Bug Out Bag Essentials List
Selecting the contents of a bug out bag can be a fun yet maddening process; hopefully this list of essential items followed by descriptions of specific gear carried in my bag will help give you some ideas when putting together your own bug out bag checklist.
For my bag I picked a dark green Teton Scout 3400 internal frame pack as it blends in nicely in urban or outdoor settings. It is important to note that this bag was put together with indoor, vehicle, and outdoor applications in mind and not just wilderness survival.
While many people have switched to a hammock, I prefer to use a small pup style tent for my primary shelter option. Pup tents not only keep out the elements and insects, but also keep gear dry and easily accessible. Another advantage of pup style tents is that they are not dependent on poles like almost all other styles of tents; as sticks can be used to replace the straight poles, or paracord ran through the tent's top grommets and tied to a nearby tree to hold the tent up. I decided on a lightweight Texsport camouflage pup tent with a couple modifications to serve as my main shelter; and it is about the only pup style camo tent currently available at a reasonable price.
Whether you are crashing on a couch, in a vehicle, or in a tent; a decent sleeping bag can make the night a lot more comfortable. However, sleeping bags are often either heavy or expensive, so finding the right balance between weight, temperature rating and cost can be difficult. I choose a lightweight Teton TrailHead +20 that fits nicely in my pack's sleeping bag compartment. Keep in mind this bag's +20 label is essentially a survival rating, so be sure to add in a margin of error for a comfortable night's sleep. Also, it is important to have a layer of insulation between any sleeping bag and the ground to avoid losing heat from the bag into the ground.
Much like an emergency blanket, an emergency bivvy is extremely lightweight and is designed to reflect most of your body's heat. If you have ever looked at emergency blankets you probably have noticed that quality can vary greatly. I have found both the SOL (Survive Outdoors Longer) blanket and bivvy are made out of much more durable material than the standard cheap emergency blankets. I currently carry a SOL Bivvy to be used with my sleeping bag on really cold nights; and it could also be used by another person or as a backup to my main bag. The SOL bivvy weighs under 4 oz and is roughly about half the size of a can of soda.
All Weather Blanket
Unlike an emergency blanket that is made of an ultra light type of foil; the All Weather Blanket is sturdier and more versatile, and is probably better thought of as a light tarp. I have a 5x7 version that weighs 12 ounces and is dark green on one side and a highly reflective silver on the other side. While, this blanket can be used like the lighter weight emergency blankets for retaining body heat, it can also serve as a ground cloth for a tent, overhead shelter, and even as a signaling device to attract attention. This blanket has a grommet in all four corners that can be used with tent stakes or paracord to help hold it in position.
Nothing ruins the streamlined shape and profile of a carefully packed bug out bag like attaching a sleeping pad to the outside. Many of the bags I see people packing are missing a sleeping pad; while sleeping pads are bulky they do make for a warmer and more comfortable nights sleep especially in colder conditions. There are two basic styles of sleeping pads which are foam and air. Air pads provide the best insulation from the ground but are generally more expensive and less durable than the foam style pads. I currently use a foam style pad from ThermaRest called the Ridge Rest Solar and carry it strapped to the outside of my pack.
Having several water containers allows for hauling contaminated water in some containers while keeping others clean. Multiple bottles also allow for redundancy against damage or division among several people. Five 500ml store bought plastic water bottles make up my initial water supply, adding up to 2.5 liters total. I'm generally not very picky about the brand pf water but do pack two styles; two bottles form one manufacture and three bottles from a different maker. This helps me easily keep clean and contaminated bottles separate if need be. Finally, these thin plastic bottles can be used for solar disinfection as a last resort water sterilization method.
A water bottle with water filter is one of the simplest, and fastest ways to filter water on the move. I use a clear 32oz Nalgene bottle in concert with a Sawyer 4-Way Filter kit it to handle my water filtering duties. I carry this bottle empty of water and store, the filter, a backwashing syringe, and various connectors inside. The Sawyer filter lets me use the Nalgene bottle as a filtration bottle so I choose a clear bottle to better judge the quality of the water before I run it through the filter. The Sawyer filter can also be used in a gravity system, or even as a long drinking straw filter with the attached tubing; finally the syringe can be used to backwash the filter should it become plugged.
A hydration pack is a very lightweight (when empty) and versatile item to back in a bug out bag; a hydration pack can be used for things like cleaning cookware or showering as well as carrying drinking water. While the Teton backpack is equipped with a hydration pouch holder I leave my 3 liter version empty to save on weight and avoid a leak inside my pack. I can also use this hydration bladder with the Sawyer filter from the Nalgene bottle so I can simply fill the pack with unfiltered water and drink it as I go. Finally by simply hanging this hydration bladder up with the filter in place I can have a relatively large gravity filter system for refilling my water bottles.
Compared to most other styles of survival water filters, survival straws are both lighter and more affordable; and many people are comfortable with using one of these for their primary means of filtering water. While LifeStraw is probably the most well known and popular brand of these straws; I choose to go with the Seychelle Straw primarily because it would fit in my everyday carry kit. While I would likely use the above mentioned Nalgene/Sawyer combo for most situations; the Seychelle is rated for filtering chemicals which the Sawyer is not, so if chemicals in the water were a concern I would use the Seychelle straw.
Tools & Protection
Carrying a gun in a bug out bag might not be the right choice for some people, but makes sense for me. A Smith and Wesson 422 pistol that didn't have a dedicated use got added to my bag. This pistol is large but slim, throwing in an extra 10 round magazine plus a box of 50 brings the total ammo count to 70 rounds. I conceal carry a handgun on my person so I should have another handgun with me as well. Hopefully, I would have enough time to select the guns I want to bug out with, but if nothing else I should have my EDC handgun, and I will have a 22lr pistol with 70 rounds which would also allow for small game hunting at close to medium ranges.
I have had the good fortune of being able to test out a wide variety of knives including inexpensive models like models like the Mora Craftline up to more expensive models like the Cold Steel Trailmaster. However, the model that ended up in my pack is kind of a hybrid machete made by the Ontario Knife Company call the SP-8 Machete. I use it to take care of the heavier chores like wood gathering and shelter building while a smaller knife takes care of cutting duties. While a bit on the heavy side I consider it more of a survival tool than a machete as it could be used for digging, prying, hammering, self defense, etc.
Choosing your everyday carry knife with survival use in mind is a good idea because that way you are sure to have a knife with you when needed. I would rely on my EDC knife to perform the duties better suited for a knife than the above mentioned SP-8 machete. Currently, I am currently carrying an Ontario Rat Model 1 which is a large drop point folding knife, that when opened is basically the same size as a fixed blade Mora; the Rat 1 is also built stout enough to handle most camping related tasks. Also, consider that many fixed blade knives come with large an cheap sheaths that are not as handy to carry or easy to conceal as a large folding knife with a carry clip.
When you have access to a lot of other tools, you probably won't often reach for a multi-tool first. However, a good multi-tool is capable of doing an amazing amount of tasks considering how small and portable they are. I choose a Leatherman Sidekick because it had all the features I would likely use, and was very affordable when compared to many other models. The Sidekick features a saw which appealed to me as a useful feature not found on many multi-tools, also the knife blade was pretty decent compared to some of the blades I have seen on multi-tools, and could be used as a back up blade should something happen to my folding knife.
While a saw isn't necessarily an essential item it can sure make life a lot easier when cutting wood; but if it was for this factor alone I might not have included a saw in my pack, or maybe would have went with a lighter chainsaw style model. However, the Outdoor Edge Pack Saw is my favorite hunting and camping saw; and it comes with wood, bone, and metal blades. This saw folds up into a long and narrow profile that is easy to pack, but then assembles into a large saw with a top frame. So essentially you have a dedicated wood saw with very aggressive teeth, a bone saw for processing large game, and a metal blade that basically turns the unit into a hacksaw.
Cooking & Food
The main purpose of a stove in most bug out bags including mine is to boil water. Boiling water can be used as a method of sterilizing questionable water; as well as heating water for meals or hot drinks. I carry a Sterno folding stove which is a relatively large stove but folds down to a pretty compact package. I like this stove because of its large cooking surface and stability. This stove assembles quickly once you figure out the procedure, and once setup the sides of the box provide a good wind break for your fuel source, which fortunately this stove can be used with many types of fuel including wood if necessary.
Back Up Stove
Packing a backup stove might not be critical; however due to the relative large size of the Sterno folding stove when compared to other models I decided a second stove would be a good idea in case I wanted to lighten my pack and ditch the larger stove. I have a Blue Hill Designs stove that is somewhat similar to the stove stand on a Swiss M-71 stove. This stove can also be used with various fuel types and is very lightweight weighing just over 1 oz but yet is still very sturdy. This stove will fit on the bottom of a fuel can, large water bottle, cook cup, etc. and takes up virtually no space, so it was an easy decision to include.
Fuel selection for small compact camp stoves is a tricky decision, with each having its own unique advantages and disadvantages. I have tried most of them and have currently settled on Sterno for my pack; I can see some people shaking their head at the screen right now. First off, let me say that Sterno is not my choice when I go camping, and for outdoor cooking it isn't generally the best option. However, for indoor use, vehicle use, or emergency heat, Sterno is probably the best choice. This is a complicated topic that I'm not going to expand on here, but for me since both my stoves can use other fuel sources such as wood or fuel tabs; I am fine with packing Sterno fuel.
Having a container to boil water in and to cook with is essential. My current go to and do all cookset is the GSI Minimalist which is one of my favorite pieces of gear. It has a short wide pot that isn't tipsy and allows for storage of my backup stove and fuel. It also comes with a pot holder which can be used to transfer the pot into its cozy which keeps your hands protected from the hot metal and acts as a hand warmer. The Minimalist has a lid that can be flipped one way to provide a loose lid for retaining heat while cooking; or it can be flipped over and used for drinking or pouring. This cookset also comes with a foon (spork) that fits inside the pot even with a fuel canister nested.
Back Up Cookset
Due to the importance of a cookset carrying a spare is probably a good idea. I found that a folding handle metal GSI cup slid on the bottom of the Nalgene bottle took up next to no room and weighed very little. While not in the same league as the GSI Minimalist, this cooking cup is a basic way to boil water, and can be used to eat and drink out of if need be. One thing to remember about cooking outdoors is to use some sort of a lid to retain heat which helps the contents of the cup to warm faster; therefore saving not only on cook time but more importantly fuel. If nothing else is available you can use a small piece of aluminium foil for a makeshift lid.
While technically you can live weeks without food, life is better with something in your stomach. I have a large zip lock bag that generally contains both cold drink mixes and instant coffee sticks, to go along with the instant oatmeal, granola bars and various snacks, and candies. Also, to round out the mix I generally have a emergency food ration bar (or at least a portion of one) as they provide some dense and somewhat balanced calories. It is good to have a mix of both dry food and just add hot water items; because sometimes a quick snack might be what is needed, while other times a hot drink or meal can give you the boost you need.
Clothes can be bulky and start taking up pack space fast, so it is important to try and cover as many scenarios as possible without taking half your closet. My pack includes a pair of 100% cotton (yes I said the "C" word) camouflage hunting pants that are a size larger than my normal everyday jeans. Despite being cotton this tightly woven fabric does well when worn over the top of my normal jeans in a variety of cold conditions; and I have used this type of setup for hunting, and outdoor winter activities for years without problems. In warmer weather with the use of a belt I can wear the camo pants on their own.
Again try covering as many bases as possible not only with heat and cold in mind but also the ability to blend in whether in the woods or a town/city. I pack a lightweight tan performance style t-shirt is in my pack, that can be added as a base layer or worn alone on warmer days without standing out in outdoor or urban settings. I also pack a medium weight long sleeve shirt, that is camo and can also be used as an additional layer or worn on its own in warmer weather, although obviously more suited for woods use. Also these two shirts could be used in combination with whatever I was wearing when I bugged out.
Socks / Underwear
While many people putting together a list of go bag essentials skip over socks and underwear; I feel that every kit should have at least two pairs of socks. I have a zip lock bag with 3 pair of good quality hiking socks and an additional two pair of boxer briefs. Anybody that has ever been on a long hike multi-day hike knows the importance of having a good change of dry socks, because if you damage your feet life gets miserable very quickly. Also, I have found that by wearing long boxer briefs, and tall hiking socks it almost creates a base layer of clothing which becomes important when you are trying to have enough clothes for as wide a range of temperatures as possible.
Gloves are important to keep you hands protected from heat and cold as well as injuries; while a hat can help retain body heat or protect you from the sun. Depending on the season there will be a different types of beanies, cap straps, gloves, face masks etc,. but I generally have a pair of Mechanix gloves in the bag for protection while working or cooking. Also, some sort of head covering like a beanie to help trap heat in while sleeping. Finally, while I generally have a baseball cap with me, there is a camo boonie hat in my bag for protection from the sun and to act as a make shift bucket for picking berries etc.
A headlamp allows you to keep both hands free to work, which can be very important especially if you have to set up camp in the dark. I haven't yet settled on a headlamp as I have a comparison test coming up that will decide the winner; currently I am using a 4 AA model from Princeton Tec that while a on the heavy side does cast a good beam of light, and is simple to operate. However, it is an older model and flashlight technology has advanced a great deal since I bought this headlamp many years ago; so this is one item in my pack that will almost surely be upgraded once I finish the comparison test.
While many led flashlights have an impressive run time, there is an added peace of mind having a flashlight that can be ran without new batteries. I pack a Ambient Weather Radio which features a built in flashlight that can be recharged either by its solar panel or hand crank. While not as compact as some lights this unit does receive both AM and FM stations providing both news and entertainment, both of which can be useful during an emergency. This radio also receives the NOAA weather channels which lists weather warnings as well as current and predicted weather conditions, again this can be potentially important information in many scenarios.
A tactical style flashlights can be used as a normal flashlight; however, their high output light can also be used to effectively blind someone posing a threat, giving you time to determine your next course of action. Also, many tactical style flashlights feature an aggressive bezel head which can make them a formidable impact weapon as well. I currently use a Streamlight Protac 2L which has high, low, and strobe settings; this allows for a couple hours of high output use or a couple days of low output use. This model runs on two CR123 batteries which generally offer better performance than similar flashlights that use more standard AA batteries.
These little gadgets used to be a bit of a joke with both poor output and reliability; but the keychain flashlight has came along way from its novelty beginnings and now can serve as a valuable survival tool. I recently test some of the most popular keychain lights available, they included the Streamlight Nano, Energizer Hi-Tech, and LRI Photon II. All of these lights were extremely compact and put out a surprising amount of light for their size. After the test I choose to put the Energizer Hi-Tech on my key ring, the LRI Photon II in my EDC kit, and the Streamlight Nano in an Altoids survival tin; and all of these would make a good backup light.
While there is a lot of uncertainty when preparing for potential disasters and SHTF situations; the one thing that is for sure is that Murphy's law will be in full effect so plan for the worst and hope for the best. While there are some very elaborate and expensive medical kits available; I went with two small individual kits. The first is a called a Trauma Pak and includes the items necessary to deal most of the major injuries one might face that the average person would be able to effectively deal with. I also carry a small Lifeline first aid kid that is geared more toward the smaller injuries and discomforts likely to occur when bugging out.
Para Cord / Firestarters
What bug out bag would be complete with out some paracord; I won't bore you with a list of the 100+ survival uses of paracord but suffice to say it is good stuff to have along. I am currently carrying a new pack 100 feet of tan paracord, and 30 feet of olive drab paracord in my EDC kit. I have also replaced the guy lines on my tent with paracord to improve the strength. For fire starting I generally carry a Ronson butane lighter, mini Bic, matches, and one long term fire starting source. While the Ronson butane torch lighter is heavier than some of the other options it also puts out a lot of heat and works better in the wind than my old standby the Bic mini.
Hygiene / Sanitation
When the SHTF it is important to have toilet paper, and a few other hygiene related items. I carry a zip lock bag that contains most of the common toiletry items one would take on a camping trip. For toilet paper I use a half roll with the tube removed and squashed down to help save space. For soap I use a 4 oz bottle of Campsuds which covers everything from body soap and shampoo to washing cooksets and clothes. I also use this zip lock bag to cross pack a few important items like matches and water purification tablets to insure that I will have a method of purifying water and starting a fire as long as I have this bag with me.
Well it was kind of a long read but for those of you that made it all the way through, I hope that you were able to get an idea or two for your bug out bag list. My Teton Scout 3400 and all its contents weighs 37 lbs which is probably heavier than average; however, my theory is to start out a little heavier and dump or stash something if I need to cut weight. However, your circumstances, experience, and plans will all effect the choices you make when putting together your bag. Finally, assembling all the contents of your bug out bag can take a long time and even after you are done initially, there is endless tweaking that can be done; however, the most important thing you can do is get started.