17 essentials of a bug-out bag cover the equipment and the necessary thought process when building a bug-out bag. My BOB is pre-packed with food, water, shelter, clothing, and equipment so I can hit the ground running in an emergency. Let’s look at how to think about packing a go-bag and what to put in it.
#1 Weight (essentials of a bug-out bag)
Before we get to the gear, let’s talk about the weight of bug-out bags The suggested weight of a bug-out bag should be no more than 20% of your body weight. Carrying a Heavier pack is a bad idea for several reasons.
- You move slower
- You are more prone to injury
- You expend more energy
- You burn through precious food and water at a higher rate
Interesting Fact: Historically, soldiers carried 40lbs of gear. During WWII, that weight increased to 60lb. Today the modern soldier is expected to carry up to 120lb. Military leadership is starting to recognize that this weight makes infantryman combat ineffective.
The next thing to consider when building a Go Bag is the type of food you will carry.
#2 Food (bug-out bags)
Choosing the right food for your BOB(s) is critical to get where you’re going. You can indeed survive two weeks without food. That said, store enough calories to keep fueled when moving away from danger.
Without enough food and calories, it’s difficult to function both mentally and physically. Try to pack enough food in your BOB to provide at least 2500 calories per day, 500 more calories than suggested by the FDA.
20 Foods for A Bug Out Bag (Essentials of a bug out bag)
When loading your BOB with the essentials of a bug-out bag, pack non-perishable foods that don’t require refrigeration and are lightweight. You may carry a bulk of your food in something like Freeze-dried food that requires boiling water but consider adding in ready-made foods, like the SOS bars. These types of food are better if you can’t stop or you are trying to stay hidden.
No-cook foods are ideal for non-permissive environments where you want to avoid starting a campfire and for eating on the move.
- SOS Emergency Rations
- Emergency Food Bar
- Protein Bars
- Retort packages (tuna in a bag)
- Meat Jerky
- Summer Sausage
- Sugared Drink Mix
- Powdered Milk
- Nut Butters
Cook & Boil Foods
These foods take a little more work than the no-cook foods but they are good for morale. Nothing hit’s the spot after hiking all day ore than a hot meal.
- Freeze-dried food
- Dehydrated Foods
- Dry pack pasta
- Ramen Noodles
- Instant Rice
Now that we’ve covered what foods to carry in a bug-out bag, let’s talk about survival clothing.
#3 Survival Clothing (bug-out bag essentials)
Packing the right clothing in your bug-out or go bag can mean the difference between surviving or not. Clothing is your first line of defense against the elements and it is considered the first layer of shelter. Let’s take a look at the 3-layer clothing system.
3 Layer Clothing System
The best clothing for bugging out is based on the 3 layer system. Let’s take a look at the 3-layers.
Layer #1 Base Layer
The base layer transports moisture away from your body and regulates body temperature. Sweat moves into the mid-layer so the skin stays dry.
Layer #2 Mid Layer
The mid-layer provides insulation and traps body heat
Layer #3 Outer Layer
The outer layer protects the body from wind, rain, sleet, or snow.
Clothing Tip: Avoid cotton. It gets wet, stays wet, and doesn’t insulate.
During an Appalachian hike in Vermont, I wore cotton underwear and t-shirts that got wet from perspiration. They never dried out. Many a night, I hit the tent wearing wet clothes. It was warm enough that discomfort was the only issue, but there is no way I could stay warm if there were freezing temperatures.Scott
Pack a good pair of shoes or lightweight boots that are broken in and an extra pair of quick-drying or wool socks that are tried and tested in your environment. Don’t start hiking with brand-new shoes, or you’ll get blisters.
Next, let’s take a look at the ten must-have clothing items for your bug-out bag.
10 Must-Have Clothing Items (Essentials of a Bug-out Bag)
The following items are must have’s in my book. When planning what clothes to pack in a Go-Bag, remember that clothing is your first line of shelter. Alright, let’s take a look at the list.
A good all-purpose hat like a Boonie to protect you from the sun, also choose a hat that is climate specific.
Underwear should be quick-drying and self-wicking.
Leather glovesto keep hands warm and for protection
Shemaghs are multi-purpose clothing because they have so many uses. For example, use a shemagh as a head wrap to keep the sun off the head and neck, or use it to screen water before it’s filtered.
Keeps the sun off your neck and face, or it can act as a hat to keep your head cool. Also, buffs are especially useful in a hot or tropical environment because they are quick-drying and self-wicking.
Shirts should be quick-drying and self-wicking.
Heavy and insulated or lightweight depending on the weather
Get a coat that has a zip off-shell or use the 3-layer system and combine an under, mid and outer piece of clothing.
Have a jacket to block the wind, preferably water-proof or water-repellent that can be used as a separate jacket or as part of a 3-layer heavy coat system with zip-out liners.
Sunglasses are a valuable item to keep the sun out of your eyes in hot and cold weather
Check out the Ready Squirrel article, A Guide To Choosing The Best Survival Clothing, for a comprehensive discussion of choosing clothes for your B.O.B.
Next, we discuss one of the most important aspects of surviving a bug-out situation. Water.
#4 Water (Essentials of a Bug-out Bag)
Water is hands-down the most important thing in your bug-out kit. More on point, having a way to clean water so you can drink it.
Carrying all your water in a bug-out bag isn’t an option because water weighs 8.33 pounds per gallon. A better plan is to carry a liter or two and then treat or filter water from natural sources like lakes, streams, and cricks.Scott, Ready Squirrel
Tip: The average person will use 2 to 3 liters of water daily in a mild climate at 68° Fahrenheit.
How To Clean Water (essentials of a Bug-out Bag)
#1 Backpack-style Water Filter
The Sawyer mini is rated to filter 100,000 gallons of water. I prepared my drinking water for 10 days on the Appalachian Trail. One day, we were out of the water, and I had to take it from a nasty beaver pond. I don’t suggest this, but I didn’t get sick
#2 Water Purification Tablets
Water purification tablets change the water taste, but they are an excellent choice when moving fast and trying to stay hidden.
#3 Iodine Tablets
Similar in use to Water purification tablets.
Bring the clear water to a rolling boil for 1 minute (at elevations above 6500 feet, boil for three minutes.)
Let the boiled water cool. Store in a clean container with a cover.
Next, we talk about survival shelter options.
#5 Shelter (essentials of a Bug-out Bag)
Your shelter is a safe space to maintain your body temperature and protect you from rain, snow, wind, sunshine, and insects. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It just has to do the job.
As a general rule, your emergency sleep system provides something to sleep under to keep wind, rain, and snow out, Something to sleep on to keep your body from soaking up the cold from the ground, and something to sleep inside of to retain body heat.
The best type of lightweight temporary shelter is made with a tarp or poncho. It is inexpensive, protects you from wind and rain, is easy to set up, and can be used in 10 or more configurations. This may not be the most protective shelter but its high-speed low drag allows you to keep your bug-out bag light.
5 Bug-out Shelters (essentials of a bug-out bag)
- Light-weight Tarp or Poncho– inexpensive, lightweight, multiple configurations
- Ultra-light tent– Excellent and expensive
- Light-weight backpacker’s hammock
- Bush-craft Shelter Built from natural resources- This can take a lot of time, so it’s not the best option if you are moving.
- Hybrid shelter combining natural materials and a tarp
Where To Place A Bug Out Shelter
- The site provides materials to build your shelter
- Protects you from cold and wind
- Close to food, water, and fuel sources
- Level enough to lie down
- Offers Concealment if necessary
- Protects you from wild animals
- Away from flash-flood areas
- Avoid areas at the base of steep slopes to avoid avalanches, drifting snow, floods, rockfalls, or heavy winds
Another important aspect of bug-out supplies is fire staring equipment. Let’s check it out.
#6 Fire Starting Equipment (essentials for a bug-out bag)
Depending on your situation, fire is used for warmth, keeping dry, signaling, cooking, or purifying water by boiling. Using a lighter is the easiest method of starting a fire but consider having redundancies built in by having multiple tools to start a fire.
Permissive vs Non-Permissive Environment (campfire)
In a permissive bug-out environment you are not concerned with people seeing you so starting a campfire isn’t an issue.
In a non-permissive bug-out situation you want to stay hidden. There are two-legged crazies you need to avoid. Starting a fire might give away your location, so plan to have no-cook food, a water filter, and an excellent clothing and shelter system..
6 Fire-starting Tools
Firestarting tools are used to start fires for boiling water, cooking food, and staying warm. Don’t just carry a Ferrocerium rod and nothing else. There are times when starting a fire with a lighter is quicker and easier. Following is a list of 6 fire starting tools to carry. I suggest you carry all of them.
- Flint or Ferrocerium rod
- Waterproof matches
- Long-burn candle(s)
- Small magnifying glass
- Tinder Box with dry tinder, cotton balls, jute, and an accelerant like vaseline
- Backpacker’s ultralight stove and fuel canisters
First Aid is next on the list. Let’s take a look.
#7 First Aid
I don’t carry a large first aid kit in my bug-out bag but I do carry a booboo kit because I have the skill to use it. Don’t carry first aid gear unless you have the skills and training to use it.
At a minimum, carry enough first aid gear to treat basic wounds, stomach upset, bug bites, sprained ankles, blisters, and injuries typically encountered camping or backpacking.
35 First Aid Items (essentials of a bug-out bag)
This is a solid list of First Aid items to carry in your bug-out bag.
- Adhesive Bandages
- 4-inch closure strips for larger wounds
- 4-inch sterile dressing pads (5 to 10)
- Non-adherent sterile dressing 2×2.”
- Moleskin, second-skin, or sports tape, used with 4-inch sterile pads to cover blisters
- Sterile gauze
- Ace Bandage as an outer wrap for splints, wound dressing
- Elastic Bandage/Gauze Roll to hold dressings in place
Antiseptics and wound cleaning
- Antiseptic towelettes for cleaning small wounds
- Irrigation syringe to flush wounds
- Cotton-tip Swabs to remove objects from your eyes
- Cleansing pads with lidocaine for cleaning small wounds
- Topical Antibiotic Ointment for small wounds
- Povidone Iodine for preventing infection
- Soap and or antiseptic wipes
- Pain Relievers like ibuprofen or aspirin
- Personal Prescriptions
- Immodium Tablets for relief from diarrhea
- Pepto Bismol or antiacid tablets for stomach upset
- Afterbite Hydrocortisone cream to relieve skin irritation from bites, poison oak, sting, or allergic reactions
- Oral rehydration salts or electrolyte salts and glucose for treatment of dehydration, heat exhaustion, or loss of fluids from vomiting or diarrhea
- Antihistamine for relief of pollen allergies and to reduce reactions to bug bites and stings
- Anti-inflammatory medication
First Aid Tools
- SAM splint
- Safety pins to remove splinters or fasten an arm sling
- A space bag or blanket acts as a lightweight emergency shelter for treating hypothermia
- Paper and pencil for recording medical data
- Trauma Scissors with a blunt end to cut away clothing and medical tape
- Tweezers/Forceps to remove splinters, ticks, and debris from wounds
- Latex or nitrile gloves
- CPR mask
- Wilderness First Aid Manual
Next up, Navigation equipment for your go bag.
A well-thought-out bug-out bag includes navigation equipment like a compass and maps. Know where you are bugging out to and have a general idea of how to get there. Depending on the survival scenario, you could be going off-trail, in this situation getting lost is easy. You may want to avoid people fleeing danger such as in a social collapse scenario.
If there is a hurricane, landmarks like buildings and street signs could be wiped out.
Carry the following navigation tools in your bug-out bag and know how to use them.
7 Essential Tools For Land Navigation
- Compass– Even if you don’t know where you are, you can keep heading in a general direction
- Map(s) waterproof or in a waterproof container like a Ziploc freezer bag
- Pace or Ranger Beads-used to track the distance you’ve walked based on your pace
- Have a plan and build in contingencies like alternate routes
- Army Manual: Map Reading And Land Navigation FM3-25.26 Free from Ready Squirrel.
Tip: Get these tools and learn how to use them before something goes down. Land navigation can be tricky.
Next up, signaling equipment.
#9 Signaling Equipment (essentials of a bug-out bag)
In an SHTF scenario, likely, you won’t have handheld radios or mobile service. Instead, depend on signaling equipment for communication because it doesn’t need electricity or charged batteries. following, are three pieces of signaling gear to keep in your kit.
#1 Signaling Mirror
first used by World War II pilots to send morse code messages using the sun’s rays
Used to notify someone of danger or could be used during a search and rescue operation
Chemlights are a great emergency backup or signal light that can be used inside a tent or as a subdued flashlight when you are trying to stay hidden
Morse Code PDF
Next up is food procurement tools for your bug-out bag.
#10 Food Procurement (Essentials of a bug out bag)
Using food procurement items like snares, traps, and fishing nets is an advanced survival skill. However, in a protracted survival scenario catching food might be the only option. Following, are 10 items you could add to your B.O.B for catching wild food.
10 Hunting Tools For A Bug Out Bag
- Wire snares for small game
- Fishing line, hooks, sinkers
- Cast net
- Slingshot or parts to make one (surgical tubing)
- Bow and arrows
- .22 rifle (ammo is lightweight and good for small game like rabbits and squirrels)
- Local guide for wild edible plants and mushrooms
- Survival Card: about the size of a credit card, contains multiple pieces of metal you can use to make tools
- Sprouts- you can sprout wheat berries in two days in any container
- Hawaiian sling used for spearfishing
Next, consider the 19 basic tools to pack in your bug-out bag.
#11 19 Essential Tools (bug out bag list)
The tools you take in your bug-out bag depend on your outdoor skills. The more skills you have, the less gear you need. Whatever you pack, it needs to be lightweight and tough. Following is a list of tools to include in your go bag..
#1 Single-walled Stainless or titanium mini-pot
Used to sterilize water and cook food on a campfire or backpacker stove. Don’t get one that is insulated, they can’t be heated or they will explode.
#2 Water bottle
Used to carry on the trail and drink from. This could be a bladder, Nalgene bottle, or a sealed plastic water container.
A multi-tool with a backup knife, wire cutter, and a saw. There are many models of multi-tool so pick one that best suits your needs in a survival situation.
#4 Backpackers stove and fuel
A stove like a Jetboil rocket stove is excellent for heating up Freeze-dried backpacker meals, and many of the boil-and-eat foods are typically in a bug-out bag.
#5 Fixed Blade Bushcraft Knife
This is arguably the most important tool in your bug-out bag. you can process wood, make shelters, and other survival skills with a fixed-blade knife.
I prefer a headlamp for light because they are hands-free and can be hung inside a shelter, but there are other options, such as a small flashlight or chem lights.
#7 Folding Saw
Folding saws are outstanding for cutting saplings for shelter building and processing firewood.
#8 Sewing Kit
A small sewing kit to fix holes in your clothing and bug-out bag.
#9 Gear and Shelter Repair Kit
This small kit should include the necessary components to repair your shelter and bug-out bag.
#10 Tent Stakes and paracord
Lightweight titanium tent stakes are useful if you use a tarp as your shelter.
550 cord or paracord was originally used as guidelines for parachutes. Today it is one of the most useful survival tools you can have. Excellent for shelter building with tarps and building things like cooked tripods.
#12 Weapon and Ammo (Optional)
If you are considering a gun, you probably know the drill. I suggest a .22 lr for bugging out, but this is my preference.
#13 Sleeping Bag
A bug-out bag needs a sleep system of some kind. You can carry a sleeping bag (big and bulky) or use something a little more high-speed like a Poncho and a poncho liner which also seconds as a shelter.
#14 Sleeping Pad
Have something between you and the ground when sleeping to maintain body heat. Pine boughs covered with a poncho liner are a comfy option.
#15 U.S. Army Survival Handbook
Up next, personal hygiene gear for your bug-out bag.
#12 Personal Hygiene (Essentials of a bug out bag)
Keeping clean in an emergency prevents infection and disease, and something as simple as a bar of soap and a quick-dry towel will get it done.
In a bug-out situation, focus on keeping feet, armpits, crotch, hands, and hair clean because they are the main areas where infection and infestation start.
For a comprehensive list of personal hygiene items, check out the Ready Squirrel Article, 53 Items To Consider For Your Emergency Hygiene Kit.
Hygiene Gear for your bug-out bag
- Liquid Soap
- Bar Soap
- Quick Dry towel or washrag
- Use ashes or sand to stay clean if you run out of soap.
The best backpack for a bug-out bag is 50 liters or less and doesn’t look tactical. My personal bug-out bag is a popular Osprey backpack used by hikers on the Appalachian Trail.
If you look tactical, you bring more attention to yourself and stick out as a target.
#14 Breathing Protection
Breathing protection can be as simple as a bandana or as complicated as an expensive gas mask. I’d carry a lightweight N-95 mask, but I wouldn’t carry a gas mask. You won’t know there is toxic gas until it hits you anyway.
According to the CDC, the N95 respirator stops 95% of airborne particles but doesn’t stop gases or vapors, so it is worthless against chemicals.
Chemical Gas Mask
To avoid breathing toxic gas and vapors released from an industrial accident or terrorism, you need a gas mask with a cartridge that protects against multi-contaminants such as chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear agents (CBRN). The canister is color-coded Olive Drab. The University of Houston, Environmental Health and Life Safety
This is obvious but can’t be overstated so get out there and learn what it will take to survive.
If you like to backpack, camp, or hunt, you probably already know how this fits together. Many of the skills you use in the outdoors apply to using your bug-out bag.
If you have no experience with backpacking or camping, don’t fret. Set up some easy camps at a local campground and start testing your gear. If the gear isn’t cutting it, your vehicle is right there.
Next, we talk about building redundancy into your bug-out bag equipment.
Have backups for your tools and carry items that will do more than one job. As an example, carry a fixed-blade survival knife as your main knife, and carry a multi-tool that includes a backup blade in case your main blade breaks.
Another example of building redundancy into the kit. Carry a poncho that can be used to build a shelter, or combined with a poncho liner to make a Ranger burrito for sleeping.
Next, let’s take a look at the characteristics of good bug-out gear.
#17 5 Crucial Characteristics of Bug Out Gear
When building a bug-out bag look for the best equipment you can afford. You’ll only buy it once and your life might depend on it. Following are some characteristics to keep in mind when looking for bug-out gear.
- Water-repellent, waterproof, and windproof
- Lightweight and easy to carry or attach to your body
- Redundant (items have multiple uses)
- Back-u (Have multiple methods of completing necessary survival tasks if one method fails.)
The environment is the key to the types of items you will need in your survival kit…layer your survival kit, keeping the most important items on your body. For example, your map and compass should always be on your body. Carry less important items on your load-bearing equipment.FM 21-76 U.S. Army Survival Manual Page 16 of 277
Mindset To Survive A Bug-out
To learn more about the survival mindset, check out Ready Squirrel’s article, #1 Survival Skill: Survival Mindset and Reactions To Stress.
I hope you got something out of this article. Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.
Keep On Prepping!
FM 21-76 US Army Survival Manual PDF download from Ready Squirrel
AF Manual 64-3, Survival Training Edition, Department of the Airforce PDF download from Ready Squirrel