After the Fall: Bug Out Bag Essentials Checklist
The Bug Out Bag (BOB), emergency preparedness kit, disaster kit, GOOD (Get Out Of Dodge) bag, grab bag, 72-Hour kit, INCH (I’m Never Coming Home) bag, or battle box. Whatever name you use, they all mean essentially the same thing: A kit that is ready to go when, as the doomsday preppers say, the Shit Hits The Fan (SHTF). It’s meant to be your one stop survival kit for emergency situations. Made specifically to be carried on your back and keep you alive for 72-hours or more. The whole purpose of the Bug Out Bag is staying alive, but in order to do that, it needs the essentials.
Beginning with The Mighty Bag itself, we’ve run down the food, gear, equipment, and even the technology that you’re going to need during the critical juncture between hunky-dory civilization and Mad Max level anarchy. While everyone else is fighting over gasoline and trying to get wood glue to spike up their mohawk, you’re going to be ahead of the game, able to hunt, fish, drink, eat, sleep, bathe, and communicate with ease. We’ve left nothing to chance and adhered to our boy scout motto of Be Prepared when finding everything your Bug Out Bag requires.
Getting to Know BOB
If you’ve never made a Bug Out Bag before, odds are good that you came across this guide after searching through innumerable articles that all make a few million different suggestions about what should go into your BOB. Naturally you can’t take them all, because that bag would weigh three tons and just barely fit on the bed of an 18-wheeler. We’ve streamlined the process by giving you the types of things to go in your emergency kit along with a few suggestions. What you pack is entirely up to you. Feel free to mix and match our gear with your favorite stuff.
There’s no single way to make a Bug Out Bag. If you have young children, your bag is going to be different than a lone survivor. Rather than telling you exactly what you should have, we found the bare bug out bag essentials that comprise the foundation of any 72-Hour kit. It’s stuff that we know works and is absolutely necessary when the SHTF.
Change Your Mind
We found that most disaster preparedness kits fail because the person didn’t think about why they were bugging out in the first place. They couldn’t imagine a scenario and so they tried to throw everything and the kitchen sink into their BOB. When the time came, they had to ditch half their stuff. The key is to think small. Your bag is supposed to be a hiking backpack that will get you through three days while you move to a secondary location. You should be able to stretch how long you can live out of it, but it should keep you going for the critical first days of an emergency. Usually, this is all that is required.
Whatever the reason you’re bugging out, be it governmental collapse, flood, hurricane, earthquake, or pandemonium because the Jersey Devils won the Stanley Cup, you’re going to need the basic food, water, and shelter. This is because the rule of three says you cannot survive 3 hours without shelter in the cold; 3 days without water under any conditions, and 3 weeks without food. Having those things in place gives you a sense of exactly where to start your bag so that you can buy yourself up to 3 weeks of survival in the worst conditions imaginable.
Buy The Best
Some of the items we suggest packing in your Bug Out Bag might seem costly, but that is because these are items meant to survive the proverbial – or perhaps literal – end of the world. That is not the time to scrimp on cheap goods that fail when the chips are down. Yes, a serious BOB is an expensive investment, but it is honestly the thin line keeping you alive during the absolute worst case scenario. So, since we want you to live happily ever after the fall, we went with items we knew wouldn’t let you down. Supplement at your own risk.
You’re going to have more than one item that can do the same thing, and many items that do more than one job. That’s as it should be. The saying among serious survival preppers is “2 is 1 and 1 is None.” That means if you have one of something, it’s going to be broken the second you need it, which is why you either have a spare or you have something almost as good to accomplish the same task.
Anywhere you can add an item that serves a couple of purposes, do so. If you’re counting on that single lighter to start all your fires or just a firearm for self-defense, expect the unexpected to hamstring you. Duality and multi-purpose should be watchwords for every item in your Bug Out Bag. When you put anything into it, ask yourself how many uses it has or what else it can do. Dual-usage items take up half the space and cost half as much, so spreading the work out among numerous items is not only cheaper, it is also wiser.
How to Load
One thing to always keep in mind is this is a bag you should be able to carry and it should always be ready. Don’t have it spread out. Make sure you check it on a regular basis (once a month is what we suggest) so you know that everything is in good working order. Throw it on your back and do some hiking so you know it fits comfortably. You should be practiced with the bag so there’s no surprises when the commies come for our women or some madman decides to blot out the sun.
Know what everything in your emergency kit is, what it does, and be familiar with its use. The more skill and familiarity you have with the equipment, the better it will work for you. It eliminates surprises down the line and prevents dangerous situations from turning deadly.
When you’ve decided you’re ready to really prepare, we found the absolute Bug Out Bag Essentials for preppers of every level of paranoia.
- 5.11 Tactical Rush 12 Back Pack ($100)
- Triple Aught Design Fast Pack EDC ($325)
- Osprey Packs Atmos 65 ($250+)
The first thing to consider when making a Bug Out Bag is, naturally, the bag itself. This is the best place to personalize and choose something that you like which fits your body comfortably. Make sure it is made out of tough material, such as canvas or has a true ripstop exterior, because if the bag breaks down, you won’t be able to carry the things you need and can kiss your sweet self goodnight.
Any really durable hiking or waterproof backpack can usually give you enough strength to last for three days. You can even go with a duffel if you prefer, but those don’t distribute weight well, so we tend to avoid them. If possible, get a bag with lots of loops for attaching items on the outside. This makes your bag expandable and allows much of your gear to be accessible at a moment’s notice.
- Sterno Single Burner Folding Stove ($10)
- Space All Weather Emergency Blanket ($20)
- Zippo A-Frame Hand Warmer ($12)
- UCO Stormproof Matches ($7)
- Wilderness Solutions Firestar II Firestarter ($65)
- Five Flags Windproof Torch Lighter ($5)
- TETON Sports TrailHead Ultralight Sleeping Bag ($60)
Cold weather and exposure will kill you faster than running out of food and water, which makes it high on the priority list when it comes to equipping your Bug Out Bag. You’ll want heat sources that can make fire, those that work without burning anything, items for heating food, and stuff that will retain your body heat in a pinch. Remember that your own body can be the best furnace you have, so long as you can avoid losing the heat you’re constantly producing.
Starting fires is an imperative part of making it in the wilderness, so the more fire starters, lighters, and matches you can fit in your bag, the better chance you have of getting through inclement weather. More than hunger or marauders, the cold can kill you quickly and without mercy, meaning you need lots of lines of defense against it.
- Eureka Spitfire 1-Person Tent ($139)
- Bivvy Bag – AMK Medical Kits Sol 2-Person Emergency Bivvy ($28)
Shelter is a dangerous area where too many people make cuts. They make assumptions about how much cover they need to get by and start dropping tents or tarps to make space for more food or other items. Then, they find out that they needed a few creature comforts to make the wilderness bearable. Your shelter is going to be your mobile home for a while, and having a slim fabric between you and the world is important for making you feel secure.
You can’t function properly without enough sleep, and having a tent or a simple shelter can make a world of difference in how you feel about your rest. If you can get by with a camping hammock or a sleeping pad then do so, but make sure you know in advance what you require to get a good night’s rest. If a heavier tent is needed so you can get your Zzz’s, so be it. You need the edge that only a rested mind can give you.
- Klean Kanteen Original 27 ($16)
- Katadyn Pocket Water Filter ($272)
- LifeStraw ($20)
- Disposable Bottles ($20)
After heat and housing comes hydration as your next basic survival concern. Three days is all you have before dehydration will kill you. That quickly drops to a single day or even less if you live in a highly arid region or one that is exceptionally cold and dry, as those environments suck away moisture faster. Losing moisture will make your organs function less effectively, will drop your morale, drain your energy, and cause hallucinations. None of which is going to make a crisis easier.
To keep your fluids up you should have a water filter or two that can help with filtering any diseased river or lake water you find and turning every filthy puddle into a font of life. You’ll need a storage canteen that is durable and difficult to rupture since that is going to be your fallback for clean water. We also suggest you take along a few disposable water bottles of different brands which can carry both dirty and clean water for various uses. Use one brand for clean, another for dirty, and never waste water if you can avoid it.
Food / Cooking
- Sterno Single Burner Folding Stove ($10)
- Beef Jerky – Jack Links Jerky ($38)
- Greywolf’s GORP Trail Mix ($5)
- Dinty Moore Beef Stew ($22)
- Mainstay Emergency Rations ($12)
- P-38 Can Opener & P-51 Can Opener ($2)
- Vargo Titanium TI-Boiler Camp Pots ($63)
- Clif Bars ($9)
- Light My Fire Titanium Spork ($12)
- Mountain House Freeze Dried Meals ($75)
Water and shelter are important facets to keeping you alive, which makes them the cornerstones of your Bug Out Bag, but we see food as more important in some ways. The trick with food is that it is meant for survival, but it is also a large part of your emotional state. If you don’t have food you enjoy and are sucking down high-calorie meal bar after bland, dry, flavorless, excruciating meal bar, you’re not going to want to stay alive. This means packing some rewards along with the essentials.
We suggest some items that will get you through in a pinch and keep your stomach from rumbling, but we also suggest a few heavier things to cheer yourself up. Your emotional state needs care as much as your body, so we suggest picking some energy bars you enjoy and a specific flavor of beef jerky that pleases your palette. Add that with a can of rich stew or chili and you’ll be able to really enjoy a hot meal, which pays dividends in mental relaxation.
Health / Hygiene
- Repel Sportsman’s Max ($9)
- Campsuds in Nalgene ($3+)
- Scott Tissue Naturals Moist Cleansing Cloths ($14)
- Boker Straight Razor ($115)
- Purell Advanced Hand Sanitizer ($22)
- Adventure Medical Kits UltraLight & Watertight .9 Kit ($25)
- Space All Weather Blanket ($21)
In the modern world we don’t think of little cuts, scrapes, and other boo-boo’s as needing much attention, because we always have soap, bandages, and hospitals. When you’re bugging out, you need to assume those things are not going to be available. In addition to things to fight infection and fever, you need to be able to keep your body clean. An infected ouchie can give you blood poisoning and drop you faster than starvation or a bullet. You also need to fight off bugs that carry disease.
Items like hand sanitizer, razor blades, and toilet paper might seem superfluous, but they are not. A quick camp shower isn’t going to cut it when you need to stay clean and prevent bacteria from deciding you’re a breeding ground. Cleanliness prevents diseases from spreading and so a little soap can be the difference between Ebola outbreak and a night singing around the campfire. Add in a survival blanket to fight frostbite, a nice first aid kit, and you’re ready to play doctor in the wilderness.
- Zamberlan 960 Guide GT RR Hiking Boots ($340+)
- USA Made Heavyweight Woodland Camo Poncho ($50)
- TRU-SPEC Military Boonie Hat ($10+)
- Patagonia Capilene 4 Expedition Weight 1/4 Zip Hoody Base Layer ($83)
- SmartWool Balaclava ($40)
- Mechanix M-Pact Gloves ($29)
- Smartwool PhD Outdoor Socks ($24+)
Clothes make the man, but when loading up your Bug Out Bag, they mostly just keep the man, woman, and child alive. Don’t rely on whatever you happen to have on your back when the wolves are at your door. Those flip flops and tasseled loafers aren’t going to save you. Keep your bag stocked with multiple layers for any weather condition, because you never know where the road will take you.
A good pair of hiking boots or hiking shoes are standard. Try to have some that are broken in, but not worn down. Get a poncho to keep the water out, since it can also double as a tarp in a pinch. Invest in expensive gloves that give you dexterity and warm socks that keep moisture down and lock heat in. Don’t rely on any single heavy item for warmth, but rather numerous smaller layers that can be adjusted to suit the weather.
Hunting / Fishing
- Henry AR-7 Takedown Rifle ($199)
- Versatile Hunting Snares ($25)
- Pocket Predator Slingshot ($35)
- Berkley Trilene XL Line ($7+)
- Eagle Claw Kahle Assortment Hooks ($7)
- Yo Yo Fishing Reels ($19)
Unless you’re experienced in the art of the hunt, this gear might be a waste of space, but having it and not even knowing how to use it is better than not having it at all. First off, we suggest you practice as much as you can doing some light hunting or fishing with the gear mentioned here so you can be sure you know the basics. You should have a rifle for bigger game, a slingshot for smaller animals, and plenty of line and hooks for fish. Add in some snares for trapping varmints, and you’re ready to live like Davy Crockett.
This is one of those areas of the Bug Out Bag where your knowledge and expertise is going to be more important than the gear. Having it is fine, but knowing how to use it is what will save you should you run out of protein bars and freeze-dried chow. Knowledge is not only power in the world of hunting, fishing, and tracking. It is also survival.
- Fiskars X7 Hatchet ($26)
- KA-BAR Marine Corps Fighting Knife ($68)
- Leatherman Charge Multi-Tool TTI ($170)
- Petzl Attache 3D Screw-Lock Carabiner ($21)
- All-Purpose Duck Brand Duct Tape ($12)
- TOUGH-GRID 750lb Paracord ($9+)
- US GI Military Original Issue Entrenching Shovel ($58)
It’s a poor workman who blames his tools, but it’s a terrible Bug Out Bag that doesn’t have any tools to start with. We strongly suggest that you buy top-tier in everything, but particularly with regard to your tools. You need heavy paracord that isn’t going to fray; tough carabiners for strapping on gear and water, a survival hatchet, knife, and multi-tool that are the absolute cream of the crop. Now is not the time for “Made in Taiwan.” Now is the time for titanium forged and German engineered.
The thing to keep in mind with your tools is choosing things that can do a lot without taking up a load of space. Everything we’ve chosen and everything you choose in the tool category should be useful somewhere else, even if it is just protection. Tools are also weapons as well as items for hunting game and fishing, so try to get these to reach as many categories as you can. If you have an EDC knife or multi-purpose money clip you love, consider adding it in.
- Henry AR-7 Takedown Rifle($199)
- KA-BAR Marine Corps Fighting Knife ($68)
- Pepper Spray ($8)
- Glock19 Pistol ($500+)
Most of your tools are going to double as weapons, but you’re also going to want some true weapons that don’t do much of anything else. A serious fixed-blade knife and a sidearm are good. A takedown rifle that can hunt as well as fight is paramount. You don’t want to be fumbling with a folding pocket knife here or dealing with a low caliber firearm that can’t get the job done. Pick only things you want on your hip when it comes down to you…or them.
Ideally your weapons should have hunting properties, but odds are good that you won’t be trying to take out jackrabbits with your Glock 19 or your SIG. Durability and effectiveness are the names used in the self-defense game. Go with weapons that stand up under the worst conditions, work when dirty and wet, and will function after days in the mud and blood and downpours.
- Coleman Glow Sticks ($5)
- SureFire E2D Defender Flashlight ($172)
- Five Flags Windproof Torch Lighter ($5)
- Petzl Tikka R+ Headlamp ($75)
Darkness is nearly always your enemy when faced with a survival situation. Predators hide in the dark; dangers lurk in the gloom; even an exposed root in your path can twist your ankle and leave you crippled. That means you should have innumerable ways to curse the darkness and shed some light on the matter. Some of these will come from your heat sources, others should not run a burning risk at all for better use in cramped or poorly ventilated conditions.
The biggest issue with portable light sources is they need power to function. One of your first concerns when picking light is how long it will last on a single charge or how much juice it can squeeze out of your batteries. Aim for things with a lot of settings that include power-saving modes and LED flashlights or headlamps that will last for ages without issue. You’ll also want them to use the smallest batteries possible to save on heft.
- Storm All Weather Safety Whistle ($7)
- EnerPlex Kickr II Portable Solar Charger ($62)
- ETON American Red Cross FRX3 Hand Crank Emergency Radio ($55)
Your ability to communicate with the outside world and gain news is going to be dependent on your communications equipment. Going off the grid is fine, but you could end up like one of those GI’s who didn’t know the war was over because they got trapped in the wilderness. In order to keep in touch, you should have a few emergency communication methods.
Communication is not just about high-tech gadgetry and emergency radios. It’s also about being able to just get someone’s attention or even scare off animals. A sonic whistle that works when wet is an easy way to both draw attention and warn others. An emergency radio with multiple power sources, including a crank, lets you get all the news of the fallen world while a few optional solar panels might keep your smartphone, tablet, or laptop running, just in case the internet is still out there.
Tech / Gear
- Duracell ProCell Alkaline Batteries ($9+)
- Cammenga 3H Tritium Military Compass ($68)
- SureFire E2D Defender Flashlight ($172)
- Petzl Tikka R+ Headlamp ($75)
- Vanguard Endeavor Binoculars ($343)
- Garmin eTrex 10 GPS Tracker ($94)
The technology you want to pack along in a Bug Out Bag is the area with the most flex. A few items, such as a compass, flashlight, or headlamp, are basically non-negotiable, but in this area, you can go as big or small as you want, so long as you aren’t cutting things elsewhere. We prefer a handheld GPS just in case there’s enough infrastructure to keep it running, and some disposable batteries that can be put in a sock as a weapon should you need it. As to your computers, mp3 players, phones, fitness trackers, and other stuff. That’s up to you, but we advise against most of them.
Whenever you’re adding tech to your bag, ask yourself what it can do without power. Odds are good that if things are so bad that you need to flee your home, they’re bad enough that electricity is going to be at a premium, if you can find it at all. It actually might be helpful to be able to Tweet out your status (or location, plans, rendezvous point, etc.) but we wouldn’t count on it. Be sparing in this regard. You don’t need your back massager as much as you might think.