Building a Bugout Bag

Introduction

A bugout bag is a great prep to have in your arsenal. Ensuring that the bag is properly built could keep you and your family alive if you are forced to displace your home. I’ll go over what I think makes a good bugout bag, as well as what I use. Something I always take into consideration is weight. Any situation that requires you to grab your bag and go will likely require long foot movements. This is often overlooked. People like to fill their bags with all sorts of fancy equipment that they’ll never use. As a former infantryman, I can tell you that ounces equal pounds, and pounds equal pain. This is especially true if you’re not used to rucking.

The Pack

Simply put, you want a bag that can hold all the items you need. You also want a bag that’s durable and won’t rip or tear when put to the test. Personally, I prefer to stray away from MOLLE and tacti-cool packs. I prefer a grey man backpack.

My recommendation: Osprey Porter 46 Travel Backpack - Osprey is a fantastic brand. I have been using their packs for years. I recommend this one because I can lay it flat and open it and see all the contents without dumping the whole thing. Plus, I use it as carry on luggage when flying.

Depending on your climate, you may also consider a waterproof backpack.

My recommendation: Earth Pak Waterproof Backpack 55L - You could go swimming and the contents will still be dry. Consider this if you’re planning on traversing a body of water or you live in a tropical/rainy climate.

Alternatively, you could use a waterproof liner in a non-waterproof bag.

Water Solution

You’ll also need some sort of container for water.

My recommendation: Klean Kanteen Wide Mouth - I love this extremely versatile piece of kit. You can boil it to purify water or cook food. It’s also ultralight.

You’ll also benefit from a way to filter water. I wouldn’t get too caught up with this. There’s a million options in this area.

My recommendation: Sawyer Squeeze. A very proven filter system. Ultralight.

Food Solution

MREs or freeze dried food packages. You could even get the emergency calorie bars. Top tier nutrition isn’t a priority in a go bag. Having enough calories to stay alive is. What type of ration you pick should depends on how much accessible water there is in your area. Dry desert? MREs. Rainforest? Freeze dried all day.

My recommendations: SOS Emergency Calorie Bars, Mountain House meals, or good ole MREs

If you go the freeze dried route, you’ll want some way to boil water. You’ll need a boiler/burner of some sort.

My recommendation: MSR PocketRocket Ultralight Stove

If you’re confident in your bushcraft skills, a simple firestarter, BIC lighter, or waterproof matches will be lighter than carrying an entire stove system.

Note that MREs will be heavier but require no additional boiling or fire making.

Security Solution

Situation dictates here, you be the judge. As far as firearms, it could save your life if you carry extra mags/ammo. For others, it could weigh you down significantly, especially if you have to move on foot for long distances. Personally, I think that if you carry extra ammunition you should wear it on your body at all times for immediate access. An adversary won’t pause to let you rummage for that spare mag at the bottom of your pack.

Clothing

Dirty wont kill you, but wet clothes can give you hypothermia and wet socks will give you blisters and athlete’s foot, preventing you from conducting long range foot movements. Packing extra clothing will be up to the individual and the climate in which you live as well as current weather conditions. You may want to have a lightweight waterproof jacket or poncho on your body or in your bag. You might also want to pack a few warming layers. Synthetic (poly) and wool material are the way to go. Avoid cotton for everything and anything. You may also want to have boots with Gore-Tex lining if you live in a wet area for example. If you live in an area with cold winters you should already know what you need. At the very least I would pack an extra pair of socks, no matter where you are.

Shelter

Again, situation will dictate. You might not even need this if your bugout plan involves reaching a shelter within ~16 hours. A bugout should not be a long term plan. It’s a short term contingency. Your goal is not comfort, it’s to stay alive while going from point A to point B.

If you’re skilled enough, you can survive with a tarp alone. Most will want an ultralight tent in the event that you have to bivouac. Definitely carry some 550 cord. This can come in handy in way more ways than one. 30 to 50 feet of paracord should be more than enough for a bug out bag.

Flashlight

Invest in a high quality headlamp. No ifs, ands, or buts. Have you ever tried building a shelter at night while it’s raining and cold with one hand because the other hand was trying to aim a flashlight? You don’t want to. A flashlight is a great EDC but can be cumbersome in survival situations. A headlamp with a red light mode is recommended as it will preserve your night vision and draw less attention to you at night.

My recommendation: Black Diamond Spot 350 - Rugged, waterproof, red lenses

First aid

Don’t go too crazy with this. Get some medical training and do some studying to build a small kit. You don’t need a full Combat Lifesaver kit or else you’ll collapse trying to hike to your bugout location. Personally all I would carry is maybe a tourniquet and a SAM splint, and have a big medical stash at your bugout location. I have a lot of combat triage experience and I’ll see if I can write an article on building a medical kit in the future.

Other

These may or may not apply to you. If they apply to you, they can save your life.

  • Multi-tool - I’m a big fan of the Leatherman Wave. Gerber also makes great budget-friendly multitools.
  • Portable Battery - Nothing crazy, 10000mAh should be enough for a few full recharges of your cell phone.
  • Radio - To me, this is mostly dead weight. However, knowledge of current events as well as weather in your area can be life saving.
  • Navigation - A compass, map, and GPS are nice to have, but you should already be familiar with the route you are going to take.
  • Cash, credit cards - Self explanatory.

Conclusion

This is a generalized guide to building a starter bug out bag. There is no standard for building the bag. The bag should be tailored to the individual and their situation/clime/terrain/plan.