I’ve been casually following the events in Alberta, Canada and the wildfire there. One thing that has been made clear to me is the need for PPE in every bug out bag. PPE stands for Personal Protective Equipment. These are the items that will assist when dealing with disasters that include lots of smoke and dust in the air as well as debris and rubble on the ground.
When I think back to 9/11, one of the many images that will always stick with me is seeing groups of people covered head to toe in dust as they flee the area. There was so much grit and such in the air, visibility was extremely low in many areas. Not to mention, I can’t imagine what it was like trying just to breathe with all that crap floating around.
First on the PPE list is some sort of particulate mask. This will filter out most or all of the dust floating in the air. It will not, however, filter out poisonous gasses. Realistically, the only way you’re going to accomplish that is with a full-blown gas mask and that just isn’t feasible for most bug out bags. Here, we’re far more concerned about keeping smoke and such out of our lungs. To understand how these masks are rated, we look to the CDC’s website:
Respirator filters that collect at least 95% of the challenge aerosol are given a 95 rating. Those that collect at least 99% receive a “99” rating. And those that collect at least 99.97% (essentially 100%) receive a “100” rating. Respirator filters are rated as N, R, or P for their level of protection against oil aerosols. This rating is important in industry because some industrial oils can remove electrostatic charges from the filter media, thereby degrading (reducing) the filter efficiency performance. Respirators are rated “N” if they are not resistant to oil, “R” if somewhat resistant to oil, and “P” if strongly resistant (oil proof).
I recommend a minimum rating of N95. Comfort is an important consideration with masks as if they are awkward or ill-fitting, you won’t want to wear them. I like the 3M model 8511 N95 masks shown here. They have a nice balance between function, comfort, and price.
Next up is eye protection. Eye injuries can bring your bug out to a screeching halt. It is awfully hard to get to where you’re going if you can’t see the path ahead of you. Not to mention, it can be absolutely terrifying to be blinded, even temporarily. Safety glasses are a good idea but goggles are even better. Either way, you want something that will wrap around your eyes to protect them from the side. If you wear prescription glasses, look for goggles that will allow you to wear your glasses under them at the same time.
I like goggles that have soft rubber or foam that will contour to the face. This seals out almost all dust and such that could seep in. Again, though, it may not protect you against poisonous gasses. Other features to look for include anti-fogging lenses and UV protection. I like these Dewalt safety goggles as they give me enough room to wear prescription glasses at the same time.
Some sort of foot protection is a given. Many disaster scenarios will involve broken glass, rubble, and other debris that will not feel very good when traveling in bare feet or even sandals. There are a couple of schools of thought when it comes to what to wear on your feet when bugging out. On the one hand, durable boots will provide the highest level of protection. However, they are heavy and many people instead prefer to go with a lightweight hiking shoe or something similar. Anything is better than nothing, of course, and I find myself waffling between the two options. My daily footwear is a pair of Skechers Verdict boots. I’ve been wearing this brand and model boot for upwards of ten years. I’m currently on my 3rd pair. They do take a little time to break in, as do any pair of boots. But, once they’re broken in, they are very comfortable. They have thick soles that will provide great traction in just about any conditions and the boots are waterproof.
To round out the PPE for the BOB, let’s look at gloves. Again, disasters often mean debris and dealing with downed branches, broken bricks, and such can lead to scrapes and cuts to the hands and fingers. I very much like the Mechanix line of gloves and currently own three pair:
They are long-lasting and do the job nicely. That said, you might want a more robust pair of leather work gloves. As with the other elements of PPE, comfort is very important. Gloves should not just be tried on once for fit, either, but broken in so they aren’t stiff and awkward. That takes time and effort. Don’t just buy a pair and toss them into your BOB without trying them out first.
In addition to work gloves, you may want to have at least a few pair of nitrile gloves for when providing medical care. They are so small and lightweight you’ll never notice them in your bag until you need them.
Personal protective equipment is an important asset in a disaster. One of the most basic tenets of emergency response is to protect yourself first. A disaster is bad enough without adding avoidable injuries to the mix.