A bugout bag (aka BOB) is what you’ll carry with you when you “bug out,” or drop everything you’re doing and head for the hills. In this post we’ll look at what you should have in your bag, and where to keep it. As usual, before we actually prepare a list, you first need to understand the principles so you can adapt the list to your particular needs.
Why Bug Out?
To answer this question, I’ll ask in return:
- If you were in the World Trade Center towers on 11 Sept 2001, would you have been better off leaving, or staying?
- If you were a Jew in Berlin, 1940, would you have been better off leaving, or staying?
- If you were a Christian in Jos, Nigeria, 2010, would you have been better off leaving, or staying?
- One more: picture an obnoxious communist (Nancy Pelosi</cough>) in a room full of redneck libertarians.
Now that we’ve proven the need to bug out sometimes, please read on, right after this video of my bugout bag.
Purpose of the Bugout Bag
The purpose of a bugout bag is to contain the supplies you need to GOOD, or “Get Out Of Dodge.” The focus is on evacuation, not on long-term survival. What you need in your bugout bag depends on where you’re leaving from, where you’re going, and what you have stocked at your destination. (The latter is your BOL, or “bugout location.”) Some people already live in the ideal bugout location, so their BOB will only contain enough to get them safely home. For some people, home is the most dangerous place to remain, and their BOB will need more supplies.
True story. My grandfather lived in Spain when Franco came to power. Although he did not support the Marxist Popular Front government, he nonetheless caught Franco’s ire because of his opposition to a dictatorship, and because he was a Protestant. He was arrested by the local police, tortured, and then released, but when he continued his opposition to Franco, they sought his arrest again. (BTW: Is America producing men who have the guts to take torture and still stand for what they believe? I’m just asking.) Fortunately, someone sympathetic to my grandfather warned him the arrest and that of his family was coming. Immediately he called my grandmother and told her he was leaving work and going home. In those few minutes, she had to pack everything they would need to leave the country. They scurried out of the house with their six-month-old baby and made it to the ocean. There they boarded a skiff, bought passage on a ship bound for Italy, and tried to buy a train ticket back to my grandfather’s native Switzerland. When they tendered cash, the clerk told them it was no good, but my grandmother had packed some gold coins left over from the old kingdom of Spain, and they made it safely home.
NOTE: It was easier for an enemy of the state to leave Spain under Franco, a dictator, than it is now for a citizen of the USA in good standing to leave his own country. I’m just making that observation.
OK, back to your bugout bag. Let’s assume you work in an urban environment and your bugout location is something other than your home. I suggest you choose a BOL over which you have some control so you can stock it; that way you won’t have to carry as much stuff in your BOB. Also, if you don’t have control over your destination you might find it occupied when you arrive. Ideally, you would own the property. A relative’s property also makes a good choice. On the other hand, if you’re trying to fall off the radar you’ll want a location that won’t give you away. In any event, stocking your location means you won’t have as much to carry.
Where to Keep Your Bugout Bag
This one’s easy. Keep it where you’ll need to get to it when the big crunch comes. That could be at the office, could be your car, or it could be at home. You might need one at the office and at home. Hey, it’s your life, you decide.
While we’re on this topic, this might be a good time for you to study our Top Ten Survival Tips. The principles you’ll learn there will serve you well while you assemble your BOB, and I’ll also tell you how to avoid the two most common emergency planning mistakes. If you want to know more about why you need your free top ten survival tips, click here. Otherwise just fill in the yellow form in the sidebar and go ahead and get them.
Which Bag Should you Buy?
The best bags inside the Asteroid Belt are made by Maxpedition. I’m told that a very few under-informed people out there disagree – they can get their own blog. That said, you don’t need the best bag; you only need one good enough to get you to the BOL. So don’t think about this too hard. Just buy a good bag and start packing it, but be sure it’s comfortable because it’s going to weigh up to 50 lbs (23 kg).
If you do want the best bag on the planet, buy the Doppelduffel Adventure Bag from Amazon and get free shipping (note that some of the color choices ship from eBags instead). There is also a smaller model called the Fliegerduffel which, as the name suggests, meets FAA carry-on size regulations. In general when I have a choice between a bag and a larger bag, I go larger because you can always pack less if you want. With these bags you won’t go wrong either way; even if you max out the smaller bag you can always attach more accessory packs to the Molle compatible webbing.
Contents of the Bugout Bag
Assuming you’re leaving work, you’re not going home, and you’ve stocked your bugout location, the contents of your bag will depend on how long it takes you to get there and whether you have transportation. Adjust your contents accordingly. The bag itself should be something you can carry on foot — that means it’s a backpack. If you store it in your vehicle, bonus! You won’t have to carry it as far, but it should still be a backpack just in case.
Plan your packing list loosely around the idea of a three-day travel to your BOL. “Loosely” because of the water issue, which we’ll discuss in a moment.
Now, here’s the list:
- Water. Officially I advise you to pack a gallon of water per day; for three days, that’s three gallons. In practice, I say that’s crazy — 25 lbs just for water. I do stock water in my vehicle, but in my BOB I have a single 0ne-liter bottle of water that I intend to refill on the road. Get the Sport Berkey water bottle. This is top priority, accept no substitutes. It has a built-in filter so you can fill up from a pond or even a ditch somewhere. If you think it’s expensive, you’re wrong. It’s actually the best deal around, the best money you’ll spend on this kit. Compare it to Dasani bottled water: About $1.25/bottle vs. $0.02/bottle over the life of your Berkey. And once that Dasani is gone, the empty plastic bottle won’t filter pond water for you like the Berkey will.
- Food. This is emergency food only. We’re talking the most calories you can pack in the space allowed, as light as possible, and no cooking required. MREs are your easiest choice. If you’re pinching pennies, make pemmican, although it won’t keep as long as MREs. Don’t rely only on jerky — it’s too lean. You’ll need fat to keep you going. If your trip lasts more than three days or so, be sure you have carbs and fiber too. Dried fruit is the ticket, or fruit/grain energy bars. Dark chocolate (high fat, high carb, and mood-altering) is a best-in-class selection here, but messy in hot weather.
- Clothing. If you can change before bugging out, you won’t have to carry your suit, tie, and dress shoes. So have the following in your bugout bag, knowing you’ll probably free up some room in it before you leave:
- Fire starters. Triple-redundancy here; matches, flint and steel, and a lighter. Use the matches first, since they might get wet later and become useless. I would use the flint and steel as a last resort. Choose a bright yellow or orange lighter, or tie a long lanyard to it to help keep from losing it. Tip: To kindle a fire, light up cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly. Store them in a film canister or other sealed plastic container.
- Flashlight and spare batteries. I prefer LED. Small ones are much lighter.
- First aid kit. Just a small one needed here, the basics. Your bigger kit will already be at the BOL. This one has a few adhesive bandages (Band-Aid brand is good), a couple of gauze pads, some antibiotic ointment, burn cream, roll bandage, maybe one Sam splint.
- Excedrin or similar caffeine-containing analgesic. This will go in your first aid kit but I’m giving it a separate entry here because of its importance to coffee drinkers. About half the people who consume caffeinated beverages will suffer some degree of caffeine withdrawal when they stop. I fall into the group who suffer moderate withdrawal, including nausea and severe, debilitating headaches. Bugout day is not the time for me to withdraw from caffeine, so at the onset of the headache I’ll take a pill. Three days of this and I won’t need the pills anymore. Do a run-through and find your own treatment for caffeine withdrawal.
- Toilet paper. Remove the cardboard tube to save space, or just smash the roll. Store it in a bag to keep it dry.
- Lip balm. My wife makes plantain salve, which also works like magic on bug bites, stings, and other skin irritations, so that’s what I carry.
- Sun screen. Personally, I don’t care about a little sunburn, but if it bothers you, SPF 30 should do.
- Fishing line, hooks, and tackle. If you get delayed for some reason, this is a very small addition to the BOB that can produce huge returns.
- Paracord. Accept no substitutes. I have 50 ft (15 m).
- Duct tape. It has a million uses. Store it in its own plastic bag, as it sticks to everything.
- Soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss. Don’t underestimate how important personal hygiene is for morale, and don’t underestimate how important morale is for survival.
- Garbage bags and extra ziplocs.
- Sleeping bag.
- Compass and topographical map of every county you’ll traverse on the way to your BOB or alternate BOB. Know how to use a compass; practice.
- Handgun and ammo. If you don’t have a carry permit, get one. If your state or municipality doesn’t allow it, move. I am not kidding, and I’m not overstating this for dramatic effect. The enemy has guns, and if your government doesn’t allow you to defend yourself and your loved ones with equal force, it is frankly wicked and doesn’t deserve to have you as a citizen.
- Pencil and paper. You can’t remember everything, so write it down.
- Multi-tool. I actually have several. I have a Swiss Army Camping model pocket knife in my everyday carry bag; a Victorinox Rescue Tool, a Swiss Army Swisstool, and a couple other options that vary depending on my mood. Basically I can screw, cut, file, twist, smooth, roughen, uncork, can-open, ream, puncture, saw, shatter, drill, loosen, tweeze, magnify, squeeze, sew, measure, or ratchet pretty much anything.
- Optional items:
- cookpot, metal spork, and “penny stove.” You’ll need denatured alcohol for the stove, and my pot and spork are made of titanium to conserve weight
- GPS and radio
- 8×10 tarp
- edible plants reference
- survival knife. Optional because of the multi-tools
- trenching tool/collapsible shovel
It’s strange to say, but most of the people with whom I’m acquainted are not prepared to deal with an emergency. But then again, some of them aren’t even prepared to deal with an ordinary day, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. When my dad was a kid they were scolded for being unprepared if they didn’t take their pocketknife to school. Today if you pack a bugout bag you’re a member of a right-wing hate group, and I won’t even tell you what they do to kids who are found in possession of a Swiss Army knife.
That’s one reason why my kids are homeschooled. </rant>