How Big Should a Bug Out Bag Be: The Real Answer

A bug out bag is a backpack filled with all the equipment needed to survive escaping danger on foot. The size of the bag matters because a bag laden with too much gear will slow you down and burn you out. I have experience hiking 10 to 20 miles with heavy packs, which sucks.

How Big Should My Bug Out Bag Be?

A Bug out bag or backpack should be 50 liters or smaller, big enough to carry survival necessities but not so big it will slow you down when moving away from danger.

The closest scenario to bugging out on foot is long-distance hiking on the Appalachian Trail (AT). Ultralight Hikers (those who carry minimum lightweight gear) build bags for covering maximum distance and comfort while still providing the necessities.

Ultralight backpacks are typically between 15 to 25 pounds and don’t exceed 20% of your body weight.

What If My Bug Out Bag is too Heavy: 5 Side Effects

The weight of a bug out bag is critical. Having an overweight bug out bag isn’t just uncomfortable. It could keep you from surviving. Imagine carrying a 65-pound pack and a long rifle, running around trying to escape urban civil unrest, moving away from a chemical plant leak, or any other survival scenarios. Here are five reasons a heavy bug out bag is a bad idea.

#1 Consumables

If your bug out bag is too big (heavy), you will burn more calories and water.

#2 Slows Pace & Reaction Time

If carrying too much weight, you cover less distance at a slower pace and reduce reaction times. In a survival situation, you want the ability to react quickly to danger and threats. The goal of a bug out bag is to get you away from danger as soon as possible, so don’t slow yourself down by carrying the kitchen sink.

#3 Morale

The most significant aspect of survival during an emergency is the psychological aspect. For the average person, a heavy pack causes physical discomfort from your neck to the tips of your toes. To stay sharp, try avoiding doing things that make you miserable unless necessary.

#4 Physical Injury

A heavy bug out bag increases the chances of twisting an ankle or tearing an ACL. A backpack changes your center of gravity, causing you to lean forward, leading to back pain.

A super heavy bag can cause you to trip over roots, logs, rocks, or a curb. It can also lead to neck and back injuries or blisters.

#5 Physical Conditioning

Are you in good shape? How’s your cardio? If you are already out of shape, carrying a big bug out bag will compound the problem by increasing the chance of injury and further slowing you down.

When planning for the Vermont leg of the AT I was watching every Youtube video on hiking, what gear to take and the things to consider. I thought I was in pretty good shape and I was excited to get started. Once I started I quickly realized I was not in shape for hiking 10 to 15 miles per day up and down hills with a full pack. Full-stop. For this to really hit home you’ll have to pack a bug out bag and go hiking.

Scott, Ready Squirrel

Big packs tend to catch on brush and trees; if you cross water, it will try to drown you.

13 Ways To Make Your Bug Out Bag Lighter

  1. If possible, reduce the amount of water you carry
  2. Use a lightweight backpack
  3. Minimize sleep system
  4. Ditch the tent and use a poncho, tarp, or hammock
  5. Remove unnecessary gear (comfort is not the goal of survival)
  6. Choose equipment that serves multiple rolls
  7. Purchase tools and food that is small and lightweight
  8. Ask yourself, can I live without this item
  9. Use backpacker-style stove
  10. Use titanium instead of stainless steel
  11. Eat ready-to-eat foods like SOS survival bars
  12. Remove un-needed pouches or replace them with Ziplock freezer bags.
  13. If you reduce enough supply weight, get a smaller lighter bug out bag

When I hiked the Vermont leg of the Appalachian trail I started with a pack that weighed about 65 pounds. It took me exactly one day to dump as much gear as I could to get pack weight down. We hiked 10 miles on the first day in very hilly country. By the time I got to camp I was wasted.

Scott, Ready Squirrel

Read Ready Squirrel’s article, What is a bug out bag: Prepping 101.

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