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How to Build a Bug Out Bag for Your Family

How to Build a Bug Out Bag for Your Family post image

Building a Bug Out Bag (also called a BOB or 72-Hour Bag) is one of the most important steps you can take to prepare for disaster and increase your chances of survival. The idea is to pack your BOB with everything you need to survive the initial 72 hours after a disaster, by which time the chaos will have hopefully died down and you can return to civilization. Or, if return isn’t possible, then the gear in the Bug Out Bag will help you secure food, water, shelter, and other essentials for survival.   Building a Bug Out Bag is a big deal and, if you are building one for your family, then you’ve got to keep these addition considerations in mind.

Are All Of Your Family Members Mobile?

If you have infants or young children, then you’ve got to deal with the fact that they won’t be able to walk, or won’t be able to walk long distances.

I’ve got a 5 year old and she’s been going backpacking since she was a baby. Yes, I am really proud that she carries her own pack and is a better hiker than many adults. But I also know that it still takes us about 4x longer to cover terrain when she is with us. In a disaster situation where we’ve got to Get Out of Dodge fast, she would really slow us down. That is why I keep her Bug Out Bag really small and light. If she gets tired, I can strap her bag onto mine and carry it for her.

If my daughter was younger and less experienced, I wouldn’t count on her being able to walk herself.   Up until she was 3, we used one of these styles of combo carriers/backpacks for our Bug Out Bags.

infant Bug Out Bag

If you will be carrying your small child while bugging out, then you will really have to cut down on the weight of your other gear. Read this post about how to cut weight from your survival backpack. Every ounce counts!

Dividing Up the Gear in Your Family’s Bug Out Bags

One of the benefits of bugging out with your family is that you can divide up gear amongst all the mobile members (obviously your infants aren’t going to be carrying their own bag). But how do you divide it up? There are four main options:

  1. Give each member matching BOBs
  2. Make Primary and Secondary BOBs
  3. Divide Up Gear between BOBs
  4.  Essentials in Each BOB and Divide Up Extras

Option 1: Matching BOBs

The first option is to give each family member matching Bug Out Bags.  If you get split up, then everyone has what they need to survive. However, the load will be heavier because you each have to carry one of everything, so you won’t have space for any extras or comfort items.

Option 2: Primary and Secondary BOBs

The second option is to make one “Primary” BOB which contains all of the essential items.  The “Secondary” bags will contain less-essential items which are useful but not absolutely necessary for survival.

For example:

  • The Primary BOB might contain a weapon, tarp, water filter, fire starter, rain ponchos, water bottle, emergency food ration bars, and important documents.
  • The Secondary BOBs would contain items like a tent, cook set, extra clothes, extra food, water, an ax, and comfort items like a deck of playing cards.

With this approach, you will be able to carry a lot more survival gear.  If necessary, you could also ditch all the Secondary BOBs so you could flee faster. However, if you get split apart, then you run the risk of some family members missing essential gear.

Option 3: Divide Up Gear Between BOBs

The third option is to divide the items up between all bags. That way, if one bag gets lost or stolen, you still have some essential items left.   You can also keep the load lighter in each of the bags this way, which will help you all to move faster.  However, as with the Option 2, the downside to this is that you’ll each be missing essential gear if you get separated.

Option 4: Essentials in Each BOB and Divide Extras

With this final option (which is generally thought to be the best for families), you put survival essentials in each BOB.  Then you divide up non-essentials between the bags as you see fit (such as putting the heaviest items in the strongest member’s bag and light items like toilet paper in the children’s bags).  Below is an example of how the gear might be divided up.

Items to in Each BOB:

  • Tarp
  • Water filter or purification tablets/drops
  • Basic first aid kit
  • Knife
  • Emergency food
  • Water
  • Rain poncho
  • Personal documents
  • Compass and map
  • Two-way radios (if you are using them)

Items Divided Between BOBs:

  • Cook set
  • Tent
  • Rope
  • Extra first aid items
  • Extra food
  • Extra water
  • Extra clothes
  • More first aid items
  • Weapons
  • Flashlights
  • Specialty and comfort items
  • Emergency radio (if you aren’t using two-way radios)


Where Will You Keep the Bug Out Bags?

If disaster strikes, let’s hope that the entire family is together at home. But what if disaster strikes while you are at work and your kids are at school? It is really important that you have a disaster communication plan in place for these situations. But you will also want to consider where you will keep your Bug Out Bags in case the disaster happens while you aren’t at home.

I keep one Bug Out Bag at home, and a duplicate in my car. My wife has one in her car too.   Since my daughter is only 5, we don’t have a Bug Out Bag in her kindergarten locker. But, when she gets older, we will probably keep a “light” version of the Bug Out Bag in her school locker (obviously with the knife, matches, and certain other items removed!).

Avoiding Duplicate Items in Your BOBs

As I mentioned before, one of the benefits of bugging out with the family is that you can carry more gear. Since you only need 1 of certain items, you can also significantly reduce the load of each of your BOBs, which will increase your mobility.

Here are some Bug Out Bag items you only need ONE of:

Obviously, each person will need their own food, clothes, rain jacket, and sleeping bag. There are some items which really only need one of, but I like to bring duplicates of just in case.

These are the items I PACK DUPLICATES of:

  • Flashlights
  • Extra fuel
  • Knives
  • Matches/fire starter
  • Water bottle (one for each family member)
  • Plates and utensils (in theory, you could all share, but it is nice to have a set for each family member)
  • Compass and map (each family member gets one in case they get lost)

Specialty Items for Family Bug Out Bags

In addition to the Bug Out Bag essentials, these are some of the items you will want to pack in your family BOB:

For Families with Infants and Toddlers

  • Baby formula (pack this even if the baby is breastfeeding; the mother might not be available)
  • Bottles
  • Pacifier
  • Diapers (not sure if disposable of reusable diapers would be better – any input would be appreciated!)
  • Baby medicines

For All Families

  • Multivitamins (kids have higher nutritional demands, and they also might not be so keen on eating foraged plants, so have some supplements available)
  • Extra clothes for the kids (kids get wet and dirty faster than adults, so you will want an extra change of clothes for them; plus it will let you regulate body temperature better by piling on the layers)
  • Toys/Comfort Items (My daughter has paper and pencils in her BOB, and a very small stuffed animal)
  • Photographs of the Family (these are useful in case you get separated from each other)
  • Emergency contact lists and map of safe places

Image credit: Overlooking the 3 Mile by Mark; found on Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Do you have family Bug Out Bags packed?  What items are inside?  Leave your comments below or join the discussion on Facebook!