16 Elements Of A Bug-Out-Bag: Bugging Out On Foot

The Bug-out bag (BOB), also called an INCH bag or Go Bag is a pre-packed emergency backpack filled with food, water, shelter, clothing, and equipment, a survival kit for walking away from a natural or manmade disaster. The bag should be pre-packed so you can hit the ground running.

A Bug-out-bag bag should provide enough supplies and the necessary equipment to survive in the field without additional supplies or assistance for a minimum of 72 hours to indefinitely.

3 Uses For A Bug-out Bag

  1. Supplies For Getting Away From A Disaster On Foot
  2. Part of a Vehicle Bug-out kit in case you end up on foot
  3. Enough Supplies to get you to a bug-out location on foot

What A Bug-out Bag Is Not

Don’t confuse the B.O.B. with a heavy load of supplies you might carry in a vehicle to leave a threat. Even if your bug-out plan is to drive out of the area, you should still have a separate bag built for walking out on foot.

During any disaster, the situation may change. Traffic jams, civil unrest, no-gas, or emergency personnel may direct you to abandon your vehicle and walk out on foot.

15 Elements Of A Bug-Out-BAG

An SHTF Bag for a hot summer in southern Florida is going to look different than a bag built for a winter bug-out in Montana. There are, however, key elements you need in every go-bag, such as methods to treat water, start a fire, build a shelter and obtain food.

  1. Weight: Your B.O.B. should be no more than 20% of your body weight
  2. Food: non-perishable foods like emergency bars
  3. Clothing: Quick-drying, layered, avoid cotton, hat, gloves, shemagh, buff
  4. Water Filtration or Treatment: water purification tablets, drops, backpacker’s water filter
  5. Shelter: solar blanket, lightweight tarp, ultra-light tent, ultralight hammock, military poncho, and liner
  6. Fire Starting Equipment: lighter(s), farro rod, waterproof matches, candle, small magnifying glass
  7. First Aid: Basic first aid kit, bug spray, bug-bite stick, trauma kit if you know how to use it
  8. Navigation Gear: compass, map, pencils, notebook
  9. Signaling Equipment: signaling mirror, whistle
  10. Food Procurement Items: wire snare for small game, fishing line, hooks, .22 caliber firearm(s), casting net,
  11. Tools: Carbon steel knife, sharpening stone, folding saw, sewing kit, repair kit for gear, parachute, or survival cord
  12. Personal Hygiene: soap, quick-dry backpackers towel, shemagh
  13. BackPack/Rucksack/Satchel: avoid bags that look tactical and make you a target.
  14. Breathing protection: N-95 mask, inexpensive and lightweight, according to OSHA filters 95% of airborne particles, Bandana, Shemagh
  15. Knowledge: if you fulfill the majority of your survival needs with just a bushcraft knife and found materials, you can carry less gear

#1 Weight

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 a number of reasons.

  1. You move slower
  2. You are more prone to injury
  3. You expend more energy
  4. 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 much weight makes infantryman combat ineffective.

Whatever B.O.B. loadout you come up with, take it out into the field for some real-world testing. This will let you see first hand what equipment to add or dump. You’ll also get familiar with pack weight.

For 10 days, I hiked 10 to 18 miles per day on the Appalachian trail, and it sucked. My gear was too heavy, and I carried too much. I committed the cardinal sin of not testing my kit before depending on it for survival. My pack weighed about 65 lbs when I started, and it really tore me down. By the time we reached camp at night, I was spent in mind and body. I put my tent up, boiled some water, ate some freeze-dried food, and passed out. There were no casual conversations around the campfire.

Scott, Ready Squirrel

#2 Food

You can survive two weeks without food, but you need enough calories to provide energy to escape. Insufficient calories will diminish your ability to function both mentally and physically. Shoot to pack enough food to provide at least 2500 calories per day a little more than suggested by the FDA.

20 Pre-made Emergency Rations & Non Perishable Foods

When loading your B.O.B., pack non-perishable foods that don’t require refrigeration and are light-weight. You may choose to carry a bulk of your food in something like Freeze-dried food that requires boiling water but consider adding in foods that are ready-made, like the SOS bars. These types of food are better if you can’t stop or if you’re trying to stay hidden.

  1. SOS Emergency Rations-Typically stored in life rafts on boats and ships. open and eat
  2. Emergency Food Bars- open and eat
  3. Freeze-dried food– Mountain House or Backpacker’s Pantry. Require hot water to prepare, super lightweight, excellent, and expensive
  4. MRE’s Meals Ready to Eat. Excellent military-style emergency ration, all-inclusive, but the water weight is included in each meal.
  5. Dehydrated Foods
  6. Foraging and Scavenging: Don’t plan to survive on this but have the tools necessary to fish, setup up trap lines, or hunt small game.
  7. Retort packages (tuna in a bag)
  8. Cheese
  9. Crackers
  10. Meat Jerky
  11. Summer Sausage
  12. Candy
  13. Sugared Drink Mix
  14. Powdered Milk
  15. Protein Bars
  16. Trail Mix
  17. Nuts
  18. Nut Butters
  19. Instant Rice
  20. Oatmeal- Excellent, provides protein, carbs, and it’s easy to make—a great base for nut butter, powdered milk, and foraged items.
  21. Pop-tarts
  22. Ramen Noodles
  23. Dry pack meals like Knorr and Kraft

#3 Survival Clothing

The right kind of clothing can mean the difference between surviving a bug-out or not. The best clothing will keep you dry, warm, cool, breathe and dry quickly when wet. When choosing what type of clothing to pack, your goal is to keep the elements like wind and rain out while allowing perspiration to escape.

3 Elements of B.O.B. clothing.

  1. Three-layer system
    • Base Layer: the type of fabric you choose is the most important feature. Synthetic fibers like polyester, nylon, polypropylene and merino wool are the best because they excel at wicking moisture and sweat away from your body. Keeping you cool or warm. Bring at least two pairs of quick-drying base layers, including briefs.
    • Mid Layer or insulation layer retains your body heat. Choose wool blends, polyester fleece, down or synthetic insulation.
    • Shell or Outer Layer Armor from wind and rain allows perspiration to escape. Synthetic materials are the best.

2. Wicking Action: All layers should wick moisture away from your body for cooling or heating

3. Lightweight and high-efficiency: All layers should be lightweight and high-efficiency to keep pack weight at a minimum

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.


B.O.B. Footwear

Pack a good pair of hiking shoes or light-weight hiking 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 out hiking with a brand new pair of shoes, or you’ll get blisters.

10 Additional Clothing Items For Your Go-bag

  1. Hat to protect you from sun or cold weather
  2. Undergarments: Quick Drying, Self-wicking
  3. Gloves to keep hands warm
  4. Shemagh-multi-use faces item that can act as a head wrap to keep the sun off, or it can be used to screen water before it’s filtered.
  5. Buff- Keeps the sun off your neck and face, or it can act as a hat to keep your head cool.
  6. Shirts-quick drying, long or short sleeve, synthetic or wool
  7. Pants: Heavy and insulated or lightweight depending on the weather
  8. Coat-Some of the new coats have a heavy liner with a tough water-proof shell that can be zipped off
  9. Windbreaker- Water-proof or water repellent, can be a separate jacket or part of a heavy coat system with zip-out liners.
  10. Sunglasses: Valuable 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 how to choose clothes for your B.O.B.

#4 B.O.B. Water Filtration & Treatment

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 of 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.

Warning: Don’t drink untreated water from natural sources, unless you have no choice, to avoid getting sick from water-borne illnesses like giardiasis and cryptosporidiosis. Good filters, treatment tablets, and boiling will neutralize bacteria, viruses, and parasites that cause these illnesses.

Tip: The average person will use 2 to 3 liters of water per day in a mild climate at 68° Fahrenheit.

4 Options For Treating Bug-out Water

  1. Backpack-style Water Filter like the Sawyer mini rated to filter 100,000 gallons of water. This is how 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.
    1. If you are bugging out with a lot of people, each person should have their own filter. Consider carrying a large gravity filter for cooking and setting up camp.
  2. Water Purification Tablets: Water purification tablets change the taste of water, but they are an excellent choice when moving fast and trying to stay hidden.
  3. Iodine Tablets: Similar in use to Water purification tablets.
  4. Boiling: If you’re not worried about disclosing your location, build a fire and boil water to kill bacteria
    1. Bring clear water to a rolling boil for 1 minute (at elevations above 6500 feet, boil for three minutes.)
    2. Let the boiled water cool.
    3. Store in a clean container with a cover.

Centers For Disease Control and Prevention

TIP: Filters, boiling and water purification tablets will not remove chemical contamination from water.

#5 Shelter

Your shelter is a safe space to maintain 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 shelter provides something to sleep under to keep wind, rain, and snow out, something to sleep on top of to keep your body off the cold ground, and something to sleep in 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.

5 Options for Bug-out Shelters

  1. Light-weight Tarp or Poncho– inexpensive, lightweight, multiple configurations
  2. Ultra-light tent– Excellent and expensive
  3. Light-weight backpacker’s hammock
  4. Bush-craft Shelter Built from natural resources-This can take a lot of time, so it’s not the best option if you are on the move.
  5. Hybrid shelter combining natural materials and a tarp

Where To Place A Bug Out Shelter

  1. The site provides material to build your shelter
  2. Protects you from cold and wind
  3. Close to food, water, and fuel sources
  4. Level enough to lie down
  5. Offers Concealment if necessary
  6. Protects you from wild animals
  7. Away from flash-flood areas
  8. Avoid areas at the base of steep slopes to avoid avalanches, drifting snow, floods, rockfalls, or heavy winds

#6 Fire Starting Equipment

Depending on your situation a fire is used for warmth, keeping dry, for signaling, cooking, or for purifying water by boiling. Using a lighter is the easiest method of starting a fire but consider having redundancies built-in by having multiple methods.

Permissive VS. Non-Permissive Survival Environment:

Tip: In a permissive environment, you are not concerned with people seeing you. Starting a fire isn’t an issue. In a non-permissive environment, there are two-legged crazies you need to avoid, starting a fire might give away your presence and location, another good reason to have some no-cook food in your go-bag.

6 Fire-starting Tools You Should Have

  1. Lighter(s)
  2. Flint or Ferrocerium rod
  3. Waterproof matches
  4. Long-burn candle(s)
  5. Small magnifying glass
  6. Tinder Box with dry tinder, cotton balls, jute, and an accelerant like vaseline
  7. Backpacker’s ultralight stove and fuel canisters

#7 First Aid

The type of first aid kit you carry will be based on your skill level.

At a minimum, carry enough first aid gear to treat basic wounds, stomach upset, bug bites, sprained ankles, blisters, and injuries you will typically encounter camping or backpacking.

Ideally, you’ll have the training and gear to treat severe trauma, but you will have to get trained for this. There are times when first aid is mandatory but keep in mind that anything more than the simplest first aid can be life threatening if you aren’t trained to do it.

35 First Aid Items for a Bug-Out Bag

This is a good list put out by the Washington Trails Association in conjunction with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Preparing a bug-out bag is a lot like preparing to hike the Appalachian Trail. The first aid gear you carry is all you have to treat injuries.

  1. Personal Prescriptions
  2. Adhesive Bandages for small cuts and blisters
  3. 4-inch closure strips for larger wounds
  4. 4-inch sterile dressing pads (5 to 10)
  5. Non-adherent sterile dressing 2×2.”
  6. Moleskin, second-skin, or sports tape, use with 4-inch sterile pads to cover blisters
  7. Sterile gauze
  8. SAM splint
  9. Irrigation syringe to flush wounds
  10. Safety pins to remove splinters or fasten an arm sling
  11. Cotton-tip Swabs to remove objects from your eyes
  12. Ace Bandage as an outer wrap for splints, wound dressing
  13. Antiseptic towelettes for cleaning small wounds
  14. Cleansing pads with lidocaine for cleaning small wounds
  15. Topical Antibiotic Ointment for small wounds
  16. Moleskin: apply to hotspots on your feet to stop blisters from forming
  17. Povidone Iodine for preventing infection
  18. Pain Relievers like ibuprofen or aspirin
  19. Antihistamines to reduce reactions to stings and bites or to reduce reactions to pollen
  20. Immodium Tablets for relief from diarrhea
  21. Pepto Bismol or antiacid tablets for stomach upset
  22. Afterbite Hydrocortisone cream to relieve skin irritation from bites, poison oak, sting, or allergic reactions
  23. Oral rehydration salts or electrolyte salts and glucose for treatment of dehydration, heat exhaustion, or loss of fluids from vomiting or diarrhea
  24. Space bag or blanket acts as a lightweight emergency shelter for treating hypothermia
  25. Paper and pencil for recording medical data
  26. Elastic Bandage/Gauze Roll to hold dressings in place
  27. Trauma Scissors with a blunt end to cut away clothing and medical tape
  28. Antihistamine for relief of pollen allergies and to reduce reactions to bug bites and stings
  29. Anti-inflammatory medication
  30. Antibiotic cream
  31. Soap and or antiseptic wipes
  32. Tweezers/Forceps to remove splinters, ticks, and debris from wounds
  33. Latex or nitrile gloves
  34. CPR mask
  35. Wilderness First Aid Manual

Washington Trails Association, How to Build A Hiker’s First Aid Kit

#8 Navigation

It’s helpful if you’ve planned and know where you are bugging out to, but depending on the survival scenario, you could be going off-trail to avoid people or landmarks like buildings and houses may be gone.

6 Essential Tools For Land Navigation

  1. Compass– Even if you don’t know where you are, you can keep heading in a general direction
  2. Map(s) waterproof or in a waterproof container like a Ziploc freezer bag
  3. Notepad
  4. Pencil
  5. Pace or Ranger Beads-used to track the distance you’ve walked based on your pace
  6. 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.

#9 Signaling Equipment

  • Signaling mirror: first used by World War II pilots to send morse code messages using the sun’s rays
  • Whistle: Used to notify someone of danger or could be used during a search and rescue operation
  • Chemlights: 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

#10 Food Procurement Items

Using food procurement items like snares, hunting, or fishing for your dinner are things that require practice to be proficient. If you experience a short emergency of 72 hours or less, you probably won’t be depending on catching or killing your food.

For long-term bug-outs like walking half-way across the United States they’re an asset. Following are 9 items you could add to your B.O.B for food procurement.

  1. Wire snares for small game
  2. Fishing line, hooks, sinkers
  3. Cast net
  4. Slingshot or parts to make one (surgical tubing)
  5. Bow and arrows
  6. .22 rifle (ammo is lightweight and good for small game like rabbits and squirrels)
  7. Local guide for wild edible plants and mushrooms
  8. Survival Card: about the size of a credit card, contains multiple pieces of metal you can use to make tools
  9. Sprouts- you can sprout wheat berries in 2 days in any container
  10. Hawaiian sling used for spearfishing

#11 Tools:

The tools you take 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 you may want to include in your survival gear.

  • Single-walled Stainless or titanium mini-pot or container used to cook and boil water. Don’t choose a container that is lined or insulated.
  • At least one water bottle to drink from
  • Multi-tool with a backup knife, wire cutter, and saw
  • Light-weight backpackers stove and fuel
  • Locking Belt Knife or Fixed Blade Bushcraft Knife
  • High powered headlamp, a small flashlight, chemlights
  • Folding Saw
  • Sewing Kit
  • Gear and Shelter Repair Kit
  • Light Weight Tent Stakes and paracord for stretching out your poncho or tarp for a shelter
  • Weapon and Ammo (Optional)
  • Sleeping or Divvy Bag to sleep in
  • Sleeping Pad or Poncho Liner to sleep on
  • Wrist Watch
  • U.S. Army Survival Handbook PDF free from Ready Squirrel
  • Safety Pins
  • Contractor-grade trash bag
  • Zip Ties
  • Vaseline for fire starting

#12 Personal Hygiene

Keeping clean in an emergency keeps you healthy by preventing infection and disease. Something as simple as a bar of soap and a quick-dry towel will do the job.

Focus on keeping feet, armpits, crotch, hands, and hair clean because they are the main areas where the 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.

#13 Back-pack/Rucksack/Satchel

The best backpack to use as a bug-out bag is one that 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, look like a threat, and stick out as a primary 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 light-weight N-95 mask but I wouldn’t carry a gas mask. Chances are you won’t know there is toxic gas until it hits you.

According to the CDC, the N95 respirator stops 95% of airborne particles, but it doesn’t stop gases or vapors, so it’s basically a good dust 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

#15 Knowledge

This is obvious but can’t be overstated. Get out there and learn what it’s going to take you to survive. The best way to learn bushcraft and survival skills and how to use your gear is to practice with it.

If you like to backpack, camp, or hunt you probably already have an idea of how this stuff fits together.

If you have no experience with backpacking or camping, don’t fret. Try to 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.

An excellent bug out video from a former Army Ranger and Green Beret. “18lb bug-out bag from The Gray Bearded Green Beret”

Pack Your Bug-out Bag For Redundancy

Have backups for your tools and carry items that will do more than one job.

In preparing your survival kit, select items, you can use for more than one purpose. You have two items that will serve the same function, pick the one you can use for another function. Do not duplicate items, as this increases your kit’s size and weight.

FM 21-76 U.S. Army Survival Manual Page 16 of 277

5 Crucial Characteristics Of Bug-out Gear

  1. Water repellent, waterproof, and windproof
  2. Lightweight and easy to carry or attach to your body
  3. Durable
  4. Redundancy-items have multiple uses
  5. Back-ups have multiple methods of completing necessary survival tasks in case 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.


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