If (or when) disaster strikes, you can’t always count on your home or shelter being a permanent place to stay. Prepping a bug-out bag is a critical survivalist investment. We can look at the very recent and devastating effects of Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas to know that having an emergency survival bag is a very good idea.
“Bugging out” the right way doesn’t mean throwing some canned food and a few water bottles in a school bag and hitting the highway. In a disaster scenario, you must assume the worst:
Infrastructure may be gridlocked, broken or unreliable. Food and water may not be readily available or safe to eat. A shelter may have to be found or made, not provided. You may have to travel by foot and remain outdoors for extended periods of time. Temperature and weather will be a factor.
In this guide, we’ll review some of the best bug-out bag options for 2021 and beyond. The bags we recommend satisfy all the requirements listed below. You can use these requirements to research your own options, too.
The Five Bug-Out Bag Requirements
Your bug-out bag must be incredibly durable. A bag made from a thin nylon or simple fabric pack won’t stand up to the rigors of extensive travel and living off the grid. Thicker (330D+) nylon or Cordura will do nicely.
You may be traveling on foot, so you’ll need to save every ounce of weight for equipment. That means your bag should be as light as possible. A good, full-frame bag with a cummerbund shouldn’t weight more than 6 to 8 pounds.
A bug-out bag is no good if all your equipment, clothing, and foodstuffs get soaked or spoiled. Your bag should at least be water-resistant.
Traveling with enough equipment to live off the grid means carrying a lot of stuff. Typical backpacks and day bags carry around 20 to 35 liters. Your bug-out bag should be able to carry at least 35 liters to 50 liters.
Carrying your essentials means lugging around some weight. Your bug-out bag should be load-bearing: It should have a cummerbund or extra set of straps for the waist, to reduce the load on your shoulders and spine. Ideally, we also want extra straps and attachments so you can throw on extra essentials to the outside of the bag (like a sleeping system, tent poles, or smaller bags).
Top Bug-Out Bags of 2021
Let’s look at the best bug-out bags! We’ll start off smaller and simpler, working our way up to some beefier, more capable bags. We’ll also work with a range of low to high prices – not everyone can spend $250 on a bag, after all.
Best Bug Out Backpacks
ALPS OutdoorZ Commander + Pack Bag
5.11 Tactical RUSH72 Military Backpack
Most affordable, best price to capacity, simplest
The WolfWarriorX Backpack starts off our list as the most affordable and simplest “grab-n’-go” bag. It weighs 3.6 pounds.
Why You Want It
It comes in under $40, so it’s incredibly affordable. It has loads of capacity (maybe the most) at this price point, too: 39 liters with an expandable main compartment up to 64 liters, or 3,905 cubic inches. This is a very simple bag with large compartments, making it perfect for shoving it fully and bugging out in a hurry.
Features and Review
We like WolfWarriorX because even though it’s inexpensive, it isn’t cheap. It’s made from basic Cordura, so it’s water-resistant. There are some MOLLE attachments for adding more bags or equipment on the sides and front. It also has a bladder pouch for a hydration system.
Unfortunately, there is no cummerbund included. The bag instead has a belt loop at the bottom front, so you can use your own cummerbund or large belt to take load off your shoulders.
At $40, this bag has simple straps and retention systems. It’s no “end-of-days” bag that’ll go to war. But it’ll hold all your essentials, it’ll keep ‘em dry, and it’ll get you out of dodge in a hurry.
Comfortable, lightest, expandable
The 5.11 Tactical RUSH72 bag is our top choice for a more rugged, even lighter bag that’s comfortable and still affordable. It weighs just 2 pounds.
Why You Want It
The RUSH72 is one of our most lightweight bags on this list, but it boasts a 55-liter (2,894 cubic inch) capacity and it can be expanded up 65 liters or more thanks to a full MOLLE strap system.
Features and review
The top-front compartment is extendable with four straps and 5.11 says you can shove bulky equipment like a sleeping bag or wet clothing between the main bag and the compartment. Total capacity may technically be higher than 55 liters, even without adding more bags or containers.
MOLLE straps cover the entire front and sides, allowing for attaching of additional bags or equipment. An internal frame helps keep the bag rigid when not full. There’s also a hydration pouch for a drinking bladder and hose.
It’s constructed from 1,050D Cordura, so it’s rugged and water-resistant. The shoulder straps on this bag sport some nice foam padding. It includes a lightweight cummerbund and shoulder yoke to take weight off your shoulders, too. The backpiece is ventilated and padded, allowing for comfortable wear in hot weather.
For its size, weight, and features, the Rush72 is affordable at around $170. We recommend the RUSH72 bag for a 3-day to two-week travel.
Full-frame, most rugged, affordable, long-term bag
The Army’s original ALICE Pack is the most affordable, bomb-proof bag on our list. This is the first bag that we recommend for extended, “SHTF” use in truly unforgiving conditions.
Why You Want It
The ALICE Pack is rugged enough and has enough carrying capacity (62 liters or 3,800 cubic inches) that you can carry all your essentials for weeks or months at a time. It also has one of the highest weight ratings, holding 50 to 100 pounds.
The full system weighs around 6 pounds. The bag’s 1,000D Cordura is also treated to provide better water resistance than other Cordura or nylon bags.
Features and Review
This person writing this guide has a certain love for the ALICE Pack. He carried one for many years, dragging it through mud, mountains, 110-degree water, frigid temperatures, and pouring rain. He shoved sharp knives, gun barrels, and shovels inside the bag. He stretched and yanked the straps as hard as he could whenever he cinched it up. It never tore nor frayed.
The ALICE Pack will take some serious abuse and keep going. This bag is even simpler than the WolfWarriorX bag. It has no MOLLE attachments, no fancy YKK zippers, no hook-and-loop fasteners, or fancy retention systems.
What it does have is one, large compartment and conveniently large external pockets. The fasteners feature double-button clasps on all the pockets, double-stitched and heavy-duty fabric straps, and a full aluminum frame with nicely padded shoulders and a tough cummerbund.
Picking up a quality ALICE Pack can be difficult since these are real, military-surplus bags. Do your research and look for one that’s described as “Made in the U.S.A”, “military surplus”, or “U.S.G.I”. They should cost around $90 to $150, preowned to new conditions. Some knock-off versions won’t be as durable.
Full-frame, very high capacity, most comfortable, low-profile)
Tactical bags are wonderfully rugged, but all those compartments, fasteners, and thick material take up space and weight. This bag keeps things light, clean, and free of busy tactical stuff.
Why You Want It
The Kelty Coyote is a departure from tactical bags, offering the lightest weight and one of the highest capacities of any bag on our list. It carries up to 80 liters (4,881 cubic inches), it can handle up to 60 pounds of load, and it weighs just 5 pounds.
Features and Review
The Kelty’s physical dimensions are what make this bag so great. It’s a long, thin bag that effectively distributes weight across the length of your body. It’s made from lighter 420D nylon, but it’s still rugged and water-resistant.
The Kelty sports a “PerfectFIT” suspension system that uses a lightweight frame and cummerbund. The entire back, strap system, and cummerbund are padded with thick, ventilated foam so it’s incredibly comfortable.
Long hiking packs like this can be difficult to load and unload quickly, so the main compartment has bottom access for sleeping bags, tents, clothing, or bulkier items. This pack is hydration-compatible and while it doesn’t have MOLLE straps, it contains plenty of accessory straps with buckles for strapping down larger items on the exterior.
We also like the top flap cover. It folds over the bag and secures with buckles, adding an extra later of water resistance. Plenty of smaller side compartments with zippers allow you to store daily-use items without having to dig out of your entire bag.
Lightweight, rugged bag with rifle attachment
For many survivalists, bugging out means carrying some weaponry. The bags we’ve reviewed so far don’t have specific accommodations for any weapons. This bag fixes that.
Why You Want It
The VooDoo Tactical offers a nice 72-hour bag with an integrated rifle carrying system. This is the bug-out bag you want for easily carrying your bolt gun or tactical rifle while keeping your hands free.
Features and Review
At first glance, the VooDoo Tactical looks like a simple, medium-capacity bug-out bag. It offers about 30 to 35 liters of capacity (2,100 cubic inches), it’s made from Cordura, it has a nice cummerbund with lightly padded straps and a shoulder yoke, and it has plenty of MOLLE attachments for extra gear.
Zip-out and fold away the front flap and compartments, and you’ll find the VooDoo also sports a drop-down flap with a buttstock pocket and three straps for securing your rifle. The system secures your rifle barrel-up, so you can carry anything from a compact AR-7 survival gun to a 26”-barreled hunting rifle. A cord-locking sleeve is included for protecting your weapon’s barrel from the elements, too.
The VooDoo is made from Cordura and sports YKK zippers, so overall ruggedness, capacity, and quality make this a perfect bag for a short-term “SHTF” scenario where personal defense or food gathering may be required.
Full-frame, highest capacity, rifle attachment
Maybe you need the most capacity and you still need to carry some arms and munitions. The ALPS OutdoorZ offers the best of both worlds.
Why You Want It
The ALPS OutdoorZ essentially combines the benefits of the Kelty Coyote 80 with the functionality of the VooDoo Tactical: It offers a hiking-profile bag with a long, thin profile and it has a great rifle retention system that can accommodate nearly any long gun.
The OutdoorZ boasts an 86-liter (5,250 cubic inches) capacity, making it the bag with the most capacity on our list. With the included frame, the OutdoorZ weighs around 7 pounds – not bad for its ability to hold well over 100 pounds.
To handle all that weight, the OutdoorZ has a very thick, padded cummerbund and nicely padded shoulders. A freight shelf is included in the back for bulky, heavy items. There’s no MOLLE to speak of, but plenty of external compartments and straps are provided. A rain cover is also included, which secures using two straps and buckles.
Although the nylon material isn’t 1,000D Cordura, it still provides water resistance and it’ll resist fraying or tearing on the trails or in the sticks. Securing your rifle means unbuckling the two compartments on the right side of the pack, sliding your rifle underneath, and strapping it down. This pack also secures with the barrel up, so weapon or barrel length shouldn’t be a concern.
Picking the right bug-out bag ultimately comes down to your personal preferences, your bug-out plan, where you live, the environment you’ll operate in, and what equipment you’re carrying. While these bags satisfy all the usual requirements, there may be something better for you out there.
If you research bags on your own, here are some things to avoid:
These bags may be waterproof, but they’re not rugged enough. Poly and synthetic bags often tear, fray, stretch, and fail. Stick with heavy-duty nylon, Cordura, or woven fabric.
Velcro compartment fasteners
Small cargo pockets do fine with Velcro, but your bag’s main compartments should secure using drawstrings, buckles, or zippers. Velcro likes to fail after a few days or weeks in mud, rain, and dirt.
No load-bearing or cummerbund
Stay away from any bag that doesn’t have some sort of load-bearing system. Trying to bug out with a bag that only uses shoulder straps will quickly fatigue you. Extended use will cause injuries to the neck, back, and shoulders, slowing you down.
Plenty of “tactical” and “outdoor” bags advertise electronic accessories: charging ports, headphone jacks, loops and fasteners for wires, laptop pouches – avoid these bags for bugging out. These bags are meant for the commuter, day-hiker, or outdoor urbanite. These kinds of bags are usually single-stitched and made from lighter material. They’re not meant for the rugged wilderness (or a disaster environment) when your life may count on it.
Here’s what your bag should be able to carry
If your bag can’t carry these seven basic item categories with some room to spare, it’s probably too small. Sleeping bags, tents, larger tools, and utensils can usually be secured to the exterior of your bag, freeing up valuable space for sensitive items and personal effects inside:
1. Complete first-aid kit
2. Three days’ worth of water (3 liters)
3. Three days’ worth of food (6,000 calories)
4. Two extra sets of clothing (hot- and cold weather)
5. One roll-up tent with rainfly, and one sleeping bag
6. Daily-use gear (fire starter, water sanitizer, cup, pot or pan, basic utensils)
7. Tactical equipment (one radio, one knife or hatchet, rope, handheld light)
Author Bio: Travis Noonan is a military veteran, gunsmith, writer, and outdoorsman. He enjoys writing about all things related to prepping, survivalism, and rifle-building. When he’s not busy helping shooters build AR-15s and tactical rifles, Travis spends his days fishing, hiking, and camping the Pennsylvania wilderness.