My husband has spent a great deal of time and effort assembling a critical piece of survival equipment: our Bug-Out Bags. Here's what he has written on the subject. (I've kept all photos at high resolution, so feel free to click and get a larger view.)
Bug-Out Bag, GOOD (Get Out Of Dodge) bag, 72 Hour Kit, Go Bag, Battle Box… These are all names for roughly the same thing. A Bug-Out Bag is a densely-packed portable container purchased or created to provide individual mobile support in case of emergency. In a SHTF event, a Bug-Out Bag might well be the difference between life and death.
But there are couple of important things to remember concerning a Bug-Out Bag. First and foremost, it's only meant for three days. I know this seems obvious, but it is the most important thing to remember when assembling your own Bug-Out Bag. (I'll explain in a bit.)
There are a lot of descriptions available on-line for Bug-Out Bag. I know because I've read at least forty of them. But whether you decide to make one of your own, or decide to purchase a pre-made bag, you need to keep in mind it must be applicable to YOUR unique circumstances.
Will you be staying put while using your Bug-Out Bag? If your home is on fire or you’ve experienced an earthquake, you’re not likely to be taking a fifty-mile hike to find help. You'll want to stay close to where you are until help arrives. Alternately, are you escaping a home invasion or a fast-moving wildfire? If so, how far do you think you’ll need to travel in order to be safe?
Is your Bug-Out Bag suitable for your environment? If you live in an arid climate, your bag will be quite different from someone living in the wet Pacific Northwest or the frigid Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
How physically fit are you? Our Bug-Out Bags average about thirty pounds. This may not seem too heavy, but I assure you that if you are unaccustomed to carrying thirty extra pounds over any kind of distance, you’ll be in for a rude awaking.
Here's a little test. Take four empty gallon-sized milk jugs and fill them with water. Each of these jugs will weigh about 8.3 pounds. Pick up two jugs in each hand. You are now holding about 34 pounds. Heavy, isn't it? Now walk about a football field length (100 yards) and back again. You'll get the point. Naturally, having this weight on your back rather than in your hands will help a lot. The weight is distributed across your shoulders and back. But that doesn’t change the physical fact that you are now 34 pounds heavier. Now imagine hauling that extra weight for miles and miles, possible over fallen trees, up and down slick and steep gullies or through deep snow or soft sand. I've gone a long way around to explain this simple sentence. Weight is paramount in your Bug-Out Bags.
As you put together your bags, feel free to mentally add anything you want to your kit. Chain saw? Great! Portable DVD player? Good for the kids. Hey, this is a mental exercise – enjoy yourself! But before you put it down on paper, always say to yourself: “Seventy-two hours. That’s all.” You've got to carry those items. Maybe you'll be scared, injured, stressed. Maybe you'll also be carrying a firearm or a larger medical bag. Think about weight...and survival.
This kit is not meant to keep you in luxury. This isn't a fun camping trip. The ultimate purpose of a Bug-Out Bag is to keep you alive for 72 hours, and to give you those three days to reach safety or to have the time for someone to reach you.
Once you've got your bag or pack together, practice. Make sure each kit is fitted to its user. Take a family hike. Set up a camp. This way you'll see what works and what doesn't while you have time to fix them. And remember: Like a thief in the night, a disaster can occur without warning. Practice getting everyone together quickly. Boots? Coats? Guns? Pets? How fast can you get it all together and out your door?
Since everything needs to be as light and compact as possible, consider what items can have multiple uses. For example, many of our smaller items are inside Ziplock bags for added water-proofing. Ziplock bags by themselves can have multiple uses.
There are a lot of variations available for a Bug-Out Bag depending on your circumstances. Thank God, my family has no unusual medical needs. But maybe yours does. And everyone has their own ideas on what is or isn't important. I'm always glad to hear suggestions. But before you make them… please, think seventy-two hours.
Here's what our Bug-Out Bags contain (click to enlarge photo):
1. Sleeping bag.
2. Standard military hard foam pad. Good for a dry spot in wet conditions and as a fairly good "door" in an improvised shelter. Marginal for actually sleeping on, but hey, better than nothing.
3. 8 x 10 nylon camo tarp. A waterproof wrap for the sleeping bag/ground cloth/improvised tent or a camo cover. Has grommets but can be "up-graded” with item #18.
4. Ziplock bag containing copies of birth certificates, plasticized maps, immunization records, insurance records, title insurances, contact info for friends and relatives, etc. Each pack contains a complete set for the entire family.
5. New Testament. We will all need support in trying times.
6. Wash cloth/utility cloth.
7. Two bandanas (earth-tone). Nothing is more useful than a bandana. It can be used as a tourniquet, pot holder, sun block, sling, sweat band, extra pocket, gun swab, head cover, dust mask, and of course blowing one’s nose. The list is huge. Ask a cowboy.
8. Duct tape. As the saying goes, duct tape is like The Force. It has a light side, a dark side, and it binds the universe together. With duct tape and two bandanas, the world is your oyster.
9. Mosquito netting. Good for bugs, filtration, camo (make sure to get an earth-tone color).
10. Gloves leather or synthetic working gloves with Thinsulite lining.
11. Light shoes (in this case, moccasins with rubberized soles). Wet feet suck. You can wear these while your boots are drying.
12. Medium ALICE pack with frame.
13. Knit watch cap (preferably with knit face mask)
14. Poncho Good also as a quick tent/shelter. Don't pack a rain coat. You want something that can easily cover the pack on your back.
15. 100 feet of paracord. Make sure you get the kind with either a five or seven strand interior. The strands can be separated and used for hundreds of things. (One time, while part of a group of pretty savvy survival types, I was asked to name the one thing I would have with me if dropped in the middle of nowhere. My answer was rope. Think about it.)
16. Spare ALICE pouch for things that should be close at hand.
17. Two canteens and ALICE attach-covers. Don't forget to fill (and change often) these with water the moment you have your kit done. It won't do you a bit of good to run out of the burning house with empty canteens.
18. Plastic snap together grommets. Excellent and easy ways to re-enforce a tarp, fabric, or blanket. Not as strong as metal grommets to be sure, but a lot easier to install in troubled times.
19. Food. Since food is usually one of the bulkiest items in a backpack, we purchased a 3600 calorie ration bar with a five-year shelf life. Supposedly this is a three day supply. Perhaps not, but it’s better than nothing and only weighs two pounds. You'll still be alive after three days but probably pretty hungry. (This ain't Lembas, folks.)
20. Toilet paper. (Hey, I’ve got three females in the family.)
21. Dental floss. This has many uses and is very tough.
22. Cash. This will also include some coinage. Might still be working phone booths somewhere.
23. First aid kit. The best compact first-aid kit I could find was $14 from the Red Cross. I upgraded it with Tylenol, Imodium, and Benadryl. A more extensive kit will travel with me.
24. Space blanket bag. This is like your standard space blanket, but formed into a bag suitable as a bivvy sack for outside your sleeping bag (a big multiplier for heat retention as long as you recognize its limitations).
25. Bar soap. Good for washing everything as well as finding water leaks in pipes, unsticking zippers, and lubricating saw blades and screws.
26. Two space blankets. Good for signaling, ground clothes, heat retention, etc. These can be duct-taped together for a tent, grommeted, used as a sun-shade, game-wrap, or (of course) a blanket.
27. Sewing kit.
28. Flashlight. This is an LED flood and single-point light with a strong rare-earth magnet and a hanging hook. (Spare batteries are not shown but we have them packed.)
29. Four ratchet type tarp holders. These make great clamps and tie-downs.
30. Clothing. One shirt, pants, two pairs of underwear, three pair of socks. The outerwear is in dark earth-tones or camo.
31. Matches, match cases, and a Bic lighter.
32. Florescent plastic survey tape. Each family member gets a different color.
34. Sun-block SPF 50
35. Sharpie, two pens and pad of paper.
36. A Leatherman-style tool: pliers, knife, awl, etc. with case.
37. Toothbrush and toothpaste. Sure you can make it three days without brushing. But why? I can tell you that a good tooth brushing will make you feel better no matter how bad a night you've had.
(Not shown: small mirror, compass, AM/FM radio, long johns, water treatment pills and hexamine fire starters.)
So there you are. Patrice's and my packs are somewhat heavier, although not much. I know my limitations.
I welcome your comments, suggestions, or criticisms. Because a Bug-Out Bag seems to be similar to choices in weapons, cars, sporting teams or spousal types (meaning, men especially can argue forever about these things), I expect a lively debate about what should be included. But before you recommend a small solar panel, communication devices, alternate food types, etc., remember three things. (1) Your situation is probably quite different than ours; (2) This does not cover any self-protection requirements (we have other systems for that); and (3)Remember: weight and 72 hours.