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A bug out bag, commonly referred to as its acronym BOB, is often what people think of first when discussing survival. The idea behind the BOB is to have a supply of goods to be able to get you from your home to your bug out location (BOL). It’s almost always a large backpack and almost always fully loaded, and they’re touted as a necessary item for all preppers. But are they? Let’s explore your need for a bug out bag in this article.
In the first article of this series, Why Preparedness Matters & Why You Should Start Today, I shared why we started prepping. A windstorm devastated our county, causing widespread destruction and loss of power. While this was certainly an eye-opening event, it wasn’t life-changing for us or most of the people affected by it.
In the same article, I shared many reasons why you may want to start prepping. Most of these reasons are terribly mundane and localized. Very few of them are emergencies caused by a widescale event that would necessitate hiking many miles with everything you own on your back.
The recent pandemic, an emergency situation by most standards, is a prime example of hunkering down. Those who went into the early days with some supplies on hand didn’t need to fight over toilet paper. They didn’t need to wait in lines while only a certain number of people were allowed to shop at a time. Having supplies on hand brought a degree of comfort.
Most emergencies, while not as widespread, would be similar. Job loss or other personal economic issues would be stay-at-home events, as opposed to bug out events. As I think through possible emergencies where I may need to strap on my BOB, very few come to mind.
That doesn’t mean I don’t have a well-stocked backpack full of several days’ worth of supplies—I do. But in my case, it’s in the form of a Get Home Bag (GHB), which we’ll discuss later.
Of course, recent events on the world stage do show people carrying everything dear to them (including their pets) as they evacuate to safety. You should determine your need for a bug out bag based on your specific situation. I’m always a fan of erring on the side of caution and being prepared for whatever may come.
Your Bug Out Bag
There’s much to consider when thinking of bugging out. Beyond what to put in your backpack, the first question is, where will you go? Do you have a bug out location (BOL)? Do you have a secondary location? A third option?
Most emergencies that may require you to bug out are going to be localized events: a hurricane, tornado, or fast-moving wildfire. Your bug out location could be a friend’s home out of the danger zone or a hotel across the state. In these types of emergencies, you won’t be carrying your supplies on your back as you walk miles and miles, but rather driving your car or possibly riding in an evac vehicle of some sort.
My bug out bag is not what you may expect from a long-time preparedness advocate. Considering I live very rurally, I’ve always thought it unlikely I’d bug out.
Unlikely, but possible.
That possibility happened in November of 2021 when we were evacuated in the middle of the night due to a fast-moving wildfire.
Your situation may be different. You may live in an urban area. You may have a bug out location and have decided at the first sign of trouble you’re out of there. If you have a car, taking it is the best choice, but also be prepared to walk (or bike) should you need to abandon your vehicle.
While I may not have a typical bug out bag, my get home bag (GHB) is very similar. And as a backpacker, I’m familiar with the pitfalls of carrying several days’ worth of gear. Here are a few tips to consider for your BOB.
Your pack should be well-fitted to your body. If you’ve ever looked at the large array of backpacks available, you’ll see you have choices. One of the first choices is capacity. In most cases, the backpack size is listed in liters. It’s tempting to choose the largest you can find and be done with it.
No matter how large your bag is, you can only carry so much weight. And trust me when I tell you that what doesn’t feel terribly heavy when testing it in the living room will feel like a cannonball on the trail! When we first started backpacking, most websites suggested keeping the loaded pack weight at 20 percent of your body weight. So if you weigh 150 pounds, the pack should be under 30.
This is great advice if you’re used to backpacking and are in excellent physical health. If you’re new to carrying a pack around, 15 percent is a much more reasonable number. A pack weighing 22.5 pounds may not sound like much less than 30 pounds, but it is!
Tip: The first day, the 30 pounds doesn’t feel terrible, but it goes downhill from there. Eat your heaviest food on day one.
Ideally, you should increase your fitness level to be able to accommodate the weight of the pack. You can only get your pack weight so low without losing necessary supplies. Keep in mind, weather plays a role in your gear too. If you switch out gear seasonally (and you should), your winter pack may be heavier than your summer pack.
What My Family Uses
For our wilderness treks, my husband uses an 85-liter backpack. It holds enough gear for a week (or longer) and fits him perfectly. He’s just shy of 6 feet tall and is two hundred plus pounds. I’m 5’2″ and weigh less than he does. While his pack was advertised as adjustable, it doesn’t adjust down enough to fit me. But my 65-liter pack is a near-perfect fit, sitting as it should and resting in all the right places.
Our son’s pack is 55-liter with an adjustable torso. It doesn’t hold as much, but that makes sense considering he couldn’t carry as much. Now he’s a teenager and is taller than me. His pack still fits, but it’s a little worn, so it’s time for a new one. Finding a comfortable pack goes a long way.
How to Choose a Pack
While we choose backpacking style packs, there are many backpacks on the market geared toward using as a bug out bag as opposed to for recreation. If you’re looking for a pack with more of a tactical feel, here’s a great review of popular ones.
When choosing a pack, consider what it looks like. If you’re leaving the city, you want to blend in with the crowd. As I watched videos of refugees fleeing Ukraine recently, I noticed most were wearing basic school backpacks while dragging rolling suitcases. There were several with large backpacking-style packs. Very few had tactical packs with MOLLE pouches.
If you want to blend into the crowd, consider your location. Keep color in mind too. A bright orange pack may be eye-catching, but is that what you want?
Where I live, backpacks are common accessories. Not 85-liter packs for everyday use, but the tactical style is common. So are camouflaged packs. A camo tactical pack wouldn’t get a second look in my area.
If you’re planning to live out of your backpack for several days, it should have the basics needed to be comfortable. As you are filling it, keep the weight in mind. Careful packing will also help with comfort. There are many helpful videos and articles on packing for long hikes.
Tip: When you think you have the “perfect” pack, test it out. Spend a night or two in the wilderness hiking around with the pack on during the day. How’d it feel? How was camp? What’d you forget? What could you do without?
One liter of water weighs 2.2 pounds. A common backpacker’s formula is 1 liter per 2 hours of hiking. This can vary based on conditions, but it gives a starting point. Doing the math of how many hours you need to walk to your bug out location will likely show you can’t carry enough water to get there.
You should carry water, yes. But you should also have a way to filter and purify more water. And you should know your route and places to find water.
For carrying water, you might want a hydration bladder, which stays inside your pack and you drink through a tube. If you haven’t used one of these, you should definitely try it before you need it. I’m not a fan, but my son loves them.
Most backpacks have side pockets for carrying hard water bottles. Collapsible water bottles can also be a good choice. And many backpackers swear by Smart Water. They are widely available, filled with water when purchased, and have a nice thickness yet are lighter than hard bottles. You can even screw a Sawyer filter right on the bottle!
Because two is one and one is none, have multiple options for purifying water. It’s a good idea to have purification tablets plus a bandana or something to filter cloudy water (before purifying) or a straw-style filter. You can read more about purifying water here.
For cooking and warmth, you should have several fire-starting options. A couple of basic lighters and strike-anywhere matches (kept in a water-proof container) are always a good idea. Add in a Ferro rod or other options as you wish.
You should also have a stove if you plan to cook. Backpacking stoves that run on fuel canisters are easy to use, but you should practice with them in advance. If you don’t want to carry fuel, consider a wood-burning option.
Many backpacking stoves have companion cooking containers. You need this if you plan to cook food, heat water, etc.
Many bug out bag lists share emergency tents as an excellent option. And depending on your location, one of these or even just a tarp may be all the shelter you need. My problem with either an emergency tent or a tarp is needing a couple of trees to make them work. Trees are scarce in many parts of Wyoming!
We choose lightweight and inexpensive one or two-man tents. They are nothing fancy and won’t hold up to prolonged use, but they are a good option. Look for a tent that weighs no more than 3 to 3.5 pounds, and choose a color that will blend into your surroundings.
Your clothing is also part of your shelter. You should have undergarments, a couple pairs of socks, comfortable sleeping clothes, and a change of clothes.
Your clothing should also be geared toward the season. In Wyoming, our winters are harsh. A base layer, middle layer, and outer layer are essential. I recently purchased the Fortress base layer. It’s the best I’ve ever used for wicking away sweat. These are investment pieces, but you can get a discount when joining their newsletter. I plan on adding their outer layers (the Storm Bundle) next.
Changing out your clothing seasonally will help ensure you have what you need when you need it. It’s also a great way to check sizes and make sure everything is in excellent condition.
What about a sleeping bag or blanket? Again, this could change from season to season. Determine your needs and plan accordingly. Throwing in an emergency blanket or two is a good idea. Remember, the silver crinkly type works in a way that traps your own body heat. I’ve found using one is a different experience than a regular blanket. And they’re noisy.
You can expect to burn 700 to 1200 calories on a ten-mile walk. If you’re going uphill or are under stress, you may burn more. Food adds weight to your pack but is necessary. For backpacking, we figure each day’s worth of food will add somewhere around two pounds. How many days will it take you to walk to your bug out location? Use this to determine how much food you will need to carry.
Lightweight, nutrient-dense food is best. Many people choose freeze-dried backpacking meals. While lightweight, they do require water and, preferably, fire to make them edible. Many are also high in salt, making you need more water. You might consider dehydrating your own backpacking meals.
Backpacking Chef has many great tips, and I learned a lot from the book The Hungry Spork: A Long Distance Hiker’s Guide to Meal Planning, which has suggestions on combining freeze-dried, dehydrated, and packaged foods. You might even consider some canned goods, knowing you will eat those first.
And olive oil.
We always carry olive oil. It has 250 calories in an ounce and a multitude of uses, not all of them cooking. On one trip, a bug flew in my ear. We used olive oil to get it to stop buzzing around. What an experience that was.
We really like the protein bars from Naked Nutrition. Each bar contains 15 grams of protein (from grass-fed whey). The calories keep it in the snack range (180 for chocolate, 190 for peanut butter). Another lightweight option is ration bars. These contain 2400 to 3600 calories per bar, but…oh my. The taste isn’t there, and you need a huge glass of water to wash it down.
Yes, we’ve already been talking about these. Water, fire, shelter, food…definitely all for survival. This section is a catchall of other things you should consider.
- Knife and/or multi-tool
- Rope (a length of paracord is great)
- First-aid kit or trauma kit (know how to use everything in your kit)
- Flashlight or headlamp (with a red light + extra batteries)
- Personal hygiene items
- Necessary medications (have enough for your estimated time to your bug out location + extra)
- paper map(s) of the area you are traveling
- Personal tool for self-defense
While most of your personal identification documents will be included in your Everyday Carry (such as your driver’s license), it’s a good idea to keep copies of them and things like insurance information (car, house, etc.). If you own your bug out location, it’s a good idea to have proof of ownership (copy of your land title, mortgage docs) or rental agreement. Same for the house you are leaving. Also, consider having a copy of your will and other legal documents. Whatever can make your life easier in the long run.
Get Home Bag
A Get Home Bag (GHB) is usually a smaller version of a bug out bag. Its purpose is to get you from wherever you are stranded to home. Go here to read my full post on GHBs.
Every vehicle should have an emergency kit. Your car might not start, you may get stuck, or you could even slide off the road. Your car kit could help you get back on the road quickly. It could also help save your life. Even if you always carry a GHB, a car kit contains additional, specialized, car-related items along with some overlap.
You could get a basic prebuilt emergency car kit that contains jumper cables (essential), emergency triangles or flares, a tire pressure gauge, a first aid kit, and more.
Or you can get a heavy-duty bag and build your own. Common Sense Home has a fabulous article on building a Winter Car Kit. And be sure to check out their article on building a custom first aid kit, which should also be part of your car kit.
Everyday Carry, or EDC, is another one of those trendy acronyms. It’s used for essential accessories and tools that you carry on you, every day, to make your day go smoother or to be there as needed.
A few years ago, I wrote about my EDC bag. You can read that post here. Now I’m carrying many of the same things but in a larger, crossbody pack. I also added a bigger knife when my little Swiss Army Knife didn’t meet a need I experienced. Personalizing your EDC truly makes it yours.
When we evacuated because of a fast-moving wildfire, we grabbed our bug out bags. Because of our location, we do not have a bug out location for a long-term option. And while we do have GHBs, our BOBs are not the beefy options mentioned above. They are overnight bags packed with everything we’d need to be comfortable when staying with family, friends, or in a hotel.
Normal, regular overnight bags that can grabbed out of the closet and tossed in the car as we drive to safety.
We combine our bug out bags with a tote of easy-to-cook food and a reusable grocery bag of no-cook foods, along with the GHBs, car kits, my well-stocked purse (my EDC), and my husband’s overstuffed pockets. My son has his own version of EDC too.
Our overnight bags are kept ready to go on a shelf in the closet. They’re nothing terribly fancy: pajamas, a change of clothes, undergarments, toiletries (toothbrush, soap, deodorant, washcloth, etc.), a flashlight, a lighter, and a pen. And my bag also has my old pair of eyeglasses and a travel-size game of Farkle.
My computer bag contains a lighter, flashlight, washcloth, and a few other noncomputer-related items, including a couple decks of cards. I’m a fan of having things to pass the time. We also keep an extra charger for each cell phone in this bag. In some ways, my computer bag should be listed with my EDC—it goes with me more than it stays home.
After that night, we did change a few things—adding and subtracting based on the experience. We realized we needed another pet carrier and a better setup for them. Also on my list is digitalizing all our old photo albums. I did make sure to grab those, but it would be nice to have one less concern.
We’ve also put together a tote of clothing, shoes, and other supplies to keep in the garage. While the fire was controlled before it reached our house, other properties were lost. Having a tote of clothing in a secondary location could be helpful.