Bug out Bag: Crash course in building your ultimate bug out bag – Part 2
Christiaan van der Linde on June 3, 2017
If you have been exploring the field of personal disaster preparedness, you would have come across the much discussed ‘Bug out Bag’, often shortened to BOB. This is Part 2 of our series titled of our series titled Crash course in building your ultimate bug out bag. If you have not yet read Part 1, I suggest that you read Part 1 before continuing with Part 2. In part 1, we discussed the basics of what a bug out bag is, and what to consider when building your bag. Part 2 provides an overview of the type of items you can include in your bug out bag, as well as other aspects to consider in your disaster planning.
What to put in the bag?
In part 1 of this series, we have covered a fair amount of background information and considerations about what a bug out bag is, and particular issues you need to take into account. This leaves us with the questions of what to add to your bag. As mentioned earlier, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to bug out bags, and the contents of your bag will depend on your unique requirements. However, there are at least 15 categories of items you may need to add to your bug out bag. In this post, we will discuss each of these categories.
Category 1: Hydration, Water Purification & Storage
The first category of items you need relates to water. The amount of water a person needs per day will depend on a number of factors including the climate, a person’s state of health, and level of activity. A basic rule of thumb is that a person will require approximately 2.5 – 3 liters of water per day. This excludes water for personal hygiene and cooking. Over a 3 day period, this translates into 7.5 – 9 liters.
If you want to include three days’ worth of water in your bug out bag, it will add 7.5 to 9 kg in weight (at the start). As you drink the water, this weight will obviously decrease over time, but it might still not be feasible to carry a full three days supply. It is therefore recommended that you only carry a portion of your total water requirements from the start, and refill your supply along the way (assumed that there will be water sources along the way).
ALSO SEE: Survival Water Purification Methods
One suggestion is to carry at least one day’s water supply with you (3 liters), as well as equipment to purify water along the way. Your initial 3 liters of water can be kept in 3 individual containers, including a collapsible container that can be packed away until you can refill it. It is also suggested that at least one contained should be metal, allowing you to boil water. A large number of steel bottles are double walled and insulted. You need to use a single-wall water container for cooking.
Boiling of water is a useful option for purification, but it is not always feasible. It is suggested that you allow for more than one purification method. In addition to boiling water, consider a filtration system, as well as the chemical treatment of water.
Your bug out bag list for water can therefore include:
1) Water for 24 hours, stored in 3 x 1-liter containers:
- 1 single-wall steel bottle or canteen, such as the Klean Kanteen Wide.
- 1 collapsible container such as the Survivor Filter Collapsible Canteens.
- 1 other hard container, such as the CamelBak Chute 1L Water Bottle or the Nalgene Tritan Wide Mouth Water Bottle.
2) Water purification methods include:
- Water filter, such as the LifeStraw Personal Water Filter or the Sawyer Products Mini Water Filtration System.
- Chemical treatment, such as Potable Aqua Water Purification Tablets or Aquamira Water Treatment Drops.
Be sure you also know how to use these items.
Category 2: Clothing & Footwear
Clothing and footwear is a major component of your bug out bag. Inappropriate clothing can increase the risk of hypothermia or heatstroke, while improper footwear can increase the risk of injury, and limit the distance or pace at which you can travel.
It is not possible for me to propose the exact clothing you need to add in your bug out bag; this will depend on your unique circumstances. However, it can be useful to consider the following principles:
- Layers: Instead of carrying a single heavy jacket, rather consider multiple individual layers of clothing that can be added or removed as required.
- Colour: Consider the color of clothing. A general principle is to not draw attention to yourself, and neutral or natural colors are therefore generally a better option.
- Packing: Store your spare sets of clothes in a waterproof bag in your bug out bag. This way it will remain dry during rain or if you need to cross water. One suggestion is to pack your clothes in a Skivvy roll. But consider what will work best for you in your particular situation.
- Quality: Consider the quality of clothing. If you are using your bug our bag following a catastrophic disaster in your country, the chances are that you will have to depend on these clothes for a while. Make sure it is of an acceptable quality.
- Blue jeans: Choosing blue jeans for your bug out bag might seem like a good idea since they are strong and can take punishment. However, jeans are generally made of cotton, retains moisture, and is therefore slow to dry. Walking around in wet clothes can result in anything from minor irritation, serious chafing, or worst case, hypothermia. Consider clothing made from a material that are strong, but which do not retain moisture.
- One on the body…: You might be required to evacuate your house or place of work on short notice. In this case, you might not even have time to change into a more appropriate set of clothes. It is therefore suggested that you always keep a set of clothes ready in addition to the clothes already packed in your bug out bag. If you are lucky enough to have time to change, this will allow you to quickly change into appropriate clothes without the need to rummage through your bag first. Doing this will also allow your to have one set of appropriate clothes ‘on the body’ when you leave.
- Two in the bag: In addition to the ‘one on the body’ set of clothes, it is suggested that you have two sets of spare clothing in your bug out bag.
- Break-in your boots: It is critical to have a quality pair of hiking boots. However, don’t keep a brand new pair of shoes ready at your bag. It is important to ‘break-in’ your shoes before you need to wear them.
Considering these principles, a typical list of clothing you might have with you when you leave your house (either on your body or in your bag) can include the following:
1) Footwear & Socks
- 1 x pair of comfortable hiking boots
- 3 x pair of wool hiking socks
- 3 sets of underwear
- 2 sets of base layer thermal underwear
- 2 x long pants (some often suggest convertible (zip-off) pants). Stay away from jeans.
- 3 x shirts (including 1 long sleeve and 1 short sleeve)
- 1 x light fleece jacket that can be used for layering
- 1 x rain jacket that can be worn on top of other jackets
- 1 x heavy duty poncho
- A set of gloves
Category 3: Shelter & Bedding
Similar to clothing, finding sufficient shelter against the elements is important in any survival situation. However, there is often disagreement on what type of shelter to include in your bug out bag. There are obvious benefits in including a lightweight hiking tent in your bug out bag, especially if you travel in cold conditions. Another argument is to leave the tent, and rather use more versatile items such as reflective survival blankets and tarps to create a shelter.
There is a similar argument around the role of sleeping bags and ground pads in bug out bags. A ground pad not only provides comfort, it can also provide some insulation from the ground, which is important in cold environments. There are definite benefits to having these items, but you need to balance it against the cost in terms of weight and space required, and in relation to the survival situation you might potentially encounter. Remember, the aim of the bug out bag is to support your survival for the first three days, or until you get to your bug out location. Consider your particular situation, and then decide which items you want to include. The following represents a generic list of items you can include in your bug out bag:
- 1 x Reflective survival blanket
- 1 x Heavy duty poncho (also listed under clothing above)
- 1 x Tarp
- Lightweight hiking tent
- Hiking sleeping bag
- Ground pad or Bedroll
In addition to the above, it is often suggested to add an extra poncho or survival blanket into the bag. These items are relatively cheap and light and can have multiple purposes.
Category 4: Heat & Fire
There are multiple benefits to being able to start a fire in a survival situation. Due to this, it is suggested that you always have at least three ways to start a fire. In order to start a fire, you need to have an ignition source, as well as the fire supplies. There are various items you can use as ignition sources, including matches, lighters, ferro rods, magnifying lenses, and fire pistons. Fire supplies refer to the tinder and kindling you need to start the fire. Again, there are various options, including natural material such as dry leaves, grass, and sawdust. You can also find tinder around the house; consider dryer lint, cotton wool, or even steel wool. There is also a range of tinder products available commercially. You can also find pre-packed fire starting kits online.
A generic list of fire making supplies you can add to your bug out bag include:
1) Ignition source:
2) Fire supplies:
- 1 small container filled with tinder such as dryer lint, cotton wool or steel wool.
- Char cloth
- Commercial tinder such as Wetfire tinder or TinderQuik
ALSO SEE: How to start a survival fire
In addition to the above, it is often suggested to add a pencil sharpener to you bug out bag. This can be used to create wood shavings for tinder (you can also use your knife). A 9V battery and steel wool can also be used to start a fire. A final suggestion is to use cotton wool covered with petroleum jelly as a fire starter. Remember to keep your fire supplies in a waterproof container.
Category 5: Tools & Equipment
Tools and equipment are often heavy, so there is a limit to the number of tools you can realistically add to your bug out bag. You, therefore, need to make sure you carrying quality tools that can serve multiple purposes.
As a minimum, it is suggested that you carry at least one knife, preferably a fixed blade knife suitable for heavy duty tasks and self-defence. In addition to this, it is also suggested that you include a multi-tool in your bag. The multi-tool should include a can opener, screwdriver, pliers, and wire cutter. You can also add some redundancy to the bag by including a small pocket knife or two as a back-up.
A typical list of tools and equipment you can consider having with you when you leave your house (either on your body or in your bag) can include the following:
- A Fixed-blade knife such as the Ka-Bar BK7 Becker Combat Utility Knife or the Buck Knives 105 Pathfinder Fixed Blade Knife
- 1 (or 2) small pocket knife such as the BlizeTec Survival Knife or the SOG Vulcan Tanto Folding Knife.
- A multi-tool such as the Leatherman – Wingman Multi-Tool or the Gerber MP600 Multi-Plier.
- Small pocket chainsaw such as the LivWild Camping Pocket Chainsaw or the Sportsman Pocket Chainsaw
In addition to the above, if you believe you will be encountering multiple wire fences along your journey, include a wire or small bolt cutter in your bag. The benefit of going through, instead of around a fence might make up for the added weight. A final suggestion is to consider the value of adding a quality machete in your pack.
Category 6: Lighting
There are various options to consider when adding lighting equipment to your bug out bag. Due to the importance of light, it is often suggested to have at least 2 sources of light, and you can consider both electrical and non-electrical types. There are generally three situations where you will need light.
- The first will be to illuminate objects that are further away, and this will require a flashlight with a strong beam.
- The second is when looking at objects close to you, such as a map, or an item in your bag. For this, you can use a small keychain LED light. It can be useful to attach a keychain LED to the zipper of your jacket. This will ensure you always have one in easy reach. These mini-LED lights are fairly small and cheap so you can add a few to your pack. A LED headlamp is also useful for this, especially since it will free your hands.
- A third option is to illuminate a workspace, tent or a room. A candle or lantern is often useful for this.
Based on these three needs, you might need a selection of the following:
- 1 x flashlight, such as the J5 Tactical V1-PRO or this LED Tactical Flashlight
- 1 x mini keychain LED light such as the Olight I3S Mini EDC or the GLAREE E03
- 1 x LED headlamp such as this LED headlamp or this 120 Lumen Waterproof LED Headlamp
- 1 x Emergency candle such as the Coghlan’s Survival Candle
In addition to the above, it is often suggested to add a few glow sticks to your bug out bag as well. Also, remember to add spare batteries for your equipment.
Category 7: Information, Communication & Navigation (Documents)
There is a range of equipment and supplies you can consider from an information, communication and navigation point of view. The type of equipment you need to add to your bug out bag depends largely on your overall survival strategy.
It is likely that your cell phone will not work during some disaster situations. However, it is still suggested that you take your cell phone with you. Also remember to take a spare battery, power bank or charger for your phone. If you have included communication between yourself and other people in your network, you will need at least one or two two-way radios in your group. There are a number of points to consider when choosing a radio system, but this is outside the scope of this post.
You also need to add a solar or crank powered AM/FM radio in your bag. This will allow you to stay informed if there are news or emergency broadcasts. Also include a small notepad, pen, and pencil in your bug out bag. It is also useful to include a wrist-watch in your bug out bag.
There are conflicting views on the value of a GPS in survival situations. There are many causes that can lead to the failure of your GPS, so do not solely trust in a GPS for navigation. Always add a map and compass to your bag. The map should cover your immediate area including the route you expect to travel to arrive at your bug out location.
ALSO SEE: Land navigation techniques for survival
Finally, it is also suggested that you add a signal mirror and emergency whistle to your bug out bag. Given this, the generic list for information, communication and navigation items you can add to the bag include:
- Cell phone with spare battery or power bank
- Two-way radio system and charger
- Wrist watch
- A solar charger
- An AM/FM radio (solar or hand crank)
- Map – covering your area and the route to your bug out location
- A compass
- A map of the area kept in a sealable waterproof map case
- Notepad, pen, and pencil
In addition to the above, remember to include an extra pair of glasses (spectacles) if you need them. Sometimes it can also be useful to include a small survival guide to your pack. In principle, you should practice survival skills before you need them, but a small survival manual or guide containing relevant information might be a useful addition. An ebook reader can also be included. These ebooks readers are fairly lightweight, can store multiple titles and have extensive battery life. Just be mindful that, similar to your GPS, there are times where the reader might not work.
Category 8: Medical & Health (First Aid)
The medical and health category of items include items that can assist with the prevention as well as treatment of injuries. The first item you need to add is a first aid kit. You can use a premade kit, or create one based on your requirements. In addition to this, also include insect repellent, sunscreen, and petroleum jelly or lip balm. Also, add a pair of sunglasses or safety glasses to your pack. These can be extremely useful, especially if you encounter strong winds or dust along the way. Finally, remember to add any specific medication you or a member of your family might be taking. Based on this, the generic list of medical items to include in your bug out bag are:
- 1 x First aid kit
- Rubbing Alcohol or Alcohol Swabs
- Insect repellent
- Petroleum jelly or lip balm
- Sun or Safety glasses
- Specific medication
Depending on your situation, and if not already included in your first-aid kit, consider if you need any of the following items:
In addition to the above, remember to add an ankle or knee guard to the pack if you normally use one of these on your hikes. A final item that can be very valuable in some medical emergencies is an EpiPen.
Category 9: Safety, Security & Weapons (Self-defence)
The topic of security equipment or weapons in a bug out bag are frequently discussed. In a catastrophic disaster, one of the biggest risks is often not the actual disaster event, but rather the behavior of people in the aftermath of the event. This makes it important to include some type of weapon in you bug out bag.
Irrespective of the type of weapon you decide to include in your bug out bag, it is important that you know how to use it. Ensure that you undergo proper and realistic training to be as confident as possible when you face an attacker. It is often difficult to consider the possibility that you will have to defend yourself against a violent attacker. But this is, unfortunately, a reality you need to prepare for.
This brings you to the questions of the weapon to carry. It is generally accepted that one of your best options for self-defence is a gun. There is a lot of debate on what type of gun to include in your bug out bag, and this topic is beyond the scope of this post. Remember, even though you need to keep your gun in easy reach, you also want to conceal your gun in order not to attract unwanted attention.
However, due to restrictions on gun ownership or other limitations, it is not always possible to include a gun in your bug out bag. Some alternative weapons often mentioned include knives, pepper spray, electroshock weapons (stun guns), machetes, walking sticks, air rifles, crossbows and even paintball guns. You will have to consider what the cost of each of these are in terms of weight and space required, and compare it with the perceived benefit in terms of protection. Also remember that irrespective of the weapon you choose, it is always better to rather avoid a violent situation, that to use the weapon. It is therefore important to incorporate safety and security into your overall bug out and emergency planning.
Due to the unique nature of security requirements, a generic list is not provided. As a side not, remember to add the appropriate ammunition to the bug out bag as well.
Category 10: Food & Food Preparation
Food is often listed as one of the most important items to include in your bug out bag. There is no doubt that appropriate food items will not only provide you with much-needed energy but also a level of comfort. However, unless you suffer from a medical condition, in most cases a lack of food will not cause death within a few days. Therefore, you should carefully consider how much food you really need to survive during the 72 hour period.
ALSO SEE: Edible wild plants for survival
When selecting food items to add to you bug out bag, you need to consider the following aspects:
- Weight & Size: Select food items that are relatively light weight, as well as small enough to not take up a lot of space in the bag.
- Nutritional value: Choose food with the appropriate nutritional value and calories to sustain you during the journey.
- Preparation required: Select food items that require the minimum of preparation or cooking. Try to select food items you can eat on the go, or at a maximum, require hot water to prepare.
- Water and time: If you select food that requires preparation, select food that does not require a lot of water. Also, consider the pace at which you will be required to move, and if you will have time to stop, set up camp, and prepare food.
- Packaging: The containers and food packaging should be strong enough to remain intact, even if the bag is dropped. Stay away from glass containers; not only are they heavy, but you also do not want the bottle to break and the contents to leak into the bug out bag.
- Shelf life: Select food items with a relatively long shelf life. This will limit the frequency at which you need to replace your unused food items.
- Familiarity and comfort: Include food items you are familiar with in the bug out bag. Also remember to include comfort food, such as chocolates, into the bag.
- Serving size: Stay away from food items where you cannot finish the contents in one sitting. This will limit the need to carry open food containers and limit food wastage.
Typical food items that you can add to your bug out bag include:
1) Snack Bars
- Breakfast, Granola or Cereal Bars
- Energy / Protein Bars
- Chocolate bars
- Meal replacement bars
2) Meat & Fish
- Tuna pouches
- Beef jerky or Biltong
3) Sachets, Pouches, and Powders
- Sugar sachets
- Peanut butter pouches
- Mashed Potato (requires water)
- Soup or Pasta snacks
- Meal replacement powders
4) Nuts, Seed & Dried Fruit
- Raisins and Peanuts
- Nuts and Seeds (Trail Mix)
- Oatmeal (requires water)
- Powdered sport energy drinks (requires water)
- Hot drinks such as Instant Coffee or tea (comfort drinks)
- Powdered milk (requires water)
7) Freeze-dried & Survival Food
If you are planning to prepare food, remember to include the required equipment. This will include a camp stove and fuel, as well as a camp cooking kit with utensils. A generic list of items will include:
- Stove and fuel
- A Kelly kettle can be a very valuable addition to your bug out bag.
- 1 x Steel cup
- A basic camp cooking kit
In addition to the above, remember to include dishwashing liquid and a cloth for cleaning.
Category 11: Hygiene & Sanitation
The level of attention you can dedicate to hygiene and sanitation will largely depend on the situation you face. In a worst-case scenario, hygiene and sanitation will mainly be focused on disease prevention, and not necessarily comfort. It is suggested that a selection of key items be included in the bug out bag:
- A pack of wet napkins
- Hand sanitizer
- All-purpose camping soap
- Travel toilet paper
- Small toothbrush and toothpaste
- Small travel towel
- Feminine hygiene products
In addition to the above, if you have long hair, also remember to include a few hair bands in the bag. These will come in very handy to keep your hair in place and out of your face.
Category 12: Important Personal Documents
Include copies of the most important personal documents in your bag. This can include documents such as
- Driver’s licenses
- Social security or identification cards
- Important phone numbers
- Medical and other insurance information
- Bank account details.
Keep these documents in a waterproof pouch or Ziploc bag. It is also suggested that copies of your most important documents be securely stored in the cloud, as well as on a USB memory stick you can keep in your bag, or store off-site.
Category 13: Supplies & Resources
There are many useful supplies you can add to your bug out bag. These items are versatile and can be used for various purposes. Consider adding some of the following to your bag:
- Paracord or paracord survival bracelet.
- Duct tape or Electrical tape
- Garbage bags
- Various sized Ziploc bags
There are multiple other items you can add, but be careful not to overload the bag with items you might not need.
Category 14: Money & Resources
The bug out bag is only meant to support your survival in the first 72 hours, and you generally will not be carrying an extensive supply of bartering items with you. It is, however, still suggested that you carry money with you. Consider adding cash to you bag consisting of small bills as well as coins.
It is often suggested that during worst-case scenario disasters, cash might be considered worthless. In those cases, precious metals such as gold or silver, or other small bartering items will be very useful.
Category 15: Emotional Support
The last category of items to include in your bag relates to emotional and spiritual support. Even though space is limited, it is often suggested to add a few photos of family members to your bag. This is also useful to have photos to use for identification if you get separated from a family member. In addition to this, it is also suggested that you include a small pocket Bible or other relevant reading material in your bag.
Other Miscellaneous Items
We covered the 15 key categories of items you can include in your bug out bag. However, there is a multitude of other items that might be useful in certain circumstances. Before you decide to add any of these to your bag, first consider the potential benefit of each item versus the cost in terms of weight and space. It is often better to carry a lighter bag with items you will need than to carry a heavy bag with items you might need.
Some of the other items often suggested to include in you bug out bag include:
- Activated Charcoal: Activated charcoal is often used to treat cases of poisoning.
- Binoculars: Even though they can be heavy or bulky, binoculars are useful for reconnaissance or exploration.
- Carabiners: These are useful for attaching and securing different types of items or even people.
- Condoms (Non-lubricated): There are multiple uses for condoms in survival situations.
- Dental Floss: Dental floss is a fairly small item to carry, but has multiple other uses.
- Dust masks: Masks are useful when traveling through smoke or dust. They can also be used as filters.
- Fishing kit: A small fishing kit can be useful if you have the time and travel through an area where you can use the kit. Some of the items in the kit can also be used for other purposes.
- Folding shovel: A folding shovel can be useful in some situations, but can be relatively heavy to carry.
- Heavy duty work gloves: Use heavy duty work gloves to prevent injuries to your hands.
- Hot water bottle: In addition to adding warmth, the hot water bottle can also be used to store water.
- Mosquito net: A small mosquito head net.
- Multi-vitamins: These can be less relevant for short-term survival, but can be important for long-term health in extended emergencies.
- Pantyhose: Pantyhose can have various uses in survival situations.
- Paper Clips: There are multiple uses for paper clips.
- Sewing kit: A small sewing kit can be useful, and some of the items can be used for other purposes as well.
- Shoe laces: Extra shoe laces can come in handy. Alternatively, you can also use para cord.
- Sillcock Key: These can be useful in urban environments, but they can often add weight to your bag.
- Superglue: Superglue can be used to solve various problems.
- Tampons: There is a range of uses for tampons in a survival situation.
- Walking stick: A quality walking stick can be useful when traversing difficult terrain, or for self-defence.
- Zip Ties: Zip ties take up a fairly small space, but can serve a range of purposes.
There are multiple other items you can add to you bug out bag, but be sure to consider if it is worth the effort to add them to your bag. Also, do some research on the different uses of each of these in a survival situation.
The Way Forward
Now that you understand the basics of bug out bags as well as the typical items to include, you need to put this into action. This will include further planning and preparations, as well as skills development and training.
Planning & Preparation
Your approach to planning and preparation will depend on your specific situation, but a generic approach can include the following:
Step 1: Planning: Develop an overall disaster preparedness and survival strategy and plan for yourself, your family, or the group you choose to be part of. This plan should include where you will go to in the event of a major disaster (your bug out locations), how you will get there, and the type of preparations you need to put in place at the bug out location/s.
The next step is to determine what you might need during the journey to your bug out location. Consider the items listed in this article, and determine which of these items you might need, and how many of each you will require.
Step 2: Build the bag: After you have identified the items you require, you need to build the bag. If you work on a limited budget, prioritize the list of items to identify the items you need to purchase first. Consider the items you want to add to the bag, determine the best bag to use, and then purchase an appropriate bag.
Step 3: Testing: Once you have the bag, you can do a test run. Fill the bags with the items (or items with an equivalent weight and volume), and go for a hike to feel if the bag is comfortable and the weight is manageable. You might feel strange walking with a backpack, but if people ask questions and you are uncomfortable with sharing, you can always say you are practicing for a future hiking trip. Also, remember to break-in your hiking boots before you need to use them for real.
You can also take it a step further. Build a duplicate bag, and see how easy or difficult it is to survive on only the contents of the bag for a weekend. Learn from your experience and make changes where required.
Step 4: Managing: Once you are comfortable with the type of bag and contents, keep it in easy reach. Also, keep an appropriate set of clothing and the hiking books close to the bag. It is also suggested to keep another bag in your car, or at your place of work.
Remember to keep a schedule to review the bag contents from time to time. Replace food items that are close to their expiry date, as well as clothes that might not be suitable anymore. This is particularly important if you have kids that outgrow their clothes quickly.
Skills development & Training
In addition to the above, it is important to develop your skills and undergo appropriate training. Get in shape and work on your level of fitness and strength. Consider to take part in realistic self-defence or combat training, this can also assist in improving your level of fitness.
ALSO SEE: Top 5 survival skills to learn
Also practice generic survival skills such as first aid, navigation, finding water or shelter, or making fire. There are various websites and YouTube videos that provide useful information for free, as well as a range of books on various survival topics.
The aim of this two-part post was to provide an overview of what a bug out bag is, why it is important, and what the typical items are that you can include in your bag. There are multiple books on the topic of bug out bags, and even entire websites and social media accounts dedicated to this topic. You are welcome to consider these for additional information, however, do not delay the process of building your bag. It is better to start small with the key basics, than to not start at all.
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