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The term Bug Out Bag (also called a “Go Bag” or a “72 Hour Survival Kit”) can be off-putting to a lot of people.

It makes it seem like you’re eagerly awaiting a chance to go berserk in the wilderness. In fact, Urban Dictionary even defines Bug Out as “an act of freaking out over usually nothing; overreacting.”

Everyone Needs a Bug Out Bag

Terminology aside, a Bug Out Bag is an absolute essential part of disaster planning and preparedness. As talked about in this post What Is a Bug Out Bag, disaster can strike at any moment.

  • A hurricane warning might mean you need to evacuate your home. Having your Bug Out Bag packed could make the difference in getting out before the crowds.
  • An earthquake could force you to flee your home. The items in your Bug Out Bag could treat your injuries and provide you with shelter until the chaos dies down.
  • An EMP event might result in a complete grid outage and anarchy. This situation might not seem likely, but if SHTF, you’ll be glad to have your Bug Out Bag packed!

Even if you think that these disasters will never occur, isn’t it better to be safe than sorry? I personally sleep better knowing that I’ve done all in my power to keep my family safe!

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Why a Three Day Bug Out Bag?

As a report from the Heritage Foundation says, local governments are often overwhelmed during large-scale disasters. They rely on state and federal governments to help in these situations. However, it takes an average of 72 hours for state and federal governments to respond.

Because you can’t rely on the government to help you right away (or at all, depending on the type of disaster), you should be self-sufficient for at least three days.

Some people prefer to make their Bug Out Bags for even longer periods of time.

What to Put in Your Bug Out Bag

There are a lot of Bug Out Bag lists out there which will tell you exactly what to pack.  However, these lists ignore the fact that everyone has different survival needs.

Please don’t follow any Bug Out Bag checklist blindly.  Instead, think about:

  1. The conditions where you live
  2. The most likely disasters to occur in your area
  3. How many people will be in your group
  4. Special considerations for people in your group (such as children, elderly, health issues…)

To make sure no important item gets overlooked on the Bug Out Bag list, I encourage people to divide up gear into categories based on goal/task.

These categories are the essentials you will need to stay alive.

BOB Gear Category 1: Water

Water is your #1 most important item for survival in a disaster situation. Depending on the disaster, the normal sources of water may be completely contaminated – such as after a nuclear attack

  • Water: Your Bug Out Bag water items should include 1-3 quarts of water per person. This is estimating that you will drink 1 quart of water per day.
  • Water Bottle: You’ll also need a device for carrying water such as a water bottle (Amazon Link) or camelback. (Amazon Link)
  • Water Treatment Method: Never drink water without treating it first. I personally like the Sawyer Mini water filter (Amazon Link) because it is just 2 ounces and filters up to 100,000 gallons of water. However, it won’t remove viruses so isn’t suitable for urban sources of water.  I recommend reading this post on How to Choose a Survival Water Treatment System

BOB Gear Category 2: Shelter and Warmth

Brush survival shelter
If you know how to make a brush survival shelter like this one, then you won’t need as much gear in your Bug Out Bag.
Image credit: “Wilderness Skills Clinic” (CC BY-NC 2.0) by  borkazoid

For most, shelter probably means using a tarp or a tent.  There is a big debate as to whether a tarp or tent is best for your Bug Out Bag. It really comes down to your level of experience.  If you don’t have experience sleeping in tarp shelters, then go for a tent.

Choose a tent which has the highest Hydrostatic Head rating you can find while still be lightweight.

The rating tells you how well it will withstand water (as well as its ability to withstand snags). Don’t go with anything less than a 2500 rating!

You will also need a sleeping bag, bivvy bag, (Amazon Link) or emergency blanket for each person.


Recommended reading: How to choose the best survival tent


I recommend that you get familiar with the many types of survival shelters, and learn how to make a survival shelter out of debris. You never know if your tent is going to get lost or stolen, so this knowledge could save you!

BOB Gear Category 3: Food Supplies

According to the survival rule of threes, you can actually go 3 weeks without food.  But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t including food in your Bug Out Bag list.People get grumpy and angry when hungry.

Choose foods which are non-perishable, high protein, and high fat (you’ll need the energy!). You’ll probably want to avoid canned goods because they are so heavy.

If you aren’t sure what food is suitable, read this post for 50+ Bug Out Bag Food Ideas.

BOB Gear Category 4: Fire​

ferro rod
Ferro rods (Amazon Link) make good backups to matches.

Fire isn’t just about warmth.

  1. It will help keep wild animals away.
  2. A lit branch can be wielded as a weapon.
  3. Fire can be used as a signal.
  4. Fire can be used to boil water for drinking and first aid.

 

BOB Gear Category 5: Self Defense Items

I’ve met people who have a full arsenal of weapons in their Bug Out Bags.  A firearm certainly seems like a good idea, you can read more about the best bug out guns here.  However, multiple firearms are just likely to weigh you down.

You may also want to consider pepper spray for your BOB. It is a great non-lethal weapon.

BOB Gear Category 6: Hygiene Items

You won’t really need much for hygiene, so don’t bring shampoos or even deodorants. Here’s some essentials:

  1. Baby wipes
  2. Small bar of soap
  3. Toothbrush and toothpaste (or tooth powder) – Emergency Dental Kit Checklist
  4. Feminine hygiene items

BOB Gear Category 7: Clothing

When it comes to clothes for your Bug Out Bag, you don’t need more than a spare shirt and pants.  Who cares if you are going to be stinky and dirty – you will be alive!

As for the selection of clothes, choose wool items or camping clothes (usually synthetics) because they dry quickly.

If you get wet while bugging out, it could quickly lead to hypothermia so you want to have that rain jacket and dry clothes and socks to change into.

​A wide-brimmed hat (Amazon Link) is also good for keeping rain and sun out of your eyes. If you are balding (like me), then the hat will prevent sunburn on your head!

I do keep extra socks (I love these Merino socks from Darn Tough (Amazon Link) in my BOB because keeping your feet dry is so important. I also have my boots right next to my BOB in case SHTF while I’m wearing sneakers or sandals.


Recommended reading: Best Socks For Survival


BOB Gear Category 8: First Aid Kit

As for first aid, stick to the essentials. You don’t need a tourniquet in this kit, but you will need a multi-purpose tool like a Leatherman which has small scissors, bandages, antiseptic wipes, and burn gel.

Read this post for a Checklist of First Aid Items for Your Bug Out Bag

​BOB Gear Category 9: Multi-functional Emergency Gear and Tools

Try to imagine all of the obstacles and dangers you might come across when fleeing a disaster.

  1. ​There might be broken glass all over the place.
  2. You might need to break into a building for shelter.
  3. You might need to walk in the dark.
  4. There might be dangerous chemicals in the air…

These obstacles can be overcome with gear such as heavy-duty gloves, a crowbar, flashlight, and face mask.

To make sure you don’t miss anything, do your best to visualize what could happen during a disaster. These types of gear are included in the Bug Out Bag checklist below.

However, everyone’s Bug Out Bag list is going to be different so it pays to visualize potential disaster scenarios.

​BOB Gear Category 10: Vital Documents

Finally, don’t forget to include all of the important documents that you might need in an emergency situation, such as your ID, passport, phone numbers, and photos of family members (in case you get separated).

Here is a list of what documents you need for your Bug Out Bag.

Bug Out Bag Checklist

*Downloadable version at end of post.

  1. Water: 1-3 quarts per person
  2. Water bottle (Amazon Link)
  3. Water treatment method: Such as a filter,water purification tabs, etc.
  4. Tent or tarp
  5. Sleeping bag, bivvy bag, (Amazon Link) or emergency blanket
  6. Survival food: Such as protein bars or MREs
  7. Fire starter (Amazon Link)
  8. First aid kit: (Amazon Link). See checklist of Bug Out Bag first aid items
  9. Self-defense weapon: Such as a firearm or pepperspray
  10. Hygiene kit: Such as toothbrush and paste, baby wipes, TP, feminine items…
  11. Change of clothes
  12. Rain jacket (Amazon Link)
  13. Brimmed hat: (Amazon Link) To protect your eyes from sun and rain.
  14. Boots 
  15. Survival knife: Read how to choose a survival knife here
  16. Paracord
  17. Heavy duty survival gloves
  18. Face mask: (Amazon Link) Read how to choose a face mask here.
  19. Emergency light: Such as a headlamp, hand crank flashlight, chemical lights…
  20. Emergency radio: Read how to choose an emergency radio here
  21. Vital Documents: Read what vital documents to pack here
  22. Cash: At least $50 is recommended
  23. Compass (Amazon Link)
  24. Maps: With evacuation route marked
  25. Waterproof cover (Amazon Link) and/or dry sack

(Optional Items)

  1. Survival stove and cook set
  2. Crowbar 
  3. Lock picking set (Amazon Link)
  4. Folding saw
  5. Sewing kit (Amazon Link)
  6. Survival guides: See our guide to the top prepping and survival books here
  7. Spare glasses and glasses case
  8. Folding shovel: Guide to best survival shovels here
  9. Trash bags
  10. Spare batteries
  11. Charging kit: (Amazon Link) Such as a solar charger for phones and batteries
  12. Duct tape (Amazon Link)
  13. Hand warmers (Amazon Link)
  14. Comfort and personal items: Such as toys for kids, playing cards, a book

Click to download a PDF of this checklist.

Have you packed your Bug Out Bag yet?

How does your Bug Out Bag list compare to this list? Let us know in the comments.

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  1. I have an idea , I read an article about pepper spray awhile back. In the article they discussed effective use of pepper spray and at end they made a suggestion that stuck with me. They suggested wasp spray instead of pepper spray because wasp spray will shoot up to 25′ or 50′ that gives you distance & distance could be very vital in survival. I am pretty sure a face full of wasp spray will stop someone especially since wasp spray foams. Just an idea plus it would serve two purposes.

    • The aerosols tend to be a lot bigger for wasp spray so weight could be a factor. Apart from that though this does seem like a decent idea if you are stuck and have access to wasp spray.

      • In Canada certain sprays are prohibited items such as pepper spray & bear spray. Wasp spray is available in big box stores & hardware stores & is very effective against critters that might harm you.

  2. Make sure to keep your pets in mind! Make sure to pack food for your animal, and take any other precautions needed to ensure that they remain safe.

  3. In the mist of a real crisis, I don’t think I’d be worried about feeding my dog although I care for him dearly. I’d be more worried about the possibility that I may have to feed my dog to my family.. just saying…

  4. Cold Steel shovel, Crunch multitool with saw blades, lockaid “gun”, 2 qts of water, (depending upon the area) 1 plastic canteen, one plastic canteen, water filter, water treatment pills/fluids, 2 canteen cups, medical kit (to include tape and condoms) firekit, heavy-duty trekking poles, Kindle reader with survival info, “shaker” AA light with Campmor headband to hold it, keychain led light, 2 lbs of rations (almond butter, Tang, instant oatmeal, powdered Gatorade, spices, Day pack, OD green socks, underwear, sleeping/shelter gear (5 lbs) about 5 lbs of clothing/boots(beyond what you’d wear to the office) NVD goggles, about 25 lbs. 3 lbs of soft armor, 2 lbs of pistol and ammo, and possibly another 12 lbs of autorifle, silencer, scope and ammo.

  5. I wanted a 4 season shelter/sleep setup that was 5 lbs or less, very compact, is not effected by geting wet, all of it being capable of being worn as a poncho. What I came up with was a highly modified Escape bivvy, a bag made out of a 6×8 PEVA shower curtain, a bag made out of a pair of casualty blankets, a bugnet bag. I used velcro to create a seall the way around the Escape. I added a removable hood, with drawstring and another drawstring at the neck. I made the bivvy a foot longer and 6″ wider at the shoulder. I created the other bags by installing a snap every 5″, all the way around and by sewing (1 edge only) a 3/4″ wide strip of muslin sheet. These strips “tangle” and hold in body heat really well. The casualty bag is stiff enough to serve as a pack frame, letting me save weight and money in my pick of backpack. The shoulder straps and hip belt can be padded with dark socks and underwear. This again lets me save weight and pack cost. My hammock is made out of monofilament gillnet, minus the lead weights, becomes a hammock via the muletapeThe bugnet bag is of course
    useful vs bugs, but it also protects vs condensation inside of the Escape bivvy. If I get inside all of the bags, I can sleep pk (by virtue of an Ambien pill) at freezing temps, given two sets of long johns, wearing my (unlaced boots or 2 sets of socks) gloves, shemaugh around the face, (keep head inside the bags) neck gaiter, boonie hat,, and balaclava. This is if I”m up in a hammock or on a pile of dry debris. If I add dry debris between all the bags and the layers of clothing, I can sleep ok at 20F, and suffer thru the night at `10F, or sleep ok with a seated position and the UCO candle lantern (beeswax candles only) or happy rocks/water bottles giving off heat between my feet. I can handle 0F if I can have the aluminum foil reflector on the far side of a Dakota fire pit, using the happy rocks, and the PEVA over the propped open end of the bivvy. If it’s below zero, it’s unlikely (at night, at least) that anyone will bother you if you use a Siberian fire lay to “project” heat 6 ft or so, “aimed” at the propped open head end of the bivvy. The clear PEVA lets in radiant heat, but then traps it. If you set up the gear as a supershelter, 0F at night can become 40F by noon, if the sun comes out, due to the greenhouse effect.

  6. Cash: don’t carry $20 bills. We had a major blackout here and convenience stores were selling packs of 2 batteries for $20, not giving change. Since then I keep small dollar store change purses of quarters, loonies, townies, & $5 bills. Maybe a ten. Cash talks when debit & credit are down

  7. I think this list is good too for a person that would not be able to get home but would need to wait where they are until a family member could get to them. For instance I know someone who would have to go thru the middle of a city to get home and I know she would get lost trying to go around the town. Someone would need to go get her at her work place.

  8. I think bug spray and sun screen would also be good, too. Hard to be focused with a sun burn and bug bites.

    • Yeah for sure – this is just a guide, it needs to be personalized to your own needs and climate etc.

  9. Great lists here. I would add a mechanical analog wrist watch. In a survival situation, knowing the time will be important. Examples: gauging distances traveled, planning when to bivouac for the night, and to offset going crazy while waiting around.

    Also, I must plan for a northern climate. I always include an axe for chopping enough fuel to stay warm through the night and a small coffee metal can and long lasting candles for added warmth & light inside a car.

    Addendum… needles & thread, fingernail clippers, good tweezers, small scissors, long Ace cloth bandage, Zippo lighter, instant coffee, sugar packets, & powdered hot cocoa mix.

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