BUG OUT BAG: The Essential Multi-Budget Set Up To Be Prepared

What is in a bug out bag?

“We’ve got to go, grab what you need now!”

You have seen this in movies or you have experienced it yourself. So what do you do? You don’t have time to pack things or run around the house or room and grab essentials when you need to get out of dodge. No, you grab your bug out bag for your transition to survival and getting out of a messy situation.

It’s the holy grail of prepper essentials. Everyone’s got it. Whether it sits in the car, or behind the front door of your house, everyone knows where their bug out bag is and what’s in it.

For the prepping and survival world, the term bug out bag comes from the military defensive tactic of bugging out or to grab the essentials and evacuate an area as quickly as possible.

In my own military experience, I found that these bags should consist of enough essentials to allow you to survive for 72 hours in the wild (three days). In this window of time, you should be able to find another good base or shelter or you use said supplies to find more instinctive ways to get the must-have’s like food, water, fire, and shelter.

What a ‘Bug Out’ Bag is and what it means

Essentially the bug out bag is the lotion to smoothen the transition between order and chaos. Rather than just throwing you into the chaos with only the clothes on your back you will have a bag of the most useful tools at your disposal to keep you and the ones around you alive.

The term gets its origins from U.S forces conducting quick displacements during the Korean War. The tactic was to ensure soldiers, mainly infantry, were able to move quickly with only minimal supplies from defensive positions that were overrun. In this sense, they ‘bugged out’. Ever since those young soldiers used quick escape bags future military and enforcement forces have been developing kits based around the concept of a quick escape and 72-hour survival.

Whatever may occur, your bug out bag is there for a reason. You’re leaving your home so you need to think of the bug out bag as the home on your back, but smaller. You need everything you would have in your prepped fortress in a bag that allows you to remain mobile, able to run and sustain yourself for 72 hours and to assist others around you where needed.

To look at what you’re going to need in your bug out bag we need to identify the primary things we need for survival. They are food, water, shelter and on the off-chance, you have a bad encounter or are in a dangerous area, a form of self-defense.

Now don’t get me wrong, if you are an extreme survivalist you could still survive without any of this. There are numerous ways to find food, light fires, get clean drinking water and building a shelter without the use of any tool but your bare hands and a switched-on knowledge mindset. But as I mentioned earlier, the items in your BOB are the lotion to transition. What you prepare now will make it easier for when, and if, you need it.

The type of bug out bag you should be using

First, let’s start with the bag itself. There are a number of things to consider when looking at the type of bug out bag you might need. I speak about the finer details of how to choose the right bug out for you in our bug out bag type post, but primarily, you need to to do five things to find the perfect bug out bag for your individual needs. They are:

  1. Think about what you need your bug out bag for. Are you going to bug out to a camping location, to a friend’s place that has supplies, or to sleep in your car? This will determine how much you need and what you need to take.
  2. Start thinking about a bug out plan. This might be things such as where you are bugging out to, what path and transport you will take and how long it takes to get there. All of these will factor into what you take and what sort of bug out bag you need.
  3. Pick a price range suitable to your budget. I chose to not spend anything over USD$150 and was able to get something for $USD100
  4. Get something that you can wear over some distance and feels comfortable with weight in it. Make sure the straps are customizable so that you can tailor the pack to your body.
  5. Once you’ve got yourself a bug out bag, pack it up and take it for a trial run. Think about how it feels to wear, how you are able to move in it as well as scrutinize your gear to make sure you are not taking more than you need, or not enough.

Having past employment in the military, I lean towards a bug out bag made by 5.11 which is specifically designed to be used in 72-hour situations. It still, to this day, has never failed me. This 72 Hour Rush Pack was designed by ex-special forces staff who customized their own packs for convenience. It is durable and innovative with protective layers, pockets, compartments, strapping and is covered in molle application strapping so you can add things such as a first aid kit and an admin map panel on the outside of it.

You can find alternative options in cheaper backpacks, but you’re going to want something that lasts as you don’t know how long you will be on the move for and under what conditions your bag will be put through. After using the 5.11 pack for a number of years, I recently decided to change that up and go with a 75-liter hiking pack that cost just under $100 that I used on a trip through Asia. I found that it was able to fit more in, and as a hiking pack, it provided more support for me to travel further distances.

If you are looking for your own cheaper pack one of the things you need to look out for and which is a common issue with a lot of backpacks are the shoulder straps and backrests. If you are looking to do this without a purpose-built bag you need to find something with strong shoulder straps. There are options to reinforce your own backpack by using linked zip ties as a supportive method to ensure there are no tears in the bag’s supports when excess weight is applied. The other issue is the part of the pack that rests against the back, to hack your own version of this you can insert a tough rubber lining as support.

The budget of a bug out bag is up to you. You really don’t have to spend too much to have a complete bag. I think primarily you should be spending the bulk of your budget on the bag, the shelter, and a functioning multi-tool. The rest you can pick up variations of at different places, or you may already have it at home.

The things to have in your bug out bag

When I first started making my own bug out bag several years ago, I was inundated with all of the survival gear I could pack into it. What I soon found out is that first: I didn’t have enough space for everything I wanted, and second: I wouldn’t be using a lot of the stuff I chose anyway. Since then, I have learned the important skill of item cutting. It was a process of laying everything out in front of you and lining it up in order of what I needed first (water), and second (food) and third (my pile of copies of insurance details and identification which you can see at the bottom of this guide). At the end of that line, I was able to start cutting away the stuff I didn’t need. Surprisingly, there were a lot of things I didn’t need in my bug out bag.

My biggest recommendation when starting a bug out bag is to do the same; think about everything you need, line it up in rank of importance, then cut away the stuff you don’t need. Visualise the scenario you might be in and what type of emergency situation is causing you to evacuate and then think about what you might need in that circumstance as well. This can actually be quite fun to think about as well, as prepping shouldn’t be a boring task.

To get you motivated to start thinking about what you’re going to need in your bug out bag, whether it be a bug out bag for natural disasters, severe weather, or a SHTF situation, I have made a list of what I keep in my own bug out bag, with some additions at the bottom of each section for other items you might need to add.

Don’t forget that a lot of these items can be bought at your local camping store, Walmart, or on Amazon, so make sure you shop around for the best deals. Prepping shouldn’t be expensive as it can be done on any budget. My advice is to check out catalogs on food, water and outdoors goods as sometimes you might be able to buy almost everything you need much cheaper than what some others would.

Bags, water bottles, and holders:

Essentials:

  • Zip-lock bags (typical sandwich bags. These can be found in your supermarket. They are useful for packing in medical essentials and anything you want to keep waterproof. They also make a great waterproof case for your smartphone and you can still use it with the phone in the bag)
  • Waterproof Document Holder and map holder (you can write on these and keep your map dry from the rain)
  • Plastic garbage bags (just bin bags in a roll)
  • Water bottles (to carry enough water for at least 72 hours)

Additions:

  • Pack liner for waterproofing
  • Stainless steel bottle with cooking cup/canteen (these are a great use of space as the cup fits perfectly around the bottle and is usable over gas cookers and open fires to cook food and boil water)

Comfort essentials for your bug out bag:

Essentials:

  • Emergency foil blanket (this gives insulation to your own sleeping bag and can help others)
  • Small rollup bivvy bag (depending on the climate, you could get away with just this, or line it with the foil blanket above)
  • Waterproof matches
  • A Warm Sleeping bag (try to get something like an ultralight sleeping bag as they are generally quite small. You may have to get something for colder temperatures depending on your climate)
  • Aluminum foil (from your nearest supermarket)
  • Cotton balls with petroleum jelly (you can make this yourself, you can also store these in the cardboard tubing that comes with toilet roles. They are a great firestarter).

Additions:

  • Jetboil gas burner (Look at getting one of these. They can boil in no time and are a great, quick and easy way to heat up foods. This type also has a spark lighter so you just push start to ignite the cooker. Make sure you have at least one extra gas bottle or use a large one)
  • Personal tent (small packed alpine tents are the way to go as they are meant to be carried over long distances, are easy to set up and don’t take up much space in your bug out bag)
  • Sleeping mat (anything to keep yourself insulated between yourself and the ground)
  • Insect repellent – if you need it
  • Glow sticks

Bug out bag tools:

Essentials:

  • Any type of good outdoors knife, such as a survival knife,
  • Duct tape
  • Gloves for working. I use Mechanix gloves and am pretty happy with how they perform as a way to keep my hands safe
  • Dust mask for simple respiratory protection. I keep an easily packed activated-carbon dust mask from Unigear which acts as a particulate filter if there is smoke, ash bad smells or strong dust.
  • Multi-function tool – this doesn’t have to be flash, just anything durable with plyers and a can-opener
  • Sewing kit – you can make this yourself
  • A lighter (and a spare one)

Additions:

  • Rope – Tough Grid nylon paracord is the most ideal and it is pretty cheap
  • Respiratory protection. This largely depends on what circumstances you might be moving in, which if contaminated, you are going to need NBC protective equipment and a gas mask.

Electronics:

Essentials:

  • A good watch. For most days, I wear a normal business watch, however whenever I am outdoors I wear a G-Shock watch, just because it is something I used to wear in the military and have found they are reliable in tough times. I recommend getting something like this that is not going to crack, break and is waterproof.
  • Chargers for all of your items – whatever you have, buy an extra one (iPhone chargers, Samsung cables)
  • A faraday bag which acts as a protectant against any EMP wave or RFID technology

Additions:

  • Hiking GPS (I have used the Garmin ones before and they work right up to the very meter as to a location or grid reference you are traveling to. They are definitely worth the money if you are planning on being on foot)
  • Portable solar panel (you can roll this out and easily attach it to your go-bag to start charging any electronics while you’re on the move during the day)
  • Solar Charger

Food and water:

Food and water is the most important part of a bug out bag and will take up the majority of the weight and space (the water anyway). Ideally, you should ensure you have a 72-hour supply, which should be enough to get you to a planned bug out destination, such as a friend’s place, family place in another area, or a motel in another city.

Essentials:

First-Aid And Personal Hygiene

There is a lot that can be said for carrying a first-aid kit, and more often than not it will become a resource in an emergency situation. The most important thing to remember is only stock the stuff that you know how to use, otherwise, you are just going to be carrying ineffective items that are taking up excess space in your bug out bag.

Of course, for me, I tend to pack a lot of stuff in my bug out bag and have to be stern by laying everything out and asking myself, ‘do I really need that?’. When it comes to carrying a first-aid kit, it doesn’t have to be big, as there are some simple items you might find useful to carry. I have written a post about a full field first aid kit I put together with first aid essentials that you might be interested in, however, as a bug out first aid kit, there are some contents you might find practical.

First, I have included my hygiene essentials in my small kit, which I keep in an old bathroom bag. These are toiletry items, a toothbrush, mirror, small toothpaste tube and a flat packed heap of toilet paper (quite important).

For first-aid, I have a handy little kit I got online that has tweezers, bandages, band-aids, antiseptic wipes and other basic items you would expect in a basic injury treatment kit. With this, I have my own extras I have found to be useful, such as a medical mouthcap, moleskin tape (good for blisters), tourniquet, suncream and a copy of my medical insurance policy.

As for medicinals, all I keep is some paracetamol, anti-inflammatories, vitamins, anti-diarrheal pills and some antibacterial cream. If you need any prescription medication backups, you should probably have a small ‘just in case’ supply.

Navigation and communication:

Essentials:

  • Red Cross Hand Crank FM/AM Radio
  • Compass
  • Flashlight (I find a small LED, bright tactical flashlight is the best and most convenient to carry)
  • Red cellophane to tape over flashlight (good for night use)
  • Extra batteries for light
  • Map of surrounding area with grids – can generally order these online or find them at a tourist office
  • Country map with grids – same as above
  • Blackboard markers
  • Plastic transparent map case
  • Subway map – if required
  • Whistle

Additions:

Protective equipment and clothing:

Essentials:

  • Rain poncho (large enough to cover you with your bag on)
  • Sold boots (I use my old military boots for this, but anything that goes past the ankle and provides good foot protection).
  • Wool hiking socks (zip locked bag) – easy to find
  • A good set of working gloves
  • Spare shirt and socks (rolled up and in a zip lock bag)
  • A pair of durable hiking pants

Additions:

  • thermals – if you need them in your weather
  • Face mask – great for dust protection, sunburn, and if you are in a flood situation and the area starts to smell after a day or two

The everyday carry bag

So carrying this stuff every day isn’t ideal, I get that. But you are going to want to keep it close for when the sh-t hits the fan. But what about when you are walking around the city, or what would you keep in your side pocket so you’re not reaching into your go bag every single moment you need something?

While some of these items might be already in your bug out bag and may be doubling up, they are here because this is the sort of bag I use when I go to work, or when I am away from the car where I generally leave my bug out bag. Because it is much smaller, I keep this in a  Maxpedition Pocket Organizer.

every day carry organiser

This is what’s in my everyday carry:

  • A notebook and pen
  • A multitool (I carry a leatherman multitool, but anything that has plyers, a knife, and the good stuff)
  • Iphone charger
  • USB drive (I use 128gb)
  • Zip ties
  • Pain killers
  • Small bandage
  • $20 note
  • Duct tape
  • Spare lighter
  • Copper wire
  • Aluminium foil

Personal documents and finances to keep in your bug out bag

When I first started putting together my own bug out bag, I was excited to pack it with what I see now as stuff I really don’t need. Survival gear is always a fun thing, but in reality, you don’t need that much of it. Sure, there are some tools and pieces of equipment that are crucial, and then there’s stuff that are more luxury items. But while the survival gear is the exciting part of bug out bags and emergency situations, in all reality, when we are looking at the practical contents of a bug out bag, there’s some things that seem to get forgotten about.

Like many survival blogs, I have listed many of the items that you would expect to find in a bug out bag list. However, in a practical setting, there is also some boring paperwork and administrative items that are just as important. Administrative paperwork such as insurance, copies of licences and health forms are important in a bug out bag as there are a proof of ownership, identity, and insurance, some of the most common legal issues that you will come across post-disaster. Having this paperwork with you will be a godsend in times of disasters or emergencies where your home and contents may be at risk, damaged, or washed away, so make sure you make copies of all of those documents.

The following is a list of document copies I keep in my bug out bag, and you might want to as well:

  • Cash – when you are evacuating an area, or bugging out, you might not have access to a working ATM
  • A credit card or card to a transaction account with a safe amount of money in it
  • Copy of house keys
  • Copy of car keysRush pack interior
  • Copy of:
  • Driver license
  • Passport
  • Will
  • Medical prescriptions
  • Birth certificate
  • Medical insurance card
  • Medicare card
  • Immunization papers
  • Stocks and bonds list
  • Travel insurance
  • Home and contents insurance
  • Vehicle insurance
  • A USB with a backup of your computer
  • Recent photos of family members and pet for identification

I have chosen not to list self-defense items as that deserves another post in its own right. For the purpose and completeness of this post, the survival knife which I referred to before is a back-up method of self-defense. Obviously a knife is not as good as a gun or bow, however, the idea of the bug out bag is to get out of an area as quickly as possible. If you’re fighting your way out, you are not doing a ‘bug out’ per se but a fighting withdrawal.

I have tried to include extra items that I sometimes don’t carry just for the sake of completeness of a whole kit. I am very interested to hear of any other items that any of you might recommend. If you do have something that is a staple addition to a bug out bag or an innovative idea, leave a comment below.

If you are interested in learning more about survival, prepping and self-sufficiency in the modern age then stay connected with The Prepping Guide through my Sunday Six Newsletter where I send out six points of information, updates, and discounts for the world of preparedness.

BUG OUT BAG: The Essential Multi-Budget Set Up To Be Prepared
BUG OUT BAG: The Essential Multi-Budget Set Up To Be Prepared

10 Comments

  1. Eric

    August 13, 2017 at 8:01 am

    An alternative method of getting maps is from the National Geographic map website. They are downloadable as PDF files for free.

    http://www.natgeomaps.com/trail-maps/pdf-quads

    • Ben Brown

      August 13, 2017 at 9:35 am

      Great source. Cheers for that!

  2. Julio Maysonet

    October 18, 2017 at 1:26 am

    Thank You for sharing.

    I have a few items from this list in my bob already. I have the J5 flashlight which I like alot and the sleeping bag for use in spring, summer and fall.

    • Ben Brown

      October 18, 2017 at 9:04 am

      Hi Julio, great work with the gear. It’s good to see you are getting some outdoor use with it.

      I have met some preppers that purchase the contents for their bugout bag and then a year later they’ve still got the price tag and wrapping on it. As well as bugging out when the SHTF, this is really handy stuff to use outdoors as leisure and roaming the wilderness.

      • Julio Maysonet

        October 19, 2017 at 1:09 am

        Thank you for the reply Ben,

        Sorry for giving the wrong impression but I am a new to prepping. I have the J5 that I use around the house almost daily but I haven’t used the ecoopro sleeping bag yet. I plan on using it soon.

  3. Darlene

    February 11, 2018 at 10:11 pm

    any tips for the disabled

    • Ben Brown

      February 12, 2018 at 10:19 am

      Hi Darlene, this depends on the disability. For me (while not necessarily a disability, more a limitation on choice) I can only eat gluten-free foods, so it makes the freeze-dried food a bit selective at times.

      • Darlene

        February 12, 2018 at 4:33 pm

        My husband is partially paralyzed on his left side mostly has to depend on his motorized wheelchair for long distances I worry that we would not be able to get to proper help neither of us drive thank you for the advise

  4. Steve

    April 25, 2018 at 6:39 pm

    The best resource I have found on bug out bags is a book called, “Realistic Bug Out Bag, 2nd Edition: Prepared to Survive” by Max Cooper. This book is huge (620 pages) and covers a very wide range of topics to include 30 scenarios and 10 drills to increase your chances of survival. Well worth checking out. I found it complete and insightful.

    https://amzn.to/2KgzH5a

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