How to Choose an Urban Bugout Bag

Metro-dwellers need to prepare for a special set of emergency situations to deal with traffic congestion and population density. While rural residents are more likely to hunker down and stay put in a major emergency, urban and suburban residents who are dependent on public services are more likely to have to “bug out.” This requires them to place more emphasis on mobility. For this reason, I recommend a lighter, less “tactical” pack for a bugout bag.

I’m not suggesting that bugging out is necessarily Plan A in an emergency. I have even previously discussed how important it is not to focus exclusively on bugging out (Top 7 Rookie Prepper Mistakes). It all depends on the circumstances; it’s just that a metro environment is itself a circumstance that makes evacuation more likely in a catastrophic breakdown of public services.

Population-dense areas become chaotic when public services fail. Shortages of food and water lead to panic and violence, and if you can’t secure your home and your own emergency supplies, evacuation might be your best choice. Rural residents tend to have larger stocks of food and water and tend to be more independent-minded in the first place, so shortages and the resulting panic are not as likely in rural areas. Even when they occur, the population is less dense, so there are simply fewer panicked, violent people.

The entire process of evacuation is complex and requires advance planning and practice, but this article focuses on choosing a specific type of pack for your bugout bag (BOB), also known as a Ready bag, Go bag, or GOOD (Get Out of Dodge) bag. To choose your pack, you will need to decide the most likely mode of evacuation. Will you be driving? Will you need to travel on foot?

I have emergency supplies in my vehicles, including (among other things) enough food and water for seven people. There is far too much stuff to carry if we have to abandon the vehicle, but my plan is sort and pack what I need if and when we have to leave on foot. What I take will depend on how many are traveling, the time of year, our location (climate and terrain), our distance from a safe retreat, and the obstacles we face getting there. In any event, I have planned to carry a backpack of some kind.

I have used and loved tactical packs for years. They are rugged and they offer better options for organizing the contents and attaching things to the pack. But the more I hike and camp, the more I find myself using non-tactical packs. The main reason is the weight. I have one of the most awesome tactical packs ever built — the Eberlestock G4 Operator. The problem is, it weighs 10 lbs. A lot of excellent hiking packs weigh under 4 lbs. That 6-lb difference can mean several days of food, a day’s worth of water, or a lifesaving shelter.

Tactical packs are definitely more rugged, but the reality is that I don’t need the most rugged packs because I don’t use them daily in extremely rough conditions. The Eberlestock pack is as tough as they come, and can hold twice as much weight (or more) as I can carry — for me, it’s overkill. As I have gained experience, I have learned that the typical, non-tactical, light hiking backpack is tough enough for my bugout bag.

Don’t take this wrong, but you need to be realistic about your physical condition and your carrying capacity. I take vigorous, 45-minute, off-trail hikes at least weekly with my pack, and I have a moderate workout three times a week. I have an awesome diet. I cut firewood, work the garden, and just generally build things and fix stuff around the place. I am in far better shape than most people my age (late 40s), and I work hard to keep my total pack weight below 35 lbs. That’s less than 20% of my body weight. I can carry more, if necessary, but I strive not to. I am almost certain that most of my male readers will find a 20% pack to be the most they would want to carry on a several-day hike. 

Ten Tips for Choosing a Bugout Bag Backpack

  1. Aim for 20% of your body weight. This includes the weight of the pack, all contents, and all attachments. This is definitely variable, depending on how many days you plan to walk.
  2. Load rating. A good backpack is designed with an internal frame to transfer the weight to your hips.
  3. Organizational capabilities. It should have a main compartment with stuff you’ll need at camp; front and/or top pockets for accessing stuff during short breaks; and side/belt pockets for accessing stuff without removing the pack.
  4. Attachment points. Most non-tactical packs have a few loops and some have PALS webbing so you can attach pouches and other modular accessories.
  5. Durable materials. Light but durable materials tend to be expensive, but they can be had. The competition among manufacturers is fierce, and today’s light packs are better than ever.
  6. Compression straps. Most packs have more volume than you’ll need; use the compression straps to press the contents against your spine so the load will be more stable.
  7. Adjustable torso. Look for a pack that allows you to adjust the torso length to dial in a perfect fit.
  8. Adjustable sternum strap and load lifters. The sternum strap needs to adjust up and down on the shoulder straps. Load lifters pull the top of the pack closer to your neck for greater stability.
  9. Ventilation. I like a pack that stays snug to your back. You want ventilation, but highly ventilated packs have thick pads on your back that push the pack farther away from your spine, making it feel heavier. Snug packs are hotter and sweatier in summer. You’ll have to find the right compromise for you.
  10. Wide shoulder and waist straps. Strap width is more important than strap thickness. A wide thin strap puts less pressure on your skin than a narrow one with thick, soft padding.

Leopard AC 58 Front


Leopard AC 58 Back


Why I Chose the Granite Gear Leopard AC 58

First of all, Granite Gear makes an excellent line of tactical packs rated up to 100 lbs, like the Chief Patrol Pack; their experience and design features have been implemented in Granite Gear’s hiking line of packs. Here are some observations about the Leopard AC 58 Backpack I chose for my own Bugout Bag:

  • This is the most comfortable, stable, convenient backpack of any kind I’ve ever used. It has the ideal balance of lightness, ruggedness, volume, and compressibility for my hiking and bugout plans.
  • Garcia bear canister fits under lid.
  • Comes in men’s and women’s versions.
  • Various hip belt and shoulder strap sizes available.
  • Shoulder straps and hip belt are thin but wide — ultra-comfortable.
  • Zipper “garages” protect the zipper toggle and offer some rain protection.
  • Top pocket access is intelligently placed on the front of the pack for easy access by a partner without removing the pack, and so you don’t have to turn the pack over onto its front when the pack is removed.
  • Has a non-tactical appearance. Brightly-colored accents can be subdued by dirtying with charcoal. (Don’t use mud or dirt, which is abrasive and will eventually fray and weaken the fabric; charcoal is harmless, just dirty-looking).
  • Fabric dries quickly.
  • Comes in two torso sizes, each one further adjustable for various torso lengths.
  • Design is very effective at transferring weight to the hips.
  • Top loader style – roll top closure helps compress the pack (some packs give this up in favor of easier access — if you need front access, check out the slightly smaller Granite Gear Aji 50).
  • Weighs only 3 lbs 5 oz with removable lid (2 lbs 12 oz with lid removed).
  • Removable lid is free floating.
  • Volume is 58 liters.
  • Loads up to 40 lbs.
  • Air current suspension. AC Suspension Manual. Has the same back-pad as the Vapor Current suspension, but adds a breathable mesh fabric over it to keep your shirt or jacket from filling the ventilation grooves. The AC ventilation system is rather thin and good at keeping the pack close to the spine for greater load comfort. There are better-ventilated systems out there, like some of those from Deuter, but those packs rely on thick pads to hold the pack well off your pack, creating a large air space for ventilation. This puts the pack farther off the vertical center of gravity. Granite Gear’s AC system is more stable and, to me, more comfortable.
  • Hydration compatible.
  • Top lid attachment points.
  • Tool loops, ice axe cinches.
  • Front flap is greatly adjustable so you can tuck a jacket or other stuffables for quick, easy retrieval.
  • Attachment webbing on front flap to attach accessories like the crampon holster or other PALS-compatible accessories.
  • PALS-compatible webbing on the hip belt. This is one of my favorite features: allows me to attach any PALS pouch to the belt.
  • Pass-through side compression straps.
  • Front stretch mesh pocket.
  • Stretch mesh side pockets.
  • Rain fly pouch (rain fly sold separately).
  • Adjustable sternum strap.
  • Load lifter straps.
  • High-quality materials are light but tough enough that you don’t have to baby the pack. Light Cordura nylon ripstop is top quality.
  • Removable internal frame. You can remove the internal frame to save a little on weight, but NOTE: In my research I found anecdotal information that the pack collapses if you remove the frame sheet. This transfers the weight of the pack to your shoulders, which is undesirable. Apparently, the ventilation pad alone is not rigid enough to bear the weight of the contents. It’s good to have the option, but removing the internal frame sheet might not be always be advisable.
  • Pivoting Hip Belt. Though not advertised by Granite Gear, the waist belt pivots slightly with respect to the vertical axis of the backpack, which dramatically improves load stability when your hips twist with big steps or when climbing. It keeps your hip movements from pulling the pack side to side, and doesn’t constrain your movements. This is a remarkably impressive feature not to be mentioned in the manufacturer’s literature.

Granite Gear has put together one of the most useful backpacks to do double-duty as a hiking pack and a bugout bag.


3 thoughts on “How to Choose an Urban Bugout Bag”

  1. Overall I agree with Snoman’s outstanding comments. But the first part regarding percentage of body weight. Shouldn’t that mean no more than 20 % of a person’s lean body weight? If a 6′ person weighs 240 pounds, that person has at least 40 pounds excess fat. For that person, wouldn’t a more appropriate carry weight be closer to say 40 pounds? Perhaps a bit less, maybe even 30-35 pounds?

    Just sayin’.

    1. Twenty percent of body weight is a general guideline. Certainly, each individual should test that and adjust as necessary.

      1. I certainly agree with the post. I believe a test where someone walks a few miles with the pack loaded up should be the minimum. A city street might be a good first step but I believe being on a trail would be better. A longer distance on the trail better yet.

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