What is a bug out bag?
Imagine this: You’re sitting at home, watching tv with your family one evening when a message comes across the screen - “Wildfire incoming, evacuate now. This is NOT a drill”. You’re now tasked with abandoning your home and your possessions to an unknown fate as you escape toward safer ground.
Do you have everything you need to evacuate?
In situations like these, when you need to evacuate your home quickly and efficiently during an unexpected emergency, you’ll need to make quick decisions that hold a lot of impact down the line. The number one thing you can do to be prepared in these situations is to have a bug out bag ready to go at a moment’s notice.
But what is a bug out bag, you ask? Essentially, it’s a prepared pack of survival equipment that you’ve created to help you survive should you need to evacuate in the event of an emergency. Your bug out gear is generally designed to help you survive at least the first 72 hours after abandoning your home.
Why you need a bug out bag
Some people might think that the need for a bugout bag is a bit far-fetched. But what if a natural disaster strikes or terrorist threat arises and you need to get your family out of town quickly? Will you be able to load everyone in the car and head off to safety fully stocked with all the kit you’ll need to survive or are you exposing them to more danger by being unprepared?
Large-scale evacuation orders have been issued in recent years with little warning. During Hurricane Katrina, many thousands of people needed to leave their homes with little warning. Unfortunately, many were unprepared and had no emergency plan. An emergency kit stocked with survival kit would have been invaluable in such a situation.
We’re not only worried about natural disasters, though. Acts of war, oil spills, nuclear power station explosions, and outbreaks of disease could all warrant evacuation. The important thing is that you’re prepared to move quickly when you need to.
Bug out bag checklist
Now that you understand why you need a bug out bag, let’s get started on what should actually be in it.
While there are a number of premade bug out bags available on the market today, we highly recommend taking the time to make your own custom kit. Although it seems convenient and easy to simply purchase a bag, when you choose that option, you really limit the possibilities of your bag. You might buy an expensive premade bug out bag only to find that it doesn’t have half of the things you need and that most of the items are low quality.
However, if you make your own kit, you can ensure that each item you’re including is of the utmost quality and that it’s absolutely necessary. Remember, this isn’t an overnight bag for a sleepover at grandma’s house. This is a bag to help you survive the first three days after an emergency and it’s worth having the highest quality kit you can afford. Make sure every item on your bug out bag list is absolutely necessary for your survival. You’ll have limited space, so make everything count.
Here’s what you should have, at an absolute minimum:
Any good bug out bag starts with a quality backpack. Look for something that’s durable, well-made, and large enough to store all of your kit. 5.11 makes one of the best bug out bags around, so check out their Rush 72. We reviewed this bag and other options here.
If you’re leaving your home in an emergency, you might not know where you’ll spend the night. It’s always a good idea to have a survival shelter on hand, just in case. This shelter is incredibly small, and not a replacement for a full fledged tent, but in a survival situation it can get the job done.
Instead of carrying a large amount of water, which is both heavy and cumbersome, you can carry a small water filter. That way, you can get water from most water sources without having to worry about waterborne illnesses. The Katadyn Hiker Pro is an incredibly reliable option for Preppers - check out our field tested review here.
Even if you’re abandoning your home, you need to stay hydrated. A sturdy water bottle, in combination with a water filter, can make sure you’re getting the hydration you need. You should have 1 per person.
While most people could survive 72 hours without food, it’s certainly not a fun thing to do. A small set of freeze-dried backpacking meals can help ward off hunger and keep morale high while waiting out the storm. Plan to have enough food for 72 hours per person.
A cooking set is an invaluable tool for boiling water to make your freeze-dried meals or simply to brew up a coffee or tea. You’ll want to get a compact set of pots (which double as bowls). Ideally you should have a small cooking stove, but to save space, this could be an optional addition to your bag. We really like the MSR Whisperlite - check out our field tested review here.
If you’re leaving your home for an extended period of time, you’ll want more than the clothes on your back. For your bug out bag, you’ll want, at a minimum: 5 pairs of hiking socks, 3 pairs of underwear, 2 seasonally appropriate outfits for your area, and 1 suitable rain jacket or winter jacket.
When leaving your home in an emergency, you might have to rush out in whatever you were already wearing. Unfortunately, high heels and slippers are not the best survival footwear for practical use. Keep a comfortable pair of hiking boots next to your bug out bag so you’ll have warm, durable shoes to wear while evacuating.
A flashlight is an invaluable tool for survival, especially if you’re out camping. Get one that’s powerful, compact, and can run for a long period of time. The Fenix PD-35 is the Best Tactical Flashlight out there. Check out our field tested review here.
A small, compact emergency radio might be your only source of information if the power and phone lines are disrupted. A solid, portable radio that can also get NOAA weather alerts is indispensable in your bug out bag. Running Snail has an awesome radio that can be charged ahead of time, with a small solar panel, or a hand crank. Best of all, once charged, you can use the radio as a power source to charge your other devices! Great addition to any bug out bag. Check out our review here.
Hygiene body wipes
Just because you're leaving your home doesn't mean you have to be unhygienic. Bring a pack of body wipes to help keep you clean when you can't get to a shower. This is not only for comfort but for health reasons, too. Given the small size and high utility of hygiene wipes, you should consider carrying extra as a way to support and help others along the way.
A fire is one of the most important things you can have if you need to camp out in an emergency. Reliable fire starters will get a fire going even in the dampest and harshest conditions. This simple tool is an obvious addition to any bug out bag.
A set of windproof matches can be used to light a stove or a fire in soggy conditions. A regular set might suffice, but if it’s pouring rain or very windy, you’ll be happy you invested in a reliable box of stormproof matches. This simple set includes a small amount of fire starter, as well as a waterproof case to hold everything.
First Aid Kit
If it is an emergency, there’s a chance that someone is injured or sick. You need a reliable first aid kit in your bug out bag because you might not be able to get to a hospital while evacuating. Prioritize a first aid kit that’s stocked with trauma supplies, but also be sure to stock a small supply of your prescription medicines here, too.
Paracord bracelets are some of the best survival gear because they can be worn on your person at all times. This is one piece of gear that you should wear instead of putting in your pack. Check out this Diroca bracelet below or our other top options here.
In addition to a paracord bracelet, you should have another 50-100 spool of cord available. This can be used for everything from pitching a tarp to improvising a splint for a broken arm. It’s light and cheap, so there’s no reason not to have it.
Reliable knives have an innumerable set of uses, so don’t forget one for your bug out bag. Fixed blade, straight edge knives are the way to go for maximum performance in an emergency situation. The SOG listed below is a top notch option in all survival situations. If the price is too high, there are other budget friendly options here.
If you want a fire, you need wood. Unless you were planning on carrying a whole cord in your car, you’ll want a solid hatchet for chopping firewood during an emergency. The Schrade hatchet below is a simple tool great for outdoors and survival situations. If you want something more tactical, check out these other options here.
Durable tactical gloves can protect your hands from cuts and injury, which is important if you can’t necessarily get to a hospital. Gloves can also keep your hands warm and dry, so they’re priceless here. These Mechanix gloves are awesome for tons of applications. I use a pair around my house for heavy construction duties. Check out other options here.
After evacuating your home, you’ll still want to keep your phone charged for communication purposes. A solar panel is a great way to harvest the sun’s energy to keep your phone juiced and ready to go. Choose one that’s small, portable, and compact. The Goal Zero Nomad 7 is a perfect light weight option. If you want to hear more about it, or check out the large options, read this.
A copy of your photo ID, insurance card, and other important documents should always be in your bug out bag. We also recommend making an emergency binder with copies of all of your family’s important documents.
If you have things in your bug out bag that certainly cannot get wet (think spare clothes, batteries, etc.), then a dry bag is a great idea. Dry bags can keep your most important valuables dry in the harshest conditions, so they’re important for a bug out bag.
If something breaks while you’re waiting out the emergency, you’ll need to fix it yourself - there’s no going to the store for a replacement. A good multitool will have all the bits and attachments you need to handle most repairs, so be sure to have one in your bug out bag.
Slingshot with ammo
A slingshot can be incredibly useful for hunting small game or for self-defense when you're out. If you run out of food or encounter hostile people, a small, portable slingshot can be overwhelmingly effective. It's nice to pack some ammo in your bag but do keep in mind that you'll likely find rocks or debris to use, too!
Duct tape is probably one of the most versatile pieces of kit on this list. You can use it for anything from gear repairs to making decently strong lines of rope. There’s no questioning what duct tape can do, so be sure to include a good-sized roll in your bug out bag.
If you do have to spend the night under the stars, you’ll want a survival blanket. Lightweight, compact, and designed to keep you warm, these are the perfect bug out bag item, especially for people who live in colder climes and during the winter months.
If you’re evacuating your house because of a natural disaster, then chances are that the power and phone lines are down. This means that you can’t rely on credit cards to pay for things in stores or for an ATM to work if you need to get cash. Carry at least $200 in small bills (think $1s, $5s, $10s, and $20s) and some rolls of coins in your bug out bag.
Wrap it Up
Bug out bags are immensely important when you need to evacuate your home in an emergency situation. We highly recommend creating your own bug out bag instead of purchasing a premade option. This will ensure that you have everything you need and nothing you don’t.
Keep in mind that if you have a family, you’ll want to pack enough supplies for everyone. This might mean packing more than one bug out bag, so be sure to keep this in mind when ordering supplies.
You’ll also want to make sure that your bug out bag is kept in an accessible location, so you can grab it and go when you need to. Having it tucked away in your attic or hidden underneath a load of boxes in your basement just won’t help when you need to move fast.
We recommend keeping it close to the entrance you normally use in your house, be that a garage, mudroom, or foyer. You could also consider keeping a bug out bag in your car, just in case you need to evacuate from work.
At the end of the day, it's about making sure all the supplies you need are conveniently stored in one place, so you can get out of town quickly. A bit of forethought and pre-planning goes a long way here toward ease of mind in an emergency.