A bug-out bag is also called a “72 hour kit,” “get out bag,” “GO bag,” or “emergency response kit.” It’s a personal preparedness bag that is filled with what you need to survive for 3 days.
Emergencies happen. If you never experience one, excellent! However, that’s just luck.
If you experience one without being prepared, shame on you! Why not at least be somewhat prepared? Since you can use whatever clothes and equipment you gather for your kit in other circumstances, there’s little downside to having a bug-out bag ready to go. There’s no need to rely solely on luck.
Assume you’ll have to leave the shelter of your home, office, or car. Assume that you’ll have no access to electric power for at least several days.
In an era of global warming, extreme weather conditions such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and severe storms occur more frequently. Other events such as earthquakes, civil unrest, or evacuations ordered due to damaged nuclear reactors or terrorist attacks are also possible.
Everyone who lives with you should have at least a bug-out bag at home. A good place to keep it is out of sight nearest your most likely exit door. If you work away from home, you may also want to keep another in your workplace. If you have one and spend much time in it, consider keeping a third in your car (and always keep your car well-serviced with a gas tank that is at least half full.)
If you have already had the thought that having a ready-to-go bug-out bag is a good idea, then do it. It doesn’t have to be perfect: a half completed bug-out bag is much better than none.
Do not assume that you’ll have time to put a bug-out bag together after you learn about an emergency. There may be no time. That’s as foolish as not wearing a car seat-belt because you think you’ll be able to buckle up after you see that an accident is imminent.
If you don’t already have a good one, please take a few minutes immediately after reading this post to make an initial list of what you’d like in your perfect bug-out bag. Then start one with whatever items you already have on hand. You can improve it over the next few weeks and months until it contains everything you’d like.
Preparedness contributes to peace of mind.
It’s possible, but not necessary, to spend a small fortune on survival gear. What’s important is doing what you think is reasonable to keep you (and your family and friends) safe during a temporary emergency.
You’ll find that having a bug-out bag with you when you are away from home will sometimes be very helpful even if there’s no real emergency. Maybe you spend the night with a friend or in a motel and need a toothbrush. Maybe you have low blood sugar and need a quick, decent meal. Maybe you just find yourself at a picnic with no way to start a fire!
There’s no perfect bug-out bag.
If there were, it would be inexpensive, small, and lightweight while containing shelter for all 4 seasons as well as everything you might need for three days in terms of water, food, fire, light, medications and emergency medical supplies, tools, security, clothes, and comfort.
When they are all considered together, those criteria are incompatible. Trade-offs are required.
I suggest that you simply focus initially on putting together what you consider a good bug-out bag and over time make it an even better one until you are satisfied with it.
Don’t make it so heavy that you cannot carry it. Put everything in one bag with shoulder straps so that you can carry it on your back. Mine’s in a waterproof river duffle. (L.L.Bean sells a fancier one they call a “waterproof hybrid duffle” that’ll give you the idea.)
Decide in advance about how much you are willing to spend and how many bags you want.
Decide in advance what kind of emergency you are most likely to have to confront.
Presumably you already know your geographical location, which will affect what kind of shelter and clothing to be included. If, like me, you live in the north, once you put your kit together, you may want to check it every spring and fall to ensure that what it contains is suitable for the forthcoming season.
Consider the following ten categories. To help you imagine what you’ll need, I’ve included some suggestions in each.
2 gallons of distilled water may be sufficient, but they weigh 16 pounds and take up a lot of space in a bug-out bag. Still, do keep some water in your kit in a proper storage container (such as an MSR Dromedary bag available from places like REI).
Also, be sure to have a back-up or alternative such as iodine or chlorine tablets and a water purifier such as the First Need XL or the Sawyer Complete. Your selection should be determined by the kind of contaminants (such as bacteria, viruses, salts, pesticides, fuel, oil, herbicides, or other urban contaminants) that water near you may have.
MRE’s are my recommendation. (‘MRE’ abbreviates ‘Meal Ready to Eat.’) Yes, they are expensive, but they are not that expensive for just a few days. There’s nothing wrong with ordinary canned goods such as salmon, tuna, chicken, (preferably organic) vegetables, beans and lentils. Why not some favorite peanut butter?
Partly because freeze-dried foods use real meat rather than textured vegetable protein like dehydrated foods, I generally prefer either canned goods or freeze-dried foods to dehydrated foods.
That does not mean that you shouldn’t have some dehydrated food. For some with a long shelf life, click here. (I haven’t tried it, but apparently Costco sells an affordable meal Bucket of dehydrated foods.) Engineered foods like protein bars can also work. Ensure that you’ll be getting plenty of protein and calories.
Consider also having a way to heat foods such as a Jetboil personal cooking system or Primus Omnifuel stove (especially if you might be in cold weather); if you do, be sure to include sufficient fuel as well. (I have a two-burner Coleman white gas stove that is great for camping, but it’s way too big and heavy for a bug-out bag.)
A tent, tube tent, or tarp with cord to protect you from cold, heat, rain, snow, wind, and sun. An inexpensive option is the SOL Emergency Bivvy. Sleeping bag, sleeping bag liner, blanket, or SOL survival blanket. Large, heavy plastic garbage bags. Duct tape.
In addition to a flint/magnesium stick and striker, always have back-ups such as inexpensive lighters and waterproof matches. Small fire starter sticks can be very helpful.
Flashlight. Batteries. Consider a new, bright LED light or headlamp by Surefire that runs on small batteries. Lithium batteries can have a 15-year shelf life, so they are excellent for a bug-out bag. It’s a good idea to keep a small light stick or keychain light in an outside compartment of your bug-out bag or near its top. Shakable flashlights also can work well. Metal mirror (for signaling).
Prescription medications sufficient for a week or two. Supplements. Trauma supplies. Wilderness medical kit. Snake bite kit. Sting relief. Epi-kit. Asthma inhaler. Vaseline. Maxi-pads. Alcohol gel. Insect repellent (such as 100% DEET). Surgical scalpel. Butterfly bandages. Sunscreen. Superglue. Wilderness medicine book. Antibiotics. Iodine. Cauterization powder. Aspirin or ibuprofen. TENS machine.
Good quality (such as Leatherman or Gerber) multi-tool knife. Small shovel. Hatchet. Gorilla tape. Heavy leather gloves. Folding camp saw or SaberCut saw. Manual can opener. Compact binoculars or monocular. Goggles. GPS unit with batteries. 550 parachute cord. Whistle.
Good quality fixed blade knife with full tang. Survival knife. High quality folding knife (such as CRKT). Bear or pepper spray. Body armor. Protective [gas] mask. Smoke protection. If legal and appropriate: Firearm with ammo and cleaning kit.
High quality hiking boots. Socks–including some wool ones. Underwear. Extra shirt. Extra trousers. Sweater (I like L.L.Bean’s commando sweaters). Rain suit or the GI Plus Brand poncho, which can also serve as a shelter. Parka. Wool or Polartec cap. Sun hat. Sun suit. (Remember that, while synthetic fabrics can be great for protection from heat, cold, sun, rain, and bugs, sparks from a campfire can ruin them.)
Toothbrush and small tooth paste. Dental floss. Hand sanitizer and wipes. Baby wipes. Extra glasses (including sun glasses). Toilet paper. Anything like caffeine or nicotine that you are addicted to. Chap stick. Soap. Towel. Small book. Portable radio with battery. Survival manual. Coins for emergency cash. Pencil & small pad of paper. Local map. Handkerchiefs. Small sewing kit. Deordorant. Ear plugs. Skin cream (like Nivea). Perhaps survival playing cards (click here for more information).
If you trouble yourself to put a good bug-out bag together, don’t be surprised if you feel and sleep a bit better!
Robert Kiyosaki: “If you prepare for the worst of times, you will only know the best of times.”
Suggestions for additional reading: David Morris’s Urban Survival Guide and Fernand Aguirre’s Surviving the Economic Collapse.
As always, please consider forwarding this to others you care about and leaving a comment.