The Bug Out Bag
The Bug Out Bag (BOB) is one of the hottest, most often discussed topics in the preparedness world. In spite of how popular the topic is, BOB contents often being listed resemble camping backpacks rather than true Bug Out Bags. Focusing too much on weapons is another common mistake. It is common to read about people putting together kits where half the weight is dedicated to firearms and ammunition, as if bugging out inevitably leads to heated gunfights or full blown urban warfare. The facts show a very different reality, and while a firearm for defense is a good idea for personal protection, during most evacuations it is better to travel light and go as unnoticed as possible. Comfortable clothing, good shoes, a large bottle of water, a fat wad of cash and a credit card are often more useful than a battle rifle and ten loaded magazines during disasters.
A Bug Out Bag is a kit purposefully designed to get you from point A to point B. Point A can be your home, your work place, or some other location you often find yourself at. If disaster strikes when you are at point A, point B could be either home, your Bug Out Location, a Rallying Point or some other destination where help is available, may that be safe shelter or a point for evacuating further away. Most people will find civilization within a few hours of walking at the most. Even for those living in the country, not many people are more than a day’s worth of walking to the closest town.
Assuming the worst, a situation in which no other transportation is available, your Bug Out Bag will be used for walking from point A to point B. Because of this the main priority to keep in mind is that the Bug Out Bag must be lightweight and not a 60 pound monster of a bag. If your destination can be reached within two or three days of walking, then it is crucial to keep the Bug Out Bag as light as possible. Assuming a walking speed of 3 or 4 mph and walking for 12 hours each day, it is not unreasonable to expect to cover between 100 or 140 miles in three days if walking on roads and trails. This will of course depend on each person’s fitness level, if they are injured and the amount of weight carried. After ten hours of walking every ounce feels like ten pounds and every bit of extra weight holds the person back. When reaching the destination fast is the main priority weight must be limited to the essential items and nothing else.
Tip: Even for trips that last several days, the priority will still be water. It is important to have a filter and careful planning so as to know where to find water along the road. In this case too, food rations weight must be kept to a minimum, choosing high nutritional value, compact and ready to eat meals.
After reducing weight as much as possible, the next priority in a Bug Out Bag is water. Here again, we often see water missing from most Bug Out Bags. Instead we find empty bottles, filters and water purifying tablets but no actual water. Often, the explanation for this is that water is just too heavy and that the owner of such Bug Out Bag plans to find water along the way. This can be a big mistake. A filter or water purification tablet is important to have, but you need actual water in your bag. How much water you need will depend on weather conditions and how far you need to walk. If your destination can be reached within a day of walking, at the very least you will need a liter of water for mild weather conditions and if you need to walk all day long you may go through as much as five liters of water in one day.
While you can keep walking for two or three days without food, the same isn’t true when it comes to water. Dehydration can leave you lying on the road unable to continue in a matter of hours in hot weather conditions. Quality water filters will allow you to safely hydrate using water you come across on the go. Safe water is the most important supply for a person walking long distances.
After water, the next priority is clothing. Good athletic shoes or hiking boots are mandatory for walking several hours a day and still keeping your feet in good shape ready to walk again the next day. For those that often find themselves wearing dress shoes which are unsuited for walking long distances, a spare pair of shoes must be included in the Bug Out Bag or Emergency Kit kept in their vehicle or work place. A spare set of underwear, pants and jacket are also a good idea. During an emergency your clothes may get torn, wet, dirty or bloody and being able to change into dry clean clothes is not only practical, but a great morale booster as well.
If your destination can be reached within three or four days, food should not be a priority and power bars along with some hard candy, nuts and foil packed food ready to eat such as tuna will do well enough. Military rations such as MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) and other emergency rations can be used too. Because MREs can be bulky, it is recommended to strip them and just pack the main courses for the Bug Out Bag. A mess kit and stove will just add unnecessary weight to the bag and is not needed unless your circumstances demand that you spend weeks on the road at a time.
Emergency Blankets (sometimes called Space blankets) are light weight and while not ideal, they reflect heat and help keep you warm when resting. Some of them come in configurations similar to tube tents and bivvy bags. Even if not suited for long term use, these can provide shelter for a night or two on the road in mild climate conditions.
Include at least one flashlight that runs on a single (sometimes one is all you have), commonly available battery, either AA or AAA. Choose a LED (light-emitting diode) with several brightness modes, at least a high and low mode to save battery power and extended runtime when possible. A strobe or S.O.S. mode would be of use for signaling.
A headlamp allows you to use the light while leaving both hands free. Some models (Petzl, Energizer) have white and red LEDs. Red light is suited for night use at close range. It doesn’t ruin your natural night vision as much as white light nor is it as easy to detect from further away. This can be a valuable addition if remaining undetected is important due to safety reasons.
A knife is another important part of any emergency kit. The survival knife has always been considered the quintessential survival tool. In spite of how often the topic of survival knives is discussed, misguided concepts are common in survival and disaster preparedness publications. Carving spoons, setting up traps and building fire bows are nice skills to have, but survival situations don’t always revolve around bushcraft. As a matter of fact, they rarely do, and during an emergency you are far more likely to need a tool that can chop through a 2X4, smash its way through dry walls or rubble and dig holes. The knife should be capable of prying open doors and windows after an earthquake or open a jammed car door after an accident. You need a tool that can be used as a chisel or hammer if needed and not break in the process. The knife may be needed for self-defense purposes too. Smaller knives are good for detail cutting, but more than that may be demanded of it during real emergencies. Depending on geometry and weight distribution, a knife may be capable of doing such things with a six inch blade, although seven to ten inches is preferable. Shorter blades will simply lack the leverage needed to perform most of these tasks. The survival knife should have a full tang or a thick narrow tang that extends to the full length of the handle. The blade should be at least 0.2 inches (about 5mm) thick. Rugged, synthetic handle materials are preferable. Steel quality is important as well, along with the correct heat treatment. Having said that, even expensive knives that cost hundreds of dollars and use premium steel can be great for cutting, but poor survival knives that can fail catastrophically (break in half)if used for prying, hammering or any other task that goes beyond cutting. A correctly heat treated 1055 carbon steel or 440A stainless steel knife can be a great survival knife if the design and blade geometry are sound. Carbon steel is not the only option. Outstanding knives can be made of stainless steel. In many ways it is preferable given the higher corrosion resistance. Although some expensive knives made of premium steels provide better performance in some cases, the difference can be negligible for most practical purposes when compared to correctly heat treat blades made of steel such as AUS-8 or even 440A.
(Left to right) Cold Steel SRK (Carbon V version) Condor Kumunga (1075) ESEE Junglas (1095) Busse Bushwacker Mistress (INFI) Busse TGLB (INFI) Busse Basic 6 (INFI) and Busse Boss Jack (INFI)
A multi-tool can be very handy in urban and wilderness survival situations. Leatherman makes some of the best models available. The Leatherman Wave and Charge are both highly recommended. More affordable than the Wave or Charge, the Leatherman Sidekick is also a good option. A solid survival fixed blade knife combined with a quality multi-tool that has a locking blade will take care of most situations where an edged tool is needed.
While firearms are in no way the most important part of your Bug Out Bag, a handgun and some spare magazines can be a good addition. In most cases, it’s better to keep the weapon concealed. Any visible firearm is likely to attract the attention of not just the people around you but also first responders, police and military personnel. The firearm may be taken away from you or even worse, you might get shot because of it. A firearm that can be kept concealed will avoid such a problem. A reliable semiautomatic pistol is recommended. Both Glock 17 and Glock 19 would be good choices because they are reliable firearms, fire commonly available 9mm ammunition and spare parts and accessories are plentiful. A Glock or other auto pistol of similar quality and characteristics along with two spare magazines should provide enough protection for most bug out scenarios. When bugging out in a vehicle, more firearms can be carried and in this case it would be recommended to have a semiautomatic rifle or carbine. The shorter carbine configuration is more practical for moving around inside vehicles. While any quality centerfire carbine should do well enough, .30 caliber carbines such as the AK47 or FAL would provide better penetration and prove to be more effective against vehicles.
Here is a list of the contents of a basic Bug out Bag. This kit would work for most circumstances where the destination can be reached on foot within 24-48hs. Longer distances, personal circumstances and extreme weather conditions will modify the kind of BOB kit you will need.
Bug Out Bag Contents:
Wet Wipes: These can be used for cleaning up when there are no showers and water is being rationed. When dirty after a few days on the road, covered in dirt, mud or blood after a disaster or simply for cleaning your hands and face, wet wipes are a valuable addition both for hygiene and morale. Cleaning up your neck, armpits and groin with wet wipes does not replace a proper bath, but it’s better than nothing.
Tip: Baby Wipes will work in a pinch and are suited for delicate skin. Antibacterial Industrial Wipes are tougher and hold together better when used.
Dust Sheets: They have several uses. One of the most valuable ones is using it for shelter building or for improvising a tarp when it rains so as to have a dry spot to rest.
Emergency Blanket (two): Also known as space blankets, these sheets are made of heat-reflective material that reflects up to 90% of the heat back to the body. While not very strong and considered disposable, they are strong enough to be used more than once if handled with care. Besides their use as blankets to stay warm, they can be used in many applications where a tough, waterproof sheet of plastic is needed.
Tip: With some patience and a sharp knife, you can cut a continuous spiral, from the edge of the blanket towards the center and end up with several yards of cordage.
Large trash bag: Large trash bags have a number of uses. They can be used as improvised rain ponchos and to waterproof the Bug Out Bag when it rains or when crossing a river.
Shemagh: The shemagh or large scarf can be used as a hat, a scarf to keep the neck warm or to cover the face to protect it from the cold, sand, wind or dust. It can be used to grab hot pots from the fire, to make a tourniquet, make an arm sling or to pre-filter water among many other uses.
Small bottle of water: Water is one of the most important parts of your kit and every drop should be considered precious. A small bottle of water can be carried on the side of the backpack for quick access.
Berkey Sport: The Berkey Sport bottle carries water and also has a black ceramic filter on the inside, making it ideal for filtering water from streams and ponds. If the water is cloudy it’s a good idea to pre-filter it with a coffee filter, scarf or other piece of cloth so as to avoid clogging and to extend the life of the filtering element.
Big Water Bottle: A two liter bottle of water will be the main water container. Commercially available bottled water usually comes in bottles that are strong and lightweight.
Emergency Shelter: These are tube-type tents made of the same mylar material used in space blankets. These tents don’t provide a lot of protection but they do keep rain away if set up properly and they do reflect heat back to you. The shelter should be reinforced with other materials whenever possible and a mattress of grass and soft leaves placed beneath it will improve insulation and preserve body heat.
Tip: In urban settings, you can use cardboard, plastic bags and wrinkled-up paper so as to insulate yourself from the floor when resting.
Emergency Poncho: The emergency poncho keeps you dry when it rains. It can also be used as an extra layer of clothing to stay warm if others are not available.
Spare set of Clothes: Inside a ziplock bag to keep it dry we have socks, underwear, t-shirt and shorts. These don’t provide a lot of protection but they are something to change into if your clothes happen to be wet or damaged.
Toilet Paper: Kept inside a ziplock bag so as to keep it dry. Wet TP is not usable.
Roll of grocery bags: They can be used for transporting small items and keeping them dry, transporting water, collecting fruits or disposing of trash among many other uses.
Map and FM Radio: A map is needed to know where you are going and how to get there when GPS and smart phones are not working. The radio is essential for gathering information. It should be small and work on a single, commonly available battery such as AA or AAA.
Solar Powered power pack with LED light: The power bank can be used to charge your phone when there’s no electricity and the incorporated solar panel allows you to recharge the battery pack itself. The model in the picture is the Waka Waka Power which incorporates a bright LED lantern.
Smartphone (with USB charging cable): The cellphone is one of the most important components of the Bug Out Bag. In this day and age, calling for help whenever possible is the best, most reasonable course of action. A smartphone will allow you to make calls as well as make use of Wi-Fi hotspots. If possible, the phone should be impact and water-proof.
550 Paracord: A hank of 550 paracord has many uses. Make sure you get mil-spec 550 paracord, made of nylon and with seven strands on the inside. These strands considerably multiply the amount of thinner cordage you have at your disposal for tasks such as repairing gear or making fishing lines or nets.
Tip: 550 Paracord should not be used as rappelling rope. 550 pounds is considered to be the breaking point of the cord and the force applied to it can be ten times as much or more when rappelling. If you need stronger cord, look into Dyneema, Spectra and Technora, which are several times stronger than 550 paracord. Basic rappelling gear and proper training may be worth having as part of your emergency kit for those that live or work in high-rise buildings.
Notebook and pen: It can be used for leaving notes, writing down important information, phone numbers, names, and addresses. In this notebook you should write down your own important information and contact numbers as backup, just in case your cell phone isn’t working. Weatherproof notebooks and pens are ideal for this type of use.
Knife: A survival knife is an important part of your Bug Out Bag. The survival knife should be at least six inches long and of solid construction. The knife pictured is a Busse Boss Jack, made of INFI steel with G10 handles.
Small Flashlight: The small flashlight is used for general purpose tasks where more power isn’t needed. The Fenix E05 runs on a single AAA battery and provides 27 lumens for up to 2 hours and 50 minutes.
Large Flashlight: A more powerful flashlight is needed for search and rescue, signaling and even defensive tactical applications. The MTE flashlight in the picture has a maximum output of 1000 lumens. It operates on one 18650 Li-ion battery or two CR123A Lithium batteries.
Headlamp: If you can only have one flashlight, make it a headlamp. Headlamps are the most practical form of flashlights because they leave both hands free to do whatever needs to be done. Everything from preparing food during a blackout, setting up camp to spend the night or helping disaster victims after the sun goes down, the headlamp makes all that possible. The Streamlight Sidewinder Compact II has several output modes, white, blue, red and IR LEDs to choose from and it can run on multiple types of batteries using a single AA, AAA or CR123A lithium battery.
Soap: A small bar of soap for washing wounds or simply cleaning up whenever possible. You can soap up your head too if shampoo isn’t available. A small bottle of alcohol-based hand sanitizer is worth including in the Bug Out Bag as well for disinfection purposes when there’s not much water to spare.
Facial tissues: These are good for blowing your nose and cleaning up your hands and face in general.
Box of matches: Stormproof matches kept in a waterproof container are one of the fastest ways of starting a fire. Make sure you have extra strikers inside the waterproof case.
Butane Lighter: A lighter is another effective fire starting tool. Unlike matches, they are mechanically complex and therefore prone to failure. In spite of that, butane gas lighters are very reliable and hundreds of fires can be easily started with one so they do have a place in the Bug Out Bag. The lighter pictured is a refillable Clipper made of translucent plastic so as to see how much fuel it has left.
Candy: Candy provides quick energy for the body when on the go. In the case of dextrose, it absorbs directly into the bloodstream during digestion. The dextrose tablets in the picture are orange flavored and have added vitamin C.
Multitool: A quality multitool of generous dimensions can be very useful for numerous tasks. Make sure the pliers are strong and capable of bending and cutting thick wire without breaking. The multitool pictured is the Leatherman Sidekick.
Food: For most bug out scenarios that will only take a few days you don’t need large quantities of food. The food should be compact, have a long shelf life and require no cooking. Some energy and protein bars, chocolate, hydration drink powder and a pouch of tuna or two will do. MRE meals are a good option but they can be bulky. The flameless ration heaters allow you to enjoy a hot meal, a small luxury that can boost your morale during an emergency situation.
Spare batteries: A case with four AAA batteries. These can be used on the radio and two of the flashlights.
Flat roll of duct tape: Duct tape can be used for different kind of repairs. It can be used for shelter building when used along with the emergency blankets.
Survival Kit Tin: Survival kit tins or Altoids kits contain essential survival gear and supplies. The one in the picture includes: nylon thread, brass wire, 2 x fishing lines, 10 x fishing hooks and lures, 2 x lead sinkers, ferrocerium rod, compass, 2x water bags, metal saw, duct tape, potassium permanganate vial, multitool, mirror, LED light, 2 x plasters, 2x alcohol pads, dressing strip, paper and pen, 5x stormproof matches, 10 x strike-anywhere matches, Hammarö Lighting Paper, 2 x needles, sewing thread and 2 x safety pins.
Money: In the modern world, few things are as useful as a wad of cash. Remember to include a few coins for telephone booths, vending machines and transportation.
3M N95 Collapsible respirator: An often overlooked item. The respirator allows you to breathe when there are dust particles in the air. It can also be used during pandemic outbreaks. The collapsible models are more practical to carry around, they adapt well to most faces and the valve makes it more comfortable to use.
Latex Gloves: Gloves should be used whenever helping victims so as to avoid contagious diseases. Even small amounts of blood and other bodily fluids can be dangerous.
First Aid kit: The kit includes bandages, plasters, tape, gauze, aspirin, ibuprofen, diarrhea pills, caffeine pills, antiseptic cream, alcohol pads, amoxicillin antibiotic and super glue (used for closing small cuts).
Celox Gauze: The hemostatic gauze is used to stop hemorrhaging when the bleeding cannot be controlled through direct or indirect pressure.
Ice Pack: Instant ice packs are used to relieve pain and limit swelling.
Emergency Bandage: The Emergency Bandage (also known as Israeli bandage) is used to stop bleeding from hemorrhagic wounds caused by traumatic injuries. The bandage has a built-in pressure bar that helps control bleeding and makes bandaging easier.
These contents are kept in the small exterior compartment of the backpack for quick and easy access. The Celox gauze, latex gloves, Ice pack and Emergency bandage are kept in a plastic container so as to avoid damage and accidental activation of the Ice pack.
The Documents Bag or Very Important Papers Bag (VIP Bag) is where you keep your most important documentation such as passports, birth certificates, marriage certificates, death certificates, lease, titles and deeds. These will be kept in a small satchel made of tough, waterproof material. Unlike your BOB, the Documents Bag must be a small satchel. This makes it easy to keep it in a fireproof safe, as well as easier to grab and go in a hurry. A Documents Bag should be light and small, so that if you are wounded or helping a family member in need, you can still carry it with you during the evacuation.
Some of the items to keep in this bag are:
Important Documentation: All important papers, contracts and documents. If original documents can’t be kept here, such as driver’s license or credit cards which are actually used, quality copies of them should be made.
USB Flash Drive: An encrypted Flash Drive that allows the creation of “vaults” in it with different passwords. One of them may contain important but non-essential information in case the person has to handle it over to rescue personnel or government officials for identification purposes.
The following information and copies of documents should be kept in this Flash Drive:
• Important work related documents
• Copy of Passport
• Copy Birth Certificate
• Copy of your Concealed Carry License
• Backup of your Bookmarks and favorites from your web browser
• Copy of Driver’s License
• Email and website name and passwords
• Bank account numbers
• Social Security Card
• Marriage Certificate
• Divorce Papers
• Death Certificates
• Immunization Records
• Business Licenses and Permits
• Firearms licenses, Class 3 tax stamps
• Firearms Serial numbers, photos, recipes and invoice or ticket of sale.
• Military records
• School Records
• Your Children’s Report Cards
• Training records and Certifications
• Work Records
• Current Resume
• Copy of your Credit Cards
• Special licenses and permits
• Insurance Records
• Health Insurance Contract
• Auto Insurance Contract
• Homeowner's Insurance Policy
• Rental and Lease Agreements
• Auto Registrations
• Receipts for big ticket items
• Medical Records
• Medications you may need for chronic diseases
• Payments for Car and Mortgage
In a separate vault within the USB drive:
• Photos and video of your belongings, car and house for insurance claim purposes.
• A list of contacts, including names and phone numbers. (Your cellphone may be lost or destroyed )
• Photos and videos of your family, wedding, etc.
Cash: Along with the documents and USB drive, any emergency cash you have should also be kept in this bag along with some of your precious metals. Gold would have a big advantage over silver regarding bulk and weight.
Family Heirlooms: Although the Documents Bag is where important papers, files and money are kept, it also makes sense to keep in it some of the more important material belongings you’d wish to keep safe in case you are evacuating in a hurry. These should be compact and light so as to fit in the small satchel (heirloom jewelry, small trinkets and photos) and not defeat the purpose of the Documents Bag.
Fernando “FerFAL” Aguirre is the author of “The Modern Survival Manual: Surviving the Economic Collapse” and “Bugging Out and Relocating: When Staying is not an Option”.