So, what is a bug-out bag?
Briefly stated, it’s a mobile container that allows you to store enough items to guarantee your survival for up to 3 days or more following a major crisis or disaster.
What is special about these bags is that each one is made in such a way that it reflects your personal needs.
In this sense, you can even say it’s much like your lifeline in a container.
While as a single individual you won’t need but a few items, if you have a family, then you’ll need a small “survival arsenal” so every family member can make it until substantial help arrives.
While there is no exact fixture item you should include in these bags, there are of course a few generally agreed upon items.
Check out the top five things the world’s foremost and well-respected survivalists have in their bug-out bags, so you can model what’s best for you.
As a former U.S. Marine I understand the need to carry ample equipment while taking speed into consideration. The five most prominent things you’ll find in my bug-out bag are based on essential needs for water, food, defense, medicine and concealment.
Let’s start with the easy one, water. I have a water bladder in my bug-out bag but I also carry the ability to convert non-drinkable water into drinkable water. In my opinion LifeStraw is a must have tool for every bug-out bag because in most cases starting a fire to boil water breaks concealment. That’s not acceptable in my view. For food I prefer dehydrated meats and a couple of MRE’s largely because they’re light weight and can be rationed easily for longer term survivability. However, I also carry survival fishing equipment and if possible my silenced air rifle for small game hunts.
For defense I carry ammunition for my AR-15 and my 9mm pistol in magazines and clips (I don’t want to fool with reloading magazines or clips on the move). I will be adding arrows to my bug-out bag as well as a lightweight compound bow for reusable and silent hunts (a new tool I’m getting to know but I believe is highly valuable).
Most survivalists have medicines and first aid kits in their bug-out bags and I do as well; but I also carry a medicinal plant book for identification which also explains the medicinal uses of certain trees and plants for long term survivability. The reality is that in long term disasters (or worse) medicine will become scarce and your supply will run out. Having a botanical pharmacy as a back up just makes sense to me.
Concealment isn’t as complicated as most people think. It’s always better to move by night and hold up during the day. Dark or camouflaged clothing is extremely helpful in a bug-out but you can use your surroundings to provide adequate concealment if necessary.
The first four match what I consider are the most important (water, food, shelter and security). I have food for three days, a way to filter water because carrying three days of water is silly and heavy, bivy sacks for cold weather and tarps and lastly spare ammo for my weapons. The 5th item would have to be a knife because for eons knives have enabled man to make so many useful things. I guess that could double in the security department but I can’t make a sharp stake with my Glock.
I’ve redone my bags multiple times over the years and they even change for the seasons (e.g., more cold weather clothing during the winter) but by-and-large I always have and recommend the same following five items for everyone: a sturdy fixed blade knife, fire-starting supplies, clothing (even shoes), water, food.
A knife should be a no-brainer for most but it’s probably the one tool that is very difficult to reproduce from nature. From shelter building to hunting to defense, a knife is a must-have.
I list fire-starting supplies rather than something specific like a firesteel or lighter because the general ability to start a fire—in multiple ways, mind you—is paramount. You should include both a way to start a fire and ways to sustain it.
Clothing—and shoes if you regularly wear business attire—is another must. You need both comfortable clothing so you’re able to walk miles upon miles if needed as well as clothing that is capable of keeping you protected from the elements be it cold or raining. I actually like to keep a basic set of clothes (e.g., pants, long-sleeved shirt, etc) at all times and then add additional cold weather gear for the winter.
People often focus on water treatment supplies expecting that they’ll be able to find water. While important, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to find water on the move. Obviously, since water is heavy you can’t take much (maybe a few bottles) but I feel it’s a worthwhile tradeoff considering how important water is to your survival.
Food, though not critical in the short term, is certainly an energy and morale booster. Pack lightweight foods (like dehydrated or MREs) and even small hard candies to keep your spirits and energy up. Remember the kids need and expectations for food too.
Obviously, there’s a lot more you can and should include so don’t ignore the many, many additional supplies you can add.
1. Diva Cup – I know people are tired of hearing about my periods and love affair with menstrual cups, but this is definitely number one in my bag! I would rather go without food and water than to bleed all over the jungle 😉
2. LifeStraw – It’s nearly impossible to carry all the water I would need if had to leave in a hurry, so having a lifestraw or some type of water purifier would hopefully help me stay hydrated until I could get to another water source.
3. 72 Hour Food Kit – I can get very “hangry”, so having food is a must if I want to stay happy, sane, and keep me from stealing yours – j/k
4. Headlamp – I’m scared of the dark, so I definitely needed to pack a light. Having a head-lamp frees up my hands so I can help cook, set-up tents, spank kids, or whatever else that needs done.
5. Knife – Having a good knife is a must for all those extra things – kill dinner, make dinner, eat dinner – important stuff like that 😉
I don’t have a fully complete bug out bag, but I do have a sling bag that I travel with whenever I go out of town and I also have “supplies” that I take in both vehicles, which would normally go in someone’s bug out bag. The top five items in my travel “bug out” bag include:
1. A Bear Grylls knife (by Gerber) that includes a fire starter. Probably the most important and versatile tool for me. The list of benefits of a survival knife with fire starting capabilities is too long to list.
2. A Glock 23 .40 caliber with zombie killer ammo and 2 additional magazines with an extra small box of ammo. After a lot of research I chose the Glock .23 for its smaller size (but not too small). I also like the stopping power of the .40 caliber. It is also big enough to enjoy shooting on the range. I typically do not carry a gun, because I feel I could take care of an attacker faster with my bare hands, because of my training, but if I get stuck in a big city and need to make my way out, I would definitely feel more comfortable with my gun.
3. A spyder lightweight jacket. This is a very light weight and foldable jacket manufactured by a leading ski company. Since I have never needed to “bug out”…yet, this item has probably come in handy more than any other item in my bag. I have had to use this jacket many times and it always comes in handy and is actually quite stylish.
4. Cash and some silver coins for bartering. I have cash, because in a blackout or EMP type situation, credit card and ATM machines will not be working and cash will be king. Then, at some point, cash will be trash and then barter items will be the currency of the day such as ammo, food, gold and silver, toilet paper, etc…
5. Flashlight. If I am stuck somewhere at night I want to be able to see. A flashlight is a must for a bug out or survival bag. I have a tactical LED flashlight, an additional flashlight and a head lamp in my bag. I keep the battery out while in storage and change batteries every few months or so even if I haven’t used them.
1. Money. Some preppers might disagree with this, but I think money will hold value long enough to be useful in some way. It can pay for transportation, protection, passage and purchase any unforeseen essentials.
2. Smart-phone. A smart-phone is an invaluable resource in a disaster situation. If the cell networks remain active, a smart-phone will provide news, communication and GPS. They also serve as a flashlight and you can store survival and medical resources on them as well as map information on the phone’s memory card. In the event that cell networks go down, smart-phones still have an AM/FM receiver built in and can be used as a radio.
3. Solar powered charger. If the electricity goes out, electronics would be useless. I have a versatile solar charger in my bag to charge my phone as well as re-chargable AA batteries for flashlights/lamps, etc.
4. Water. In a bug-out situation, my priority is getting to my destination as fast as possible. For this reason, my bug-out bag is designed for mobility. I use a backpack with a built-in water bladder. The sooner I can get to my destination the better, and that means eliminating unnecessary stops including food and water.
5. MRE’s. As I said above, I want to make as few stops as possible. MRE’s make it easy to fuel up while on the move.
This is quite a tricky question. I once wrote an article on MyFamilySurvivalPlan on this topic and I had a lot of comments saying pretty much the same thing: you’re insane, that’s not how you should do it. As I said before, I am not looking to give people a recipe. If my readers have found a bug-out bag that suits their needs perfectly, that can only make me happy. But it doesn’t mean that the same BOB works out for MY family.
For example, I don’t put ANY knives or sharp objects in my BOB. I did put 3 knives there at some point, but David – my younger son who’s extremely curious – found it and wondered around the house with it. I nearly fainted when I saw him playing with it, especially since I make sure my survival knives are in tip-top shape, extremely sharp blade and all.
I can tell you this much: I make sure I cover EVERYTHING my family may need and that is:
4. Hygiene/Medical care
5. Feeling safe
I want to add just one thing about #5: this is one of the most crucial things that is, unfortunately, ignored by many. Ask each of your family member what makes them feel safe and ad that item to their own individual BOB. Andrew asked for his Superman figure. It’s now in his BOB, ready to “protect” him if needed.
1. Kershaw OSO Sweet Pocket Knife: This knife goes everywhere with us. Although it is only $23, it is reliable and holds its sharp edge forever.
2. Cash: Face it. If the situation is dire, cash can be used to purchase food, water, fuel, and just about anything else you can think of.
3. Glock 19 and ammo: Both my husband and I have concealed permits. Although we live in an idyllic bug out location, if things get bad and we need to bug out, they will be VERY bad. Our firearm will be used for personal defense.
4. Prescription meds: Not so much for me but my husband has a number of meds he takes on a daily basis. Slowly, with the support of his doctor, we are finding holistic and natural alternatives.
1. Water – Berkie Sport water bottle with built in filter. Good for drinking from ANY water source. Always keep a case of bottled water in our vehicles. A human body MUST have water to survive. PERIOD.
2. Food – home made gorp (nuts, dried fruit, chocolate,etc), with homemade jerky (Hi Mountain Season’s factory is here in town, some of the best stuff on the market) A few other food items that are stable in the wildly fluctuating Wyoming weather ( -40 below in deepest winter to 100+ in the hottest summers, albeit with mostly very low humidity). I’ve been out in the wilderness without the right food in my youth…learned the hard way.
3. Gerber Multi-tool – many times a lifesaver either while traveling, or on foot in the mountains or prairies of the Rockies. I’ve had several models, and I swear by them. Dug many a thorn out, carved some fire sticks for campfires, fixed the throttle mechanism on my 1300cc Road bike on the side of the road, and mended broken parts in my rig when I was driving coast to coast for a living.
4. Folding Saw – fits in my pocket, back pack or day bag, and even my fishing vest. Great for many uses other than just making firewood. Cuts through rubber coolant hoses, shredded but tangled serpentine belts, and an occasional seatbelt like you wouldn’t believe. And, if it ever came to it, and found myself trapped under a rock or fallen tree, when nothing else would work, this tool would cut me free (instead of leaving me to be found expired later along some trail). Watch the movie “168 Hours” and think…which would YOU rather have in that kind of situation? It has happened many times. A simple sawz-all or jig saw blade literally just would not cut it…pardon the pun.
5. 1st Aid Kit. I have kits for several levels, from every day carry (home, work, basically everywhere I might ever be), to a tightly packed medium kit customized from my factory kit in my Nissan Xterra rear door grab bag, to an off-grid mini trauma kit, capable of wound cleaning, stitching, etc. Too many times on the road, I’ve been first on scene of major vehicular accidents and found a need for something, and now prepare for those potentials, up to and including serious blunt force trauma, open arterial bleeding, and airway control. My job for the state of Wyoming in Corrections/LEO gives me annual training and certifications for whatever may happen…and I’ve seen it all in my career. In a state where the major (and even minor) cities are hours away, and across 120-150 miles or more of empty high desert, you’d be surprised just how many one car rollovers occur in the middle of nowhere.
The top five items I include in my bug-out bag are:
1. Bandanas, because they are very versatile, and not only to keep your neck warm. They filter out dirty particles in river water. They make emergency bandages. They provide a face mask during a dust storm.
2. Water purification tablets. I also have a LifeStraw, and a container in which to boil water. It’s wise to have several ways to keep your water drinkable.
3. Dental floss more than keeps your teeth clean, it provides an emergency suturing thread, a fishing line, a way to hold small items together, such as foraged food, in your bandana. This also means you need some kind of a needle for suturing and hooks for fishing.
4. My knife also has a whetstone attached. It’s in a holster in my bug-out bag because I feel silly wearing it to church. A knife is a portable tool with many uses.
5. I also include a sewing kit. I don’t see very much printed on the value of a sewing kit, when so much information concentrates on items like paracord, which is also a very versatile necessity. But my pack will be valuable when someone’s clothing needs to be mended, a button replaced, or a pack resewn.
At the end of the day, when you’re armed with the right survival tips and with a lot of self confidence, you can make it through any type of situation no matter how bad it may initially seem.
Finally, I hate to be the bearer of bad news. I’m an optimist by nature. These experts are professional survivalists, but in general all we can do is give you few pointers on the most important things you should have. It’s up to you to chose the “right” supplies. This is based on our experience, but there are many other items you may need to know about. If you want to learn more, I recommend starting here. Click here to learn more.