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Over the last few years, being a survivalist or prepper has become a much more mainstream and accepted by American culture. The stereotype of the paranoid man sitting in his basement surrounded by his gun collection and wearing his aluminum-foil helmet isn’t what people think of—at least not first, anyway.
In a situation such as a natural disaster, the government and entities like the police, firefighters, and paramedics are going to be busy around the clock. When these brave men and women can’t come to your aid, you’ll need to be prepared. That’s where a bug-out bag comes in. My bug-out bag is a seventy-two-hour bag, meaning it can sustain me for three days while I try to find more food, water, and supplies.
In my opinion, you’re never truly done prepping: you can always tweak your bag, add a little something, and subtract a little something. After your bag is complete, making sure to change the gear for different seasons is incredibly important, as your summer bag may leave you high and dry in the winter or vise versa. I’m going to cover what’s in my bag and why each item is important as well. Consider these the must-haves that every bag should contain.
This hardly needs any kind of explanation: you need water to live, so you better have some and a way to get more. The amount a person needs is based on a lot of factors, including weather, age, physical condition, activity, and diet. A general rule of thumb is carrying three liters of water per person.
How you carry your water is your call. Personally, my wife and I agree the Camelback is the best way to carry water. We each have a three-liter Camelback, and I supplement our supply with two one-liter Nalgene bottles attached to my pack.
If you run out of water, you have many purification options available. Most are low cost and can easily be stuffed into a bag or pocket. I personally keep water-treatment tablets in my pack, which are inexpensive and can be purchased at any sporting goods store. They are a very lightweight way to purify any water you find. A survival filter is another option to consider. Also available are purifying straws that filter your water before it ever touches your mouth. Each straw is good for ten gallons of water, and they cost around twenty dollars for a pack of ten. I haven’t personally tried these, but the concept is sound.
Then, of course you can just boil your water to purify it—just be sure to strain all the random debris that may be in your water.
The food you’re packing will take up a lot of space, but obviously you have to eat. The type of food you’re aiming for should be high in calories and carbohydrates. The food should come in waterproof, sturdy packaging built to last. You should also make sure to have some variety in your choices.
My bag is packed with MREs; they may not be great tasting, but they are far from terrible. (If you’ve ever eaten Datrex bars you’ll know what I mean.) MRE stands for “meals ready to eat,” and each pack usually contains about 1,200 to 1,500 calories. And speaking of Datrex bars—they are an option as well. They are much smaller and convenient than MREs, but again, not exactly tasty. It’s an emergency though, not a five-star restaurant experience.
I personally keep some chocolate in my bug-out bag as well; not only is it high in calories and carbs, but it can provide a morale boost in dire times.
Fire is essential; it means warmth, light, a way to cook, and even a signal for help. Fire will keep you alive and keep your spirits up. My personal rule is to have at least three ways to make fire: camping matches, a Bic lighter, and a piece of flint with magnesium. It’s important you practice with the flint, because it can be tricky to use if you have never done it before.
Safety and efficiency are both key to survival. Make sure you can control your fire in a bug out situation by clearing the area around your fire; if possible, dig a hole. After all, how effective will all your planning be if you’re caught in a forest fire?
This is always a debated topic, as everyone will have their own opinion on what should and shouldn’t be brought as first aid. I personally believe in building your own kit and knowing exactly how everything works in it. My kit is based off the basics I know how to use. I keep a supply of tourniquets, quick clot, combat gauze, compression bandages, burn gel, iodine, anti-bacterial cream, regular gauze, H-bandages, chest seal, and, of course, duct tape. My first-aid training and combat lifesaver course has prepared me to use these items efficiently and enabled me to possibly save my life or that of someone close to me.
When designing your kit, keep in mind small things like aspirin and hand sanitizer. Add in feminine hygiene products if necessary. Small things like this can make all the difference in the morale of the group, so don’t overlook them.
Shelter and Beating the Elements
Keeping it simple is important here. If you choose to carry around an entire tent, good for you, but it’s a lot of extra weight. I prefer to carry only a tarp and build a lean-to from what I can find in the environment. A tarp is lightweight, small, and easy to fold and pack.
I’ve included beating the elements here because it goes hand-in-hand with shelter. One thing to include would be a poncho, or if you want to spend the money, a set of Gore-Tex outerwear. Simple basic sweats can act as warming layers in case the weather shifts. Also consider ISO mats, which are foam mats that isolate you from the ground and help keep you warm. For sleeping, I would suggest a sleeping bag or at least a poncho liner (what I believe is God’s gift to the infantry).
Tools and Other Small Items
Here are a few other small items that can be lifesavers but don’t necessarily fit into their own category.
- Multi-tool. This thing is pure gold in a survival situation—it is a pocket tool with a hundred and one uses. Make sure you buy a quality tool such as a Gerber or Leatherman.
- Flashlight. This is not something I should have to explain. I will suggest my favorite flashlight, the sidewinder—it is an odd-looking rectangle-shaped flashlight with a head that rotates ninety degrees. It can sit by itself on a flat surface. The flashlight has four settings— your normal white light, a red lens, a blue lens, and an infrared setting. Keep extra batteries in mind when packing your flashlight. Also available are lights or lanterns than can be charged with a crank and will not require batteries.
- Glow sticks. This is a cheap means of signaling. Simply attach it to some rope and spin it around; it’s bound to catch someone’s eye. It may also be a source of comfort to children who are scared of the dark.
- 550 paracord. I’d throw in at least a hundred feet of paracord in my bag. It’s another item with a hundred and one uses, from making snares to building shelters. You can’t go wrong with paracord.
- Extra clothes. Bring at least one extra set of clothes with you, and I’d include at least three extra pairs of socks.
- Baby wipes. Handy for a quick field bath and also for some other unmentionable things. After all, your body doesn’t stop working when you bug out.
- Cell phone. You already don’t leave home without it, so why start now? When things calm down, you’ll be able to reach help if you need it or ease your out-of-state family’s mind.
- Comfort items. If you have children, consider adding in a couple of toys, books, or simple travel games. Something as simple as a stuffed animal or a pack of playing cards can go a long way to keeping a frightened child’s mind occupied.
Of course, to build a bug-out bag, you need a bag. The bag has to be tough and able to stand up in a variety of environments. I suggest looking for a pack the military has adopted. I personally use a metal-framed Alice pack. I carried the same pack in Afghanistan for seven months, and it’s tough as nails. The pack has a lot of room on the inside and areas to attach more pouches on the outside. It’s old school, but it works. I mean, why fix what’s not broken?
I won’t tell you what gun to buy, or try to convince you that Brand X is better than Brand Y. I will offer some advice, however: your bug-out weapon should be a multi-purpose weapon. It should be able to be used for both hunting and personal defense. A shotgun is a good choice; the only area it’s lacking is long-range capability. Shotguns are affordable, powerful, and easy to use. Ammunition is plentiful and easily available, and most states have lax legislation on purchasing a shotgun.
I also suggest a handgun. A nice .22 pistol could be a wonderful piece to add to your bug-out bag. It’s perfect for hunting small game, and it’s easy to carry a thousand rounds in a backpack. It may not be the best for self-defense, but I still wouldn’t want to be shot by one. If you already have decided to bring your Glock or your favorite 1911, I won’t argue with you, as these would be ideal self-defense pistols.
And that wraps up Bug-Out Bags 101. I hope you’ve learned something, or at least gotten some ideas for how to improve your own bag. I live by the fact I’m never done with my bag and that it can always be improved, so if you have any ideas, feel free to comment and let me know.