Bug Out Bag
Definition of a Bug Out Bag
A Bug Out Bag goes by many different names: Go Bag, Go Kit, Grab Bag, 72-Hour Bag, Bail Out Bag...but it all means the same thing: an Emergency Disaster Survival kit that will help you endure the first 72 hours after evacuating your home from a natural disaster or an emergency situation.
A Bug Out Bag is meant to be deployed quickly, at a moments notice, so it is important to have them prepared ahead of time. They are not meant to be used for long term survival, rather for short-term periods, so they are designed to be small enough and lightweight enough to be carried on ones person or in a backpack.
They are not meant to replace everything in your home.
You should plan your 3 day bag more like you are going to be an uninvited house-guest to a friend or family member rather than an outlaw in the woods when putting together a Go-Bag or Bug Out Bag.
However the kits we build will have several back-up plans, so should things go south you can still purify water, cook, and stay comfortable in the wilderness as a last resort. We'll dive more into that in other sections, since this tends to be beyond what most people need.
Bug Out Bags come in all different sizes and shapes. The end result is up to you and what you need.
The typical worst-case scenario: you are doing a little car camping. Spend your time planning for what's likely to happen, then dial-in the less likely once you have your basic kit together. It's too easy to get carried away and want to put everything you can inside of it, and wind up with a 70 pound bag that you can't even wear for more than a few minutes at a time without hurting your back or neck.
During an widespread emergency event it can typically take 3 days (or longer) for government groups like FEMA or first responders to arrive and help you out. You need to protect yourself and your family during this time when help is unavailable.
If the event is man made, or bad enough that people start to act badly, it will typically start around the 3rd day. Those who live hand to mouth or are dependent on grocery stores always being open or being stocked will get nervous if help doesn't arrive.
So when we are planning for the big events that effect not just our home but the whole area we live in, we need to think about several different important factors: shelter (especially in cold weather), water, and food being the primary concerns.
Our kits will not only be good for those first 72 hours, but will provide continued benefits for longer time periods. You will only need to find a water and food source, assuming you can find decent long-term shelter.
What goes in a Bug Out Bag?
It's important to prioritize. Strive is to keep it simple and focus in on whats most important: Shelter, Water, Clothing, Food. Everything else is just there to support those 4 key categories.
Everyone will have a different Bug Out Bag. Depending on where you live, and the types of environments or survival situation you will find yourself in will dictate some specific items you should carry, but we have compiled the list below to be a baseline for the average BOB, and you can use it as a template to give you an idea of what items to look at.
Certain things are must have items, but modify this list to suit your needs best. Not everyone will need or even want to start a fire for example, but it might be good to at least have that option available.
If you are making more than one BOB for your family keep in mind that you don't have to have every one of these items in each bag. Several of them can be shared. Make sure the wife's and kids bags aren't too heavy! Strive for 25 lbs or less.
** BEFORE YOU BEGIN **
The first and most important step: make sure you have prepared a WUSH Bag, and that it is small enough to integrate into this larger long-term kit.
If you haven't done this yet, go read this article then come back here.
For a carry-all Bug Out Bag List, see our 80 Bug Out Bag List Essentials. We dive a little deeper into the type of gear you can consider once you set your baseline kit up properly in that article.
Check out the The Gray Man Urban Survival Kit if you live in the city or suburbs.
If you live in a rural area, the Woodsman Outdoor Survival Kit is for you.
But before we go there:
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Basic 72-Hour Bug Out Bag List
Duration: 72-Hours to 1-Week
Short-Notice Evacuation Due To: Flooding, Fire, Hurricane, Tsunami, Earthquake, Nuclear Incidents
Must Have Gear:
Clothing, Water, Medications, Toiletries, Food, Blankets, Pillows, Lighting, Toys, Books, Movies, Games, Document Backups
Here's the list of items we included in our Custom Bug Out Bag Builder Tool:
BTW If you buy anything with the links we provide on this page we might get a small percentage of the sale from the manufacturer. For more info click here.
- Durable Backpack or Wheeled Pack (See this, this and this)
- Kleen Kanteen Stainless Steel Bottle (40 oz)
- Katadyn BeFree 1.0L Water Filter
- Aquatabs Water Purification Tablets
- Platypus Collapsible Soft Bottle
- 3-Day Food Supply & Snacks
- BOBB Fire Starting Kit
- Pocket Fresnel Lens
- 1-2 days change of clothes suited toward season
- Sea to Summit Lite Line Clothesline
- Clothes Clips
- Durable Nylon Poncho
- Lightweight Camping Tarp
- Toothbrush, Fingernail Clipper, Baking Soda, Soap, Towel
- Toilet Paper and Wipes, Body Soap
- Pillow, Sleeping Mask, Earplugs
- First Aid Kit
- Petzel e+Lite Headlamp
- Black Diamond Orbit Lantern
- Eneloop Backup AA Batteries
- Important Documents
- UST Jetscream Whistle
- Signal Mirror
- Water Proof Notepad
- All-Weather Pen
- Leatherman Multitool
- Field Compass
- 103' 550lb Paracord
- Plastic Card wrapped in Duct Tape
- Ziplock bags (various sizes) and Dry Sacks
- Maps of the Local Area
Upgrades / Additions:
- goTenna Mesh
- Baofeng UV5RA Ham Radio
- Goal Zero Guide 10 Plus
- Voltaic Systems - Arc 10 Watt USB Solar Charger Kit
- Silicon Power Mil-spec Hard Drive
- ESEE 4P Survival Knife
- Bahco Laplander Folding Saw
- MilSpec 3L Water Reservoir
- Wool Blanket
- Playing Cards
- Waterproof Headphones
- iPad and/or Kindle
- Backup Dumb Cell Phone
- One Person Tent: But ONLY if you can carry the extra weight
- Pepper Spray
One thing to note: Tents tend to be very bulky and heavy, so we consider those more to be an INCH Bag item, but feel free to add one if you think it makes sense for you - one suggestion is to break the weight up between packs if you can, put the poles and stakes in one bag and the tent itself in another. In any case, you should learn how to build several types of shelters with different types of materials.
Don't get crazy with heavy tools right away. The thing we see over and over again is Bug Out Bags with 4 knives, 2000 feet of paracord, an axe and a machete, 2 Cliff Bars, and a Lifestraw. Totally misses the point, since none of these things really help you in the world we live in today. Yes, things could get really far out but that's not what you need to worry about at first.
Look back on the last 50 years and look at the natural disaster displacement events that have happened. More times than not people wind up at shelters or in hotel rooms but it can be days or weeks before the State or Federal Emergency Response teams can arrive on the scene.
It's that gap we are preparing for first. You can plan for longer term problems certainly, but that's not what a Bug Out Bag is supposed to do. An INCH Bag is more appropriate for long term evacuation needs.
Once you get the basics down you can dive deeper into your build out. But first start increasing your knowledge, your survival skills, your bushcrafting, then start packing for it.
It's a great idea to have a wilderness pack, but it shouldn't be your primary Emergency Kit, unless you already live in the wilderness and would need to spend days getting to civilization.
The Bug Out Bag Builder Custom Bag Builder Tool
We encourage you to use our Custom Bag Builder Tool to assemble and create the perfect Bug Out Bag for your needs. We've populated the list with items we think make a complete kit, you can add/remove/change those items as you see fit within the app. The Builder Tool checks you out on Amazon.com or you can just print out the list and acquire the goods elsewhere.
Other Emergency Kits
WUSH stands for "Wake Up, Sh*ts Happening." It's an immediate evac kit.
EDC means Every Day Carry, and is a small kit to keep with you at all times.
GHB is a Get Home Bag, which you keep in your car or at your place of work.
INCH is a long term kit, I'm Never Coming Home implies your home has been destroyed and you will be without one for a long time.
It's worth looking into having these other kits as well, since you may not always be sitting at home when a disaster strikes - and may be facing a long walk just to get home. Look at all the stories of those who had to evacuate NYC while at work during 9-11 for examples of how an EDC or GHB would have been helpful.
Some Appropriate Backpack Types
Typical Price: $200
Specs: Our favorite pack for most. Inexpensive, lots of storage space, well-built, low profile. Bottom zipper for quick access to sleeping bag. Check out our full review of the older model here. Adjustable internal frame fits nearly all body sizes. Fairly water resistant but could use a rain cover. 420d polyester. 17"(L) x 34"(H) x 14"(W). Sometimes you can grab the older model for cheap on eBay.
Typical Price: $168
Specs: One of the most popular packs for a Bug Out Bags - great price to performance ratio. Easy to use, easy to pack. Lots of MOLLE options to add stuff to the outside. Comfortable yolk-style harness. Reinforced webbing and stitching throughout. Water repellant. Hydration pouch. My favorite feature is the "shove-it" pocket to stash wet stuff or a helmet. 13.5"(L) x 23"(H) x 8.5"(W).
Typical Price: $200
Specs: See our review of the older THE PACK. 100% made in the U.S.A. Super tough 1000D Cordura nylon fabric. Extra large zippers. Heavy duty stitching. Built like a tank. Holds all the gear you could want and then some, and wont fall apart on you when you need it most. High viz interior. If you are going to pack more than 30lbs into it consider getting the T.H.E. Pack Frame. 12"(L) x 19"(H) x 13"(W).
Typical Price: $80
Specs: Modularity at its best. A decent bag for a fair price. Check out our review. A great beginners pack. MOLLE compatibility, 3-in-1 packs, rapid deployment pack, and two pouches. Comes with a lifetime warranty. 12"(L) x 20"(H) x 6"(W).
Typical Price: $119
Specs: The ladies version of this popular pack. Keeps weight lower to make carrying more comfortable. Not so huge as to knock you over, but big enough to hold lots of items. Works with Kelty Rain Cover. 23"(L) x 14"(H) x 12"(W).
Typical Price: $130
Specs: See our full review here. One of the most trusted names in outdoor gear. Exceptionally well designed bag and copied by many other manufacturers. It can compress down to a small day bag size, or inflate out with 3 different levels of capacity. 10"(L) x 19"(H) x 8.5"(W).
Kids's Bug Out Bags
Your kids probably already have a bunch of back packs lying around so you probably don't need to buy another one for them, however keep the following in mind - make sure you have a dedicated emergency bag for them packed at all times. Not one that serves 2 purposes. Make sure it will be comfortable enough to wear for long periods, and not be made of cheap materials which could fall apart under heavy use. You may want to stuff a surprise toy or two in them - so in the event of an emergency, they have something new to take their minds off of the stress.
Typical Price: $140
Specs: This is an epic bag. Forget the kids, you may want this for yourself! Just kidding. Its a bruiser, can take a beating and will last for years and years. It wont fail you when you need it most. Maxpedition doesn't mess around, you wont be disappointed. 14.5"(L) x 16"(H) x 9.5"(W).
Typical Price: $39
Specs: An economical choice. Its cool-looking, sturdy, water-resistant and has some MOLLE on the outside should you need it. Get your kids into the idea of drills and practicing and get some fresh air and exercise while doing it. Make it serious, but fun. Kids can enjoy routines. Comes in five colors. 18"(L) x 13"(H) x 4"(W).
Packing for Men vs. Women
If you don't want to wind up like Quasimodo after a few minutes of wearing your Go-Bag, then its super important to know how to load it up properly. Men and women have lower centers of gravity than men so the size and shape of the packs and the distribution of body weight is different.
Img credit: www.princeton.edu
Load the bulkier, lighter items toward the bottom of the pack like a sleeping bag and change of clothes. These are also the things you wont need to have quick access to, they are more needed camp is already set up. Consider the terrain you will be traversing when packing your bag. For flat ground the heavier items should be relatively high and close to the body. Put the heaviest things between your shoulder blades. For rough terrain or steep climbs put the weight lower, this will keep you better balanced. Try to keep the heavy stuff in the middle of your back.
You want to be comfortable walking a long distance with it on. Try to stick to under 30 lbs, you'll thank me for it!
You can strap tents and tarps and sleeping bags to the bottom of the pack with lashes or straps for men, to the tops of the packs for women. REI has an incredible article about this. Grab a drink and read it.
Internal vs. External Frames
One could write forever about the differences between Internal Frame and External Frame packs. For us, it comes down to a matter of choice. External frames do allow you to carry heavier stuff and keeps your bug out bag off your back during hot weather but they can be on the heavy side. Internal frames tend to be smaller (easier to stash in a closet somewhere) and usually have some sort of internal structural support anyway. Go to your local outfitter and try different types on, see what feels right.
A Note About Weight
Did you know that a gallon of water weighs 8.3 lbs? You need a gallon of water a day at a minimum for drinking and hygiene, so for a 72 hour Bug Out Bag you're looking at 25 lbs! That can effectively double the weight of your kit...and if you think you can hike around for very long with a 50 lb bag you need to do some homework...and a lot of preparation exercise! So you need to plan carefully for what you can reasonably bring with you.
|Persons Weight (lb.)||Max Backpack Weight (lb.)|
|200 or more||25|
There is an expression which states "Knowledge weighs nothing." If you know how to build a shelter, you don't have to carry one with you. If you know how to find water then you don't need to carry gallons of it. There are basic principles to Bushcrafting which can help you immensely should you find yourself in need of creating something from scratch.
You can also build a Rolling Bug Out Bag using this guide.
And no...McGyver can't help you.The bags you choose should be appropriate size for each persons body - even the little ones and pets get a bug out bag. That's right Scraps, no free rides (Woof!) Many duplicate items need not be carried in each and every bag and can be distributed and shared: i.e. some kitchen items, tools, tents, etc.
Operations Security (OPSEC)
Another thing to consider when deciding what type of packs and gear to carry: if civil unrest is part of your bug out considerations, then having a tricked-out tactical backpack which screams "prepper" may attract trouble. In those situations its probably best to look like you have no idea what you are doing, like the rest of us! Keep the important things as well hidden as you can, so someone less honest than yourself doesn't help themselves to your emergency kit. If none of this bothers you then go for tactical backpacks over camping because they include the MOLLE strap system on the outside and you can gear-up like crazy and are usually extremely durable.
In case you were wondering where the term "Bug Out" came from; it very likely started during WWII but became popular during the Korean War (1950-1953.)
Some sources claim the original idea came from cartoons in the 1930?s, some say t's a term originating with the British, but it has always implied the "disorderly flight of bugs when discovered, particularly their scattering if several are discovered at one, such as under a rock or can."(*)
There was "The Big Bug Out" during the November to December retreat of 1950 when the Chinese openly intervened during the Korean War, and routed the US Army and Marines under the command of General MacArthur. The US Army was hit hard during the battle of the Ch'ongCh'on River, and the South Korean troops that accompanied the 8th Army and X Corps fell apart quickly, and ran for the hills asa soon as they engaged the Chinese. The US troops didn't like that much and the term "Bug Out" was coined.
So applying that idea to our Emergency Kits, we can see that the term fits well in terms of the retreating from danger idea, but it's our hope that these tutorials will help you be a little more prepared than a scattering insect should the need arise :)
We prefer the term "Bug Out Bag" to the also commonly used "Go Bag" for a few reasons: partly because it's got a nice ring to it, but mostly because it conveys the sense of urgency which would surround t's needed purpose in a better, more descriptive way. A "Go Bag" could be something you take with you almost anywhere, but a "Bug Out Bag" means things aren't looking so great, and it's time to split!