15 Bug Out Bag Mistakes to Avoid Like the Plague

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Virtually every prepper has a bug-out bag, a BOB, that great, big backpack or rucksack that holds all of the survival goodies you will need to weather the storm when a disaster sends you fleeing into the wild blue yonder.

If you don’t have a BOB, I hope you put yours together soon, and at any rate I know you have at least heard the term repeated seemingly ad nauseam all over the Internet wherever survival and prepper-centric information is found.

That’s for a good reason, as a bug-out bag is one of the most vital pieces of survival kit any prepper can have, and will broadly prepare you for a variety of survival situations so long as you can access it. If your house gets wrecked, grab your BOB. If you have to take off into the wilderness, grab your BOB.

If you’re throwing your family and your dog in the car to head off to your bug-out location and wait for this whole thing to blow over, grab your BOB. It should be the very first thing you collect after you grab your family when things are turning for the worst.

Because the bug out bag is so important, you want to make sure you have it, and yourself squared away when it comes time to carry it, pack it and use it.

Any survival writer could go on for days at a time about what you should do when it comes time to choose and pack your bag.

I’m going to take a slightly different approach, and tell you about all the things you should definitely avoid doing when getting your BOB sorted.

The Principles Stay the Same

As I alluded to in the opening above, you can ask 10 different people what the best way to pack a BOB is, which pack is the best, which material makes the best BOB and so on and so forth and you will likely get 10 different answers.

If you ask knowledgeable people, you might get 10 different good answers!

You probably heard the old saying a million times by now that “there is more than one way to skin a cat”. It is true, some ways are better than others, and some ways are just frustratingly terrible.

One thing that can help you choose between a field of seemingly acceptable options, or even good options, to be the best, most efficient you can be at any given task is to stop and consider the principles of it: what is most essential, what is most truthful and applicable to the situation or task at hand?

What would be the principal of the idiom above, skinning the cat? No matter what approach you take to skinning a cat, the way to begin is always with a sharp knife. Starting to make more sense now?

I don’t hate kitties and I don’t think you do either, but we should apply that same insight to everything we do when it comes to choosing and packing our bug-out bags.

No matter what kind of backpack you prefer, no matter the type of suspension, no matter what kind of material it is made of, how much or how little you are hauling in it there are some principles you don’t want to vary on; they are universally applicable and helpful except in very rare situations.

Now, if you are one of those people living in or dealing with one of those rare situations, please don’t make that point your particular hill to die on.

I would expect you to always act using your own good sense after carefully assessing your needs. You should never listen to anyone on the internet blindly, including your dear old author here.

15 BOB Mistakes to Avoid like the Plague

1. Too Heavy

Weight is the eternal enemy of the bug-out bag and the prepper who must carry it, potentially, on their backs across uneven and unforgiving terrain.

When you consider how much gear, how many items, and how much provisioning you will have to stuff into your bug-out bag, it is a small wonder that the weight skyrockets.

Most preppers I know have bug out bags weighing well in excess of 25 lb, and a 50 lb. bug-out bag or even more is not out of the question.

I will assume you are at least in average condition and able to handle that much weight, but even if you are very fit and able to carry it rapidly over long distances there is no escaping the calculus of the event.

More weight means greater fatigue, and the faster you fatigue, the more likely you are to become injured.

All things being equal, you will never be able to move a heavy BOB as far, as fast as a lighter one without spending drastically more energy to do so.

If you have heard it once, you have heard it a hundred times: Ounces make pounds, and pounds make pain. You must justify every single gram of weight you pack into your BOB against your plan, your anticipated survival situation and potential threats.

2. Failing to Test or Practice with Pack

I cannot tell you how many preppers I know that have a bug out bag that looks nearly as fresh as the day they bought it, packed near to bursting with all the goodies they think they will need, but they have never even gone for a pleasure hike with that particular pack, to say nothing of hiking with that particular pack loaded with their actual survival kit.

I know I would be asking them for the sun, the moon and the stars if I were to ask them to use their actual BOB with actual kit and actually hike the on-foot route that they plan to take when the SHTF…

You seasoned preppers probably have your head in your hands right now just thinking about that, while you greenhorns might not think it is any big deal.

After all, when the sirens go off, it is just time to grab your bag and run, right? Yes, but it isn’t that simple.

You must be intimately familiar with the equipment you are going to depend on in a life-or-death situation, and that includes your BOB. Failing to get acquainted with it under real-world conditions and significant physical stress could be disastrous.

Without working out with the pack, you won’t know if the stitching and the material can hold up while being jostled around under load.

You won’t know if you can hold up while you are carrying it, or the straps dig into your collarbone painfully, or the suspension and waist belt just plain suck.

The result of all of this failure-to-verify is that you could end up in a lot of pain with suboptimal equipment. That is the last thing you want to be dealing with when the time comes to bug out.

3. Poor Fit

This may come as a shock to you, but everyone has their own unique body proportions and shape. What fits and works with my body may not work with yours.

You certainly wouldn’t expect someone else’s shoes or clothing to fit you, why would you expect their pack to?

While backpack manufacturers go out of their way to make their packs as adjustable as possible, and there is a pack for everyone, the fact remains you will encounter backpacks that are not suitable for bug-out bag use for you because they fit poorly.

This could be the result of bad luck, a design flaw, or just poor adjustment of straps, belt, pads, frame and so forth. If your pack does not fit right, a few things are going to happen to you.

First, no matter how well you pack the load on the inside, it is not going to ride as efficiently and as balanced as it could if the pack fit your body correctly. Second, poor fit is a fast track to getting chafing, hot spots and blisters.

It is vital that your pack fit as close to your body as possible while keeping the load centered and stopping it from pitching out away from your body in any direction.

You can overcome some issues by packing the contents of your backpack a certain way to counteract those forces, but there was only so much you can do to overcome a bad fit.

4. Buying a Poor Quality Pack

Buying a cheap, poor quality pack is the epitome of false economy. No matter how much you think you save over buying the genuine article that is made to a standard ensuring it will survive hard use, your Bargain Basement or knockoff pack will not even be able to do the thing you bought it to do.

What is your return on investment in that situation? I’ll save you having to fish out your calculator app; it ain’t good.

Cheaply made packs use inferior materials all the way around, and usually have shoddy quality control processes to boot. You can expect the nylon or canvas to be weak and easily frayed, and stitching to be performed with inferior thread and not done to spec if you want strength you can depend on under load.

This will result in blowouts, spilling your goodies all over the trail or the pavement, broken straps, jammed or busted zippers and countless other annoyances and failures great and small.

And don’t convince yourself you can get away with buying a crappy pack just because you are carrying a light load: the situation you will find yourself in will be hard on you and your equipment alike.

All it will take is one good shock or jolt to start popping stitches on your straps. Snagging the pack on a branch or sharp protrusion will either tear it open, or pop off a strap or a pouch. Don’t risk it!

5. Poorly Chosen Frame

Among the backpacks that are suitable for BOB use, they can be had with all kinds of frame styles: you can have a hard fixed frame, an internal flexible frame, soft frames or no frame.

Each of these design choices has pros and cons, and each has its own adherents and detractors. Which one you should choose is a matter of knowing yourself, knowing your objective and how much you have to carry.

Generally, packs with rigid fixed frames are bulkier, but work a heck of a lot better if you are carrying a ton of weight.

Soft, frameless packs (of the type that we are all familiar with as the common backpack or bookbag) are flexible, easier to load, and easier to manage all around, but they will seriously start to struggle when loaded heavily and will often let the load shift more compared to a pack with a frame.

Whichever one fits your needs best, the point is that you should avoid settling for the opposite number, and only buy one after determining what your needs are and which system will fulfill them best.

Don’t get one of the other just because the sales guy said it’s best or some survivalist that you admire uses one.

If neither one of them has objectives that look anything like your own, you might be better off going with a different system. Do your homework, and then choose a frame style for your BOB.

6. Inappropriate Color Selection

This is another pet peeve of mine that will send me into a rant. You should pay attention to the color and style of your BOB. Yes, you. No matter where you live or what you do.

Just because the balloon has gone up and people are freaking out at the situation does not mean that you should skimp on the details, because those details might matter.

What specifically am I referring to when I mentioned style and color? I want you to choose a pack (or outfit one) in such a way that it belongs in the environment you are in or we’ll be moving through.

If you live in the city, a big, bulky military-style rucksack that is camouflaged will stick out like a sore thumb and attract attention you don’t need. A colorful, pedestrian-looking civilian hiking pack on the other hand, not so much.

Essentially, if you need to blend into a suburban or urban area a colorful pack is your best bet since it will draw the least attention from nosy or unduly interested people. If you are in a wilderness area and do not want to be seen, camouflage would be a smart choice.

Obviously, there are exceptions to both of these. You might want to keep a very low profile in urban areas in which case a drab color will help you avoid detection.

Similarly, if rescue is on your mind in a nature setting, a day-glow bright orange or green color will help you be spotted from afar.

7. Exterior Attachment of Gear

I’m not entirely sure why people commit this next mistake, but it seems to be fairly prevalent. I’m referring to the external attachment of gear to the outside of your backpack.

Excusing the very lightest items that will not rattle or otherwise unbalanced you, external gear attachment sucks. It is not an efficient way to carry a load, and it does not protect your gear from the elements.

The people that do this seem to fall further and further under the sway this sickness as time goes on, adding more and more hangers, clips, cords and other attachment systems until they have the outside of their pact festooned with gear like Samwise Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings: all cookware and bedrolls and whatnot.

You can make the case for adding a couple of small pouches to the outside for lightweight gear that is easily secured and that you need to access without opening up the main pack.

This is of course assuming your pack lacks an admin pouch for that specific purpose. Letting most gear dangle off the outside of your pack attached in a haphazard way is almost always a bad strategy. Don’t do it!

8. Haphazard Backing and Balancing

You should practice packing your BOB. I don’t mean you should practice packing it so you can get ready to leave in a hurry, because your BOB should be packed and waiting on you in case of an emergency.

I mean to say you should practice packing it so you can ensure it remains balanced, the load inside the pack will not shift and the items are generally protected while inside the BOB.

This is a skill, and it takes practice to master.

And master it you should, because the alternative is to pack in a slapdash and inefficient manner that will do nothing except to waste space and make it harder for you to access the gear you need in a logical and consistent manner when the time comes to open up the BOB.

If you’re packing system is so screwed up that you own a 3,500 cubic inch capacity pack but you have 500 or even more wasted cubic inches of space because of sloppy gear configuration, you are being inefficient.

Everything in your BOB should have a place, and should go in that place every time you pack it. Just because it fits all nice and tidy and looks good does not mean it is just good to go.

You have to don the pack, wear it and then wear it under movement to ensure the load does not shift and remains balanced. It is foolish to put so much time and effort into assembling the right loadout, choosing the right backpack, and end up dumping everything into it so it looks like one of your wife’s old Tupperware containers full of knick knacks.

9. Careless Stowage of Sharp Edges or Corners, Liquids

This is yet another pet peeve mistake that really grinds my gears. Quite a few preppers, including your intrepid author here at one point in the past, place a little bit too much confidence in cheap water bottles and shoddy knife sheaths alike.

Placing either of the two inside your BOB should not be done lightly, and only with the confidence and the know-how that items in question will not inadvertently damage your BOB or other contents.

It is imperative that you know how to pack them to ensure that does not happen.

The troublemaker item in question might be a camp axe, a hatchet or just your trusty bush knife, but anything that goes inside your BOB that has either a sharp corner or a cutting-edge must be absolutely secured by its sheath or cover.

I’ve seen it happen time and time again: the load gets jostled around or something acts upon the sheath securing the blade which then comes free, or exposes part of the blade to start sawing and cutting through the material of the pack itself.

This is a malfunction you can ill-afford when lives are on the line during an SHTF event.

Also, anything that is liquid that is going inside your pack, be it water bottles, canteens, electrolyte replacement drink containers, fuel bottles or anything else must be an extremely durable container in and of itself, or it must be placed inside something that will not allow it to be crushed under any conditions.

For any reusable container you must also ensure that the cap foreclosure cannot be inadvertently backed off of its threads or popped open. Neglect to do this at your own risk. Ask me how I know…

10. Not Modular for Easy Access

A modular BOB is one where the contents are compartmented in smaller bags or pouches inside the main pack that are detachable.

For instance, you can have a medical module in the form of a first aid kit pouch, a food module with all your calorie options stored inside, and a navigation module that holds your maps, compass, GPS etc.

Aside from helping you keep everything accounted for while packing, unpacking and repacking, and let you grab everything you need with much less movement.

Rummaging through your BOB trying to track down a couple of things you need is not ideal, even when you’re not in a rush. The more you rummage, the more you disrupt, and the mixture inside your BOB gets worse and worse.

Furthermore, compartmenting your gear by using the modular approach makes it much easier to keep everything locked down inside the BOB.

While you will lose a few cubic inches of space, accounted for by your “sub-load” containers, the benefits make it well worth considering.

Additionally, if you need to hand off specific gear to a member of your group or a family member this facilitates that and gives them a container they can put everything back in before returning it to you.

Without it, they’ll have to stuff it in their pockets or in their pack. You don’t have to go all-in on the modular concept to get the benefits of it

Some items just belong together and should stay together, and you can take a sort of half-on, half-off approach with modularity to good success.

11. Not Packed at All

This is really a cardinal sin of having a BOB. I don’t know what kind of disaster a person thinks they will be facing where they can hear about it, have 12 hours, a day, a week or a couple of weeks to plan, get everything together at a leisurely rate, and then set off for the mountains with their walking stick like they are off on a pleasure hike or something.

If you are lucky you will have an hour, tops when the balloon goes up before you need to get out the door to safety.

Having a BOB and keeping it empty with the intention that you will fill it once you have made the decision to hit the road is foolhardy. It is like having a fire extinguisher you have to charge before you can then pull the pin and use it.

Speed counts in these situations. “Time is life” is a saying you will hear over and over again from people who have been there and done that. You can never have enough, and for that reason you don’t want to squander it packing your BOB.

Your BOB should be treated like a parachute. When you need it, you need it ready to go as soon as you pull that cord.

The more fiddling, fussing and searching you have to do before packing it is only going to waste time and stress you out in a situation when you can afford neither.

Get a BOB, get the things you want to carry in it, then pack it and repack it and test it until you are sure it is correct. Keep it packed and keep it in a place where you can access it at a moment’s notice.

12. BOB is Noisy

Yet another symptom of poor load planning and packing or the complete absence thereof. This is also the hallmark characteristic of the person we talked about above who likes to attach gear to the outside of their pack like a bunch of barnacles.

You do not want a noisy BOB, and you should take whatever pains and however much time is necessary to silence it, or at least nearly so, preventing rattles, squeaks, clangs and bangs.

Why? What’s the point? That much is simple: if you can hear all of that racket, other people can too, specifically people that you do not want to find you while you’re in the middle of a survival situation.

You will definitely be able to count on the worst elements of humanity doing what they do best during any major crisis. Anytime law enforcement and first-responders are busy with other problems, the roaches come out.

Furthermore, all that ruckus emanating from your pack right behind you, riding on your back, serves as a sort of auditory white noise that can prevent you from hearing vital sound cues- the engines in the distance, a scream or a gun being readied in the bushes.

You want every advantage that your senses can provide for you at all times. Failing to quiet your BOB down simply because you don’t think it is that important is stupid.

Take the time to go through it, and use whatever padding and securing methods you must to kill the noise. Otherwise that noise might get you killed.

13. No Waterproofing

Water-resistant does not mean waterproof. Not even close. Most nylon and canvas materials that are commonly used to make packs will be marketed as water-resistant. You need something that is waterproof to protect your pack and, more importantly, what it carries.

We can assume you’ll be carrying things like electronics, food, clothes and other things that don’t need to get wet, or else they will start to degrade or even be destroyed. Not for nothing, a wet pack holding wet contents gets a whole, whole lot heavier in no time at all.

You can prevent this unhappy three-way pileup of misery by ensuring that your pack is waterproof. There are a couple of ways to go about this. The first way, and oftentimes the most expensive, is the purchase a pack that is inherently waterproof.

The second way is to make use of a dry bag or dry sack to compartment your items inside your pack and keep them safe while your pack itself hopefully sheds the water.

The next way is to make use of a rainfly, a cover that is completely waterproof and often reversible with a brightly-colored signaling side and a camouflage side for concealment that has an elastic band allowing you to cinch it over the pack.

Lastly, you can treat your pack with any variety of over-the-counter or DIY waterproofing solutions. Beeswax is probably what your grandfather used, but this stuff degrades quickly, and requires regular reapplication.

There are all kinds of solutions out there for this problem, but you’ll need to do a little bit of research and see which one works for you. All that matters in the end is that you keep the water out of your pack and off of the items within!

14. Tough to Don / Doff

Your BOB should not be terribly difficult to put on, and get situated or to unlimber and take off.

This is typically a failure to set up the straps, suspension and waist belt correctly, and is also sometimes a symptom that the pack is just way too heavy.

No matter why you are struggling to get your BOB on or take it off you need to sort that out.

And not just for reasons of comfort, either! There are a few entirely practical reasons why you might need to ditch it or don it in a hurry. One is that you fall into a river, lake or other body of water, and need to bail out of the pack with a quickness so you do not drown.

Ultimately, you might become entangled by some obstacle and need to shuck out of the pack to free yourself.

Conversely, if your pack is too difficult to put on, you will struggle to do it when seconds count.

If you need to break camp and leave immediately, wasting 30 or 60 seconds shucking and jiving to get your pack just so on your shoulders, the sternum strap fastened and the waist belt buckled is time you should have better spent on making tracks.

Your pack does not have to be light as a feather, and indeed probably will not be, but it should not be a bear to get out of, or as difficult to put on as a diving suit on a rattlesnake.

15. Carrying Too Much Water

“What?! How can you say that, Tim? Don’t you know how important water is in a survival situation?!” Oh boy, there was definitely a reason why I saved this one for last and it is for that reaction I just described above!

When you tell a prepper that they are carrying too much water they will often look at you like you have a horn growing out of the middle of your forehead. Literally, like you just stepped out of some alternate dimension.

Water is so precious, so vital to a survival situation that it seems incomprehensible anyone could tell you you are carrying too much.

But, nonetheless, it is absolutely true. This is almost always indicative of a lack of confidence, a lack of skill, or lack of necessary equipment for procuring water from found sources while you are in the field bugging out. That is the issue.

The symptom of that issue is that people carry way too much water which is a problem because water is so daggone heavy! Water typically weighs about 8 ½ pounds per gallon, dependent upon temperature of course, not including its container.

If you carry a three-day supply of water for a single adult that will be exerting themselves you are talking about 25 pounds of water at the least!

That is an insane amount of weight for a single resource, no matter how important it is.

For this reason, it is essential that you educate and equip yourself for both finding and safely processing found water supplies in order to refill your containers while in the field and move on.

If you don’t know which natural water sources are the best potential sources of safe water, and if you don’t know how to use a water filter, boiling, distillation and other purification methods to render it safe, you need to hit the books and learn how so you can drop some of that H2O weight.

Conclusion

The bug out bag is a survival mainstay, and should be a central part of your survival equipment plan. While the benefits of the magnificent BOB are many, you can set yourself up for failure and disaster if you don’t avoid some common pitfalls that are easy to make.

No matter what kind of BOB you have, and no matter what kind of load you are hauling, you can improve your efficiency by taking care of the issues above.

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  1. Great article! I was wondering if your follow up article to this could explain and define caching supplies and the different forms of caches needed to use in a bug out or more commonly, as insurance against seizure of your supplies by hungry neighbors, raiders, confiscation by stressed local bureaucrats, etc.? My guess is that most of the readers are like me: older, a little out of shape, with more money than vitality but a keen interest in survival. Hence, my personal interest in caches to re-supply enroute instead of humping a heavy ruck the entire way. Thanks again for the great article!

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