There is no doubt a bug out bag is a crucial part of being prepared. I have been getting a lot of questions lately around the topic of bug out bags and for good reason, they are a must-have step of preparedness for every household. And we have seen how important they are with a global audience adopting their own versions of bug out bags in light of the North Korean threat, or as a response to last year’s devastating disasters.
But how do we go about choosing the right bug out bag? We take a look at some key considerations, and some fails that I have admittedly performed, in choosing the most suitable bug out bag for your needs.
Having a bug out bag makes sense, especially if you are in an area that might be near a coast, floodplain, or prone to natural disasters, and you might have to evacuate. It is in these circumstances that having a pre-packed bug out bag is a way to ensure you have something to grab and run with, because when you need to evacuate, the last thing you want to be doing is running around the house gathering emergency supplies.
If you are left wondering ‘what on earth is a bug out bag’, it is simply a bag with essential supplies such as food, water, personal hygiene and medical needs, and often will also have some clothing and shelter. It is meant to be able to support you in an evacuation for about 72 hours, and give you the time you need to reach a safe place. As preppers, we use a backpack as it is easy to grab, wear and hold the items that you might need, which if you are packing for kids and a pet, might turn out to become quite heavy. The contents of a bug out bag can vary, depending on the person and the environment that you live in. For an idea as to what items you might need in a bug out bag, you can find a broken-down list of items in our bug out bag list post.
Once you have acquired yourself an appropriate bug out bag, it is always a good idea to familiarize yourself with its contents and perhaps even run through a trial in the home simulating what you might use just so that you can identify if you have enough of one item, or need more of another. Perhaps you might even be missing something in your bug out kit altogether. Another important part of the bug out bag is the plan around it. Having a bug out plan is just another way that you can plan yourself and your family, so that if and when you do need to evacuate, you are able to have a pre-made plan to follow. A bug out plan looks at a number of things such as who you would need to contact, how you would contact them, where any meetup points might be, and where some safe bug out locations might be. You can read our post on why a bug out plan is important to get an idea of some of the details you might want to consider in your bug out plans.
Having a bug out bag and a bug out plan is a detailed manner of preparing for an evacuation, and while in some circumstances, it might be better to stay put in your home, evacuation is always an option, and in some cases, a necessity. In the case that you do need to evacuate, having that pre-made bug out bag and bug out plan is just a way to be smarter about your safety.
Finding the bug out bag that you need
In my first attempt at a bug out bag, I started with a small backpack that I would use to go to the gym with. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this was not big enough, and that I would only be able to fit, at the most, 24 hours worth of supplies. That, and I didn’t consider that I might have to do some walking with it, which when carrying a substantial amount of weight, can be tiring on the shoulders if the backpack has no weight distribution.
After my first attempt, I went about researching online as to what other people were using. There are two modes of thought in this field, either a 72-hour military backpack is suitable, or an actual hiking pack. In my experience of using packs in the military, if you do decide to go with a large pack, more often than not you are going to try and fill the excess space. I didn’t want to make this mistake as I feel that there are some things that I don’t ‘need’ per se and could be labeled as comfort items. So while choosing a large enough backpack is necessary in all cases, remember that you shouldn’t get something too large, otherwise you are going to end up taking extra stuff that you just don’t need.
Keep in mind when choosing a backpack, that your evacuation might involve a lot of walking. As I mentioned previously, my first choice was a little backpack designed for convenience, not comfort and durability. If I had have used it as a bug out bag, it is likely that it would have caused rubbing against my shoulders and the weight of the supplies would have damaged, and possibly have broken, the seams of the bag straps. In considering this, I chose to use a 75L hiking pack I had recently purchased for when I went traveling overseas. I was capable of using it to hike in, it had a roll top to stop water from getting through, had an easy lid access compartment and the straps could be tailored to my figure with a waist strap for extra support. If you are a little lost in choosing a bug out bag, perhaps something like that would be suitable for you.
Remembering that you are not effectively leaving home forever is important when choosing the size of the bag as well. Sure, in some movies it seems like actors make some type of grand journey with a small backpack that has the interior space akin to that of Dr Who’s phone booth. That’s for television. For us, as practical preppers, we’re not turtles so we are not carrying our home on our back. Sure, a few sentimental items are required, but in all of its entirety, the bug out bag should cover the emergency essentials without being cumbersome to carry. This is where the planning is also important, because if you have a bug out location, whether it be a family member’s place or a friend’s apartment, you can be assured that you won’t need a lifetime of supplies, as they will no doubt have food, water, and shelter. All you need is the supplies it will take you to get from point A to point B safely.
Once you have identified all of these considerations for your bug out bag, you should be able to make a more informed decision on the type of bag you would want to use if you ever had to bug out and evacuate the home.
Make sure you know what you need to take in your bug out bag
When it comes to bug out bags, I think I could fill an entire bag with survival gear alone. There’s a multifunctional tool out there for every use, and more. But when we are considering the practical applications of a bug out bag, we really don’t need most of that excess equipment.
This is where it is important to think about what you will be packing in your bug out bag, and then think about it a little more. Take the time to scrutinize over each item that you have selected to take and think ‘do I really need that’. This should be an exercise in cutting down on excess gear and saving space in your bug out bag, or exchanging space for the things that you do need.
Another practice is to actually get out and walk in your bug out bag. Trying out the weight for a mile can really tell where it rubs on your back (if it does) and if you have too much weight in the bag. If you are finding that after a few hundred meters your shoulders are hurting and your lower back is stiff, it might be time to further scrutinize the contents of your bug out bag and lighten the load.
Identifying your budget
Being prepared should not be an expensive endeavor. Especially if you have family that thinks prepping is a waste of time. Having the absence of a few hundred dollars on a bag they think you will never need does not help the argument in your favor. So set out a budget of how much you are considering spending on your bug out bag.
For me, I had already purchased my High Sierra 75L as I used it to travel in Asia. But I made sure that my bug out bag was capable of being durable and convenient while hiking and that it was weatherproof, as I enjoy the outdoors and wanted a bag for that purpose as well. In that case, my bug out bag had three uses so I purchased a pack that was a little less than my budget of USD$150 for the reason that it would get a lot of use. However, there are a lot of higher and a lot of lower options, so it pays to look around.
If you are choosing to go down the path of a military pack, due to the innovations, durability, and nature of these bags they are generally in a much higher price range than what you would buy if you were just hiking or going outdoors. Some of these you may be able to find on eBay or in army surplus stores.
In review, these five simple steps will help you find the perfect bug out bag
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.