Ultimate Bug Out Bag – Overview:
Updated: This tutorial references “Ultimate Bugout Bags” which we used to build and sell. We no longer sell bug out bags.
Building or buying the “Ultimate Bug Out Bag” is relative to each person’s situation. This is because these bags are designed to save your life and help you escape from danger or keep you alive while you head towards safety. The scope of this tutorial will be dedicated to the thought that is needed when planning and your bug out bag.
A “Bug Out Bag” or BOB is a pack you can carry that contains various items you will need to survive for a short or extended period of time. It should be designed to grab and take with you if you have to leave your residence in the event of an crisis.
The ultimate bug out bag should be personalized to your geographical location and the probability of natural disasters in that region, so there is no magic formula for building one. However, this short tutorial will give you a good foundation to build on and some ideas to get you on the right track.
Keep in mind, once you build or buy your BOB, you should take it out on routine trial runs to help you optimize it and rotate the contents so nothing goes bad. It’s also a great excuse to go camping.
There are a number of emergencies that can come up in your life where you may find yourself in a situation that requires you to leave town. This could be caused by a force of nature, social uprising, a bad day at work, black plague, terrorism, or even a zombie outbreak.
No matter what the cause, you need to be prepared for anything. The most important resource to be prepared, besides a level head and experience in dealing with the specific situation, would be a handy collection of tools and supplies i.e. a bug out bag..
Having a bug out bag on hand will greatly increase your chances of survival. You probably have most of these items around your home already, but in a situation where time is a issue you want to have these items in a central location so you’re not frantically running around your home at the last minute, lowering your chances of escape. This is where your BOB or “Bug Out Bag” comes in.
Even if your first plan of action is to barricade your home, you will need a back up plan–your home or stronghold can easily become compromised.
Ultimate Bug Out Bag – Have a Specific Purpose
You need to have a clear plan or strategy on how the bug out bag will be used. Believe it or not, this one step is the most critical, and the most overlooked step in building or buying a bug out bag. Will your bug out bag have a specific purpose that facilitates moving from one location to a predetermined bug-out location?
Or, will your bug out bag be used for an open-ended mission; meaning if you bug out it may be for days or weeks until you can find a suitable place to become stationary? The reason this step is so important is because we need to know how much gear to pack in the BOB.
If you know you are bugging out from point A to point B, you can put a specific list of the items that you will need in your bag which usually leads to a lighter bob. All you need to do is account for the time and terrain between point A and point B. The only other consideration would be if you wanted to pack survival gear for the “point B” location.
If you are bugging out to simply get the hell out of dodge to an non-permanent location, you will need to evaluate how long you intend to stay off-grid. If it is an indefinite amount of time, meaning you may just set up camp in BFE and get cozy for a while, we need to scrutinize a few more variables. Shelter, water sources and filtration as well as food foraging need to be planned in much more detail than with a Point A-B bob.
Either way, not knowing or considering these two strategies will lead you to buying too little or too much stuff and thwarts the whole purpose of a bug out bag, which is preparedness. Knowing your terrain, and approximately how far you want or need to travel on “day one” is key to planning your escape from trouble or seeking safety.
For instance, if you are planning a vehicle bug out bag you will want to consider the terrain where you most often drive to and from. Will you be heading home or will you simply be heading away from danger? If your drives are mainly to and from work, check out the terrain that you will most likely be traveling if the need to bug out arises.
I clumped these all together because they really go hand in hand. The heavier the pack, the slower you will be able to get away from trouble. Depending on your conditioning, it may also dictate how far you can travel in one day, or all together. Bug out bags that are designed for a point A to point B mission are usually lighter than those designed for an indefinite mission because you can measure food, water and other variables for a specific time frame.
So how much should the ultimate bug out bag weigh? Twenty pounds is a good weight for a medium sized point A – point B bug out bag. Hikers on long trails, like the Appalachian Trail, usually aim for ten to twelve pounds due to the distance and pace they like to travel. The Army likes to strap most soldiers down with around forty pounds of gear. Ten and forty pounds are the extremes, both are “doable” depending on what you want to sacrifice and how much you can stand to carry.
If you are a 140 pound man carrying a 40 lb pack in a mountainous terrain, you better be in good shape and you should know that this combination will slow you down and reduce the amount of distance you can put between yourself and trouble on day one. You should know this and plan for additional time between the epicenter and your destination.
On the other hand, if you are a minimalist who is heading into the wilderness with an ultralight bob for an indefinite stay, you will be lacking survival gear, and you will probably have to McGyver your way through most situations. Most minimalist gear is designed to be very light, it is also light-weight in it’s durability, so redundancy needs to be factored.
Most bob’s, at least the good ones, are designed with redundancy on mission critical items life fire, water, food, shelter and foraging, which all adds weight. Hikers on pre-blazed trails are usually not very far from other hikers or civilization should trouble arise. Survivalist bugging out do not have that luxury. They are often times escaping civilization and trying to avoid other people.
Minimalist “survival” bug out bags are often owned by true woodsmen/ survivalist who can fart in a can and spit on a stick to whip up a campsite and dinner. So, unless you are Bear Grylls, who magically finds the exact type of material his situation calls for on every episode, or a special forces guru, you should lean towards a heavier pack that has more gear in it. Just be sure that you can handle that amount of weight in your environment.
Shelter & Warmth
You can survive weeks without food, days without water but you’ll not survive the night with hypothermia. Therefore, preparing for your bug out area’s climate, terrain and types of predators takes precedent over finding water sources and foraging for food. We design and engineer all of our bug out bags by climate to make sure we account for winter conditions for each area of the United States; if you’re building your own bob you should too.
Will you be climbing mountains, trekking deserts or crossing rivers? If so, you need to have an appropriate shelter strategy to protect you from hypothermia, dehydration or from predators like bears and mountain lions. You need to have redundancy in your shelter preparation strategy, meaning a way to sleep when it’s cold, hot, snowing or raining. Think about it. Spending twenty minutes pitching a tent in freezing rain may be enough to kill you if your core body temp drops too low and you cannot raise it. You need to be able to find or make a shelter fast, reliable and will protect you from the elements.
Warmth is important to sleep, and sleep is important. When you are bugging out, you are trying to put as much distance between yourself and trouble, or trying to get to your bug out location as soon as possible. If you are unable to get enough sleep exhaustion will set in and slow you down, cloud your senses and severely affect your ability to survive.
I am going to do, or have already done (depending on when you read this) a section on survival shelters that goes into shelter building and planning. However, for the scope of this tutorial just suffice it to say, shelter is a “biggie” and is usually the most expensive part of your BOB. So know your terrain, know your skill set and don’t go cheap in this section.
Obviously, water is your next big concern when planning a bug out bag and strategy. This is another area of concern where you need to know the environment and terrain where you will be bugging out to or in. Carrying water is burdensome to say the least. It’s heavy and is quickly used up in hot environments. So the first thing you need to ask when you are devising a bug out strategy is: Does this area have a water source, polluted or otherwise, that can be counted on while bugging out? If so, you need to plan on using, and be able to find, these sources while bugging out. Then, you need to make sure you have a water filter, and preferably some water purification tablets.
Most of your light or “straw based” filters will filter out 99.9% of the things that make you sick. Filters, used in conjunction with tablets (or drops) allow you to make 100% sure that you do not get any foodborne viruses. Just remember, dysentery has killed as many soldiers as war has. When you’re “bugging out” even the smallest infection or illness can kill you or get you caught, at the very least slow your progress to dangerous levels.
Tablets also allow you to fill your canteen or bladder and keep moving without having to stop and take the time to filter water. We have written several articles on how to find water sources in the wild if you want to take a minute to read up on this very important skill.
Food and Foraging
This concern is best answered by the question: “What is the longest amount of time I might have to be in the wilderness?” Most bug out bags that you buy or build will use ration and energy bars to save space and weight. These are needed to provide energy and sustenance during the initial phases of your bug out plan. Beyond that, you will need to plan for food by foraging, trapping, hunting and fishing.
Keep in mind, unless you have already developed these skills (trapping, hunting and fishing) this will be your achilles heel. No amount of equipment that can be packed into a bug out bag will make you good at these skills. They may “aid” you to better perform these skills, but you will need to have foreknowledge of how to perform these skills before embarking on an extended bug out. We highly recommend you begin training now.
One reason we do not put a lot of food in our bug out bags (anymore) is based on the fact that this is usually an item that people have prepped for. Meaning, if you’re bugging out from home, chances are, you have some food preps already and will grab an adequate amount of these preps on your way out the door. You can take canned goods (which are heavy), dried foods, or pre packaged items that can be prepared easily by adding water. A lot of people like to have MRE’s in their bug out bags, which we at survivalist 101 actually do not recommend unless you will in a low water source environment like a dessert.
You might ask “why in the world would we not recommend MRE’s when our government uses these for all of our soldiers?” The short answer is weight. MREs’ are basically canned foods without the can. Instead they use a thick foil (mylar) container to hold the food, that is slightly lighter than the cans most food comes in. Imagine spaghettios in a pouch, it’s lighter than the can, but heavier than freeze dried foods. Freeze dried food pack lighter and taste better than MREs’ do, and that’s a fact.
The biggest objection I usually hear from some people is: “you have to have water to prepare freeze dried food, what if you don’t have water?” My response is usually, “If you do not have a cup of water to cook a freeze dried meal with, food isn’t your problem.” Not to mention, just because you cook your food with water doesn’t mean the water is “lost.” The moisture goes into the food, and then your body, it’s not wasted.
Now, as I stated earlier, if you are in a dry desolate location i.e. Afghanistan or Mojave Desert where water is harder to find… MREs’ make much more sense. However, by in large, most bug out locations that you plan will have lakes, streams wells or other types of water sources that you can use.
First Aid & Hygiene
This is probably the most overlooked section, if you’re interested in having the ultimate bug out bag, don’t neglect first aid. If you’re buying a bug out bag, chances are you are getting a “chinomatic” three dollar first aid kit that amounts to nothing more than a box of band-Aids. Seriously, as I stated earlier, even the smallest of cuts, or smallest of illnesses can be major problems in the wild. There are far too many considerations for me to list all of the items that one could need to have in their first aid kit. This is something, like shelter, that you cannot put too much thought into.
Here are some questions to ponder:
Do you take daily medication? You need to start stockpiling them now by skipping a dose every so often until you have an ample supply built up. Do you have allergies? They are only going to get worse in the woods. Is your bug out area full of snakes? What about mosquitoes? Did you know that mosquitoes are THE deadliest animal on the planet? They have killed more humans than all of the other animals in the world … combined. This isn’t an exaggeration, look it up.
Are you prone to infection? If so, you can buy fish antibiotics that are the exact same as the ones that the doctor prescribes. We used to put these in our bug out bags, but the lawyers put a halt to that, bastards. As I mentioned earlier, dysentery has killed as many soldiers as war … a bottle of diarrhea pills will stop you from hemorrhaging fluids and dehydration , which is what really kills you. Long story short, you cannot spend too much time planning your first aid kit. I have never been in the field and witnessed someone pull out a first aid kit that didn’t wish they had bought the better one.
Hygiene too is important to your health. All of our bug out bags come with a very well stocked hygiene kit that includes: toothbrush, deodorant, comb, shampoo, razor, washcloth and many more items. Not only is it healthy to practice good hygiene in the woods, its also important to have the ability to make yourself look presentable should you need to resurface in town for supplies or something. Coming out of the woods looking like a wooly mammoth and smelling like sasquatch might get you noticed. Attention is the last thing you want when bugging out.
Fire Starting and Building
Without fire you’re as good as dead if you’re in the woods for a prolonged amount of time. Redundancy, Redundancy, Redundancy. You need a way to build a fire under any weather condition that happens in your bug out area. Then you need a back up of that and a backup for that. We do not put tinder in our bug out bags, but you should. Having dry tinder is a life saver when trying to start a fire., especially if you have to build a fire in a hurry. The reason we do not put it in our bob’s is because there is no-way I am going to pay for something that is free in the woods … and I wouldn’t ask you to either. You need a lighter, magnesium striker, flint striker, waterproof matches and anything else that is light that can help you start a fire.
The need to Bug Out does not only happen between 9 – 5. It happens when you least expect it. For this reason, the ultimate bug out bag needs to be prepared to bug out at night. You need a navigation light, preferably a headlamp, a camp light, a hand crank or solar charged light that never needs batteries and candles. The best kinds are the LED ones that just use less batteries, or the little hand-crank ones that don’t require batteries. If you carry small ones, you can pack 2 or 3 in the space that one big one would take up. Like the first aid kit, you will never regret buying the better flashlight, especially when it’s dark.
Shoes and Clothing
This is something that you usually need to add to your bob that is not usually included in ones that you buy. I can’t give too much advice on this subject because everyone’s bug out environment is different. That being said, you should always have a set of clothes on and another set waiting. If you are in colder climates, long underwear is a must. Hotter climates should focus on lighter colored clothes. Do not wear shorts. Never. Socks, keeping a CLEAN pair of socks, maybe two, is most advisable.
The number two injury in World War I & II, right behind gun shots, were feet injuries. Your only mode of transportation in the woods are your feet, which makes them your most important asset. Change socks often, an if possible, wash the sweat and funk out of the ones you take of and let them air-dry on your pack. If room permits, an extra set of shoes is desirable. I break from tradition on this notion, most will tell you to have a good set of boots and that’s all.
In my ultimate bug out bag I have a good set of boots and a good set of extremely light, well ventilated cross country jogging shoes, often called “trainers.” These shoes are light, they dissipate sweat and are designed to be comfortable. If you have a bad blister or foot ailment arise, these shoes may just save your life. They are also great to wear around camp while you let your boots dry out overnight.
If you buy a cheap backpack, it will tear and it will break and it is just that simple. What good are all of Batman’s toys if he lacks the ability to carry them all? The backpack is the first and foremost tool that you will use. When choosing a backpack size and weight matters. My advice to those who are bugging out, in respect to backpacks, is just the opposite of the hiker ultralight crowd, which is to go heavy. A heavier pack usually means a thicker and more durable backpack when comparing MOLLE backpacks.
The reason survivalists, and the armed forces use thick MOLLE survival packs is for their durability. If your building the ultimate bug out bag, start with a thick pack, that is double stitched, taped seams, good zippers and MOLLE webbing to hang gear from. There are many out there, we use Condor Outdoor Packs for all of our bug out bags. They are the perfect blend of quality and price. To get a good 3 day assault pack you are looking at $80 – $100 bucks. If you go cheap here, you will regret it as a backpack failure in the bush is catastrophic.