What Is a Bug out Bag—101 Guide

With the coronavirus pandemic shooting us with arrows that we didn’t even know it had, survival tactics are on everyone’s mind. It has also made everyone think of living in an apocalyptic world where human beings might be living by the motto – to each his own. We have seen a ton of movies from Deep Impact to Independence Day and Birdbox to all the Godzilla movies that have proven that come the moment, we might all be left to fend for ourselves bringing the old adage ‘to each his own’ to life.

Now, we are not there yet and hopefully, we will ride this off. But should we be hit by something like that hit us in these already trying times, we must all be ready for the worst. Until then, instead of spending our days in terror, we can prepare ourselves an emergency bug out bag that promises to come in handy.

The first step is to make a plan or strategy for when you will need this bag. Specificity is key to this kind of planning. For example, if you have to relocate and don’t have the right tools, your planning would have been for nothing. But since it is tricky to predict such a time, let’s go through the basics that will keep you secure till you can chart a course out of the crisis.

What’s a Bug out Bag?

Also referred to as a BOB, a bug out bag has many items that will help you survive an emergency. It is meant to have all the goods you need for a specified period of time. You should design it in a grab and go fashion so that you don’t have to spend any more time gathering your things at the last minute.

Now, there are a ton of reasons that might force you to leave town in an emergency. Sometimes they come with no warning whatsoever. Remember the movie 2012? So, you need to be ready to face any emergency from natural calamities to social uprisings to terror attacks or maybe even alien invasions.

No matter what happens, remember to take a moment to gather your wits and remember that you have a bug out bag that will save you. But to have that confidence, you need to build a bag that increases your chances of survival. Now, you don’t need to be Dwayne Johnson from San Andreas to make this happen. Most of the things you will need are already around you. Sure, you might have to take a trip to the hardware store but that is it. The only reason to do this ahead is because come the moment, you might not have time to stop. Can’t be slow during an apocalypse.

Why You Need a Bug out Bag

This idea might be overwhelming for some. If you are one of them, imagine what you will be going through when you are in a crisis. And remember that you don’t have to be a seasoned doomsday prepper to be good at this.

To begin with, the best kind of bug out bags are made taking your geographical location and the likelihood of disasters in your region. But, before we get started on building one, remember to do a couple of trial runs with the bag to make sure you have everything you will possibly need. This also helps you rotate the contents so that they don’t go bad. Think of it as a camping trip.

If the pandemic has taught us one thing, it is that we can’t even rely on civil servants to come to our rescue. If it’s a case like COVID-19 where no one can come in contact with you, your bug out bag might just save your life. Even if not, you must consider the possibility that the system might just be overwhelmed at tough times and you might have nothing but your own supplies to keep you safe.

When you are preparing for a doomsday scenario, you must make a list of the most essential things. This includes a variety of aspects of life from food and water to first aid and safety supplies. It only makes your departure safer. When you are making this list, remember that you might not be in a situation where you can depend on anyone else’s help. Making a list ensures that you are able to take care of yourself and whoever else will be with you at such a time.

Remember that you might not get it all right in one go. And apart from time, you might also need some money to get this going. But it is not a herculean task and it is totally worth the effort. Think of it as an investment, because it is. It is certainly the one investment that promises to save your life—quite literally.

What’s in the Bag?

And now the million-dollar question. Remember Brad Pitt screaming “what’s in the box?” in the movie Se7en? Well, you don’t have to do that if you pay attention to this section. Now, as mentioned before, you are going to have to tailor this to your specific needs. But here is the rough layout.

Water is the most important aspect in an emergency. You should plan it in a way that you have water for an immediately hazardous situation. But remember to think long term. Oftentimes, people start with three liters but keep some storage space open in case you are on the move and have an opportunity to fill up a container. Serious preppers have different ways of treating water in their kit for when they run out. If you live in desert areas, you must put in some more thought into ways of procuring water. Or choose to carry it with you.

The next critical aspect is food. Backpackers will find comfort knowing that their experience with dried food will come in handy here. But otherwise, all you need to know is, keep food worth three days of calories so that you have the strength to keep moving. Foods like energy bars are saviors in these scenarios. You can ration it out depending on your situation but three days is usually enough time for you to think and prepare for the next stretch. You can also buy a bunch of collapsable stoves and isobutane fuel that will help you boil water and cook food if you have to. You could also add cold water to the dried food and re-hydrate it. It is going to taste terrible but you will survive. And let’s not forget, that’s the point.

Clothing is the other important thing that we forget to think of. Now, this depends on the weather in your region. But you must be prepared to face extremes if it is a natural disaster. If you live in a warmer climate, a hat and gloves will keep you from burning. And covering your extremities is a good idea when things go south. In any case, a couple of extra pairs of socks, underwear and some change of clothes are a good idea. Cotton is not great because it holds on to water. Try polyester, elastane and acrylic. Wool is great with heat and wetness but the smell will be unbearable after a couple of days.

You could leave shelter as a surprise element in this plan. But wouldn’t you rather have some sort of a plan than freak out at the last minute? Much of this also depends on where you live and it’s hard to give specific directions. But here’s the deal. You need something to sleep in, especially if you are outdoors during a disaster. Get an insulated sleeping pad that will keep you off the ground and a tarp or a rope that can cover you. The nights will be tolerable with a puffy jacket and a synthetic blanket if the weather doesn’t go all Geostorm on you. There are a lot of options in the market. Lots of preppers prefer synthetic blankets because they are cheap and work well in wet weather.

First aid is the next point of business. You might not think of it but basic injuries can turn lethal if not treated right away. And it only gets worse over time. You might want to do some research on this subject alone and build a kit that works for you. This is all the more important if you have pre-existing health conditions.

Next on the agenda is the essential tool kit.

  • You need one of those all-in-one tools because you never know what situation you might need to dig your way out of. Leatherman has some comforting options.
  • As mentioned earlier, any kind of cordage is a must. It also helps you be seen if there is a rescue party looking for survivors.
  • You also need a fire maker like a lighter or a ferro rod if you know how to use it. Now might be a good time to learn. But otherwise, you will find plenty of other ideas online.
  • You also need a duct tape and a camping knife. Something with fixed blades that are 5-6 inches long and made of high carbon steel.
  • Then there’s a headlamp that produces about 100 lumens so that you can see in the dark. You also need a flashlight for signaling or self-defense, depending on your situation.
  • Extra batteries are always a good idea. And don’t think about the extra weight. That’s really nothing.

You can keep a getaway vehicle with an emergency services location as the destination but that does not always work or necessary. But if it does, you need to plan for evacuation routes from your home, work and any other place you frequent to your bug out bag. And, in that situation, a vehicle comes in handy. If you have the chance, think about picking up extra food and fuel along with any other miscellaneous objects you think you might need. Just make sure your bag isn’t too big for you.

Bug out Bag Checklist

There are several levels of preparedness in an emergency situation. The checklists for each of those scenarios varies. Your level of preparedness also depends on vague parameters like how diligent you are and rather specific parameters like how much weight you can carry on your back. Let’s take a look at them now.

Level one includes survival items that will weigh about 20 pounds and should cost you from $400 to $1,100. You must neatly place them in their respective pockets for easy access. You can actually buy these kits in preparation for standard emergencies like natural disasters to get you through a few days. But rest assured knowing that they are built for severe emergencies.

They usually have:

  1. About 30 ounces of potable water
  2. Water filter
  3. 20-40 water purification tablets
  4. Ready-to-eat meals
  5. Collapsible vessel or canteen
  6. Extra socks
  7. Underwear
  8. Pants
  9. Hat
  10. Cash
  11. First aid kit
  12. All-in-one tool
  13. Two lighters
  14. Field knife
  15. Headlamp
  16. Cordage/tarp
  17. Documents on a flash drive and paper
  18. Waterproof pen and paper
  19. Toilet paper
  20. Condensed camp soap
  21. Nail clippers
  22. Duct tape
  23. Pepper spray for self-defense

If you are a level-two prepper, your list of survival items will take the weight to about 35 pounds and will cost you from $800 to $2,300.

These usually have:

  1. First-aid kit
  2. About 20 storm-proof matches
  3. Food that requires boiling water
  4. Portable stove to boil the water
  5. Spork
  6. One dedicated boiling vessel
  7. Second flashlight or lantern
  8. Sleeping pad
  9. Sleeping bag
  10. Sleeping mask and earplugs
  11. Travel toothbrush and toothpaste
  12. Wet wipes
  13. Goggles/sunglasses
  14. Chapstick
  15. Gloves
  16. Pistol/holster/full magazine
  17. Belt
  18. Maps and compass
  19. Solar charger
  20. Waterproof deck of cards to keep you from losing your mind
  21. Straps for tent lashing
  22. Duct tape
  23. Pepper spray for self-defense
  24. Sewing kit
  25. Fishing kit

If you are at level three, your bag will be about 45 pounds heavy and will have a tent harnessed to the outside. This is the maximum amount of weight you should carry and it works quite efficiently for different kinds of emergencies.

These usually have:

  1. First-aid kit
  2. Fire starter and striker
  3. Extra magazine
  4. Extra batteries
  5. Battery charger
  6. Solar charger
  7. Tent for outdoors
  8. Toilet paper
  9. Water bottle
  10. Hand sanitizer
  11. Second pair of socks
  12. Whistle
  13. Signal mirror
  14. Hand saw
  15. Blade sharpener
  16. Regular duct tape
  17. Travel duct tape
  18. Stuff like fasteners, carabiners and ranger bands
  19. Fishing kit
  20. Sewing kit
  21. Pepper spray for self-defense

Remember that these lists do not have clothes and specific food options involved. You will have to customize it according to your needs. As mentioned earlier, you must take your weather conditions into account. You might also need two different lists depending on whether you are going to bug out or bug in.

Parting Words

If you know that you are going from one place to another, your list will have travel items in it. Those are usually smaller and make your bag lighter. In those cases, you want to take time and terrain into account.

Shoes are another item that are often not mentioned in survival kits. If you are going to be outdoors, there is hardly any scenario where you won’t need shoes. Hence, the extra pair of socks in all lists. This is a useful tip even if you are outside your home in the middle of the night because of a mild earthquake tremor. Remember to run out wearing your shoes. Drill it into your head till you can make no mistake even if you sleep. In case you are traveling and have a safe house to hide in, you might also want to consider stocking it up with supplies.

One of the most important things about bugging out is to figure out how long you want to plan this for. Now, if it really is an end-of-the-world scenario that is indefinite, you need to be realistic. You obviously can’t pack enough items to survive forever. But you need to have enough in your bag to be comfortable for a couple of days so that you can plan your next move in peace. In such a situation, keep your eyes on shelter, food and water filtration mechanisms. You can never plan this enough.

You might also find it fun to plan your course of action depending on the scenario at hand. So, you might want to read up and have as much information as possible so that you don’t make amateur mistakes. You can never know enough in this regard.

You must also try and learn as much as you can about the terrain of your region and map out destinations that are safe. For example, it helps to know about highlands if you are prone to floods. It helps to know how far these places are from your work or home so that you can figure out your evacuation route as soon as possible. Never underestimate the power of having a headstart on these things.