How to build the perfect Bug Out Bag

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There are many unexpected events in our lives. Some of the more serious ones could necessitate leaving our home very quickly. But how do you prepare?

I know that sounds scary, but you want to be prepared so you can take care of yourself and those you love.

In this article I will teach you how to build the perfect “Bug out Bag”.

Let’s look a little closer together.

How to pack the perfect bug out bag

What is a Bug out Bag?

A Bug out Bag is basically an on-hand, ready-to-go survival kit for an emergency evacuation. Generally, Bug out Bag designs focus on getting you through about three days without the normal comforts of home. Other names for it include a “Go Bag,” “Get out of Dodge Bag” and an Evacuation bag.

Basically, a Bug Out Bag is a bundle of supplies you can use in case of an earthquake, hurricanes, flooding, fast-spreading viral infections, riots, power outages, severe personal abuse, factory failures causing toxic leaks and terrorism.

It’s not unrealistic to ponder having to leave your home, office, school or any other location because of an imminent threat. The problem is that most of us panic, not knowing what to do next.

The Bug Out Bag gives you a sense of security because you won’t be left to scavenge in the midst of the craziness.

You can’t predict when and where disaster may strike, but the Bug Out Bag gives you some control over how you handle things. Every second counts, and you’re not going to want to be packing then.

Now, nearly everyone has an opinion on what’s essential to your Bug out Bag.

Most important is that you have to be able to carry it easily. So, many people, including myself, opt for a backpack. There are even some backpacks with sturdy wheels to ease movement if you don’t have a strong back.

How to make a Bug Out Bag

There are some websites that help you make a Bug out Bag that’s focused on your goal like the Bug Out Bag Builder, or you can check out my own guide here. What I like about these sites is that they provide you with ideas you might otherwise miss.

But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. I mentioned choosing a suitable bag. Really, that’s the first step to making your Bug out Bag. So how do you choose?

Think about the qualities and features you want in your bag. You can use a Duffel Bag, Backpack or Hiking Pack, depending on what suits your situation.

Duffel Bag

The Duffel gives you more room than a backpack, but isn’t as easily carried. If your plan includes bugging out using a vehicle, this is fine and you can just leave it in the trunk.

Backpack

Backpacks have a lot of options for you, including size and options (like internal and external pockets). If you’re planning on hoofing it, this is probably the best choice.

Hiking pack

The Hiking Pack is somewhere between a Backpack and a Duffel bag. It’s larger and built for carrying over a long haul. This definitely holds more gear than the Backpack.

No matter your decision there are specific requirements for any Bug out Bag, the first being that it’s comfortable and fits you well. Your bag should have hip support that distributes the weight you’re carrying too.

Besides this, look for:

  • Strong straps with padding for comfort.
  • Webbing on the back that allows for better airflow, decreasing sweat
  • No hard corners or edges that could cut into your body (like metal frames that are as high as your head)
  • Gender-specific designs that make the bag suitable for different body shapes and curves
  • A suitable size for what you plan on carrying. Remember your physical limitations here. A Bug out Bag won’t do much good if you can’t pick it up and move easily.
  • Accessible spaces for essentials. You don’t want to dig to the bottom of your pack for a bandage, for example.
  • Tough, durable, water-resistant fabric
  • Heavy duty zippers (or clips)
  • Nothing fancy. A Bug out Bag needs to blend in with your environment so you can remain low-profile.

Some people get a vest with inside pockets too, just in case the Bug out Bag is lost, stolen or must be left behind.

It’s worth noting that you may want to make more than one Bug out Bag. Have one in your car, one at your place of employment, one at home etc.

Since we can’t predict a situation where we will need this kit, having several strategically placed makes perfect sense.

What do you pack in a bug out bag?

How to organize your Bug Out Bag

So you find the right bag:

Now it’s time to figure out where you are putting everything.

First, let me give you a piece of advice. Simplify.

Think light-weight and what’s really important (no fluff). Overloading your bag is very easy and an incredibly common mistake.

Look for goods that serve more than one function. Also, travel size products like shampoo and toothpaste are perfect for Bug Out Bags.

Step one for organizing the Bug Out Bag is getting yourself some food storage bags – good ones!

A lot of your small items will be going into these for another layer of protection including lighters, sewing kit, medicine and electronics. Transparent containers with fitted lids also work, but take up more space.

Next, think about the function for each item you’re packing.

Those things you will use regularly through the day need to be close at hand, like your water bottle, utility knife or multi-tool and flashlight. So they should go in outside pockets.

Your blanket and tarp go toward the bottom of your bag. Things like spare socks and dry foods in the middle. Remember that distributing the weight evenly helps you carry the bag more comfortably.

Hint: Try a test run with your bag. Pack it as you think it should be and take a hike. See if you like where things are and how the bag feels, then adjust accordingly.

Organizing your Bug out Bag means you can get at necessary items more quickly. It also means that everything within is placed in a manner that lessens back strain (heaviest items go closest to your backbone).

Bug Out Bags – Choosing your List of Supplies

Now it’s time to think about what your emergency “go bag” contents list will look like.

I will warn you, this list is rather extensive. It is meant as a broad overview you can (and should) narrow down for your personal situation.

Let’s start with the vitals.

Food & Water

Pack minimally one liter of water per day. So, if you’re making a three-day pack, that’s 3 liters. Separate out the water in to durable containers, trying to have one that’s collapsible for easy storage and re-filling.

Also consider water purification tablets or a filtration system. Clean water is ultimately your primary survival need.

Accompanying water, there’s food. High-calorie protein bars are one fantastic option that don’t cost a lot and weight near to nothing.

Other options include:

  • Dried/dehydrated edibles including meat and fruit
  • Small canned beans or meats
  • MREs (military rations – “meals ready to eat”) these are more expensive but come with built-in heating systems as well as condiments and even freeze-dried coffee.

When packing food consider whether you are taking a cooking kit. This adds bulk to your pack, so choosing foods that don’t require preparation alleviates this potential item.

Clothing

For clothing, always bring an extra pair of socks, pants, undergarments, boots/shoes, a raincoat or poncho and a shirt.

The last thing you want is to be caught with the temperatures coming down and still soaking wet from a storm. Wear your dry items while you wait for other clothes to dry.

Shelter

There is a lot of debate on what qualifies for shelter because you have to think about cold, hot, wind, rain, and even potentially snow. You can turn wool blankets, nylon tarps and survival blankets not only into a lean-to but also ground covers or make-shift sleeping bags. Speaking of which, if you have room pack a sleeping bag, otherwise go with the wool blanket.

Health & Wellness

A first aid kit is a MUST along with any medications you need regularly.

If you are making your own kit include bandages, gauze, alcohol pads, hot/cold pack, lip balm and antibiotic ointment. Also have bug spray or cream, sunglasses, toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, Q-Tips (can be used for starting fires too), toilet paper, anti-bacterial hand wash, baby wipes, multi-vitamins and sunscreen.

Don’t want to deal with the hassle? Check out my post on Bug Out Bag first aid kits here!

Tools

This is where you may find yourself picking and choosing.

Lighters, fire strikers or waterproof matches are incredibly handy, as is some type of tinder. Add to that a good knife (used for preparing food, chopping wood and personal defense) and a multi-tool with pliers, screwdriver and wire cutters.

Other items in this category include cord, wire, duct tape (soooo many uses!), siphon, zip ties, garbage bags, super glue (also useful for first aid), spare batteries or a solar charger, work gloves, sewing kit, can opener, whistle, fishing kit, compass, folding shovel and binoculars.

Preparing for the worst with a bug out bag

Lighting

Definitely toss a few glow sticks into your pack.

Besides this, a mini LED flashlight, candles, or head lamps all work. Always have two options for lighting so you can still navigate in the dark should one fail.

Communication

A fully charged cell phone is great, but in emergency situations cell towers may not function well.

If you do carry one, find a means of charging it without electricity. Other possible communication gear includes an Am/FM radio for ongoing updates (there are hand-crank styles) and walkie-talkies particularly if you are bugging out in a group.

Miscellaneous items

Just when you think list wasn’t long enough, there are a few other things to think about, like cash and credit cards.

In an emergency those credit cards might not work so cash or anything that you can use for barter/trade is worth considering. Use an RFID wallet for greater security with your ID.

You also want a detailed map of your area with designated routes and alternatives for your bug-out. Beyond this, pack:

  • Paper, pen, pencil for important notes
  • Documents: your social security card, contact numbers, photo ID and gun carry permit if applicable in a waterproof container.
  • Side arm (if applicable) for personal protection. Alternatively, high-quality pepper spray.
  • Mirror (for signaling)
  • Wind-up watch (doesn’t require batteries)

Now, I should mention that those of you who live in four-season environments may wish to have seasonally themed Bug-out bags.

In winter you want a durable, warm, and waterproof boots, for example. Add to that a fleece or Mylar liner for your sleeping bag, moisture-repelling gloves, snow goggles, ski mask and very warm head wear (this is where you lose most of your body heat).

If you have an insulated beverage container, you can make warm tea or coffee and have it on hand throughout the day. A water-resistant jacket with a collar, cuffs and insulation is absolutely vital. Extra warm socks, wool or thermal pants and hot hands all apply.

Hint: you want to have two of some items should the first break or get lost. Now, you can’t bring two of everything, obviously. For this piece of the puzzle think about items that can serve more than one function. Electrical tape, for example, can be a bandage, a clothing repair kit and a “quick fix” for a zipper.

Build a Survival Kit

What’s the difference?

In my opinion, a basic survival kit is smaller and more focused than a Bug Out Bag.

You can still use a backpack or other easily carried bag, but the survival kit is mandatory equipment i.e. if something goes wrong, you WANT X, Y and Z readily on hand.

Different people have unique requirements in their survival kit and you should personalize yours too.

If, for example, you have allergies then you want a product that treats this condition in your survival kit. There are pre-assembled kits on the market, but you may not find them satisfactory.

I recommend basic tools (knife, multi-tool), some form of light, tape and cord, water purification tablets and a fire starting kit.

Additionally, an emergency blanket, rescue signals, some non-perishable food and first aid items all make sense for this assemblage.

Finally, create some notes for yourself on basic triage, local landmarks and geographical reference points, etc. Keep this in a waterproof bag or even consider laminating it.

How to bug out

How to “Bug Out”

It’s time:

You are all packed up and ready to go, but when exactly do you “Bug-Out” and how do you make your emergency exit safe and effective?

The phrase “bugging out” came from military programs in the 1950s. The survivalist community adopted the term along with those groups and individuals focused on preparedness. While no one really ever wants to Bug-Out, some situations warrant it.

There is nothing romantic about bugging out. This experience may be among the worst in your life, and that is why I stress that you think about your Bug-Out Bag and procedures very thoroughly.

Some situations give us fair warning and we can move to safety, like a hurricane. Have a destination in mind. Better still have two in case the first one becomes incomparable to your safety.

Your “Plan B” can be nearly anywhere – a cave, a tract of land you know well, even a shed.

No matter what, “know before you go” applies. You should never just randomly pick your Bug-Out locations. If you can find several spots where you can pre-stash supplies, all the better.

Tip: Your Bug-Out destinations need to be within a reasonable distance from work or home, particularly if you end up hoofing it. Don’t forget alternatives to a car like a heavy duty mountain bike.

Remember, you will probably not be alone in Bugging Out in an emergency situation. Keep a clear head and stay focused. People around you may panic, and emotions run high.

Now is not the time for a fistfight.

Stick to your plan like glue unless the situation warrants a change. This is your comfort zone-you created it, you know it and now you’re going to live it at least for a few days.

While it is my sincere hope that no one reading this ever has to use their Bug-Out Bag, it will make you feel better to have one. It’s like a security blanket for adults, with far greater importance.

Think about it.

Do your research while things are calm, and then get packing!

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