Most experts will recommend you purchase a bug out bag that is designed to carry a bunch of weight comfortably (20 pounds or more), with a sturdy internal frame, large waist belt, heavy-duty straps and clasps and equipped with various MOLLE attachments.
But maybe it’s not such a good idea.
While these will undoubtedly carry more, and more comfortably, than cheap book bags, they scream, “Hey! I’m prepared!”
During an emergency, this is like putting a giant target on your back.
Think about it. If you’re forced to evacuate due to an unexpected natural disaster, most people are going to be scrambling to pack clothes, snacks and other sundries in typical duffel bags and travel luggage. They won’t be organized or calm.
If the authorities or your neighbors see a whole family marching down the street with military-style packs or top-of-the-line camping gear, they’ll know you planned ahead.
My bug out bag is tinier than most. It is 14"L x 20"H x 6"W. It weighs less than 15 pounds, yet contains many essential survival items like food, water, first aid, toiletries, tools, knives, even a pistol with extra ammo.
And the best thing is that no one would give my bag a second thought.
An emergency is not the time to stand out.
Though you might be on foot, chances are you’ll be bugging out in a vehicle of some sort. And if you are on foot, odds are slim you’ll be bushwhacking through the wilderness. For this reason, and especially if you live in the city, avoid the hiking backpack.
Distribute the weight. Nothing says
you have to put all your eggs in one giant bug out bag, so split the load over a
few bags if you can. If you have small kids, buy a couple cheap superhero or Disney nap sacks.
Strap your kid’s favorite stuffed animal or baby blanket to the outside of your bag to put you on the Mr. Rogers end of the intimidation spectrum. The extra weight is negligible and can help pacify your kid. (Worth its weight in gold.)
If you want to go a step further, buy a stuffed animal with a Velcro seam up the back. Remove some of the stuffing and you have a great hiding place for valuables or weapons.
I went with a cartoon themed pack. Of course this route only works because I have small
children. If your fellow refugees see a 30-something man toting a
Barbie book bag all by his lonesome, that'll have the reverse effect. (Though they will probably leave you alone.)
Remember, the goal is to appear as unassuming and non-threatening as possible. The more competent you look, the more attention you get. Select your bag accordingly.
Pack a compass, multi-tool, Swiss Army knife, an LED flashlight with extra batteries (or better yet a hand-crank flashlight) and a lighter. Former Green Beret and renowned survival expert Mykel Hawke told the Backwoodsman Magazine that he considers a lighter to be an indispensable survival tool, even more so than a knife or compass. Take heed.
I didn't include a lighter because the fuel tends to evaporate. Instead, I put some matches in a watertight compartment in a survival whistle. The screw-on cap has a compass and, underneath, a mirror. I cut the striking strips off the matchbox and stuck them in too.
You should also have various repair items as well. Duct tape is good, but bulky. Electrical tape is stretchier, weather resistant (duct tape is not) and more compact.
Include a sewing kit, eyeglass repair kit (what would you do if you couldn't see?) and some cordage, like 550 paracord. I made some paracord survival bracelets, but for a bug out bag a simple 50-foot spool would be fine.
Pack a cheap plastic poncho for every member of the group to keep you and your gear warm and dry. (They’re big enough to go over a small back pack.)
If you have the room, a simple 9x12 plastic painter’s drop cloth makes a waterproof ground cover, a makeshift tent or privacy screen. Remember to include pocket hand warmers. As Walter Mathau says, “Hypothermia’s a bitch.”
You’ll need a couple of factory-sealed water bottles, a towel or handkerchief and water purification tablets to ensure your bottles are refilled with safe water (think Montezuma’s revenge). Now is not the time to break out your portable Katadyn pump-action ceramic water filter in full view of others. Plus, it takes up quite a bit of room.
Filtering debris through a hankie and discretely dropping water purification tablets into a cheap water bottle won’t draw as much attention.
I bought some Coleman water purification tablets from Walmart for around $5. (The two small bottles next to the candy.) One bottle purifies the water, the other makes it taste better. The directions say to use 2 tablets, from each bottle, per quart of water. Since the water bottles below are 16 ounces, or half a quart, use only one tablet of each per water bottle. There's enough to purify 50 water bottles.
Pack individually-wrapped energy bars - NOT low-calorie or protein bars!
Energy is what you want and you get that from carbohydrates.
High-calorie breakfast bars like pop tarts are great; they're fortified
with vitamins, contain about 400 calories per pack and are cheap. I bought 8 packs for $2.68.
If you have the money, SOS rations or MREs are better (they generally contain more nutrients and calories), but they’re unusual and might get you noticed when snacking in a group.
You’re looking for a high
calorie-to-weight ratio. New Millennium Food Bars, and others like them,
are compact, contain around 400 calories and store for years at just
about any temperature. And best of all, they’re packaged similarly to
other off-the-shelf energy bars. Expect to spend about $1 per bar, though.
Ideally, you should have a minimum of 1200 calories per person per day.
I also included some prepackaged plastic utensil packs, leftover from takeout, which have napkins and little salt and pepper packets. They don't take up much space and weigh almost nothing.
Hard candy is a great for morale (did I mention I have kids?). It helps to alleviate thirst and offers a small energy boost. The peppermint also freshens breath and works as a cough suppressant.
Pack clothes that dry quickly (athletic apparel is good) and will keep you warm no matter what (wool insulates even when wet).
Pack just one change of clothes in a travel vacuum bag. You may need to re-wear and rewash as you go, but always have a set of dry clothes. The roll-up vacuum bag will also allow you to compress your clothes, saving space.
Dress in layers. A thin fleece worn under a hooded windbreaker (the design behind Columbia’s winter jackets) allows you to zip up or down as weather dictates. Pack a thin set of long underwear made from synthetic material (Under Armour is good). Pants that unzip into shorts are useful in any climate. Think versatility.
Remember, make a pack for all seasons. Many people evacuated after hurricane Katrina wound up hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles from home. You never know what kind of weather you'll face.
Other items to consider: a baseball cap, sun glasses, thin collapsible earmuffs, and work gloves (like those made by Mechanix).
Invest in a quality, compact neck knife (wear it after bugging out so it’ll be handy) and some pepper spray (good for animals and people). Pistols are popular bug out bag additions, but if you live in communist strongholds like California, New York, Connecticut, Illinois, Washington DC (and others), carrying one might do you more harm than good.
I have a Glock 19 (9mm). Each magazine holds 15 rounds and I included an additional box of 50. Probably overkill, but it's good to have too much than too little. I also packed a lock, holster and some cleaning supplies.
It all fits snugly in the factory carrying case.
Pack a travel-sized container of antibacterial hand cleaner, laundry soap, deodorant, body wash, sunblock and bug bite ointment.
However, a wrapped bar of hotel soap can be used to wash hands, hair and even do laundry. Make sure it has it's own bag for storage after use.
Again, keep all these cleaners separate, as their scent will transfer to other supplies.
Remember toothbrushes and toothpaste. Dental floss is good for the obvious, but also makes improvised fabric mending material (stronger than thread), stitches for deep wounds or even serviceable cordage.
Bandages of various sizes, including those designed for blisters, will definitely come in handy. A tube of superglue is great for repairs, but also makes an excellent instant clotting agent and waterproof bandage for cuts.
A bottle of aspirin, acetaminophen or ibuprofen will help with aches and pains.
Facial tissue and chapstick are nice to have, but not absolutely necessary.
If a full roll of toilet paper is too bulky, unravel, neatly fold and place it into a zipper-lock bag. This keeps the paper dry and allows you to conceal it easier on your way to the toilet.
Include feminine hygiene products as well.
Of course, pack the ubiquitous cell phone and charger. But on the off chance you run into and require a functioning pay phone, you’ll need a roll of quarters (good for Laundromats too) and a notebook containing the numbers of family, friends and other emergency contacts.
You do know the numbers of family and friends without speed dial, right?
You'll probably have some down time at some point and if you have kids, keeping them entertained/distracted with simple games can do wonders for reducing stress. Pack a notebook, a pen and pencil and a deck of cards.
Use the notebook to play word games, hangman, tic-tac-toe, doodling, making paper airplanes, leaving notes or keeping a journal.
You’ll need cash. And lots of it packed securely in water-tight containers (it’s best not to keep it all in one place in case of theft). ATMs may be down and businesses might be unable to accept debit and credit cards. Cash is, and always will be, king.
Once you’ve got your gear organized, pack everything in plastic. If you want extra protection, line your bug out bag with a black garbage bag before
placing it in your bug out bag. It weighs almost nothing, takes up
almost no extra space, it’ll help keep your gear dry and you’ll probably
need it for something else anyway. (The black plastic is good for solar heating water for a quick bath.)
Want more bug out bag tips? Check out more bug out bag checklist ideas here.