Build a BOB: Choosing the Pack or Container

Okay, so you’ve invested countless hours researching and carefully selecting the contents of your BOB. Now what? Well, you need something to carry all of it, right? There are a few different solutions to consider.

Before we get into them, though, you need to take a real good look at your BOB contents. Take all of your treasures and plunk them in a pile on the bed or the floor. Odds are, it’ll be a pretty sizeable collection of goodies. Remember, the whole point of a BOB is that it is a portable collection of gear and supplies. Regardless of the pack or container you choose, will you realistically be able to carry all of the stuff you’ve collected? If not, start paring it down now.

Keeping the issue of portability firmly in mind, let’s look at some carry options.

Backpack

A backpack is more or less the traditional carry option for a BOB. For most people, a backpack is likely the best option. Provided you find a pack that works for you, it will be comfortable, sturdy, and it will allow you to keep your hands free as you walk. This is rather important as you may need to react quickly to a threat or even just a stumble and if one or both hands are full, you could have trouble.

One question you need to answer before you begin searching for a pack is whether you want to go with one that is military surplus (or at least looks like mil-surp) or a more civilian looking model. Personally, I tend to lean toward the latter, though really there isn’t a right or wrong answer here. It is just a matter of personal preference. I feel that a civilian pack might be seen as less likely to contain truly awesome supplies and gear and therefore not be as much of a target to someone else.

While military grade packs are typically very durable, that doesn’t always translate to comfort. Honestly, choosing a pack is something best done in person. Head to a decent sporting goods store, one that has a large camping section, and try out a few packs. Even if you don’t buy one there, you’ll hopefully come away with some idea of what you like and what you don’t like in a pack.

One thing I look for is compartmentalization. I want several pockets inside and outside the pack to help me keep things organized. Having all the gear with you is great but being able to find what you need when you need it is even better.

I like thickly padded shoulder straps as well as a chest strap and possibly one at the waist. The idea is to keep the pack from sliding all over the place as you walk. When you try packs on for size, be sure to do up all the straps and adjust them for a proper fit. The store staff should be able to assist in that regard, which is another reason to stick with actual sporting goods stores and not just the couple of aisles of camp gear you find at other big box retailers.

You want a pack that is large enough to fit all of your gear and not much bigger. Why? Because I can all but guarantee that when you fill your pack and start testing it out, you’re going to find you’ve overpacked and you’ll start cutting down on gear. A little empty space in your pack is great. Having it only a third full means you should get a smaller pack.

My personal favorite backpack is the Vertx EDC Gamut Plus. I’ve carried one daily for well over a year now and find it very comfortable. It is large enough to carry all I need without looking like I’m packing for an African safari.

Duffel Bag

Duffel bags can be used for BOBs as well. You can find duffels with all sorts of pockets to allow for organizing your gear, which is great. The problem, though, is they can be uncomfortable to carry for long periods of time, especially if they have significant weight inside. The shoulder strap will help, of course, but you might find that to be downright painful after several miles.

If you don’t use the shoulder strap, you’ll constantly have one hand occupied. This can lead to problems on the trail as well as discomfort. I’m not saying duffel bags make horrible BOBs. Well, actually, yeah, I am saying that duffels make horrible BOBs.

Wheeled Suitcase

I’ve seen some people packing wheeled suitcases to use for BOBs. You know the type I’m talking about, the suitcases people tend to use for overnight trips. They have a slide out handle and you pull them along. Here’s the thing with these bags. Those wheels work great on nice, even, flat terrain like concrete and carpet. You get them off the pavement, though, and they don’t roll very well.

On top of that, these suitcases are bulky and aren’t the lightest things in the world even when empty. They are difficult and problematic to carry for long periods of time if they won’t roll. I’d avoid them.

Shoulder Bag

These are different than duffel bags. This type of pack is designed to fit comfortably over one shoulder. This model by UTG is a good example. These can be comfortable, even over long distances. But, they don’t have a lot of space so you are very limited in what you can carry. As the saying goes, the more you know the less you need to carry but I think even very experienced survivalists might want something a bit larger than this for a long-distance bug out.

Once you’ve purchased your pack or bag, take it home and fill it up with your gear. Strap it on and walk around for a while. A couple of circuits of your living room isn’t going to be enough. Get outside and go for a walk. See how the pack or bag rides on your body. Make adjustments to the straps or the contents until you get everything situated where you want it.

As you organize the contents, keep things you’ll need frequently in readily accessible locations, such as outer pockets. For example, keep your ferro rod and other primary fire making supplies easy to reach as one of the first things you’ll usually do when setting up camp is get a fire started. First aid kit should also be easy to locate as if there is a medical emergency you won’t want to waste time dumping out the entire pack to find what you need.

I like to use small pouches and watertight boxes to keep my supplies and gear separate and organized. Even pencil pouches found on the cheap during back to school season work well to keep things easy to find in your BOB.

Care and Feeding of Your BOB

Unpack and inspect the contents regularly to ensure nothing is broken or leaking. I suggest once every three months, at a minimum, to completely empty and repack the BOB. Give it a visual inspection about once a month where you just peek in and make sure everything is still there.

Rotate out the perishable supplies, such as food and batteries, regularly so they get used before they expire.

Adjust the contents of the BOB to reflect the season as needed. I keep a knit hat, wool socks, and thick gloves in my BOB year round but I’ll add in other cold weather gear in the fall. Come spring, I take that stuff out and pack it away in the house.

Your BOB is a personal thing. It should reflect your needs, your skill sets, and your experience level. Don’t be afraid to adjust the contents of the BOB as you learn new skills or invest in additional gear.

Get caught up on all installments in this series here:
Introduction
Shelter
Fire
Water
Food
First aid / Hygiene
Navigation
Signaling and Communication
Tools
Choosing the Pack or Container
Common Mistakes
Useful Odds and Ends

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Comments

  1. A padded waist belt on your BOB is not really optional (along with a frame which connects the shoulder straps to the belt). Not only does it keep the bottom of the pack from moving around as much, but it takes some of the weight off your shoulders, which is pretty important on a long (as in all day) trek.

    First figure out the weight you can carry. Theoretically, this is 25% of your ideal body weight, but this makes a lot of assumptions about your physical condition which likely are not accurate. Then get together the gear you want to carry and weigh it. If too heavy you have to either get rid of things, or replace things with lighter weight (either junk or much more expensive) things. Once you have the weight correct, then you can measure the volume to see how big a bag you need. The one linked to is 35L (liters) with no padded waist belt. Although great for school or a day hike, it really does not make a good BOB for a healthy, normal sized adult. Generally I find that 50 to 60 liters is more appropriate. Even if you decide on a smaller bag, I’d still look for that padded waist belt and frame (internal preferred). Carrying the pack for 18 hours at a stretch, or even only 12 hours, you’re likely to need it.

    Not only is a civilian pack “less targeting” than a military pack, but dull colors (not camo) are less targeting than bright colors and fancy logos.

    Two things to keep in mind about “bugging out”:

    1) It is going from someplace which is not safe to someplace which is safer, and that is probably several long days hike, over non-improved terrain (ie, not road or nice hiking trails)

    2) Some people will use the emergency as an excuse to discard their appearance of humanity, and will desire to take your stuff because they were not bright enough to get their own, or just for their own fun and profit.

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