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Bug Out Bag Choices, From Weight To Waterproofing

Updated on September 22, 2015


Your bugout bag contains all the essential life preserving equipment you'll need to get through 3 days and nights of disaster - whether that be civil unrest, natural catastrophe, or any situation where you can't depend on civil society for the time being, whatever the reason.

Things happen - earthquake, forest fires, volcanoes, tidal waves - and we have to be prepared for them. Which is why a bugout bag is a hot topic in some circles, on the internet and offline. While surviving long term without civilization to fall back on sounds like a nightmare for most of us, the prospect of short term survival has a certain perverse attraction. Pitting yourself against the world and the worst it can do is an oddly exciting notion for the average, office bound, under exercised human.

With that in mind, what can you do to make sure your own personal bug out bag has everything you'll need to face the wild for 3 whole days?

First You Need A Bag

Molle Assault Pack Backpack
Molle Assault Pack Backpack | Source

What do you need to survive?

Air. Water. Food. Shelter.

If air is a problem, we're all in trouble. If you ever find yourself in a situation where you need a gas mask, a bug out bag probably isn't going to cut it.

Water. How much water do you need for 3 days? Some authorities recommend a gallon a day of potable water, almost 4 litres, which is a lot to tote around. Having a water bottle and water purification tablets or bleach handy is one solution, though I'm not sure I'd be happy to drink from anything other than the public water mains or supermarket bottled water supplies.

At any rate, you'll need water and something in which to carry it. You can buy reusable water bottles, but it's as well to check what kind of plastic it's made from before you do. Basically, pick one that's shatterproof and which is made from a plastic that doesn't contain bisphenol A (BPA), the use of which has been put on hold over health issues.

Emergency Supplies

Food. MREs are a good, portable food solution, and the military ones come with their own heaters. For 3 days you'll need between 7,500 and 12,000 calories, depending on how active you are during that time.

You need to compromise between portability and calorie density, so dried food can be a good bet, as long as you have clean water access. Calorie dense foods like chocolate and peanut butter should be in there too, but remember you're going to be carrying whatever you put in your bag. If it feels like a lead weight when you're just trying it on, imagine how it'll feel at the end of a long day's hike. Compromise.

Bug Out Bag Survival Bag

Survival Gear

Shelter. Shelter starts with the clothes on your back, and what you need depends in part on the local weather. Plan for the worst and hope for the best. Back here, two local boys went out driving in winter and broke down. They didn't have coats or any cold weather gear with them, because who needs a coat in a heated car, right? They froze to death trying to walk home in shirtsleeves.

So what do you need in your area? Start with footwear and work your way up. Will you have to walk your way out of trouble? Make sure you have some hiking boots or comfortable walking shoes. Cold, wet weather? Pack waterproof overtrousers and top, like anglers wear. Wear a fleece jacket under it, and layer with wool sweaters and thermal undies. Cotton kills - it doesn't hold heat.

Camping out? You need shelter, and if hauling around a full sized tent might not be to your taste, you can build a shelter with cord and tarpaulin. Waterproof plastic sheet that's strong enough to resist tearing in high winds can be used with cord to fashion a simple lean to shelter that will keep the worst of the rain and wind off you - if you know what you're doing. If you don't, check out the video below, or just do a YouTube search on 'tarp shelter'. That brought back over 100,000 results for me, so I think you'll find something that will help.

You'll need a ground tarp or sleeping pad between you and the cold, wet ground, and on top of that a good sleeping bag, rated to 20 below zero. Combine that with a fire - for which you will need fuel, kindling and matches, or a lighter, or a fire steel - and you should be warm enough at night.

Tarp Tent in 90 seconds

Five Star Luxury

That's Bear Grylls' actual house.
That's Bear Grylls' actual house. | Source


Being deprived of simple home comforts can be a miserable experience, which is why morale is a serious consideration. This can be boosted by carrying a favourite food item, or by making sure you have the wherewithal to make a hot drink and meal wherever you make camp.

Staying in touch with a phone or radio might be a good idea, so a wind up battery charger could be a good thing to carry. Again, it's a case of balancing usefulness with weight. Take a book - but no more than one, unless you have a Kindle - weight, remember? And throw in a pack of playing cards. Mindlessly passing a little time can be a healthier option than overthinking your situation, if things look dire.

Bug Out Bag Contents

You will need -

1 A good quality backpack that's big enough, with comfortable padded shoulder straps and hip support. (See 'Are You Man - Or Woman - Enough?' below.And also watch the video 'Waterproof Backpack Review, Travel Video Guide'.)

Which will hold -

2 Enough bottled water for at least a day, plus the means to purify supplies of water you come across.

3 Matches, a gas lighter, and a fire striker. Yes, all three. Because you will lose one, and another won't work.

4 MREs, chocolate, canned food for 3 days. Trail mix is a good idea.

5 Small camping stove and fuel.

6 Good lightweight sleeping bag rated for harsh weather.

7 Lightweight one man tent or tarpaulin and cords.

8 Mess kit - minimum mug and pan and cutlery.

9 First aid kit. Footcare items - walking, remember? Bandages, antiseptic cream, plasters, diarrhea treatment, medicated hand gel. Include your own medications if you need them.

10 Flashlight and spare batteries. Maybe a wind up flashlight.

11 Folding saw, fixed blade knife, trenching tool, multitool.

12 Weather appropriate clothing plus spare underwear and socks. Remember - better to be too warm and take something off, than too cold all the time.

13 Plastic bags and / or boxes to keep stuff dry.

14 Duct tape or Gorilla tape. Fixes anything and everything, from a hole in your tent to a simple fracture.

15 Map. You have to know where you're headed, and how to get there.

16. Cash and loose change.

17 Toiletries and towel. Soap, toothpaste, TP.

Waterproof Backpack Review, Travel Video Guide


Gathered all these things together? You're not done yet. Try to pack them in your bag, and see how far you get. Too much stuff? Think long and hard about what to leave out.

Then repack your bag. Done? Nope. Now try to lift it. Can you get it off the ground and get it on your back? Can you walk with it? How far, do you think? Still too much stuff? Have another long think about what to leave out or change.

This will help you get right down to basics. What do you absolutely have to have in your bag? Take it with you. What can you safely leave behind? Dump it. In the end, you should have a fully packed backpack crammed with absolutely essential gear, but with a combined weight you can manage and see yourself walking with. It's crucial to do this now, when you have time to think clearly about what your needs could be.

Micro Bug Out Bag

Solves Your Weight Problem
Solves Your Weight Problem | Source

Your Bug Out Bag - Can You Lift It?

Foot soldiers regularly carry from 60 to 100 lbs of gear on their backs - and pay the price in fatigue that can lead to lethal errors, and long term degenerative effects on the bones of their shoulders and spine. If your bug out bag weighs more than 50 lbs, you should probably take another long hard think about what to pack in it.

Can't leave an item out? Got to have it? Okay, but is there a lighter version available? Walking shoes - nice and sturdy and well made they may be, but would a cheaper, disposable, lightweight pair be a better bet? Remember, they only have to last you 3 days. Spare batteries for a flashlight and radio - would a wind up recharger be a better deal? Go through your whole pack and reduce the weight once more this way, replacing items that are too heavy with their lighter equivalents.

Are You Man, Or Woman, Enough?

The things I do for you. Looking at the bug out bag weight problem, I decided to test myself with the suggested 50 lb weight limit to see how well I did. A fit man in good health, trying a small rucksack loaded with 20 kg/ 44 lb of weight plates. What could possibly go wrong?

So I set off bright and cheery on my usual daily walk with the 44 lb pack on my back...

...And came back 15 minutes later, hot and sweaty. I didn't quite manage my usual walk, but I did walk down a hill and back up it, which was far enough to be able to inform you that walking with that much weight on your back is no joke.

First tip: Get a really good backpack. Sturdy enough, with good broad straps to ease the weight on your shoulders, and a hip support to spread the weight.

Second tip: Sit down to put the backpack on or take it off. You don't want to be bending your spine to pick it up off the floor.

Third tip: Make sure your bug out bag weighs less than that. Or put in some regular hard training so you can handle it.

Bug Out Bag Contents

Bug Out Bag Bottom Line

You can argue until the cows come home about what you absolutely need to have in a bug out bag - and quite a few people do just that, on YouTube and elsewhere - but only you can decide on what goes in and what stays out.

The main point to take away is that thinking this through now is a better choice than waiting until something happens and then panicking over it.

You may never need your bug out bag - but isn't it comforting to know that, if things go wrong, you had the sense to prepare in advance so you could deal with whatever happens?


Submit a Comment

  • Babbyii profile image

    Barb Johnson 

    3 years ago from Alaska's Kenai Peninsula

    Good hub here. Preparedness is something we all should be thinking about. And like you said, we may never need to use our survival (bug out) bag but it's much better to have it than to need it and have nothing. Thanks for the reminder!

  • SurvivalistNation profile image


    5 years ago from Midwest

    This is a really nice article. It is so important that the person is able to carry the bug out bag. If not then someone else has to carry the load or drop some gear.


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