This bug out bag list contains all the necessary items most people need for short-term survival. Creating a bug out bag is essential to maximizing your chances of surviving any disaster. After all, if you don’t have all the items you need to survive, you will run into problems.
I’ve built bug-out bags for both actual “bugging out” survival and more home-based preparedness. However, bug-out bags are extremely personal and based on your environment. Therefore, in this article, I’m not just going to tell you what I’ve done – I’m going to explain when you should do things differently.
A big thanks to Blake for reviewing and contributing to this article. His real-world experience surviving in the field and “bugging out” in the mountains of Appalachia were valuable.
You can use a bug out bag to “bug out” when you need to leave your home. However, bug out bags also works great for at-home survival. When all your survival stuff is in one place, it’s much easier to get what you need – even if you’re still in your home.
It makes sense to prep for events that are most likely to happen. Therefore, this list is built with some of the most common survival situations in mind. However, you’ll need to edit the bag for your environment and needs. If you’re in Texas, you probably won’t need much winter survival gear, for instance.
There is no such thing as an “ultimate bug out bag.” The bag you need depends on you. This reason is why we don’t recommend commercial bug-out bags. They try to provide a “one-size-fits-all” answer that doesn’t work for all environments or situations, providing you with useless gear, dead weight, and major gaps in essential tools.
Still, a bug out bag should consider some key categories. Everyone needs to eat and protect themselves from the environment. We’ll look at each category and give you real gear suggestions tailored to specific situations and environments. Then, you can choose the options that make sense for you.
Types of Bug Out Bags
You’ll see bug out bags called all sorts of things:
- Bug out bag
- Emergency kit/emergency bag
- Evacuation bag/evac bag
- Go bag
- 72-hour kit/72-hour bag
- Survival bag/survival kit
- GOOD bag (“Get Out Of Dodge”)
- SHTF bag (“Shit Hit The Fan”)
- INCH bag (I’m Never Coming Home Again)
Many bug out bag lists even differentiate between these different bags. However, we don’t recommend taking this approach. You do not need an emergency kit, a 72-hour kit, and an INCH bag. They all have the same purpose and should contain the same stuff.
Most of the traditional bug out bag categories just aren’t practical.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider what your bag is for. While we don’t recommend using these traditional categories, we recommend thinking long and hard about what your bag will likely be used for. Your environment, personal situation, and budget all matter.
A single man living in a big city will need much different gear than a family of five living on a farm. Giving both the same bug out bag list would be irresponsible.
So, before you begin, take note of your environment, your area’s most likely survival situations, and your family situation.
The Bug Out Bag List – 17 Necessary Categories
Having access to clean water, or making it, is crucial in every situation. However, it is one of the less exciting categories of “survival gear,” so it tends to get overlooked. Water is also hefty, so you shouldn’t plan on carrying much. You cannot carry three days’ worth of water on your back in any practical situation.
With that said, we recommend having some safe, potable water in your bag. In a survival situation, you don’t know when you’ll be able to get water. You need some on standby until a water source is located or until you can purify it.
I recommend storing at least 27 ounces of water to get you through a day or so – even more if the local temperatures in your area are very hot or cold or if you’re expecting to be exerting yourself. You’ll need this per person. Some experts recommend as much as three gallons of water, but that would weigh 24 pounds – far too much for most individuals, especially if mobility is important to you.
I have a 40-ounce Klean Kanteen that I use for water storage. This container can pull double-weight because it can also boil water. Plus, this metal canteen isn’t going to break or spill inside the bag, unlike a plastic bottle.
Once you have water stored, you’ll also need a way to purify or filter water. These methods are different. Purifying water involves using tablets or other products to treat water, making it safe to drink chemically. Filtering water uses a filter to capture disease-causing microbes as water passes through. I recommend using a filter in most instances, as it is faster. Purifying can take hours, while filtering takes only a few minutes. However, while it may seem excessive, it is still not a bad idea to purify your water and filter it.
Most purification tablets are so small that carrying up to 40 purification tablets in your bag makes sense, and there are very few reasons to not have them packed. In all but the smallest bug out bag, I also recommend a Sawyer Mini. This water filter only weighs two ounces and can filter up to 100,000 gallons.
- Hot areas. If you live somewhere very hot, you’ll need more water due to increased sweating.
- Cold areas. Conversely, you’ll need more water if you live somewhere very cold due to increased urination.
- Arid environments. These types of environments are infamous for being very dry. Having even more water due to scarcity is recommended if you live in an arid area.
- Urban environments. Urban environments have water readily available if you have the tools to get it. Therefore, I recommend having a hydrant wrench and a sillcock key to access commercial water valves and hydrants. Water purification tabs also work better in these environments, as filters cannot remove chemicals or viruses (which are very common in an urban environment). As a rule of thumb, all water in an urban environment that doesn’t come from a tap should be considered tainted and unsafe. This includes standing water and rainwater runoff from roads and roofs.
- Long-term Survival. If you see yourself being away for more than a week, consider a gravity water bag. These bags make it easier to filter lots of water at a single location without babysitting the process. Having one of these makes sense anyway and weighs very little. Additionally, having a separate water bag for clean water only is a good idea, so you can store lots of water filtered from your gravity bag. It is important to clearly label which bag is for untreated, unsafe water and which bag is for clean water.
- Store coffee filters. Some people use coffee filters as a pre-filter for their water. However, this won’t be necessary with a quality filter, and you’ll have plenty of extra clothes to perform this function if you come across particularly filthy water.
- Buy “survival” water. Survival water is precisely the same as other water. However, the bags are often flimsy and not reusable. Just get a Klean Kanteen.
- Use hydration bladders. Sure, they’re suitable for hiking, but that’s about it. They can be punctured easily and are almost impossible to be cleaned in a survival situation.
Next to water, food is the next most important thing to add to your bug out bag. You can technically survive without food for three weeks. But who wants to go without food for three weeks? Once food becomes unavailable, cognitive and physical functioning begins to decline, making surviving even harder, and that’s the last thing you want in a survival situation.
You should be able to acquire food at some point after bugging out. However, you want food available until that happens. Sadly, food can be heavy. It can melt and expire. Most food needs to be cooked (which you may not be able to do).
Therefore, choosing the right food is very important. It should meet a few simple criteria:
- Easy to cook. The food should be ready-to-eat right out of the bag or only require hot water. Anything else is too much in a survival situation.
- Durable. The food shouldn’t fall apart, expire, or melt. You don’t know how long you’ll be storing it.
- Nutritious. This food may be the only thing you eat for a few days or weeks. It should meet your nutritional needs. Now is not the time to choose tasty over practical.
The easiest food to pack is ration bars. They are high in calories and easy to store. While each company makes them a bit different, ration bars are much better than your average granola bars.
However, ration bars can be a bit depressing if you can tolerate eating even one of them after a few days. Therefore, for more extended survival periods, we recommend minimum preparation foods. Mountain House food pouches and similar single-serving survival foods are a good choice. Many of Blake’s colleagues utilize Mountain House meals when in the field.
While rations like Mountain House are lightweight and easily packable, they require you to boil water, which may not always be possible. This is especially true if you’re in a non-permissive environment, an area where others may be seeking to do bodily harm to you.
While not all heating sources produce smoke or excessive odors, most produce light and noise, and all produce heat. If being identified by others is a concern, consider having a few MREs on hand. MREs can be heavy and not very weight-efficient, especially Russian ones.
What Blake recommends to make MREs more space-efficient is to completely disassemble the MRE to its individual components, then pack what you need by binding it together with rubber bands, tape, bungee cords, zip ties, etc. You can also put the snacks like peanut butter, muffins, and applesauce into your pockets to snack on throughout the day. He also does not recommend chewing the gum unless you need to; it contains laxatives.
When comparing field rations, look at the weight and calorie count. You want the most calories in the least space and weight while still being less depressing than a ration bar. Review our list of survival food for more options.
- Allergies. Consider if your family has allergies and plan accordingly. Some allergies may also make it harder to source food once you bug out.
- Kids. Kids need fewer calories than adults. However, they are often pickier about what they eat. I recommend introducing kids to survival food before the survival situation, so it isn’t new. Furthermore, carrying a few gummy packs to keep kids entertained and happy may be worth the added weight.
- Pack Coffee. If you need caffeine, pack caffeine pills.
- Salt supplements. Once upon a time, salt supplements were given to soldiers. However, the military no longer supplies them for a reason. They carry risks of constipation and are typically overdoing it.
- Adhere to a strict diet. Now is not the time to worry about how you’re getting your protein or whether you’re eating gluten. It’s also not the time for actual dieting.
3. Preparing and Eating
If you have anything beyond ready-to-eat food, you’ll need to prepare it. You’ll also need to eat it, which requires cutlery and a bowl. In most cases, you’ll need a type of emergency stove. Many camping stoves are available on the market with different weights and features.
There are two main types of stoves: survival stoves and hiking stoves. Survival stoves require you to build a fire inside of them. They’re somewhat enclosed, which protects the fire from the wind and concentrates the flame. However, you still have to build the fire.
Hiking stoves are gas-fueled stoves that need a fuel source (like a gas canister). However, you don’t have to build a fire.
Which stove you choose depends on your environment. A survival stove is probably your best option if you live in an area with plenty of wood and other fuel. However, hiking stoves are useful because they don’t require an actual fire.
Just don’t try to cover all your bases and carry both! It’s unnecessary.
For those interested in a survival stove, I recommend the BioLite Camping stove. It harnesses some of the heat to charge a battery (solving some of your electricity needs) and makes much less smoke than others. You can purchase pellets or use wood as fuel.
Plus, there are tons of cooking attachments for the stove, as well. We recommend picking up a simple kettle pot for both cooking and eating.
To eat your food, you’ll need some cutlery. I recommend a simple camping spork. Eat out of the same pot you cook in. You don’t need a whole mess kit unless you’re also cooking in it.
For ideas on what you can cook, review our Survival Recipes.
- Urban areas. Building a fire in the city is much less practical than in the countryside. Therefore, we recommend a camping stove that doesn’t require fire to work. Furthermore, food may be a bit more available if you have the proper tools to get to it (which we’ll discuss in the next section.)
- Cleaning. We recommend a small dish brush to clean a pot if you use one. You can DIY one in the field, but this is one extra thing you’d have to worry about. Adding a small one is often worth the wait. You can also use baby wipes to wipe away any leftover bits.
- Seasonings. For those with kids (and who are picky eaters themselves), consider getting a small, durable salt and pepper shaker. This can help spice up bland food, especially if you’re used to lots of seasonings. There are many made for backpackers.
- Cook food in your Klean Kanteen. Yes, you can boil water in your Klean Kanteen. However, you’ll have to pour out your clean water if you cook food in it.
- Buy a multi-piece mess kit. It’s too heavy and unnecessary.
- Buy plastic. It often isn’t reusable or durable. The lightweight metal is the way to go here.
The shelter will vary a lot from bag to bag. It depends on your climate, family situation, and preferences. You must protect yourself and your family from the environment and maintain the proper core body temperature. However, there are lots of ways to accomplish that.
You’ll likely need something to sleep under, in, and on. Then, you’ll be protected from all sides.
At the very least, we recommend multiple sets of clothes, cordage, a tarp, and a knife. The clothes will help you remain protected, and the tarp can be rigged into many different shelters. Blake utilizes a tarp on most of his bushcraft outings.
A lightweight tarp can be used for many different things. It protects from the rain, can store water, and hide supplies (if it is earth-tone). You should have one even if you have a survival tent or other shelter plans.
You can add many things to make your sleeping situation more comfortable. A sleeping pad, bivvy or sleeping bag, wool blankets, eye mask, and ear plugs can go a long way. If you have children, I highly recommend stocking these items for them, at the very least. While you may be able to sleep on the ground, don’t expect your kids to.
(Plus, kids are smaller and need more protection from the environment. A sleeping bag can go a long way.)
In cold places, you may need a sleeping bag. In other areas, it may be too hot most of the year in a sleeping bag. I highly recommend a lightweight sleeping bag in all but very warm climates.
The eye mask and ear plugs can help if you’re grouped with others. It can be hard to sleep when you’re crammed in a room. If you use these, make sure you are with someone you can trust who will wake you in an emergency.
- Kids. Unless your home is very warm, plan for your kids to sleep in a sleeping bag. If your kids are younger, you may be able to purchase a singular, large sleeping bag for you and them.
- Hammocks. We only recommend using hammocks if you’re used to using one. They can be difficult to set up and aren’t practical in all situations. In most cases, a tarp works best. Still, in some areas, a hammock makes sense (such as in the temperate rainforests of Appalachia).
- Urban Areas. In urban areas, shelter is everywhere. It is accessing it that is the problem. In this situation, entry tools, like the Stanley FuBar, bolt cutters, breach pens, and shotguns come in handy. We still recommend a bushcraft tarp, though.
- Buy cheap gear. As the saying goes: “Buy once, cry once.” Cheap tents, pads, and bivvies aren’t worth it. This isn’t a category to skimp on. It can mean the difference between having hypothermia and staying warm.
- Get a big tent. If you have a four-person family, that does not mean you need a four-person tent. In most cases, getting a big tarp and some quality sleeping bags (that can potentially be shared) is the better option. Once your child is old enough to carry their own bag, you can consider packing a separate tarp for more room.
You need fire in a survival situation to stay warm and cook. There are several different ways to start a fire. I recommend some redundancy here, especially because fire starters are typically inexpensive.
You can just pack a cheap, common lighter. However, I personally recommend a Tesla lighter. They aren’t expensive, and they produce no smoke. They also aren’t as affected by wind conditions.
After that, get a Ferro rod. A Ferro rod is harder to use, so I recommend practicing with it before the survival situation occurs. However, one can give you fire for years in an intense survival situation.
Next, you’ll need some tinder. Many people mistakenly assume they can always find tinder, but this isn’t the case in most practical situations. Get a small pill bottle or Altoid tins and fill it with a cheap, inexpensive tinder. Dryer lint, tampons, and cotton balls all work.
- Urban area. Let’s be honest. It is hard to find fuel in an urban area. While there may be a lot of debris, many of these won’t be flammable and may be unsafe to burn. Luckily, many homes will have flammable materials (such as wooden furniture). Be extra cautious of burning anything that will hold a flame, as many pressure-treated kinds of wood are toxic.
- Use cheap lighters. Yes, they are cheap. However, cheap lighters are also prone to puncturing and spilling. You don’t need lighter fluid all over your survival supplies.
- Rely solely on electricity. While Tesla lighters are rechargeable, we don’t recommend relying on them solely. A Farro rod will come in handy if you don’t have access to a battery for recharging purposes.
- Get a fresnel lens – unless you already know how to use one. This lens is a lightweight subtraction, but many people overestimate how hard they are to use.
You will need light. While this may seem easy to skip, you’ll be sorry when it’s pouring rain and you’re struggling to get your tarp up in the dark.
We recommend getting a headlamp first and foremost. Have one for every member of your family to reduce accident risk. Headlamps are great because you can wear them, carry them, or set them down somewhere. You can even hang them. Choose one that’s rechargeable if you have a Bio Stove.
Next, consider getting lanterns. Many backpacking lanterns are lightweight and can be collapsed down to the size of a hockey puck. Most are rechargeable and very useful for flooding an area with light. You may only need one. However, if you have kids, pack one for them, too. (Nothing makes a kid feel safer than a ready light source in their bag.)
- Candles. Candles may be a useful idea in some cases. However, they are no longer considered essential gear. They don’t release that much light, run out quickly, and can’t be recharged. They aren’t worth the weight and space in most cases. Still, some individuals may have special considerations that make a candle worth it.
- Use glow sticks. Sure, they work sometimes. However, you can only use them once, without an on/off button. Advances in other types of light make them no longer worth their weight.
- Buy crank-powered lights. These used to be the go-to choice. But powered lights now make more sense for most individuals.
Storing a bunch of clothes may seem counterintuitive. However, you never know what season you’ll be in when you need to bug out. Therefore, storing the right kind of clothes is vital.
We highly recommend wearing more “backpacker-style” clothes, even if they are a bit more expensive. These clothes tend to be more durable, lightweight, and insulating. They take up less space and have durable patches for the knees. They’re just better.
I always recommend storing long-sleeve tops and pants. Extra protection is essential, even in hotter environments. Look for pants that convert, as they can serve multiple functions. Some tops also have roll-up sleeves and similar methods of converting.
Always get an outer shell, even in the middle of a desert. This can help protect your inner clothes from the rain and wind. Even the desert gets cold.
You may want to set up a clothing rotation. Switch out your clothes every summer and winter. The problem with this is that you have to have the discipline to stick to it. Otherwise, you may end up with shorts in the middle of winter.
Quality socks are one of the essential pieces of clothing you can purchase. Get at least one extra pair in your bag (keep another in your shoes). Add extras as you have room. You don’t have to store your shoes in your bag, as they will probably be around or on your feet. If you buy special shoes for bugging out, just put them in your bag. You’ll wear them, so you don’t need to carry them.
Get a bandana or shemagh to use as a versatile piece of cloth. You can use it as a scarf, mask, hat, rain collector, or signal. Always have a hat, as well. Get one that can be used for sun protection and warmth. There are some convertible options on the market.
Gloves can be used for protection and warmth. You can get by without them, but I wouldn’t recommend them. I personally recommend a set of thinner gloves (for protection) and a heavier set (for warmth). Spend plenty of money here. Frostbite isn’t fun.
I would also recommend a belt. You can skip this, but it comes in handy. Get the lightest belt possible unless you want one sturdy enough to hold a gun holster. If you’re carrying a firearm, be sure your belt can withstand it.
- Laundry. You’ll probably need to do laundry at some point. How you go about this depends on your environment. You may be able to wash your clothes in the local creek – or not. Some backpacking laundry kits can come in handy here.
- Kids. You should pack an extra layer for children under the age of 12. They’re smaller and lose body heat faster. Therefore, they should be dressed in one extra layer. Also, remember that they’re much more likely to get their pants wet due to their shorter stature. Plan accordingly.
- Get crocs, sandals, etc. It doesn’t matter how “tactical” they claim to be. These just aren’t worth it. And no, a shelter shower isn’t going to kill you without them.
Knowledge is power in a survival situation. One way to get this knowledge is through a radio or other communication device. You need to keep up with what’s happening in the outside world. I recommend a ham radio for every survival kit.
Figure out how to use one and teach your family how to use one. Pick a dedicated family channel and tune your kids’ radios to that channel. Teach them how to use it and keep it in their personal bags (even if that’s the only thing they have). If you get separated, this prep can save lives.
Ham radios can also pick up on NOAA stations and most local emergency stations. Therefore, you won’t need a separate radio.
Sometimes, a solar- or crank-powered NOAA radio may be recommended. However, I find these bulky and unnecessary. Everyone should learn how to use a ham radio. It isn’t hard, but it can help you a lot in a survival situation.
On top of that, I also recommend getting a signal mirror and whistle. These lightweight products are things you don’t necessarily need until you do. Consider outfitting your kids’ bags with these, too (with proper instructions on using them).
- Bright colors. Consider purchasing a tarp or other gear with at least one bright color (like hunter orange), so you can be visible if needed. These can help if you need evacuation after a natural disaster hits your area.
- Flares. If you plan on bugging out to a body of water, keep some flares on you. Otherwise, they aren’t worth the weight.
- Personal Locator Beacon. Get a personal locator beacon if you’re mostly worried about local disasters. In localized disasters, these can help emergency services find you.
- Get a smoke-signaling product. You can use smoke signaling in some situations. However, if you need to do this, just start a fire. A dedicated product isn’t useful enough to be worth the weight and cost.
- Use a laser pointer. Sometimes, a laser pointer can signal friends without giving your position to the enemy. However, these are only useful if you have friends. Unless you have a bug out plan that involves a large group of people, don’t worry about laser pointers.
Bugging out isn’t helpful if you don’t know where you’re going. You should have local map information downloaded on your phone if the network goes down. I recommend having a paper map if at all possible. A map is far more important than a compass. With that said, I still recommend getting a compass.
Maps take up little space and weigh nothing. There isn’t any reason not to have one packed away. The map you pick should be waterproof. It should cover the area you could drive in one to two hours. If you have an idea of which way you’d bug out to, have a map of that area too. Look for maps that also include topography.
Simply put, feel free to have up to three maps in your pack.
- City maps. If you live in a rural area, get a map that covers the closest city. Most shelters will be set up in urban areas if you need to evacuate.
- Portable GPS devices. You may want to get a portable GPS unit or a survival watch. However, these add extra weight. If you do get one, I recommend ensuring that all the necessary maps and information are downloaded. Don’t let a GPS replace a map and compass, though.
- Ranger beads. Ranger beads can be very helpful in knowing how far you’ve traveled. However, these require a bit of setup (you have to know your average pace length). Therefore, they aren’t something you can just pack and forget about.
- Binoculars. If you have a reason, you can pack binoculars. However, while they may sound like a good idea, their weight and bulkiness often don’t make them worth it.
While I recommend that most of your gear require no electricity, most of the best gear out there require power. Therefore, having some way to charge all of your batteries and other gear can be helpful.
All your gear should be stored at a 50% charge. You should top off that charge occasionally as part of your regular maintenance.
Be sure to include any chargers your gear requires. Check the type of charger since the cables you need will vary. Include a wall outlet adaptor, as well. If you end up in an evacuation center, you’ll probably have access to outlets.
Of course, you’ll need a way to generate power too. A portable solar panel with a portable power station is the best option, as they provide an infinite power supply. It will add a bit of weight. But the other option is having a bunch of dead equipment.
If you get a BioLite stove, you’ll have another way to charge your equipment. In this way, you’ll have a bit of redundancy and a charging option for cloudy days.
For gear that requires batteries, I recommend rechargeable batteries. If possible, get batteries with USB plugs integrated into them. You can get a rechargeable battery charger, but this requires adding more bulk to your pack.
If you can’t find these batteries to fit your device, you must invest in a removable charger. Adding weight is worth having devices with power.
- Environment: Your environment will often determine whether or not you’re likely to have access to traditional electricity. In localized emergencies, you’ll likely end up in an evacuation center. You may even be able to hole up in a nearby hotel. However, if you plan to bug out to the wilderness, plan on producing your electricity.
- Kids: If you have kids, plan on them using more power than they necessarily need to. Kids will want lanterns on when you don’t necessarily need them on. They’ll play with your GPS. Everyone will be much less stressed if you plan for this appropriately.
- Use odd battery types. When you can, standardize the batteries and cables you use. Sometimes, this doesn’t work. However, making an effort can make things much simpler down the road.
- Invest in wind-, water-, or crank-powered generators. The technology for these generators just isn’t there yet. Solar power is still the way to go.
11. Medical (& Hygiene)
There are tons of different items you can include in your IFAK – and tons of opinions about what to include and what not to include.
I recommend a respirator for every bug out bag. Most situations will release contaminants into the air, and a mask is an easy way to protect yourself. However, a full gas mask won’t fit in most bags (and may not be worth the weight). You can make due in most situations with a mask for your mouth and a pair of goggles.
Any mask works as long as it works. Reusable and disposable masks both work equally well and have their own pros and cons.
When packing your bug out bag, don’t forget to add hygiene products. Diseases can spread easily in evac centers. Not only are there many people put together, but hygiene slips very easily in survival situations.
Of course, get soap. A bottle of condensed camping soap is small, lightweight, and inexpensive. I recommend wet wipes, which can be used for various purposes. They may add a bit of weight, but they are incredibly versatile. You can even use the dried-up wipes as kindling.
Add a pair of nail clippers, too. Foot and hand care are vital, and nail clippers are so small that there is little reason not to include them. Anyone that has spent time in the field knows how important nail clippers can be.
Add a small chapstick, travel toothbrush, and toothpaste to your kit. You can technically get by without these, but the last thing you want is an infected tooth while trying to survive.
Consider hand sanitizer, too. It is small and can make a difference in disease spread.
On the medical side, include basic medical gear. Bandaids, tourniquets, and tweezers should be included. Include basic medication too. Tylenol, Avail, Imodium, and anything else you commonly take should be added. Petroleum jelly is a versatile product, too.
- Menstrual needs. If you’re a woman, you’ll need menstrual products. I recommend something reusable, like a cup. Be sure to use it before you are forced to, though.
- Eyewear. If you wear glasses or contact lenses, include extras in your bag. Glasses should be kept in a hard case.
- Medications. If you regularly take prescription medication, keep extras in your bag. Many doctors will prescribe extra for emergencies if you ask. This also includes things like hearing aid batteries.
- Hot areas. Those in hotter areas may want to keep a small bottle of sunscreen. However, you should have enough clothes to keep yourself covered.
- Floss. You may want to include floss simply because it is very versatile. Of course, you can use it for dental care, but you can also use it as a durable string.
- CBRN disasters. Consider adding a full gas mask if you live near a toxic industrial facility or something similar. Don’t forget to add one for your kids, too.
- Iodine tablets. Iodine tables are vital in a nuclear situation and don’t weigh much. Consider adding them if you’re within the “irradiation zone” of a larger city.
- Birth control. Consider using a long-term form of birth control, like an IUD or implant. However, if you don’t, pack extra pills or condoms.
- Pack deodorant. You don’t need deodorant. You’ll be stinky, and everyone else around you will be stinky. Just use soap. Technically clothing can help mitigate odors.
- Add mouthwash. It’s redundant and unnecessary.
- Hand warmers. Single-use hand warmers take up too much room. Use the ounces to get better gloves if you feel like you need them. For very cold climates, a rechargeable pocket warmer is a better idea.
At the very least, you should include a field knife and multitool. These are vital and versatile. Plan on getting a quality option, as well. A great multitool can make your life much easier. Keep both tools in a sheath and preferably in an easy-to-reach location. Your belt may be a place to consider.
Get plenty of cordage, as well. Cordage has its category in the “5 C’s of Survival.” You can use cords for just about everything, which is very lightweight. Pack plenty. Carry at least 50 feet, but more is recommended.
Just about any cordage works. Paracord is the most common option; you can split it into smaller strands. You can use smaller pieces as fishing lines, for instance.
Add a dedicated hand saw for larger packs (or in one person’s pack in a family). You can use a hand saw to break down firewood, construct shelters, and craft items. A knife can work in some areas, but a hand saw can make the process much easier. Only consider a camp style axe if you plan to evacuate to a wooded area.
Get a blade sharpener, too. It keeps your bladed tools sharp and saves calories. A pocket stone is the best option, as they’re lightweight and inexpensive.
- Specialized kits. Depending on your location, skills, and plan, you may want to add specialized kits to your equipment. A sewing, fishing, or lock-picking kit can make a world of difference in the hand of an expert. Otherwise, don’t include them. If you feel like a specific kit is important, master the skill before adding the kit to your pack.
- Other bladed weapons. While I recommend a hand saw for most, if you have experience with tomahawks or machetes, feel free to add one instead. Choose something small, lightweight, and portable. You can strap larger options outside of your pack.
- E-tools. I don’t recommend a shovel, “emergency tool,” or similar tool usually. They’re large, and most people aren’t going to use one. However, if your plan requires a shovel, feel free to add one.
- Add a pencil sharpener. Using a pencil sharpener to make tinder or sharpen a stick is one of the “prepper hacks” that makes its way around the internet every few years. However, you’ll already have plenty of bladed tools, and a tiny pencil sharpener won’t be able to do much. Just use a pocket knife.
- Get a handheld wire saw. These are commonly advertised as “for preppers.” However, they don’t work well and can be hard to use.
- Include door wedges. Commonly advertised as “another hack,” some people recommend a door wedge to block doors in shelters for privacy. These can take up space and add a lot of weight when using something else (like your bag).
- Fuel siphons. In most emergencies, you won’t be siphoning fuel. These aren’t worth it in most situations. If you feel you need one, keep it in your car.
13. Mental Health
Protecting your mental health while surviving is half of the battle. It doesn’t matter what kind of gear you have if you don’t have the will to survive. Therefore, I recommend adding a few items to protect your mental health.
What you pack largely depends on you. A classic example is a pack of cards, which you can use for many games. Many people also include a pocket version of their holy book.
Journaling helps with the Stoic principle of self awareness and is a also a great way to sort your thoughts. I would recommend doing it every day, but it is even more important in a survival situation.
If you have the space, I recommend packing a “tactical kindle.” Simply put, this kindle is preloaded with books and turned on airplane mode. You can add fun books to read, as well as survival-oriented books. If you already have a source of creating power, then charging the kindle shouldn’t be a huge deal.
- USB vape pens, cigarettes, and other vices. Having an addiction makes surviving much harder. It adds something else that you have to have. But if you aren’t going to kick the habit tomorrow, consider having some in your bag.
- Kids. Don’t forget your kids’ mental health, too. Many kids can carry their own bags containing a few key items. However, don’t get carried away. A special stuffy, book, and one or two other toys should be plenty.
- Get carried away. It’s easy to get stressed about “boredom.” However, that’s the least of your worries in a survival situation. We’re talking about fending off depression here. Not filling all of your down hours.
Self-defense is one area where people tend to overdo it. Many survival films emphasize human-human conflict because it’s exciting. However, in a real situation, this isn’t going to happen all that often.
With that said, you shouldn’t ignore the possibility of needing to defend your family (which is why we have a whole defense section). You don’t need to carry tons of ammo and several weapons.
Instead, I recommend carrying a concealed handgun and learning how to use it. With a sturdy belt and a few extra mags, you’ll be able to defend yourself in most situations. If you have a concealed carry setup that allows you to carry all of this outside of your bag, all the better.
Many may want to take a larger gun, like a rifle. However, I only recommend this in rural settings and for those that truly know how to use it. In a city, a large rifle will make you stand out like a sore thumb. However, in rural settings, it could potentially be used for hunting.
- Less-than-lethal options. If you can’t or don’t want to purchase a pistol, get pepper spray instead. Just remember: even pepper spray isn’t perfectly safe. You still have to be willing to hurt, maim, or potentially kill someone when you use it.
- Groups. If you have a group you’re prepping with, aim to use similar caliber weapons. Being able to share ammo is incredibly useful.
- Kids. Now is the time to teach firearm safety. During an emergency, firearms may be more accessible, as people will be carrying them around and not keeping them in safes. Keep your kids safe by teaching them about firearms before an emergency occurs.
- Think you’re Rambo.
- Play into “lone wolf” prepping. Even if you’re well-equipped, the odds of you surviving against a group of enemies (even if they don’t have guns) by yourself are low. Therefore, if you truly want to be prepared for an SHTF situation that may involve armed combatants, you need friends who are also prepared.
- Carry around multiple large firearms. You don’t need a shotgun and a rifle when every ounce counts.
- Invest in bulky accessories. Unless you have a plan and a group to enact that plan with, night vision and other bulk, tactical accessories aren’t necessary. If you must have them, keep them in a separate case for home use or at a planned bug out location.
Documents are another “boring” category that doesn’t get much attention. I recommend at least a notepad and a pen. The Rite In The Rain brand is recommended, as the paper is water resistant. These low-weight items will help you in many situations.
Next, you should also store important documents. Add a USB drive to your bag with digital copies of all these documents. Put the USB in a bag and seal it to prevent water damage. Also, print out important documents and laminate them for quick access. Driver’s licenses, social security cards, and insurance cards fall into this category.
Be sure to store a copy of everyone’s birth certificates and passports (if you have them). I also recommend keeping a copy of financial accounts and credit card numbers in your bag. Don’t forget the expiration date and CVV. Write down the phone numbers of any financial institutions you have accounts with.
These businesses can be very helpful in a crisis. However, if you don’t know how to contact them, they can’t help you. While you’re at it, do the same for any insurance companies you have a policy with.
Next, think about any specific documents a government official might ask for. Marriage certificates, proof of military service, adoption records, titles, deeds, and similar documents fall into this category. You probably don’t need these in physical form (except maybe adoption records), but you should have digital copies.
Keep pictures of everyone in your family and other important people. In the case of a natural disaster, these pictures can help with identification purposes.
- Kids. Keep identifying documents in the child’s bag for all kids over four. This should include the child’s name, contact information, address, and important medical information (like allergies). Pictures of family members can be useful, too. For younger children, consider sewing a tag into the inside of their survival clothes with a basic version of this information.
- Pack copies of everything. In an emergency, you’ll likely only need basic information in physical form. However, since you don’t know what will happen to anything in your home, keep a digital version of everything important.
- Use full-sized documents. Shrink documents to fit them easier into your bag. Of course, make sure you can still read it. Many documents can be condensed by writing the account number and other information on paper. For instance, you may not need your health insurance card if you have the policy number written down.
There is no promise that credit cards will work in an emergency. Therefore, having cash on hand can be vital. The big question is: how much?
There are a lot of variances here. Honestly, it depends on how much cash you can safely stow away. However much cash you put back split it between bags. If one bag gets lost or stolen, you don’t want it all in one place.
Some people only have $200, while others may have $15,000. There is no right answer. More money is often better, but not everyone can part with thousands of dollars.
Also, don’t keep only $100 bills. Be sure to have lots of $20s and $5s as well.
- Precious metals. Some people like to keep precious metals stored in case currency becomes useless. If you decide to go this route, be careful with weight. It can get quite heavy. Furthermore, try to use jewelry instead of gold or silver coins. You can wear it instead of carrying it in the bag, and it’s easier to play it off as if that’s “all you have.” People may assume you have more if you pull out a gold coin.
- Assume money will be worthless. In only, the most extreme cases will paper money become worthless. If you simply have to evacuate an hour or two away, having enough money for a hotel room while you figure everything out can be valuable.
17. Bags, Ties, and Other Items
It’s important to keep all your gear nice and dry. Otherwise, many things may become completely useless. Therefore, get several smaller, waterproof pouches to store your smaller gear in and place these inside your larger bag. It keeps things more organized, and you can use the containers for other things later.
Ziploc bags can be extremely useful. You can use them to store items you forage or collect rainwater. They’re extremely lightweight and quick to use. Large trash bags perform many of the same functions but are much larger. You can even use them to throw together a shelter.
Things like tape and zip-ties are lightweight and versatile. You can use them to improvise and repair gear. Use a pack strap for your sleeping pad or bag. It’ll keep it rolled up tight, and you can potentially use them for other purposes once you set up camp. Add some ranger bands, and you’ll have many lightweight items to improvise with.
Consider adding a watch to help keep track of time. You can’t assume that your phone will be handy and powered. A quality watch can help, but don’t feel you have to spend tons.
I recommend luggage locks to prevent looting. Unfortunately, it happens. If you need to leave your pack for any reason, use this lock to prevent anyone from taking things out. Use it while sleeping and any time you’re in a shelter. You don’t need anything huge, as most looters won’t be prepared to meet resistance.
You may also want to keep a set of handcuff keys, just in case.
- Go overboard. You don’t need 1,000 zip ties and 12 rolls of duct tape. You just don’t.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
Bug out bags are incredibly varied. However, just because there is no such thing as a “perfect” bug out bag, doesn’t mean there aren’t any bad ones. Here are some things that you should avoid when packing and planning.
Don’t create your bag to get you through a certain timespan. Real-life situations rarely work on these specific timelines, and this method doesn’t help you decide what gear to pack. Will you need a handsaw for two days of survival? Or three?
Don’t assume that your bug out plan will work. Don’t assume you’ll have a car. No plan survives past first contact. Instead, pack your bag to handle as many situations as possible.
Don’t plan for unlikely scenarios over more common situations. Most bug out situations is likely to be due to localized natural disasters – not zombies.
With that said, don’t get tunnel vision on specific events. Your area may be prone to hurricanes, but you may also need to leave for various other reasons. Design your bag for your specific environment by considering the terrain, common weather patterns, and water access.
Don’t assume you’ll craft or harvest everything. Yes, you may be able to purify water easily in your area or bushcraft a shelter. But you’ll need water, food, and shelter when an event occurs. Don’t assume you’ll have time to find food right away.
On the other hand, don’t assume that you’ll just carry everything you need. You should only carry a couple of days’ worth of consumables. Plan to scavenge everything after that and pick your items accordingly.
Don’t buy premade kits. They usually include cheaper gear and stuff you don’t need. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer.
Bug out bags can be expensive. If you purchase quality versions of everything on this list, you can expect to spend close to $2,000. If you have multiple family members, you’ll spend even more. Luckily, you don’t have to purchase everything right away. Many of these items are cheaper or accessible (like printing documents). Get the items you can afford now and slowly build your pack over time.
Don’t skimp on cost, though. It’s not worth purchasing the cheapest item available if it’s going to fall apart. If something is surprisingly cheap, there is a reason for it. You also need to consider weight, which often increases as items become cheaper.
Spreading Out Gear
Don’t spread critical gear across your family members’ bags. You should pack absolutely necessary items like water and food in all bags. Then, if you get separated, you don’t have to worry about your spouse not having food to eat.
However, there are some items that you can purchase just one for your whole family. A handsaw falls into this category. You don’t have to have a handsaw, but it’s a nice addition. Therefore, aim to keep one in an adult’s pack.
The idea is that everyone should be able to survive if they get separated (except young children, although they should have some gear, too).
Here’s a list of items we recommend every adult have in their pack. If you have kids, spread their essentials throughout each adult’s pack. That way, if the adults become separated, each will have at least some essential gear for the child they end up with.
- Durable Backpack
- 27 ounces of water (Klean Kanteen)
- Water filter
- Water purification tablets
- Enough food for two-three days (include at least some ready-to-eat in case one person gets separated from the stove)
- Tesla lighter
- Tinder for fire starting
- Ferro rod
- Sleeping bag (or similar item)
- Sleeping pad
- Simple first aid supplies (bandaids, medications, etc)
- Field knife & sheath
- 50 ft cordage
- Notebook and pen
- Personal identifying information
- Pictures of family members
- Cash (around $400 per pack is a good place to start)
- Condensed soap
- Personal clothing items
- Wet wipes
- Ham radio
- Charging cords for all devices
- Battery pack (charged)
- Ziplocks, trash bags, and other “pouches”
Spread out all the other equipment between the adults’ bags.
Even very small children can carry their own bag. However, you should design their bag mostly for comfort and immediate survival. Most kids will like to carry special toys in their bags. Keep their headlamp inside their bag so they can access it as necessary. Include documents to help identify them and find you should separation occur.
Include some ready-to-eat food in their bag, but aim for this to be redundant. Keep enough food for them in your bag, too. Approach water the same way. You can also add essential clothing to their bag.
You should always assume that the child won’t be as responsible as you. Therefore, nothing in their bag should be critical. It should improve the child’s comfort and add some redundant items.
Of course, having all the gear in the world isn’t helpful if you don’t know how to use it. Learn how to use all the gear as you purchase it. Master it before you need it.
Seneca wrote, “This is why we need to envisage every possibility and to strengthen the spirit to deal with the things which may conceivably come about. Rehearse them in your mind: exile, torture, war, shipwreck. Misfortune may snatch you away from your country… If we do not want to be overwhelmed and struck numb by rare events as if they were unprecedented ones, fortune needs to be envisaged in a thoroughly comprehensive way.”
Seneca describes that we should visualize and prepare for emergencies so that they do not cause us to panic. Even very rare and catastrophic events can occur, and with a properly constructed bug out bag for our family, we will be ready for anything.
Take a look at our 13 practical prepping tips for more ideas on how to PREPARE. Or, look at our list of bushcraft shelters for some inspiration. In addition to a bug out bag, make sure you have a get home bag prepared also. Remember, you can take notes on your tactical kindle to ensure you have them when you need them.