In case you haven’t heard the term before, your bug-out-bag should be the only thing you need to grab just before you “bug-out” – that is, leave your house in a hurry without knowing when (or if) you’ll ever come back. The basic idea is to stock a backpack with enough equipment to enable you survive 72 hours (three days) during a disaster. The ideal inventory has a high usefulness-to-weight ratio, and enough room for items that consider your survival in the longer term, and to help you pick up the pieces after a crisis.
There’s two main parts to planning your ideal bug-out-bag: choosing the backpack itself, and choosing the inventory that goes in. Bug-out-inventories abound in survival enthusiast books and websites, but many of these recommend 75+ items: it may be reassuring to check off a long list of high-tech gadgets, but in reality your list will be constrained by your budget as well as what you are able to physically carry. Remember, the pound you carry for a hundred miles isn’t a pound; it’s a ton.
Luckily, we’ve got some great rules for you that apply no matter your budget, climate, or unique survival strategy.
Ultimate rules for planning your bug-out-bag:
example of an emergency survival kit (bug-out-bag)
What to grab first – bag or gear?
This is a bit of a catch-22. It’s difficult to know what you’ll be able to carry without your pack at hand, and it’s difficult to guess what size / model / number and configuration of pockets etc. that you want unless you’ve got your inventory laid out already.
We recommend that you find the best-suited bag you already have, and pack everything you find for your inventory in there as you go. Once you’ve filled it up, you’ll have a better idea of what shape bag you want, and you can improve and expand your inventory later on if needed.
A brand new hiking pack with hi-tech fabric and all the bells and whistles might be better for a present-day hiking trip, but if a shit-hitting-the-fan scenario is anything like McCarthy’s The Road, you’ll do well to avoid unwanted attention by settling for something less enviable. Your bug-out pack must be sturdy, comfortable, and water-tight ( or at least possible to water-proof with Nikwax spray etc.). Internal and external pockets make it easier to keep a mental inventory of all your sweet gear, and easier to quickly find items in darkness or in a hurry. And remember not to overfill: extra room will make your pack easier to rummage through, as well as leaving room to pick up supplies on the go.
Optional: Attach a strap or rack that lets you stick your pack on a bike’s luggage rack. Unless you happen to live in seriously hilly terrain, there is no reason to walk everywhere. A sturdy bicycle is a useful tool for the post-apocalyptic traveller, and to anyone hoping to help their neighborhood to survive in a state of emergency.
We reckon there’s eight types of gear to complete a proper bug-out-bag: clothing; food; hydration; information; medical supplies; shelter; tools; and finally, weapons.
Beyond those basics:
Think calories versus weight, and pack stuff with a long shelf life so that you don’t have to replace it too often.
Water is the most basic physical necessity. Your pack should contain a minimum 72 hours worth of clean drinking water (at least five pints), plus equipment or chemicals to provide three weeks of purified water. Purification tablets, iodine, bleach or a small pot for boiling water are all solid options. Pro tip: carry a collapsible, soft container/bladder for additional water storage capacity, plus steel or paper coffee filters, which are a cheap, lightweight way to keep your filtration supplies useable for longer.
Remember: Never carry something as dead weight that could be carried as information. For example, a map that details local sources of fresh water weighs next to nothing, but is vastly more valuable than ten gallons of bottled water. Information is cheaper and more easily acquired than most of your bug-out-bag inventory, so you can pack essential info pronto as a great first step.
Choose the weapon that is most likely to save a life without endangering yours, unnecessarily threatening others, or escalating confrontations. It’s essential that you know how to use it effectively and safely, and know how to prevent others from taking it away and using it against you. Hunting equipment can double as defense equipment. If you have nothing better, a pocketknife kept handy will suffice, and you can also use it to sharpen sticks into spears.
Most of this inventory is stuff you’d want with you for any weekend hiking adventure. If you backpack or hike anyway, then you can build an awesome, strategic bug-out-bag, all without spending a wad of cash on items you might never use. Just extend your usual wilderness equipment with some specific survival gadgets and supplies that fit in with your exit strategy, plus a few precious things that will make the prospect of never seeing home again a little easier to bear. Make sure you leave your bug-out-bag somewhere really easy to grab in case of SHTF, make a note of what food/medication needs to be replaced and when, and you’re done!