City Prepping

How to build a Bug out Bag

City prepping bug out bag

If you have to head out of Dodge fast, having the right items thought out in advance is critical for survival.  Even more important, you need to have these supplies ready to leave on a moment’s notice without having to run around your house to try and find everything.  How many times have you gone on vacation and forgot something?  Now imagine an urgent “situation” out of your control occurs requiring you and your family to leave your house within minutes.  Having forgotten something won’t just be a matter of inconvenience, it could cost your life.  While “bugging out” is probably the last thing I want to do in an emergency situation (my preferences is to definitely “bug-in”), I may not have a choice in the matter.  This is why the concept of the Bug out Bag (henceforth to be called “B.O.B.” in this article) has become so popular in the prepper community.

Writing a blog posting about the “perfect” bug out bag is all but nearly impossible.  Each region has different challenges for survival and different individuals have unique physical abilities and limitations.  A person living a desert area has different considerations than a person living around large amounts of water.  Someone with a small frame may not be able to carry the same load as someone that is in great physical shape (side note: it’s amazing to see what someone faced with great obstacles in the face of survival can overcome).  But despite the differences, there’s a common thread for what you should include in your bag.

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Before going any further, big thanks to Rain6 for providing us with their Speeder B.O.B.  Rain6 is an extraordinary company that provides great firearms and survival training.  These guys have a great deal of experience and are excellent teachers.
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Let’s start with the basics of what every B.O.B. should contain.  For that, I’ll use Dave Canterbury’s 10 C’s of survival as they serve as a great primer to start building your B.O.B.

Top 10 tools your B.O.B. should contain:

  1. Cutting tool.  We reviewed 2 knives popular in the prepping community: the Gerber LMF II and the Ka-Bar Becker 7.  Don’t skimp here and buy one of the cheap “Rambo” knives that is not a full tang knife which will break shortly after using it.
  2. Combustion.  The ability to start a fire is critical.  Fire serves many purposes (keeping your core temperature up in cold conditions, cooking, etc.) and it’s something you’ll definitely need if you’re going to be stuck out in the elements for any period of time.  In my B.O.B. I carry storm proof matches and as a backup I have a flintsteel firestarter.
  3. Cover.  In my opinion this should be #1 on your list of items to have in your B.O.B.  You’re not going to last long in the elements if you have don’t some way to protect yourself against the elements.  Having spent many years mountain climbing, getting stuck in storms is no fun (well, it can be if you have the right gear).  If you don’t have the ability to protect yourself from the elements, well you’re not going to last long.  I personally choose a rain tarp for my B.O.B. (lighter and smaller than a tent).
  4. Container.  Carrying water is critical (especially if you live in the desert like me).  Having a water container that can be used to boil water is an extra bonus.  I have the Klean Kanteen water bottle on my bag in addition to my 2 water bladders.  Like shelter, water is is something that is critical for survival.  You’re not going to last long without it.
  5. Cordage.  Carrying a good 100′ feet of paracord is a smart idea.  It’s lightweight and can be very useful for many applications.
  6. Candle (a.k.a. flashlight).  I like a good headlamp.  It frees your hands up and wherever you turn your head to look, well, the light is going to shine in that direction.  Having light is so important for my B.O.B. that I carry a few backups.  One in particular, the Eton Scorpion, serves as both a flashlight, has a hand crank charger that can charge your cell phone, has a radio and a small solar panel to charge it.
  7. Cotton.  Having some type of bandana can serve many purposes.  I did some NGO work in Afghanistan years ago and before leaving I purchased about 10 shemaghs which I have placed in all my B.O.B.’s and vehicle EDC bags.  These can serve many purposes from head covering in hot weather, wrapping around your neck in cold weather, filtering water, helping start a fire, wrapping a broken bone to a signaling flag.
  8. Compass.  Getting lost can be dangerous.  How often have you seen news reports of people that got lost in the woods that ended up going in circles?  Having the ability to quickly orient yourself and follow a direction is critical.  A compass is small, cheap and can be a real life saver.
  9. Cargo tape.  Strong duct tape can solve many problems in a cinch.  Have a pack problem?  Tape it up.  The uses are almost endless.  How much you carry is up to you, but having a roll of Gorilla tape is a good idea for those moments when something gets busted.
  10. Canvas needle.  Also sometimes referred to as a “sail needle”, these needles can come in handy to sow up torn articles of clothing or gear.

OK, so I get what the most important items the bag should contain, but what about the bag itself?

I’m glad you asked.  There’s quite a lot of options depending on budget and personal tastes.  Here’s a few I’d recommend that range from the low to the higher end:

How much can you add to your B.O.B.?

So obviously the 10 C’s listed above are a primer for the core essentials, but there’s quite a few other items you’re going to want to pick up for your pack.  This is where weight comes into play.  They say your pack shouldn’t weigh more than 25% of your body weight.  As a teenager I would go on backpacking expeditions where we sometimes would carry up to 50 pounds or more of gear for a few weeks and at that time I barely weighed 120 pounds.  So obviously you can carry more than 25% of your weight, but you have to factor your physical condition.  Don’t think you’re going to have a 50 pound bag sitting in your closet you haven’t worn in years that you can just throw on your back and head out.  It’s probably not going to be that easy.

While this article is not designed to go into detail about getting into shape and gaining strength, it’s something you need to factor in nonetheless (I’ll leave the how up to you) into how much you’ll be able to carry.

Water…you won’t get far without it.

water and bugging out

The 10 C’s listed above are the core essential pieces of equipment to have in your B.O.B. but water is the most essential item you’ll need in your pack (and the ability to store a lot of it).  My current B.O.B. has 2 water bladders that can hold 2 liters each (about 1 gallon combined) along with a 27 ounce water bottle.  A typical person will use 1 gallon of water a day.  So for 3 days of survival you’ll need 3 gallons of water.  At 8.34 pounds per gallon, you’re looking at about 25 pounds of weight that will be added to your B.O.B.  Next to my B.O.B. I have some standard 1 gallon water bottles you can buy at your local grocery store.  I keep them ready so that I have to head out quickly, I can grab them and fill up my water bladders on my bag.  I don’t keep my water bladders in my bag filled with water as I don’t want to develop mold in the bladders.  Each month I dump the water from my containers and fill them back up from the tap to keep them fresh and ready.  Sectionhiker has a great article on how much water you should carry.  The reality is that there is only so much water you can carry (it’s heavy and takes up a lot of space) but you should definitely prepare in advance so that not only can you carry enough for survival, but know where to go to get more.

bug out bag H2O Filter

In addition to water storage, having the ability to filter water is critical.  As you can see from reading above, I have enough storage in my primary B.O.B. for a little over a gallon (I plan on expanding that shortly).  So if you need 3 days worth of water, you’re obviously going to need to get more water as we go.  Having a way to filter your water or make it safe for drinking is very easy and relatively inexpensive.  The LifeStraw and the Sawyer water filter are both excellent options that take up little room, are inexpensive and get the job done.  In addition (always think in terms of backup options for the critical components of your B.O.B.), you should have water purification tablets.  They take up very little room and weigh next to nothing.  Without having a means to make your water safe for drinking, you set yourself up for extremely painful times if not death.  Years back I was on a mountain climbing expedition and contracted giardia.  That was an experience I don’t ever wish to repeat.  It taught me a valuable lesson though: make sure your water is safe to drink.

Specific items for your B.O.B.

Now that we’ve covered the essentials (the top 10 C’s, the bag itself, your physical condition and water), let’s get into some other items you’ll want to have when setting up your B.O.B.

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, there’s no one perfect B.O.B. setup.  Every person has different regional issues and physical issues they must consider.  So while you’re putting together your own bag, consider items you may specifically need.

Here are the items (apart from the 10 C’s listed above) I have in my bag (in no particular order):

Be on the ready

Alright, you’ve built out a B.O.B. … now what?  I keep my bag plus water plus clothes (pants, shirt, jacket and boots) all together in 1 closet in my house.  In the event I have to bug out, I have all my gear in one place so I can grab it and go.  Again, the key is to not just have the gear scattered around your house but rather to have everything in one place so that if you have to head out quickly, you can without having to spend time you don’t have trying to gather everything together.

The gear in my pack is dedicated to that pack.  If I remove something from my bag for use, I make a note to return it.  The approach Rain6 uses on their B.O.B. provides you with 2 bags.  The primary bag has all the main gear (food, water storage, shelter, etc.) and I have a separate EDC bag that keeps the items I use on a daily basis (gloves, flashlights, pocket knife, etc.)…the small items.  With this setup, in an emergency the EDC quickly attaches to the primary bag with a few snaps.  It allows me to use many of the items I have listed above in my EDC that you can take to work or other outings.

Avoid prepper burnt-out.

Like so many things with prepping, it’s easy to get burnt out with all the gear to collect and things to do.  I have to constantly remind myself that this is a marathon and not a sprint.  My B.O.B. has taken a significant amount of time to build and I am still in the process of modifying it and updating it as I learn new things.  And while the items listed above are numerous and expensive, you can build a quality B.O.B. on the cheap.

Like insurance, it’s one of those things you setup and forget about.  Your B.O.B. will probably be the same.  It’s one of those things you may never need, but in an emergency, having it can make all the difference.