Category #1: WATER
Because water is so critical to survival, I highly recommended also packing at least 2 water purification options. Boiling water for 10 minutes is an option but is not always the most convenient. I suggest packing 1 water filtration system and also some water purification tablets. I personally pack a Katadyn Hiker Pro Filtration System, an Seychelle Water Filtration Straw (as a backup) and Chlor-Floc purification tablets. The 3 options of boiling, filtering, and chemical treatment will give you more flexibility in securing one of your most basic survival needs: clean water.
Category #2: FOOD
Don’t worry about planning for three well balanced meals per day – this is survival, not vacation. I’ve gone on many survival trips where I haven’t eaten for a few days, so you can live without any food at all for 72 hours. However, it isn’t pleasant. You should pack simple & easy to prepare meals. Canned meats and beans are great options. Canned beef or chicken stews are equally as effective. If the weight of your Bug Out Bag is an issue, dehydrated camping meals are excellent choices. Remember, though, they require hot water to prepare – so that means a stove or fire and valuable time (if you are traveling). Military MREs are also good options. They have a long shelf-life, contain their own heating systems, and are very packable. They can be expensive, though. I would also suggest tossing in a few energy bars and candy bars. These are packed with calories and carbs – both of which are extremely important.
When we discuss food, we also need to discuss preparing it. A very simple cooking kit is all you should need. It should contain at least 1 small metal pot, a spork, a metal cup and maybe a metal pan or plate. Anything more than this is overkill. In many instances, preparing food requires heat. A fire will always work but may not be practical in every situation. I would suggest packing a lightweight backpack stove with 1-3 fuel canisters. I’d rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it. I personally carry
a stove in a can in my BOB with 1 fuel can.
CATEGORY #3: SHELTER
I include clothing in this category. Regardless of climate, I recommend packing the following (some of these items can be on your body when you leave): 2 pair of wool hiking socks, 2 changes of underwear, 1 extra pair of pants (NOT BLUE JEANS AND PREFERABLY NOT 100% COTTON), 1 base layer thermal underwear, 1 warm fleece hat, 2 extra shirts (1 long sleeve, 1 short sleeve), 1 mid-weight fleece, 1 warm rain jacket, 1 heavy duty military poncho (can be found at any Army/Navy Surplus), 1 pair of comfortable waterproof hiking boots.
What to pack for an actual shelter is a heavily debated topic within the survival community. I like having options and I like redundancy – especially when it comes to shelter. Protecting yourself from the elements, whether rain, cold, or heat, is incredibly important.
Your first emergency shelter option is the military poncho listed above. These are designed with grommets in the corners to be used as a make-shift emergency tarp-tent and are actually quite effective. I've spent many nights in the woods during all kinds of weather conditions with nothing more than a wool blanket and a military poncho…and have been fairly comfortable. Practicing the set-up is the key. Know how to use it before you need to.
A second emergency shelter option is a simple reflective emergency survival blanket. There are many different kinds and brands of these on the market. Not only can it be used as an emergency survival sleeping bag, but it can also be used as a ground tarp-tent shelter. These are light weight and cheap. Besides the poncho and survival blanket, I also carry a 6'x10' Waterproof rip-stop nylon tarp. I use this style of tarp as a year -round camping shelter, so I know it works. It's lightweight and really effective if you practice setting it up. you can also bring a light weight camping tent. These can be pricey, but they are really nice to have.
CATEGORY #4: FIRE
Making fire is one of the most important survival skills of all time. You need a minimum of 3 ways to make fire. Because you are preparing this Bug Out Bag in advance, you can toss in a few of the easy options like lighters and waterproof matches. You will also want to include a fire steel which can generate sparks in any weather condition. Besides these items, you will need to pack some tinder for fueling your initial flame. You can buy tinder from any outdoor store, but cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly is the best I've ever seen.
CATEGORY #5: FIRST AID
Whether you build your own kit from scratch or buy a premade kit, make sure it includes the following items at a minimum: 1" x 3" adhesive bandages (12), 2" x 4.5" adhesive bandages (2), adhesive knuckle bandages (3), butterfly closure bandages (2), gauze dressing.
My personal gear for this category includes: OSHA First Aid Kit 326 Pieces and, I've added 3 suture kits, more alcohol pads, 2 rolls of 2" gauze, Lip Balm, and some larger butterfly bandages.
CATEGORY #6: TOOLS
The first and most important tool in your Bug Out Bag is a knife. Choosing your survival knife is a very personal decision, and besides your knowledge, it will undoubtedly be your most useful survival tool. I suggest carrying a full tang fixed blade all-purpose survival knife. It should be large enough to use for chopping, splitting, and self-defense but also small enough to use for more delicate camp chore tasks such as carving feather sticks and preparing food. The right balance is a personal decision. In my opinion the overall length needs to around 10″ –not too much over. Any larger than this and the knife becomes more difficult to use as an effective tool and starts to get bulky. I have made the decision to carry 2 knives in my Bug Out Bag. I carry a Ka-Bar US Army Military fighting Knife and also a Mora 840 MG Clipper Knifewhich I use as a smaller all-around camp knife. Mora knives are very reliable all-around camp knives, and a good Mora can be purchased for under $15.
Besides a knife, one other item you will want to consider is a good six-in-one survival shovel comes in handy for all types of projects. Your multi-tool should have a screwdriver (both phillips and flat-head), pliers, a knife blade, and wire cutters at a minimum. Leatherman makes all kinds of great multi-tools which can be purchased at almost any sporting goods store.
CATEGORY #7: LIGHTING
You need to pack at least 2 light sources. I would suggest having 1 flashlight that with throw light some distance like a mini mag light or a mini LED flashlight. The 2nd can be a smaller one to use around camp or while fixing meals, etc. Mini keychain LED lights are lightweight, cheap, and last a long time. Other ideas are glow-sticks, candles, and LED head-lamps. I personally carry the following light sources: Omegalight Shake Flashlight, a Solar link Scorpion multi-function flash light. a couple of glow-sticks & a 100 hour candles. Again, I like options.
CATEGORY #8: COMMUNICATIONS
A fully charged cell phone is at the top of this list. In an emergency, cell phone service will probably be jammed up. However, text messages typically still go through, so having a cell phone is a necessity. You should also have either a fully charger EXTRA cell phone battery or a means of charging your cell phone. There are several options for charging your phone in the field without electricity. Some include solar charging units, hand crank chargers, and aftermarket battery boosters. You need to research and determine which solution is best for your current phone make/model.
In addition to a cell phone, you should also pack a small battery powered r crank powered AM/FM radio. This could be an important source of information and for the price and weight, you can’t go wrong. I personally carry a hand-crank Red Cross Solar Link FR-360 Emergency Radio. The hand-crank also has a cell phone charging feature.
Under this category I will also include IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS. In the case of emergency evacuation, you should carry with you certain important documents. Among these should be your driver’s license, passport, social security card, medical information, important phone numbers and account numbers (bank, insurance, credit cards, etc.), and your gun carry permit.
The last item in this category is to pack a detailed map of your surrounding area, your state, and any area in-between your location and your Bug Out Location (your predetermined destination in case you have to Bug Out). You would be foolish to depend on a GPS in an evacuation emergency. PACK MAPS!
I personally carry all of these documents in a sealable waterproof Pouch.
CATEGORY #9: PROTECTION & SELF-DEFENSE
You can almost certainly guarantee that in an evacuation emergency there will be chaos and disorder. Events of this magnitude inevitably overwhelm normal police and public safety measures–at least for a short time. History tells us that rioting, looting, rape, and violent crimes will occur. You need to be prepared to protect and defend yourself and your resources–especially if you have a family. You would be naive not to take this category seriously. The best measure of self defense is a gun–period. Besides the intimidation factor, a gun has reach and stopping power. A gun can also be used for hunting if necessary. What kind of gun to pack is a lengthy topic all by itself. Some like shotguns, some prefer rifles, and others choose handguns. I have chosen to pack a 357 Ruger Revolver. I chose a handgun because it is easy to conceal and is fairly lightweight. I chose a 357 because of the stopping power, and I chose a revolver because I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that every time I pull the trigger a bullet will fire. I’ve had automatic pistols jam on me enough times to know I don’t want my life to depend on one.
Other formidable weapons of self-defense can be your survival knife, a machete, or even a walking stick. I, though, would hate for anything except a gun to be the only thing between me and a gang of thugs.
CATEGORY #10: MISC. GEAR
Just in case you have to Bug Out on foot, the weight of your pack should always be a consideration. You should be comfortable carrying your pack for up to 3 days. Because of this, everyone’s pack load will vary depending on their comfort level. Below are some additional items that I have packed in my Bug Out Bag that you will also want to consider when building your own:
• CASH – $1000 minimum (because cash talks)
• Toilet paper
• 200 feet of paracord (building shelter)
• Duct tape (100s of uses)
• 100 feet of Army issue trip wire (misc. projects, snares)
• Pad of paper & pencil (leave notes or record information)
• Small Bible
• 2 Bandanas (because they are so dang multi-useful)
• Leather work gloves
• Small knife sharpener
• Machete (clearing brush, chopping wood, self-defense)
• 4 spare AA batteries for my Gerber Firecracker
• 2 dust masks (can double as crude filters)
• Bar of soap & small bottle of hand sanitizer (hygiene)
• 36″ length of rubber tubing (siphon, tourniquet)
• Small sewing kit
• 2 heavy duty 30 gallon garbage gags (water storage, shelter,poncho)
• P38 can opener
• Small fishing kit
• Sunglasses (can double as safety glasses)
• Insect repellent
At the end of the day, there is no perfect Bug Out Bag. Even my own Bug Out Bag changes and evolves with my needs, thoughts, wants, and tastes. An incomplete and imperfect Bug Out Bag is better than nothing at all in an emergency. For me, the peace of mind in knowing it’s there on the shelf to grab if I need it is reason enough to have taken the time, effort, and money to build it. I hope that my thoughts about the Bug Out Bag have been informative and helpful (and maybe inspirational) as you consider building your own.
What Am I missing that would help in an emergency situation?