It’s time to go. Are you ready?
What is a bug out bag?
It’s a B.O.B, bailout bag, or 72-hour emergency kit. Just about any bag, backpack, or container will work in a pinch, but wouldn’t you prefer a comfortable backpack over a grocery sack? We thought so, too.
Why do I need a bug out bag?
A family in San Diego had to evacuate their home in the middle of the night because of a wildfire. Friends in Oklahoma couldn’t go home from work because their whole neighborhood was wiped out by a tornado. Imagine if you had to leave in a hurry and stay away from home for a few days. Whether you’re in the wilderness or doing urban survival at the in-laws, you’d want a few things with you. It’s best if you have them all ready in a bag so you can grab and go.
Typical bug out bag contents list
First, choose survival gear essentials appropriate to your area of the world. If you live in a temperate climate, remember to rotate any clothes in the bag to reflect the current season.
Very basic survival
Let’s expand these three for a moment.
Water: You can live 3 to 5 days without water and that’s it. The hotter the climate, the more you perspire, the less time you have. Ask Aron Ralston how terrible dehydration feels.
FEMA recommends 1 gallon of water for each person each day, and that’s for drinking, cooking, and hygiene. Canada says at least two liters (about 2 quarts) of water per day for drinking, minimum.
Water is heavy. One solution for this dilemma is to carry a water purification filter.
Food: You can survive up to 3 weeks without eating, unless you happen to have a health condition like diabetes.
Freeze-dried foods and MREs are much tastier now than they used to be. MREs have an advantage over freeze-dried meals because they don’t require the use of your precious water to make them ready to eat. They are also packed with calories, which is good in a survival situation.
Shelter: Yes, you can pack a tent. You could bring a good poncho, warm clothing, anything to keep you comfortable and dry should you be roughing it out-of-doors. This includes matches, fire-starters, or chemical hand-warmers.
Next steps beyond the basics
- First aid
First aid: Pack a three-day supply of your medication, if you take any. You can get a pre-made first aid kit, or better yet, make your own. That way you know what you have and how to use it.
Protection: This could be anything from pepper spray to a pocket knife up to a machete and a Sig Sauer. Just keep it legal.
Directions: A compass is useful if you know how to use it. A printed map of your area is very handy if cell towers are down and you don’t have GPS.
- Sleeping bag
- Power and light
Sleeping bag: If your 3-day bailout plan means you might be sleeping in your car, a public shelter, or outside, a sleeping bag is a needed addition for comfort.
Clothing: At the minimum, bring a couple of changes of underwear and plenty of clean socks. Pack rain gear and a jacket. Rotate your clothes to reflect the seasons.
Hygiene: Soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, sunblock, insect repellent…you can save weight by buying travel size. Women, include personal items for that time of the month. Babies will need diapers and wipes, at a minimum.
Power and light: Pack extra batteries for your flashlight. Bring a rechargeable power bank for your phone. Glow sticks are useful.
Other useful items
- Eating utensils and cooking equipment
- Multi-tool like a Leatherman or Swiss Army knife
- Originals or copies of important documents like your driver license, insurance card, passport, etc.
- Cash and coins
- Radio for local AM and FM stations at least, even better with emergency channels and shortwave
- Pets need their food, water, and medications, too
Buyer’s Guide to the Best B.O.B.s
In a nutshell, here are the features that the perfect bag will have:
- Room for all your gear plus a little extra
- Comfortable to wear or carry
- Resistant to weather, dirt, and wear
- Excellent zippers or durable closures of some kind
- Good organization features, like internal mesh pockets
Buy your gear before you buy your bag. Seriously. You need to know what you’re bringing to know if it will fit in or on your new bag. At the very least, make a list and use your imagination.
Bigger is better, sometimes. Get a bag that’s a little bigger than you think you’ll need.
Brand matters. For best durability, buy from a reputable manufacturer who stands behind their products.
Try before you buy. If at all possible, try it out, preferably with a load inside. Visit a store and put your hot little hands on the bag you want. How does it feel on your back?
Then get online and buy it at a better price. Use a place like Amazon that will let you return items if there’s a problem.
Now that you have an idea how much there is to pack, what bag should you bring?
A sturdy, comfortable backpack will keep your hands free for action. We hunted down three top quality bug out bags with the best value for the money.
The 3 Ultimate Bug Out Bags
Direct Action Dragon Egg Tactical Backpack
Direct Action’s rugged Dragon Egg backpack is made for military and law enforcement. The available colors blend like camouflage. We love that it’s treated to resist near-infrared night-vision.
It’s made from 500D Cordura, which isn’t ballistic fabric, but it resists abrasion. It’s treated with water repellant. The woven mesh backside has a foam contour for comfort and air circulation. The front and sides have MOLLE and PALS webbing so it’s easy to attach and remove additional gear. There are also strategically-placed D-rings to hang gear.
The Dragon Egg has a low profile and a padded laptop pocket, so you can use it every day, not just for emergencies. The side pockets unzip to hold a water bottle, and the front pocket has organizers for small items. We love the YKK zippers and pulls. We also love the removable 2-cord paracord drag handle and removable waist belt. The Dragon Egg is rated to hold up to 1526 cubic inches or 25 liters in volume.
See the Dragon Egg up close and personal in this video.
Condor 3 Day Assault Pack
Condor’s 3-Day Assault Pack is the happy result of Condor’s 20+ years of experience making tactical and outdoor gear. It looks like it’s ready to head out to battle. We liked the assortment of colors available to blend into a variety of environments.
There is a large main compartment with a separate area that holds up to two 3L hydration bladders like Camelbaks. There are 7 compartments in total, including areas for maps or documents, radios, penholders, and mesh pockets. Each compartment has a grommet for drainage.
The back side and straps are padded with foam. There are compression straps on the sides of the pack. The front and sides have webbing to carry additional gear.
Peek inside the Condor 3 Day Assault bag with this video.
5.11 Tactical Rush 72 Backpack
5.11 made the Tactical Rush 72 backpack for a 3-day mission, and it’s just about perfect. It’s made from tough 15D nylon with a water-repellent coating. The YKK zippers all have rain flaps. The back side of the bag is padded with foam for comfort and has a pocket for a hydration bladder. The front, sides, and even the shoulder straps have plenty of webbing for other gear.
We love the variety of compartments that keep gear organized. This bag holds up to 55L or 3342 cubic inches. There’s a place for everything, even ammo.
The waist strap can be stowed out of the way if you don’t want to use it. (If you’re tall, it’s more of a stomach strap anyway.) All the straps have elastic keepers so the ends don’t have to dangle.
See inside the Tactical Rush 72 bag in this video.
FAQs About Bugging Out
How long do I plan to be gone?
Barring a zombie apocalypse, plan on being without help for at least three days. That’s usually how long it takes emergency responders from outside the disaster area to start bringing in supplies.
How much can I carry?
Now that’s a loaded question, if you’ll excuse the pun. We don’t know. It depends on your health and fitness. Load up a bag with the very basics and carry it around for a few hours. How does it feel? Add more and experiment until you have a good balance of what you need and what you want to bring. Take a hike with your loaded bag and reassess.
What size bag should I use?
Unless you’re Jack Reacher, get something between the size of a daypack (minimum survival) and a trail bag. Plan on 1500 cubic inches (at least) and up.
What’s the big deal about MOLLE/PALS?
Ever run out of hangers in your closet? You’ll probably run out of room in your backpack, too. The external webbing makes it so you can add on more gear. Just don’t overload or unbalance yourself.
Should I practice bugging out?
Yes. Remember those fire drills at school? In a crisis your brain will be in shock and you won’t be making the best decisions. Take the thinking out of it and practice what you’ll do in an emergency. Plan out two or three escape routes, then sneak out for a weekend. Play with all your new toys to see how well they work for you. It’s fun!
Bug Out Bag Variations
Work bailout bag
Remember photos of all those people who had to walk miles and miles to get home after 9-11 because the government stopped public transports? Keep a mini bailout bag at your workplace.
- Comfortable shoes and socks
- Couple of PowerBars and a bottle of water
- Band-Aids, tissues, Ibuprofen
- Map of the area
Vehicle bailout bag
You just broke down on a remote stretch of highway with spotty cell service. Depending on the weather, that could be anything from a pain to downright dangerous.
- Couple of MREs and a gallon of water
- Extra jacket, rain gear, blanket, comfortable shoes and socks
- First aid kit
- Map of the area
- Multi-tool like a Leatherman or Swiss Army knife
- Reflective markers for the car
- Jumper cables and tire change kit
- Duct tape
Bug out bag on a budget: packing list
Start with the essentials of water, food, and shelter. Don’t buy things you don’t know how to use no matter how awesome they are. Keep it simple.
- Get the best water purification filter you can afford. Diarrhea away from the comforts of home is awful. Invest in a water bladder or canteen.
- Buy 9 MREs—three each for three days. They are cheap. Get flavors you’ll actually eat. No, it doesn’t matter if you have meatballs for breakfast if you like them that much. Throw in some plastic utensils, a plastic cup and bowl.
- Buy the best poncho you can afford, not one of those little foldup deals that are about as thick as a plastic sandwich bag. Or buy some kind of portable shelter (tent, jacket, tarp, sleeping bag) that’s wind and waterproof. Get what works best for your climate.
Add-on other important items as you’re able to buy them
- Flashlight that’s resistant to water and impact from dropping
- Multi-tool pocket knife (and sharpener if you know how to use it)
- First aid kit
- Hygiene essentials
- Alcohol stove, fire starters, etc. for cooking
Note on first aid kits
If you’re not a paramedic or a doctor, don’t bother with fancy accessories if you don’t know how to use it. Get the basics together to treat minor injuries and illnesses.
Examples of basic first aid items include Ibuprofen or Tylenol, Band-Aids, gauze pads and tape, antibiotic cream, rubbing alcohol, an Ace bandage, Tums or Pepto-Bismol, throat lozenges, Immodium, and butterfly bandages for larger cuts.