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Checklist: 30 Essentials Every Bug-Out Bag Needs

Photo: 5.11 Tactical

Everyone likes to think that disasters happen to other people, not themselves. But that kind of thinking isn’t going to do you much good, should the odds be defied and you find yourself smack-dab in the middle of an emergency. While you could take the risk and bet against the house, you’ll be far better off if you have some kind of plan in place — as the house does have a tendency to win. And one of the best ways to be ready for anything is by putting together a bug-out bag.

There are a lot of emergency preparedness and disaster readiness brands out there that make grab-and-go bug-out bags — all-in-one kits designed to suit a wide variety of people and circumstances. But these ready-made kits don’t account for things like variations in environments, individual-specific needs, etc. As such, utilizing one could leave you high and dry in some circumstances. With that in mind, you may be better off if you actually put together your own personal but-out bag. To that end, we’ve put together the following guide that will help illuminate the different categories to consider when putting your bug-out bag together, as well as some examples of gear you can buy right now to use to that end. The following encompasses 30 of the best pieces of gear you should stash inside your bug-out bag.

What Is A Bug-Out Bag?

Survivalist Contingency Plan

Colloquially known as BoBs, bug-out bags are unlike most other packs in that they represent an extremely specific purpose: emergency contingencies. That is to say, these are not backpacks that you might fill with camping gear one day and office supplies the next. Rather, they’re intended to be filled to the brim (and ready to go at a moment’s notice) with supplies of varying types, all centered around the possibility that your bug-out bag (and its subsequent contents) could be the only thing between your survival and certain disaster. You can think of them like portable disaster prepper shelters — meaning they should be filled with some combination of sustenance, first-aid, tools, some means of building shelter and/or retaining warmth, and anything else that might come in handy when you don’t have access to the conveniences of modern civilization for, ideally, a period of about 72 hours.

It’s also important to note that a BoB should be prepared and packed well ahead of time. After all, you never know when an emergency or disaster might arise and, therefore, you won’t be able to pack for it once it becomes apparent that you’ll need it. As such, we’ve outlined numerous different gear categories you’ll want to keep in mind when building out your own bug-out bag. Remember, these sections can be pretty broad and wide-ranging, so you’ll want to use this guide as more of a starting point than a definitive collection (although, you could absolutely add any of the following gear to your bag and it would serve you well). This is your bag and that means you’ll want to cater it to your own life and the lives of those close to you, namely your immediate family and/or roommates. It’s also worth noting that your location and the surrounding environment will also impact what you put inside your bag. For instance, an emergency tent is vastly more dire in a place with regular inclement weather — like the Pacific Northwest — and not quite as dire in, say, sunny Southern California. Still, those concessions and compromises should be well-considered — your BoB needs to be a balance of potential usefulness and reasonable bulk since you’ll theoretically be carrying it around with you. This is your life-saving pack and it should be treated as such.

The Bag

Hefty Hauler

Your BoB isn’t going to be of much use if the bag itself isn’t properly sized, constructed, and equipped. However, different people have different needs, so there’s no one pack that will suit everyone’s needs. With that in mind, we’ve decided to highlight three different options, each of which could function as an outstanding base for your BoB. Just remember to take inventory of your needs, desires, budget, etc. before you make your purchase.

5.11 Tactical RUSH12 2.0 Backpack

The RUSH name marks one of 5.11 Tactical’s most successful bag lineups to date. And while there are numerous sizes to choose from, we’ve chosen the RUSH12 2.0 as our go-to budget option for a bug-out bag. With 24L of internal storage, hydration bladder compatibility, comprehensive MOLLE webbing across the exterior, and a high-strength low-weight 1050D nylon construction it is perfectly suited to be repurposed from a tactical backpack into the base for your bug-out bag. Of course, if you like the bag itself but you want a bit more internal room, there are other bags in the lineup that range from 37L up to 60L.

Purchase: $100

Spec-Ops T.H.E. Pack U.A.P.

Stepping up the mil-spec goodness even further, we’ve got the Spec-Ops T.H.E. Pack U.A.P. (short for Ultimate Assault Pack). An evolution of one of the best tactical backpacks ever to be put into production, this bag has actually been proven on the battlefields of Afganistan and Iraq several times over. And that should mean that it’s more than capable of being used as the ideal base for your bug-out bag. That’s furthered by its 38-liter capacity, exceptional suite of features, modular webbing, and USA-made construction. It’s a touch pricey, but how valuable is your survival?

Purchase: $240

Matbock Mr. Dry 2.0 Tactical Backpack

Matbock’s Mr. Dry 2.0 Tactical Backpack might be out of reach to all but the folks who occupy the intersection between those with the deepest pockets and those that are the most dedicated to prepping. But, if you can swing the investment, you’ll get one of the most top-notch, fully-waterproof tactical bags out there. Available in a trio of sizes — ranging from 56L up to 122L — this is probably the best option for a multi-person (like a small family) bug-out bag loadout. And its waterproofing is especially impressive, with the brand claiming it can keep everything inside dry even if you were to dive as deep as 150 feet. Of course, that’s just one of the many, many features that make this exceptional as a bug-out bag base.

Purchase: $800


Critical Clothing

While it would be ideal to be able to pack an outfit for every kind of emergency, taking up that much space in a single bug-out bag is completely unreasonable. Chances are, when disaster strikes, you’re going to be best off (and possibly stuck) with whatever you’re already wearing and there likely won’t be a ton of time to change. Having said that, we’d suggest at least changing into a solid pair of hiking boots or something similar, as sturdy footwear can be a lifesaver in itself, although not exactly reasonable to pack along with the rest of your gear. There are a few essentials you might not think about in the moment, however, that you should certainly pack — a trio of which we’ve outlined below.

REI Co-op Merino Wool Lightweight Hiking Crew Socks

Do not underestimate the value of a good pair of warm, dry socks — like these Merino wool hiking socks from REI Co-Op. Not only can they offer you relief, warmth, and comfort — especially if you swap them on for the ones you were already wearing — but they can be used as ad-hoc gloves if it gets a bit too chilly, to help compress and protect an alread-dressed wound, and more. If you only keep one article of clothing in your BoB, it should probably be socks.

Purchase: $17

Uncharted Supply Co. The Hideaway Jacket

Having a weatherproof jacket can be of tremendous value in an emergency, as it can help protect you from the elements and potentially keep you warm. And while any jacket of this type can probably do, we’re partial to the Uncharted Supply Co. Hideaway, as this jacket has secret talents. For starters, it can pack down as small as a baseball for easier storage between uses. But what really sets this one apart is that it was designed to be stuffed with whatever you can find — foliage, newspaper, etc. — to increase its ability to retain warmth. And that is a game-changer when it comes to the potential for survival.

Purchase: $25

RZ Industries M2.5 Mesh Mask

As we’ve all become abundantly aware over the last year, air quality and potential contaminants are definitely things that should be considered when preparing your bug-out bag (or when readying for any emergency). As such, we suggest you pack a face mask that meets N95 standards (at the very least). The ones that RZ Industries makes, like the M2.5 you see here, actually exceed those standards, making them an even better potential inclusion that could be lifesaving, should there be some kind of air quality component to a given emergency (like the ash from wildfires or explosions).

Purchase: $35

Cooking & Foraging

Sustain Yourself

As mentioned, bug-out bags are typically best-suited to contain enough survival gear and food to allow you and yours to survive for a stretch of about 72 hours. As such, filling it (in part) with emergency rations is your best bet for sustenance. Of course, it’s also a good idea to be prepared for a longer period — you never know what might happen — in which case a backup plan for food is a good idea, as well. It’s no Michelin-starred restaurant, but this section will better prepare you for the off chance that you need to forage for more foodstuffs and/or cook.

The Complete Guide to Edible Wild Plants

As mentioned, your first line of defense against starvation should probably be some kind of emergency rations. However, in the case that you can’t eat or access them, for whatever reason, knowing what plants are edible in your region is an extremely valuable alternative. While you might not necessarily pack this guide into your BoB (though it’s hardly a bad idea), the knowledge acquired within its pages could save your life — or keep you from mistakenly ingesting something that will end it. Trust us, that’s likelier than it probably sounds.

Purchase: $12

Snow Peak GigaPower 2.0 Stove

If you do happen to catch or come across something to eat but you’re not convinced as to whether it’s sanitary or not, fire is a pretty good means of purifying and sanitizing foodstuffs. And while you could make your own fire from scratch — a skill everyone should know — your life will be much simpler if you have, say, a packable camp stove amongst your emergency supplies. This one from Snow Peak runs on ultralight isobutane canisters, which can be found at places like Walmart and outdoor retailers, and collapses down to a super-small format for easier packing between stops.

Purchase: $50

First-Aid & Wellness

Healthy Habits

Besides water and food, being prepared to administer first-aid is extremely important in an unforeseen emergency, as you likely won’t have access to emergency services including hospitals, urgent care, and even first responders. This means you should bolster your knowledge of first-aid, and make sure your bug-out bag has some combination or variation of the following pieces of first-aid- and wellness-focused gear.

Coleman Camper’s Toilet Paper

Whether there is an emergency or not, everyone has to use the bathroom. And that’s why we implore you to pack some camping-style, biodegradable wipes into your bug-out bag, like these from Coleman. Complete with 65 squares of tissue, this is one of those additions you might not think about in the moment, but you’ll be remarkably thankful you packed it should you actually need to utilize your bug-out bag. The sheets aren’t going to be ultra-plush, but they’re not coarse leaves, either.

Purchase: $6

PURELL Advanced Hand Sanitizer

If an emergency is bad enough that you’ll need to utilize your bug-out bag, there’s also the possibility that running water and, more importantly, soap will be inaccessible. In that case, keeping some hand sanitizer handy is an exceptionally good idea. Sure, it’s not going to beat a good scrub-down, but it can help keep your hands clean enough for eating and dressing wounds, and it can even be used to sanitize minor cuts and scrapes if you don’t have any other options.

Purchase: $15

MyMedic MyFAK First Aid Kit

If your bug-out bag doesn’t have a first-aid kit stashed inside, you’re going to want to start over, as this is one of the most important additions to any BoB. It’s so important, in fact, that it should take precedence over other potential inclusions — like some of the tools and electronics in the following sections. This particular kit comes pre-built and stashed in a MOLLE-compatible mil-spec nylon pack, loaded with over 100 different supplies that range from simple bandages to a tourniquet and everything in-between. Honestly, this FAK is hard to beat for its size and altogether comprehensive contents.

Purchase: $120

Food & Water

Body's Bounty

More than any other category on this list, food and water are of the utmost importance in an emergency. The reason for this is simple: even if everything else is going swimmingly — meaning you don’t have any injuries to tend to, you have access to shelter, etc. — you still need to eat and stay hydrated. Of course, it also isn’t as simple as sticking a few water bottles and granola bars into a hiking pack. Rather, you’ll be far better off with something(s) that looks like the gear in the following section.

Prep-Right Survival Food Tablets

Morale is actually a much more important part of survival than you might think, but you can’t simply stuff a bunch of stuff that makes you happy into your bag. These survival-focused food tablets are a suitable alternative, as they’re parsed out into serving sizes and loaded with vitamins and nutrients that a body needs. But they have an added bonus: they taste like chocolate. That little (faux) indulgence can help perk up spirits even in the worst of conditions.

Purchase: $10

LifeStraw Personal Water Filter

The LifeStraw Personal Water Filter is capable of removing over 99% of all waterborne contaminants and pathogens from up to 1,000 liters of water before it needs to be replaced. That remarkable performance can be absolutely lifesaving in an emergency, especially one where water is scarce and/or comes from questionable sources (like a river or lake). All you have to do is stick the end into a water source, put your mouth on the other end, and drink — it’s as simple as that. This piece of kit is so small and inexpensive that you may want to pack a few, just in case.

Purchase: $20

RTIC Half-Gallon Water Bottle

Water access, more than anything else on this list, is of the utmost importance. This is because it’s possible for the human body to survive quite a lot — you can even live for weeks without food — but we die quite quickly without access to drinkable water. As such, we suggest bringing something along in which to store some backup H2O, like this half-gallon water bottle from RTIC, which also happens to be vacuum-insulated (meaning it can keep cold liquids cold for 24 hours). Yes, it takes up a lot of space — but you simply cannot do without water for longer than a day or two at most and that makes a water container an absolute must-have.

Purchase: $42

The Survival Tabs MREs

Ideally, you’ll still have access to food in an emergency. But not packing any kind of sustenance into your bug-out bag simply isn’t worth the risk. As such, we’re fond of The Survival Tabs MREs you see here. They might not be the most gourmet meal you’ve ever had, but they’re loaded with nutrients, pre-parsed into serving sizes for easier rationing, and they’re calorie-dense without taking up too much room. Best of all, one bottle can keep someone going for up to 15 days (or an entire family for a few days) and each has a whopping 25-year shelf life.

Purchase: $45

GRAYL Ultralight Water Purifier

Personal water filters are really great for one or two people (so long as you don’t mind sharing). But they’re not the best answer if you need to purify water for later. That’s why we like the GRAYL Ultralight Water Purifier. This handy handheld device can purify up to 16 oz of water at a time, which can be kept inside the GRAYL for consumption later or can be poured into another container. You may not have room for all three of our options listed in this section, but we’d implore people to at least consider some combination of these items/devices.

Purchase: $70

Power & Illumination

Electric Aids

Hopefully, you’ll be able to stay or make your way somewhere with access to power and, therefore, some kind of illumination. But putting together a bug-out bag isn’t about hopes; it’s about being ready. With that in mind, it’s worth considering that power grids could be knocked out, and, therefore, packing some of the following gear will allow you to keep your tech juiced up and will increase your ability to see (and possibly navigate) after the sun has gone down.

American Red Cross Emergency NOAA Weather Radio

Your first priority in putting together a bug-out bag should be packing food/water and first-aid supplies. If you have those and you want to fill out more emergency gear, you can’t go wrong with this device. Not only is this an emergency radio/sound system powered by hand-crank and/or solar panel — meaning you don’t need batteries to make it work — but it does double duty as a flashlight, alarm clock, and even power pack (meaning you can use the hand crank and USB port to power your other tech). It’s the multifunctionality of this handy emergency device that really helps it stand apart, especially when paired with its relatively low price.

Purchase: $40

Biolite HeadLamp 750

Having some means of illumination can be remarkably useful, especially after the sun has dipped below the horizon. And Biolite’s Headlamp 750 is amongst the best options for a few reasons. For starters, it can output a whopping 750 lumens (as its name suggests), practically turning darkness into daylight. Furthermore, it’s ultra-comfortable and super-lightweight, making it great for long periods of use. And, most of all, it requires no hands in order to operate — you just strap it to your head, turn it on, and get to work.

Purchase: $100

OLIGHT Warrior X Pro Tactical Flashlight

While OLIGHT’s Warrior X Pro Tactical Flashlight isn’t going to leave you with two hands while you use it, it does have some other handy features that make this a great addition to any bug-out bag. For starters, it maxes out at 2,100 lumens — enough to blind just about any attacker human or otherwise. It also has a super-tough construction and a toothed bezel for alternative self-defense uses. But, perhaps best of all, it is USB rechargeable — meaning you could use your emergency hand-cranked radio to juice it back up when the battery gets low.

Purchase: $120

Goal Zero Venture 30 Solar Kit

While emergencies of all types could potentially knock out power grids, the sun is going to continue to be as reliable as ever. And that’s why it might be a good idea to stash the Goal Zero Venture 30 Solar Kit into your BoB. This setup will give you access to two indispensable tools: a solar panel that can be used to directly charge up your gear and a battery that can store up to 7800mAh of power (more than two full iPhone 12 charges) for use later down the line. This might seem indulgent to some, but if you have the room and the extra weight, it could make finding help a good deal easier and it will serve to help keep your other tech working (and likely boost morale in the process).

Purchase: $180

Shelter & Warmth

Safe & Sound

Sadly, you don’t get to decide what time of year an emergency and/or disaster might befall you. You also don’t get to choose the weather in the case of such an event. As such, you should have some means of staying warm and dry. And the following section is full of gear that could do the trick.

HotHands Hand Warmer Value Pack

As mentioned, you might not be properly dressed when an emergency strikes — meaning you might forget that warm winter coat and need some other means of keeping yourself toasty. In that regard, you could do a lot worse than these single-use hand warmers. They’re compact, safe, simple, and are great for producing warmth over the course of hours. They’re even TSA-compliant and, guess what, you don’t have to use them only for your hands.

Purchase: $10

SOL Emergency Bivvy Kit

Ultralight and packable down to about the size of a baseball, SOL’s Emergency Bivvy Kit is a great sleep solution for unforeseen emergencies. Along with its extreme packability, this bivvy sack is waterproof, windproof, and reflects up to 90% of your body heat back to you — meaning it’ll potentially save your life in a cold overnight away from shelter and civilization. In a pinch, it can also be turned into a shelter itself.

Purchase: $17

Go Time Gear Life Tent Emergency Survival Shelter

While the bivvy above can be turned into an ad-hoc shelter, it might be a good idea to keep an actual purpose-driven emergency shelter on hand, especially if you’re caught in an emergency situation with more than one person. This tent actually functions a lot like the bivvy above in that it’s windproof, weatherproof, and made from a material that can reflect up to 90% of your body heat back to you. It also comes with paracord, which is great for set-up but also doubles as one of the most useful pieces of kit to have in a survival situation.

Purchase: $20

Exotac NanoSpark Fire Starter

Especially in an emergency survival situation, your ability to make fire could be the difference between life and death. And it has so many versatile applications: it can cook your food, create warmth, act as a signal beacon, and it even has self-defense and first-aid applications. To this end, it would be a good idea to know how to craft a bow drill or something similar in the wild, but the Exotac NanoSpark Fire Starter is a superb backup. Not only will it help you spark a raging fire, but it can be operated with just one hand — freeing up your other hand to act as a wind guard.

Purchase: $27

Survival Tools

Dire Devices

Alongside our natural advantages, namely our thumbs and brains, tools are one of the chief things that separate us from the bulk of the animal kingdom. As it turns out, human ingenuity can also help you and yours survive in the case of a significant emergency. While we’d probably suggest making sure you have all the other sections covered before you dive into this one, we’d be remiss if we didn’t at least highlight a few tools and devices you can also pack into your bug-out bag for the purpose of greatly increasing your chances of survival and perhaps even easing your overall burden. These are not necessities, per se, but you’ll definitely be thankful you have even one of them in a pinch.

Bushcraft 101

Of all the possible tools you could have in an emergency, your brain is by far the most valuable. Of course, it can’t hurt to bolster it with some survival-focused knowledge, as is found in the Bushcraft 101 book you see here. This NY Times bestseller is loaded from cover to cover with absurdly useful information for field survival. And while it isn’t specifically geared toward emergency and/or disaster, there’s not a single lesson in its pages that can’t be cross-applied.

Purchase: $11

SABRE RED Crossfire Pepper Gel Spray

You never know what an emergency could mean. Sure, it could be an earthquake or a bad storm that eventually passes. But, if things get bad enough, you might need to keep yourself protected from other desperate people or even wild animals. In that case, you can’t go wrong with this pepper spray gel, a non-lethal self-defense weapon trusted by some of the top law enforcement personnel around the world.

Purchase: $15

SOG Entrenching Tool

There’s a reason entrenching tools are standard-issue for soldiers around the world: they’re remarkably versatile and useful. Not only do they serve the expected functions — e.g. digging holes and/or burying things — but they can also pack down for easier transport, they have a saw blade for cutting functionality, and they can even be used as an ad-hoc weapon in any self-defense situation. This took is about as much bang-for-your-buck as you could hope for in an addition to your bug-out bag.

Purchase: $25

Estwing Camper’s Axe

Whether you utilize it for clearing a path or chopping up some firewood, a camper’s axe can be absolutely indispensable. Sure, you could probably survive without one — but things are going to go much more smoothly if you do keep one attached to your bug-out bag. This one is a favorite of ours, in part, because it was made in the USA from sturdy steel, it has a shock-resistant handle, and it has a durable powder-coated finish.

Purchase: $35+

MecArmy CMP-2 Keychain Compass

Technology always has the potential to fail you. Global systems could go offline; you might run out of battery; you could even just drop and break your phone. That’s why having some means of navigating that isn’t dependant upon Google is a good idea. And you can’t go wrong with this MecArmy compass. It’s small enough to fit on your keychain (at all times) as a part of your EDC and it’s tough enough to survive a ton of punishment without failing. You just have to learn how to use it, which truly isn’t that complicated.

Purchase: $40

Timex Expedition Scout Solar Field Watch

Did you know that a standard wristwatch can be used to navigate in a pinch? Well, it can — and it isn’t even that difficult to manage. A standard wristwatch can also be used to make a fire. And both of those come on top of their standard functionality. As such, every bug-out bag should include a watch — and we’re partial to this one because it charges via solar power, meaning there are no batteries or winding to worry about.

Purchase: $65+

KA-BAR Marine Corps Fighting Knife

A knife is one of the most valuable pieces of everyday carry gear you can have on a normal day. Its value vaults exponentially in a disaster. However, for your bug-out bag, it may be a better idea to get something much more purpose-driven, like the KA-BAR Marine Corps Fighting Knife. This beefy fixed blade has been trusted by some of the best soldiers in the world for years, so you can bet your bottom dollar that it’s good enough for you and your bug-out bag.

Purchase: $76

Leatherman Skeletool RX

A big part of picking out what to include in your bug-out bag is considering the versatility of your gear. The more a single device can do well, the greater its overall value. And few things are as valuable in that regard as a Leatherman multi-tool. We’re actually quite partial to the Skeletool RX for bug-out bags, as it was designed specifically to be lightweight, easy to attach to a pack, and was made with first responders and emergency personnel in mind.

Purchase: $80

The 15 Best Emergency EDC Tools For First Responders

If you only keep one piece of disaster-ready gear on your person, it should probably be something with a tremendous amount of built-in usefulness and versatility. We’d suggest picking one of the best emergency EDC multi-tools from our comprehensive guide.