When you’re faced with the need for a bug out bag, you’ll want one at the ready, and you’ll want it filled with exactly what you’ll need for at least 72 hours of survival during a catastrophe.
The complication with prepping a bug out bag is making sure you have enough without overloading (and over-weighing) your bag with too many things. Weight is critical.
While some items are necessarily single purpose, you’ll get the most mileage out of multipurpose tools and equipment.
Here’s a handy list of the most essential tools and equipment to include in your bag. Keep in mind, this list is not exhaustive but will give you a start on your survival kit if you need to bug out.
The bag you choose is as important as what you put inside it. The right pack will store everything while protecting your bug out gear. The wrong pack will weigh you down, allow damage to your equipment, and prevent you from having the essentials you need in a crisis.
Your bag should be made with tough, water-resistant fabrics or a cover. Ideally, you’ll want a bag with webbing and straps on the outside to clip gear to, like a MOLLE system and lots of pockets. Your bug out bag should have sturdy, reliable zippers, and include a chest strap for support. Padded hip support straps can help make long treks with your bag more comfortable as well.
Food and water
Survival and protection is difficult if you aren’t keeping your body well hydrated and energized. Therefore, food and clean water are essential elements for your pack.
Stainless Steel Water Bottle – A stainless steel water bottle serves multiple purposes. Not only will it carry water for you, but unlike a plastic container, a metal one can be used directly on a heat source, allowing you to boil water in your container.
Filtration System – The filtration systems you pack will depend on the weight of your other items and how many people you’ll likely bug out with – for instance, is it just you, or do you have a family of four you’ll need to bring with you in an emergency. Plan your filtration needs accordingly. There are systems that are reasonable to transport that will support several people, as long as you keep in mind the weight and bulk of your pack.
Purification Tablets – When bugging out, you may not always be in a position to boil water. Water purification tablets can be used while you’re on the go.
Easily portable foodstuffs – Keeping your energy up requires calories, but finding food might be a challenge. Your bug out pack should include items for when you can’t hunt or forage, or you need a quick hit of calories. Freeze-dried meals, MREs, and calorie-dense food bars are light, relatively small, and easy to pack. Be sure to include at least three full days worth of meals.
You’ll also want items to prepare food and eat with. Small, collapsible bowls and multipurpose eating utensils like a spork can be used for all kinds of meals. If you have room and can spare the weight, you might consider a small camp stove and propane, especially if you aren’t confident in your fire-starting skills.
Shelter – whether you are in an urban, suburban, or wilderness environment – is crucial to your care and well-being during a bug out. Without rest and protection from the elements, you may not be ready to handle the challenges you’ll face during a catastrophe.
Poncho – There are few things more miserable than being soaked through with no way to get dry. More importantly, damp clothes can seep heat from your body, burning valuable calories just to stay warm and putting your survival in jeopardy. A good, durable rain poncho is a must have for your pack.
Shelter options – You have a number of options for short term shelter. A hammock and sleeping back are good if you’ll be evacuating to an area with enough trees or supports. A tarp can be strung up to keep wind and rain off of you and give you cover while you rest. If you have the room, a sleeping pad will keep you off the hard ground and make it easier to rest. You should also pack a heat reflective blanket, sometimes called a space blanket.
Outer clothing – Bulky outer clothing should be kept to a minimum. You’ll want one thing to wear while your other items are drying, and that’s about it. Also, make sure you are covered for the weather where you’ll be. A jacket with layers or a zip-out lining may serve across multiple seasons.
Underclothes – You’ll want more of these than your outerwear, enough to change regularly for general hygiene without needing to stop long enough to wash items frequently.
Socks – Here’s where to invest space and weight for clothes. Dry, clean socks are a must-have at all times. Blisters, athlete’s foot, or jungle rot will inhibit your ability to move around. Protect your feet and keep them clean.
First aid and personal items
Don’t skimp on first aid items. If you need them you’ll be glad you dedicated time and space to these supplies.
Medications – these should include both personal medications and first aid type, like aspirin and ibuprofen. Add antibacterial ointments and even some antibiotics as a last resort, like those sold for fish or birds. You should also carry Vaseline. It’s great for chapped lips, chafing, and burns, and can help start your fires more quickly, too.
Bandages – Bandaids in a variety of sizes, moleskin pads, gauze pads, gauze rolls, an ace bandage, and surgical tape can handle hundreds of different kinds of wounds. Consider adding blood clotting sponges in the case of deep wounds, as well as alcohol wipes and cotton swabs.
Personal items – These items will keep you from needing your first aid kit, or can help amplify the usefulness of it in the case of an injury: nail clippers, tweezers, sunscreen, insect repellent, mini-toothbrushes and small tubes of toothpaste, floss, moist towelettes and camping soap, and hand sanitizer. Also, everyone, men and women, should carry tampons in their pack. They are good for stopping a wound from bleeding or even starting a fire.
Survival gear and self-defense
Nearly everything in the survival and self-defense category is multi-purpose, from creating shelter and helping with injuries to clearing rest areas, hunting, or fending off an attack.
Firestarters – Steel fire starters, waterproof matches, matches kept in a waterproof container, a lighter (consider splurging on an electrical one), a magnifying glass, and some tinder will ensure you can always start a fire wherever you are.
Paracord – This stuff is indispensable. Use it for shelters or hammocks, to tie supplies off the ground, to secure a splint, and millions of other things.
Illumination – Headlamps and flashlights should be part of your bag. Also, add in solar chargers for recharging your electronics and lights.
Fishing and hunting supplies – Include in your bag a collapsible fishing rod, hooks, and weights. You might not get the time or opportunity to fish, but if you do, it’s an excellent source of protein that you’ll need to keep going. Small snares and a slingshot are also portable and highly useful for catching game.
Cutting implements – Cutting devices might be an area that you’ll consider skimping on, but don’t. With the right cutting tools you’ll be able to do everything from cut fishing line to hunt. A pocket knife or a multipurpose knife and pliers combination is good for small cutting jobs, like slicing paracord. You’ll also want to be able to clear an area for shelter, cut branches or saplings for firewood or cover, and trim wood to create kindling. Carrying a single, high-quality tool like the Woodman’s Pal replaces the need for an ax, a wire saw, a machete, and a hatchet. This single tool can be attached to the outside of your pack for easy access in case of an emergency and eliminates the need to carry 3 or more tools.