Bug out bags are bags used for emergencies. These emergencies involve you having to leave quickly, without time to stop and gather anything else. For this reason, your bag needs to have everything you could need to survive, but it also has to be lightweight.
So what to put in a bug out bag, you may ask? There are lists everywhere about the dozens of items you need in a bag, but it really only boils down to 11 essentials.
What Is a Good Bug Out Bag?
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Bug out bags are designed to be bags full of supplies and essentials in case you need to leave, or “bug out” of your home at a moment’s notice. There are all sorts of reasons that someone might need a bug out bag.
Some examples include:
- Getting away from an abusive partner
- Shootings in the neighborhood
If these kinds of moments happen, you want to be prepared. Running around scrambling for the essentials or leaving without anything at all can put you in a lot of danger.
Some people have these bags ready all the time, replacing items in the bag as necessary and running regular checks to make sure any batteries and water are still good. However, you can also prepare one in the event that a natural disaster is possible in the area and you are nervous you will have to evacuate.
Whatever the reason, it is a good idea to have a lot of the items you may need for a bug out bag already around your home. If you wait until the last minute to buy necessities, you run the risk of many items being out of stock in your local stores.
For the most part, a single bag should last the wearer 72 hours. This is generally how long people can live without water, and where your bag stays light. Once you start thinking about adding a lot of water and food, your bag becomes much heavier, and your chances of being able to move around freely are lower.
What to Put in a Bug Out Bag: 11 Essentials
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In addition to picking out the right stuff to go in your bag, you also need to make sure you have the right bag. A simple backpack can be fine for some cases, but if you want a proper bug out bag, you need one that can handle the weight and is sortable.
A tarp is essential. A good, sturdy tarp can be used for all sorts of things. It gives you a somewhat clean place to prepare food. You can use it to set on wet ground to stay dry and a bit warmer as well.
It can also be hung up. If hung up right, it can protect you from outside elements such as rain, it can be used to collect water, and it can help to insulate.
No matter what, you should have a strong tarp in your bag, or even two. They are lightweight and don’t take up much space so you don’t have to worry about them too much. Many tarps are also bright in color, such as bright blue.
Having one that is bright and easily visible can give you something to use as a flag. It may help people find you easier when they start searches, and it increases the chances of being rescued.
Unfortunately, the color tarp you want depends on what you are trying to run from. In natural disasters, you would likely do best with a big, bright tarp. If you are trying to hide from people, you may want something that blends in more with your surrounding area.
If you are in doubt, get two, one bright and one that is darker.
Tents can serve a lot of the same purposes, but the fabric isn’t often as strong. While you can have both a tarp and a tent if you can afford the weight and space, a tarp is the better option if you have to choose one.
In case your phone dies or you can’t get any signal for GPS, you will want to pack a map. We also suggest taking some basic classes on how to read a map so it will be useful to you in case of an emergency.
You don’t need a big map either. Unless you are trying to get several states over, you only need a map of your local area. These tend to be thin and fold up pretty small so you don’t have to worry about carrying a whole book of different maps in your bug out bag.
Of course, a compass isn’t super helpful on its own. Unless you are planning to stick to major roads the whole time, you will also need a compass. Again, you may want to look at taking a class or two to make sure you understand how to use one.
While the compass doesn’t have to be a top-of-the-line compass with all the fancy tools, you do want one that is reliable and sturdy in case of an emergency. There are different kinds of compasses too. While they’ll work in similar ways, you may do best with researching the kind you have and making sure you understand how it works.
4. A Few Bottles of Water
People can only go about three days without water. While it is a good idea to bring both food and water if you have to choose, choose water.
While you can just pack in a few plastic water bottles from the store, that isn’t the best option. Clear water bottles are more likely to develop algae and bacteria over time, especially when exposed to light.
Instead, consider getting thick metal bottles. They are dark and light can’t get through them. They can also double as blunt weapons. They do tend to be a bit heavy, though, and take up a lot more space.
A good middle ground is collapsible water bottles. They can fold up when you are out of water so they don’t take up as much space, and are lightweight.
5. Water Purification Tablets
Unless you can handle a pretty heavy backpack, you won’t be able to carry that much water. A few bottles may last you 72 hours, but if you want to be extra safe, you can also throw in some water purification tablets, or a straw designed to filter water.
These are both great options because they don’t take up a lot of space or weight, and can be a lifesaver if you are stuck out in the wilderness for longer than your 72-hour window.
If you can manage to find water near you, something for water purification can help to ensure you don’t get any bacteria or parasites that could harm you more than the water can help. While most of the time, moving water is safer than still water, it still isn’t completely clean and has the potential to carry dangerous bacteria in it.
6. First Aid Kit
All sorts of injuries can happen during an emergency. Even a small cut can become infected and cause you to have fevers or get too sick to move. Carrying a basic first-aid kit in your bug out bag can ensure you have items like Bandaids, antibiotic cream, pain relievers, and even salves to help fight itching sensations.
The best part about a first aid kit is that even if you are planning to take your whole family with you, you really only need one. This means you can give it to whoever can carry the most weight, or whoever has the most space in their bag.
Just make sure your first aid kit is fully stocked before you put it in the bag. It doesn’t do any good if items are expired or missing.
7. Thermal Clothing
If you live somewhere that is going to be cool at night or has the chance for frost, then you may want to consider thermal clothing. Something lightweight and thin can keep you warm under other clothes or by themselves.
Even if it doesn’t get super cold where you live, thermals can be a good idea. They help protect you from the sun to reduce the risk of burning, keep insects off of you, and can provide you with clothes for a wide range of temperatures in case a natural disaster does something strange to the weather.
8. Small Knife or Ax
Ideally, if you have the space and can handle the weight, an ax or a machete are your best options for a weapon. An ax can help you chop down trees for fires, and scare away predators and other threats.
A machete is good for clearing spaces and also for threats. They both come in options that fold down to become smaller, but that doesn’t do much to reduce the weight.
If you don’t have the space, you can consider adding at least a small knife or two into your bag. They won’t help as much with big cutting like for wood, but can allow you to sharpen sticks for hunting, and can still offer a fair amount of protection.
You never know when a sharp object can come in handy.
9. Lights or Lamps
Light is always a good idea as well, though it does get overlooked in a lot of lists. Having firestarters provides light at night if you are in a secure place. But if you are on the move, you don’t want to be carrying a flaming torch around.
Instead, consider something like a headlamp. Flashlights and lanterns are fine too, but they take up a lot of space and are pretty heavy. A good, solid flashlight can double as a weapon and may also be a good idea to have in your bag.
But headlamps are much more lightweight, compact, and tend to be more dependable. Plus, since they can stick on your head, you don’t have to worry about having a free hand to keep light where you need it.
10. Fire Starters
Always have a fire starter in your bag. Matches are good, but not always dependable. Matches also run out at some point, which means you have limited use. Even if you bring hundreds of matches, you risk them being useless if they get wet, broken, or dropped on the ground. Flint and steel can be hard to start if you don’t know what you are doing.
Find a fire starter that is dependable, easy to keep track of, and that you know how to use. It is recommended you take the time to practice for a while until you can reliably start a fire every time with one.
Magnesium fire starters or ferrocerium rods are good options, but find something that works best for your needs.
Paracord was a hot trend for a while, and for good reason. A good paracord, which is a parachute cord, is something you don’t want to be without. It can hold 550 pounds before potentially breaking.
People have tested paracord to see what exactly it can be used for reliably, and with good results. For example, just having a bit of paracord can be useful because it can work as a fishing lure, a string for a bow, or a snare.
It can be woven into a bracelet or the strand on your compass, so it doesn’t take up any space at all.