Increasingly unstable times calls for extraordinary preparation – or at least a proper bug out bag. We have assembled the ultimate bug out bag checklist along with some seasoned advice so you can prepare yourself for anything that blasts through – because you never know when they’re going to drop the nuke. When I say ultimate I mean ultimate. There’s a lot of gear on this checklist you don’t need depending on variables like location, your skills, and your unique bug out situation. Let’s crack into it.
What is a bug out bag?
A bug out bag is a special backpack filled with short term supplies to help you get to your bug out location. The supplies you carry will aid in your survival and see you through tough times in the short term. At the bare minimum it will have 72 hours worth of food and water. It is not designed for an extended stay in the wilderness and shouldn’t be seen as a long term survival solution. Your bug out bag only needs to get you to your bug out location or see you through a rough situation until normalcy is restored. Additionally, your bug out bag will have tools to secure or improvise resources for longer periods of time.
When most people think of “bugging out” they have a romantic notion of escaping into the woods and living off the fat of the land. They assume that impending doom and “full system meltdown” is right on the horizon. This is very unlikely. It’s much likelier that you get caught in a snowstorm or you lose power for a couple days. Maybe your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere with zero cell reception. Many of these scenarios require you to bug out and seek resources. Having a bug out bag with the resources you need is crucial to making it out through these situations.
Your plan – What is your plan if TSHTF? Where will you bug out? How far is your bug out location from home/work? Will you walk? Like Denzel Washington in the book of eli, your actions need a purpose and a plan. Your plan will govern what you pack in your bug out bag.
Your physical strength – Your bug out gear will be carried on your back. Most people drastically underestimate their own physical strength and stamina. The weight of your bug out bag needs to be taken into consideration, along with your own willingness to lug said weight. Your bug out bag is no good if you crumble under the load. Consider that you might have to walk a considerable distance to safety and ask yourself – will you be able to carry all of that gear? Next weekend go out on a camping trip with your friends. Take whatever you think you’ll need for the trip. If your experience is like most new backpackers, you probably packed way more gear than you actually needed. You will inevitably find yourself ditching the heavier stuff in favor of lighter alternatives. This is the spirit of the lightweight backpacker. In fact, your pack for a backpacking trip is essentially a bug out bag!
Your resourcefulness – The more resourceful you are the less gear you need to survive. This comes down to raw survival skills. Knowing how to use your gear is crucial. Knowing your environment is just as important. If you know where to find clean water then you don’t have to carry as much. If you know how to make shelter with a couple garbage bags and a bit of paracord then you don’t need a tent. Packing a bug out bag is like packing for a backpacking trip. Assess your skills and pack accordingly.
Best bug out pack?
The genesis of any B.O.B. is the humble backpack of course. You have many options available to you. Packs can be broken down into military or civilian types. Read this post for a detailed analysis for the pros and cons of each. In short, military packs are bombproof compared to their civilian type counterparts. They can be picked up for cheap at any military surplus store. Civilian packs, on the other hand, are lighter and offer a range of design options and versatility. Some of them even rival the durability of military packs. Civilian packs are more expensive due to the commercialization of the hiking industry.
At the end of the day, a bug out bag only needs to meet 2 requirements.
1.) It must hold all of your gear
2.) It must not fall apart on the road
Stay away from bags with cheap zippers and material that feels like it could tear apart at any second. A popular option is the Rush 5.11 72 hour bag. It’s a best of both worlds choice – the durability of a military pack with the versatility of a civilian pack.
Ultimate bug out bag checklist
Let’s get into the gear. The first section will cover the 4 core components of any effective B.O.B. – fire, shelter, food, and water. This is the gear you need at the bare minimum. The second section will cover secondary make-life-easier items.
Fire – fire is a necessity in a survival situation. If you’re trapped outdoors a fire will keep your body at an ideal temperature for survival. Fire also cooks your food, provides a moral boost, and serves as an effective way to signal. Keep at least 2 methods of making fire in your bug out bag for redundancy.
Shelter – exposure to extreme elemental conditions will kill you faster than anything else.
Food – 72 hours worth of food. Here are some ideas, and remember, survival is not a culinary experience. Pack foods that are high carb, high fat. The foods that deliver your body the most bang for the weight. Also, non perishable!
- Dried nuts/fruit
- Clif bars
- protein powder
- Tuna packets
Water – 72 hours worth of water. There is no exact science on how much this is exactly. Everybody is wired differently and the amount of water you need depends on a number of variables like how much you sweat, what you eat, etc. My advice is to bring as much as you can carry. Scout your bug out route ahead of time and identify locations where you can get fresh water. This will reduce the amount of water you need to carry in your B.O.B. Packing a water filter is another way to reduce your in-pack water supply. You can filter water from local ponds, lakes, rivers and other potentially dubious sources. Read my guide to purifying water.
The above is a skeleton version of any decent B.O.B. It’s lightweight and has everything you need to survive for 72 hours. But what if you want to make life a little more cushy? There are lots of gear options that will make life easier if you’re willing to bare the load. Here is a complete list of items you should consider.
Knife – I almost included this in the skeleton list because of it’s raw practicality. A knife is a truly versatile piece of gear and some argue it’s the most important gear in your pack. You can’t go wrong with the Kabar Bk2. Required reading: How to choose a survival knife.
Flashlight – Ever been camping without a flashlight? Life becomes very dark and difficult. I recommend a headlamp to free up your hands to work around camp. If you have the extra cheddar the Fenix PD-35 is an amazing tactical flashlight and doubles as a self defense weapon.
Hygiene – Alcohol wipes, toothbrush, toothpaste, tampons, hand sanitizer, toilet paper – you know the drill. Anything you use on a regular basis to keep clean and hygenic.
Upgraded sleep system – Tarp and paracord not your thing? Don’t let me keep you from your creature comforts. Just make sure your tent has a waterproof bottom and a good rain fly.
Duct tape – A million and one uses. Repair ripped shelters, tape trash bags together for make-shift shelter, compression wrap for wounds, heal and protect blisters, fly trap, DIY handcuffs etc. Don’t bring the whole role though – wrap a few rounds of it over a pencil or your BIC lighter.
Plastic spork – Use the spork to eat any food you come across.
Multi-Tool – A good Leatherman multi-tool is a versatile piece of equipment. The built in tools can be used in many scenarios: Cutting up cardboard for shelter, opening food canisters, removing secured items, cutting cordage, etc. Don’t leave home without one boys.
Sillcock key – Ever seen a water faucet with no handle to turn it on? These water sources are on every commercial building and accessed with a tool called a sillcock key. Even if the power was offline there’s a good chance there is enough pressure left to fill your water bottle. On large buildings these sources could amount to hundreds of gallons of water. This tool is easily acquired at any hardware store.
Water Bottle – A good water bottle will store any water you come across in the city. Using the sillcock key above you can easily keep your bottle filled for a good while. Opt for the stainless steel varieties to boil water in a fire. Stainless steel containers will add extra weight to your pack but are more versatile than a plastic bottle.
Gloves – You want to protect your hands from all the sharp edges and glass you will be handling. A good set of gloves will give you a better grip if you need to climb structures and prevent cuts and scrapes. Your hands are too important not to protect. Pick up a pair at your local Home Depot or hardware store to get ones with a good fit.
Garbage Bags – Industrial strength garbage bags are versatile pieces of gear. They are waterproof so you can use them as a make-shift rain coat. Garbage bags can be laid flat to create a dry sleeping system and durable enough to collect and hold water.
Pepper spray – If you aren’t trained to take down an assailant with your bare hands then pepper spray is a great tool to include in your bug out bag. In desperate situations you can’t rely on people being civil. A face-full of pepper spray will stop an attacker right in their tracks.
Dust mask – Put on the dust mask if you’re going to be exploring abandoned buildings for shelter. The dust mask will help protect your lungs from inhaling harmful particles. This becomes more important if you’re surrounded by collapsed structures or buildings that have recently been destroyed. They are also useful in the event of an influenza outbreak. The dust mask is a very light piece of gear and extremely affordable.
Shemagh – a classic trick to stay warm at night is to keep your head and neck covered. A shemagh is a multi purpose article of clothing that has a number of practical uses. Besides, who doesn’t want to look like a ninja while they’re bugging out?
Water purification – Having a way to purify water will reduce the amount you need to carry in your pack. I’ve written a complete guide to purifying water here. Water filters like the Life Straw are extremely cheap and lightweight. Throw one in your bug out bag and call it a day.
Battery bank – Useful to recharge your phone and other electronic devices. Survival might depend on your ability to make a single phone call. SHTF situations do not take your smartphones battery life into consideration before striking.
The clothes on your back are just as important as the gear on your back. They are your first line of defense against the elements. Here are a few tips to pack the right clothing for your bug out bag.
No cotton – Cotton retains moisture and sticks to your skin. This creates prime conditions for hypothermia. Your clothing should keep you dry and wick away moisture. Even in the cold your body will sweat – especially when you’re tromping around with a bug out bag. It’s crucial to stay dry. Opt for wool clothing like smart wool or a polyester fabric.
Layered system – dressing in a layered style makes you highly adaptable to changing environments and body temperatures. You can easily remove layers or add them depending on the situation. Remember, the key is to stay dry and keep the body at a healthy temperature. A common layering system involves 3 layers:
- The base layer is the layer next to your skin. This layer should be made of a wool or polyester (synthetic) fabric and wick away moisture.
- The insulation layer is a warming layer – typical fabrics include wool, fleece, or down goose feathers. These types of fabrics trap heat close to the body.
- The shell layer is your protection from the elements. This can as complicated as a $400 dollar jacket or as simple as a trash bag. This layer serves to protect you from the rain, sleet, and snow.
Protect your feet at all costs. Regular shoes degrade quickly and don’t support your feet very well. I’m partial to a good pair of waterproof hiking boots. Material like Goretex is waterproof and breathable. A mid size hiking boot will also support your ankles. Generally, a good boot will last you years. I’ve worn a pair of these everyday for over a year and they’ve held up like a tank.
Not many people have the money to go out and buy an ultimate bug out bag. I recommend you start small. Put together the skeleton version of this bug out bag first and then slowly expand it. Once you have the gear you need, take it for a test run. Get out of dodge for a night and hike to someplace local where you can experiment with your gear. While this won’t simulate a real SHTF scenario it will allow you to familiarize yourself with all your gear and test your physical stamina. You will quickly get an idea for what pieces of gear you do and don’t need. The bug out bag is always a work in progress. Have fun with the process but be serious when it comes time to BUG OUT.
Have any additions you would make to this list? Leave your comments and criticisms below. Thanks for reading and be sure to subscribe to the email newsletter.