Did You Pack These Bug Out Bag Essentials?

With every bug out bag, there are absolute bare essential items that you need to have in order to have what I would consider to be a functional bug out kit.

Bug out bag essentials are those things that should be in every bug out bag. They are the bare minimum requirements for a bug out bag to be viable. The following items are necessary for any bug out bag:

  • Backpack
  • Water
  • Food
  • Shelter
  • First Aid Kit

Looking at the list above, you’ll notice that it’s a lot shorter than other bug out bag lists that you’ll find on the internet. It’s even shorter than my bug out bag article. Let’s look at why this list is so short.

The Minimum That Every Bug Out Bag Should Contain

There are certain items that every bug out bag needs to have in order to be effective and provide you with the minimum life-saving essentials that you’ll need when you’re forced to bug out. These are:

  • The backpack itself
  • Water and a water filter
  • Food to keep you going
  • Shelter to protect you from the environment
  • Personal first aid kit

This list may seem like it’s too short, especially if you’ve been looking at other bug out bag articles. Just keep in mind that we’re discussing the bare minimums that you need in a bug out bag. These items form the base that you can then build from.


The backpack is the thing that the rest of your bug out bag is going to revolve around. In one way it’s the least important part of your bug out bag, and to a certain extent, it’s the most important. That’s probably a little confusing but it’s the truth.

The backpack is the least important part of your BOB because it doesn’t do much to keep you alive and moving toward your goal of getting to your bug out location. It just holds the other items that you’ve put together that are supposed to do those things.

The reason that you can consider it the most important is that it’s the one item that’s in contact with your body the entire time that you’re traveling. You don’t need to get the most high speed and expensive backpack out there, but if you really skimp on it, it can cause you to get fatigued a lot more quickly or even rub you raw on the extreme side of things.

What to look for in a backpack

The specific type of backpack that you’re going to want is going to depend on where you’re bugging out from.

If you live in the city, or even in the suburbs, you probably want to look for a backpack that’s common in that kind of environment. Ask yourself these questions when choosing a backpack for bugging out of the city:

  • What type of backpack would someone take to the gym or carry to work?
  • What colors or patterns won’t draw attention to me while I’m walking down the street?
  • Is this backpack large enough to hold everything I need, but small enough to not attract too much attention on the street?
  • Will this backpack still work well once I’ve made it out of the city and into a rural environment?

In an urban environment choosing a pack is based on not drawing attention to yourself and blending in with the crowds of people that are likely to form in the event of a major disaster. You don’t want to end up being the target of criminals or those that are desperate for food and water.

If you live in a rural environment you’re going to have different needs than someone in the city. You can focus almost entirely on function and don’t really need to worry about drawing too much attention to yourself. Camo patterns and oversized packs will draw less scrutiny in the country than they would in the city. Ask yourself these questions when choosing a backpack for bugging out in rural areas:

  • Is the material strong enough to stand up to rough use?
  • Does the color/camo pattern of the pack match the areas that I’ll be bugging out in?

In a rural environment choosing a pack is all about blending in with the environment and being strong enough to not tear if it gets snagged on brush and trees if you happen to be moving through a lot of vegetation.


Running out of water is one of the quickest ways to die in a survival situation. For your bug out bag, you’re going to want to have at least two 1 liter bottles full of water and a way to filter more water as you come across it.

I like having metal water containers so I can boil water in them if I have to, but it’s really up to you. Any kind of Nalgene bottle or collapsable canteen will work as well.

For water filtration, you can go with something as inexpensive as a LifeStraw and be just fine. Katadyn and Sawyer also make good water filters that are great in a bug out bag.


Food isn’t as important in a bug out bag as you may think. You can go for a long time without food and survive, but not having food will make cause you to start feeling weak after a few days.

Keeping some ER Bars in your pack is probably good enough to keep you going through your entire bug out, but you can always add more food if you want. Try to stay away from these types of foods in your bug out bag:

  • Food that needs to be cooked
  • Food that needs to have water added to it
  • Canned foods

Try to choose foods that don’t need to be prepared. The more time that you spend time cooking, the less time you’re moving toward your bug out location. Snacks and energy bars that you can eat while you continue walking are good choices.


Having some kind of shelter is important to every BOB. How important it is will depend on the type of environment that you live in.

Shelter doesn’t have to be a tent, and probably shouldn’t be a tent for most people. A simple poncho is probably good enough for most people traveling in warmer climates. Colder climates are going to take more shelter.

A quality tarp is a good multi-function shelter. It can function as a tent, poncho or even be used to catch rainwater. As temperatures drop, you can add a lightweight sleeping bag in addition to a poncho or tarp.

Keep in mind that your clothing is also part of your shelter. Your jacket and any other layers may be enough to keep you warm overnight without adding the extra bulk and size of a sleeping bag.

First Aid Kit

You need to have a first aid kit with you to treat any cuts, scrapes or wounds you may pick up while you’re bugging out. Small cuts can easily get infected and any wound that is bleeding obviously needs immediate attention.

My preferred loadout for when I want a good all-around first aid kit and the ability to treat trauma is the Adventure Medical .5 Kit, the Adventure Medical Trauma Pak, and the SWAT-T Tourniquet.

You can add more to your first aid kit, but these are the first-aid essentials that you should have with you.

Items to Add to Your Bug Out Bag to Make it Better

That’s the minimum amount of gear that you need to have a bug out bag. Consider adding the following to round out your BOB and make it more effective:

  • Extra socks
  • Headlamp
  • Knife
  • Baby wipes and toothbrush/toothpaste
  • Lighter
  • Maps of the local area/GPS
  • Signal mirror
  • 550 cord
  • Shemagh

Is a Bug Out Bag Necessary

One of the common questions that pops up every time I talk about building a bug out bag is, “Do you need a bug out bag?”

Asking if a bug out bag is needed is certainly a valid question. After all, it can be a pretty big initial expense if you’re just getting into prepping and don’t have some of the things that you need.

I really do think that having a bug out bag is a necessity, but it doesn’t have to break the bank. You can scrounge most of the things that you need from around the house and anything that you don’t already have, like a good first aid kit, are things that you should have around anyway.

Look at your bug out bag as the base of your other preparations. Pretty much everything in there is just as useful when bugging in as it is when you’re bugging out!


Bugging out should be approached in a similar manner as a military-style patrol. Take only the absolute essential bug out bag items that you need. Can you take more than that? You can but everything that you add to a bug out bag makes your trip that much more difficult and miserable.

Nice to have items don’t really have a place in an emergency kit. Those items should be at your house or prepositioned at your bug out location, not in a bag on your back as you try to escape a disaster of some kind.