How to Build a Proper Bug Out Bag

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Introduction: How to Build a Proper Bug Out Bag

About: I am a disabled Marine Corps vet who unfortunately often has too much time on his hands. Although it wouldn't be so unfortunate if I had a work shop. lol

Bug Out Bags are a dime a dozen; unfortunately, most of them are poorly designed. Primarily because they often aren’t designed by the user, but rather by the store. Even the ones made by the user aren’t designed, but rather thrown together with items they unconsciously associate with wilderness survival rather than their unique situation.

The most commonly overlooked characteristics of an effective Bug Out Bag (BOB) are unfortunately the most essential to the success of the BOB. Most people either find building a BOB too expensive or to daunting to take on themselves; however, if you follow this guide you can’t go wrong.

This is my first Instructable and it is inspired by the multitude of BOB Instructables, but this one in particular, Bug Out Bag by Screwits.

Step 1: Universal Guidelines

Discretion

a. While tactical packs with dozens of pockets covered in molle is highly useful, it makes you a target; instead:

i. Use a non-descript bag or,

ii. Keep a pack cover over your pack. Even a black trash bag would work. (This choice makes for slower retrieval of contents.)

Mobility (Weight/Size)

a. The lighter the better, Ounces = Pounds, Pounds = Pain

i. Even if you plan on having transportation, keep it light, you never know if you will have to hike your pack due to breakdown or gridlock

b. Smaller packs allow for better mobility

i. Overstuffed packs make retrieving contents slower

ii. Overstuffed packs don’t allow for the addition of last minute or salvaged supplies.

Weatherproofed

a. Keep a waterproof cover (black trashbag works)

i. Waterproof essential items that are especially important to keep dry

1. Dropping the pack in a puddle, sudden downpour, falling into body of water doesn’t allow time for waterproofing entire pack.

2. Put these items in waterproof bags or containers within your bag

Compartmentalized

a. Multiple compartments on or within the bag allow for better organization

i. Stuffing one large compartment with everything makes finding and using items extremely slow and nearly impossible in the dark.

b. Keep like items together in dedicated compartments whenever possible

i. Ex. keep first aid items in 1 compartment, water treatment in another, ect.

c. Making more commonly used or emergency items easiest to get to allows for quicker withdraw of items & reduces chance of leaving items behind one has to remove to access items located deeper in the pack.

Multi-Use

a. Items with multiple uses should be chosen over single use items whenever possible

i. This allows for less weight, volume and clutter

ii. Ex. Multi-tool instead of pliars, knife, screw drivers, scissors, ect.

Procedural Checklist

a. Attaching a hard copy of a checklist of procedures can make all the difference since time is essential, especially in the opening moments of an emergency.

b. You won't be thinking clearly and since my checkout list has evolved over at least months, adding things or reordering my priorities, you cannot expect to just instantly think of these things in an emergency unless they are at your fingertips.

i. Procedures like refilling your water or grabbing more if you can

ii. Grabbing essential documents

iii. Communicating with anybody you wish to meet up with, if communications are still viable

iv. Grabbing your medications, especially ones from the fridge that you can't keep a supply of in your bag

v. Etc.

Step 2: Necessities

Water

a. Whatever you think is enough, double it, minimum!.

i. Water being heavy, knowing how much is necessary is essential.

1. How much is discussed in the 3rd category “personalization”

ii. In almost every circumstance, the amount of water you can/will include in your BOB won’t be enough, so a way to make water safe to drink is necessary

1. Filters and purification chemicals are always a good idea, and almost always essential.

2. Knowledge regarding how to make & find water is discussed in “Intelligence” section

Protection

a. Protection from the Elements

i. Shelter like tents often aren’t necessary; however, the “Personalization” section can help you determine if it is necessary for your situation

1. If you are going to include your own shelter keep weight and size in mind.

2. Often better off finding or creating makeshift shelter as needed

ii. Clothing

1. Key clothing items are more important than full changes of clothes

a. Items for warmth in cool climate areas like gloves, stocking cap, wool socks, ect.

b. Items for protection from the sun in hot climates like hats, scarves or the like.

iii. Other

1. Sunscreen

2. Hydration Salts

3. Chemical hand warmers, small heat stove

b. Protection from other People

i. Weapons

1. There is far too much information to cover in this article regarding weapon choice and justification. It could be and has been the subject of their own articles.

2. Firearms

a. I personally include them in my BOB

b. Consider the size and weight of the weapon and it’s ammunition in making your choice.

3. Kinetic Weapons

a. Knives, machetes, tomahawks, and the like.

b. I include these in my BOB as well, primarily because most kinetic weapons are as useful as tools as they are as weapons.

4. Early Warning Device or the Makings for One

a. Electronic Device that alerts you by noise or light if a perimeter is breached.

b. Simple device that does the same, either through cans strung together or broken glass or the like that will alert you to the approach of any one/thing, especially when you are at your most vulnerable (sleeping or cleaning weapon)

Tools

a. Navigational tools like a compass, scale and protractor are often essential items, especially the compass.

i. GPS may be inoperable and you may have to take alternate routes unknown to you.

b. Hand tools like knives, pliars, wire cutters, screw drivers, ect.

c. Binding like rope, paracord, duct tape, electrical tape, zip ties and the like.

d. In the case of extreme and long term preps bolt cutters, crow bars, hammers, shovels, ect. can be indispensible.

i. However the size and weight of these items make them a choice that must be considered carefully if you don’t have a vehicle.

Medical

a. First Aid

i. Every BOB no matter how minimal must contain first aid items, “Personalization” section will discuss the amount and type necessary for you.

1. The level of aid is the only question

ii. Common first aid items to include:

1. Foot care items like moleskin

2. Common medicines like pain/fever relievers, antihistamines and anti-diarrheal.

3. Bandages including Ace bandages

4. Sanitizer, alcohol wipes and anti-biotic ointment.

iii. Trauma Kit

1. Clotting powder or gauze & tourniquet

2. Disposable surgical stapler &/or sutures

3. Immobilization items like a splint &/or triangle bandage

4. Tweezers, hemostats, clothing scissors and scalpel

5. Pressure dressing and gauze

6. Gloves, iodine wipes, alcohol wipes

b. Comfort & Sanitizing

i. Body/Foot Powder

ii. Baby wipes for personal hygiene

iii. Sunscreen & burn treatment

iv. Hand warmers for cold environments

v. Cold packs for injury and hot environments to treat heat stroke

vi. Insect Repellent

c. Personalized Medications

i. Any regular medications you take, along with your emergency medications like inhalers and epi-pens.

ii. This is discussed at length under the “Personalization” section

Energy

a. Food

i. Minimal food is all that is necessary in all but the longest term BOB’s.

1. BOB’s are primarily intended for short term situations of 72 hrs. or less. People can survive considerably longer than that without any food.

2. However, food also serves as a comfort item that can keep your hopes up and your mind centered on survival.

3. Lack of food, especially in high stress, high energy expending situations can result in a severe lack of energy that is nearly impossible to overcome without training making some food necessary.

ii. Nutrition

1. High calorie

2. High carbohydrate

3. High protein

iii. Ideal Characteristics

1. Long shelf life

a. Your bag could go years without being needed

2. Light Weight

a. As discussed earlier, weight is the enemy.

b. While dehydrated food is the lightest, one must take care with this choice as most of it requires water to reconstitute, and what little doesn’t requires you to increase your water intake. And the amount of water you can carry is limited.

3. Small Volume

a. As discussed, volume, while not as much of a problem as weight, is still a primary consideration.

b. In my opinion, the ideal choice is often bars of some type, protein bars, survival bars, and the like.

c. If you choose MRE’s make sure to research how to “field strip” them, this is practiced in the Marine Corps, and it reduces the size of an MRE to less than ½ its original size without losing any food.

b. Supplements

i. Nutritional

1. The biggest pitfall to being without food, other than mental, is the lack of vitamins and minerals being introduced into your system.

2. For the sake of weight and volume, one can carry enough multi-vitamins equivalent to the size and weight of a single protein bar to last a month.

3. If you should run out of the food in your pack, and are unable to salvage any food from your area, take multi-vitamins to keep your energy up, and stave off many of the diseases associated with starvation.

ii. Stimulant

1. In an emergency, especially during any trek you may be making to get back home or to your bug out location, keeping your energy up is essential.

2. Keeping caffeine pills, or anything similar in your BOB can help you stave off sleep long enough to reach your destination, or at least a safe place to get some sleep.

a. There are negative side-effects associated with their use, especially their long term use, so take them only if absolutely necessary, and sparingly.

Intelligence

a. Maps

i. The importance of maps can’t be stressed enough in any emergency.

ii. Common commercially available maps, found at gas stations, etc.

iii. Map customized by you in advance to show planned and backup routes

1. Routes should show how to get home from places like work

2. Routes should show how to get to your bug out location

3. I have multiple vehicle and foot routes planned out on the map in my BOB

b. Useful Information

i. Survival manuals

ii. First-Aid Manuals

iii. Knot Booklet

iv. If your prepping with the apocalypse in mind, the more info you can include the better, consider doing so in a USB drive that contains anything you may need to start a new community including things like engineering, medical, alternative energy and the like.

c. Essential Documents (Thanks to texdanl who reminded me I left this section out)

i. Regardless of what your designing your bag for, other than maybe just to get you home you should put a folder together with your essential documents like:

1. Social Security Cards

2. Birth Certificates

3. Property Deeds

4. Etc.

*Even if you don't want to keep these documents in your BOB you can just keep them all in one folder in your safe or wherever you keep them anyway and just make sure to grab them on your way out, making sure they are waterproofed.

d. Communication

i. Emergency Radio provides important information regarding where one can seek aid, areas to avoid, and estimated time before restoration of government services

ii. 2 way-radio’s allow you to communicate rather than just listen, this way you can disseminate information to others, ask questions and request help

1. If you are not alone in this emergency having a 2-way radio can greatly increase your chances as communication is always essential

Step 3: Personalization

Duration

a. How long you estimate any emergency situations you find most likely to occur to last must be a primary consideration

i. Or how long you expect to live out of the bag, i.e., how long you expect the trip home, or to your bug out location to last

ii. Obviously, building some leeway into your estimate is important, as nothing ever goes as planned anyway, much less during an emergency.

b. This estimated duration allows you to determine the quantity and type of items to include in your BOB.

i. Ex. Matching the amount of water/food you consume to the expected duration.

1. Keep in mind, the longer the duration, the less likely you will be able to carry all the water/food you need, so you will need to carry ways to purify, create and find water/food along the way.

ii. Ex. Long term BOB’s require different items than one typically includes in the average 72hr. bag.

1. The longer term BOB’s often require more survival instruments and medical items as it becomes more likely you will have to build fires, sew worn out clothing, treat pneumonia, broken bones, etc.

Location

a. Climate

i. Colder climates make things like warm clothing and shelter a high priority

ii. Hotter climates make things like more water and sunscreen a high priority

iii. Combination climates like Colorado essentially make a big pack a priority as one can’t even just change their load out seasonally as more than once I’ve experienced snow one day, followed by 80 F the following day; making it necessary to carry for every contingency.

b. Geography

i. Fishing kits are often included in BOB’s, especially survival centered BOB’s, even when a person doesn’t live within 50 miles of a fishable body of water.

ii. Consider the type of terrain, the natural resources like bodies of water, game, ranches, all of these things should have a bearing on what you include in your BOB.

c. Population Density

i. If you are often in a rural area, and/or intend on bugging out to a rural area, survival type items like snares, fishing kits, and shelter become more necessary.

ii. If you live in a city, and intend on using your BOB to get you from wherever you are in the city, to your home in the city, then items designed for helping you live off the land like heirloom seeds, folding shovel, and saw for firewood become less important.

Emergency Type

a. Most BOB’s are built with a specific emergency type in mind, and while general/multiple emergency type designs are better in my opinion, designing one’s BOB with whatever is the most likely type of emergency in your area in mind is prudent.

b. Weather disasters like hurricanes and blizzards make items like stoves, warm clothes, and clean water priority

c. Economic and Zombie disasters make items like weapons and first aid a priority.

Health Conditions

a. If you or anybody you plan on supporting with your BOB has health conditions, those must be taken into account.

b. If you are weak and in poor shape, you had better keep your pack light.

i. Keeping a fold up wire cart next to your bag should you have to walk, could extend the distance you are capable of traveling on a daily basis and overall by more than double.

c. If you have diabetes, keeping a few days of your regular medicine in your bag can be more important than water and weapons.

d. If you have asthma and don’t include an inhaler in your bag, you might as well not even have a bag.

Purpose

a. What is the specific purpose of this bag? Of course it is to help you survive in an emergency, but believe it or not, the differences in purpose can be night and day.

b. A bag containing a couple bottles of water, protein bar, flashlight, and a swiss army knife can be sufficient if it is only meant to get you home from work in case of emergency, where at worst, you may even have to walk the 3-5 miles home

c. Is the primary purpose to keep you alive if you slide into the ditch during a blizzard, where you can go days without being discovered in sub zero weather? If so, a fishing kit and machete aren’t going to be of much help. But lots of food, water, candles, warm clothes, and chemical hand warmers will be.

d. Is your bag meant to help you survive through any realistically conceivable situation for your life and your area? If so, being a little more broad in your choices rather than highly specialized is necessary. For the record, this is the way I lean, as this choice covers each of the situations described above, in addition to a dozen more that weren’t.

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    76 Comments

    If you liked this, please vote for me in the upper right hand corner, I have entered this in the "remix" contest and the "wear it" contest. This is my 1st Instructable and it has been a great experience win or lose, but of course winning would be the only thing that could make it better. Thanks.

    4 replies

    I have electronic copies as well. I also have Terabytes of textbooks and similar data all backed up with backups of backups. Along with the information to aguire back up electronics to read or access that database. The information i carry is stuff i find vital. Where to find parts, guns, local stashes, physics of firearms (particularly that of gunpowder and its use in cannons), as well as medical. People do not seem to understand, even in the information age, how important knowledge is. Yes, we have to be able to carry out what we know, but i would rather spend days finding food using tried and true hunting and trapping techniques than days figuring out how to get traps to work. So many BO.B. are a weekend napsack or a small camping bag. Most people dont see even though they claim you to, you are bugging out you wont likely return. Your life is starting over. Whether its the spy version you see on tv (passports, identification, cash) or one for survival in a world of anarchy the goal is long term survival and rebuilding or maintaining ones life. to merely pack for a few days is only preparing to stave off death a few days.

    I love the fact that you included bringing a means to purify water, rather than a large supply of water. 20oz of bleach can purify water to last weeks. And its proper use is far more valueble. Most people will bug out with tons of water, gallons of bleach will be easy to find. Information on how to get, use, or make what you need is vital. I do not need to bug out with a system to create and story electrical energy i only need to know where to get, scaveng, and finally how to assemble the parts into the final design. That is certainly alot easy to carry than the system itself. If you feel you need supplies, geocache them along your planned route..
    Intelligence is key. Your bag was great, and clearly its only a few that will actually survive, but nature has a way of weeding out the ill informed. We just have to wait and collect the supplies that they died with because they didnt have the intelligence to survive.

    You and I are definitely on the same page, I have all that info on gunsmithing and the burn rate of powders, how to manufacture powders, really to much to mention here. But even with my thousands of hours of research I don't have anywhere near terabytes, I only have gigabytes. I wish I had more text books, I only have a dozen or so.

    I am big on planning my scavenging as well, I have mapped out the best places to scavenge along my bug out routes, as well as what items are a priority at each location. Since I am perpetually short on funds, I too find it useful to know how to create wind power out of things that will be left abandoned all over the place post apocalypse. And while I haven't been able to geocache along my route, that is something I have always wanted to do. I have it as part of my procedural plan once I get my bug out HQ up and running, because no matter how well you prep, you never know when you may have to abandon that location, so having years of stuff all in one location is stupid, because one mistake or event could take it all away.

    It really sounds like you and I have similar prepping priorities. If you ever want to compare and contrast and or share info and ideas message me, I would love to have someone at your level to talk to about this.

    Thanks for the comment.

    just remember all that info is great but hard copy of the important stuff is worth your nuts. in a survival situation, computers may not be readily available.

    Bleach for sterilizing water? How about campden tablets? Iodine? A steripen? one of the MANY MANY micron filters (survival straws like lifestraw anybody?)? Think backpack camping, not household cleaning supplies. A solar chargeable steripen will purify a transfinite amount of water, as will a properly maintained filter. Also, beware: not all bleach is created equal. Some have ingedients that shouldn't go in potable water....specifically scents and dyes.

    I appreciated that you spoke about how to customize your own rather than say what you have in yours and expect others to be in need of similar things in theirs. Great instructable, I really enjoyed reading it!

    3 replies

    Thank you, there are a billion lists all over the internet, not just here that list their specific BOB's contents but not too many that tell you how to make one for your needs.

    Even the ones supposedly telling you how to make a BOB for you, seem to tell you how to build a BOB for their specific circumstances instead of yours.

    Although, all the thought, time and effort I've put into putting my BOB together, it is hard not to want to tell everyone every item I chose and why.

    I think details are good. If you wrote a book that described what you have written here in more detail, and added in some nuances/methodologies about the "gross anatomy" of the BOB and urban survival <i.e. aftermath of earthquake/tornado/etc> I would buy it and keep it in my BOB for refrence. Good instructable.

    Wow thanks, part of the reason I haven't tried to write an article or in this case an Instructable on anything prepping, even BOB's because I always felt a book was really necessary. And I have only barely considered writing such a book, like most people plan on writing a novel eventually. But it feels good to know that you would appreciate such a work. I did create a book for my own bag, but that wouldn't work for other people.

    But one thing I have wanted to make available to people is my apocalyptic library. It is a USB, actually, 2 USB's and saved on my computer and phone. But it is several thousand documents including entire textbooks. Basically, anything that could be useful post apocalypse. What can I say, most of my prepping started out prepping for apocalypse, but it has a ridiculous amount of information on every topic, and of course at least 100 of the documents are Instructables.

    When preparing a bug out bag, you have two options, Tools are usually heavy so a bug out bag should make the first use of abstraction. There are a lot of different things you can put on your bug out bag list and there is not really one list of contents that you should go. A Great Place to find Survival Tools, resource you need to survive and thrive in any situation. I found this discount code. Use this code "PD10"and save 10%. http://patriotdeals.com/coupon

    what's the link for the belt with satchels?

    Where did you find the pouches and stuff for that battle belt?! I love the guide, but I must get a battle belt like what

    Great information! So many bags I've seen are just everything stuffed in which would be almost impossible to actually use in a high stress environment.

    Have you ever seen http://www.ebugout.com ? It is the only place on the internet that you can completely customize a bug out bag. Even better, it is 100% free to use, and all prices come from Amazon with NO upcharge meaning you end up with extremely competitive prices.

    this is incredibly well thought out, thank you for the effort. there were a handful of things on here that helped me fine tune my build. I find it is always wise to have 3 broad plans for whatever kind of situation you figure you may face, but I didn't even think to have a map (just because I know my area doesn't mean I know its outskirts) which got me thinking on a WP case for it... and glow sticks, and head lamps, and glowpaint for marking trails at night. stuff to think on if not necessarily include, and that is what your writeup is good for, making me think!

    When you're putting medications in to the bag remember to put the expiration date of the medications on the each bag. Expired medications can be worse than none at all. Can you use a dry bag to store something like this to keep it dry?

    2 replies

    I use those little tic-tak containers and make small labels for them to keep it sorted out. I have done set aside for meds I came store in a back pack long with a black label I can full in with a sharpy; antibiotics or such. 2 meds I keep plenty of it are ibuprofen and a laxative. don't laugh, being without when you need it sucks. Sundries also seemed overlooked. TP in particular, but also tampons and nylons. wear nylons to portent blisters and tampons are also good for puncturing wounds.

    Excellent point. Many medications exp. date is essentially worthless, as some meds can be used well beyond their date, some just become less effective, some become worthless and as you pointed out, some practically become poison. Since we are discussing emergency situations, it is a good idea to have info on the what medications fall into what category regarding the exp. dates mentioned above, and even what veterinary meds can be used on humans and at what dosages. I have both these and find it very comforting, but that's probably because my meds take up half the space in my BOB. LOL

    This is one of the most detailed BOB Instructables I have seen. I live in the snow belt of Michigan, and have often had to make several hour drives in sometimes whiteout conditions. I have been considering creating both a Bug Out/In bag. Bug In for instances where I would be stuck from car failure and needed to stay warm while help arrives, and Bug Out if the situation gets worse e.g.: ditching the vehicle after a run off. Dry clothing, chem heat, and first-aid top my list.

    Thank you for your service, and this excellent BOB breakdown!

    Water is heavy! Drinking water is good, but rain-soaked gear is dead weight. During my Infantry days, we usually ditched the heavy rubberized "waterproof" bags in favor of disposable trash bags for lining the main rucksack compartment. The heavier ply the better, like the contractor or lawn bags. I only used one as a pack cover one time, but I didn't get it dialed in satisfactorily. An assortment of quart, gallon, and 2.5 gallon Zip-Loc bags also went along for organizing and protecting smaller items, like socks and electronics. Works like a charm, and you can see what's inside each one. I've been wanting to find my vacuum sealer buried in the basement and experiment with it some for some specific applications as well.