As a prepper one of the first things that we think of is our bug out bag. There are hundreds maybe thousands of articles out there that talk about bug out bags, so why should you care what I have to say? Well I was a guide in Alaska for two years and I have spent about 75 weeks living in the backcountry, on three different continents. I have helped numerous people organize and pack their backpack for trips ranging from an overnight to three weeks in the field. I hope you will find what I have to share is informative.
The most important decision you will have to make about your bug out gear is the pack itself. There are many options out there and many different ideas as to what you should use. Some people think you should use a military or tactical pack because it works well for our soldiers. I think it makes you stand out way to much personally and that is why I recommend a good hiking backpack. There are so many different options when it comes to a hiking backpack that it makes my head spin sometimes. Some of the best brands that I have used are Gregory, Arc’teryx, The North Face, Osprey, Mountain Hardwear and Kelty. There are many others but I think that these are the best. I 100% recommend an internal frame pack, I am not French and don’t want crap hanging off my pack all the time making noise. If you aren’t sure what the difference is between internal and external frame packs check out this article from Backpacker. Now you could easily spend $500 on a new pack but that is a lot of money to have tied up in something that just sits in the closet 99% of the time. The pack that I personally use for my bug out bag is the Kelty Redwing 50.
This pack is a good size, 50 liters, and has enough extra pockets that I can keep all of my stuff nicely organized and easily accessible. The size also keeps the weight down, because you can’t put too much stuff in there that you really don’t need.
There are many options for shelter in the wild such as a tent, tarp, just a bivy bag, or a natural shelter. Tarps are very versatile and can be used for numerous things as well as being very light. The downside to tarps is they don’t offer complete protection from the elements and don’t keep you as warm as a complete tent. I have slept in more tents than I can remember and they do have their place. If you are bugging out with a family and you have kids, then you might want a tent for the kids, but if it is just you and your spouse or on your own, I suggest skipping the tent. Bivy bags are a good option if you are going to be in a dry climate, like southern Utah. I spent a month roaming the canyons of Utah one November and only used my Mountain Hardwear Bivy. If you are going to be where it is cold or wet I would suggest something in addition to the bivy bag, a simple Tube Tent. This keeps you warmer, drier, and also allows a place for your gear to stay dry if it is raining or snowing. Once you strip away all of the useless things that come in the package like the rope, awful pegs, and the package itself, the tent only adds about a pound and is well worth it.
Sleeping bags are another place where there are too many options and just as many opinions on what to do. Some people don’t think they need one, that a simple Emergency Blanket will do. If you live somewhere that doesn’t get that cold at night or feel like making a debris sleeping bag every night, then by all means just use an emergency blanket. However for the rest of us we need something a little more substantial. I use a 30 degree rated down bag that I have had for a decade and though it can sometimes get cold at night, I have never been in danger of freezing, even though I have used it down to 0 degrees before. (Pro tip: boil water and put it in your water bottle before getting in your bag and keep it next to your chest.) I recommend getting a bag that is as light as possible and rated to at least 30 degrees. Coleman and Slumberjack are two brands that I would recommend not getting because they are too big, too heavy, and never pack very well. As far as whether or not to get a synthetic or down bag, well that depends on many factors and I would write an entire article about it, but OR already did, Difference between Down and Synthetic. One big selling point of down is that it can be stored compressed without ruining it, though this is not recommended. I keep mine in a storage sack right next to my bug out bag, just need 60 seconds to stuff it in the stuff sack and throw it in my pack. The closest comparison to what I personally use is Sierra Designs Zissou Plus 30 Degree Down Sleeping Bag. Packs up small but keeps you pretty dang warm.
Water and Food
Water and food are both very important to surviving three days or longer in the wilderness. You should have multiple was to process water while on the go. I personally carry a LifeStraw Personal Water Filter, Berkey Filter Sports Bottle, Potable Aqua Water Purification Tablets with PA Plus, and have the ability to boil water. Nothing can ruin your day faster than getting some type of water-borne illness. I also carry water with me. I have my Camelbak Reservoir and a few pouches of Datrex Emergency Water.
Food is less important than water, but if you are trying to move very far you will need calories, plus it helps you stay warm. I carry a Datrex 3600 Emergency Food Bar which has 3600 calories and is good for 5 years. I have tried these before and they aren’t very tasty, but calories are calories. I also carry three pouches of Mountain House pouches. These have between 500 and 600 calories each and taste much better than the food bar. In addition I carry about four protein or granola bars as well. This brings my total calorie count to about 6000. I know that for my body in rugged terrain that is about the minimum I need to still operate at high level, your situation may be different so adjust accordingly.
Preparing food is also an important task that you need to be able to accomplish when bugging out. While it is possible to build a fire and cook something on a stick, a small stove and a good pot work much more efficiently. I found the Emberlit stove a few years ago and was amazed at how well it works. I was looking for a stove that didn’t require me to carry heavy fuel or risk running out of that fuel and this fit the bill. It works very well with small twigs, but I usually throw an Esbit Solid Fuel Tablet to speed up my boiling process. As for a pot I use the MSR Alpine Pot. It is the perfect size for a bug out, and I love the locking lid/handle combo. I pack it full of different things lock it down and throw it in my pack. Though I did recently have to get a new one because I broke the handle on my last one, totally my fault though, nothing to do with the pot.
I carry a variety of tools in my bug out bag that I feel are necessary. The most important is my knife. Now some people will spend 100’s of dollars on a knife and I bet it is great a knife. I however don’t spend that much and my knife of choice for my bug out bag is the Gerber Prodigy Knife. It has done everything that I have asked of it without being expensive. I also carry a Gerber Freeman Guide Folding Knife because I like redundancy and it isn’t too expensive, this also has held up very well. In addition to those two cutting tools I also carry a small folding saw similar to the Corona Saw and a Pocket Chainsaw. The last tool I carry is something that is a little heavier than I would usually use but it is so versatile that I justify the weight. The Folding Shovel & Pick is a shovel, a pick, a hammer, bottle opener, and a mediocre saw.
I have an extra set of clothes that I keep sealed in a vacuum bag. This includes socks, Carhart pants, fleece, t-shirt, gloves, wool hat, and a wind/rain layer. While this is not enough for a long-term survival situation, it will be plenty for a week or more if needed. I also have a bandanna which has a multitude of uses.
I carry a fully stocked first aid kit, which you can learn more about in my first aid kit article. In addition to the first aid kit I have a separate Dental Medic Kit. I also carry 100 ft. of paracord, a sturdy rain poncho, not the throwaways, Gorilla Tape To-Go, Petzl – TIKKA Headlamp,survival playing cards, Mega Warmers, a compass, STORM® Whistle, waterproof matches, lighter, ferro rod, signal mirror, chem lights and a small knife sharpener. I also made a small hand line fishing kit that has about 50 yards of line with some hooks and sinkers. In addition I have some assorted zip ties, Ziploc bags, and contractor trash bags as well. The last item I have is a small hygiene kit that has a bar of soap, pocket pack of tissues, and toothbrush and toothpaste. Notice there is no toilet paper.
I pack everything into my pack and end up with a weight of 34 pounds with food and water. Some will say that this is too heavy and that you need to be under 30 or 25 pounds. I say that every person is different and that you should only carry what you can manage and still move efficiently. I can throw that on my back and walk for days, but I have trained my body to handle that type of activity. I hope that you picked up some useful information from this article and you can make your bug out bag better. Just remember to train with it by taking it out for hikes or walks on the weekends. If you have a bug out location that you plan on walking to make sure that you can carry your pack all the way there, otherwise you will start chucking items along the way.