An Introduction to Bug Out Bags (Read First)

by Aubrey Clark
 Introduction to Bug Out Bags

Ultimate Bug Out BagBuilding or buying the "Ultimate Bug Out Bag" is relative to each person's situation. This is because bug out bags are designed to save your life and help you escape danger or keep you alive while you head towards safety. The scope of this tutorial will be focused on this principle.

A “Bug Out Bag” or "bob" is a pack that you can carry that contains various items you will need to survive for a short or extended period of time. It should be designed to grab and take with you if you have to leave your current location in the event of a crisis.

The ultimate bug out bag should be personalized to your geographical location and the probability of natural disasters for that region. That being said, we must assume there is no magic formula for building one bug out bag that fits everyone. However, this tutorial will give you a good foundation to build on and some ideas to get you on the right track.

Keep in mind, once you build or buy your bug out bag,  you should take it out on routine trial runs so you become familiar with the different tools and instruments it has on-board; this will also help you to optimize space by getting everything set the way you want. There are a number of emergencies that can come up in your life where you may find yourself in a situation that requires you to leave in a moment's notice, knowing how to operate your bug out bag is crucial, especially at night.

Ultimate Bug Out Bag - Have a Specific Purpose

You need to have a clear plan or strategy on how the bug out bag will be used. Believe it or not, this one step is the most critical, and the most overlooked step in building or buying a bug out bag.

 Will your bug out bag have a specific purpose that facilitates moving from one location to a predetermined bug-out location? Or, will your bug out bag be used for an open-ended mission; meaning if you bug out it may be for days or weeks until you can find a suitable place to become stationary? 

The reason this step is so important is because we need to know how much gear to pack in the bug out bag. If you know you are bugging out from point A to point B, you can put a specific list of the items that you know will need in your bag which usually leads to a lighter (and less expensive) bug out bag. All you need to do is account for the time and terrain between point A and point B. The other consideration in a "point A to point B bug out" is if you wanted to pack survival gear for the "point B" location. Ultimate Bug Out Bag

Are you bugging out to simply get the hell out of dodge to an non-permanent location? If so, you will need to evaluate how long you intend to stay off-grid. If it is an indefinite amount of time, meaning you may just set up camp in BFE and get cozy for a while, we need to scrutinize a few more variables. Shelter, water sources and filtration as well as food foraging need to be planned in much more detail than with a Point A-B bug out bag.

Either way, not knowing or considering these two strategies will lead you to buying too little or too much stuff and thwarts the whole purpose of a bug out bag, which is preparedness. Knowing your terrain, and approximately how far you want or need to travel on "day one" is key to planning your escape from trouble or seeking safety.

For instance, if you are planning a vehicle bug out bag you will want to consider the terrain where you most often drive to and from. Will you be heading home or will you simply be heading away from danger? If your routes are mainly to and from work, check out the terrain that you will most likely be traveling if the need to bug out arises.

Ultimate Bug Out Bag WeightDistance, Weight & Terrain

I clumped these all together because they really go hand in hand. The heavier the pack, the slower you will be able to get away from trouble. Depending on your conditioning, it may also dictate how far you can travel in one day, or all together.

Bug out bags that are designed for a point A to point B mission are almost always lighter than those designed for an indefinite missions. This is because on A-B bug-outs you can measure food, water and other variables for a specific time frame.

So how much should the ultimate bug out bag weigh? Twenty pounds is a good weight for a medium sized point A - B bug out bag. Hikers on long trails, like the Appalachian Trail, usually aim for ten to fifteen pounds due to the distance and pace they like to travel.

The Army likes to strap most soldiers down with around forty five pounds of gear. Ten and forty five pounds should be the guide that you measure the weight of your bug out bag. This is because both weights are "doable" depending on the gear you can stand to sacrifice and how much you can stand to carry.

If you are a 140 pound man carrying a 40 lb pack in a mountainous terrain, you better be in good shape and you should know that this combination will slow you down and reduce the amount of distance you can put between yourself and trouble on day one.

You should know this and plan for additional time between the epicenter and your destination. To save weight you can plan food and water caches on your bug out route so that you keep your pack as light as possible.

On the other hand, if you are a minimalist who is heading into the wilderness with an ultralight bug out bag for an indefinite stay, you will be lacking survival gear, and you will probably have to McGyver your way through most situations.

Most minimalist gear is designed to be very light, it may also be light-weight in it's durability, so redundancy needs to be factored. Most bug out bag's, at least the good ones, are designed with redundancy on mission critical items like: fire, water, food, shelter and foraging, which all adds weight. Hikers on pre-blazed trails are usually not very far from other hikers or civilization should trouble arise, survivalist bugging out rarely have that luxury.

It's reasonable to assume that you will be escaping civilization and trying to avoid other people. Minimalist "survival" bug out bags are often owned by true woodsmen / survivalist who can fart in a can and spit on a stick to whip up a campsite and dinner.

So, unless you are Bear Grylls, who magically finds the exact type of material his situation calls for on every episode (sigh), or a special forces guru, you should lean towards a heavier pack that has more gear in it.  Just be sure that you can handle that amount of weight in your environment.

Ultimate Bug Out Bag - HypothermiaShelter & Warmth

You can survive days without water and weeks without food, but you'll not survive the night with hypothermia. Therefore, preparing for your bug out area's climate and terrain, as well as the known predators in this location temporarily takes precedent over finding food and water sources, (you should know where water sources are on a planned bug out.)

So, you will need to have an appropriate shelter strategy to protect you from hypothermia, and a plan to protect you from predators like bears and mountain lions. You need to have redundancy in your shelter preparation strategy. Meaning, a quick set-up shelter (tarp & Bivi bag) to sleep when it's cold, hot, snowing or raining. Think about it.  Spending twenty minutes pitching a tent in the freezing rain may be enough to kill you if your core body temp drops too low and you cannot raise it.  

You need to be able to find or make a shelter fast, one that's reliable and can protect you from the elements. Also, warmth is extremely important to sleep, and sleep is critical. When you are bugging out, you are trying to put as much distance between yourself and trouble, or you're trying to get to your bug out location as soon as possible.  If you are unable to get enough sleep exhaustion will set in and slow you down, cloud your senses  and severely affect your ability to survive.

I am going to do, or have already done (depending on when you read this) a section on survival shelters that goes into shelter building and planning. However, for the scope of this tutorial just suffice it to say, shelter is a "biggie" and is usually the most expensive part of your bug out bag. So know your terrain, know your skill set and don't go cheap in this section.

Ultimate Bug Out BagHydration & Water Sources

Obviously, water is your next big concern when planning a bug out bag strategy. This is another area of concern where you need to know the environment and terrain where you will be bugging out to or in.

Carrying water is burdensome to say the least. It's heavy and is quickly used up in hot environments. So the first thing you need to ask when you are devising a bug out strategy is: Does this area have a water source, polluted or otherwise, that can be counted on while bugging out?

If so, you need to plan on using, and be able to find, these sources while bugging out. Then, you need to make sure you have a water filter, and preferably some water purification tablets.

Most of your light or "straw based" filters will filter out 99.9% of the things that make you sick. Filters, used in conjunction with tablets (or drops) allow you to make 100% sure that you do not get any food-borne viruses.

Just remember, dysentery (diarrhea) has killed as many soldiers as all the wars have.  When you're "bugging out" even the smallest infection or  illness can kill you or get you caught, at the very least slow your progress to dangerous levels.

Water purification tablets allow you to fill your canteen or bladder and keep moving without having to stop and take the time to filter water. We have written several articles on how to find water sources in the wild if you want to take a minute to read up on this very important skill.

 Food and Foraging

This concern is best answered by the question: "What is the longest amount of time I might have to be in the wilderness?" Most bug out bags that you buy or build will use  ration and energy bars to save space and weight. These are needed to provide energy and sustenance during the initial phases of your bug out plan. Beyond that, you will need to plan for food by foraging, trapping, hunting and fishing.

Keep in mind, unless you have already developed these skills (trapping, hunting and fishing) this will be your Achilles heel. No amount of equipment that can be packed into a bug out bag will make you good at these skills. They may "aid" you to better perform these skills, but you will need to have foreknowledge of how to perform these skills before embarking on an extended bug out. We highly recommend you begin training now.

Ultimate Bug Out BagOne reason we do not put a ton of food in our bug out bags (anymore) is because we have migrated to foraging tools, i.e. fishing & trapping. If you're bugging out from home you can always take canned goods (which are heavy), dried foods, or pre packaged  items that can be prepared easily by adding water.

A lot of people like to have MRE's in their bug out bags, which we at survivalist 101 actually do not recommend unless you will be in a low water source environment like a dessert. You might ask "why in the world would we not recommend MRE's when our government uses these for all of our soldiers?"

The short answer is weight. MREs' are basically canned foods without the can. Instead they use a thick foil (mylar) container to hold the food, that is slightly lighter than the cans most food comes in. Besides nowadays, on long range patrols that are not in dessert environments, armed forces use Mountain House LRP meals instead of MRE's.

Also, freeze dried food packs lighter and taste better than MREs', and that's a simple fact. MRE's do pack better (space-wise) than LRP meals, but they are weight restrictive. You can carry twice the amount of calories, weight wise, with LRP's.

The biggest objection I usually hear from people on this subject is: "You have to have water to prepare freeze dried food, what if you don't have water?" My usual response is, "If you do not have a cup of water to cook a freeze dried meal, food isn't your problem."

Not to mention, just because you cook your food with water doesn't mean the water is "lost." The moisture goes into the food, and then your body, it's not wasted.

Now, as I stated earlier, if you are in a dry desolate location i.e. Afghanistan or Mojave Desert where water is harder to find... MREs' make much more sense. However, by in large, most bug out locations that you plan will have lakes, streams wells or other types of water sources that you can use. This subject is ALWAY'S a hot topic, so do what you think is best for you. You obviously know where I stand on the subject :-)

First Aid & Hygiene

First aid is probably the most overlooked section when planning bug out bags. If you're interested in having the "Ultimate Bug Out Bag" don't neglect first aid. If you're buying a bug out bag (from our other places) chances are you are getting a "chinomatic" three dollar first aid kit that amounts to nothing more than a box of band-Aids.

Even the smallest of cuts, or smallest of illnesses can be major problems in the wild.  There are far too many considerations for me to list all of the items that one might need to have in their bug out bag first aid kit. However, when you compare the cost of items that go into a bug out bag, first aid is always the cheapest, but it shouldn't be done cheaply. First aid is a section that you really need to put some thought into.

Ultimate Bug Out BagDo you take daily medication? If so, you need to start stockpiling them now by skipping a dose every so often until you have an ample supply built up: (Personally, I make a habit of "losing" a prescription of mine at least once a year so that I can get a replacement from the doctor and keep my bob meds fresh.)

Do you have allergies? They are only going to get worse in the woods. Is your bug out area full of snakes? What about mosquitoes? Did you know that mosquitoes are THE deadliest animal on the planet? They have killed more humans than all of the other animals in the world ... combined. This isn't an exaggeration, Goggle it.

Are you prone to infection? If so, you can buy fish antibiotics that are the exact same as the ones that the doctor prescribes. We used to put these in our bug out bags, but the lawyers put a halt to that, bastards.

As I mentioned earlier, dysentery has killed as many soldiers as war ... a bottle of diarrhea pills will stop you from hemorrhaging fluids and dehydration , which is what really kills you. Other considerations: QuikClot advanced clotting sponge, footcare kit, Potassium Iodide for radiation, a surgical set for deep wounds or minor surgery.

Long story short, you cannot spend too much time planning your first aid kit. I have never been in the field and witnessed someone pull out a first aid kit that didn't wish they had bought the better kit.

Hygiene is also important to your health. All of our bug out bags come with a very well stocked hygiene kit that includes: toothbrush, deodorant, comb, shampoo, razor, washcloth and many more items. 

Not only is it healthy to practice good hygiene in the woods, its also important to have the ability to make yourself look presentable should you need to resurface in town for supplies or something. Coming out of the woods looking like a woolly mammoth and smelling like Sasquatch might get you noticed. Attention is the last thing you want when bugging out.

Fire Starting and Building

Without fire you're as good as dead. Let me say that again, if you're in the woods for a prolonged amount of time without fire, you will die. Redundancy, Redundancy, Redundancy. You need a way to build a fire under any weather condition that happens in your bug out area. Then you need a back up of that and a backup for that backup. Then, for good measure you should get another backup to account for losing one or more of you fire-building tools.

Practice, Practice, Practice. Having a magnesium fire starter that you do not know how to use is almost useless.

We do not put tinder in our bug out bags, but you should. Having dry tinder is a life saver when trying to start a fire., especially if you have to build a fire in a hurry. The reason we do not put it in our bug out bag's is because there is no-way I am going to pay for something that is free in the woods ... and I wouldn't ask you to either. You need a lighter, magnesium striker, flint striker, waterproof matches and anything else that is light that can help you start a fire.

Ultimate Bug Out BagLighting

The need to Bug Out does not only happen between 9 - 5. It happens when you least expect it, usually at night. For this reason, the ultimate bug out bag needs to be prepared to bug out at night. You need a navigation light, preferably a Headlamp, a camp light, a hand crank or solar charged light that never needs batteries and candles.

The best kinds are the LED ones that just use less batteries, or the little hand-crank ones that don'€™t require batteries. If you carry small ones, you can pack 2 or 3 in the space that one big one would take up. Like the first aid kit, you will never regret buying the better flashlight, especially when it's dark.

We offer solar lighting kits for all of our bug out bags for $99 (they are included on our higher end bobs). I cannot tell you how much peace it gives you to not have battery anxiety. These kits (SunJacks) have a solar panel, a fast-charge battery pack and a USB output for our Fenix UC35 flashlights. Basically, if you make hey while the sun is shinning, you will never find yourself alone in the dark in the middle of the woods. Let me tell ya, that sucks.

 Shoes and Clothing

This is something that you usually need to add to your bug out bag that is not usually included in ones that you buy.  I can't give too much advice on this subject because everyone's bug out environment is different. That being said, you should always have a set of clothes on and another set waiting. If you are in colder climates, long underwear is a must.

Hotter climates should focus on lighter colored clothes. Do not wear shorts (unless you are throwing them in as camp-clothes). Socks, keeping a CLEAN pair of socks, maybe two, is most advisable. The number two injury in World War I & II, right behind gun shots, were feet injuries. Your only mode of transportation in the woods are your feet, which makes them your most important asset. Change socks often, an if possible, wash the sweat and funk out of the ones you take of and let them air-dry on your pack.

If room permits, an extra set of shoes is desirable.  I break from tradition on this notion, most will tell you to have a good set of boots and that's all. Sitting next to my bug out bag I have a broken-in set of boots ready and waiting. Tied to the outside of the pack I have a good set of extremely light, well ventilated cross country jogging shoes (Adidas), often called "trainers."

These shoes are light, they dissipate sweat and are designed to be comfortable. If you have a bad blister or foot ailment arise, these shoes may just save your life. They are also great to wear around camp while you let your boots dry out overnight.

Ultimate Bug Out BagBug Out Backpack

If you buy a cheap backpack, it will tear and it will break and it is just that simple. What good are all of Batman's toys if he lacks the utility belt to carry them all? The backpack is the first and foremost tool that you will use. When choosing a backpack size and weight matters. My advice to those who are bugging out, in respect to backpacks, is just the opposite of the hiker ultralight crowd, which is to go heavy.

A heavier pack usually means a thicker and more durable backpack when comparing MOLLE backpacks. The reason survivalists, and the armed forces use thick MOLLE survival packs is for their durability. If your building the ultimate bug out bag, start with a thick pack, that is double stitched, taped seams, good zippers and MOLLE webbing to hang gear from.

There are many out there, we use Condor Outdoor Packs for all of our bug out bags. They are the perfect blend of quality and price. To get a good 3 day assault pack you are looking at $80 - $100 bucks. If you go cheap here, you will regret it as a backpack failure in the bush is catastrophic.