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

The size of the bug-out bag you choose matters because a bag that is too big will tempt you to carry the emergency gear you don’t need. Too much gear will slow you down and burn you out. I have experience hiking 10 to 20 miles with heavy packs. Believe me when I say you want your pack to be as light as possible.

How Big Should My Bug Out Bag Be?

A Bug-out bag should be no more than 20% of your body weight and no larger than 50 liters in size. A pack that is too big is uncomfortable and may lead to physical injury to the back, legs, ankles, and neck and stop you from hiking. Also, a heavy pack will deplete energy, food, and water resources, at a higher rate which is not ideal in a survival situation.

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. Use ultralight hiking as a guide for building a bug-out bag.

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

5 Side Effects: Overweight Bug-out Bag

How big should a bug-out bag be? The weight of a bug-out bag is critical to surviving a bug-out situation where moving fast and staying healthy are paramount.

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.

Scott, Ready Squirrel

Following 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, water, and energy.

You are limited by how much you can carry on your back when fleeing danger, so there is a fine line between carrying what you need and loading up too much gear.

#2 Pace & Reaction Time

Carry a heavy bug-out bag (over 20% of your body weight), and you will cover less distance at a slower pace and increase the time it takes to react to danger.

In a survival situation, you want the ability to react quickly, so don’t slow yourself down by carrying the kitchen sink.

#3 Morale

Maintaining good morale or attitude is the most significant survival aspect during an emergency.

To keep morale high, avoid a heavy pack that causes physical discomfort from your neck to the tips of your toes.

#4 Physical Injury

An overweight 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 increasing the change of tripping over roots, logs, rocks, or a curb which could lead to broken bones.

#5 Physical Conditioning

Are you in good shape? How’s your cardio? If you are already out of shape, carrying an overweight bug-out bag will compound the problem by increasing the chance of injury and further slowing you down. You might just want to stop altogether.

When planning for the Vermont leg of the Appalachian Trail (AT) I watched every Youtube video on hiking I could find. The day I started I thought I was fully prepared. Once I started I quickly realized I was not prepared. Hiking 10 to 15 miles per day up and down hills with an overweight pack is brutal. Full-stop. To truly understand how weight will effect running from a catastrophe take a bug-out bag and go for long hikes.

Scott, Ready Squirrel

When considering how big a bug-out bag should be we can do things to make it lighter. Following are 8 ways to do just that.

7 Ways To Make Your Bug-out Bag Lighter

When packing an ultra-light bug-out bag there are 8 things you can do to keep it light.

#1 Reduce Water

Keep your bug-out bag small by limiting the amount of water you carry. Water is heavy. Instead, carry enough water to get you down the road but limit weight by filtering natural water sources along the way.

#2 Lightweight backpack

It sounds obvious, but pick a lightweight pack when considering how big a bug-out bag should be. Also, make sure other bug-out gear is lightweight.

#3 Minimize sleep system

Keep it simple and use a Ranger Burrito instead of a heavy sleeping bag. A ranger burrito is a poncho and a poncho liner that you sleep in wrapped up like a burrito.

#4 Ditch the tent and use a poncho, tarp, or hammock

Another example of picking the right kind of gear. Go lightweight with shelter when you can. If you don’t need a heavy tent, don’t include it in your bag.

#5 Remove unnecessary gear (comfort is not the goal of survival)

This is where careful consideration comes to play. Ditch the doo-dads you don’t need.

#6 Choose equipment that serves multiple rolls

Build redundancy into your bug-out gear. This serves two purposes: if a tool breaks, there is a backup tool, and tools that serve multiple roles in a survival scenario reduce the need for another tool.

#7 Lightweight Food

Carry lightweight ready-to-eat foods like SOS survival bars and freeze-dried meals because they provide all the nutrition and calories needed.

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

To learn more, read Ready Squirrel’s article, What is a bug out bag: Prepping 101.

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If you have any suggestions regarding the information in this post, please leave a comment.

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