Bug Out Bag

With the rise in natural and man-made disasters, there has been an increase of interest in emergency preparedness — particularly how to put together a bug-out bag.

What is a Bug Out Bag?

A Bug out Bag goes by many names — Go Bag, GOOD (get out of dodge) Bag, 72-hour kit, Egress Bag, E&E bag, grab bag, bail-out bag and so on but they all share the same purpose: It’s a portable kit that contains around 3-days worth of the necessary items you need to survive if a disaster forced you to immediately evacuate an area.

The recommendation is that a bug-out bag should contain enough supplies for seventy two hours. This originates from organizations responsible for disaster relief who are banking on the presumption that it may take them up to seventy two hours to reach people affected by a disaster and offer help.

This is where I part ways from the standard philosophy of a bug-out bag. In my opinion, being dependent upon relief agencies should be your last resort (Katrina anyone?).

Ideally you should have enough food and provisions to last you longer than 3 days — 2 weeks being the ideal — and on top of that your bug-out bag should contain items that, with the proper training, can keep you alive far beyond that two-week window.

Obviously there are weight and space limitations (and we’ll be discussing just what and how much to carry) but you’ll still want to get as close to that ideal as possible.

Choosing the Right Bug-Out Bag

Before we can go into what kind of stuff you should pack, the first thing we’ll need to address is where to put it all.

While I suppose you could heft around all your bug-out gear in a trash bag or a tote, there is nothing that compares to the mobility and ease of carry of a backpack.

With all the choices of bags out there it’s hard to choose which one is right. If you think there’s a good chance you could be bugging out by foot, then the more comfort the better.

Some of the best choices out there are multi-day hiking backpacks.

As you get up there in weight, you’ll want a pack that has an internal frame. From the standpoint of comfort and load balancing, I can’t think of anything better than the … outdoor bags. Certainly not cheap, they are well worth it when you are reaching the 25% point of your weight to lug around.

Here are some choices on packs. While all these packs are good choices — in terms of space, comfort, options and quality of manufacture — the mid to high-end products come highly recommended:

Price Level

Entry Level (under $100) Mid-Range ($100 – $300) High-End (> $300)
Condor 3 Day Assault Pack

MOLLE II Military 3 Day Assault Pack

Maxpedition Vulture-II Backpack

Granite Gear Blaze
5.11 Rush 72
Granite Gear Chief Patrol
Granite Gear Chief Recce

What Should I Pack in My Bug-Out Bag?

In an ideal situation, you would be able to pack everything you want for an emergency. However, the reality is that there is a premium on weight and space for the items that you pack.

Even though there are a lot of items that would be consistent throughout most bug-out bags, keep in mind that ultimately the items that you pack in your bug-out bag will be highly personalized based upon your (or your families) needs, probable bug-out location, training, and what types of emergencies you might face in your area.

For example, someone who lives in a cold environment prone to winter storms would carry different items than another person who is in a tropical environment that is prone to hurricanes and flooding. And still again, it would be different for someone living in and bugging out to another urban or semi-urban area.

Do you see what I’m saying?

To reiterate you want to have a highly specialized bug-out bag that is customized to your environment, locale, and training.

For this reason, I will be focusing on helping you develop your bug out bag based on key principles and survival needs. I’ll break this up into three levels: Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced. The rest will be up to you to fine tune your pack to your location.

A Basic Bag is the minimum requirement and will sustain you for a 3-day timeframe. Both the Intermediate Bag and Advanced Bag will take you beyond the three days and contains the tools to extend that for much longer.

The Five Pillars of Survival

When outfitting your bug-out bag, your first focus should be on the five fundamentals of survival: Personal Security, Shelter, Water, Fire (Energy), and Food. These are the core fundamentals that, when provided for, will keep you and your loved ones alive.

Here they are in a nutshell:


Personal Security

Personal security items are those items that keep you safe and help you stay alive (in the case of injury).

This would include whistles to alert rescue personnel, signaling mirrors, medical items such as a first-aid and trauma kits as well as personal protection devices you would use to keep yourself or your loved-ones safe such as pepper spray, a stun gun or a firearm.

When you’re bugging out, chances are that you’ll be camped out somewhere. Given this scenario, personal protection could also include a perimeter defense/early warning system around your camp. On the low end this could simply be some trip lines attached to bells or other cheap noise maker and on the upper end it could be a portable perimeter security system..



The Shelter portion of your bug out bag includes those items that maintain body temperature and protect you from the elements.

Since exposure is the most common cause of death when being caught outside, shelter is appropriately one of the key pillars of survival and is required for your bug-out bag. The items that fall under shelter simply include those things that will maintain body temperature and protect you from the elements.

This could be a space blanket as well as proper clothing for the current season (your bag must constantly be updated/maintained), but as you move up in bug-out bag upgrades, a better choice would be a lightweight tent (or hammock), sleeping bag and sleeping pad.



The water portion of your bug out bag includes water itself as well as those items that allow you to hold, filter, and purify water.

Clean drinking water is paramount to staying alive during an emergency situation. Many times as a result of earthquakes, flooding or storms, basic utilities such as water are no longer available. Having the ability to purify water that is available (such as flood water etc) will allow you to stay hydrated and stay alive until the utilities come back on or until you reach another clean water source.



The fire portion of your bug out bag include those items that you need to reliably start a fire and cook your food.

Fire is another one of those items that are crucial in a surivival situation. Having the ability to make fire can heat cold bodies, warm and cook foods, boil water and raise moral.

In this area the types of items you want are as follows:

  • Matches
  • Lighters
  • Spark Makers (Firesteel etc)
  • Tinder (cotton balls/vaseline, wetfire etc)



Surprisingly food is the least important of all survival necessities. Humans can go for an average of 3 weeks without food. However the benefit of it is that it’s a great moral booster and it can keep you spirits and energy levels up in the face of a stressful emergency situation. While you can pack canned goods and other items such as these, it’s better to pack high-caolorie dense items such as energy bars, granola, dehydrated or freeze-dried foods. These pack a lot of calories in a small package that will save on weight and space.

If you’re designing a pack that includes a method of cooking, you

Bug Out Tools

Weight should also be a consideration when choosing an emergency kit. Keeping the bag at the most 25% of your body weight will go a long way if you need to lug it around for hours.

A Word on Training

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