The Ideal Bug Out Bag.
There’s a huge divergence of purpose, what to bring, what to leave behind that has been talked about on this subject. Heck, people have written books on this topic. If there were a college course offered on this subject, there would be thesis papers written about what should go in a bug out bag. With that in mind, let’s try to be a bit practical and start by defining what the purpose of our bug out bag is.
First let’s talk about why anyone would consider bugging out, and limit our purpose to being prepared to evacuate our home in the event of an emergency for 72 hours. Though, 72 hours can very easily become a week, a month or longer. I have two friends who lost their homes in the 2018 fires in Northern California who are still essentially homeless. When stuff really happens, no bag is going to bring back your home, though it really could save your life.
Before we get too much more in-depth, here’s a great video from Sootch00 that may help you if you are a visual learner.
Relocating vs Bugging Out.
First, I would like to draw a distinction between bugging out and an orderly relocation.
When your resources are depleted at home and you decide to leave, that’s not bugging out. If you sense a growing threat that you feel unprepared for and have time to pack and can strategically choose your time of departure, that’s not bugging out either. Both would be more accurately categorized as forced relocation or strategic withdrawal.
A fire or a horde of armed thugs sweeping through your neighborhood, or national emergency services have called for an immediate evacuation due to a hurricane or chemical spill, these are situations where you need to leave NOW, or likely perish. That’s bugging out.
My point here is that bugging out is not a decision you arrive at slowly, or methodically. It is forced upon you in a moment of crisis. Bug out means, run for your life from something unexpected that will imminently take your life or the lives of those you are living with. Your bug out bag is your ‘Hail Mary’ prep after that immediate threat has been avoided or escaped from to see you through the following 72 hours and allow you to reach a safer situation in the arms of family, friends or a state or national aid response to the overall crisis.
Factors to Consider when Building Your Bug Out Bag.
If you have a dedicated retreat in the event of some emergency, your threshold for leaving your home and going there could be very low, especially if your retreat is well stocked and is more defensible than your track home. And let’s face it, anything is likely more defensible than a track home…except perhaps you, in your car, on the road.
If you don’t have a retreat, there are a lot of things to consider before abandoning your home for – anywhere else. Where you live, in-city or rural. How serious you feel the situation is. How long you think the situation will last. The terranean around your home. How well armed you are at home. How much experience you have living in the wilderness. What kind of shelter and other equipment you can take with you to live in the wilderness. The general health of those who would be going with you. Perhaps most important, if you have a community of like minded people to meet up with. What are you evacuating from? To where? How are you getting there? Is it local or across the country? Are you leaving earlier than the masses?
If another, but clearly more serious, biological incident were to arise and you’re thinking about abandoning your home, as we’ve learned that’s not likely to be a 72 hour affair. A move like that would require you to pack out a lot more gear if you’re going to head for the hills, especially if you don’t have a dedicated location. Leaving your home to live off the land in a woodland forest for a couple months as a form of quarantine…your name better be Daniel Boone, otherwise, post a sign “no visitors” and just lock your doors.
Levels of Preparedness and Bugging Out.
I hope you see there are many levels of prep here. If I live near LA and I am evacuating due to flooding, fire or local riots and I am leaving a rented apartment and going to my mom’s house in AZ, a light 72 hour bag should be more than enough to get across the desert. If I am in SLC, my car is broken down or unreliable, I have no prepper friends, getting to my mom’s is iffy and I am running from the same thing, it might be 72 hours. I’ll need to have more with me because I might not make it in one go, or at all if something or ‘someone’ happens to me as I pass through many towns along the way.
There’s also the season and weather to consider. Bugging out during a Colorado winter is not at all the same as an Arizona summer.
The point here is, you need a PLAN in case you have to legitimately bug out. Where are you likely to go, with whom, how far and by what means? Bugging out without a destination or a plan means you are choosing to be a glorified refugee.
Where are you Bugging Out?
In a legitimate bug out, you’re not going to be the only one leaving the area, and everyone leaving by car is going to be looking to top off their tank and that’s likely to mean that for the fortunate few that leave early, they will be topped off, everyone else is going to left with what they have in their tank or leaving later after a long wait in a gas line. So part of your bug out plan has to include either a strong habit of always having at least half a tank of gas in your car, or some amount in storage at home. Your ‘go to’ plan should not be further than half the range of your car, part to get there, part to get around once you arrive.
Shameless plug for Tesla here – your car is always topped off (80-90%) and as long as the grid is up, there’s never a ‘fuel’ supply problem. If the national energy grid is down, that’s not bug out, that’s SHTF.
Who are you Bugging Out With?
The most serious thing to think about is, are you bugging out ALONE? Got a wife? Kids? Girlfriend? Parents or siblings living nearby? Best friends? Is part of your plan to bale on them or take them with you? Are you REALLY sure your best option is to head for hills ALONE? Are you Rambo? Really?
Well organized or not, if the situation calls for bugging out, it’s best to travel with a group of people you know. Calling might not be possible and messages might take a while to reach people if the emergency situation you’re trying to escape from is a large populated area. Having an agreed upon rally point or two that can be designated as “A” or “B” keeps communication short and more likely to be received. Using an instant messenger that indicates when a message has been sent, received and READ, will help a great deal with communication.
Bugging Out is Not a Plan.
‘If the SHTF, I am gonna bug out!’ Sorry, that’s NOT a survival plan, and nothing short of a truck and trailer full of gear, is going to be enough to prepare you, let alone your family, when/if you make it to a secluded location in the great outdoors. Think about it please, if you are going down the road with that much in tow when the world is coming apart at the seams, the first drug dealer or gang member that sees you is going to rain bullets through your door and windshield, then fill up with as much of your stuff as he and his crew can carry.
A bug out bag is about getting from where you are to a destination you have planned. If that’s a community, your bug out bag(s) should include any special equipment that would support your role in the community when you get there.
Your Survival Community.
What to take with you depends on where you are going to, a community? What’s your role there? How long will it take to get there?
So if your specialty is medical, your bug out bag strategy should include your home’s hord of medical supplies in a separate bag. If you’re the weapon’s specialist, your bug out strategy should include some part of your home’s hord of ammo, tactical and comms equipment, etc. If you’re the food resource guy, you should have a portable seed bank ready to go, or at least enough rosemary…
Your Bug Out Destination.
Ideally, you should have some place to go that’s within 100 miles of your home. It doesn’t need to be some grove of pine trees, or a cave in the desert. It could be someone’s rural home. 100 miles is rather arbitrary, but you can drive there in two hours on a quarter tank of gas. Worst case scenario, you could walk there in 3-4 days, less if you got mostly there before leaving your car behind for whatever reason, assuming everyone with you is healthy and ambulatory.
The Ideal Bug Out Bag.
If you can survive the first 72-hours of any emergency situation and know where to get help afterwards, your odds of survival improve dramatically. So that’s going to be my focus here, stay alive and healthy and get to your destination.
If you’re driving and your bug out destination is 2 hours away, you’re not likely to even open your bag unless you get the munchies. But if you run out of gas, your car breaks down, traffic grinds to stop, or there is some other threat that separates you from your vehicle, what’s in your bug out bag needs to get you to your safe retreat.
Change of clothes
I am going to start out here with a novel suggestion and you’ll see my logic below. Have a pair of cargo pants with, not in, your bug out bag, as part of your dress code for when you walk out your door. Same for everyone else, including the women. This is no time for fashion.
Shelter Selection for Your Bug Out Bag.
You, without a vehicle, on the open road, a long way from your destination – you’re going to want to be out of the elements. You’re going to want some kind of shelter. You’re going to be carrying it, possibly for days, so it should be light. Personally, I am a big fan of tent hammocks. They get you off the ground and away from bugs, rodents and snakes. They are light and can keep you and a partner plenty warm, even in the winter.
Don’t like hammocks? A lightweight, dark colored tent with a low profile is my advice. If you are walking to your retreat, you’re probably alone on security detail. Hiding will be a key element to getting to where you’re going.
Bedding Storage in Your Bug Out Bag.
I would have two options at home to choose from at the time of departure, a summer and winter sleeping bag, just to travel as light as possible. A foam mattress if you’re going with a tent is advisable. If you find yourself walking, sound sleep at night is going to be really important, especially if you are sharing security shifts.
Medical Kit Specifically for Bugging Out.
Definitely have one. Get the biggest one you can reasonably afford (~$250) and are able to break up and carry between everyone that is likely to be traveling with you. If you’re exposed on the road, there will likely be a damn good reason for that, and it might include a violent encounter, or wreck that leaves someone in your party injured. You want to be prepared for the worst. Assume a gun battle as a likely event. Be sure you have a tourniquet, quickclot, pressure bandage and a chest seal as part of your med supplies.
Water Storage in Your Bug Out Bag.
General guideline is to drink 64oz a day. That’s 6-pack. First, I rarely drink half that much on a normal day. Second, for three days that’s six canteens. That’s a lot of water to carry. Two in your bag, two on your belt and a small water filter in your pocket to refill along the way if you have a chance.
Food in Your Bug Out Bag.
You’re vulnerable on the road and on foot. No cooking on an open fire, especially at night. I recommend all the food you carry with you be open-and-eat. MREs can provide you with hot meals if that’s really important to you. Tear open pouches of Tuna, chichen, jerky, cans/bags of nuts, energy bars, etc. Fresh fruits from the fridge as you ran out the door, all good.
Communications in Your Bug Out Bag.
Definitely take your mobile phones. Only use ONE at a time, turn the other ones off. Definitely have a backup power bank, preferably with solar panels for every one carrying a backpack, and use them. Keep them batteries charged. Walkie talkies with long range (5km+) would be useful only if other members of your retreat community have them. If mobile services are clogged with traffic and they very likely will be, you can try to use these walkie talkies as a backup to try and meet up with other community members on the way to your agreed meeting place so you can travel together.
Lock Picking and Bugging Out.
This is a very valuable skill. If you learn it, those tools go in your bug out bag. We’ll go more in depth on this section in a future article, so keep an eye out!
Weapons and Ammo In or On Your Bug Out Bag.
Weapons are heavy. Ammo is heavy. You really don’t want to be carrying 1000 rounds of any caliber for three days, unless you’re built for it. If you can, opt for light weapons. Every adult should have a pistol on the hip, a carbine, AK or AR across the chest and at least one long range rifle in the group and at least three loaded magazines for each of them. If we assume there’s going to be a firefight, you want to be throwing the most lead while you make for safety.
If you’ve ever been camping, three days is not a long period of time. No food, no water, stay out of the sun, a person in reasonable health could walk 50 miles with little more than an umbrella. If all you are carrying is an umbrella, you’re likely to be left alone. That’s hardly worth stealing.
Your bug out bag is to HELP you get to a safe destination. It’s NOT worth dying for. Drop it and run if the situation calls for it. Water on your belt, pistol on your hip, battle rifle in your hands, ammo in your pockets, an empty stomach and NO holes in your body, is a total win when arriving in the warm embrace of your friends at the end of your journey.