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.”
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Everyone Needs a Bug Out Bag
Terminology aside, a Bug Out Bag is an absolute essential part of disaster planning and preparedness. Disasters can strike at any moment and can be more common than you would expect.
- 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!
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:
- The conditions where you live
- The most likely disasters to occur in your area
- How many people will be in your group
- 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 or camelback.
- Water Treatment Method: Never drink water without treating it first. I personally like the Sawyer Mini water filter 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
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!
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
Fire isn’t just about warmth.
- It will help keep wild animals away.
- A lit branch can be wielded as a weapon.
- Fire can be used as a signal.
- 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:
- Baby wipes
- Small bar of soap
- Toothbrush and toothpaste (or tooth powder) – Emergency Dental Kit Checklist
- 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 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 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.
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.
- There might be broken glass all over the place.
- You might need to break into a building for shelter.
- You might need to walk in the dark.
- There might be dangerous chemicals in the air…
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).
Our Emergency Binder template will come in handy for this, it is a binder of forms and worksheets that anyone can easily fill out. Simply type your info into the PDF, save a digital copy, and print out a copy. View Template.
Bug Out Bag Checklist
- Water: 1-3 quarts per person
- Water bottle (Amazon Link)
- Water treatment method: Such as a filter,water purification tabs, etc.
- Tent or tarp
- Sleeping bag, bivvy bag or emergency blanket
- Survival food: Such as protein bars or MREs
- Fire starter
- First aid kit: See checklist of Bug Out Bag first aid items
- Self-defense weapon: Such as a firearm or pepperspray
- Hygiene kit: Such as toothbrush and paste, baby wipes, TP, feminine items…
- Change of clothes
- Rain jacket
- Brimmed hat: To protect your eyes from sun and rain.
- Survival knife: Read about the best cheap survival knives.
- Heavy duty survival gloves
- Face mask: (Amazon Link) Read how to choose a face mask here.
- Emergency light: Such as a headlamp, hand crank flashlight, chemical lights…
- Emergency radio: Read how to choose an emergency radio here
- Vital Documents: Read what vital documents to pack here
- Cash: At least $50 is recommended
- Maps: With evacuation route marked
- Waterproof cover and/or dry sack
- Survival stove and cook set
- Lock picking set
- Folding saw
- Sewing kit
- Survival guides: See our guide to the top prepping and survival books here
- Spare glasses and glasses case
- Folding shovel: Guide to best survival shovels here
- Trash bags
- Spare batteries
- Charging kit: Read about the best portable solar power bank.
- Duct tape (Amazon Link)
- Hand warmers (Amazon Link)
- Comfort and personal items: Such as toys for kids, playing cards, a book
For printable versions of this checklist and 16 others see our checklist bundle.
1. Cut Weight
Hanging out with ultra-light backpackers has taught me a lot about reducing weight from my pack. These are people who know that every ounce counts.
An ounce might not seem like a lot – until you consider that it only takes 16 ounces to make a pound. By doing things (which might seem crazy at first) like cutting the edges off of your maps, those ounces can quickly add up into big savings.
Backpackers say that you should only carry 15% to 25% of your body weight. However, that’s backpacking. We are talking about bugging out. You might need to run with your pack on – so cutting weight is even more important.
If your pack weighs more than 30lbs, I suggest reading this post on How to Cut Weight from Your Bug Out Bag. Some of the things you’ll need to focus on are:
- Tent vs. tarp for Bug Out Bag
- Learning knowledge to replace gear
- Choosing multifunctional gear
- Spending the extra money for lightweight items
2. Leave Some Room
This tip doesn’t get mentioned much. Rather, most people seem to encourage preppers to fill their BOBs to the max.
The reason you should leave room in your BOB is because you never know what you will find.
- You find someone else’s abandoned gear and want to take it with you.
- You come across a bunch of wild edibles and decide to carry them with you.
- You find some plastic bottles and want to take to carry extra water.
- It looks like it is going to rain so you want to put dry tinder in your bag for later…
3. Be Willing to Pay for Quality Survival Gear
I don’t believe that you need to spend a fortune to get prepared for a disaster. Do what you can with your allotted budget.
But let’s be honest. While a $5 flashlight is better than no flashlight, it probably isn’t going to withstand the elements very well!
Not all of your gear needs to be super high-quality. To make the most of your budget, prioritize items. These are the ones I believe to be the most important:
- Survival knife: See these best survival knives under $100
- Tent: Tents are very heavy. So, if you choose a tent instead of a tarp, choose a lightweight model. Good lightweight tents are quite pricey.
- Waterproof Gear: Cheap ponchos tear easily. Spend the extra money to buy quality rain jackets for your Bug Out Bag.
- The Bug Out Pack: As someone who goes backpacking a lot, I can tell you that pack quality matters! A crappy pack will put strain on your shoulders and back, and the straps might break quickly. Read this post about how to choose a survival backpack.
4. Keep Your Boots Next to Your Bug Out Bag
Whether you plan on bugging out in the city or remote wilderness, boots are likely a must-have. You’ll need boots to protect your feet from rubble like broken glass, flaming debris, and tough terrain.
The problem is that many of us don’t wear our boots on an everyday basis. My wife, for example, is often found wearing sandals or even heels. Thus, we make sure to keep our boots next to our BOBs so we can quickly put them on in case we need to flee.
5. Have Multiple Bug Out Bags
A BOB at home isn’t going to do much good if disaster strikes while you are at work. Make multiple BOBs and keep them at:
- In your car
- At work
- Anywhere else you are frequently
Additionally, you will want to have a Get-Home Bag in your car.
6. Plan for Rain and Freezing Temperatures
Bugging out on a nice, summer day is fine. You could probably even survive with absolutely no gear (though not very comfortably or safely).
When the weather gets bad though, things are tougher! Here are some of the things that can happen with rain or cold:
- Your BOB contents get completely wet. With no dry clothes to wear, you suffer hypothermia.
- Your water filter freezes in the cold, something which ruins many filters.
- Your fingers are so cold that you can’t use your knife to shave tinder off sticks for lighting a fire.
- There is so much snow that you are unable to build a shelter.
With careful planning, these problems (and the many others) can be avoided. For example, you’ll probably want to bring a survival shovel for building a snow cave. To keep items dry, use a wet sack inside your Bug Out Bag.
7. Test, Test and Test Again!
The most important piece of prepping advice (whether it is for bugging out or hunkering down) is to run a survival drill.
Follow your Bug Out Plan using just the items in your BOB.
How well were you able to survive?
Chances are you will come up with flaws in your BOB contents – like realizing that your knife is no good for batoning wood, or your pack is too heavy to be carried long distances.
That is what prepping is all about: Strategizing, testing, and adjusting plans.
No plan is perfect but, with drills and careful planning, you can get it as near to perfect as possible.
Hikers use a general rule that your pack should be less than a quarter of your body weight, but they are not bugging out where you may need to run or hide. For a Bug Out Bag we would suggest aiming for 10 to 15% of your body weight eg for a 200lb adult aim for a 20lb pack.
This depends on a lot of factors and of course your own physical fitness. But as a general rule 30 liters is a good size Bug Out Bag for an average adult.
You should carry 1 to 3 Quarts of water per person and also have a water filter and bottle for replenishing supplies.
You should aim to pack enough to survive for 72 hours in an emergency. This will give you enough time to evacuate from a disaster and wait for federal or government response.