suits your ability.
Fire starting is not as easy as some make it look. A set of stormproof matches is a good back up for other methods.
Remember that gear will only get you so far. You need to practice with it and know how to use it during good times so you can react well during a real emergency survival situation.
A Practical Guide to Storing Food For the Long Term
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When most people start thinking about family preparedness, they focus on food. Not shelter, gear, sanitation, power, self-defense or the myriad of other concerns that need to be addressed following an emergency or disaster situation. Quite simply, food is the number one concern people have second only to their concern for having an adequate supply of water.
The Prepper’s Guide to Food Storage is a book about food: What to store, how to store it and best practices. It is a roadmap for showing ordinary citizens that long-term food storage is not something that will overwhelm or burden the family budget.
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