Bug Out Bag
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
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.
** 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.
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 in dangerous ways, 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: Environmental Protection (Clothing), Water Purification, Food Supplies, Sleeping Gear, First Aid. Everything else is just there to support those 5 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 wise 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.
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.
- Kleen Kanteen Stainless Steel Bottle (40 oz)
- Katadyn BeFree 1.0L Water Filter
- Aquatabs Water Purification Tablets
- Platypus Collapsible Soft Bottle
First Aid & Hygiene:
- Toothbrush, Fingernail Clipper, Baking Soda, Soap, Towel
- Toilet Paper and Wipes, Body Soap
- First Aid Kit
- Durable Backpack or Wheeled Pack (See this, this and this)
- Navigation & Communications Kit
- Petzel e+Lite Headlamp
- Black Diamond Orbit Lantern
- Eneloop Backup AA Batteries
- Leatherman Multitool
- 103' 550lb Paracord
- Pocket Fresnel Lens
- Old Credit Card wrapped in Duct Tape
- Ziplock bags (various sizes) and Dry Sacks
- Maps of the Local Area
- Important Personal Documents
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
- Playing Cards
- 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.
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.
Our Bug Out Bag Picks
There are many types of bags you could use for your 72 Hour Emergency kit. We prefer rolling bug out bags because it is easier to move larger weight around and will lower the potential risk of injury for older folks.
For our full list of recommended bags check out: The Best Bug Out Bags.
Size: Large - 38.5 Liter
Pros: The Hazard 4 Air Support takes the number one spot for a multitude of reasons. First and foremost, it has wheels which means it will be much more manageable for folks who need to carry more than 25lbs of gear. You can add pouches to the outside thanks to the MOLLE attachment points. It will fit into an overhead compartment on a plane should you need to fly with it. 1000D Cordura and ruggedized wheels and base means it is durable. Supplement your space with a small backpack if desired. External Size: 22.8"(L) x 14.2"(W) x 9.1"(D).
Cons: Not a fan of the laptop sleeve - we cut it in half and use it as a smaller storage pocket. Reciprocating handles sometimes make me nervous, I've seen them break on other suitcases.
Size: XX-Large - 85 Liter
Pros: One of our favorite packs got a really nice upgrade for 2020. Relatively inexpensive, lots of storage space, well-built, low profile. Bottom zipper for quick access to sleeping bag. Check out our review of the older Kelty 80. Adjustable internal frame fits nearly all body sizes. Fairly water resistant but could use a rain cover. 420d polyester. 19"(L) x 32"(H) x 13"(W) at 5.8 lbs.
Cons: Not as durable as some of the other bags we like, we wish the buckles we're a little bit stronger.
Size: Large - 55 Liter
Pros: Lookup bug out bag in the dictionary and you'll see the 5.11 Rush 72. It essentially defines the category. Great price to performance ratio. Easy to use, easy to pack and organize. Lots of MOLLE options to add stuff to the outside. Comfortable yolk-style harness. Reinforced webbing and stitching throughout. Water repellent. 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) at 5.5 lbs. Easy to find used packs in good shape on eBay.
Cons: Military style might be too on the nose for some - it screams "I've got MRE's yo!"
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.
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.
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 could also consider building a Rolling Bug Out Bag as we mentioned earlier, especially if you are like me, and don't like lugging huge weight on your back all day long.
Other Emergency Kit Types
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.
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 more durable than camping packs.
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'ong Ch'on River, and the South Korean troops that accompanied the 8th Army and X Corps fell apart quickly, and ran for the hills as 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" feels like 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!