What to pack in a survival bug out bag
When considering disaster preparedness, keep in mind that what survival gear and emergency supplies you add to your bug out bag checklist and then pack in a survival bob bag (bug out bag) for your survival kit can mean the difference between life and death, or at least affect your level of comfort if SHTF and you had to get outta dodge. If you haven’t done so already, you should read my previous post on 10 key ideas for your bob bag list before we get started.
What do other people say you should put in your bugout bag?
There are a LOT of theories out there on what you should put in a bug out bag checklist. Just to give you a glimpse, here are a few examples:
(optionally supplemented with something like a Garmin Oregon 550 Waterproof Hiking GPS)
- Extra food
- Extra water
- Extra clothes
- Firestarter like the Amber FireLight II
(or matches, chemical heat tabs, canned heat, or a magnesium stick)
Here’s what the American Red Cross says should be on your bug out bag checklist:
- Water—one gallon per person, per day (3-day supply for evacuation, 2-week supply for home)
- Food—non-perishable, easy-to-prepare items (3-day supply for evacuation, 2-week supply for home)
- LED flashlight
- Battery-powered or hand-crank radio (NOAA Weather Radio, if possible)
- Extra batteries
- First aid kit – Anatomy of a First Aid Kit
- Medications (7-day supply) and medical items
- Sanitation and personal hygiene items
- Copies of personal documents (medication list and pertinent medical information, proof of address, deed/lease to home, passports, birth certificates, insurance policies)
- Cell phone with chargers
- Family and emergency contact information
- Extra cash
- Space Blanket
- Map(s) of the area
- Medical supplies (hearing aids with extra batteries, glasses, contact lenses, syringes, etc)
- Baby supplies (bottles, formula, baby food, diapers)
- Games and activities for children
- Pet supplies (collar, leash, ID, food, carrier, bowl)
- Two-way radios
- Extra set of car keys and house keys
- Manual can opener
- N95 or surgical masks
- Rain gear
- Work gloves
- Tools/supplies for securing your home
- Extra clothing, hat and sturdy shoes
- Plastic sheeting
- Duct tape
- Household liquid bleach
- Entertainment items
- Blankets or sleeping bags
Here’s what FEMA (Ready.gov) says should be on your bug out bag checklist:
- Water, one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation
- Food, at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food
- Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both
- LED flashlight
and extra batteries
- First aid kit
- Whistle to signal for help
- Dust mask to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
- Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
- Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
- Manual can opener for food
- Local maps
- Cell phone with chargers, inverter or solar battery charger
Those are pretty good examples, and you can see even larger or different bug out bag check lists of what to pack in your go bag at Wikipedia, The Canadian Red Cross, or just start doing Google searches phrases like “bug out bag contents”, “what goes in a bob bag”, or “bug out bag check list”
He breaks it down pretty well and chooses these categories for what to put in your bugout bag and then goes on to explain a bit of the Bug Out Plan:
- Water & Hydration
- Food & Food Preparation
- Shelter & Bedding
- First Aid
- Protection & Self Defense
The nice thing about Creek’s bug out bag checklist is that he gives you a list of categories and then goes through examples for each. What goes in your survival kit shouldn’t be chosen from a list of items you read from a prepper website – even this one. You should look at these bugout bag checklists as examples so you get the idea of what you need and can generate some ideas. What you need is a list of essential bugout bag categories to choose from and then some examples from each to get your mind flowing.
So the first thing you need to do is get a bag. Why on Earth would you do this first? I’ve seen lots of people pick what they need first, and then get a bag to fit it all. This, unfortunately, means picking a bag that suits your contents and not your back. You should get an idea of what kind of bag you’re looking for (everything from your every day carry bag do your SHTF / TEOTWAWKI survival pack) and then fill it with whatever essential items will fit, being careful to leave some room for things you find along the way or other things you decide to pack later on.
By choosing the right bugout bag, or set of bugout bags, you can make sure you can carry the thing for longer distances with greater comfort. It doesn’t do any good to pack 80 pounds of emergency gear into a bag and then bug out into the wilderness, only to have to drop 40 pounds of survival gear because you can’t carry it all. You also need to decide what kind of survival bag you’re needing. There are several types of bug out bags that you need to consider before even looking at the types of bags there are on the market. That sounds a bit confusing but read on, dear friends; read on…
So what are bugout bags?
There are many names for bugout bags, and actually different types of bags, as well as many definitions and schools of thought for each bag. One of the key things that I try to preach is that your bugout bags shouldn’t look like bugout bags. A huge camouflage bob bugout bag with lots of equipment hanging off of it, worn by a guy in 5.11′s and a khaki shirt screams prepper (amateur one at that) and that guy’ll be a prime target for people with more training than sympathy. Watch your OPSEC when deciding what to wear.
Here are my ideas of the different types of bags:
Bug out bag (BOB bag, bugout bag, Get-Out-Of-Dodge bag (GOOD Bag), E&E (escape and evasion) bag, grab bag, bail-out bag)
This is the generic term for the survival pack you’ll grab if SHTF. It’s not designed to be carried with you at all times but should be available within a few minutes. It’s a good idea to have more than one bob bag to ensure it’s always ready.
EDC (Every day carry)
This is the smallest bag (or pack, or box, or whatever you happen to have it in). It’s basically the stuff you have with you every day. In a lot of cases, it’s not even a bugout bag but a list of items you’d have in your pockets, in your wallet, on your belt, or around your neck.
A go bag is a bob bag that can have a specific purpose. In Afghanistan, I had a go bag that had my essential items for survival but also for specific missions I might be called out to do. It’s also a generic term for a bob bag though.
A 72 hour bag is a larger version of the bob bag and theoretically holds everything you need to survive for three days. This is highly subjective though, and dependent upon what kind of survival situation you’re in. Your carried water supply should be thought of as separate because it’s one of the most varied survival items based on your situation.
Get Home bag (GHB)
The get home bag is what you carry with you or put in your car if you’re out somewhere and for whatever reason, you have to hump it back to FOB living room.
Vehicle Survival bag or pack
Your car bob should always have essentials for car repair and first aid but you should keep a survival kit in it as well in case you’re caught out without your main bugout bag or if you break down with another person in the car who has to survive with you.
This is similar to the vehicle survival bag but it’s kept in your office. It should have enough items if something happened while you were at work such as an earthquake or hurricane.
The INCH bag or box (I’m Never Coming Home bag)
This is the biggest of the bunch. It contains everything you’d need to start over. My INCH bag is definitely separate from my other bags and is kept in an easy-to-get location. It’s essentially a bugout bag on steroids and is designed to be put into whatever vehicle I’m traveling in when I get out of Dodge.
Cache / stache
This could be a bag, box or container and it’s usually placed at a location outside of your home somewhere. It’s designed to hold survival equipment (weapons, money, a bug out bag) so you can get it if you’re out. Some people put them at strategic locations outside of town or even at a friend’s house. One good idea is to have one (or them) located on the way to your bugout shelter where you’re going if SHTF.
A cache doesn’t have to be outside of your house though. Some people hide survival equipment, money, weapons, or whatever inside their home. The difference here is that this stash isn’t usually easily accessible and it’s usually hidden. What would you do if SHTF and you had to temporarily bug out of your home, or came home and all of your stuff was stolen by looters or thieves? By keeping a bug-in cache plastered behind a wall or in a secret compartment, you ensure that you’ll have essential items when you return. Keeping your preps secret is very important and is part of a good OPSEC Plan.
So what should you have in your bugout bag checklist?
As mentioned, there are many ways to organize what goes into your survival gear bags or boxes. Each pack should have things from each category represented. Remember: Two is One and One is None. You should overlap different categories so that you’re covered whether you can only grab one survival bag or can get to all of them. Here is how I break down the checklist into different categories of essential survival gear to have in your bob bag:
Most Essential Survival Equipment:
- Water Filters, Purifiers and Storage
Next Most Essential Survival Equipment:
- Tools / Equipment
- Power / Light
- Weapons / Security
Additional Survival Equipment
- Comfort Items
- Money / Barter
Keep in mind, in any given situation, what may be most needed may be completely different than in another situation. A winter coat may be completely unnecessary in a desert environment but may be the most important #1 item in the Arctic.
So let’s break these down to give you a few examples of each so you can start to figure out what you need to put into your own bug out bags.
Most Essential Survival Equipment:
Water is usually the most important thing to have. You can only last a few days without it. In an urban situation, you may be able to find water readily but it may not be suitable for drinking. What do you need to pack in your bug out bag for water? There are two main packing considerations; filtering and containers.
Water Filtration. There are many ways to filter water. UV lights, chemical, coagulants, and porous membrane filters, are just examples. Do some research and figure out what you want to carry in each bag. I usually pack a Life Straw in my smaller bags and a SteriPen UV light in the bigger ones.
Containers. Camelbaks are great to have in your bug out bag because you can carry quite a bit of water in a comfortable way, and access it without having to dig things out. They’re also very weight and space friendly. Canteens or water bottles can also be used. When on tactical missions, I always tried to have a camelback on my armor and also drink from water bottles whenever possible. Don’t forget to have at least one container that’s already full of water in case you don’t come across any to gather or filter for a while.
Obviously food is important but you can go for several weeks without it and survive. The biggest danger of not having food is that your brain requires calories to function and when you’re starving, you’re not going to think properly. You need to consider these in your bugout bag: carried food, hunting, fishing, and trapping. Keep in mind that hooks and nets can be fashioned from items you find in nature so packing items such as a knife can also double as food-procurement items.
Carried food. Try to keep high-calorie / low-weight food in your survival kits. The larger the kit, the more and tastier food you can carry. I keep a small bottle of olive oil in my smaller kits because there’s 120 calories in each tablespoon. You can also double it as fuel for a fire as well.
Hunting. Weapons are not just used for self-defense. A knife, gun, blowgun, bola, or one of many other items can be compact and very helpful when hunting to keep yourself alive in a survival situation.
Fishing. Fish are one of the best items to get in a survival situation and one of the easiest to pack for. A couple of fish hooks take up almost no space and is usually one of the EDC items to carry. The weights and bait can usually be found where you find the fish. You’ll need some kind of line to hang the hooks and since fishing line is great for tying things up, I pack that along with hooks in my smallest bags. In my bigger bags, I keep a small fish net.
Cooking Supplies. Your smaller go bags like the EDC can’t usually carry a lot of cooking supplies but you should put some things in your bigger bags. A titanium canteen cup is lightweight and very useful. They’re expensive but very worth it for a survival bag. Some kind of Camping stove is definitely nice for your medium-size and up bags.
Knife. Because knives are used to hunt for food, great as tools, and one of the oldest weapons known to Man, they’re a no-brainer to be packed in your get out of Dodge bag. I keep a small one in my pocket at all times (part of my EDC system), an exacto blade in my EDC kit, and a knife in each and every level and type of bugout bag I use.
A backpacking tent is a great thing to carry in your bob bag, but what do you do if you can’t get to or carry a bugout bag large enough to carry one? Consider a tiny Space Blanket as one of the smallest shelters. I keep one in pretty much every survival kit I have. For medium kits, consider a survival tarp, which can be used to make a field-expedient tent or as a rain-sheltered area outside of your packed tent.
Exposure doesn’t always come from the air. You can lose a lot of body heat into the ground if you’re not properly insulated. A good sleeping mat may take up a lot of room, and the lighter and more effective ones can be pricey but they’ll not only keep you alive, they’ll make your rest more comfortable.
Depending on your climate, also consider a mosquito net to sleep under. They take up a lot of room in a survival pack but they were essential when I was in Africa.
As with many other categories, a knife is extremely helpful to make survival shelters in the outdoors. Make sure you have one.
There are many, many ways to start a fire in the outdoors. If you don’t have the right tools though, it can be extremely difficult. Making fire by rubbing two sticks together is a LOT harder than they make it seem on TV.
I keep disposable butane lighters in my bags just for that purpose. Fire is one of the essentials, so I always back those up with other things. There are two main considerations with making fire in a survival situation: ignition and fuel. I’m not going to go through all the methods, because there are hundreds, but here’s what I use:
Chemical. Double-duty is essential to keep weight down in a pack and ensure you have what you need. Some water purification bottles contain potassium permanganate and easily fit into smaller bags. If you combine potassium permanganate and some form of glucose such as from transmission fluid, gel tablets, brake fluid, or others, it burns extremely hot without having to be lit. It’s a great way to get tinder started in wet environments so I always have some.
Solar. Bring along a small magnifying lens to start a fire. It’s easy to fit into a small pouch but the smaller ones aren’t too effective in real life. Keep in mind that reflecting a concave surface such as the polished bottom end of a soda or shaping ice into a lens will do the same thing.
Batteries and steel wool. Steel wool is actually a bunch of tiny wires. By rubbing it against a 9v battery, you complete the circuit and the current is enough to burn out the wires. If you are carrying any electronics that require 9v batteries, make sure you bring along steel wool as a tiny addition to your packs. You can use other sizes of batteries but keep in mind that typical ones are only 1.5v so they don’t push nearly the current so you may need several in series for it to work.
Soaking cotton balls or dryer lint in petroleum jelly is a great lightweight and space-saving way to keep fuel to start a fire in your survival kit.
Fire piston. I don’t have one of these fire pistons yet but they look pretty awesome. You basically put a tiny amount of something to burn in it, such as char cloth, and push down hard. The air pressure increase catches the cloth on fire.
Spark. A steel and flint combination can be used to start a fire also, but as with some of the other methods, doesn’t work well in damp environments. Due to their small size and low weight, I always have one in my pack though.
The primary consideration is for rescue. I always have a signaling mirror and a whistle in my packs.
In larger bags, I bring along a VS-17 signaling panel for aerial rescue. It takes up a fair amount of room though so it only goes into my bigger bag.
A cell phone is a no-brainer for communication, as long as you get service. If you have a smart phone, load a GPS app into it so you can let them know your coordinates if you have some kind of radio communication.
Since I have a ham radio license, I have a communications bag just for a portable ham radio that I bring with me whenever possible. I’ll definitely be putting together a post about how to do one of these because I think they’re essential for any prepper’s survival plan. I carry a Yaesu FT-857D portable radio as well as a Yaesu VX-6R handheld ham radio, along with a small motorcycle battery, Solar Battery Charger, and homemade rollup antenna.
Next Most Essential Survival Equipment:
A few key items should go into your EDC such as alcohol wipes, antibacterial gel and band-aids but larger bags should have more items. A medical kit is a huge subject in itself so I won’t go into too much detail but here are my essentials that aren’t on everyone else’s first aid kit list:
Clotrimazole. This stuff is essentially foot fungus gel. It’s a good antifungal and antibiotic ointment. It was a lifesaver when I got crotch rot in Central America one Summer though. A must-have in your SHTF kit.
Moleskin. Moleskin is essential if you start getting blisters, which you most likely will in a SHTF or disaster scenario because you’ll probably be doing a lot more walking than you’re used to.
Sunscreen. Gotta have that.
Chap stick. I keep several of these around. Not only is it good for your lips, you can use it with the cotton balls or lint to help start a fire.
Bug repellant. Avon Skin-So-Soft is hands-down the best bug repellant I’ve ever used. I don’t bring anything else.
Map. Make sure you have maps of the area that you’ll be going to. These maps should have enough detail that you can find where you are and where you want to go with no problem. Also, you should have your route maps from your bugout plan.
GPS. Don’t rely completely a GPS, but if you have one, they make life so much easier. The Garmin eTrex is one I’m considering.
Tools / Equipment
Tools are usually heavy so a bugout bag should make the best use of space. I use a Gerber multitool. I’m lucky enough to have had a couple of them issued to me but I’d buy them if I hadn’t.
Duct tape is another essential consideration. I usually save space by pulling off sections of it and wrapping it around items such as my lighters or canteen cup.
550 cord is a necessity. It has so many uses. Don’t forget that you can pull it apart and use the individual strands as string.
Vice grips are extremely useful but they are heavy for their size. I keep a pair in my medium-sized and up bob bags and always have some in my car.
Power / Light
Light is a necessity to consider for bugging out. LED flashlights are usually the way to go because of how long they last. Their power has increased immensely in the last few years. I always keep a flashlight in my pocket, one in each bag (except my EDC because technically my EDC is a system, not a bag so my pockets count, and at least one spare somewhere else. My car always has at least two and I have a few in my house too.
To run all these flashlights, and other things, you’ll need batteries. One of the best ways to go about this is to get all your items to run on the same size battery. That way you only have to stock one size so you can cut down on the number of spares you’ll have to carry. If you can get a solar charger and rechargeable batteries, you’ll be even better off. I use CR123′s for as many things as I can find but there’s a good argument for using AA batteries due to how easy they are to find. I may end up switching over to all rechargeable AA at some point but I’ll have to replace a lot of flashlights to do that.
My general system for power is a solar charger and backup battery, both of which have USB outputs. The solar charger is powerful enough that it will charge my iPad or iPhone directly even if it’s not 100% sunny out.
The backup battery will charge the iPhone about 4 times before it needs recharged. I usually keep the battery topped up by AC power and then charge it with the solar charger as I need it and use that to charge my electronics instead of using the solar charger directly unless my AC goes down, where I then use the solar charger until nighttime.
For my INCH bag (or box in my case), I have a briefcase-sized folding solar panel and a golf cart battery. I use this stuff for my camper usually but will bring it if I have to head out for a long time.
Weapons / Security
The whole weapons thing is a HUGE topic that’s covered in many different ways with many different points of view. I’ll be covering this one in several posts later but you essentially just need to make sure you pack something to defend yourself. I always carry a pistol, although it’s usually on me.
I keep spare ammo and a cleaning kit in my bugout bags. You should start with an off-the-shelf cleaning kit to begin with but then add things to suit your needs. One of the first things I added to mine was a dental cleaning kit. Start with a larger dental cleaning kit and pull out the ones you need. For your smaller bags, you may want to consider using a hacksaw and cutting them down to size.
To alert you to people or animals wandering into your camp in the night, you can string up a circle of fishing line and then hang a bell off of it. It’s cheap, compact and effective.
I don’t personally carry body armor when I’m not in a combat zone due to the immense weight and size but I may break down and get one of the undercover types, or at least get a kevlar fabric vest through one of my contacts.
Additional Survival Equipment
One of the key categories that people miss in packing their bugout bag is documents because they have the mindset that they are going to be stuck out in the middle of the woods somewhere. This may be the case, but hopefully at some point, you’ll make it back to civilization. Even if it’s The End Of The World As We Know It civilization is going to have to start somewhere and having identification and documents from the past may come in handy. Either way, don’t screw yourself by choosing not to carry these essential items. I would suggest laminating everything or at least putting them in waterproof containers somehow.
ID. Bring your driver’s license, any other ID’s such as police or military ID, your passport and your social security card.
Family records. If you have a flood or a fire, or have to head to a bug out location for a while, you don’t want to keep your family records back at the house. Bring your birth certificates, marriage licenses, and anything else that you may have a difficult time replacing.
Vehicle titles. This is especially important for whatever vehicle you take when you get out of Dodge but you should keep them all with you.
Deed. Bring the deed to your house, just as with your vehicle titles.
List of contents. You should actually have several lists for your items and one master list to call them out. I use an Excel Spreadsheet with a tab for every bugout bag I own and then laminate a minimized printed copy of each. This can be a huge asset if you need to find a specific item, especially medical kit equipment (which you should have in a designated area anyway). This way you don’t have to dig through all your stuff to get to something.
Contact list. List everyone you may ever want to contact for whatever reason. Put their phone numbers, addresses, email addresses, family members, and anything else that would help you contact them such as the Ham Radio channels they frequent.
Waterproof paper and space pen. Make sure you always have one of these available. You never know when you’ll need to leave a note, write down directions, or make notes of things you observe while you’re out.
Thumb drive. If you have electronics that work, such as my little eee PC, a thumb drive can really come in handy, especially for documents. Keep an encrypted list of logins and passwords, scanned copies of all documents, and your contact list. If you end up losing all your original documents, your thumb drive may help you rebuild everything.
iPad or other reading device. This may seem like something frivolous but imagine if you could have copies of survival manuals or farming ebooks right on hand?
There are a lot of purists out there who scream out whenever you mention bringing any comfort items, saying it’s a survival situation and not a camping trip. Most of these people have never spent more than a drunk weekend at a camping lodge. I’ve spent over a year in the jungles of Africa and in Central America. When you’re gone for months at a time, comfort becomes a priority. You can only carry so much but a few things like toilet paper, pictures of family, and a paperback book to read can sometimes be worth their weight in gold. Or feathers, if that’s a better analogy.
Speaking of toilet paper, hygiene is important in the field. Proper hygiene will mean less medical problems as well as better morale. I bring a camp towel and liquid soap, compact toothbrush, two travel-sized tubes of toothpaste, eye drops, chap stick, and dental floss. Chap stick and dental floss are key because floss can be used for other things such as tying things together (see #11 on my list of Top 10 bugout bag survival tips).
The most important items to bring along for clothing other than the obvious weather-specific warm or dry gear
are; socks, t-shirts, and underwear. Always keep a set of these three items in any bag they’ll fit and then more in bigger bob bags.
Money / Barter
You should consider more than just bringing along your cash and credit cards when trying to figure out what to put in your bugout bag but make sure you keep small bills and change in your survival kits. If you don’t, that $10 item you need badly may end up costing you the $100 bill you thoughtfully packed away because they don’t have change. Keep these other things in mind when thinking about what to pack in case of emergency:
What should you bring with you to trade? Medicine you don’t need could be very valuable to someone else.
What skills should you use or learn that might be useful if things go real bad? Make sure you bring any tools or reference materials you’d need to be able to take advantage of your knowlege.
What items will probably be more useful than cash in a SHTF event? Having extra food, medicine, alcohol or tobacco could be worth more than cash if SHTF.
What things willl you need to barter for in case of emergency? Make sure you pack your essential items that are hard to find or you’ll be trading away all your barterables for them.
- Extra energy or communications access? Having access to solar power to charge someone’s cell phone or letting them talk to others on your Ham Radio may be extremely valuable if SHTF.
So make sure you do a thorough bugout plan before you decide to make a checklist for your bugout bag. Don’t forget to get your go bags or containers first, based on comfort and utility and then pack them as necessary, leaving some room for future items. Your bugout plan should tell you what bags you’ll need where. Then go through the list of what categories to pack for in your emergency kit and ensure you overlap your supplies.
Two is one and one is none!