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How To Make A Survival Backpack For Your Family

Updated on August 20, 2020

Survival Backpack

You may have to flee your home in a hurry. Having all of your survival gear in a backpack is a must.
You may have to flee your home in a hurry. Having all of your survival gear in a backpack is a must.

How To Make A Survival Backpack

Here are my thoughts on how you can make your own "survival backpack". A survival backpack is often called a "bug out bag" or "bugout bag", and can contain an assortment of items that can help you and your family survive for a few days, if you are forced to flee your home.

While I am not a survival expert, I do have some experience with dealing with disaster situations. My family and I have been evacuated twice for oncoming hurricanes. We have lived through a couple of category five storms such, as hurricane Floyd in the Bahamas, and I have assisted with cleanup and recovery efforts following several storms as a volunteer for the American Red Cross. I was also among the lucky ones, who were evacuated from New Orleans just prior to the arrival of hurricane Katrina.

Recently some very good friends of mine were forced to leave their home in California, as wildfires were approaching their neighborhood. My friends, along with many of their neighbors, lost everything that was left behind, and had only their car and the shirts on their backs after more than thirty years of living there.

As a Red Cross volunteer, I recognized early on that many of these people would have been much better off, had they brought along a few personal things to help them survive in a shelter, or things that could help them survive for a day or more until they could get into a shelter. The fallacy that many of the people that I have helped had, was they thought that the government or someone else would quickly come to their aid with all the things they needed. As we saw in the aftermath of Katrina, that was not the case.

The Basic Elements of A "Bug Out Bag" or Survival Backpack.

A bug out bag should contain the basic elements that you need to survive for at least three days after a disaster. It should contain food, clothing, a couple sources of light and batteries, some kind of temporary shelter, ample water for all members of your family, basic survival tools such as a knife, basic first aid and medicine and some form of communications gear. Communications gear could include a FRS radio, solar cell phone charger, along with a whistle, signal mirror or smoke signals. If you could afford it, a 406 Mhz "personal locator beacon" would also be a good idea to have in your survival backpack. The Garmin InReach device allows you to send and receive text messages from anywhere on earth, without a cell phone signal. Again, if you can afford it, it is a worthy addition to any bugout bag.

To make a survival backpack you will need to tailor the contents of it for your own specific needs. Those with health issues will need to include all of the medications that they might require for at least two weeks. Also, don't forget an extra pair of glasses, box of contact lenses and solution, hearing aids, and other personal items that you use every day.

For basic comfort you should include a pair of tennis shoes, some extra socks and underwear, a couple pair of loose fitting pants such as sweats, plus a couple of tee shirts and a rainproof jacket. Also include a couple high tech reflective blankets made of mylar (space blankets), for warmth.

In your survival backpack you should also have a good LED flashlight, some waterproof matches, a magnesium fire steel, or a waterproof cigarette lighter and a couple candles in case your flashlight battery supply runs out. Consider adding a hand cranked radio and flashlight combination so that you can keep abreast of the news.

A good survival backpack should be made for each person in our family that is physically able to carry one. If you cannot afford multiple ones, do the best you can with one large survival backpack. Attached to the outside of the pack you might want to add a couple of lightweight sleeping bags in waterproof bags. Lightweight sleeping bags can be expensive but try searching for used camping gear on Craigslist and you may find some bargains. You can use a "stuff sack" or compression bag to compress some of these lightweight sleeping bags down to the size of a cantaloupe.

In your survival backpack you should carry enough water to last you until you can reach a water supply, or water source that you can purify. Choose water bottles free of harmful chemicals that will be safe to store water in for a long period. You can get sealed water pouches at stores like REI. A water purifier is an excellent addition to a bugout bag, though you can get by with iodine water purification tablets for a few days.

Your survival backpack or bug out bag should include some kind of small tent or tarp that is big enough to shelter your whole family.You can find two person tents for as low as $20 at discount stores, though the cheaper ones tend to be heavier.

A Computer In Your Emergency Kit?

These days our lives literally revolve around our computers. In the event of a disaster, you could be potentially relocated to almost anywhere in the country, and having the ability to check on the news, send e-mail, conduct business, etc, can be done much more effectively with a small notebook or netbook computer than with a smart phone. Consider buying a high power long range WiFi adapter, which attaches to your notebook's USB port. These will enable you to pick up free internet connection as you travel. These days, with so much valuable information that could help refugees online, I could not imagine being without some kind of internet connectivity in the aftermath of a disaster.

Other Survival Items

Since you never know where you may end up, it is a good idea to keep a map of the United States and your home state in your survival backpack so that you can plan alternative routes to a secure place


It is difficult to carry much traditional food in a survival backpack but you can carry dehydrated, ready to cook meals. For these you will need a source of heat, such as a can of Sterno and a pan to cook them in, or you may consider ready to eat MRE's. (Military style "Meals Ready To Eat". If you have an infant, don't forget the baby formula.

Don't Forget Money

It is a good idea to hide some cash in your survival backpack. After a major storm or disaster, many ATM and credit card machines will either be without power, or out of money.

Communications Gear For Emergencies

Communications Gear For The Survival Backpack Or Bug Out Bag

If you are traveling in a group consider a pair of GMRS - FRS walkie - talkies, plus a solar charger and some rechargeable batteries to keep them running. Channel one of the FRS or Family Radio Service is the unofficial, national neighborhood emergency frequency. Chances are, following a disaster that takes out cell phone towers, there will be fellow neighbors using FRS channel one to communicate over short distances. Cell phone towers are often out of service or overloaded with traffic during disasters and a couple of two way radios can help you and your family keep in touch over a five mile radius. Choose a GRMS-FRS radio that accepts both rechargeable and disposable batteries. You can even get solar panels that affix to the back of your backpack, which charge up you cell phone, two way radios, etc. Try to use LED flashlights, radios, and other devices that use the same AA batteries, and carry an ample supply of them in a Ziplock bag. A FRS-GMRS two way radio that also receives NOAA weather and emergency broadcasts can be very handy to have. The aforementioned Garmin InReach can be a literal lifesaver in an emergency, since it can send and receive text messages as well as broadcast an SOS call using the Iridium worldwide satellite system. Cost for the basic InReach plan from Garmin is aroud $20 per month.

Last But Not Least

Consider making copies of all your most important files, photos, documents, etc, and storing it on a USB drive, and sealing it in a waterproof pouch in your survival backpack. Many people who have lost their homes to a major disaster often regret losing family photos more than any other item.

While this list is not complete by any means, you can get an idea of some things you will want to add when building a survival backpack. Hopefully you will never need it. It might help you sleep a little better just knowing that is there in the closet. You might want to read the very helpful book "A Family Guide To Disaster Survival" and "When All Hell Breaks Loose" to help you prepare your own survival backpack. Consider including a copy of the "Field Guide To Wilderness Medicine" in your survival backpack for reference.

Also, if you have a pet, consider making a "bugout bag" for them as well, that includes canned or dry dog food, an extra leash and collar, and other items you pet may need such as heartworm medication.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2009 Nolen Hart


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