So what exactly is a bug out bag?
A survival bug out bag is an essential piece of equipment when it comes to emergency preparedness. Bug out bags should be lightweight, compact and only carry the essentials that you need to survive in case of a catastrophic disaster such as a pandemic or earthquake. In this blog post we delve into the essentials of what makes a bug out bag effective.
Why would anybody need a bug out bag?
This is a big question, as not everybody will need one for the same reason. There is no doubt that locally and globally there have been an increased amount of events in which people are finding themselves in emergency situations where there has been a need to get safely away from an area.
Natural disasters, manmade disasters, terrorist attacks, riots, political, economic and social breakdowns etc. are all big events, which have displaced people from their homes. These are all major things that anybody could find himself or herself caught up in at any time. If for whatever reason you lost your home and possessions or you had to leave them behind, a bug out bag is a safety net that could help in the immediate few days to get you through the hard time and hopefully get yourself to some form of safety. It is not just in these major events that a bug out bag would be beneficial. As although it is very possible that these things can and do occur there are many other situations that you could find yourself in.
I have used my own B.O.B in Breakdowns, power outages, having to travel a distance in winter when vehicles cannot get access to the road (Rural Scotland), getting home from work when there was no transport. Although these seem insignificant to a major disaster, I was certainly glad to have it with me and it made the situation a lot easier to deal with. For me a bug out bag is not just a bag full of kit, it is a piece of mind, something that I can fall back on should the need arise and a safety item that would give my family and myself a better chance of getting through a hard time.
What items go into a bug out bag?
If you go onto the internet and search for bug out bag items, you will spend hours looking at all the various setups and item lists different people have. The reason there are so many is everybody will have different needs and the contents will reflect a number of factors that have to be taken into consideration.
- How many of you are there?
- Are there any old or young people with you?
- How long do you plan to bug out for?
- Do you live in an Urban or Rural area? In addition, will the area you will be going to is it Urban or rural?
- What time of the year is it? Will you need items for the hot or the cold?
- What is the climate like? is it wet or dry.
- Do you or your family have any specific needs, medication, items etc?
So in the end there are many things that get added to facilitate those needs. Having a base kit is a fantastic start as it will give you the minimum but you will find that you build your kit up over time.
The bag itself
Bug out kits are normally (but not always) packed in a rucksack type bag. These come in many shapes sizes and styles. Some are a bit fancier and come with water bladder pouches or may have organizing compartments or you get the simpler styles more akin to a daypack or hiking bag. Whatever the style, they all should be strong, durable, and made with good materials. The last thing you want is your pack to fail you because it is badly made or has defects. It should be waterproof or have an outer rain cover. Nothing worse than having wet gear especially when you need to rely so heavily on it so it is essential that it protects your kit and keeps it dry. It should be comfortable. You will be walking some distance with a laden kit on your back and having a well-fitted and comfortable pack helps with the burden. It should be big enough to contain the amount of kit you plan on carrying. No point in having a 72 hr kit stuffed into a tiny bag that doesn’t close properly or is bursting at the seems.
Having a way to make fire is so important. Not only will fire give you light and warmth, it will boil your water, heat your meals and can be used to signal help. Lighters, fire steels, windproof matches are all essential items. When it comes to fire, it is good to have a number of ways to get it going, as it is so important. I personally make up a quick start kit. This has a lighter, matches, a pencil sharpener (to make shaving for tinder) and some cotton wool balls covered in Vaseline. This allows me to get a fire going very quickly and without a lot of fuss.
Food and water
Even though you can go without food for roughly 3 weeks without food, this is the last thing you want to be doing if you had to bug out. That extra energy is needed to keep you moving and warm and it is a comfort, which is something that shouldn’t be over looked in a stressful time. You are going to want to have enough food to last you. This should be mostly made up from non-perishable food items that are high in fat and protein. You are looking for lightweight items that need no or little preparation. Cans of food are not suitable as they would add quite a bit of weight.
You will also need enough water to last you the same amount of time. The recommended amount of water needed is 0.5 gallons per person per day. If you are carrying it with you, ration pouches, bladders, bottles etc will be needed. In addition, it is highly advisable to carry a way to treat water to make it drinkable. Items such as water filters, filter straws, tablets etc. will do this for you. Having a small lightweight stove helps to boil water and heat up simple food.
Communications and Navigation
Having the ability to communicate with others will be another thing that will ease your situation, whether it’s to get hold of family members or to alert others you are there. Your mobile is going to be the first thing you reach for so it’s always prudent to carry a power bank of some sort to give your phone a charge should it run out. Some people go as far as including a solar charger in their kit. However, if your phone won’t work you will need other ways of communication, this can include things like:
- A wind up emergency radio. Although you could not talk to anybody with this, a radio is fantastic for finding out news, what is happening and hearing any issued orders etc.
- Signal mirror and a whistle are fantastic ways of getting attention especially if you find yourself incapacitated somehow.
- A torch, which is a multi-use item, as not only will it let you see in the dark, it will allow you to signal others.
- Chemical lights (snap lights) are also good at signalling but even better as a marker.
Not everybody can navigate with a map and compass but having a map of the area you are in and where you are going to will allow you to plan multiple routes, avoid dangerous terrain or urban/city "hotspots" or even mark a location where there are resources that you can come back to. Even if you can’t read a compass and map, it is a handy item to have, as it will give you a pointer in the right direction should you roughly know where you are going.
First aid and sanitation
In a time of emergency, the body goes through a lot of stress so it is vital to try to keep as clean and as healthy as possible. Coming from a medical background myself, I know how quickly things can go downhill. Having a good care routine, correct medicines and even just a basic first aid kit (F.A.K) can help to prevent illness and help the body recover from any sustained injuries. Liquid soap, hand sanitizer, wet wipes, clean water etc should be used to keep you clean. You are not always going to have time or the resources for a top to toe but simple things like cleaning your hands before touching food or cleaning out a cut makes a huge difference. A first aid kit is without a doubt, necessary to have in your bug out bag. You never know what kind of injury or ailment you might get when bugging out. From a simple cut, that needs cleaning and protecting to prevent infection, or to a more serious injury like a broken bone or a serious bleed. Having a kit that covers as many possibilities is going to give you a better chance. Also, remember to include enough personal medicines that you need to take. If you are getting a pre- made first aid kit, there is normally a bit of room left to allow you to store them.
Personal Protection Equipment (PPE)
When bugging out you won’t always know what hazards, you are going to encounter especially in a city/urban environment. Therefore, you need items that are going to protect you from these dangers. Things like broken glass, dust and debris from collapsed buildings that you have to pass or go through, sharp and rusty metal that you may have to move, rubble that has to be shifted. Thick work gloves for your hands, goggles for eye protection, masks to protect you respiratory system are all excellent items to have in your bag that will help you if you encounter these kinds of hazards.
When it comes to clothing you have to make sure, you have items that are suited to the climate and the time of year. So if its winter you want to make sure you have warm gloves, hat and thermals etc. On the other hand, if its summer you will want to include a cap or brimmed hat to keep the sun of you, an extra t-shirt and a lighter jacket etc. There are items that will be beneficial no matter what time of year. Underwear, Sunglasses, a rain poncho, walking boots, spare socks, a shemigah (another great multi use item). If for example you are coming from your work, you may want to include a set of clothes that will be more suitable for travel. Choose your clothing carefully and for its suitability as you are not going to be able to carry a number of spare changes.
Shelter and sleeping
Having some form of shelter is another vital part of bugging out even more so when the weather is cold and, even a simple setup will protect you from the elements. Also, resting shouldn’t be something over looked when bugging out and being able to sleep/rest safely and comfortably will make you feel a lot better. Emergency blankets (space blankets), Emergency tarp, Emergency shelters, Sleeping bags, bivvi bags, silnylon Tarps, tents and camping hammocks. All of the items will give you shelter from the elements and keep you warmer and dryer. The only thing you have to be careful of is not overloading yourself as you are trying to keep the bug out bag light and mobile. On the other hand, if it is the middle of winter you are going to want more than just a space blanket. So again, it is a fine balance depending on time of year etc.
Pocket knife and multi tool:
I am including these as a separate section as I believe they are vital and will be 2 items you are more than likely to need and use. A knife can help you prep meals, prep wood for a fire, help you escape from an entaglement and cut everything from paracord to rubber. However, you have to make sure it falls within the laws of your country. The multi tool again has so many uses from unscrewing things to help you remove a splinter or bend wire. Personally, I think it is a tool that is more than worth its weight, for the benefits it brings. There are many multi tools and knives out there, do your research and get the best you can as if you have to rely on them one day they should be strong and up to the task.
Now this section is where you have to be very careful. It is good to include any kind of item that would make your situation easier, but you can end up putting anything and everything in because you think you might need it. Be careful and be very picky. A few things I would certainly include are:
- Sewing kit with safety pins. There have been a couple of times where I have had to make a quick repair to an item of clothing. I even had to repair my bag once when the strap came undone.
- Duct tape and cable ties. Great for holding things together and making repairs and making a shelter.
- Spare batteries for your torch.
- A notepad and pen/pencil. Fantastic for when you need to jot down notes or locations or leave a note giving instructions etc.
- Mess kit and brew kit. Makes cooking easier and the brew kit is a real morale booster.
- Paracord. Has numerous uses from tying up shelters to use as replacement bootlaces etc.
- Foldable hand saw.
- I also carry a small survival guide, it has info and pointers that can really aid in getting your through a situation.
- Copies of important documents, titles and contracts (These can be hard copies or on a usb), passport, phone numbers and addresses of friends and family, and photos of family and/or friends (in case you get separated).
- Some ready cash.
- Spare Keys.
- Spare cheap phone loaded with essential numbers.
Like I stated before there are so many Bags, kits, items, setups and not everybody will need or have the same. Also as it’s an individual thing, each person will prioritise differently as well. If you have the basics however, you are going to stand a better chance of getting through an emergency than if you do not. A bug out bag takes up very little space therefore; you can have them anywhere with you. Maybe a number of them, 1 or 2 at home that are family bug out bags and 1 at work that’s packed differently to allow you to get home (Get home bag) and a car bag that will allow you to get to safety should you break down etc.
Whatever the reasons you have them for, they will be there when you need them and surely, it is better having than not needing rather than needing and it being too late. Also on a personal note when you get a Bug out bag don’t just stick it in a corner. Get out and practise with it, if you do "Dry runs" you will soon quickly realise what you do and do not need. Also, remember to change for the seasons and check any expiry dates etc.