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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- Cordage. Carrying a good 100′ feet of paracord is a smart idea. It’s lightweight and can be very useful for many applications.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- TETON Sports Scout 3400 Internal frame. This bag definitely doesn’t yell “Tactical!” and at $59.00 (with stellar reviews on Amazon), this pack is hard to beat.
- 5.11 3 day Rush backpack. This is definitely a prepper favorite. In the $147.00 price range, it’s a solid backpack that many of our soldiers on deployment use and recommend.
- Eberlestock HalfTrack Military Pack. On the higher end of the price range (around $250), this pack is built like a tank and the attention to detail is impressive. Definitely one of those pieces of gear you know is going to last a long time and is used by some of the military’s special operations forces. If you have the money for this, you won’t go wrong picking this up.
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.
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.
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):
- Emergency sleeping bag. These are light weight, small and inexpensive. If you live in a colder climate, you may consider a full-size sleeping bag. I keep my sleeping bag by my B.O.B. during the winter since it can get cold in my area, but the rest of the year it’s not really needed. The emergency sleeping bag will work fine for my climate.
- Wetfire. If you need to get a fire going quickly, this will do the job. Also see my notes above about the stormproof matches and flint steel firestarter I have. The ability to start a fire in a bug out situation serves many crucial purposes.
- Batteries. I have a few different things that need batteries in my bag, the most important of which is my flashlight. Ideally it helps when all your electronics running on the same type of batteries (i.e. AAA) so that you only have to carry one type of battery. Side note: when storing your electronics in your pack (i.e. flashlights, 2 way radios, etc.), don’t leave the batteries in these devices as they may experience corrosion and destroy your device. Instead store the batteries separately in a zip lock bag. I bunch my together with a rubber band so they aren’t touching end to end. While not probable, I don’t want to risk my batteries causing a spark or fire. A quick search on Google shows the culprits are usually 9 volt batteries, but I’d prefer to avoid risking it.
- Energy bars. Try and find a balanced bar. Something that is not all sugar but is rather balanced with protein, fat and carbs. Having 4 or 5 of these in your pack can help if you’re on the move or just need something for a simple morale booster.
- Snares. You can easily make a few of these to stow in your pack. They’re small and barely take up any space or add weight and could provide an opportunity to snag a meal.
- Rain gear.
- MRE’s. I carry a few of these in my pack. If you need to cook a meal quickly, these are awesome. They come with their own built-in heater to warm up your food, so it’s great to have a few of these.
- Mountain house meals. There’s a lot of variation on these types of freeze-dried meals you can quickly heat up with hot water. They’re very light weight and provide a balanced meal. While we’re on the subject of food, you need to consider your calorie intake. If you’re on the move, a minimum of 2200 calories for the typical person per day is a good number to shoot for (which is very low). Ideally you’ll need a lot more if you’re covering a lot of ground each day, but there’s only so much space in your pack. I add up all the snack bars, MRE’s and freeze dried food to about 2200 to 2500 calories a day.
- Food prepping/eating gear. There’s an infinite number of configurations and options here, but for my bag, my goal is to be able to heat up water and have a utensil to eat with. I added a Toaks titanium cup which weighs next to nothing, a Stanley Cook Camp set and a Light my fire titanium spork.
- Stove. While not necessary, I like having this in my bag if I need to heat up some water without starting a fire (in the event I don’t want to be seen). Still, they’re small, light-weight and with a small fuel canister, you can get some water boiling quickly.
- Multi-tool knife. These come in handy in so many ways.
- Medical kit / R.A.T.S Tourniquet / Israeli Bandage. You might be on your own for awhile. Having the right medical gear is critical.
- Whistle. Great for signaling.
- Journal. Documenting important details you may need to retrieve later.
- Gloves. I carry these in my EDC bag (that can be attached to my B.O.B.) and use these a lot.
- Two way HAM radio. If cell phone towers go down, having a back up means of communication is very important.
- Rescue Flash Mirror.
- SAS Survival handbook. Knowledge is power and can help to ensure you can survive. I even have a backup PDF of this on my phone.
- Tush wipes. Like toilet paper but better.
- Tent stakes x 4. These can be used to tie down the rain tarp at the corners or could be used in a fire (already driven into the ground) to rest my pot on when boiling water.
- Alcohol hand wipes.
- Foldable air respirator.
- Glow sticks. Great for light and great for signaling (attach one of these on the end of a 2 foot cord and swung around at night time can be seen far away).
- USB thumb drive.
- Super glue stick (small).
- Cash (minimum $20).
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.