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Survival: The Bug Out Bag

Updated on November 2, 2013

Hit the Road, Jack

The concept of the "bug-out bag" is a deceptively simple one: if a disaster occurs (tsunami, dirty bomb attack, zombie apocalypse- whatever), and one can no longer safely stay in their preferred residence, it is wise to have a pre-packed bag (a rucksack, backpack, or similar conveyance) at the ready for a speedy escape. This bag should contain all the items that one might require to either survive in the open or to reach another safe area until conditions return to normal, or at least acceptable.

You don't really need to be a survival expert to figure out what kind of things might belong in such a bag, but as the weight of poorly chosen items spirals out of control, inefficiency and poor planning can take their toll. After twelve years in the US Army, I can tell you from personal, painful experience that lugging around unnecessary junk at the expense of your lower back is not going to help you live longer in a dangerous situation. So what do we put in a bag that our life will depend on?

It's In the (Bug Out) Bag

Stocking a bug out bag could be said to be as much an art as a science; by that I mean that the items you choose to stock one with may be at least partly based on what you think the cause of your impromptu exodus might be. A bag for surviving the loss of access to the power grid might look significantly different that one that's packed to escape a nuclear disaster or gas-based attack. I'm going to leave that subject alone as well. Here we will focus on the basics, and hopefully provide a strong foundation that you can build on as you develop your plan of action.

What are those basics? To my mind they break down like this, in no particular order:

  • Water
  • Shelter
  • Light Source
  • Sleeping Gear
  • Hygiene and Health
  • Compass/ Map
  • Clothing
  • Food
  • Cordage
  • Fire/ Heat Source/ Cooking
  • Self Defense
  • Cutting Tools

Once again, we have a task that seems simple at first glance. When I say "shelter", some people will immediately assume I mean a tent. "Hey, I have one in the garage! Problem solved, right?" Well, that's a big maybe. To knock any item off the list, we have to ask questions about our potential solution. How big/heavy is it? What's it made of? Could you set it up in the dark? Is it day-glo green? The problem really boils down to this: you didn't buy your old camping gear with survival in mind. You bought it to load in the trunk of your car. If it failed, you could get back in that same car, drive to Walmart, and get another one. Beer and bratwurst would await you upon your triumphant return. Survival requires a different approach entirely. The best choices will be light, simple, durable, and sometimes even overlap into another category. For instance, a good quality tarp could be used for shelter, a rain catch, camouflage, as part of a litter for transporting an injured person, and myriad other applications. It also bears mentioning that if you have never tested an item, you have left the door open for two potential problems:

  1. You don't really know how reliable it is.
  2. You have developed no proficiency in its use; you may have to learn its idiosyncrasies in the worst possible environment.

So after you start selecting items, take them for a test drive, even if this happens in your back yard. Ready to do a little bug out shopping? Start here.

Pack It Up, Pack It In...

Just because you have decided which bag to use and what you plan to put in it doesn't mean you should just stuff everything together in an unorganized tangle and call it a day. Organization will give you the peace of mind that you haven't missed any key items and a better chance of finding them when you really need them.

If you have never packed a bag intended for medium to long distance travel by foot before, this might also be a good time to experiment with proper loading. A few ideas that work for me:

  • Anything that sloshes or jiggles in its container goes close to your back. This will reduce the force it can exert on your body.
  • Any adjustable straps, anything shiny and anything that makes noise should be taped up, painted over, or whatever is necessary.
  • Put things that are used less often deep in the bag's main storage area. Items that are used more often should be near the top. If you need to get at something all the time, put it in one of the outside mounted pockets of your bug out bag.

Do Your Due Diligence

If you really want to be prepared for a quick exit, and have the sense of security that solid, well thought out preparations can give you, you're going to have to do some homework. Everyone has different needs and skill sets to build on (or around), and the equipment you see others choosing might not be the best fit for you. By all means, check out what more experienced survivalists are using, but leverage that knowledge against what you can afford and are capable of using to the best effect. This is one of those situations where "throw money at it" is probably not a well suited strategy; this type of equipment gets expensive fast, and you'll probably run out of money before you get everything you want or need.


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    • Ross Anziano profile image

      Ross Anziano 5 years ago from West Deptford, NJ

      Thanks for stopping in John!

    • profile image

      John 5 years ago

      Liked it , very helpful, just never knew thanks now on the road to get my bugout supply's in order .

      Thanks, John