The primary purpose of a Bug Out Bag (BOB) is to allow you to get out of danger as quickly as possible in a survival situation without being empty-handed. The term ‘bug out’ simply means ‘to leave quickly’ and is derived from the ‘bailout’ bags that airforce pilots carried with them. Survival experts and the general survival community recommend that a bug out bag should contain enough supplies to get you through for the first 72 hrs at a minimum. The size and style of your bug out bags are all dependent on your area (e.g. urban or rural), the type of disaster or scenario that you’re prepping for and the size of your family. We’ve put in a lot of hours of research and testing to create this list of all the items that we believe make the ultimate bug out bag so you don’t have to go through the big hassle of working it out yourself.
Bug Out Bag: Obviously we start with the bag. Each person in your family or prepper group should have their own personal bag, There are many important factors to consider when selecting the right bug out bag for your needs and environment. Here are several main considerations:
Colour – Colour is such an important decision when selecting a bug out bag. There are many opinions on this matter and as such it has become a very hot topic among the survival community. Our opinion on this matter is that a bug out bag should blend in, not stand out. As such we recommend that you choose a pack that is in a neutral, low profile, preferably earth tones colour such as OD Green, Desert Sand Brown, Coyote Brown, Grey or Tactical Black but not something like bright red, orange, blue, green, yellow etc. Camouflage such as MULTICAM, ACU, ATACS, AUSCAM, DPCU, Woodland, etc is best suited for bugging out on foot in a secluded area with plenty of natural coverage.
Sturdy and rugged – made out of a material such as 900 or 1000 Denier water-resistant nylon. This is going to protect your gear from the rain, isn’t going to break on you and is capable of bearing a lot of weight.
MOLLE compatible – allows you to customize your pack by adding extra MOLLE pouches to store gear that either may not fit inside or are more convenient to store outside the pack for accessibility’s sake. MOLLE pouches are designed for different configurations and purposes. You can get water canteen pouches, compass pouches, ammo pouches and many more. These can be found quite easily online or at your local army surplus store. Just make sure that the pouches you purchase are the same in terms of the color or camouflage for consistency’s sake.
Size should be between 35-50 Litres – this is what we have found to be the optimal BOB capacity. This should be ample to carry enough gear and supplies to get you through the 72 hr period. Any more than that can be a problem especially if you don’t have a reasonable level of fitness.
Straps and padding – comfort is key when selecting a pack that could be strapped to your back for days or even weeks on end. Choose a pack with shoulder, sternum and hip straps with plenty of foam padding and moisture wicking technology.
Check out the Condor 3 Day Assault Pack, the RUSH 72 hr pack by 5.11 Tactical or Maxpedition’s excellent range of packs for starters. For modular pouches to keep different kits in separately (i.e. Water Filter kit), we recommend the Condor H20 Pouch or the Maxpedition Water Pouch.
Fire Kit: – Fire is an invaluable friend when things turn pear-shaped. Not only does fire provide you with warmth and protection, but it also allows you to prepare yourself a cuppa or a hot meal. We recommend that you carry at least 3 different ways to start a fire.
BiC Cigarette Lighters (inexpensive and can be found in most supermarkets; use these first)
Matches (preferably waterproof but can DIY)
FireSteel or military-style magnesium fire starter (They work even when wet and will continue striking long after you’ve run out of matches. These are relatively inexpensive and an invaluable component of your survival kit. It’s great to have one of these in your kit and should be only used as a backup.)
Cotton balls with a dab of petroleum jelly or Vaseline on each (to increase the burn time). You may want to use commercially prepared TinderQuick or WetFire as alternatives.
It may seem a bit redundant to have several firestarting devices, but trust me on this one, you won’t regret it.
Water Kit: – Water is critical for survival and should be your #1 priority. One of the rules of 3’s is that you cannot go without water for more than 3 days at a maximum. You need at least 3 liters (approx. 1 gallon) of water per person per day at a minimum for optimum hydration. Choose a good stainless steel water canteen such as a 40 oz wide-mouthed Kleen Kanteen. Not only can this canteen hold just over a liter of water, but you can also use it to boil water inside provided that it is the older, single-walled type as the newer insulated ones can actually explode. You should also have a water filter such as the Sawyer Mini, Survivor Filter or the LifeStraw Personal along with Katadyn Micropur water purification tablets. The GSI outdoor cup makes a great addition to your kit as you can use it to drink from as well as boil water and prepare food in (just don’t forget the chow set).
Emergency Food: Forget about planning three, well-balanced meals a day. This is survival, not a cushy holiday. You can live without food for 72 hrs – although it isn’t very pleasant. Weight is always an issue with bug out bags so it is advisable that you do not carry canned food in your BOB as several of them can add quite a bit of weight to your bag. Instead, we recommend that you use pre-cooked military-style Meals Ready To Eat (MRE’s) such as the Western Frontier Ultimate MRE, Mountain House, Back Country or Mainstay brands.
Not only are they lightweight (which means you can carry more of them) but they also have a long shelf life of anywhere between 5 – 25 years. A great alternative to MRE’s is packaged beef jerky as it is also lightweight, tasty and nutritious. For nibbles and energy boosters, pack several thousand calories worth of high-energy bars (such as chocolate, muesli, fruit/nut, etc) and some coffee beans (which can help keep you awake while on the run). Remember you can always stretch your 3-day food supply to 6 days.
Camping Stove –You will need something to cook a hot meal on and the next best thing to a traditional campfire is a compact camp stove such as the Solo Wood Burning Stove. We don’t recommend propane camp stoves as they require propane and of course that can run out and spare canisters also take up a fair bit of space.
Quality Survival Knife – We recommend the Bear Grylls Ultimate Pro Survival Knife for those who are new to this whole survival business. The knife comes with an exceptional whistle, fire starter, and built-in knife sharpener. Along with a primary survival knife, you should also invest in a good folding knife with a locking blade. The folding knife can serve as a great backup or EDC knife.
Folding Shovel or E-Tool – It’s a great idea to have a folding shovel or military style entrenching tool in your BOB. Not only is it great for digging sanitary ditches, but it can also be used as a makeshift weapon.
Multitool – A good multitool can be useful for a wide range of tasks especially in an urban environment in which you may have to bug out. From cutting the wire to repairing stuff – a multitool has you covered. Invest in a quality multitool such as a Swiss Army, Gerber or Leatherman.
Flashlights/Torches – Lighting is essential in an emergency or survival situation but remembers that batteries can run out. Always carry the appropriate batteries for your torches. We recommend a small but powerful tactical torch with a toothed bezel (which can be used as a weapon) such as Maglite’s MagTac, the Gerber Cortex, Streamlight ProTac or Surefire’s range of tactical torches. For more intense and powerful lighting, invest in a 4th generation, baton-style MagLite 2 or 3 D cell torch. A hand-cranked rechargeable torch and a headlamp such as the Black Diamond Extreme can be very useful too.
Shelter/Bedding – A bivvy bag, wool blanket, tarp and ground sheet are essential for warmth and protection from the elements. We recommend the SOL Escape Bivvy, a 100% wool military blanket (if you have the space) and a couple of survival tarps (which can serve many other purposes) for guaranteed warmth, concealment and protection.
Personal Hygiene – Remember to pack a good supply of biodegradable toilet paper, toothbrush/toothpaste, Wet One’s wipes, etc and also feminine hygiene products for female family members. As mentioned earlier, a small, folding shovel is also something you should bring along for digging sanitary ditches. Check out our ‘DIY Emergency Personal Hygiene Kit’ article here for the full list.
First Aid Kit: – A well-stocked first aid kit can mean the difference between life and death. Ensure that the kit you choose includes a mylar thermal emergency blanket. You can also add some life-saving medication such as paracetamol, antibiotics, Tylenol and ibuprofen. With the advent of emergency blood-clotting technology, such life-saving drugs are now available to the public and no longer restricted only for use in the military. It’s a good idea to have at least a couple of packets of Celox or QuikClot Blood Clotting Solution in your first aid kit. They are used by combat personnel to treat extensive bleeding and gunshot and shrapnel wounds. In a doomsday scenario, lifesaving drugs and medication will be gone and the last thing you want to happen is for you or one of your loved ones to die in agony from something like a minor cut that got seriously infected. So.. stock up while you can.
Navigation – Having a reliable, waterproof compass, detailed area maps and reasonable navigational skills are essential for getting you and your loved ones out of danger. We recommend the Silva brand. Store your maps in a waterproof pouch at all times.
Emergency Cash – Carry a total of at least $100 in small denominations… just because of money talks. Great to have – you just never know when you need this.
Communications – An emergency communications backup plan is vital if you wish to keep in touch with family members and friends. You may want to look at purchasing some inexpensive hand-held walkie talkies for short-range, line-of-sight comms. If you’re in the USA, you can check out the FRS, GMRS or CB bands (both of which are free for use) and in Australia, take a look at the UHF CB band (which does not require a license). For long-range communication, you may wish to invest in a HF or ham radio set.
Radio –In the event of any disaster, your natural instinct will be to want to know what is going on. Internet access and mobile phone coverage may not be available in certain disaster situations. A radio tuned to your local news frequency can keep you updated with what’s happening.
Paracord – You can use paracord for a countless array of uses such as fishing line, lashing, tying things down, etc. Carry between 100 – 200 ft (30 – 60 m) of US Made, commercial grade 550 paracord. Genuine, MIL-SPEC paracord is highly recommended, although it is a little more expensive. For conveniently storing/cutting your paracord, check out the US made Paracord Spool Tool. Its also a great idea to carry a paracord bracelet with a substantial amount of paracord on it (i.e. 6-8 m) clipped onto your pack. For a full list of paracord uses, click here.
Survival Guide – What’s the most important thing to have in a survival situation? Skills! It’s no good having all this gear and not knowing how to effectively use it. We highly recommend John ‘Lofty’ Wiseman’s “SAS Survival Handbook: For Any Climate or Situation”. Few survival guides are as thorough and packed with expert, proven to advise as to his.
Contractor Grade Garbage Bags –A 3 mm thick, extra large contractor grade garbage bag can serve multiple purposes in a survival situation for example as a rain poncho, water collector, ground sheet, sleeping bag insulator or a solar still among others.
Hatchet or folding saw – Should be heavy duty but light enough to be comfortably carried in a bag or on a belt. Can be used for a multitude of tasks among which are chopping up firewood. Check out the Schrade Survival Hatchet or the Bear Grylls Hatchet. If you want a lighter solution for cutting would then perhaps pick up a folding saw such as the Silky Pocket Boy.
Personal Survival Kit – You should have a personal survival kit packed in an Altoids or tobacco tin with some bare essentials. Yes, you can get pre-packed survival kits, but it is highly recommended that you put together your own. For a premade kit check out the comprehensive Best Glide ASE Adventurer Survival Kit which covers everything you need in a WCS. This survival kit should be stored in a suitable pouch such as that used by the military for carrying ammunition (can be found at most army surplus stores). You can also carry other larger items in this pouch such as a folding survival knife, bandanna, duct tape, mess kit, fuel, torch, flares, rations, rain poncho, notepad, and pen. Click here to learn how to put together your own survival kit.
Clothing – Keep at least one complete set of spare outdoor type clothing in your bug out bag especially if you may not have access to running water/sanitary facilities or in the event you get wet. Getting your clothes wet is the last thing you want to happen and decreases your chance of survival dramatically. Not only will your clothes be uncomfortable to wear, but hypothermia will set in rapidly. Obviously, your selection of clothing will have to be based on your location and the climate you live in. The subject of clothing in a survival situation is a heavily debated topic among the survival community. Regardless of your climate, we recommend packing the following as a minimum (some of these can be worn when you bug out).
- Long Sleeve Shirt ( 1x; preferably Woodland camo or OD Green)
- Long Pants (1 x; preferably Woodland camo or OD Green)
- Underwear (3 x pairs)
- Wool Hiking Socks (3 x pairs)
- Medium Weight Fleece Jacket
- Rain Poncho (Army/Navy Surplus)
- Sturdy, Waterproof Hiking Boots
- Hat w/ Flexible Brim
- Leather Gloves
- Shemagh (multiple uses)
- Sunglasses or Tactical Safety Glasses (Tinted)
Hunting Kit – If you find yourself having to bug out for more than 72 hrs, you will need to obtain a source of food. It’s a great idea to have a sturdy sling bow such as the Pocket Predator as well as take-down arrows and plenty of .40 cal lead balls. If you’re looking for a firearm for hunting, then we suggest the .22 LR Henry AR-7 Survival Rifle. Another option is a takedown survival bow. We recommend the Go Primal range of takedown survival bows.
Firearms – If your country or state laws permit you to do so, it is wise to carry a firearm both for self-defense as well as hunting (in a pinch). For maximum stopping power, invest in a .45 ACP pistol or at least .40 cal. In terms of medium-range weapons for self-defense, a semi-auto AR-15 assault rifle or a 12 gauge Mossberg 500 shotgun may be best suited for bugging out. Always ensure that you have enough ammunition to sustain you should you ever be forced to engage in a firefight. It’s also a great idea to carry a canister or two of pepper spray as you should use this FIRST, if at all possible, before resorting to your firearm. You should also carry a scoped rifle for long-range self-defense and for hunting purposes. In some countries such as Australia, firearms are only to be used for hunting and target shooting, but in a time where there is no law and order, they may find themselves being used for purposes other than hunting. Firearms may be used for good and bad, so if you don’t own a firearm yourself, you may be in some serious trouble. A very good option to a firearm would be a longbow with plenty of arrows and broadhead tips.
Off-grid solar charger: – Batteries don’t last forever and when you run out, where are you going to get them from? An off-grid solar charger such as the ones made by PowerMonkey can keep your GPS, phone, two-way radio, rechargeable batteries and other gadgets/gizmos powered solely by sunlight.
Important Documents – Remember to pack important documents such as passports, birth certificates, wills, licenses and ID’s among others. Without these, you’re not going anywhere. It is also a good idea to have a backup copy stored on a USB thumb drive secured with encryption and a password to gain access.
If there were two rules that you should remember when packing a bug out bag, they would be: 1) learn how to make do with less and 2) pack light without sacrificing quality.