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Bug Out Bag

(Last Updated On: January 26, 2017)

What to Pack In A Bug Out Bag

What is a Bug Out Bag?

The Bug Out Bag, also known as a “72 Hour Bag”, a “Go Bag”, a “GOOD (Get Out Of Dodge) Bag”, an “Emergency Preparedness Kit”, a “Disaster Kit”, or a “TEOTWAWKI (The End Of The World As We Know It) Bag” all refer to a bag containing the items we will need in the case we should have to quickly evacuate from our home. The name “Bug Out Bag” probably originated from military slang, where soldiers were directed to “bug out” to an alternate defensive position when being overrun by the enemy was imminent.


Your Bug Out Bag is typically going to be a backpack. You want it to be big enough to carry to carry all your survival gear, yet not so large that you will stand out.  You don’t want to look like you’re so prepared that you have everything but the kitchen sink on you back. Remember, others in a desperate position during a disaster will want what you have!

You want your backpack comfortable enough to carry for extended distances, so look for ones that have a waist belt to carry much of the weight on your hips instead of all on your shoulders.

But don’t wait until you have the perfect backpack to put one together. Start with whatever you have available right now. Get your basic emergency/survival items packed and ready to grab in an emergency. You can continue to add more survival gear or a new bag as you find time and can afford them. A duffle bag or a gym bag ready to go in case of emergency is much better than that perfect backpack and state of the art survival gear that you haven’t purchased yet!

What Goes In A Bug Out Bag?

In the case of an emergency or disaster situation, events are probably happening so quickly that it is very easy to forget many things we may need, so we want to have them already prepared for us. Many organizations responsible for disaster relief advise that it may take up to 72 hours to reach people affected by a disaster. So we will need at minimum, enough supplies to last for 3 days until help arrives.

Many times a disaster situation, like in recent hurricanes (like Katrina) or regional flooding or earthquakes, it can take much longer than 72 hours for help to arrive. I believe a Bug Out Bag should be designed to have emergency supplies to last much longer than the recommended 72 hours. Depending on the situation, you may have to depend on it for weeks until help arrives.

Here are things you need to consider when planning what to pack in a Bug Out Bag:

  1. Plan for what is commonly called the “Survival Rules of 3”:

You can only survive for:

  • 3 Minutes without Air
  • 3 Hours without Shelter (in a harsh environment)
  • 3 Days without Water
  • 3 Weeks without Food

These will be the supplies you absolutely need to survive, to stay alive. We will go into detail on what items you will need to cover these Survival Rules.

  1. Know what kinds of emergencies and disaster you may possible face in your area. Someone planning for   surviving a hurricane may have many different survival items in their Bug Out Bag than someone who is preparing for possible tornados.
  1. Your survival items in your bag may change depending on the seasons of the year. If you live in an area with potentially harsh winter storms, you will have different items than what you would pack for a milder summer season.
  1. Know what your destination is when you are going to bug out. Are you going to “camp out” in the back yard if your house is damaged by fire or tornado, or might you be traveling some longer distance to a place of safety. Also, what are your possible modes of travel. Are you able to drive or might you have to walk.

Take into consideration each of these things as you are planning your Bug Out Bag.

Now let’s get into detail on the items that are going into your bag.

  • First Aid Kit: (Survival Rule: Can only survive 3 Minutes without Air)FEMA_Emergency_Preparedness_kit

Knowing some 1st aid techniques, like the Heimlich Maneuver in case of choking, or CPR in case someone stops breathing, as well as having a well-stocked 1st Aid Kit are important items to have in every Bug Out Bag. In a survival/disaster situation, you may not have anyone else to turn to for first aid in case of injury. Even a simple scrape or small cut can easily become infected can cause serious complications later on. Keep at least a basic 1st aid kit in your bag. Look in the section on Survival 1st Aid Kits for a complete listing of items in a well-stocked kit.

  • Prescription medicines

Shelter: (Survival Rule: Can only survive 3 Hours without Shelter)(in harsh or wet conditions)

There are three major areas to plan for in your bag to cover this survival rule.

  1. Clothing: You want to stay warm (or cool depending on area conditions) and dry. Exposure to cold can result in rapid heat loss in the body. Even just being wet can cause your body to loose enough body temperature to end up in a state of hypothermia which can cause death in a matter of hours. Make sure to pack clothing appropriate to potential weather conditions you may face in the event of a disaster or emergency. Wool clothing will still help to keep you warmer even if damp or wet.
  • Weather appropriate clothing:
  • Poncho or rain suit for wet weather
  • Coat and hat for colder weather
  • Boots and gloves/mittens
  • Comfortable walking shoes or boots
  • Pants, shorts
  • Underwear
  • Socks (several pairs)
  • Shirts (short & long sleeved)
  • Sweatshirts
  • Hat (brimmed “Boonie Hat”) for sun
  • Work gloves
  • Bandanas or tactical scarves
  • Belts
  • Sunscreen
  • Insecticide
  1. Shelters: You will need a place to rest and sleep if you can’t find some type of permanent shelter.
  • Tent
  • Tarps or plastic sheets (A rain poncho or even large garbage bags can work)
  • Bivouac sack (Bivy sacks will cover your sleeping bag. Much lighter than a tent)Bivy Sack2
  • Sleeping bag or blankets
  • Ground tarp or plastic (To place under your sleeping bad as a moisture barrier)
  • Foam ground pad (a closed-cell foam pad will add insulation under your sleeping bag & give you better sleep and rest)
  • Rope (550 para cord is recommended) for tents or tarp shelters
  • Survival blankets {Mylar survival blanket are very compact and light)
  1. Fire: Fire can serve a multitude of areas of survival for your Bug Out Bag. It can serve as a source of heat for your shelter, or a way of drying wet or damp clothing. Fire can also be used to boil water to purify it or for cooking.

campfireYou will want several method of being able to start a fire. There is a saying among survivalists, “Two is one and one is none.” If one method of starting a fire doesn’t work, you want to have several back up methods ready. Make sure to practice these methods at home so when the time comes you must be able to start a fire, you will be able to do so. It often takes some trial and error to learn how to actually use some of the different methods of starting a fire. When things get wet or damp it is often very difficult to start a fire.

  • Lighters (Bic, etc.)
  • Waterproof matches
  • Matches in a waterproof container (not the same thing as waterproof matches!)
  • Magnesium fire starter block
  • Ferrocerium rod fire starters
  • Bow drill (paracord works well with this)
  • Fresnel lens
  • Magnifying glass
  • Tinder
    • Dryer lint
    • Vaseline soaked cotton balls
    • Trick candles (the ones used on birthday cakes that keep relighting when you blow them out)
    • Cattails
    • Char cloth
    • Cedar or birch bark shavings


Water: (Survival Rule: Can only survive 3 Days without Water)

The average adult body will need approximately 3 liter of water per day when it is not stressed. It is recommended you have at least 1 gallon of water per person each day. Depending on conditions, you may need even more.  Water weighs just over 8 pounds per gallon. It will be almost impossible to carry all the water needed to last for multiple days, so you must find other sources.

Carry some water in your Bug Out Bag. You probably want about 2-3 liters.

  • Water bladder (inside backpacks)
  • Nalgene bottles (can be refilled)
  • Metal water bottles
  • Regular bottled water (rotate this out every 2-3 months, more often if exposed to sunlight to prevent chemicals from the plastic leeching into the water)

I recommend you have several different ways to purify water. Don’t depend on only one method of purifying water is case that method fails.

  • Water pSawyer_Purifierurification filters (LifeStraw, Sawyer, Katadyn, MSR, etc.)
  • Water purification tablets (Micropur tablets, Potable Aqua tablets, etc.)
  • Metal container to boil water to purify
  • Plastic (Mylar emergency blankets work well) to collect rain water or to collect water from condensation.
  • Ultraviolet light purifiers (SteriPEN, etc.)(Have extra batteries)

Food: (Survival Rule: Can only survive 3 Weeks without Food)

Although you can survive for several weeks without food, it is very important to have food to maintain energy in all your survival activities as well as the fuel for your body to burn to maintain body temperature. You will want foods high in calorie, energy and nutritional value, but low in weight to carry. You also want foods that have a long shelf life to be able to be stored in your Bug Out Bag for extended periods. Here is a sampling of foods that will fit these requirements:

  • Energy/protein bars
  • Pop Tarts, breakfast bars
  • Meal replacement powders
  • MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat)
  • Jerky
  • Dried fruits
  • GORP (Good Old Raisins & Peanuts) or trail mixes
  • Peanut butter
  • Instant oatmeal
  • Dry box foods (Mac & cheese, pasta meals, instant potatoes, etc.)
  • Canned tuna, chicken, etc. (bit on heavy side, so limit these)
  • Freeze dried foods (Mountain House, Legacy Premium, Emergency Essentials, Wise Food Storage, etc. are several manufactures of these)Mountain_House_Freeze_Dried_Foods
  • Powdered drink mixes
  • Hard candy
  • Salt, pepper, & spices
  • Vitamins

Don’t forget the utensils needed for cooking and eating:

  • Backpacking stove
  • Fuel
  • Pots, pans, cups for cooking
  • Spatulas, spoons, etc
  • Can opener
  • Spork
  • Soap and pot scrubber

For extended survival times:

  • Hunting, trapping, fishing gear


  • Knife (Fixed blade is best)
  • Multi tool (Leatherman, etc)
  • Paracord
  • Saw (Wire backpacker saw, or backpackers chain saw, etc.)
  • Foldable shovel or trowel
  • Gorilla Tape or Duct tape (Wrap around old credit card or water bottle)
  • Wire
  • Pry bar
  • Work gloves
  • Lights
    • Flashlight
    • Spare batteries
    • Solar charger
    • Keychain light
    • Headlamp
    • Hand crank flashlight
    • Glow sticks
    • Lantern
    • Candles

Sanitation & Hygiene:

  • Toilet paper
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Soap
  • Shampoo
  • Toothbrush & toothpaste
  • Razor and blades
  • Brush, comb
  • Nail clippers
  • Feminine hygiene products


  • Cell phone
  • Phone chargers
  • Solar chargers
  • Battery or crank operated radioHand_crank_radio
  • Emergency whistle
  • GPS
  • HAM radio
  • Walkie talkie
  • Local maps
  • Compass
  • Pictures of family members & pets (to help find if separated)
  • Notepad and pencil
  • Plan of emergency routes and rally point


  • Pepper spray
  • Guns & ammo
  • Knife
  • Slingshot


  • Cash and change
  • Copies of important documents (paper copies & flash drive)
    • Drivers license
    • Birth Certificate
    • Passport
    • Medical records
    • Mortgage documents
    • Insurance documents

Misc. Items:

  • Extra set of keys
  • Plastic bags
  • Zip lock bags
  • Sewing kit
  • Sunglasses
  • Zip ties
  • Bartering materials (useful if longer time survival and you forgot or run short of something)
    • Alcohol (small travel bottles)
    • Tobacco
    • Coffee
  • Special supplies for children
  • Pet supplies



There you have it. This list of what to pack in a Bug Out Bag is by no means complete as there are always items that you may find useful that can be added.

Put yours together as soon as possible. Then try it out. Take it out on an overnight stay or over a weekend camping trip. Try to use only what you have packed in your Bug Out Bag. You may quickly find out what things you forgot or what gear you packed that you could do without to lower the weight of your pack.

Use the tools in your bag to make sure you know how to use them. Know how to use the water purification kits, try building a fire using several different methods, etc. This way you will develop the skills necessary that you may need if you run into an emergency or survival situation.


I will be posting more articles going into more detail on many of these areas. Drop me an email with your comments or suggestions.
















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