Our Family's Bushfire Bug-out Bag
FYI: I will slowly be moving my content over to rickytheleo.blogspot.com.au, and I will also be posting new content on there from this point onwards.
My partner and I live in a high-risk area for bushfires. Because of this, once the season started getting close to summer (the summer just passed being our first summer in our current house), we began thinking about, and putting together, a Bug-out Bag (or “BOB”, as it’s often called). As it turns out, we did have a massive bushfire (easily the biggest fire for the season) just over a month ago, and at its closest point it was within 20 kilometres of our house.
The house we currently live in, we’re renting, and it’s made mostly out of wood, so we had no plans to stay and defend the house. Luckily, because we had plenty of notice as the bushfire raged, occasionally making its way in our direction, we had time to pack up everything we could and evacuate, hoping for the best.
The fire didn’t make it to our house. We were very lucky, but it easily could have gone the other way.
First thing’s first: What is a Bug-out Bag?
Your BOB is intended to be the one thing you take with you when you need to get out and away from the house, and quick. When there’s no time to do anything other than making sure your loved ones are with you, running for the hills, from whatever caused the current disaster. Basically, it’s a bag that contains the bare survival essentials already packed so you don’t need to even think about locating and packing these items while scrambling to evacuate – you can just grab the bag and go.
Our BOB is permanently sitting next to the front door just in case such a situation arises. Nowadays, with emergency services sending out texts to anyone in the area, apps and websites you can visit to find out the latest news, and other warnings, it’s considerably harder to be caught unawares by a natural disaster. But fires and other disasters (such as floods and earthquakes) can still sweep through with far less notice from time to time.
Situations to aim your BOB at helping with
There are two generalised situations that most online guides suggest you aim your BOB at.
- Natural Disasters – these guides, as I do, will usually suggest thinking about what exactly your area is susceptible to, and from which you’d have to evacuate.
- Collapse-of-Society emergencies – i.e. where something has happened which causes looting and lawlessness to ensue (even if only temporarily), and instead of "riding it out", you want to escape it all.
These are both excellent things to contemplate, because even if it’s not nice, it forces you to consider how you’d approach and handle those situations. And while most people won’t ever have to bother with thinking about this, there’s nothing wrong, and no harm, in simply being prepared for these events. On the flipside, merely thinking “it won’t happen to me” is a dangerous line of thinking, because the possibility is there whether you want to admit it or not.
With all of that said, being realistic about what’s likely to happen in your area is smart. For example, we currently live on the outskirts of a town with a 3-digit population, which is itself a 10-minute drive to the next nearest town, or a 45-minute drive (minimum) to the nearest decently sized city. So worrying about looting and roving, lawless mobs in a situation which has caused the police to lose control is simply not a pressing concern of mine or my family’s. A bushfire, on the other hand, is a frequent occurrence during summer in this state (indeed, for pretty much all states across Australia). So it makes perfect sense to try and be a little more prepared for a fire making its way towards us.
DISCLAIMER: For this reason, this guide is aimed towards preparing your BOB for a bushfire, or other natural disaster which would force you (in your particular situation) to retreat to the hills (if retreating to another populated area was not an option). This is not yet another guide on becoming a one-man army and fending off hordes of looters. There are already plenty of guides aimed at this out there, and discussing how realistic many of these articles are could be an article in itself. Because of this, to keep this article from going off-topic, I will focus only on what we targeted our own BOB at helping with.
What to put in your Bug-out Bag
By thinking critically about what you really need to prepare for, you can cut down on the size of your BOB. By trying to include multi-use tools instead of single-purpose tools where possible, you can cut down even more.
I constantly see online guides to making your own BOB have so many items in them, you need a full-length (I.e. sometimes up to a metre) hiking/camping pack, and the BOB is so full it sometimes ends up in the 30-40kg or higher weight range. That’s all well and good, and sure, your BOB will help you out with almost any situation you come across, except being able to move quickly while carrying it. And to me, having a small enough BOB such that it doesn’t hinder your movement is a high priority.
My reasoning revolves around the fact that if your BOB is oversized (in weight, dimensions, or both) to the point where it could potentially slow you down, or otherwise hinder you in a situation which may require you to move quickly or deftly in order to survive, then it has just become less of a help, and more of a risk. In short, your BOB has become potentially dangerous in a situation where added danger is the last thing you need.
When thinking about your BOB in this light, you will hopefully understand why a BOB which doesn’t hinder you is high on my priority list.
My family’s BOB is a small schoolbag, and we’ve tried to carefully think about what we pack inside. Furthermore, anything which is critical to not get wet (in case the bag ends up submerged in water, or heavy rain soaks through the bag’s fabric), we’ve sealed in plastic zip-lock bags. The contents of our bag is thus:
Fire-making for warmth, and cooking
- A small hatchet (for chopping, digging, and hammering with the blunt reverse-side of the head)
- Large matches (sealed in a zip-lock bag)
- Bic butane lighters (sealed in a zip-lock bag)
Safe food and water:
- 7-litre fold-down water canteen, with faucet (only third-filled so that it doesn’t use up too much space when stored in the BOB)
- Small steel billy (for cooking food and water in)
- Several packs of dehydrated food (might not be the healthiest stuff over a long period, but eating it over just a few days is fine)
- Concentrated citrus seed extract drops (for water purification from harmful microbes)
- Sporks, with lightly serrated edges on the end of the handle to use as knives
- Fold-down mug
- Fold-down bowl (with hardened bottom for use as a chopping board)
Setting up (very) light camp:
- Thick leather gloves
- Sisal rope
- Small tarpaulin (to tie up for shelter or cover the ground when necessary)
- "Black Ointment" – this stuff isn’t commonly made anymore as the materials needed to make it have been all but depleted. But this is absolutely incredible stuff for helping disinfect wounds, and generally help them heal quickly. It doesn’t go off, and you need only the thinnest layer over a wound for it to help. I unfortunately can't remember it's actual name, though...
- A compass
- Roll-on tropical strength Aeroguard
In the near future, we’ll be adding an extra hemp rope, a combined waterproof hand-wound radio and light, two small USB flash-drives with our important documents scanned and saved inside (wrapped in plastic), and bandages/gauze (also wrapped in plastic). We’ll also have the items each of us carry on our person from day-to-day for our Everyday Carry (discussed here), which includes (but is not limited to) a small amount of added lighting.
The BOB discussed thus far will have all the essentials, and as such will remain our first priority in emergency evacuations. However, once the essential-BOB is completed, we’re going to buy another small bag to hold items such as some form of padding for bedding, perhaps a small Spartan-style two-person tent, and a fire blanket (for both fighting small spot-fires, and for warmth).
This way, when there are two or more people around the house/property who need to evacuate, one person can take the essential-BOB, and another can take the secondary-BOB. If there’s only one person at home, they can take the essential-BOB as their first priority, and the secondary-BOB only if they can carry it easily. If a situation arises where they need to be able to move as quickly as possible in order to survive, they can simply drop the secondary-BOB and run. In this way, they will have lost the extra creature comforts, but will still be able to survive with what is contained within the essential-BOB.
Know how to use your BOB items!
A mistake many people fall prey to is thinking that because they have the items, it will be a simple matter of figuring out how to use them in an emergency. This is another very dangerous line of thinking.
If you haven’t used your chosen method for water purification before (tablets, drops, a reverse-osmosis filter, whatever you decided on), do you really want to be trying to figure it out in an emergency situation, when you’re possibly exhausted or not thinking clearly due to dehydration?
Furthermore, as mentioned in my Everyday Carry article, how do you expect to make and control a campfire if you’ve never actually made one before?
It’s often true that most items within your BOB will be as simple as possible to help ensure longevity, and tasks such as making a campfire are certainly easy enough once you’re practised at it. But using your emergency tools, and learning how to make and control a fire, are not concepts you want to try and figure out “on the day”, so to speak. Practise makes perfect, and that’s particularly true for emergency survival situations where time may be critical.
We’ve designed our BOB based on the fact that we’re living in a high-risk area for bushfires. Ultimately though, our BOB is just something that we can use to escape into the hills and survive with for a few days. For most situations requiring evacuation, we’ll have time to grab our bows and arrows for hunting, pack up additional food to take with us, or (even more simply) just get into our car and travel a town or two away from the hazard. But it’s comforting to know that, if things really go badly, and quick, then we’re at least okay for another few days. Quite possibly very uncomfortable and tired, but not hungry, or dehydrated, or too exposed to the elements wherever we set up camp. And this safety net will go a long, long way towards survival until we can walk to a town, or get picked up by emergency services.
What are your thoughts on the best size for a BOB?
This is a topic where if you’ve thought about this before, you’ll almost always have a different opinion to anyone else, even if you only differ in your line of thinking in a very small way on particular points. So I’m very interested to hear your agreements, disagreements, and general thoughts on this topic in the comments below.