How to Build a Bugout Bag (Everything You Need to Know)
In this step-by-step guide, I will go through how to build a bugout bag.
For anyone new wanting to be a survivalist, creating a bug out of a bag might seem like a major challenge. Everyone you’ve read about has been tweaking theirs for months or even years, and they’ve built up a pile of gear.
It’s hard to know where to start, but if you cover all the basics in a survival situation, you’re always going to be a lot better off than 99 percent of people. There are many types of bugout bags. A Bug Out Bag, also known as BOB can be referred to as an I.N.C.H Bag (I’m Never Coming Home Bag), Get Out of Dodge Bag (GOOD Bag), or the most common, the 72-Hour bag.
The 72-hour bags are typically designed to get you out of an emergency situation and allow you to live on your own for up to 3 days. Many people prepare their Bug Out Bag to keep them going for a lot longer than just that, but there’s always a limit to what you can bring on your back, and a 3-day goal is a reasonable place to start.
Best Bugout Bag In Terms of Quality
You need a high-quality bug out bag before you start filling your bug out bag with all your survival gear and supplies.
Starting your bug out bag with a lousy backpack is a bad idea, so ensure you get all of the following qualities:
- Made of dense, tough fabrics
- Includes MOLLE(covered below)
- Has a chest strap and/or a padded hip brace
- Waterproof or contains a cover
- Great quality zippers and clips
- It contains many pockets and compartments.
The MOLLE system (Modular Lightweight Loading System) helps you to connect items to your bag via a weaving system. If you don’t know how to mount equipment to your MOLLE bags, here’s a nice video:
Choose Your Level
Since the basic lists are not helpful, we have prioritized the things below to three levels:
Level 1: Below 20 pounds, fits in packs over 25 liters. This should cost about $400-$1,100, depending on your equipment.
A beginners kit that covers the basics of what you need to survive and recover from home for at least three days.
Nice to keep things cheap and lightweight. Built for more standard emergencies, such as a natural disaster that has interrupted things for a few days, but can handle serious emergencies with the right coping skills.
Here, I will cover all of the best gear that I have personally tested and confirmed.
- The bag – here
- Basic first aid kit – here
- Gasmask – here
- Water(specified below)
- Collapsible Canteen – here
- Water filter – here
- 20 Water purification tablets – here
- Freeze-dried food – here
- X2 survival lighter – here/here
- Headlamp – here
- Field Knife – here
- Multitool – here
- Parachute Cords – here
- Compact tarp – here
- Paper map (Print online map)
- Cash Currency($400)
- Condensed soap – here
- Compact toilet paper – here
- Two-way radio – here
- Waterproof storage bags – here
- Tactical Pen – here
Level 2: Under 35 pounds, fits in bags over 44 liters with a sleeping pad and a bag strapped to the outside (otherwise > 50 liters). This should be about $800-$2,300. Adds key gear that can make a massive impact, such as a solar charger and sleep equipment, to get you off the ground with easy control of temperature.
- +Larger first aid kit for multiple people – here
- +Gloves – here
- +Spork – here
- +Flashlight – here
- +Ultralight sleeping pad – here
- +Ultralight sleeping bag – here
- +Sleeping masks/ earplugs – here
- +Wet wipes – here
- +Toothbrush/paste/ floss – here
- +Chapstick – here
- +Towel – here
- +Tactical sunglasses – here
- +Insect repellent – here
- +Tactical belt – here
- +Firearm, holster, and a full mag
- +Nail clippers – here
- +Compass – here
- +Small game
- +USB – here
- +USB charging cable – here
- +Power bank – here
Level 3: Under 45 pounds, fits in bags over 49 liters with a sleeping pad and a tent on the outside (otherwise > 60 l), $1,050-$2,750. About the maximum weight that someone can bear, this package is the perfect way to prepare for the widest range of emergencies, including long-term SHTF.
- +Reusable match – here
- +Rechargeable batteries/ battery charger – here
- +Extra magazine
- +Hand sanitizer – here
- +Ultralight/compact portable stove – here
- +Stove Fuel – here
- +Vaseline – here
- +Small mirror – here
- +Whistle(came with compass)
- +Ultralight tent – here
- +Saw – here
- +Sillcock key – here
- +Blade sharpener – here
- +Second pair of socks
- +Second pair of underwear
- +Flat travel roll of duct tape – here
- +Field guide book – here
- +Gold/silver button coins – here/here
- +Glowsticks – here
Common Bugout Bag Mistakes
Don’t pack too much weight. Don’t design your bags based on specific deadlines like three days or two weeks—use a priority cascade instead and ignore BOB vs. INCH claims. Don’t pack up a lot of extras. The point is to survive—not to battle the zombie hordes.
Essentially, it comes down to being hydrated, fed, warm, dry, and undamaged. Anything else helps or is a benefit to those targets. Don’t presume that your default route and “bug out location” will work the way you’re hoping for.
You’re not prepared if you can’t cope with unforeseeable threats to your plans. Be thoughtful about the world around you and what the risks are likely to also, and don’t get tunnel vision for particular situations like earthquakes or hurricanes.
Start worrying about stuff like property, whether or not there will be water (or too much water), temperature differences, urban vs. rural, whether anyone with you is likely (or not) to be armed, and so on.
You don’t want to be at the extremes in the “carry a bunch of fish vs. teach a man to fish” tradeoff. Don’t just bring 72 hours of consumables, and don’t skip consumables, assuming you’re going to hunt and craft your way through (unless you’ve already shown that you can comfortably do it in your area).
Pre-made kits are not regarded favorably by experts because almost every company is trying to get under the $50-$200 price point by cutting corners, i.e., including the cheap gear you can’t count on, making the wrong gear combination, starting with, or needing you to replace/add so much stuff that it defeats the aim.
A decent kit, even a simple one, isn’t getting cheaper than $200. You pay more than that every month on premiums, so don’t skimp on this vital planning.
If you’re on a tight budget, don’t go cheaper than any of the “budget picks” we’re recommending in this guide—not worth buying a prep item if it fails when you need it, and almost all of the uber-budget products found online are garbage.
Generally speaking, the cheaper the goods, the heavier they are. A budget Level 3 pack, for example, is likely to weigh several pounds more than the average. If you’re using the same budget for a Level 1 or a Level 2 middle-of-the-road wallet, it’s up to you, for example.
You can’t presume that your party/family will all be together, so don’t spread the essential gear around your packs. It’s a bad idea, for example, to have water gear in one bag and food in another.
Any person over 10 years of age should have their own basics in case they are separated. Children under the age of 10 can have their own packs, but you make them more for their comfort.
In other words, create a child’s bag so that if they’re separated, they’ll at least have some simple things to help until the adult finds them, and so you can raid their bag if you lose something important like your water filter. But make sure they don’t have a huge deal if they lose the bag entirely.
In a bag that is small enough to fit your age, you can typically fit into a few essentials such as a full set of clothing, special medications, and documents/photos about your family and home, while adding more child-friendly items such as stuffed animals, books, and candy.
Don’t just put it all in one pile in your pocket. Not only does categorizing your gear help you find it in a hurry and build a smoother load distribution when transporting it, but the individual containers themselves are also a great stem cell if you need to improvise on the ground.
There are only two things on this list that don’t need to be kept in your pack all the time: shoes and mobile phones—and that’s only because it’s inconvenient to do so—and it’s fair to say that 99 percent of people will have them on hand or nearby when it’s time to bug out.
Don’t overlap or combine gear with your camping/walking supplies, or take other shortcuts that could stop you from being able to grab and go without thinking. Part of the whole aim of the bug out bag is to realize that it’s ready at all times.
Bugout Bag Weight
People typically create bags that are way too big because they think they’re going to be in a truck, overestimate their physical health, underestimate how hard it is to bear 50 pounds on their backs for hours, or they can’t resist the urge to bring Kitchen Sink.
You may have to leave your car, walk 10 miles through the woods, wander through the floodwaters, or run up the high-rise stairs. You or anyone in your group may have been injured.
You’re probably going to be tired, hot/cold, and hungry. Across our experience and suggestions from the experts consulted for this guide, we like this rule of thumb:
- If you don’t work out at least three hours a week, you can remain below 20 percent of your body weight or 45 pounds, whichever is less.
- If you’re very healthy and confident walking with gear, you can get up to 30% of your body weight or 60 pounds, whichever is less.
These rules are reinforced by studies that explicitly focus on this “optimal pack weight” problem. For example, a study of hikers on the Appalachian Trail showed that the sweet spot was 30 lbs or 20 percent of body weight.
Another research in the army found an acceptable load of 30%—and that’s for soldiers who practice in heavy gear daily. It’s essential to test your pack. Go for a one-mile stroll around the neighborhood with your pack full of stuff and see how it’s going!
For those wondering how to optimize weight in your bag to the fullest, here is how:
Bugout Bag Item Weights
We determined section weights by weighing and calculating what we felt was a fair cross-section of our top picks. For example, the famous orienteering compasses averaged 2 oz while the lenses compasses averaged 7 oz, but we used a blended average of 4.5 oz because 2-3 oz felt acceptable in either direction.
When some people refer to their bag weight (especially in an outdoor recreation context), they actually refer to the “core weight,” which is a pack without any things (water, food, or fuel) or wearables. However, when you say weights, we’re going to include it.
Backpack weight was kept constant across levels at 70 oz, even though such a bag is more than enough for Level 1 loading, and even though you’re at Level 1, you might want more room to add after you’ve bugged out.
- The bag – 48oz
- Basic first aid kit – 20oz
- Gas masks – 29oz
- Collapsible Canteen – 2.5oz
- Water filter – 3oz
- 20 Water purification tablets – 1oz
- Freeze-dried food – 29oz
- X2 Survival lighter – 6oz
- Headlamp – 3.1oz
- Field Knife -10oz
- Multitool – 9.5oz
- Parachute Cords – 3.5oz
- Tarp – 24oz
- Paper map – 1oz
- Cash Currency($400) – 0.5
- Condensed soap – 2.2oz
- Toilet paper – 2.2oz
- Jacket – 16oz
- Underwears – 3.3oz
- Socks – 0.4oz
- Shirt – 2.6oz
- Bandana and hat – 4oz
- Two-way radio – 11oz
- Waterproof storage bags – 5oz
- Cellphone* – 5.3oz
- +Larger first aid kit for multiple people – +12oz
- +Gloves – +6.6oz
- +Ultralight goggles – +0.5oz
- +X20 Matches – +1.6oz
- +Spork- +0.6oz
- +Flashlight – +6.1oz
- +Sleeping pad – +32oz
- +Sleeping bag – +33oz
- +Sleeping masks/ earplugs – +1.1oz
- +Wet wipes – +4.6oz
- +Toothbrush/paste – 1.6oz
- +Floss – +0.5oz
- +Chapstick – +0.3oz
- +Sunglasses – +3oz
- +Insect repellent – +5oz
- +Tactical belt – +5oz
- +Firearm, holster, and a full mag – +36oz
- +Nail clippers – +0.3oz
- +Tactical Pen – +5oz
- +Waterproof notebook – +4oz
- +Compass – +4.2oz
- +Small game – +5oz
- +USB – +1.3oz
- +USB charging cable – +1.7oz
- +Power bank – +13oz
- +Reusable matches – +3oz
- +AA/AAA/etc. rechargeable batteries – +4oz
- +Solar battery charger – +19oz
- +Extra magazine – +7.7oz
- +Hand sanitizer – +3.3oz
- +Portable stove – +18oz
- +Ultralight tent – +30oz
- +Vaseline – +1.7oz
- +Small mirror – +4oz
- +Whistle – +0.7oz
- +Saw – +9oz
- +Blade sharpener – +1.6oz
- +Second pair of socks – +2oz
- +Second pair of underwear – +2oz
- +Flat travel roll of duct tape – +1oz
- +Field guide book – +8oz
- +Gold/silver button coins – +5oz
You know, water is important, but it requires a few tricky decisions:
- Water is very heavy at 8.3 lbs per gallon. Am I still bringing water all the time while struggling with the extra weight?
- How much water?
- How do you turn random water into clean drinking water?
- Is it easier to filter or to purify?
- In reality, how do you handle water with limited gear?
- What are you bringing in the water?
- How are you collecting it?
- How are you going to distinguish between safe and contaminated?
We highly suggest that you store drinking water in your bag. It’s way too dangerous to presume that you’re going to find some random water and have the opportunity to handle it in a fair period of time after bugging out. How high to stock is a matter of discussion. On the basis of our expertise and input from experts, we suggest 32 oz (1 liter) or as similar to that as possible (e.g., a 28 oz Klean Kanteen is fine)
That’s enough water to get you through a day or two and only add 2 pounds of weight. Some FEMA recommendations talk of three gallons of water, but that’s crazy (24 pounds!) because they have to believe that you’re an incompetent person tossing something in your vehicle at the last minute without filters or purifiers.
Using a rigid canteen to store the drink, there is no chance of breaking in your pocket. The best container—a single-wall metal canteen—does a double function as a pot in which you can heat water. That might be a lifesaver if you only have a Level 1 pack.
In general, filtering water is safer than purifying to keep water safe. One explanation is that filtering is immediate, while purification items can take up to four hours to treat your canteen.
Related Article: Sillcock Keys and how to unlock almost any water supply and Lifestraw Go review
Yet we’re both included in the Level 1 package since a pack of 20-40 purification tabs is so tiny and light, you might as well chuck some in. You ought to be mindful of cross-contamination. When the vessel contains polluted water, you can’t use it for drinking water until it has been thoroughly uncontaminated.
Not only does having one container restrict the ability to hold more water (e.g., if you encounter a rare source you still have to pass on), but certain filtration settings are built to work for two.
One bottle, normally a soft canteen, is used to squeeze dirty water into filter pores or to hang and let gravity do the same thing. Your rough canteen will collect clean water.
Since the soft canteen is light and can be rolled up to minimize space, we have one in the Level 1 pack, resulting in a rugged and soft canteen that can handle a wide variety of scenarios together.
What you should customize:
- Add more stored water to your bag.
- If you need to make room for the pack, it’s worth getting rid of less essential gear.
- If you’re just trying to shave your ounces, you can store half the baseline amount (up to 16 oz) and save your pound. Think about the option, because it could be a live or die choice.
- Some people prefer to bring coffee filters because they tend to screen most of the dirt out of polluted water until it is properly cleaned. But you’re still going to need a bandana that can play the same pre-filter function, or you can DIY with rocks, sand, etc., as you see below.
- People who develop their kit for longer-term or less mobile emergencies should add a heavier water bag. They make it easy to set-and-forget the handling of vast amounts of water in fixed places.
What you should avoid:
- Don’t keep water in flimsy pots, juice-box-style containers, etc.
- Hydration bladders. They’re perfect for climbing, but the drawback is not worth it: less adaptable, it can be punctured, it’s easy to lose track of your use, etc.
While you can live for up to three weeks without food and ideally find or buy your own after bugging out, it’s still best to have food on hand to keep your energy up and battle food cravings and negative feelings in the immediate aftermath.
But food can be bulky, space inadequate, easily expired, melt in a hot car trunk, require heating and other qualities that disqualify the most common choices in this package. It matters what food you need. You want:
- Food that is ready to eat or that needs nothing more than hot water to prepare.
- Maximum nutrients and calories in as compact and light a box as possible.
- “Durable” food that doesn’t expire easily or falls apart in a package responds oddly to high temperatures, etc.
- The best kind of food for survival, not taste or pleasure.
The level 1 goal is food ready to eat—no heating, no boiling. Healthy options include granola bars, trail mixtures, almonds, peanut butter bags, certain types of jerky, pemmican (which you can learn to make here), shelf-stable fats, etc. Ration blocks (i.e., lifeboat rations) are a perfect choice because they’re stuffing a lot of calories into dense bars.
MREs are tricky, and while they provide everything you need (including an indoor ‘cooker’ instead of outdoor boiling water), they are not space-saving and weight-efficient for the nutrition you receive. It’s telling that many retired vets don’t have MREs as their primary food option in a bug-out pack.
Related Article: Essential Foods for preppers
Level 2 adds food that has to be prepared—which in this situation can only mean the need for boiling water. Standard frozen hiking/camping food, including a mountain house pouch, is the safest option.
It’s light, nutritionally sound, delicious, you can pour boiling water right into the pouch for cooking and dining, and you can even drink it cold.
What you should customize:
- If you just like an MRE, Level 2 is where you should bring them in for freeze-dried pouches.
- There are nutritional survival food choices for those with food allergies.
What you should avoid:
- Anything that needs more than boiling water to be cooked.
- Coffee. If you ever like it, the medicinal supplies include caffeine.
- Salt supplements. The army started supplying salts to the soldiers when they realized there was more danger than reward—you almost always get enough salt from the sort of food you’d get in the BOB. However, overdoing salts might induce constipation. The difference is if you are in bad condition in a very hot and humid environment.
- If you choose a food limitation in everyday life, such as being vegetarian or gluten-free, understand that a survival situation is not the time to nipple stuff like how you find the right protein.
An easy-to-use lighter is the better overall option, but getting two is part of a Level 1 pack. Then we add the matches to Level 2 and, and ultimately, reusable matches to Level 3.
This optimum combination ensures that you can manage most needs in the short term, but if you do go further, you end up with several ways to start a fire that complements each other.
For instance, a lighter might fail in a strong wind where storm-proof matches would work. Or if it’s a particularly poor SHTF situation, the Ferro rod will keep the fires burning for years after the lighter and the matches are gone—but they’re harder to use, so they’re the last one on the list.
Related Article: Best survival lighters
Keep your lighters in a container (they’re inexpensive and common), so they won’t get wet or inadvertently spill fuel from a button on the inside of your bag.
A lot of people think that as long as you’ve got a lighter or another fire starter, you can still find leftover fuel around, and it’ll flare right up.
But skilled bushcrafters typically bring a dedicated tinder, which will make a difference when items around you are wet or not ideal for capturing a flame. Pre-made small and lightweight tinder items are affordable.
A lot of preppers prefer to have an old pill bottle or Altoids tin with some cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly or similar (which capture a spark very nicely), or it may be as easy as some dryer lint, tampons, or your used and dried wet wipes. Whatever you want is meant to work when it’s damp.
You should customize:
- Plain gas-fueled lighter, because there are two in L1 packs, the second one can be a USB-rechargeable lighter.
- A Fresnel lens is a lightweight extension or replacement, but only if you have already successfully used one.
The shelter is one of the trickiest aspects of the bugout bag due to various temperatures, terrain, configurations, bulk, and weight. But it’s important to be able to shield yourself from the weather and preserve your body temperature.
The shelter should be one of your highest priority, even over water. Experts think about shelter in three parts: what you’re sleeping on, in, and under. Level 1 has the bare essentials:
- Several layers of clothes, tarp, rope, knife, and fire builders. With those few things, you can make (or break into) primitive shelters, cover yourself, and keep your body warm. It’s not going to be cool, but it’s going to keep you safe.
- Tarps are one of those flexible items that are kept in bugout bags for almost everyone. In addition to a wide variety of shelter types, typical tarp uses include rain collection, hiding the equipment, medical stretchers, sealing off a wider space for heat conservation, covering a destroyed house, or sealing off an area in an NBC/CBRN emergency.
Level 2 introduces gear that will make a big difference in the ability to sleep safely and to regulate body temperature: sleeping pad, sleeping bag/quilt/bivvy, and an eye mask with earplugs.
Sleeping masks and earplugs was one of the hard things learned from people who actually had to bug out. For instance, you could be in a high school classroom with 20 other people who snore, fart, scream, chat, and use their lights.
Some shelters also have neon lamps on 24/7. Sleeping on the ground is painful. It’s not about a question of warmth. The main challenge is interaction with the damp, heat-sucking soil—anything that breaks the contact and traps any fresh air is beneficial.
That’s why homeless people use cardboard and paper even though it can sound meaningless—anything that provides a cushion and insulation will make a difference. You may also build a “bed” with various items around you, such as leaves or litter packed in a big garbage bag or poncho.
A sleeping pad built for ultralight campers can offer a surprising change in comfort instead of either sleeping flat on the ground or a temporary bed. There are models with a decent amount of insulation at the cost of a few extra ounces, which we find are worth it in all but the hottest climates.
It’s a personal preference whether you prefer a sleeping bag, camping quilt, or bivvy. Only get the lightest, the most lightweight edition you can afford for your environment. Sleeping bag liners can be a simple and worthwhile addition if you’re in colder climates, and we prefer to pack them ready-to-use within the main bag.
Stage 3 adds an ultralight two-person tent (which is actually only for one person). You will get much of the same benefit through a tarp, but a tent is good since it shuts you off bugs and predators, can do a great job of cutting wind and weather, and can be put up more quickly and in more ways than a tarp—saving you time, calories, and exposure to the outdoors.
You should customize:
- Ponchos are indeed a common addition or hybrid substitute for other gear.
- Some have a tarp and rain jacket, while others may utilize combo items that can do both jobs decently.
- Hammocks are one of the most discussed solutions for shelter, too. There are benefits—going off the ground, navigating uneven terrain, and making use of the tarp that you already bring as an overhead cover—but at the end of the day, we prefer sturdy bivvies and/or tents unless you are a seasoned hammock camper or have particular reasons to go down that lane.
You should avoid:
- Cheap gear. Pads, packs, bivvies, and tents tend to be the type that you get what you’re asking for. Higher price points generally mean thinner, tougher, and better-insulating materials.
- Inflatable sleeping pads save weight and space, but they can come from a puncture or fire ember.
- Some parents believe it’s best to get a larger tent so that they can keep the kids corralled. If the kids are little enough that you need to keep them, they’re generally small enough to share a two-person tent with them.
While it adds a touch of size and weight, keeping a complete set of climate-friendly clothes in a Level 1 pack makes lots of sense. The trick is to store the right kinds of clothes. Using the same products and values that backpackers utilize and do whatever you can to stop under-performing fabrics such as jeans, khaki, and cotton.
It’s worth spending a little extra money on “technical” apparel from a sporting or outdoor retailer because it’s lightweight, always takes up less room, is built to travel with, may have long-lasting patches on hot spots like elbows, wick moisture, holds heat, can be easily washed by hand and dried out fast.
And if you’re living in a hot environment, it’s usually a smart idea to shop for trousers and long-sleeved tops. Extra security can be priceless. The right gear is also adaptable, such as reversible trousers that zip to shorts and tops with roll-up and sleeves features.
In the same way, even hot climates will benefit from the outer shell to break up the wind and rain. Bear in mind that a lot of desert areas can get really cold at night. Depending on your local environment, you should swap clothes in their bug-out bags twice a year at the beginning of summer and winter to make a lot of this gear-mixing easier.
That strategy is perfect if you have the discipline to stick with it—if you want to make it simple, go on the side of caution by keeping clothes on the warmer side of your climate. You can always wear less when it’s humid, make a summer coat or rain jacket with a tarp/poncho/bag, cover yourself in slaughtered zombie skin, etc.
Quality socks are a critical part of foot care, which is a critical part of life. Maybe ask someone who was in the army or spending a lot of time outside. You certainly want at least one pair in Level 1, and it’s all right to add more as room allows.
Shoes, like smartphones, are another category where it’s okay to rely on getting them around anyway, saving you from keeping a dedicated pair packed in your kit at all times—assuming you’re keeping the bag in place and the shoes are naturally close by.
Level 1 involves things like bandanas. These types of flexible items may be caps, covers, scarves, slings, water filters, rain collectors, signals, heat-retaining, cold evaporation, etc.
A hat is obviously critical for both warmth and sun safety at Level 1. We’re adding sunglasses to Level 2, and while they may be considered a privilege, if you can’t see, you’re pretty crippled.
Gloves are helpful for both comfort and security, but we moved them to Level 2, so you can get by without them in Level 1. Many of us are no longer callous farmers, but unexpectedly cutting wood with a knife or removing rubble after a natural disaster will really do damage to your hands.
If you’re in a cold environment, try wearing two pairs of gloves, one with thinner gloves that can fit into a second (and preferably more durable) gloves for two layers of warmth.
The belt drops in at level 2, so you can miss the bulk and the weight at Level 1. If you just have Level 1 and need to keep your pants up, you can still use a paracord or some other safety pin or fastener in your kit.
There are three types of belts that are typical to these packs: the lightest available, one designed to carry survival gear or money in concealed compartments, or something heavy enough to serve as a MOLLE pouch and a gun holster platform. They’re all right. Only pick what’s working for you.
You should customize:
- Sink laundry kits are common among ultra-light travelers. Basically, it’s just a pouch of powdered detergent powder and a plain plastic drain cover so that you can build up a bowl of water in a sink.
You should avoid:
- Sandals or anything that exposes too much skin. It doesn’t matter how “tactical” those things are or how much you worry about a grimey shelter shower. You should use proper, covered, and durable footwear.
Gas masks are critical in crises ranging from fires to pandemics to civil unrest to nuclear war, and they shield the lungs from pollutants. But a complete gas mask is way too large for a practical bug out of a jar.
Outside the most serious nuclear and bioweapon disasters, you can replicate the benefit of a full mask by incorporating a half mask to cover your mouth and nose with a pair of goggles to cover your eyes. If you’re carrying a reusable or disposable half-face respirator (with extras/extra cartridges) is up to you.
Level 2 adds a pair of goggles. You may be passing through smoke, tear gas, polluted air from an earthquake or other catastrophe (e.g., the 9/11 first reacts to respiratory disease), or even strong wind. People also purchase swim goggles, onion goggles, or other “industry safety” goggles that are shut off the eye.
Soap is a Level 1 no-brainer. A small bottle of diluted camping soap, which you apply to the bath, does not take up a lot of room or weight and can make a difference in your wellbeing and comfort. People sometimes underestimate the value of grooming in emergency situations.
But organizations like the WHO, CDC, FEMA, and Red Cross all emphasize its significance, so they see first-hand how the disease will spread as soon as groups of people come together in an austere environment.
Tuberculosis, typhus, and even the plague are going through the homeless population of the United States. For example, recent hurricane floodwaters have been checked for incredibly high levels of feces and toxins when people wade through them with open wounds.
There was some discussion among our experts about the level of nail clippers, toilet paper, and wet wipes to be added. There are strong reasons in, either way, so you have some choice about how to choose these things.
We included nail clippers in Level 1—even if you have other cutting tools—because the hand and foot treatment are so important but sometimes neglected, and professionals with experience helping soldiers and hikers in the field have shown first-hand how a good nail clipper will make a significant difference. Toilet paper was favored over wet wipes for L1, with wipes applied to L2, since the soap already in the L1 kit will help with general sanitation. Wet wipes are best used as full-body showers than merely as bum wipes. Chapstick and toothbrush are applied to L2, while hand sanitizer is added to L3. Close to nail clippers, you can technically get it without these advanced items. For instance, you can make a toothbrush with your knife by flaring the end of a twig into a whisker. In reality, however, researchers find that people are more likely to keep their hands and mouth clean and avoid accidents while these inexpensive and light items are in use. It also helps conserve water, soap, petroleum jelly, and other supplies for more versatile applications. But if you’re skilled in the sector, you should miss these.
You should customize:
- Menstrual items. While menstrual cups are perfect for home supplies, avoid them in bugout bags because you don’t want to believe that you have clean hands for insertion/removal and because you want to avoid wasting water and soap for washing.
- If you need prescription eyewear, make sure to have a backup pair of glasses in a difficult situation. Any tangential you require for vital medical treatment, such as additional hearing aid batteries.
- If you’re in a really hot climate, you can apply travel sunscreen, even if you’ve got enough other gear to protect you from the sun even when you’re on the move.
- Most of the preppers include a small towel, typically sold for tourists, hikers, or swimmers. There’s no lot of worth here, so try to keep it light.
- Floss is not a bad addition because it is insanely short and light and can serve as a backup fishing, trap, weaving, or general line. Here are 15 uses for floss.
- You should consider a complete gas mask if you have a legitimate cause to think about CBRN disasters, such as living near a dangerous manufacturing site.
- Iodine pills don’t add a lot of weight, but they would be essential in a nuclear situation.
- Condoms and regulation of births. We’ll always recall the response that the tribal chief gave us while operating in a remote village with a crazy ratio of children to adults: “There’s no electricity here. What else do you think we’re going to do at night?
You should avoid:
- Deodorant. When you’re with other people, they’re typically smelly, too. Suppose you’re not around the rest of the world. Who cares. Also, wet wipes, soap, and technical clothes tend to soften the smell.
- Mouthwash because flossing and brushing are typically more than enough.
- Single-use pocket hand/foot heaters. You’re better off spending the money/space/weight on something more useful, like better gloves. However, if you’re in a very cold environment, a USB rechargeable pocket heater tucked into an armpit can support it.
Headlights are almost always the highest performing illumination option because you can carry them like a torch, hang them on or around other objects, or wear them on your head to keep your hands free (which can be a total lifesaver!) It’s compact, relatively lightweight, and many modern versions can provide a lot of light for a long time on a USB-rechargeable or regular AA/AAA battery.
Your Level 1 pack also contains one or two lighters, a mobile phone, and probably a solar/crank-powered radio, both of which act as backup lighting even in a minimalist kit. Level 2 requires a second light source. You can choose either a portable torch, a second headlamp, or a lantern.
When the items in this space have improved, we prefer to hold a lantern for our second light because they are lightweight (some fell down to the size of a hockey puck), rechargeable, and do a better job of flooding light into a room or campground than a headlamp/flashlight.
- Torches were once a great idea around the board, but the current battery and charging system has shifted the balance to the point where we don’t generally think it’s worth weight and room. If you want candles anyway, a pack of a few square inches and 5-6 ounces will have 25-50 hours of light. You could purchase versions of citronella to help drive bugs away.
- Glow sticks were once a good option, but developments in activated lights overcame the benefit of holding glow sticks.
- They used to be important, but developments in rechargeable technology made them a thing of the past.
Field knives and multitools are the two most essential pieces of equipment you can use. They’re still going to have been in the Level 1 pack, even if you split our recommended list in half, and there are very few things that give you more bang-for-your-buck functionality.
Both tools should be held in a sheath that can be attached to a bag or belt. Cordage is another important item. So much so that it has its own “C” in the famous “5 C of Survival” system.
The uses are limitless, they’re relatively inexpensive, and they’re not going to add a lot of weight to your bag. Paracord is a go-to option, instead of a regular rope or a separate thread, partially because you can cut paracord apart into several smaller strands.
But if you really wanted it, maybe 50 feet of paracord would be 350 feet of line. Plus, some paracord items are equipped with a built safety extra, such as a fishing line.
We suggest bringing at least 50 feet because it’s a typical package size, and it’s enough to construct simple shelters, collect, and perform other common tasks. If you’re skilled and know that you can get in with 25 feet, that’s all right, too.
We do not really any other dedicated tool until you see a hand in Level 3. In a real emergency, you might be processing a ton of timber, breaking into or out of things, crafting things, and so on.
A fine knife can get you to much of the needs in a pinch, although a sturdy hand saw can make a difference. The blade sharpener is another level 3 pack addition for extreme emergencies.
You could be using your bladed blades quite a bit. Not only is a sharp blade better, but it will also allow you to save calories and time. Go for a pocket stone (strongly preferred) or a pull-through sharpener to hold items that are small and light.
- Sewing kit
- Fishing kit
- Trapping kit
- Lock picking equipment
- Silcock keys are a popular addition to urban kits since they unlock most of the water valves typically used in city buildings.
- While a hand saw is a decent universal option, if you have experience with hatchets, machetes, kukris, and tomahawks, consider which one is right for your setting and if you want to replace a hand saw. You could choose anything lightweight enough to be compact, but some of the larger alternatives can end up strapped to the outside of your bag.
- Many people need only one on the basis of their plans (like buried shelters or snow cave shelters), although in this case, they’re not crazy about it.
You should avoid:
- Don’t mess with portable wire saws that are often used in amateur survival kits. They just don’t perform well enough to be worthwhile unless you’re practiced.
- A can opener is usually already included with your multitool, and you can still use a knife or something different, so don’t bother with a specialized opener.
- Door stoppers are another popular hack focused on some of the tales of living in shelters (like a school classroom) where people wished they could close the door for privacy. The need is real, but perhaps you can use or do something else.
- Fuel siphons are not worth room and weight in the extremely small situations that you would actually use one.
A portion of being prepared is getting at least a general feel for your surroundings, recognizing main routes and landmarks, and keeping simple map knowledge stored on your drive, so you don’t need a network.
Experts usually believe that, if you could only get one, a map would be more useful than a compass, since a compass alone would only inform you NSEW direction, while a map alone would have more urgent assistance—such as knowing if the hospital is close.
The trickier choice was whether to place a map in Level 1 or Level 2. Any way is good, particularly because they don’t take up too much room or weight.
At the end of the day, we didn’t think the map was critical enough for the L1 bag because of the resources you should have on your phone anyway, the fact that many GPS applications still operate even though the phone network is down, the car should have maps too, and that a general sense of direction (e.g., “we need to get away from the city”) would be enough in many situations.
Maps should be stormproof and, if you can only have one, choose one on a scale that displays the city within 1-2 hours of driving from your house, preferably having a topography.
Extreme situations would require you to identify your location without GPS, navigate the landscape or the rivers, determine the distance, and find some supplies. So the Level 2 package contains a compass that, together with some basic skills and a map, covers about all you need.
You should customize:
- Portable GPS units are all right if they make sense, depending on your plans.
- Ranger beads or pedometers are useful in maintaining the speed count. Knowing how far you’ve gone will keep you on track if you’re traveling without a map.
- The binoculars sound like a smart idea, but in reality, they tend not to be worth room, weight, and expense. Still, if you feel you have a justification for doing so, you should add them.
Obviously, your mobile phone is a vital aspect of your prep. It already has your data, and it will call someone, locate something, entertain you, serve as a backup flashlight/compass/map, take pictures of the damage or where you were, etc.
The phone is one of the few categories where it’s all right not to have one kept in your emergency kit at all times. That’s mostly because the chances are very high that you’ll have your smartphone on your person or within arm’s access when it’s time to bug out, and partially because it’s inconvenient for a lot of people to keep another active phone on hand just in case of an emergency.
However, you can buy prepaid “burner” phones or simply keep an old handset with a fresh SIM card from your main cell phone account—just make sure it’s reliable enough to use the same charging cables as the rest of your package. Cell phones can dial 911 without an active plan, no matter what, so if the need arises, you can activate the SIM on your spare phone.
So what if there’s a grid that’s down?
Emergency ham radios! Since amateur radio can also pick up public broadcast/NOAA stations and likely local emergency services, people who know how to use a ham radio prefer to carry only one unit.
Many people use a crank-and solar-powered NOAA radio to pick up one-way public broadcasts if you’re not on the ham trail. They’re sort of bulky with what you have, so at least you’re going to be able to hear what’s going on outside.
Bonus: All of these radios have a built-in flashlight and USB charging port, so you have a second or third backup layer of solar/crank-powered light and energy.
Signaling can make a difference in the long run, but it’s hard to choose one universal, compact device because the correct signaling system depends so much on your circumstances. The best alternative for thin, light, and reasonably portable items is a signal mirror and a whistle. They’re not big on the chart, they’re only dropping in at L3, so they’re only getting more effective than the current Level 1-2 gear in a limited range of circumstances.
You should customize:
- Many experienced preppers are buying tarps, mylars, or other gear they can always pack with at least one surface in a bright color (like the hunter’s blaze of orange) so that they may opt to be conspicuous if needed.
- If you’re on the water, it’s cool to signal dye and/or flares. Flares normally aren’t worth room and weight if you’re on land.
- Some people want to wear the “I need help, come and find me!” “The GPS is known as the Personal Locator Beacon. Garmin inReach is a very common alternative.
- Satellite phones can be useful, but they’re prohibitively costly.
You should avoid:
- Dedicated items for a smoke. Yes, smoke is a successful signaling tool in certain cases where other approaches struggle. But the cost, scale, and weight typically do not excuse the occasional situations where you really need it, and fire doesn’t do that.
- Tactical-minded people often wear a laser pointer to signal at a distance without giving up their location, but most civilians do not bother.
The only controlled things in the level 1 pack are a headlamp, a radio, and a telephone. Because of how the battery chemistry functions, you can store the equipment with about 50 percent of the charge.
Test and top up your power level during your weekly prep reviews. Having the comparatively heavy and limited-use Li-Ion battery in level 1 was something we were considering. But at the end of the day, the few driven devices in the level 1 bag are such vital preps that if they felt it was necessary to have at least 1-2 charging cycles worth of electricity on hand, no matter what.
The installation of a simple power socket and USB charging cable completes the level 1 configuration. Be sure to look at the entirety of your driven gear to see what sort of USB-A,-B, or-C ports/cables you require. It’s safer to have a wall plug with only a USB-A port, such as A-to-B and/or A-to-C cables, depending on your needs.
Vice versa, only tossing in the plug and the cable that came with a Google Pixel tablet, for example, is too limited because the plug and the cables are both USB-C and still too restrictive in the wider market.
In reality, power generation comes in at Level 2 with a mobile solar panel. While they add a little weight and space, these panels will provide an unlimited supply of power to all of your core gear. A solar panel on its own will charge devices directly through USB, such as attaching the panel directly to your computer.
An increasing number of common types of batteries (A and CR123A) now have USB plugs built directly into the device. But Level 3 adds a separate battery adapter for removable batteries that don’t have such an optimized connector.
We also add a spare set of removable batteries to suit your core gear, particularly if you have or find those that cannot be powered directly from a solar panel via USB—ham radios are the regular culprits.
You should avoid:
- Forms of odd battery/power. Try to standardize the power as best as you can so that everyone uses the same generic USB cables and battery types.
- Gimmicky Water/Wind/Crank Electricity Generator. The tech isn’t good enough yet, so we’re looking forward to the day that they are.
You’re obviously trying to pack some currency, but how much? There is no real law, just a general guideline: as much as you can, within reason. Some of the individuals, who look like a few hundred or a few thousand dollars in cash, break up into big and small bills.
You would want to break it up so that it’s not stored in one place, which might be useful if someone loots or mugs you. How beneficial the cash will be heavily relying on the case.
Are you in a shelter following a natural disaster? $100 may have been really useful. Complete SHTF of people in panic? You may need $1,000 or more for bribery and trading.
You should customize:
- Many preppers keep gold, silver, or other secret reserves of value. It’s all right to have some smaller, more tradable bullion in your BOB if you really want to. Just be careful about your weight.
- Best, put wealth in the form of jewels instead of bullion. When you’re going to have to barter for it, it’s easier to play it off like, “This is my wedding band and final keepsake! “Instead of a gold coin that makes a person say, “Hmm, I bet they’ve got more.”
- If you think of cryptocurrencies as part of your prep, or you actually have a bit of wealth there, keep your wallet and other vital information kept physically and/or digitally in your bag.
Another field in which people are likely to overdo it. It’s just not realistic to carry multiple weapons and plenty of ammunition so you can fight your way through the masses of zombies. (And if you’re going to use guns to get what you need from others, you’re a #badprepper.)
The level 1 bag also has bladed tools that could be used for defensive purposes if desired. But in level 2, we’re bringing in a pistol, a belt, and a full magazine. Combined with a strong shield, under certain situations, you’re able to protect yourself.
Level 3, which carries on additional weight to cope with more long-term or extreme crises, adds a second (or even a third) full magazine.
You should customize:
- If you prefer something more durable than a gun, aim to make it as light and cover-up as possible, such as an SBR or a retractable bow.
- If you don’t want to carry a weapon, but you want to have a less lethal alternative, such as a pepper spray, you can add it to your kit anywhere it makes sense for you.
- It’s all right to put in a basic taco holster or something similar for spare mags.
You should avoid:
- Different sizes of ammunition.
- Night vision and other heavy yet needless gadgets in your key bug out pack.
It’s easy to ignore creature comforts in an emergency survival situation, but even the strongest guy needs to manage his mental health—a vital aspect of his survival.
A little token or two will help occupy your time, raise your morale, and give you something to chat about that isn’t the emergency itself. As a plus, sometimes the easiest thing to do is to stay still because if you have anything to occupy your time with, you’re less likely to move around or do something dumb.
The classic go-to is a waterproof card deck. Tiny, lightweight, low cost, and flexible for solo and group use. Other similar choices:
- Pocket Bible, Koran, Tanakh, Marcus Aurelius Meditations, etc.
- Magic of the Gathering cards
- Tabletop Games
- Rubik’s cube
- Kindle tablet
- Airplane-fashion gaming, songs, movies, podcasts, and phones
You probably already have photos of loved ones for documentation and rehabilitation purposes anyway. Still, a single shot of something that gives you joy (or even a will to survive) would go a long way.
Easy earbud headsets are added to Level 2 for fun, general hands-free communication, and (if compliant with the radio) to be more stealthy in dangerous situations.
You should customize:
- Vices include tobacco, a USB vape pen, travel beer, etc. Some people bring these things as barters—an addicted smoker may offer up something useful in return for a cigarette. But they can still be appropriate options whether you’re addicted, need something to feel the pain of injuries, or just simply benefit from a hit to get you to relax when you can’t otherwise.
- If you’re a parent and you like to have something tiny in your pocket just in case you have a frightened child without their own bag and toys, that’s all right, but consider leaving stuffies and other heavy stuff in your kids’ packs. The emergency-tantrum replacement is what you carry in your pocket.
You should avoid:
- Keep things right, and don’t worry too much over “boredom.” You’re trying to survive. Don’t bring any big books or anything too bulky.
A weatherproof notepad and pen are no-brainers in Level 1 because they can assist with nearly any other category, from paperwork to navigation to medication. Sensitive documents can be kept both remotely and physically in a bug out bag that usually looks like a USB thumb drive and small laminated papers that you print and seals at home.
Hold it in one of your watertight cases. This should protect all of your databases when paired with files saved in the cloud and on your computer. Documents to keep copies of the emergency kit:
- List of important contacts and their contact/location information.
- Birth Certification
- State ID
- List of bank statements and credit card numbers—don’t ignore the expiration and CVV codes and phone numbers for your providers.
- Marriage certificate, particularly if you have different surnames.
- Any proof of parental relationship, particularly if adopted or different last names
- Pictures of influential individuals, both for morality and to send to others for recovery/reconnection.
- Docs for Estate Planning Health, home, automobile, life, and all big insurance scheme numbers and phone numbers
- Important personal records, medications (with dosage), and allergies
- A living will.
Level 3 adds a well-rounded pocket field guide. Since the level 3 kit is usually used for more extreme situations, providing a brief reference guide covering basics such as shelter building and animal trapping can be a lifesaver.
You should customize:
- Children’s bags can have items like a picture of their house, a map with a pin of their home location, photos and contact details for their families, etc. They can always get the right kind of support from strangers, even though they’re frustrated and can’t recall or articulate the details.
You should avoid:
- Complete size of the papers. It’s good to shrink a copy of your documents and IDs for the sake of space. Or make a text file of your own with a small font and cliff notes. It does not require a lot of room to include the related portions of each text in the above list.
My final word is that all of these will be necessary and will be worth it. Having extra equipment is never bad, as long as it isn’t too heavy.
Thanks for reading this guide on how to build a bugout bag. I hope you build a great bugout bag to survive almost any emergency that may present itself.
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I am a survival practitioner, and I have been doing everything possible to prepare for when SHTF since 2009. I am an outdoor enthusiast, and I am a preparedness expert. Learn more