Bug out Bag: Crash Course - Part 1 - Prepare with Foresight
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Camouflaged bug out bag

Bug out Bag: Crash course in building your ultimate bug out bag – Part 1


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. There are only a few topics that are discussed more than the bug out bag, and you will even find entire websites and social media accounts dedicated to this topic. It can be a bit daunting to make sense of it all. Therefore, I decided to create this two-part post titled Crash course in building your ultimate bug out bag to provide an introduction to the topic of bug out bags.

In Part 1, I will consider 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.

What is a Bug out Bag?

You might be wondering what a bug out bag is. In some disaster situations, you may be required to leave your location (home, work, school, etc.) and relocate to a place of safety. This action of leaving or evacuation is often referred to as bugging-out, or to ‘bug-out’. Therefore, the bug out bag is a bag of items that you will need during this period of relocation.

Given this, it should be clear that the intention of a bug out bag is not to support you for an extended period of time. As a rule of thumb, a bug out bag should contain the items that you will require during the first 72 hours (3 days) after your evacuation. A bug out bag is also not meant to be a holiday pack with all the comforts you can imagine; it is meant to support your survival (staying alive) during what is likely to be an uncertain and often traumatic period in your life.

So, in summary, your bug out bag should contain whatever you deem is required to keep you safe and alive for the first 72 hours in case you need to leave your home unexpectedly.

Important considerations

There are a few important points to keep in mind when considering bug out bags. I will briefly discuss six of them.

No one size fits all

There is no ‘one size fits all’ bug out bag. You need to build your bag based on your circumstances, personal requirements, physical or medical needs, and situations you are likely to face. Also consider any special needs of anyone in your group, for example, if you are travelling with small babies or an individual with special medical or health needs. On this point, also consider that this article is meant as a basic introduction only, and cannot cover every eventuality. You need to do your own homework and plan according to your particular situation.

Grab and go

The bug out bag is a piece of emergency equipment, similar to a fire extinguisher or first-aid kit. Emergencies and disasters do not keep office hours, and they do not make appointments. Your bug out bag should, therefore, be ‘ready to go’ at any time. It is also suggested that you keep a bug out bag at not only your home, but also one in your car, and one at your place of work.

Not THE plan, only part of the plan

Even though it is important to have a bug out bag, the bag cannot be the total of your disaster preparedness. The bug out bag is only there to support your survival during the first 72 hours. You still need to have an overall survival strategy. Where will you go if you need to evacuate your home, neighbourhood or city? How will you get there (car, motorcycle or on foot)? Who will go with you? Where will you meet them? How will you communicate with them? What if the roads are blocked? Once you get to your bug out location, what supplies have to placed there? Will you restock your bug out bag and then move on, or will you stay there? If you stay there, do you have other supplies that will support your survival over a longer period? These are all questions you need to consider as part of your planning.

A bag for each person

It is recommended that each person in your household, family or group have their own bug out bag, and each person’s bag should have the essentials they need for survival. This will enable each person to have access to their own supplies in case the group is separated for some reason. Where small children or individuals with special needs cannot carry a full pack, other non-essential items can be shared among others, but generally speaking, each person should have access to at least the essential supplies in their own pack.

If your life depends on it

Consider this: If you knew with 100% certainty that sometime within the next month, you would have to evacuation your house on very short notice, and you can only take a single backpack with you, how much effort and planning will you put into deciding what you take? This is the same level of effort you need when planning and building your bug out bag.

Hope for the best, prepare for the worst

The best case scenario is that you will never use your bug out bag. A slightly worse scenario is that you are required to leave your house, get in your car, and drive to a friend’s house to spend the night. In this case, you might need a clear pair of clothes and a snack from your bag. Worst case is that you need to leave your house on foot in the middle of the night during winter. You then need to walk a substantial distance over a period of three days, without any external support, and even worse, through an unsafe and hostile environment. This is the type of scenario you should keep in mind when planning your bug out bag.

Having addressed these basic points, let’s consider more details about the bag, and what you need to put in the bag.

Putting the Bag in Bug out Bag

It is generally proposed that you use a backpack for your bug out bag. Using a quality backpack enables you to comfortably carry your supply on your back, thereby keeping your hands free. Consider the following when choosing a backpack:

  • Quality: The pack should be large and sturdy enough to contain the gear you would require for the 72 hour period. Seeing that the pack will contain all your supplies, make sure that you invest in a quality pack.
  • Type of pack: There are multiple types of backpacks, and it is beyond the scope of this post to go into details of how to choose the best pack. Do some research on the available options. The typical aspects you need to consider are:
  1. Capacity: Generally expressed in the number of days or litres.
  2. Features: Different bags will have different features. Some of these are the frame type, back ventilation, pack access (top loading or panel access), number and placement of pockets, padding, attachment points, and covers.
  3. Fit: Considering your torso length, waist size, and other special requirements to ensure an appropriate fit.
  • Appearance and colour: Choose a pack that will not draw unnecessary attention. Stay away from brightly coloured packs, or packs that appear overly expensive or filled with expensive and useful survival items.

Also consider the content of your pack first, and then purchase your backpack. This way you will have a better idea of the size and type of pack you require.

The Bug out Bag weight

Another aspect to consider is how much your bug out bag should weigh. It should, obviously, be as light as possible, but it is useful to decide on a maximum weight. A general rule of thumb is that a backpack should never be heavier than 1/3 of a person’s body weight. There are some variations on this rule, suggesting a maximum of 20% of body weight for novice hikers, up to 35% of body weight for experienced hikers in peak physical condition.

Having said this, there are obvious shortcomings in using only body weight as an indication of maximum pack weight. There is, therefore, not a straight forward answer of what the maximum weight of your bug out bag should be, but it is useful to consider some of the following points:

  • Ability: Factors such as your age, strength, and level of fitness will influence your ability to carry heavy loads. Specific medical conditions, for examples those affecting the health of your joints or causing knee or back pain, can also play a role.
  • Distance and duration: Consider the distance you need to travel as well as the duration of the journey. Longer distances and durations will generally be easier when carrying a lighter pack.
  • Speed or pace: The pace or required speed of travel is another factor to consider. If you need to cover larger distances in shorter times, then you would probably want to carry less weight. This will also depend on the type of emergency or disaster you are evacuating from.
  • Terrain and conditions: If you need to cover treacherous terrain, you ideally want to carry a more manageable pack. Traveling on loose sand or through mud might also be more difficult if you carry a heavy pack.
  • Responsibilities or role: If you are required to assist others, or possibly carry a child during the journey, you may need to reduce the weight of your pack.

These are some of the factors you need to consider when determining the maximum weight of your pack

Packing the Bag

It is beyond the scope of this post to go into the details of how to pack your bug out bag. But some of the points you need to consider include the following:

  • Placing of weight: The positioning of items in your backpack can influence how the weight is transferred to your body. As a general rule of thumb, heavier objects should be placed close to your back and centred. Medium weighted items can be placed at the top and outside, while light items can be placed at the bottom.
  • Easy of access: Place items you will be using more frequently in easier reach, and in pockets where you don’t have to remove your pack from your back to reach them.
  • Sub packs: It is useful to keep items grouped together into sub-packs. One tip is to use quality clear Ziploc bags to group similar items together. This will not only make it easier to organize the bag or find items but also keep the items dry during rain or if you need to travel through water.
  • Removable Pouch: It might be useful to carry the most critical survival items in a pouch that can be separated from the pack, or in a separate waist bag on your body. If you need to drop your larger pack for any reason, you will still have the most important items with you. Another option is to use a multi-pocket travel vest to carry the most important items on your body. A third option is to make use of a military-style belt to carry selected pieces of equipment, such as a knife or water bottle on your body.
  • Attaching equipment on the outside: It is often suggested that gear or items that are too large to fit inside the bag, should be attached to the outside. Even though this can be a useful option, there are some drawbacks. If you are travelling through dense vegetation, these items can get stuck or lost. Another risk is that these items can make noise, which can attract unnecessary attention. Finally, bulky or heavy items attached to your pack can throw you off balance.

In general, how you pack your bag will depend on how many items you want to add, what type of pack you are using, and what the most comfortable way for you to carry the items is. It is therefore important to test different configurations, and see what works best for you.

What to put in your bug out bag

We have now covered what a bug out bag is, as well as some of the points you need to keep in mind when building your bag. In Part 2 of this series, we cover the 15 categories of items you need to add in your bug out bag. Continue to Crash course in building your ultimate bug out bag – Part 2.

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About The Author

Christiaan has previously been involved in the field of disaster risk management, primarily focusing on risk and vulnerability assessments. He is also involved in the field of strategic foresight and enjoys writing on the topics of disaster preparedness, resilience and risk management.

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