With so much information out there on bug out bags, grab bags and go bags, it can be a challenge to know where to get started when setting out to build your own. We’ve put together the definitive bug out bag list to help you plan and pack the supplies and tools needed to survive and thrive.
A well planned bug out bag is quite possibly the best way to prepare for the unexpected events of the future. Whether you need to escape quickly due to a natural or man made emergency, preparing a comprehensive go bag, can in some cases mean the difference between life and death and can greatly increase your chances when SHTF.
With humanity now facing more challenges than ever before – think economic collapse, geopolitical uncertainty, skyrocketing populations and ecological issues to name just a few – the need for preparing a bug out bag and evacuation/continuity strategy is arguably now more crucial than ever before.
The decision to bug out rather than staying put will ultimately come down to the situation that eventually presents itself, and in some cases, hunkering down with a well stocked home base and a supply cache to see you through the storm may represent the best course of action when disaster strikes.
That said, there are times when evacuation is the only option for ensuring survival.
When that situation comes a knocking, the right planning means you’ll be safe in the knowledge that you and your bug out bag are prepared and ready to move at a moment’s notice.
Your bug out bag is your first line of defense if you need to react to an imminent disaster or emergency.
Think of it as your “escape and evasion bag” – an insurance policy against adversity – and while it should only be considered as a temporary survival aid (as part of your longer term survival and continuity strategy), it’s still a potent backup plan you should always keep in place, close by and ready to grab and go when needed.
If your bug out strategy involves travelling further and with more gear than you would otherwise manage by foot (or if you’re leaving with your family), bugging out by road may represent the best course of action for getting out of town. While the kit in our list here is effectively universal and can be applied across both of these scenarios, there are some specific nuances that should be considered if you’re likely to implement your strategy with a car or truck, check out our comprehensive guide to preparing a bug out vehicle to get underway if this is the case.
Table of Contents
- 1 Getting Started
- 2 The Comprehensive Bug Out Bag List
- 2.1 The Bag
- 2.2 Water + Hydration
- 2.3 Food + Nutrition
- 2.4 Shelter
- 2.5 Clothing
- 2.6 Fire
- 2.7 Health + Hygiene
- 2.8 Illumination + Communication
- 2.9 Tools + Equipment
- 3 Your Complete Bug Out Bag Checklist
If your new to the idea of building a bug out bag, the task can seem daunting at first, with so many options out there to choose from and an almost limitless range of products, brands and features to decide between.
So, where do you start?
Although the most basic goal of a grab bag is to allow you to react to and survive a developing emergency situation at the drop of a hat, there are of course, a ton of other considerations when planning out the perfect kit.
Generally speaking, the core criteria many people stick to when building a bug out bag is the 3 day rule, basically – pack enough supplies to last you at least 72 hours.
While preparing a 72 hour bag will provide you with the essentials to get out of dodge and either evac to safety or implement your bug out strategy, it’s not uncommon to design a bag for a more prolonged period of self-sufficiency. In this case, you’ll want to be striking that balance between adequate supplies of food, water and shelter, alongside the practical restrictions of weight and capacity. Luckily, all of this is achievable once you know how to start and what to look for in the kit you pack.
Budget can also play an important factor when planning and preparing your bug out bag whether starting from scratch or building on an existing load out. Factors such as quantity and quality inevitably play a role when it comes to how much you spend but often a greater consideration around budget is specific requirements of the equipment or supplies you’re picking – where and how will they be used, how many people will need to use them etc.
The contents of your bug out bag will also vary from person to person and will depend on things like your geographical location, your bug out strategy (where you’re going and how long it will take to get there), the climate, terrain and time of year, as well as personal considerations such as your health and skill set.
Once you address these factors, the specific makeup of your bug out kit will begin to take shape.
There are however core components of every bag that you will always need without fail, and that’s where having a comprehensive bug out bag checklist for packing your kit comes into play.
When it comes to assembling a bug out bag that will see you right when things go bad, the key is to focus on building the fundamentals into your kit from the start.
We’ve broken down the essential elements that should go into making up every bug out bag, the components of each and why you should make a space in your kit for them as part of your preparation strategy.
So without further ado, let’s go through the definitive bug out bag list to help you plan and prepare the perfect bug out bag!
The Comprehensive Bug Out Bag List
How you carry your gear really is the building block of assembling a bug out bag that will allow you to go the distance when disaster strikes and you need to move quickly.
Considerations around capacity, comfort, durability, breathability and weather resistance all play a major role here, and ultimately there are often trade-offs between some or other of these factors.
That said, there’s an excellent choice of tactical bags, pouches and backpacks out there that are perfectly suited to helping pack and access everything you need with minimal fuss, while remaining comfortable and resistant to wear and tear under pressure.
Choosing the best bag for your bug out kit is about more than pure functionality though.
In a breakdown of social order or other emergency situations, where not drawing attention to yourself becomes a survival technique in it’s own right, how your bag looks can become just as important as how much gear it allows you to carry.
Picking a more inconspicuous bag or backpack now, will ensure you attract less interest from those who may want to get their hands on what you have later.
Planning the best bug out backpack early on provides a base around which to build the rest of your kit.
In nearly every instance, a durable backpack will most likely form the basis of your bug out bag due to the combination of mobility, comfort and storage they offer over other kinds of bags.
When it comes to choosing a bug out backpack, the key considerations are simple but important. To find the best bag for the task, always ask the following questions:
- is it durable with strong fastenings and weatherproof construction?
- is it comfortable with good support and ventilation?
- is it spacious with numerous and easily accessible pockets and anchor points?
If the answer is yes to all or most of the above, you could be on to a winner.
The bag you choose for your bug out supplies is quite literally the component that holds it all together, so making sure you get the right one for the job from the start is crucial. A decent backpack will not only last you years, but more importantly, won’t let you down when you’re in the field during an emergency survival situation.
Our Pick: 5.11 RUSH 72 Tactical Bugout Bag
The 5.11 Rush 72 is a bug out backpack designed for optimal use over a 3 day period of evacuation and travel from your home to your bug out location.
With an awesome volume of around 47.5 liters of internal space, the Rush 72 can hold a lot of kit with minimal fuss, providing ease of access combined with high capacity for maximum strategic and tactical benefit.
A key feature of the 5.11 is the size of the individual storage spaces provided, from pockets dotted around the bag itself, through to the main compartment which is fully accessible for loading and unloading your gear in a hurry. Combine these with latching points across the surface of the bag and a dedicated water bladder compartment and you can pretty much carry anything you need for 72 hours with the ability to extend this range even further if required.
Supplementary Storage / MOLLE Pouch
Effectively a ‘bolt-on’ storage pouch for your main bag, including a Molle Pouch as part of your bug out bag strategy is an excellent way of increasing your carrying storage space.
The ability to add to your overall capacity can quite literally become a lifesaver if you’re packed, happy with the weight of your pack but quite simply out of room for packing anything else. Adding those extra cubic inches can make all the difference if you need them.
Attached to the outside of your pack, molle pouches are also a good place for storing those items that you need to get to quickly without emptying your entire kit in the process. On top of this, they can be quickly and easily detached from the main bag if needed.
Our Pick: 5.11 6.10 Vertical Pouch
Designed to mesh with other bags in the 5.11 range (such as the Rush 72 mentioned above), the 6.10 vertical pouch acts as a storage module expansion increasing the amount of gear you can carry without resorting to a separate bag.
A nylon construction and YKK zipper make the 6.10 pouch both durable and easy to access when you need to get to the contents quickly without messing around.
MOLLE pouches are a good choice if you want to extend your bug out carrying ability while keeping certain tools and supplies close at hand and the the 6.10 fills both roles perfectly with enough space to store anything from a large water bottle to flashlights, fire starting equipment and similar sized equipment.
Duffle Style / Holdall
If you’re looking for a different style of bag to a traditional backpack, a holdall can represent a good alternative for packing and carrying a lot of your bug out gear.
Many of the best bug out duffle bags will offer a dual or tri-mode carrying system allowing you to carry your kit as a holdall with two handles, over the shoulder with a strap and also as a traditional backpack with two straps. If you’re considering a holdall for yourself or another member of your bug out group, make sure that there are as many ways to carry as possible.
One of the advantages of a bug out duffle bag is that they may offer a greater volume and capacity for packing your equipment. This can be particularly useful if you’re packing a tent or any larger kit. No bag is able to reduce the weight of larger supplies however so this is also a consideration if you’re considering going down this path.
Utilizing a holdall style duffle bug out bag can however be a good solution if you’re preparing your kit as part of a bug out vehicle load out, offering an excellent combination of high capacity packing potential that can sit in the trunk and grabbed if you need to bail out in a hurry.
Our Pick: Yukon Outfitters Bug-Out Bag
Styled as a typical duffle bag, the Yukon Outfitters Bug-Out Bag presents a ton of features that make it well suited as a non-conventional alternative to the traditional backpack style grab bag.
Offering the option to use either as a grab and go duffle or over the shoulder bag (padded handles and straps for each), Yukon have also built in the ability to carry the bag on your back with the inclusion of backpack straps should you need a more even distribution of weight when you’re on the move. What we particularly liked about this feature however, is the ability to then stow the backpack straps away into a dedicated pocket if you’re looking to operate a pure duffle bag carry style.
MOLLE webbing is included across the surface of the bag itself meaning that there are plenty of places to latch on additional pouches, gear and equipment to maximize your carrying potential when you bug out.
In terms of storage space, the Yukon Bug-Out Bag provides a generous capacity of around 55 liters with a practical footprint for packing larger kit alongside internal compartment dividers which allow you to separate your gear should you want to (really useful). When you’re all packed up and ready to go, external compression straps that allow you to keep everything secured once you zip the main compartment shut using the double zipper top-down entry.
Water + Hydration
When it comes down to survival basics, the most important part of your kit and the number one consideration is without a doubt, water.
Recommendations for daily water intake vary, but generally speaking, you want to aim for at least 1.5 liters per day as a bare minimum – with this in mind, look to have access to 4.5-5 liters in one form or another for a 72 hour bag.
The order of play when it comes to accessing clean drinking water should be planned in stages of accessibility from primary use to last case means of purification as follows:
- “Home Supply” water carried in a bottle, canteen or hydration bladder (refill whenever safely possible)
- Purified, pre packed water
- Physical Filtration Systems
- Chemical Filtration Systems
NB. While not essential, boiling water prior to methods 3 or 4 will aid in the purification of water prior to drinking.
A hydration bladder is an excellent way of carrying a personal reservoir of clean drinking water in your bug out bag which is easily stored, accessible and versatile in an emergency situation.
Most bladders will fit well inside a good size tactical bag or grab bag, with many backpacks including a dedicated area for them (and some even including one with the bag itself).
The inclusion of a hydration bladder in your go bag will likely mean that when SHTF, the only thing you’ll need to do before bugging out is to fill the reservoir from the faucet before packing it up and hitting the road.
Our Pick: Platypus Big Zip LP Reservoir
Platypus are one of the leading names when it comes to high quality hydration bladders and the Big Zip LP is no exception providing a high capacity reservoir which will make sure that you have a primary source of clean, taste-free water contained directly in your bug out bag from the moment you leave home.
The trademark easy filling reservoir of the Platypus system features a wide opening meaning that you can top up your hydration bladder quickly and efficiently when you next come across a clean water source, simply disconnect the quick release hose, refill your bag, reconnect and go.
One of the key advantages of hydration bladders is the ability to store within your bag and drink on the move directly from the attached hose which is fed out the top of your pack (some of the best bug out bags contain specific hydration pockets as well as dedicated holes and retaining clips for the drinking hose).
So long as the water you add into your system is clean, the Big Zip LP is constructed from a food-grade BPA free interior lining which ensures your water remains totally clean and tasteless.
Water Bottle or Canteen
The benefit of a traditional water bottle or canteen is durability, however this can come at the expense of portability.
You may find that a water bottle is better suited to the overall composition of your bug out bag than a hydration bladder in terms of the footprint it takes up within your pack.
If you’re looking to save space in your bag but want to incorporate both a solid water bottle and a water filter, consider adding a flask like the LifeStraw GO which carries out the role of both simultaneously.
For the traditionalists out there (or if your bag doesn’t easily accommodate a hydration bladder system) a good old fashioned high quality water bottle like those from Nalgene remains one of the best ways of ensuring you can quickly ensure a supply of clean drinking water in your bug out bag as soon as you need to leave and whenever you come across a clean source again.
Nalgene’s BPA Free 32oz water bottle is hard wearing and durable as well as being easy to fill and drink from on the go. With almost every bug out bag or backpack out there offering side pockets optimized for carrying a traditional water bottle, you can’t go wrong with a tried and trusted solution such as the Nalgene.
While the obvious choice here is pre-bottled water, weight and space considerations should make this a no-go as all but a last resort.
Rather than grabbing a bottle of mineral water from the store, invest in some purified water pouches which offer a totally safe drinking water option with a long shelf life (usually around the 5 year mark) while taking up a small footprint in your bag when packing.
When planning drinking water for your bug out bag, it’s a good idea to make sure that you go above and beyond what you actually need for the amount of time you’re going to be away, so you really want to take enough clean drinking water in the form of purified where possible plus a pre-filled home supply and the means to purify on the go if required.
These emergency purified water pouches are a practical way of ensuring you have a guaranteed safe supply of clean drinking water in your bag when needed.
With each sealed pouch containing just under 4.3 oz of clean drinking water and with a stated shelf life of 5 years, this offers a practical solution for maintaining a supply of pure drinking water with a low profile for packing in your bug out bag to supplement any home supply of drinking water carried in a hydration bladder or water bottle.
If you ever find yourself needing to bug out for longer periods of time or your bug out plan will involve entering the wilderness, you’ll be glad you packed a portable water filtration system as part of your kit.
With solutions such as the excellent LifeStraw and Sawyer Mini Water Filter offering the ability to quite literally drink water straight from the source and filtering it along the way, you can be sure that if your main reserves run dry, you’ll still be able to stay hydrated until you next reach a source of pre-treated drinking water.
Many of these water filtering systems are lightweight and compact making them an invaluable addition to your grab bag, slipped into a pocket for emergency use.
Our Pick: LifeStraw Personal Water Filter
An essential item on your bug out bag list and a core tool for almost any survival situation, the LifeStraw Personal Water Filter is one of the very best compact water filtration systems on the market and could make all the difference if you find yourself without access to clean water.
Offering the ability to filter out 99.9% of bacteria and microbes from otherwise undrinkable water means you’ll be able to ensure you have access to treated water when your packed supply becomes compromised or depleted.
Alternatively, a two-stage filter is also available from the brand, incorporating an additional layer of carbon filtration to reduce chlorine, organic chemicals, odors and bad taste, while also being contained within a durable and attractive stainless steel case.
Water Purification Tablets
While a pre-prepared source of water and a filtration device will be your primary considerations for ensuring safe drinking water, slipping a pack of water purifying tablets into your pack for good measure is a wise choice.
Simply add to a water source when the quality is questionable to purify and make safe for drinking.
Our Pick: Potable Aqua Water Treatment Tablets
Used by emergency organizations, hikers and military personnel alike,Potable Aqua’s water treatment tablets disinfect contaminated water, making it safe to drink.
As with any chemical water treatment, these iodine based tablets are intended for short term use during an emergency rather than on a continuous basis but will get you out of trouble should you need them, treating 25 liters or quarts of water in 30 minutes.
If you want to also remove the residual color and taste left behind from the iodine after use, the Potable Aqua PA+ Plus set also includes a second set of tablets for removing these side-effects of treatment after you’ve treated the water.
Food + Nutrition
During an emergency event, you quite literally may not know where your next meal’s coming from. With your mind in survival mode, the consideration of food is one of the first things you’re likely to forget about when getting out of harm’s way. This is a dangerous situation to find yourself in however as while the human body can go without food longer than it can go without water, you really don’t want to find yourself resorting to this fact when you’re bugging out.
Crucially, receiving an adequate energy intake is absolutely fundamental to ensuring that no matter what you’re up against, your physical and mental stamina and agility wont be affected.
The baseline energy requirement for adults varies by age, gender, activity level and physical characteristics but the ODPHP suggest that on average, men should be looking to consume 2000-3000 calories per day, while women should aim for between 1600-2400 calories. More specific estimates on daily energy requirements are available here.
While energy is the immediate goal when considering food in a survival or bug out situation, the role of well balanced nutrition comes in a close second to making sure you’re able to perform at optimal efficiency for prolonged periods of time. Eating as well as possible during adversity will maximize your ability to heal and recover while helping to prevent illness – all critical factors when you’re in the field.
Make sure you give serious thought to nutrition on your bug out bag list and you’ll know you’re covered when you need to leave home fast.
Ready to Eat Meals
Nothing quite beats the nutrition and morale boost offered by a proper meal.
With an excellent and highly portable choice of ready to eat meal pouches available, the benefits of packing at least a few in your bag (although we highly recommend a 72 hour supply if space allows) will ensure that you can maintain energy levels as well as a sense of routine when you’re bugging out.
Providing enough food to see a single person through a three day bug out scenario, the Just in Case 72 Hour Emergency Meal Kit delivers everything you need to maintain a balanced level of nutrition on the move.
A low profile pouch form means that these ready to go (just add water) meals are well suited to incorporating into a medium to large bug out bag and will provide vital energy in the form of food you’ll actually want to eat if you find yourself away from home.
One of the key things to look for when preparing a bug out bag list is a food solution that delivers that balance of portability, nutritional value and the ability to keep morale high when times are tough and this kit addresses all three of these factors.
Variety is provided in the form of a good choice of ready to go meals ranging from Breakfasts – Granola with milk and blueberries for example – through to entrees – such as Chicken Teriyaki with rice.
The obvious advantage of packing energy bars as a food source in a bug out bag is without a doubt the “bang for your buck” factor of high energy for a low space footprint.
If you’re thinking of adding energy bars to your bug out bag list, consider packing enough to keep you going for three days, either supplementing your MRE’s or as a pre-determined ration for your bug out period to get you from A to B.
Our Pick: Clif Energy Bars
Arguably one of the most trusted and established names in the energy bar market, if you’re thinking of supplementing your bug out nutrition with energy bars, you can’t go wrong with CLIF.
With the Chocolate Chip CLIF Bar offering up a balanced blend of whole grains and fiber as well as 10 grams of protein and 43 grams of carbohydrate per bar, this is a good solution if you want to incorporate a small packing footprint with a high nutritional yield onto your bug out bag list.
While not really a consideration if you’re just looking to complement another existing food solution in your bug out bag with a couple of bars, you may want to consider mixing up the flavors of bars you pack in your kit if this will make up the majority of the food and nutrition balance in you pack. Luckily CLIF offer a lot of other choices out there to keep you covered for variety so if you need to mix it up, check out the options here.
Portable Stove and Fuel
Packing a portable stove and fuel (either solid fuel or gas) will allow you to both cook food and boil water in the field.
The advantageous effects of both of these are obvious and make a stove a worthwhile addition to any bug out bag, particularly if you think you’ll be leaving the urban area, traversing the wilderness or travelling for prolonged periods.
When it comes to deciding on the type of stove that makes it onto your bug out bag list, the main considerations are ultimately between the method of generating heat (and basically the fuel used to do it), the combined size and weight of the stove and fuel and the quality including things like the ability to perform in all conditions and the likely usable life of the stove.
The range of prices between types of stove varies almost as much as the number of different options out there, ultimately though the expectation of price follows quality is a good yardstick if you’re looking at a high-end stove. That being said, there are also some excellent low value solid fuel and gas options out there if you’re looking for a short term solution. Ask yourself whether you’re going to want to use your stove only in emergency situations (think 3-5 days of use) or if you’re looking for a solution that can be used reliably again and again in regular situations and in times of emergency.
Our Pick: Jetboil Zip Cooking System
The JetBoil Zip Personal Cooking System is a compact and efficient solution for cooking food when you’re on the move.
Holding 0.8 liters of water, the Zip is good for heating up approximately one freeze dried meal at a time as well as hot drink like coffee. If you’re looking for a system that holds a higher capacity when cooking, check out the JetBoil Flash, the bigger brother of the Zip with a 1 liter capacity.
A neoprene sleeve covering the cup itself acts to both insulate the contents after cooking and protecting you from getting burned, with an added bonus that this also protects the entire stove (packable within the cup after use) when packed with the rest of the gear in your bug out bag.
Being able to pack a stove, fuel and stand within an insulated and padded cooking cup makes the JetBoil Zip the perfect portable cooking solution for inclusion on a bug out bag list.
A solid fuel pocket stove offers an extremely portable (we’re talking pocket size) alternative to a gas powered stove and can represent a good choice if space is at an absolute premium in your bag or you’re looking for a way to heat food and water purely for the duration that you’re bugging out.
The Esbit Ultralight is a foldable pocket stove that effectively unfolds to provide both a fuel tablet holder and pot stand for cooking or boiling water on the go.
Simply unfold, place a solid fuel tablet on the stove, light and heat water or food in a cup or pot. Unlike a controllable gas stove such as the JetBoil system, the Esbit and other solid fuel stoves are not adjustable – just old school heat, watch and wait until done. That said, for the small space footprint required in your bug out bag for a foldable solid fuel stove, it represents an excellent option as a low weight and compact cooking solution for use during an emergency situation.
A multi-tool for eating is one of the most effective ways of getting at your food quickly when you’re on the move or camping out and can be slipped in a spare pocket or attached to your keychain when not in use.
Most of the best eating multi-tools will incorporate more than one bit of usefulness, so if you’re looking for the swiss army knife of eating on the go, look for a tool with multiple features to maximize the bang for your buck when you’re on the road or in the field.
Our Pick: CRKT Eat N Tool
When you’re preparing a bug out bag list to get you through any emergency, packing equipment that does more than one job while still maintaining a small size and weight is a huge bonus when picking the best kit.
The Eat’N Tool from Columbia River Knife and Tool does just this, providing a spoon, fork, bottle opener and set of three hex wrenches on one pocket sized, lightweight tool.
Weighing in at just 1.5 ounces, this multitool is not onlly perfectly designed for eating on the go, but also incorporates a carabiner for hanging directly from your belt buckle or any spare latching point on your bag. Minimal weight, minimal fuss.
A key addition to any bug out bag list, particularly if you’re likely to be heading off road is a lightweight and resilient tent.
Offering protection from the elements as well as a roof above your head at when darkness falls, a well spec’d tent is a must have if your bug out plan is likely to involve traversing wilderness areas for a night or more.
In actual fact it’s my recommendation (and my kit contains one for this very reason) to pack a tent regardless of this fact as you never know the adaptations you may be forced to make to your plan during an emergency situation.
The key priority when picking the best all round tent is to go for a model that’s lightweight and easy to pack (with a small footprint when bagged up), while offering the level of durability, protection and weather resistance for use in as many climates and seasons as possible.
Our Pick: Snugpak Ionosphere 1 Person Tent
When you’re considering your bug out bag packing list, the question of whether or not to pack a tent can be a difficult one to answer. The inevitable issues of packed size and weight are the main factors when it comes down to packing your bag and a tent or other portable shelter can take a considerable share of your allocation.
If you’re bugging out solo, there are a few choices out there but one of the best in our opinion is the Ionosphere by Snugpak.
Featuring a low profile when assembled, the Ionosphere fulfils the role of emergency shelter exceptionally well with a 5000 mm waterproof polyurethane coated flysheet to help keep out the elements when you need to bed down for the night.
As well as excellent shelter properties though, the feather in the cap of the Ionosphere has got to be the ease of packing and carrying thanks to a compact packed footprint and low weight when packed (c. 3.3 pounds). This makes it a great choice if you’re thinking of incorporating a one person tent into your bug out kit but don’t want to sacrifice the space to make it happen.
Including a lightweight sleeping mat with a small packed footprint is a wise addition to your 72 hour grab bag.
If you’re on the move for hours on end and/or you find yourself trekking back country, then good sleep and nutrition become crucial elements to maintaining effective cognitive abilities and optimum energy levels.
A lightweight sleeping mat will mean that you can get the best night’s sleep possible regardless of the events unfolding around you.
Our Pick: Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol Sleeping Pad
Therm-a-Rest is one of those brands that has become synonymous for what they do and the Z Lite Sol is a perfect of example of why the brand is one of the best manufacturers of high quality sleeping mats out there.
Using what the brand calls a ‘ThermaCapture’ surface, the Z Lite Sol keeps you warmer when sleeping by reflecting any radiated body heat back where it should be, increasing the warmth trapping characteristics of the mat by up to 20%.
The unique construction of the Therm-a-Rest make it both easy to pack and portable while the same design provides comfort and heat trapping qualities for a comfortable night’s sleep that is simple to pack up and carry when you’re on the move.
When preparing your bug out list and deciding on the best sleeping mat for the job, you ultimately want the combination of a lightweight and compact footptint alongside thermal efficiency and comfort on the ground. In both of these instances the Z Lite Sol delivers the goods.
The topic of sleeping bags can feel broad enough outside of a contingency planning situation, but luckily, when it comes to choosing the best sleeping bag for bugging out, the considerations can be streamlined to the essential factors you should look for.
Insulation properties and overall warmth are of course, important elements when choosing a sleeping bag for your bug out bag list and decisions on this will need to be made around your local climate considerations.
Ultimately though, more warmth often means more weight (and packing space) and this really becomes the key point to consider when choosing a bag, particularly if you’re going to be carrying it on your back over potentially long distances.
If the capacity of your backpack allows, a mid temperature range bag with a small packed footprint is a safe bet to keep you comfortable in the widest range of scenarios.
However if carrying space simply won’t allow it, go for a survival bivvy bag or a super-lightweight mylar emergency sleeping bag and aim to make up for any difference in the clothing you bug out with.
The issue of space,weight and carrying capacity become much less of a concern if you’re bug out strategy incorporates a vehicle to take the strain of what you want to take with you. If this is something you’re thinking of, preparing a bug out vehicle can open up a number of additional opportunities for carrying more (and bulkier) kit, equipment and supplies.
While not necessarily a direct component of your bug out bag contents (there are some exceptions to this), if there is time to get changed before you leave, layering up with the right clothing can make all the difference in an emergency survival situation.
The clothing and footwear you bug out with are effectively nothing more than an extension of the shelter considerations mentioned above and ultimately every bit as critical to survival when SHTF – after all, you may not have the luxury of time or favorable conditions to set up camp depending on circumstances, at which point the clothing you choose can be crucial.
Look to prepare your main set of bug out apparel in advance and keep it accessible and ready to go near your bag. The goal of the clothing you wear is to keep you warm and dry while providing ease of movement, durability and additional storage space.
As with the other items listed in this section, your bug out footwear won’t actually be packed in your bag, but the importance of making the right choice here shouldn’t be overlooked.
When disaster strikes, you’re going to want to make sure that when you bug out, your footwear is up to facing the potential challenges and obstacles on the road ahead.
High durability, water resistance and overall tactical functionality and performance are essential and should be the first things you look for when choosing what to wear on your feet. Remember, the chances are that you could be heading out into anything, and suitable footwear isn’t something you want to be thinking about when it’s already too late.
Your bug out plan will almost certainly involve considerable time spent on foot and potentially traversing challenging areas with rapidly changing climate conditions, make sure your footwear is prepared for anything.
From a waterproof lining to a bloodborne pathogen resistant finish, the A.T.A.C Storm boot from 5.11 is the tactical footwear of choice for your bug out inventory.
Built around a high resistance, synthetic sole designed to provide an oil and slip resistant base of traction when on the move, the A.T.A.C Storm is designed for just the kind of situations you’re likely to find yourself in if SHTF.
The second layer of defence when it comes to protecting your feet, making sure that you have two pairs of high quality hiking socks (one to wear and one for your bag) is fundamental to ensuring that you’re covered from the moment you step foot out of the door.
Look to choose a pair of high quality (remember – buy cheap, buy twice) hike socks that are breathable and form fitted, ideally with at least 50% merino wool construction if you can. Keep your first pair with your bug out outfit and the second in a waterproof pouch or bag within your main bag as a reserve.
Our Pick: Smartwool Men’s Hike Light Crew Socks
Smartwool have built up a reputation as a leader when it comes to high quality hike socks and when it comes to the specific and potentially varied challenges of a bug out scenarion, having a couple of pairs of their Hike Light Crew Socks is a good strategy for ensuring your footwear doesn’t let you down when you need it to perform most.
If you live in an area with a cold or temperate climate, a pair of windproof and waterproof gloves are an important addition to your evac gear and can make an enormous difference to your ability to carry out manual tasks if you’re outdoors for a prolonged period.
The best gloves for your bug out list will provide good manual dexterity, warmth and waterproofing while still packing down to a low profile when you need to throw them in your bag or a pocket.
In my opinion, Sealskinz are one of the premier glove brands out there when it comes to high performance hand-wear.
The combination of a light weight alongside both water and windproofing make these gloves a great choice if you’re likely to be bugging out in conditions that warrant both warmth and high performance. If you’re looking for a glove that offers the tactical flexibility to also operate a weapon alongside these characteristics, also check out the SealSkinz Sporting Gun-Cut which provide trigger finger freedom when required.
If conditions worsen when you’re on foot, a rain poncho is one of the most effective, lightweight and compact ways of making sure you stay dry.
Having access to a lightweight and packable rain poncho ensures that you’ll be able to keep yourself relatively unaffected by the the rain if you need to carry out tasks in the open such as setting up camp or assembling a tent.
If you’re unsure what size poncho to go for, one option is to go for a larger size than you’d usually wear, this way, you can provide a level of coverage for your bug out bag as well as your body when the weather turns.
Our Pick: Totes Rain Poncho
A good quality, reliable rain poncho from a reputable brand like this one from Totes will keep you dry when everyone (and everything) else isn’t.
The ability to generate heat and light from fire is a survival skill almost as old as humanity – and for good reason.
Packing the means of starting a fire as quickly and efficiently as possible is the essential pre-requisite for cooking, boiling, sterilizing, light and of course, keeping warm.
As with water, think of fire creation as an optimal first to last list of “preferred methods”, with redundancies in place after each subsequent method is unavailable or impractical:
- Waterproof matches and at least 1 reliable, weathproof lighter
- Fire Steel / Fire Starter
- 9v Battery and Wire Wool / Magnifying Glass (Pocket Fire Starting Kit)
- Natural Fire Starting Survival Skills
Try to keep fire starting supplies in waterproof pouches like these and keep individual methods of fire starting and ignition sources separate whenever possible.
As with first aid equipment, pack your fire starting tools and supplies within easy reach in your bag so they’re accessible quickly when needed. A good option here is to keep a method on you (a lighter in a pocket for example), another in an outer pocket or section of your bag (a molle pouch or bag pocket is ideal) and then layer the others towards the top of your bag compartment in separate pouches or bags.
While natural fire starting skills are also an added bonus here, when it comes to the essential elements of your bug out bag list, fire starting equipment is a priority so make sure your kit includes as many of the following as possible.
Matches are one of the quickest and simplest ways of starting a fire when you need to most. The importance of these shouldn’t be overlooked and choosing the best matches for your bug out bag is simple: waterproof with a water resistant case.
Our Pick: UCO Stormproof Match Kit
The Stormproof Match Kit from UCO contains everything you need to ignite a flame in even the most adverse conditions.
With a burn time of up to 15 seconds, each of the 23 matches included actually relight after they’ve been submerged in water. On top of this, the case is constructed from ABS plastic which is both hard wearing and durable as well as offering the ability to float should the conditions get really bad.
A good quality weatherproof lighter should form the backbone of your fire starting strategy alongside waterproof matches and should be kept close at hand to be used when needed.
You want to pick a lighter that is usable in all weather conditions with a durable external casing and a flip lid for when not in use. Keep a lighter in a pocket that is easy to reach with one hand and quick to access, even when conditions are bad around you.
This lighter is the ideal pocket-sized fire starter for the survivalist or prepper, providing reliability and durability when you need it most, without sacrificing on size and weight.
Featuring a blowtorch style flame, the Windmill Stormproof All Weather Lighter does exactly what it promises, allowing you to get a fire started or a stove lit, whatever the weather conditions.
Using a Fire Steel is a simple, effective, reliable and portable way of starting a fire when traditional methods are no longer an option.
Small enough to keep in your pocket, on a keychain or in a discrete area of your bag, pack a good quality Fire Steel as an essential part of your bug out bag list fire starting inventory.
Our Pick: Überleben Zünden Fire Steel
A fire steel is an essential part of any bug out bag list and while there are a lot of options out there, the Überleben Zünden with its traditional bushcraft feel, is one of our favorites.
Providing up to 12,000 strikes, the Zünden throws off 5,500º F (3,000º C) sparks for igniting a fire wherever you need to use it.
The durable simplicity of this fire steel gets the job done in a way that looks good and is highly practical with a hardwood handle and paracord for attaching to a belt loop or attacment on your bag.
Emergency Fire Starter Kit
If your primary means of starting a fire become ineffective or unavailable for any reason, the following basic supplies can become a godsend.
Battery and Steel Wool:
Rub the contacts of a 9V Battery against some fine steel wool before adding to tinder and you’ll have a fire going before you know it.
Similarly, in the daytime, focus sunlight through a magnifier onto dry tinder and you’ll be on your way to warmth.
Simple, cheap but effective, compile a small kit of these essential components and you’ll always be able to get a fire going no matter how wet your matches get.
Fire Starting Tinder
To get your fire started quick you need tinder. To get it started quick in any conditions, you need a form of wet start tinder.
Simply scrape the tinder cube with a knife or similar blade and make a small pile of the shavings, ignite with your fire steel and you’ll be alight before you know it. Then. just build up your fire and maintain it.
Our Pick: WetFire Tinder
The pocket sized fire starting cubes from WetFire are designed to help you get a fire going in wet and windy conditions (they’re stated to actually burn longer when wet).
Requiring only a small amount of tinder to get a fully-fledged fire going, WetFire is also quickly and easily extinguished and with each cube individually wrapped, you can ensure that they’ll remain reliable and ready to light when stored in your pack.
Health + Hygiene
When disaster strikes, the rules of the game tend to go out of the window. Whether you’re dealing with a breakdown of civil order, a biological event or a natural disaster, the number of hazards to your health that you will potentially become exposed to will increase exponentially during a serious emergency.
It’s crucial therefore, that you provision supplies on your bug out bag list that cover the entire spectrum of health and hygiene scenarios to ensure that whatever happens, you’re ready and protected from prevention through to treatment.
We could be talking about anything from injuries sustained en-route (or upon arrival) at your bug out location, through to protection from contaminants in the air (think smoke, biological, chemical or other airborne agents) and even essential hygiene that you may take for granted at home. Preparing an adequate stock of portable health and hygiene supplies for your bug out bag today, can make all the difference when you need them most tomorrow.
First Aid Kit
If you find yourself bugging out, the chances are, medical help may not be easy to come by for some time.
A comprehensive first aid kit is an essential addition to any bug out bag list and should be placed within an easily accessible area of your pack.
Alongside a kit offering the supplies needed for triage, treatment and pain/symptom relief, it’s a great idea to brush up on as many basic first aid skills as possible and rehearse the steps you’d take to deal with various medical events should you ever need to implement them in the real world.
As well as ensuring the contents of your first aid kit is in date, packed and up to scratch, also be sure to have any regular medication in an easy to reach location so it’s to hand, that way, should you need to bug out fast, you can just throw it in your bag and hit the road.
Our Pick: Renegade Survival First Aid Kit
The Renegade Survival First Aid Kit is a good choice if you’re looking for a compact trauma response and medical supply solution for your bug out bag.
With a pouch offering quick and easy access to the most essential items during a medical emergency and molle straps for fitting directly to the outside of your bag, this kit has been field tested in real life, high intensity situations by the military, emergency service personnel and tactical groups alike.
There are multiple instances when airborne dangers can present themselves during a disaster or emergency situation and when they do, you’ll want to make sure you’re as prepared as possible.
While masks vary by effectiveness and particle filtering (always check the details on the manufacturer site prior to purchasing and using), if the quality of the air you breathe becomes questionable, a basic respirator or one with an appropriate ‘hazard specific’ filter is a sensible choice
Our Pick: SGE 400/3 Respirator
Made in the USA to NATO specifications, the SGE 400/3 is a 40mm full face respirator designed to deal with full spectrum NBC emergencies.
The 400/3 is compatible with 40mm gas mask filters which can be attached at any of the three filter ports on the mask and provides full face protection in conditions up to 800 Degrees Celsius (1472 F) for 5 seconds or temperatures of up to 200 degrees Celsius (372 F) for a 6 minute duration.
A controlled air flow prevent the visor of the mask from fogging up when you’re in the field while the field of vision offered by the visor itself has been considered to allow maximum visibility to the wearer while adding protection from flying debris.
Illumination + Communication
The benefits of a tactical flashlight go beyond the ability to produce light, doubling up when necessary as a defensive weapon.
As well as needing to be long lasting with sufficient brightness (at least 1000 lumen ideally), priorities for the flashlight that makes it into your grab bag are the same as other supplies you pack in that it must be lightweight, compact and hard-wearing.
Our Pick: Fenix FX-PD35TAC 1000 Lumen Flashlight
Whether you’re after powerful illumination a lightweight body or extreme durability, there a couple of great features which make the Fenix PD35 TAC an excellent choice as a tactical flashlight your bug out bag list.
The PD35 TAC utilizes a super powerful Cree XP-L LED which pumps out up to 1000 lumens and has a stated operational life of up to 50,000 hours.
In terms of construction, the PD35 TAC is built within an anodized aluminum body and toughened glass lens and has been designed to remain resistant to extreme conditions with IPX-8 standard waterproofing (around 6 feet of water immersion for up to 30 minutes).
LED Keychain Light
Build a pocket or keychain LED into your bug out bag list as a redundancy you can fall back on at a pinch or if your primary light source fails or is inaccessible.
When you need to grab a flashlight quickly and your primary tactical is out of reach, a powerful keychain alternative like the Streamlight 73001 Nano Light can be a lighting lifesaver.
With a clip for attaching directly to a zipper, belt loop or attachment point on your bag, the 73001 Nano Light measures in at a handy 1.47 inches in length and features a high intensity, shockproof white LED with a 100,000 hour life.
The Nano Light is so small that if your weight restrictions allow it, consider picking up a couple and locating them tactically on you person and bag separately for every eventuality.
Solar/Hand Crank NOAA Weather Radio With Cell Phone Charger
When the world is falling apart around you, information is power.
Make sure you stay up to speed with the most crucial developments by packing a radio that can runs off multiple power sources.
If capacity and weight allows, go for a multi function unit that doubles up as a charger and flashlight.
The hand crank and solar operated radio, flashlight and cell phone charger from Horizons Tec offers a lot of features for the money and provides multiple levels of power redundancy so you can operate it whatever the scenario and time of day or weather conditions.
A multi-band tuner with NOAA/AM/FM coverage ensures that you’ll be able to stay on top of the most critical information regarding, weather and disaster alerts in the area.
The unit also features a bright 3 LED flashlight which is ale to outpt 20 minutes of light from a minute or so of turning the hand crank.
Tools + Equipment
Foldable Entrenching Tool
If you can make the room for it in your kit, a tactical or military grade entrenching tool becomes a worthy ally for any bug out bag.
A foldable entrenching tool allows you to dig and prepare parts of a camp or shelter area if you’re likely to be in the wilderness for 72 hours or longer and many higher quality tools also incorporate a serrated edge on shovel head for sawing.
Weight is definitely a consideration here, so evaluate the cost to benefit of carrying an E-Tool if you’re bugging out solo. If there are more than one of you evacuating, one option is to distribute your carrying weight with another member of your party.
Our Pick: Gerber E-Tool with Serrated Edge
The Gerber E-Tool is a durable and lightweight folding shovel that also incorporates a serated edge on half of the blade to maximize digging efficiency and to allow you to saw through various low impact obstacles such as plants and undergrowth.
Measuring in at around 9.37 inches when closed and weighing just over 2 pounds, the Gerber E-Tool is compact enough to fit into your bug out bag when you’re on the move and is quick and easy to put to use as soon as needed.
An essential addition to any bug out bag list is a well featured multi-tool.
In a space for benefit trade-off, a high quality multi-tool is an invaluable piece of kit, offering everything from file to bottle and can opener, knife, saw, pliers and wire cutters – your get out of jail free card if you find yourself in a fix.
Our Pick: Leatherman Wave Multi-Tool
It’s widely accepted that Leatherman probably represent the crème de la crème of multi tools and the Wave is the go-to model in the range if you’re looking for a tool that will get it all done.
The Wave features 17 individual tools ranging from pliers and wire cutters to knives, files, scisscors and screwdrivers – basically everything you’re likely to need when it comes to solving a problem.
The ability to operate one handed as well as locking every feature and blade when extended means that you can get to the best tool for the job quickly and safely when you need them most.
A high quality survival knife is an invaluable asset in a survival situation and as such should be included in your bug out bag when possible.
When it comes to choosing a high quality knife for your kit, there are a couple of options and considerations to be made in choosing something suitable.
In terms of features, a multi-bladed penknife such as a Swiss Army style tool is certainly a useful to any grab bag. However if you’re only able to carry one knife, go for something stronger and more substantial, as a general purpose blade will allow you to carry out any likely jobs such as food preparation and cutting trees and other tasks comfortably and effectively.
Hollow handled knives containing a recess for additional equipment and sometimes a built in compass are available, however these may not be as durable as a solid handled knife.
Choosing a decent survival knife is a highly personal task with different blades and handles suiting individuals uniquely. Due to this, there are a lot of high quality survival knives out there, all of which could likely make the cut (no pun intended) for a spot on your bug out list.
That said, if you don’t know where to start looking when it comes to picking the best survival knife for your bug out bag, consider the Fallkniven F1 as an excellent all-round option.
There’s a reason that the F1 is standard issue in the Swedish Air Force and the build quality of this knife is as striking as the design which not only looks good, but makes it compact enough to work perfectly as a component of a comprehensive EDC kit or bug out bag.
With a laminated VG-10 stainless steel blade and thermorun elastomer handle, the Fallkniven F1 is the knife you’ll want by your side should you need one.
Paracord Survival Kit
There’s no doubt about it, paracord is one of those essential parts of any survival packing inventory that is hard to beat when it comes to useful equipment to have on hand.
Adding a length of high quality paracord to your bug out bag list will ensure that you have cordage to hand when you need it most for securing and tying in the field.
One of the very best ways to carry a good length of paracord with you during an emergency situation is to invest in a paracord survival kit that combines a length of paracord as a shell around an essential selection of survival kit.
When you need it, simply unwrap the cord (then ready for use) and you’ll have access to a wide range of the most essential tools and survival equipment to get you out of a fix.
Most paracord survival kits are designed with some kind of carabiner or loop for attaching to a belt or the exterior of your bag meaning it has minimal impact on your overall carrying capacity.
Our Pick: ParaTactical Survival Grenade
The ParaTactical Survival Grenade is one of those pieces of kit that has to be seen to be believed. Quite literally containing almost all of the basic essentials you need to survive in an absolute emergency.
If your bug out bag goes AWOL or needs to be ditched, if nothing else, make sure you keep this beauty on your person and you’ll be glad you did.
Effectively a pocket sized, self-contained 53 piece survival kit within a length of high quality 550 Paracord, the Survival Grenade contains the following and more: an LED light, Pocket Knife (File, Scissors, Pick, Tweezers) Fire Starting Rod, Striker, 30′ Fishing Line, Fish Hooks, Needle & Thread, Bobby Pins, Safety Pins, Band Aids, Razor Blade, a Compass, Aluminum Foil, Wire Saw, Water Purification Tablets, Whistle Buckle, Split Rings, Electrical Tape, Wire, Can/Bottle Opener, Fire Starter Taband a Signalling Mirror.
That’s a lot of kit within a 7.8 ounce shell which can easily be stowed in an outer pocket or on a belt loop, making it an invaluable addition to your bug out list.
Weatherproof Notepad and Pen
The ability to keep written notes in all weather conditions can be crucial during emergency and survival situations – there may be only one chance to take in invaluable information when bugging out so make sure you don’t miss any of the details.
While carrying a regular pen or pencil and paper is better than nothing, if possible, try to ensure you have access to a method of writing that isn’t affected by inclement weather conditions, that way you’ll be able to get down everything you need, even when the heavens are opening up around you.
Also, keeping a survival log to record all events can be an invaluable resource and can help in maintaining morale when you’re bugging out.
Your Complete Bug Out Bag Checklist
- Tactical Bug Out Backpack
- Hydration Bladder
- Purified Water Pouches
- Water Filtration Bottle
- Water Purification Tablets
- Lightweight Sleeping Mat
- Survival Sleeping Bag
- Mylar Survival Blanket
- Wise Foods Company Favorites 72 Hour Cook-in-Pouch Meal Kit
- Energy Bars
- Eating Multi-Tool
- Military Grade Can Opener
- Portable Camping Stove
- Waterproof Pouches
- Waterproof Matches
- All Weather Lighter
- Fire Steel
- WetFire Tinder
- Emergency Fire Starter Kit
- First Aid Kit
- Hand Sanitizer
- Toilet Paper
- Toothbrush & Toothpaste
- Personal Hygiene Supplies
- Tactical Flashlight
- Glow Sticks
- Keychain LED
- Foldable Entrenching Tool
- Survival Knife
- All Weather Notebook
- All Weather Pen
- Parachute Cord
Prepare. Survive. Thrive.
When it comes to preparedness, we reference as many expert sources and real world user reviews as possible when looking to provide the most relevant and educational information in our guides.
Creating the best bug out bag for yourself or your loved ones is a highly personal activity with individual needs and preferences sometimes varying considerably between people, locations and uses.
With these considerations in mind, this guide looks to provide advice on our own top configurations of bags, however it’s always important to carry out your own due diligence to find the best solution for you when putting together your own bug out kit.