You absolutely should be building a bug out bag when you can afford to. If you still haven’t started storing water and food, then your focus should be on getting your food storage together first before you build a bug out bag.
Is a bug out bag necessary? A bug out bag is one of the basic necessities for those people trying to be as prepared as possible. It contains the basic items that you’re going to need if you have to leave your home in the event of a disaster. It’s also commonly called a 72-hour bag.
When disasters strike your home, you never know if you’re going to have to drop everything and get out in a matter of minutes. If something like that happens, then it’s nice to have everything that you may need for a few days already packed in a backpack and ready to go.
The main idea behind a bug out bag is that you’re only planning to be away from home for a few days or however long it takes for you to get from your home to your bug out location. You just want to leave home long enough for the threat to pass so you can safely return or just long enough to get to another place that’s safe. You’re not looking to be a vagabond forever.
If you use your bug out bag like I do, then it also forms the base load-out for a whole range of scenarios. Do I need to leave my home and I can take my car? Then may bug out bag goes in the car along with the extra gear that I’d like to have but is too heavy for a bug out bag goes in there too.
This keeps you from buying the same thing over and over and having 20 “kits” laying all over the basement.
Some people argue that you don’t need a bug out bag because you should be bugging in first. I agree that you need to bug out as a last resort, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have a bug out bag put together just in case.
A bug out bag should have everything that you need to make it for several days away from your home. People usually plan for 72 hours but you can pack for whatever you think is the most likely scenario for you. We wrote a full article covering the ins and outs of what you need in a bug out bag already but I’ll rehash some of the basics here.
Backpack – Buy a pack that fits in the area that you’re most likely going to bug out in. If you’re in the city then a giant camouflage pack may not be the best option but it could fit right in if you’re out in the country.
First Aid Kit – You can find our recommended first aid kit here.
Water – Pack a couple of liters of water so you have something to drink when you first head out. Then have a water filter so you can replenish your water when you get the chance. A water filter gives you access to nearly limitless water without having to carry it.
Food – You really just need a few protein bars or a couple of stripped-down MREs. Don’t go crazy adding food. If gets heavy fast and you can go for a long time without food if you have to.
Shelter – Shelter needs to be a priority no matter where you are. You can suffer from exposure-related injuries even in weather that would normally be considered pretty mild. I like multi-function shelters like tarps or ponchos. Just make sure you pack for your environment.
Clothing – Clothing is an area where people tend to really overpack. Wear layers when you leave the house and you’ll be fine for the whole time you’re bugging out. Pack extra underwear and socks.
Light – I usually go with a headlamp and a handheld flashlight of some kind. You can go as crazy as you want with the lumens.
Hygiene – A pack of baby wipes and a toothbrush and toothpaste is all that you need for the first few days you’re bugging out. Women should pack hygiene items as they see fit without going overboard.
Weapons – A good concealed carry pistol like a Glock 19 or M&P 9C is pretty much the minimum that I’d travel with in a bug out situation. Better yet, a semi-auto rifle of some kind. People will claim that it’s overkill and you don’t need it, but take 5 minutes and look at what happens in every major disaster…the more protection you have, the better.
Protective Gear – Gloves, an N95 dust mask, and eye protection are all important when you’re bugging out. If you’re out in the country you can probably dump the dust mask, but I’d want one in the city.
Fire – Being able to get a fire going can be a lifesaver. I always have several Bic lighters and a ferro rod in my bug out bag.
Survival Knife/Axe – A knife is pretty much mandatory. After that, you should think about adding an axe or hatchet. I like a small hatchet like the Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet.
Cordage – A decent length of 550 cord or survivor cord should meet most of your needs. I like multi-function cordage like the survivor cord, it adds a lot without adding any extra weight. Unless you have a specific need for more, that’s all I would take along.
Navigation – Maps and a compass is the minimum that you should pack. I would suggest adding in a GPS if you can afford it.
Cash/ID – Cash and identification can get you out of some tricky spots if you’re bugging out and there’s still rule of law.
Signaling Devices – Being able to signal for help is important if you’re forced to bug out. Luckily, most signaling devices aren’t very heavy. Add a sign mirror and an emergency whistle. If you want a radio you can add one as well.
Electronics – Cell phone and charger for your cell phone and other electronics in your bug out bag. It’s nice to have an emergency radio too so you can listen for updates about the emergency that you’re bugging out from.
Natural Disasters – Natural disasters are the reason that I first started prepping. Natural disasters are some of the most devastating events that we can experience.
Floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides and wildfires all routinely force people from their homes.
If you have to evacuate, you can toss your bug out bag in the car and be on the road in a matter of minutes when others that aren’t prepared are going to be forced to leave the house with nothing or spend time getting them together.
Most of these events have the ability to destroy streets, bridges, and tunnels making it impossible to drive away if you don’t get out in time.
Man-made Disasters – Man-made disasters pretty much encompass anything that’s not a completely natural event.
HAZMAT incidents, chemical emergencies, nuclear power plant accidents, and even terrorist attacks could all force you out of your home. Most of these events either require you to shelter in place or evacuate.
If you have to evacuate then your bug out bag is just as useful as it is during natural disasters.
For me, the measure of a good bug out bag is how well it can sustain you for a few days without being overloaded with items that you don’t need or will probably never use. It’s a matter of getting the loadout just right for the scenarios that you’re likely to face and not trying to build a “do-it-all” kit for every scenario.
There really isn’t a blanket “good” bug out bag. Really focus on what’s important to you and what you need it to do. Once you get that dialed in you’ll have the best bug out bag for you.
How much should a bug out bag weigh? You should aim to keep any bug out bags at 20% of your “fit” weight or less. This means if you’re 300 lbs of muscle then you can load up a 60 lb pack and be just fine. If you’re 300 lbs but 150 lbs are fat then you should keep your bug out bag at 30 lbs or less.