A bug out bag is one of the first things a new prepper tackles — and for good reason. The bug out bag (a.k.a bugout bag, BOB, get out of dodge bag, ready bag, 72-hour bag) is your go-to item in the event of an emergency evacuation of any kind. It is generally recommended to have three days of supplies in your BOB. Whether you keep it at home, at work, or in your vehicle will depend on your specific circumstances, but the basic idea is that it should always be handy so you can grab it and go on short notice. In this article we’ll look at the following:
- What kind of pack makes a good bugout bag
- What to pack in your bugout bag
- Where to keep your bugout bag
What Makes a Good Bugout Bag?
Any good BOB should have the following characteristics:
- Easy to carry. A backpack is the ideal design. You’ll store the bag in your home, workplace, or vehicle, but if you have to take it with you on foot, it’ll have to be easily portable.
- Large enough for your supplies. The pack needs to carry everything you’ll need, but the larger the pack, the higher the weight premium of the bag itself. And there’s a limit, of course, to how much weight you can bear. A good rule of thumb is to limit the total weight of the pack to between one-quarter and one-third of your body weight.
- Durable. I have found that certain goods have a high correlation between price and quality. What I mean is, some things are good even if they’re cheap… but some things aren’t. For instance, Wal-Mart’s Great Value brand of canned goods is very good despite its lower price. But my experience with backpacks has been that the cheaper ones are cheaper; the zippers fail, the stitching comes apart, the fabric frays.
With all this in mind, here are a few recommendations. These are by no means exclusive possibilities — just some that I’m familiar with, and meet the criteria.
This is the bag I currently use for a BOB. It has the right size, and it’s well made. However, the shoulder straps are just an add-on — it’s not designed primarily as a backpack. With that in mind, I’m transitioning to the Eberlestock G4 Operator. Video: Review of the Maxpedition Doppelduffel.
Eberlestock G4 Operator
Eberlestock packs are a phenomenon in the competitive shooting community. The G4 is designed as a sniper’s pack, and that’s exactly what makes it suitable as a BOB. It actually has a built-in scabbard with a butt cover that allows you to fully conceal a weapon up to 60″ long. The scabbard places the weapon right along your center of gravity, as it should.
Maxpedition Falcon 2
This is actually the bag I use for everyday carry, but it’s borderline big enough to work as a BOB, provided you’ll be in an area with plenty of surface water. Because it’s my EDC, it’s always with me, and I keep a water bottle with a built-in filter, the Sport Berkey (Video). If I find myself needing to bug out, I’ll have the option of stuffing the smaller bag to the gills and be able to move a little faster.
What to Pack in Your Bugout Bag
Keep in mind the primary purpose of a bugout bag — it is not to sustain you indefinitely, but to provide your needs temporarily in case you need to evacuate quickly if a disaster should strike. Your needs will vary depending on where you live, your physical condition, and the kind of disaster you’re preparing for, so it’s important to understand principles of survival, and apply them to your specific circumstances. For example, some people will plan to hunker down at their home in the event of an emergency, so their bugout bag will be designed primarily to get them home. Others will need to evacuate their home, and their bugout bag will be designed to get them safely to a bugout location, like a shack in the woods or the grandparent’s homestead in the country. See our checklist for stocking the bugout location.
7 Must-Have Items for your Bugout Bag
With these variables in mind, pick and choose wisely from this suggested bug out bag packing list:
- Water. Officially, you should have one gallon of water per person per day. In practice this is difficult; three days of water weighs 27 lbs. I do stock three days of water, but I’m prepared to ditch it if necessary, because I have stocked a water filter bottle (I prefer the Sport Berkey) and some water purification tablets. Be cautious making this decision — it depends on availability of water along the way to your bugout location.
- Non-perishable food. Yes, you can survive three days without food, but you can’t perform at peak efficiency. Food deprivation will weaken you and subject you to greater risk of exposure and illness. Plus, hunger saps your morale, and good morale is a prime factor of good performance. What you need is high-calorie food that stores well and is easily prepared. Canned food is not a good option here, because of the weight. I recommend jerky, hardtack, or delicious homemade trail food. Chocolate is superb survival food, but it gets messy in hot weather.
- First aid kit. We’re talking basics here. Wound-closure strips, adhesive bandages, a small suture kit, over-the-counter pain-killers/anti-inflammatories, a small tube of triple-antibiotic, one Sam Splint, water purification tablets, and a burn kit. Optional: I also have prescription antibiotics and pain-killers in case of a severe injury.
- Gun. You just never know. Check your local laws, of course, but make it a top priority to have a gun and some extra ammo. I recommend a handgun because it is lighter and more concealable than a rifle or shotgun. Any caliber is better than none, but I recommend either a .45 or a 9 mm. See my video about survival handguns.
- Clothing. Wool hat and socks. Wool is better because it keeps you warm even when damp, and unlike synthetics it is resistant to scorching. Get a waterproof, breathable nylon shell — Columbia makes a very good one, but you can find off-brand shells on sale in the Spring at Warehouse clubs like Costco and Sam’s Club. I found them for $12 and bought five. They make great gifts. A change of underwear, plus extra pants if you have room. A good pair of boots or hiking shoes. Baseball cap or some other hat for sun protection.
- Survival kit. A survival kit includes the following:
- Fire starting tools. A few waterproof matches, a lighter, and/or a ferrocerium striker.
- Compass. Just a button compass to save your bacon. If you want a really good one, check out my favorite, the Suunto Navigator Compass.
- Knife. Your survival knife is a separate item — for your survival kit you want a tiny folding razor, like the one from Vigilant Gear.
- Whistle. Awhistle will carry much farther than your voice.
- Signal mirror. Get one that has a sight grid, like theCoghlan’s. Video and Article: How to Use a Signal Mirror.
- Flashlight. A small LED flashlight is all you need to see in the dark, and it fits in your survival kit. These uber-cheap lights are not the best quality, but I left one on continuously for five days before the light went out.
- A waterproof case to contain it all. Otterbox is waterproof and buoyant, and it comes in a great variety of colors. The 1000 model will hold everything in this little kit.
- Shelter. I have a hammock with a rain fly, but just the fly or a tarp is better than nothing. Video: First Hang in a Warbonnet Blackbird Hammock. Even a poncho helps; this one from Sea to Summit accommodates a large backpack and converts into a two-person shelter. The ENO DoubleNest hammock is very compact. In any event, you should know how to make an emergency shelter.
Where to Keep Your Bugout Bag
The best places to keep you BOB are:
- Your vehicle
- Your workplace
- Your home
Where I live, the greatest risks I face are tornadoes, winter storms, and political/economic meltdown. In either case, I estimate that my best bugout location is my own home, located in a rural area. It is well stocked with enough supplies to sustain myself, my family, and a few refugees indefinitely. Accordingly, my primary plan no matter where I travel is to get home. My bugout bag is set up for this purpose. Recently, I was in Arizona with my family for several months working on the Jack Phoenix movie project. Before we left, we prepared a plan for getting home in the unlikely event of a political or economic disaster, and a bugout bag was an essential part of that plan.
Now, admittedly, our specific plan involved seven people, so a single bugout bag was not adequate, but it was a good teaching opportunity for everyone in the family. Several of us prepared bugout bags, and we were able to overlap some of our supplies. For instance, we didn’t need seven shelters, but only enough shelters to shelter seven people. In any event, where we kept the bugout bag was important — it didn’t do us any good back at the home base, so it had to go with us. Most of the time it was stored in the vehicle.
If you have a workplace, you should store a bugout bag there and at home. In general, depending on the length of your commute, you can get away with just keeping an everyday carry bag in your commuter vehicle. But if you travel long distances, you should consider keeping the bugout bag in your vehicle at all times, possibly packing separate bugout bags at work and in the vehicle.