What is a Bug Out Bag and Why Do You Need One?

What is a Bug Out Bag and Why Do You Need One?

If we’ve learnt anything over the past eighteen months, it’s that a lot of people are ill prepared for when SHTF. During times of strife and confusion people will flock to department stores to stock up on everything and those unlucky enough to arrive late won’t be sitting comfortably in the weeks or months ahead. It’s not something to blame people for though-many of us simply don’t give disaster situations much thought until they’re here. But we should.

The coronavirus pandemic is one such situation that’s proven how easily our way of life can be altered for the worse. Aside from the many thousands of ill people, businesses are closing or operating more slowly, supply lines are altering or being cut, our cupboards might be looking more bare and at its worst the people around us might look for more insidious ways to gather their essentials or desired goods. This is pretty applicable to any public disaster you can imagine: continued rioting, health emergency, government authoritarianism, coups, weather disasters, invasions by other nations or terrorist attack.

Is Your Bug Out Bag Ready When SHTF? The Tips You Need to Be Prepared

So what do we do in the short term when SHTF? We bug out or we sit in place. Unless you’re among the lucky few with enough wealth and preparedness to have a particularly large and secure property, you might want find somewhere safer for a while. In polls gathered by Adelphi University it was found 44 percent of US adults don’t own first-aid kits and 42 percent don’t know the phone numbers of their immediate family off by heart. Knowing these sorts of stats, we can gather that we can all be more prepared.

Your Bug Out Bag is your essential toolbox (that you carry on your back or in your vehicle) for when you want to get out of dodge. Being able to efficiently carry all of your essentials and then some is probably something we should be able to do normally, regardless of preparing for a worst-case scenario. Having quick access to food, water, medical supplies and protective clothing is what we seek to have available in our home, so it makes sense that we’re able to enjoy these essentials when on the move too. Your bug out bag should realistically be able to fully cater to you (such as emergency kit, survival kit, sewing kit, and more) and hopefully to others.


The Essentials

Gathering the essentials to fill and maintain a comprehensive and survival-ready bug out bag can be time consuming and expensive (and heavy), so it’s best to know What to Pack and What to Leave Out.

Being able to breathe, drink, eat and take shelter from the elements be they hot or cold are your absolute essentials, and most other things you might put in your bug out bag will be used to maintain these. I will also discuss clothing, first aid, navigation and defense in case of an emergency situation.


We can imagine all sorts of potential risks to our ability to breathe, be they viral like the current coronavirus, or gaseous/pollution, some sort of air filtration particle mask or gas mask is vital in your kit.



Some sort of water filtration to allow you to gather any water you come across for drinking is essential. A durable and portable water bottle or bladder that can attach to the water filter is also a necessity. You can buy and use water purification tablets or drops that will purify water but these will be finite so unless you buy enough to clean potentially hundreds of gallons of water, get a self-contained filter or be prepared to boil or distil your water through stones.


Pre-packaged rations may be the best foods to have in your bug out bag for the first several days after a disaster, so find some that are energy-rich and easy to fit into your pack. Having calorie-dense food to keep you energized and alert is essential in the critical first days.

If you are bugging out to a location with possible fishing or hunting areas (or you know about the local plant life), be prepared with a simple fishing kit of line with spool, a couple of hooks and whatever weapon or multitool you have.


Your shelter can be anything as simple as a tarpaulin, sleeping bag or as complex as a fold-out tent, but you’ve got to be sure you can pack it and carry it in your bug out bag for days on end without slowing you down. Depending on where you’re situated, you can guess what sort of climate you’re going to be living in during the first few days of a disaster (natural disasters): whether you want to stay warm or cool, but always dry. A space blanket will work in a variety of situations, as will a compact survival tent.


Gloves that keep your hands warm and safe from cuts and splinters while not restricting your grip should be close to the top of your list and packed into your bug out bag so you can access them fast. Things like a weatherproof jacket and warm hat/beanie will help keep you and your clothes dry, but you should always pack at least one full clean change of clothes, as being damp or wet can be uncomfortable or possibly dangerous should hypothermia be a possibility. As clothes will take up a lot of room in your pack, only pack as much as you need for survival. Comfortable water resistant or waterproof shoes will keep you hiking for days on end.


The Other Essentials

As I mentioned earlier many of the other items you’ll put in your bug out bag will help maintain your shelter, breathing, food and water. Here I’ll be listing the top things to keep you comfortable and safe, and making sure your essentials will last you the duration (at least 72 hours and more) of a disaster.

  1. Matches and/or fire starters are pretty much a must to help keep you warm and cook much needed food after your rations are gone. Firewood and kindling can be picked up on the go and you’d never want to lug any of this in your pack.
  2. A flashlight or headlamp with spare batteries to light your way is another I’d consider, particularly if you’ve bugged out to a location well away from civilization. If you get desperate, you can light a torch with fire and a good sized stick. A small mirror can double as a signal light.
  3. We could almost dedicate a whole post to a First Aid Kit, but I’ll keep it simple here. Medical gloves and gauze pads, anti-bacterial wipes and instruments like scissors will be vital should you be hurt while on the go. As well as this painkillers and antiseptic will ease prolonged issues. A sling and tourniquet are a good idea as well. You can imagine all manner of situations you might end up in a hospital ward, so be prepared to do the basics yourself when SHTF. Learn first aid if you need to survive .because it is one of the invaluable survival skills and have instructions available for the things you have in your kit. Pack it in a small bag somewhere in your bug out bag you can get to it with one hand.
  4. While a lot of us rely on electronic maps to guide us, this is where you’ve got have it on hand. A rugged compass and an up-to-date map are essentials for navigation, particularly if you’re moving a great distance from your home. Depending on the weather and time of day, know how to read the stars as well.
  5. Tools and Defense Weapons are things you may or may not already have on hand, but it’s best to have them. A multitool with knife, plyers and screwdriver will get you out of most situations. Having one you can clip to your belt or sheath away is a good idea. Things like a small shovel and duct tape have a menagerie of uses and I’d always make room for them. Your self defense weapon will usually work hand in hand with your food as well. Choosing to carry a larger knife or firearm (or both) will extend the time you can stay at your bug out location and increase the chances of you being able to hunt food and defend yourself and your gear. Consider something durable but small enough to conceal within your bug out bag. A larger rifle will have more uses but being able to conceal it is a good idea as well if the disaster situation means someone might have jealous eyes for it or other things in your possession. Something as simple or basic and small as pepper spray can also be very helpful and easy to pack to ward off people and wild animals.
  6. The obvious but often forgotten things you should cram into your bug out bag are your passport and important documents such as addresses and preparedness plan, extra batteries and chargers and a whistle. Self explanatory.


The Bag

Your bug out bag can be everything you need from a camping backpack on a budget to a properly designed survival pack. You want it to have multiple pockets, ideally be water resistant and comfortable to carry. Depending on the gear you end up putting in it and the length of time you’re prepare to bug out for, it should be a decent size to fit things as large as food, clothes and possibly your shelter.


Where to Keep It Ready

Where to Keep It Ready

You’re likely to be carrying items intended for more than one person, so keep it somewhere in your house where all of your family members can get to it quickly. All your preparedness will mean nothing if your plan involves arriving from work at 6pm and hoping your partner or child is standing on the driveway with your essentials kit, only to be waiting with empty hands. Disasters don’t wait for us so we need to know where our bag is, and what’s in it when we pick it up. This is a very important part to finish up on: maintaining your bug out bags is also very important. Things like medicine and food may one day expire, and maps may be updated when that new bridge is built. Things like this are why being prepared is not a once and done solution. We’ve got to be prepared to use it if the time comes.

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