Building the complete bug-out bag is no easy feat. You want to be fully equipped to be self-contained for 72 hours. If the time comes you need to flee, you want to have all the essential bases covered for your survival.
But you don’t want to be hauling a bug-out back that is bursting at the seams and weighs a tonne.
This is the ultimate bug out bag guide that explains everything a complete bug-out bag needs. Truth is, a great bug-out bag requires much more than just the essentials. Continue reading for our ultimate bug-out bag checklist.
- 1 Buying the Bug-Out Bag Backpack
- 2 Must-Have Items When Building Your Bug Out Bag
- 2.1 Water and Hydration Supplies
- 2.2 Food Requirements
- 2.3 Clothing
- 2.4 Shelter
- 2.5 Fire Starting Equipment
- 2.6 First Aid Kit
- 2.7 Other Medical Items
- 2.8 Self Defense
- 2.9 Firearms
- 2.10 Knives and Saws
- 2.11 Communication Devices
- 2.12 Lighting
- 2.13 Miscellaneous Gear
- 2.14 Documentation
- 2.15 Cost of a Bug-Out Bag
- 2.16 Tips when Packing
- 2.17 How to Know if Your Bug-Out Bag is Ready to Go
- 2.18 Where to Store Your Bug Out Bag
- 2.19 Frequently Asked Questions
Buying the Bug-Out Bag Backpack
Before you start gathering the contents of your bug out bag, purchasing a top quality bag is essential. Using any old backpack is not recommended.
This bag is going to be filled with survival gear essentials, so you want to ensure that it is protected from harsh environments, the elements and won’t break from rough and tumble.
Top quality backpacks will also have plenty of compartments and pockets for organizing your items.
The ideal bug-out back should have:
- Been made out of a thick, durable material
- Waterproof or water resistant material
- MOLLE system for attachments
- Tough, reinforced zips that will hold
- Internal and external pockets and compartments for storage
- Padded and adjustable straps for comfort - look for a bag with padded shoulder and sternum straps and a hip belt. Padding in the back panel is also a comfort requirement.
The ideal size for a 72 hour bug-out bag is no more than 65L.
Most preppers will choose a bag that is between 40 and 65 litres.
Must-Have Items When Building Your Bug Out Bag
Water and Hydration Supplies
Starting with the most essential item: water.
Water is something you won’t last long without and you don’t want to have to be faced with drinking contaminated, dangerous water.
Having water on hand is important, but carrying enough for 72 hours is not realistic as this will add a lot of weight to your backpack. This is why a bug-out bag will need water purification tools.
You should carry 2-3L of water on hand.
Store your drinking water in a stainless steel water bottle.
Whilst it may seem attractive AVOID HYDRATION BLADDERS
These are good for hiking but have a number of downsides. These include they can easily be punctured, and since they are hidden monitoring consumption can be difficult.
Also AVOID: flimsy drinking containers like cartons of juice boxes.
As mentioned, you will need a means to make clean drinking water. This can be done simply by boiling water.
When this is too time intensive you can simply collect freshwater from rivers and purify it with a water purification tablet. These are fantastic for fast purifying and are compact in size so you can store many in your bug out bag.
Personal Water Filters
Let's say the water is visibly dirty. A more extensive water purification system is needed…
This is where you want to own a good quality personal water filter.
It is recommended to own a few portable mini water filters. Depending on the type, they can filter up to 100k gallons of water!
Our favorite is the Sawyer Mini!
The Katadyn Hiker Pro System is also highly recommended.
Another top of the range product is the Expedition Jerrycan Filter System.
This is a larger product and not ideal for on the go use, but for filtering water at your destination. It is fantastic for families and despite being too big for inside a bag, can be attached to the MOLLE system.
It is possible for humans to go for 3 WEEKS without food. But having food that can boost energy and mood is important.
Forget the idea of preparing 3 balanced meals to eat each day over the 72 hour period. For survival, you will be looking to pack easy, simple foods that has a long expiration date.
Food sources in a bug out bag is to simply replenish your stores to maintain energy and stamina. Therefore you will only need a few items - don’t go overboard!
Great options that are easy to eat and won’t take up much space include freeze dried meals. While these can’t be eaten on the go - if you have stopped, these are ideal. Simply mix in some boiled water and it is good-to-go.
Other premade meals include: MRE - Meal, Ready to Eat
These are what our great military soldiers eat - so you know they are reliable. They are more expensive, but don’t come with their own heating system so it is worth the extra cost.
2-3 cans of food like soup or beans will also provide nutritional value.
Once you have a few substantial options, pack in some energy bars. They contain carbs and protein to hold you over for a few hours.
Protein shake powder is another good prepper snack as it can just be mixed with water.
Anything that requires more preparation than boiling water
Salt supplements: this was an old school method used by the military to increase salt intake. These days all the salt you need is already in the foods you consume. Having too much salt can cause issues such as constipation. The only time to intake additional salts is if you are in a raging hot climate and sweating a lot.
Food Preparation Tools
A food preparation system of sorts is also a must-have bug-out bag item.
A small portable cooking kit is all you need.
It should contain:
- A Small metal pot with a metal plate and cups
- A stainless steel collapsible bowl that can be used as a cup is perfect. That way it can be folded away and is also stainless steel so water can be boiled.
- Eating utensil: a spork
- Having your own method of cooking food is important. This can be either a hobo stove or a hiking/camping stove.
- A Hobo Stove: this is a small flatpack campfire in your bag that is powered by nature such as twigs! It is great because the flame is unaffected by the wind.
- A hiking stove is a mini stove fueled by gas canisters that can be screwed on.
Then a portable backpacking stove to boil water or heat food. The MSR stove is our choice of backpacking stove and we ensure we have 2-3 fuel canisters.
The Solo Stove Lite is another great portable stove as it is very heavy at only 9oz! It also doesn’t need any fuel and can be lit with sticks so you don’t need to carry fuel.
Getting Your Own Food
If your food supply runs dry, you will have to be able to find your own food.
Some fishing supplies are a great addition to any bug out bag.
This is the definitive list of clothing you should have in your bug-out bag no matter what weather you may be predicting.
- A pair of survival boots
- 2 pairs of thick hiking socks
- 2-3 pairs of quick drying undergarments
- 1 pair of pants - not denim
- 2 shirts (1 short sleeve and 1 long sleeve)
- A waterproof jacket that is ideally warm too
- Warm hat
- Military poncho
- Survival gloves
Avoid clothing materials like denim, cotton and khaki. It is preferable to purchase lightweight clothing that have properties such as sweat wicking, are lightweight, easy drying and durable.
We always purchase our survival clothing from stores like sports stores or outdoor stores as you are guaranteed practical gear.
Steer clear from open toed shoes. In survival situations only rely upon robust, protective footwear.
Survival shelter is a hotly contested topic within the prepper community. It is incredibly important to have protection from the elements be it - the cold, heat, rain or snow.
You should tick the three categories of sufficient shelter. Above you, under you and what you sleep in. That way body heat can be retained as best as possible.
Many people have different opinions but our guide will include a number of options so you can decide the best option for you.
- Compact tent or tarp - for overhead shelter
Having a compact, lightweight tent or tart will ensure you have shelter to keep the rain and wind at bay and give you a place to sleep.
The size we recommend for a tarp for one person is 6”x10”.
If you are using a tarp, practise setting it up a number of times so you get the hang of it.
Here is a great video to show you how to build a sensational tarp shelter in less than five minutes!
- Sleeping pad - for underneath comfort
Sleeping pads also offer insulation and are ideal for cold climates too.
Survival blanket - these keep you warm by reflecting the heat. They are great for a number of uses. Can double as a blanket or sleeping bag as well as a tarp to be used on the ground or over your head. Versatile, lightweight and cheap.
- Sleeping bag - must be able to be packed easily and compactly.
Wool blanket - if you choose against sleeping bags, a wool blanket is a viable alternative. These are great for maintaining heat even when wet.
Survival hammock - this is a newer and less conventional piece of survival gear. All that is required to set up a survival hammock is some paracord and two trees to tie it between.
Survival hammocks keep you warm and dry and off the ground! This can be great if the ground is very uneven or wet/flooded.
If you are in a warmer, more humid climate you can even find one with a built- in mosquito net.
Shelter Items to AVOID
Avoid tents that are too big. These will take up invaluable space in your bug-out bag.
Cheap and Poor quality gear: good quality shelter items are worth investing in. If you spend the extra money you are guaranteed thick, robust, strong items with better insulation.
Anything Inflatable: Be it inflatable sleeping bags, sleeping mats or blow-up mattresses. On uneven surfaces these are likely to puncture.
Fire Starting Equipment
Fire starting is hands down one of the most crucial survival skills.
It is important for warmth, boiling water, cooking food among many other purposes.
It is common survival knowledge that you should have three methods of starting fires.
Fire starting methods include:
- Waterproof and Windproof Lighters
- Your stock standard lighter will not work in wet conditions. If you encounter strong winds or drop it in water will also prevent it working.
- Waterproof survival matches - forget real matches as these will not survive in the wilderness and you can forget about a fire. Electric matches are a good alternative as they do not use fuel and are rechargeable. To recharge them simply use a solar charger via USB.
- Fresnel lens - These are a tool that focuses light to start a fire!
- A solar fire starter is a great option for one of your three methods.
- Ferro Rod Fire Starter
- Tinder: having some tinder will help to fuel the flame
Most survivalists are able to find natural tinder in the wild, but having some on hand is important
Tinder is able to be bought from any outdoor store.
Alternatively cotton wool in petroleum jelly (vaseline) works great too.
First Aid Kit
First aid kits can be bought pre-assembled or you can create your own. If you are time poor, buying one will still provide you with the essentials. At the same time, making your own can be important as you know exactly what you have in there and what it is for.
Pre-assembled kits will cover all bases, but often contain lots of things you won’t need. In our experience we prefer to make our own.
Making your own first aid kit should have:
- Adhesive bandages of different sizes - for any small cuts to keep them protected and clear\
- Moleskin pads for blisters - blisters are common when walking a lot and can get painful very quickly.
- Gauze dressing - for burns or cuts
- Alcohol wipes and neosporin - keeps wounds clean to prevent infections
- Surgical tape - to keep other bandages or gauze dressing fixed in place
- Blood clotting sponge - this is a less common component but very necessary. Any deep wounds sustained will not heal on their own without a pressure applied over a long period of time. Blood clotting sponges will help this process out.
We have tried and tested a number of first aid kits and we have an overwhelming favorite. The MyMedic Advanced Solo Kit is the most useful. It has everything you need without overfilling it.
All the individual medical supplies we found to be high quality. It is all packed in a high quality MOLLE pouch.
If you are going to purchase it, that is the best one.
Other Medical Items
- Any necessary personal medications
- If you are prescribed any medications ensure that this is packed in your bug out bag.
- Painkillers - this can be general painkillers
- Survival antibiotics is another good medication to thwart infections
- Insect Spray - if you are in a humid environment mosquitoes will be around! Insect repellant is a must.
- Sunscreen - again this might be climate dependent but if you live in a hot climate, sunscreen is an essential. High SPF sunscreen is preferred. Keep your skin covered with clothing or a hat if possible too.
- Mini toothbrushes and toothpaste
- Oral hygiene is still essential in a survival situation. Keep a few mini toothbrushes and tubes of toothpaste packed in your bug out bag. Dental floss can also be packed too as it is small and compact.
Other items include: soap, hand sanitizer, hand towel and any feminine hygiene products
Encountering adversaries is a real possibility, so you are going to need to be ready to defend yourself, your family and your belongings.
The best method of self defense is undoubtedly a gun. Besides defense it can also be used for hunting. Choice of firearms is a very personal preference. Many choose shotguns, some prefer rifles. People will also go for handguns for being lightweight and concealable. The main criteria is that it can fit into your bag.
Make sure you also have plenty of ammo with you.
Self-defense weapons that are not firearms include survival knives or a survival bow.
Carrying a bow as well as a firearm offers you added benefits including:
- A bow is silent to shoot
- The arrows can be used over and over
- They can be folded to a compact size
- One of the best survival bows on the market is the Samick Sage Takedown Bow
Other self defense weapons of use include pepper spray and bear spray.
If you are looking for a non-lethal weapon a taser, stun gun or even a survival shovel can be good choices.
Knives and Saws
Getting a top of the range survival knife will be one of the best investments you make in your bug out bag. It is hands down the most versatile tool.
A compact sized saw is also a wise purchase.
Chopping wood is difficult and uses a lot of energy with a survival knife. Using a chainsaw to cut your wood is much more efficient.
A compact wire chainsaw is ideal.
Communication devices keep you in touch with the world. It will provide you necessary intel, keep you in constant contact with others and send out for help if required.
These devices can take many forms.
A charged up cell phone is the first option. Whilst calls will not work if service is down, text messages can still potentially be sent. Keep back-up charging options for when the battery dies. This can be solar chargers, hand crank chargers or anything else.
Staying up to date with the latest information is important. This is why you will also need a small radio with AM/FM. The radio should be hand crank or solar powered so as not to worry about replacing batteries.
A good hand crank radio will also have USB ports that you can charge other devices such as cell phones.
A paper map - a detailed paper map of your entire surrounding area should be kept in your BOB. Do not solely depend on GPS! Laminate this map or store it in a plastic sleeve to protect it from water damage.
Flares and a survival whistle can also be packed for attracting attention to signal for help
Lighting is a highly important addition to your bag and you should have a few different light sources.
You will be moving in the dark and doing so without a light will be not only very difficult but dangerous.
A good quality flashlight is a must. We recommend purchasing a LED Super bright tactical flashlight. The Gerber Firecracker is a great flashlight.
A LED Headlamp - headlamps are necessary for bright illumination when your hands are occupied.
Both your headlamp and tactical flashlight should be powered by rechargeable batteries that are charged by a solar charger.
Other light sources include candles, a mag light or a solar powered lantern.
Bring glow sticks - these are survival items of the past, but survival lighting has advanced to better items
Crank lights: These too are past survival items which have been evolved by better items. Rechargeable lights are much more preferable.
- Trekking Poles
If you live in an area where elevation changes are frequent, then getting a nice set of trekking poles can make a world of difference.
Always carry multiple forms of identification with you. This includes drivers licence, social security, military ID (if applicable)
It pays to have extra copies of all your important documentation on hand in your bug out bag.
- Any legal documents: birth/marriage certificates, wills, titles
- Emergency contact information: a document with all the contact information of family, friends, doctors etc.
- Photocopies of passports, visas
- Any licenses or permits you have: CCW
- Family photos! If anyone goes missing you can use images to help track them down.
- Laminate all your documents and keep them in a sleeve for organization.
- Morale-Boosting Items
Packing a few items that can boost your spirits in times of difficulty shouldn’t be forgotten.
- Waterproof playing cards
- Small book if you enjoy reading
- Tea bags and/or instant coffee sachets
- Chocolate bar/candy
These small things can provide you with a bit of distraction and to keep a positive attitude.
Cost of a Bug-Out Bag
A bug-out bag that contains the bare minimum essentials will cost approximately $250. However when your survival is on the line, you don’t want to rely upon cheap items that may break. You also do not want to forgo items that you ‘don’t think you’ll need’ when in reality they can be very useful.
A top of the range, decked out bug-out bag can cost anywhere near $500 to equip you fully. If you are asking us it is money well spent. After all, you are better safe than sorry.
Tips when Packing
Packing your bug-out bag a certain way will ensure that you get access to the items that you will need in an emergency. Our experts have used years of bug-out bag experience to give you the optimal backpack contents arrangements.
Bottom to Top
Start by packing soft, larger items at the bottom of your bag. In an emergency you will likely not be reaching for your sleeping bag. The gear at the bottom of your bug out bag should be
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping mat
- tarp/compact tent
Packing all the softer gear at the bottom will also give your lower back cushioning for carrying comfort!
Middle of the bag
The middle of the bag should contain the heaviest items you will be carrying. These items include
- Backpack stove
Allow the heaviest items to be placed closest to your back. That way there will not be an uneven weight distribution which may cause you to be off balance.
Place items like foods in the middle but away from your body.
To cap off the contents of your bug out bag, place essentials towards the top. This includes your first aid kit and fire starting tools.
Utilize External Pockets and MOLLE!
External pockets should be used to store small pieces of gear you will likely be reaching for a lot. This includes your cell phone, GPS/maps, flashlight, walkie talkie and water bottle.
In terms of MOLLE systems, limit these to only essential attachments. Do not go crazy and use the MOLLE system to its full capacity. After all the purpose of a bug-out bag is to be discrete and able to be used on the go. Having too much attached to the exterior could get in your way and prevent you from moving fast.
Waterproofing Your Bag
Waterproofing your BOB is necessary for combating the elements. The worst possible situation would be for your contents of your bag to become waterlogged.
When purchasing the actual backpack look for waterproof properties. That way you know you have a line of defense against the rain. However heavy and persistent rains may still find a way in.
Waterproof bag covers in another cheap solution. One of these can be stored in your bag easily and when it needs to be used can cover your bag. Then there's waterproofing your valuable contents.
Waterproof packing cubes are available for purchase. Likewise it is recommended that you purchase a waterproof cell phone case as if water gets it to any electronics that is the end!
How to Know if Your Bug-Out Bag is Ready to Go
We are avid believers in that you only know once you try. Take your bug-out bag out into the wilderness. Go on a camping trip and use your bag as your gear. A 3 day trip out of civilization will simulate what using a bug-out bag in real life is like. You will inevitably come across gear that you have forgotten or would be useful in a survival situation. You will agree that some items are unnecessary. Take note of these so you can omit or add items at your discretion.
Testing your bug-out bag is also necessary for comfort fixes. Is your bag too heavy or bulky? Is the backpack itself uncomfortable?
Take note of any issues you face. After all, in a real life situation you will be carrying this bag for hours on end.
Quick fixes could be finding tools that serve multiple purposes. Like a survival multi-tool that eliminates the need for separate items. Metal items can also be swapped for plastic items to lessen the load. To create more space, look for items that are collapsible or foldable too.
Where to Store Your Bug Out Bag
A bug out bag should be stored in a location that allows for easy access whilst still being hidden. An ideal spot would be at the bottom, in the corner of a closet, under the stairs or in a cabinet. Do not store it out of reach as this can waste valuable escaping time. Many people also keep a separate bug out bag in their house and car. That way if you are away from home you will also have a bug-out bag on hand. Alternatively, if you are escaping by car you can grab the one at home too to give you double the gear.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Weight Should A Bug-Out Bag Be?
Weight is important when you will be carrying a bag around for extended periods of time.
A good indication and rule of thumb is your bag should weigh no more than 20% of your body weight.
If you are an advanced hiker, prepper or very active you can go with up to 30%.
RULE: Test the bag! Put the bag on and go for a 2 mile walk around the neighbourhood. This will provide a good indication of whether it is viable or not.
What does Bug-Out Bag Mean?
A bug-out bag is simply a portable bag that has all the items you will need for survival over a 72 hour period. In definition they are for up to 72 hours, but some can provide the items for weeks.
Bug-out bags are made from items that satisfy the rule of three’s. You can survive for 3 minutes without air, 3 hours without core body temperature, 3 days without water and 3 weeks without food.
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