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
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.)
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.
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
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.
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.
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
Step 2: Necessities
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
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
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.
2. Hydration Salts
3. Chemical hand warmers, small heat stove
b. Protection from other People
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.
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)
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
*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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.