Bug Out Bag Essentials
This page will help you build a bug out bag that consists of well-organized and portable supplies to support your sustenance for 72 hours following a disaster. You may be able (or required) to shelter in your home, or you may need to evacuate to a safer (and, ideally, predetermined) location. Your bug out bag should be constructed to support your adaptability to the disasters most likely to affect your geographical region with a focus on versatility, practicality, and maneuverability.
- A bug out bag is also known as a 72-hour kit, go bag, and Personal Emergency Relocation Kit (PERK).
- Relocation should be a last resort. If you can remain in your home safely for an extended period and “shelter-in-place” then you should definitely do so. You have a better chance of surviving in your home considering the cover it provides and access to all of your additional stockpiled items that you would not be able to bring with you. However, if at any time your safety becomes compromised, you need to be able to grab your bug out bag and leave without hesitation. Don’t worry about your house and possessions, that’s what insurance is for – and they’re useless anyway if you end up dead.
- If you are forced to relocate, it will not be a comfortable situation so you shouldn’t approach it as such. You will need to make compromises and trade comfort for survival. You should only look to carry about 25%-30% of your total body weight which means you need to be very discerning in what you take and prioritize based on what you need vs. what you want.
- Relevant training or, at a minimum, solid familiarity with how to properly use all of the items in your bug out bag along with a well-thought-out survival plan is required. You should actually test your gear as well your own physical and mental capabilities in an effort to continually refine your preparedness.
- See our About page for additional information.
As a general rule, you should avoid any gear that will cause you to stand out and attract attention. This includes bright colors and gear that is overly “tactical” or military-looking (such as camouflage). The goal is to blend in so that you can get from point A to B without becoming a target of the criminal element that is inherently present in the aftermath of a disaster.
- High Quality Backpack – we’ve tested dozens of bags and found this one to be the most suitable for reliably and comfortably carrying (20+ miles) all of the other items that follow. We originally chose the Goruck GR2, and still think it’s a great bag, but the Tortuga weighs 45% less, has 10% more capacity and a more subtle design that’s better suited for blending into an urban environment.
- 55 Gallon 3mil Thick Trash Bag – pack a few of these; multiple uses including ground cover, water collection and waste disposal.
Exposure to the elements is one of the most deadly things you may encounter. In a harsh environment you have about 3 hours to survive without shelter. Keeping yourself warm and dry is a critical requirement.
- Waterproof Poncho – we have yet to come across a poncho with better quality or functionality. It’s large enough to cover you while wearing your bag and has grommets for use in shelter construction. The only drawback is that it’s a bit bulky if your want to pack it in your bug out bag instead of wearing it.
- Thermal Bivouac Sack (aka bivy or bivvy)
- Emergency Blanket – thick, waterproof and has grommets for use in shelter construction.
- Duct Tape – excellent strength yet still pliable, with a myriad of uses. The full roll will likely be too bulky to carry in its entirety so we wrap a decent amount around a pen and pack that instead.
- Type IV (11 Strand) Paracord – beware of inferior paracord being sold everywhere – this is definitely not something you want to sacrifice quality on!
You won’t be able to survive for 72 hours without water. Water is heavy, but it’s one of the most important things you need to plan for. Unfortunately, it really isn’t feasible to carry all of the water you’ll need for 3 days so you need to bring what you can and plan to have clean water at your destination. If that isn’t an option, you need to be able to find water and make it potable.
- Stainless Steel Water Bottle – boiling water is the most effective method for removing all pathogens. Avoid any models that are painted or coated in enamel so that you can boil the water directly in the bottle. We recommend a 40oz bottle with a loop cap that can be used for clipping to gear.
- Portable Water Purifier – if you aren’t able to boil water for whatever reason, this lightweight purifier gets very close in effectiveness for removing pathogens, including viruses.
Injuries are very likely during or immediately following a disaster. Combine this with the fact that emergency services may be unavailable, and you have a critical need for both the equipment and training to effectively treat common injuries yourself. While we absolutely do not advocate using medical tools for which you are not properly trained, it is a good idea to have these in case you do encounter a professional.
- Personal First Aid Kit – our recommendation has a full complement of wound care supplies as well as medications to treat ailments that can slow you down such as upset stomach, pain and allergies in a portable, well-organized kit. Frankly, you could fill your entire bag with medical supplies but that just isn’t practical. We do recommend a supplement, however:
- Tourniquet – a comprehensive evaluation of tourniquets was conducted by the U.S. Navy Experimental Diving Unit. This tourniquet was one of 3 to achieve the Group A rating (statistically equal to or better than all other tourniquets in every parameter tested). The ease of application, simplicity, and light weight gave this tourniquet the edge for our pick. Click here to access the full report.
While you can technically survive for 3 days without food, it’s a terrible idea as this adds to the stress your body is already dealing with and prevents you from performing well. Do yourself a favor and add some food to your bag. While some of the dehydrated meal options are actually quite good, we avoid them because they require use of your water supply to reconstitute.
We prefer a headlamp over a flashlight because it allows our hands to remain free for various tasks, but include both for redundancy. There are truly an overwhelming number of manufacturers and product choices in this category. The only brand we’ve found with illumination tools worthy of our lives depending on them is Surefire – extremely durable, reliable and used by many law enforcement and military organizations around the world.
- LED Headlamp – comfortable to wear and has a variable light-output dial to control levels from 0 to 100 lumens. Includes red filter for dark-adapted vision and 1 1231A 3 volt lithium battery.
- LED Flashlight – SureFire’s most affordable model, without a sacrifice in quality. Two output levels: 320 lumens and 15 lumens. Includes 2 123A 3 volt lithium batteries.
- Chemical Light Sticks – lightweight, long-lasting (12 hours) and safer than candles, these are extremely useful during power outages. Put one in every room, attach them to your kids, etc. We prefer red because they don’t affect dark-adapted vision as much and can also be used as an alternative to road flares.
- Spare Batteries – lithium batteries are preferred because they have a 10 year shelf life and don’t leak like alkaline batteries can when left in unused devices. Whatever illumination products you choose, you should at least make sure your headlamp and flashlight use the same size battery for interoperability. Surefire uses the 123A lithium battery so we’ve stocked up on these.
Do not expect to rely upon mobile phone networks and the Internet – these may not be available following a disaster.
- AM/FM/Weather Radio – many areas have plans in place to keep radio broadcasts operational so this may be the only way to get news and official updates. There are many “emergency” radios out there with all kinds of bells and whistles (some even have the Red Cross emblem) but we found most to be too large and heavy.
This category is primarily based on personal preference but the bottom line is that you want to avoid unprotected exposure to infectious diseases or just feeling gross for an extended period of time.
These items didn’t fit neatly into any of the above categories, but that doesn’t mean they are any less important.
- Lightweight Multitool – the most lightweight yet functional multitool we’ve found.
- Work Gloves – you may have to move tree limbs, rubble, debris, etc. so use these to protect your hands from getting torn up.
- Safety Whistle
- Shemagh Scarf – dozens of uses including protection from sun, wind and sand, pre-filter for water, etc. We chose the more neutral black and silver color to avoid a tactical look.
- Waterproof document pouch – A good grab-and-go pouch to store important documents (such as a passport and birth certificate) and cash (do not expect ATMs to work in a disaster). This pouch should normally be stored in a fireproof safe, but if you need to leave your home it can be quickly thrown in your bag on the way out.
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