Building a Better Bug-Out Bag

I used to live in the preparedness space. I found Doomsday Preppers late one night in college, and despite a sensational portrayal of some already sensational people, I got hooked. I spent the next two years reading prepper blogs, listening to their podcasts, stashing supplies, and building a bug-out bag. I even wrote a book about it all. Preparedness fell to the wayside when I left college, though, until nutnfancy’s three part series pulled me back in.

I will keep this recap — and my critiques — brief. First, nutnfancy talks about principles for a bug-out kit. Part two recaps1 that hour-long video before moving on to his pack of choice, a wheeled duffel that doubles as a backpack. He delves into its contents — almost a hundred pounds of gear, for the most part inessential — in the third. If I had to condense my critiques, I would say choosing not to focus on the essentials cost him mobility, at which point he started excusing the product rather than revisiting the flawed approach in a cycle that resulted in a bag he struggles to lift. I would not want to drag this kit through an airport, the one place a heavy roller bag belongs, let alone through the woods after a disaster. I cannot see that going well, and the fact that he does boggles my mind. Although better than his last idea, a rolling garbage can full of supplies that outweighed him, that sets the bar pretty low. Enough of all that, though: I want to talk about how I built a better system, starting with the why.

Why You Should Have a Bug-Out Bag #

In short, you should build a bug-out bag because you might have to leave without notice. For most people, I point to natural disasters like wildfires and hurricanes. If a firefighter forces you to leave in the middle of the night, you grab a few things on your way out the door. When a hurricane changes course and you have an hour to get away, you spend it getting ahead of the people cramming stuff into their trunks — not packing yours. A bug-out bag — a small kit with enough supplies to get you from the onset of disaster to a safe place — will take you from point A to B, and meet your basic needs for at least a few days once there.

For those who have spent a while in the preparedness space, reasons to have a go-bag become more abstract, and the circumstances in which they might use one become more dire. I tell these people to always do what improves their odds of survival. In most cases, that means staying put. Stay home with all that food, water, and gear, as long as that proves less dangerous than leaving. Past that point, though, I tell them to get out — flee to a bug-out location where they can ride out even long-term disasters. A bug-out bag should get them to that safe place, over or through anything and anyone that stands in their way.

Before you build a bug-out bag, you have to decide where you sit on that spectrum. Do you believe that war, economic hardship, or political strife could cause the rule of law to collapse? That if it does, you would have to get your family away from all that chaos to keep them safe? Or do you foresee natural disasters sending you away for a few days at a time? Your answer will decide your priorities, and guide what you put in this kit. I fall into the former camp, so I built my bug-out bag to get me through anything, on foot, in any season, for up to five days. I list its contents below.

My Bug-Out Bag #

Non-highlighted items stay in my pack. I add items in green in the summer, orange in the fall, and blue in the winter. At its heaviest, loaded with extra layers and two sleeping bags for frigid winters, my pack weighs about 35 pounds. During the summer, when I can get away with less, it drops to under 30. A rifle, sling, seven mags, and 210 rounds of ammo add less than 17. At over 200 pounds, I never have to carry more than a quarter of my body weight — and for a few months each year, that fraction drops from 1/4 to 1/6.

Item TypeDescriptionQuantity
Gear Storage
PackKelty Falcon 40001
Pack linerContractor trash bag1
Water
WaterDatrex Emergency Water, 125ml12
Water filterSawyer MINI water filter1
Water purificationAquamira water treatment drops1
Water storageSOURCE hydration bladder, 3L1
Water carrierGeneric MOLLE bladder carrier, 3L1
Food
Emergency rationsTac-Bar food rations5
Clothing (Matador Freerain24) - Worn
SocksWool-Synthetic Blend1
UnderwearExOfficio Men's Give-N-Go Brief1
Long underwearTesla compression base layer - Top1
Long underwearTesla compression base layer - Bottom1
Long underwearArmy ECWCS Gen III Level II long underwear top, MR1
Long underwearArmy ECWCS Gen III Level II long underwear bottom, MR1
Long underwearPatagonia Capilene 4 Hoodie1
Long underwearPatagonia Capilene 4 Bottoms1
ShirtDuke Athletic Dri-Fit T1
TrousersTAD Force 10 AC Cargo Pant1
BootsRocky S2V Military Boot1
BootsGarmont T8 Extreme GTX Boot1
Clothing - Packed
SocksWool-Synthetic Blend1
UnderwearExOfficio Men's Give-N-Go Brief1
HardshellPatagonia Torrentshell Top1
HardshellPatagonia Torrentshell Trousers1
JacketThe North Face Thermoball Full-Zip Jacket (13.23oz)1
TrousersMountain Hardware Compressor Pant (17.810z)1
GlovesMinus33 Merino Wool Glove Liners (1.6oz)1
GlovesYoungstown Glove Co. Waterproof Winter Military Work Glove1
HeadwearHugger Mugger Buff Headwear, Black1
HeadwearBlack Fleece Cap1
EyewearWiley-X Guard ballistic sunglasses1
Shelter
TentBig Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 mtnGLO1
Sleep systemArmy poncho liner (20oz)1
Sleep systemEberlestock Ultralite sleeping bag (38.4oz)1
Sleep systemEberlestock Reveile sleeping bag (70.4oz)1
Sleeping padTherm-a-Rest Neo-Air Xtherm sleeping pad1
Blowout Kit
AirwayNasopharyngeal Airway 28 Fr, with Lubricating Jelly 2.7 gm1
Tourniquet SOFTT-W Gen 3 Tourniquet1
Decompression NeedleH&H Decompression Needle Kit1
Dressing6 Israeli Emergency Bandage1
DressingH&H Primed Gauze 2
Chest SealNAR Hyfin Chest Seal 1
First-Line Care
Chest SealNAR Hyfin Chest Seal 1
Dressing8” Israeli Abdominal Bandage1
WrapCoban Wrap1
BandageTriangular Bandage 40x40x54 2
CravatSuper Combat Cravat/Sterile Burn Dressing2
DressingEmerald Sterile Krinkle Kerlix, 4.5” x 4.125 yds1
GauzePlaytex Sport Tampons4
Emergency BlanketSurvival Wrap1
DressingPetroleum Non-Stick Gauze2
DressingBurn Relief Hydrogel Pads2
Dressing6x6 Adhesive Pad2
Dressing5x9 Gauze Pad2
Dressing4x4 Gauze Pad2
Dressing3x8 Manuka Honey Adhesive Pad2
Dressing1.8x3 Manuka Honey Dressing2
Dressing3M Tegaderm Dressing2
Continuing Care
BandageBand-Aids, Various SizesX
BandageNew-Skin Liquid Bandage1
DressingMoleskin1
GlovesNitrile Gloves3
MedicationAspirin (8/day): Pain24
MedicationBenadryl (6/day): Antihistamine / Inflamation18
MedicationCaffeine Tabs: Jet-Alert Caffeine Tab20
MedicationAcetaminophen (6/day): Pain / Fever18
MedicationIbuprofen (6/day): Soreness / Inflammation18
MedicationImmodium (8/day): Diarrhea 24
MedicationStool Softener (3/day): Stool softener9
MedicationBuffered electrolyte salts (10/day): Saltstick Caps30
MedicationAntidiarrheal (16/day): Bismuth tablets48
OintmentAntimicrobial Silver Wound Gel1
OintmentHand sanitizer gel packets15
OintmentWedderspoon 100% Raw Manuka Honey4
OintmentWhite Petrolatum Jelly packets4
OintmentBacitracin packets4
Q-TipsQ-Tips10
SoapHibiclens Antimocrobial Soap1
SplintSAM Splint1
SwabsAlcohol Swabs4
SwabsBetadine Swabs10
TapeCombat Medic Reinforcement Tape 2 x 1001
ToolHavalon Piranta BOLT Skinning Knife1
ToolStraight 5.5” Hemostat1
ToolLeatherman Raptor1
ToolTweezers1
ToolNail Clippers1
ToolIrrigation syringe, 30cc1
Wound WashBand-aid Brand First Aid Antiseptic Wash, 6oz1
Weapons and Ammunition
RifleStag Arms 3T-M (120oz)1
Single Point SlingDual point bungee sling1
MagazinesLancer L5AWM translucent 30rd mags (4oz/mag)7
Ammunition223/556 Ammunition (0.5oz/round)1
MultitoolLeatherman MUT1
Energy
Fire kitFerrocerium rod with cotton balls soaked in white petrolatum1
FlashlightPetzl Tacktikka+ headlamp1
GPSGarmin Foretrex 601 military GPS1
Spare batterisSpare batterisAssorted
Odds & Ends
NotebookRite in the Rain Tactical Field Kit1
Gear repair kitGear repair kit1

I have an article in the works that delves into each item: all the things I tried, what I chose and why, and how much it all cost. I will leave that for another day. Today, I want to speak in broad strokes about what I included — and left out — and why.

Food #

I steered clear of shelf-stable foods like MREs, packaged meats, and instant meals. These lack calories, take up too much space, and weigh far too much. I chose food bars even over freeze-dried meals to save weight and space: for every two days, this saves me over a pound. I would enjoy a sausage and egg breakfast more, but I value a small and light pack the most.

Water #

SOURCE’s neat quick connect system made adding a Sawyer filter between the bladder and mouthpiece easy, and Aquamira drops can purify the entire bladder’s three liters at once. These total a few ounces, make refills easy, and cleans water as well as any man-portable system could. Do not kid yourself into thinking you need more.

Clothing #

The <a href=“https://matadorup.com/products/matador-freerain24-backpack?variant=47744934037”>Matador Freerain</a> has my bug-out outfit: hiking boots, pants, wool socks, wicking underwear, and a good shirt. I have a spare set of socks and underwear in my bug-out bag, but nothing else. I chose quality, sturdy, and fast-drying clothes that I could wear for a few days, so that I could get away without spares. Again, I value a small and light pack, and I do not kid myself into thinking I need more than I do.

Shelter #

Lighter tents exist, but lighter, free-standing, double-wall tents with enough space to shelter two people and their bug-out bags do not.

Medical #

At eight pounds, my medical kit weighs more than any other single item. In return, it gives me the ability to handle splinters all the way up to a gunshot wounds.

Weapons and Ammunition #

If you plan to hunt during your bug-out, pack a .22 and a bunch of ammo. I don’t, so I stuck with a basic combat loadout. If the scenario warrants it, I can afford to add a few more mags and a couple boxes of ammo — because I focused on building a small and light bug-out bag everywhere else.

Energy #

I have lit a fire in the rain with cotton balls soaked in Vaseline and a ferrocerium rod. Those who have more than one fire starter need better starters, better training, or both. As for lighting, spend enough time in the dark woods and you will realize that you don’t need it. I chose two small headlamps just in case, but I don’t plan on using them.


Should I have more in my bug-out bag? Maybe. Less? I doubt it. Do I need more, though? I can answer that question with certainty: no. You might — maybe you need an eighty pound roller duffel to drag through the sand while you flee to the mountains for a week or two, along with everyone else who has the bright idea to hole up in those peaks. I bet you don’t, though, and I hope this will convince you to build a better bug-out bag. Your life, and the lives of those you hold most dear, may one day depend on it.

 Clarified and condensed from 1:18 to 3:44 of part two in nutnfancy’s bug-out kit series, the principles that guided the creation of his bug-out kit:

  • Do not romanticize bug-out scenarios. They will involve carrying heavy bags long distances under extraordinary stress, not Hollywood-style gunfights to a nearby fortress you can hold out in until everything calms down. Do not bug-out unless you have to.
  • Tailor each kit to its owner. Each should be self-contained and complete.
  • A bug-out kit is a survival kit. Prioritize shelter, water, and food — everything else is extra. You are trying to survive, not live in comfort or save the world. Many different scenarios could lead to a bug-out, so do not try to prepare for everything. Focus on the bare necessities to carry you through.
  • Size and weight constraints should govern every decision you make.
  • Once something goes into your bug-out bag, it never comes out. This is the “you are dead to me” principle.
  • Everything is disposable. If you have to throw away everything to survive, do it. Maybe you can come back to it later, or maybe you can resupply from a cache somewhere down the road.
  • Bug-out kit should be a wheeled conveyance, and secondarily a backpack
  • Keep a journal, because rule of law will eventually be re-established.