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Assembling a bug out bag is one of the first steps preppers take in their disaster readiness journey.
If you ask twenty different preppers what to have in a bug out bag, you’ll get twenty slightly different answers. That’s as it should be, because bug out bags need to be customized to suit individuals needs. That said, in reviewing hundreds, if not thousands, of bug out bag lists and such, I see several mistakes happening again and again. Go through the following list and see if you’ve inadvertently fallen into one or more of these gaffes and learn what to do about it.
I’ve seen entirely too many bug out bags that are just massive. These monstrosities have everything up to and sometimes including the kitchen sink. The whole idea behind a bug out bag is to have a PORTABLE assemblage of gear and supplies. The absolute only way to determine if the bug out bag is the right size for you is to strap it on and walk around for at least a few hours. A couple of circuits around the living room just isn’t going to be a valid test. When, and I mean not if but when, you determine your bug out bag is too heavy to be comfortable for long periods of time, ditch everything but the absolute necessities, then build up from there.
Obviously, this is related to overpacking. Common thought is to have enough food to last you at least three days. That’s all well and good but that does not mean you need to pack nine full meals! The reality is that most of us are probably carrying enough calories in our bellies and butts to last us a while without swallowing a morsel. MREs and canned goods add quite a bit of weight and bulk to the bug out bag. Stick with things like granola bars, protein bars, crackers, peanut butter, tuna, and dried fruits and nuts. In a bug out situation, you probably aren’t going to want to take the time to lay out a five course meal, right?
This is a bad approach, picking out a snazzy camo pack before deciding what it needs to hold. The problem is that many people pick out a bag that is much larger than they really need. This leads them to feel compelled to fill it to the brim, which of course circles back to #1 on our list here. Use logic and common sense here. Start by collecting all of the supplies you feel you’ll need in your bug out bag, then choosing a pack that is sized appropriately.
Water is essential, we all know this. Yet, time and again I see bug out bags with nothing more than a single water bottle. While water is indeed heavy, you should have the means to transport at least two liters of water at any given time. Keep at least two separate containers for water in your bug out bag. This gives you options. For example, by having two steel water bottles, you can boil water in one (to purify it) while still being able to drink from the other one.
Look, I’m all about prepping on a budget but if I’m staking my life on a piece of gear, I don’t want to rely on piece of junk that is shoddily made and might not work. Stick with reliable, well known brand names when and where you can. Dollar store multitools just aren’t likely to hold up very well, know what I mean?
You need to thoroughly test each and every item you are putting into your bug out bag. Know exactly how it works, what its capabilities are, and how to maintain it. Too many people buy stuff and just toss it into the bag without thinking twice. A bug out is not the best time to pull out the instructions and try and figure out how to assemble that nifty little camp stove…only to discover the guy at the factory was having an off day and forgot to include the bag of bolts you need.
If you are bugging out, odds are you will be on foot for part if not all of your journey. Walking long distances while wearing thin socks and dress shoes, or even worse, flip flops, can be murder on your feet. What I recommend is keeping a good pair of walking shoes or hiking boots (with socks rolled up inside) alongside your bug out bag. Grab them at the same time you grab the bag, then change your footwear at your earliest opportunity. Ditch the dress shoes or heels and move on down the road. In your bug out bag, keep at least two extra pair of thick socks as well. On top of that, add moleskin to your first aid kit to help with any blisters that may develop. Foot powder might not be a bad idea as well.
Having items that can pull double or triple duty is a great way to cut down on the bulk in a bug out bag but I’ve always felt you should use the right tool for the right job. In other words, while it is great to have a 5-in-1 tool that has a whistle, compass, ferro rod, match case, whatever, recognize that it is dubious that it will do each of those jobs as well as items specifically made for those purposes. While you should always have at least 3 ways to accomplish basic tasks, such as fire lighting, try to stick with tools and equipment made for the purpose.
Commonly Forgotten Items
On top of the mistakes listed above, there are a few things that I notice are missing from many if not most bug out bag content lists. While these items may not be utterly crucial to survival, they can sure make life a bit easier in an already stressful situation.
Knives and other blades are a no brainer for a bug out bag but few people think to toss in a small sharpener. A dull knife is far more dangerous to you than a sharp one.
Empty plastic bags
While many preppers pack their gear in plastic bags, which is an excellent idea, keeping several empty ones in your pack adds virtually no weight or bulk. The empty bags will come in handy for packing goodies you may find your travels, such as edible plants, tinder, or even water.
Being able to clean up a bit is a great boost to morale as well as a way to stay healthy. Survival Resources has a great little hygiene kit for bug out bags. Or, make your own by tossing travel size toiletries (soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss) and a couple of washcloths into a ziploc bag.
Yeah, I know, it sounds so metrosexual but bugging out generally means you’ll be outdoors, exposed to the sun and wind, which leads to chapped lips. This can actually be a rather painful condition. Lip balm takes up almost no space in your bug out bag. Plus, if it is petroleum based, it can double as a way to help get a fire going.
Notepad and pencils
Whether it is used for trying to keep track of where you are and where you’ve been or for just collecting your thoughts, being able to jot down notes is an excellent, and again a low weight, addition to the bug out bag.
A few needles and a spool or two of good thread will be very welcome after you’ve ripped out a pocket on your pants or torn a hole in your shirt. Duct tape works, too.
As far as I’m concerned, these are almost as handy as duct tape. They have a wide range of uses in a survival situation. I keep a bunch in different sizes in each of my packs.