Build a Better Bug-Out Bag

At the top of many a survival preparation list is the bug-out bag packed with enough essential supplies to last three days without food, power, or shelter. The slang term “bug out” came from the British military, meaning “leave quickly under fire.” World War II aviators used “bailout bags” when skydiving over enemy territory.

A bug out kit can store vital supplies that run out on store shelves during a crisis. The last thing you want to be doing during those tense moments as you prepare to flee is getting your sheets together – so to speak.

Emergencies come in all sizes, from unexpected tree falls due to high winds to flash floods to wildfires. People who live in areas with known natural disasters like tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes need a survival gear container that is fully stocked and ready to go when you are.

Thankfully, most survival scenarios do not even begin to approach the post-apocalyptical. But this is no reason not to prepare a snatch-and-grab Go-Bag for those occasions when s/he who hesitates is lost.

Assembling a bug-out bag is not difficult and needn’t be frightfully expensive either. Here’s out easy it can be:

  1. Get a bag.
  2. Get stuff to put inside the bag.
  3. Fill the bag.
  4. Store the bag in an accessible place.
  5. Inspect and Replenish the bag regularly.

Let’s take a deeper dive into each one of these prepper steps.

  1. Get a bag.

The bag is important, obviously, but don’t get hung up on it. If you can’t afford a Gucci Go-Bag, there are many affordable alternatives. Even a plastic garbage bag can serve the purpose. Consider getting a thrift store backpack in good condition.

The Go-Bag doesn’t even have to be a bag. A plastic bin with a tight-fitting lid might serve an emergency situation better than a tote bag if you plan to drive to safety rather than walk long distances. Perhaps a combination of the two is the right way to go, a light pack for trekking on foot with more supplies cached in your vehicle.

Remember, an escape bag has three basic characteristics: it needs to be able to hold everything you deem essential to survive for three days with limited grid access, stand up under pressure, and be easy to carry.

Make sure the bag you get can carry the weight and bulk of the items you put in it. Then make sure you can lift it. This exercise should give you a greater appreciation for what really is essential and what can be left behind when the chips go down.

In a survival situation, blending into the surroundings is better than sticking out. If you will be traveling through cityscapes, choose a black or blue nylon backpack. In the countryside, go with a camouflage design.

  1. Get stuff to put inside the bag.

The bug-out bag needs to be filled with all the things you need to survive for up to 72 hours without food, water, power, or shelter. If this sounds a bit overwhelming, take heart. Everything you need breaks down into one of these categories:

First Aid Supplies – Assemble wound treatment supplies (bandages, disinfectants, tourniquet), tweezers and scissors, insect repellant, sunblock, tissues or toilet paper, and 30 days of your prescription medications. Use ziplock bags to keep contents dry.

Clothing – Think 1-2-3, as in one jacket, long-sleeved undershirt, and long underwear; two t-shirts and pairs of pants; and three pairs of underwear and wool socks.

Water and Food – Figure two liters of bottled water per person per day and buy bulk to save money. Pack iodine tabs and cheesecloth for water purification. Along with energy bars, dried fruits, and jerky, MREs (Meals Ready to Eat), include electrolyte or salt tabs to stay well-nourished during hard times.

Tools – As a guideline, prepare flashlights and batteries of the right size for them, candles, matches and lighters, local maps (paper ones), a collapsible camping shovel, hatchet or wood saw, a basic small tool kit (pliers, screwdrivers, tape), a knife and sharpener, and a small pan to heat water. Include other tools you might reasonably expect to need in your environment or for your vehicle – extra quarts of motor oil, for example.

Shelter – Pay a little extra money for a strong tarp with grommets (metal-clad holes to pass ropes through) and plenty of rope to hang it. For each person in your escape group, roll up and fasten with a strap one foam pad, an emergency or space blanket, and a sleeping bag rated for temperatures you would expect in your area.

The lists above are guidelines. Feel free to add or subtract survival gear to suit your needs.

  1. Fill the bag.

Filling a bag sounds easy enough, but there is some finesse to getting as much as possible in a small space. Pack heavy items on the bottom. Put medications, tissues, and bug spray in outer pockets for easy access.

If you pack your bag the same way every time, the contents should fit easily after you’ve taken things out to find something specific, especially as you use up supplies.

  1. Store the bag in an accessible place.

Keeping your bug-out bag in one place will help you find it when the you-know-what hits the fan. A shelf or closet near an exit door is the best way to go in a hurry.

Keep a vehicle go-bag in the garage or stowed in a corner of the trunk. This is a good idea if you might get stuck in a blizzard or flood waters.

Make sure your storage space is dry and mold-free. The last thing you want to see when you open your emergency supply bag is fuzzy green growth. Consider wrapping your bug-out bag in a plastic garbage bag to keep moisture away.

Likewise, locate your emergency supply bag away from bugs and vermin which could literally eat away your efforts and expense. Also, make sure the bag is out of reach of your playful pets and curious small children.

  1. Inspect and replenish the bag regularly.

It’s very important to check your bug-out bag regularly. Just as some people change their smoke alarm detector batteries at daylight savings time changes, mark your calendar every month or two for a bag inspection. Make sure all the contents are in good order. Change out food items with expiry dates and refresh emergency medications.

Run your eyes over the outside of the bag. If you see moisture or moth holes, take remedial action right away. Replace damaged goods and the bag itself, if need be. Then find a better place to stash the bag or wrap it up in plastic.

Just like fire alarm drills in school, practice emergency scenarios solo and with family members from time to time. Sound an alarm or say “Go!” then head for your bug-out bag before carrying out your evacuation plan.

Training for an emergency with a bug-out bag could save your life. Preparedness practice will almost certainly calm your fears about being caught with your pants down during a catastrophe. Not only will they be pulled up, you know you packed an extra pair. And toilet paper.