The bug-out bag is a central fixture in prepping, central enough to the point where entire survival strategies revolve around what a BOB and its contents prepare you to do.
Everyone has their own ideas and their own wants for the BOB and this is a critically important and just as an important personal piece of kit.
Preppers spend an inordinate amount of time researching what makes for the “best” BOB, but the answer is usually not so cut and dry.
What goes in my BOB and what I’m depending on my BOB for may very well look entirely different from what you need or your friends need out of theirs.
I might even be relying on an entirely different pack! It could be smaller or larger, heavy-duty and durable, or ultralight and lean.
This is one category concerning BOB setup that most people gloss over; the choice of the BOB itself.
A bug-out bag should be chosen for legitimate reasons, and for most preppers it seems that the most important characteristic is capacity.
The more stuff they can carry, the better! And while it is true that capacity is important you might be sacrificing in other areas if you are obsessed with a single-minded pursuit of the biggest load possible.
As it turns out, chosen well, your BOB can do more for you than just haul your stuff from place to place.
In this article, I will make my recommendation for a BOB for likely have not considered before.
BOB Requirements for Any Environment
BOB requirements change in different environments, but they also stay the same. Oxymoronic? Not at all.
Any BOB you choose for any environment has a singular purpose and that purpose is to help you get away from trouble and sustain you until you get there.
That being said, what everybody needs from the BOB itself, the pack as a system, is likely to be a little different. It is this latter context that can make choosing the right BOB challenging.
The reason why is fairly simple to comprehend once you think about it a little bit. The terrain you are moving through while bugging out has a big impact on your mobility, and depending on where you are a huge, bulky pack might be a major detriment.
Consider the quintessential comparison of rural and urban terrain. Though the denizens of cities are likely to think otherwise, cities are not the center of the universe and they aren’t even “most” places. Said another way, they are not typical.
Dense urban areas and built-up metro zones make up only a tiny fraction of the land area in the United States, and even a tiny fraction of settled areas in total.
This makes legitimate urban environments a comparative rarity. Urban terrain itself reveals additional challenges compared to the woods, the desert, or just less dense suburban fill-in.
But woodland terrain is not necessarily any easier to move through: grasping branches, dips and rises covered with briars, and more all make movement difficult, and present many snag hazards for the unwary.
I am of the opinion that many preppers have the notion that woodland terrain is just “plains with trees” and this is most often not the case!
For those who have never attempted it, believe me when I say that carrying a BOB worth the name is never easy, and carrying across any terrain beside a soccer field or paved parking lot gets drastically more difficult.
In the following sections I’m going to make my recommendation for a “sleeper” bug-out bag you have probably never considered and then we’re going to unpack the specific considerations that informed that choice.
Bottom line upfront: My choice for a versatile bug-out bag is a large sling pack, preferably one in a bright and unassuming color and completely unadorned by anything that might identify it as military or “tactical” in nature.
Why a sling pack? Why would I choose a pack that gives up a lot in terms of maximum comfortable load-bearing capacity and, seemingly, stability compared to a traditional two-strap backpack or a hiking pack complete with a waist belt?
Let us read on together and I will explain my reasoning based on the specific considerations of what a legit bug-out might look like.
Many Terrain Profiles are Dense
Expanding on my assertion above, many places you could go during a bug-out are not level, wide-open fields that are easy to move through.
Many will be just the opposite! Crowded man-made warrens of concrete or overgrown natural thoroughfares, either will present serious challenges to movement even unladen.
Urban terrain in particular not like any natural terrain on Earth. To say that it is dense is an understatement.
Aside from being clogged with people, which we will get to in a minute, urban terrain presents many challenges for movement, not the least of which is that your major thoroughfares are generally straight, level, and easy to navigate so long as traffic is still moving.
When traffic stops, they become tightly crammed and nearly impassable routes that you’ll have to pick your way through carefully… and slowly.
Trying to pick your way through a “pristine” natural environment is often just as difficult, even more so, as “pristine” usually equates to chaotic, as is so often the case with nature left to its own devices.
You might spend an inordinate amount of time trying to weasel through dense and sharp vegetation with an oversized pack before giving up and trying to go around.
You might have to go as slow as you must, but remember that time is life in situations like this, and slow is always… slow!
For this reason, a smaller and more maneuverable bug-out bag is a good idea as the chances that you will be able to take advantage of easy avenues of movement are most often going to be limited.
Now more than ever it will be important that your backpack not present a major snag hazard when moving up, over, under, and through the terrain features and obstacles typical of these cluttered environments. Slick and quick will do the trick!
Bulky Packs Draw Unwanted Attention
The most prominent feature of any civilized area actually has nothing to do with the buildings and the giant beehives of concrete that are all around you; it is the people- hundreds, thousands, or millions upon millions of people depending on where you live.
Teeming, thronging, and moving around in a perpetual bustle, and counted among them countless strangers.
It is something of a trope that for all the people in any given city hardly anyone knows that others are even around them, they form more of a background static to an individual’s existence than any kind of meaningful interaction.
The notion that you can truly disappear into this morass of humanity unseen and unnoticed when the SHTF is only partly true; true only if you meet the baseline of what people expect to see in that environment.
This is especially important if other people are on the lookout for anyone or anything that they might profit from, and profit from it by taking it from someone who has it.
Consider the type of luggage that people typically carry in any given environment. You don’t see giant hiking backpacks unless someone is out on or heading to the trail.
You will rarely see massive military rucksacks or packs covered with PALS webbing unless they are carried by uniformed military or police officers.
People in towns and cities carry compact backpacks that are suitable for commuting, courier work, or hauling school books.
They may instead carry some other kind of luggage like a briefcase, tool bag, or purse in a professional setting.
If you choose a giant BOB, especially one with an overtly military appearance, it is going to be an obvious tip-off that you have abnormal purposes.
You want to avoid this kind of attention because the desperate or the criminal might readily try and capitalize on what they suspect you are carrying in an SHTF situation.
It is for this reason that a smaller, non-threatening style like the sling pack or a hybrid messenger bag is ideal.
It will be just one more bag in a sea of many similar bags and less likely to single you out for an “interview” by someone who might want what you have.
A Sling Bag is Easy to Work Out Of
Probably the greatest advantage of the sling bag is that it is easy to work out of, without even setting the pack down or unlimbering it.
The unique, single strap construction of the sling bag makes it very easy to pull the pack from your back around to your front and from there access its contents while still wearing it.
Once you have found the item that you need, you just flip the pack back onto your back and carry on.
It is not quite as convenient as working off of a chest rig or off of the small pouches on a waist belt but it also means you don’t need to do any additional equipment while moving around in a dense environment.
This is one area where careful selection when choosing a sling pack will make all the difference.
Packs that are properly set up for this task will feature exterior admin pouches and main compartments that are as easy to access from the side as they are from the top or front- the orientation of the pack once you pull it around to the front of your body will see it carried sideways, and a smart sling pack will account for this.
This might sound a little strange and even awkward but for those of us who have never worked out of one, it is hard to overstate how useful and how convenient this feature is under certain conditions.
It even allows you to sit down or lay back normally without taking the pack off, a useful security feature when you need to get a little shut-eye or are otherwise distracted.
Overcoming the Shortcomings of the Sling Pack
For all of its advantages, sling packs do have inherent disadvantages, and these are things you need to work to overcome even in environments where they ordinarily excel.
Consider the following commonly voiced complaints about sling packs below and then read my rebuttal.
“Sling packs aren’t stable.”
This complaint does have teeth, though it is somewhat overstated in my experience.
Since a sling pack is typically attached to your body by a single, large, angled strap there is a tendency for the load to sway or skid back and forth along your body as you carry it, especially under movement.
Though this does result in nominally more expenditure of energy, and potentially more frustration on long hauls, this lack of stability is a feature in other circumstances for reasons I described above namely because you can reposition the pack easily while you are wearing it.
You aren’t strapped into the pack! Even while you are moving, if the pack starts to skid all you need to do is gently tug it back into place and then cinch up your strap a little tighter.
You can always use your hand to help anchor the pack if you don’t need it free for some other task.
Also consider that some sling packs feature a built-in (sometimes hidden) secondary strap, commonly called a ‘Y’ or ‘wishbone’ strap that can deploy from the opposite corner at the bottom of the pack, connecting to the main strap over your sternum.
This is a great feature, especially for preppers who are likely to be running heavier than the average user, and goes a long way to easing the load and keeping the pack stable.
“Sling Packs lack capacity compared to standard backpacks.”
You can file this complaint under, “of course they don’t”.
The reason a sling pack typically lacks capacity compared to its competitors is not that they cannot build the packs large enough or tough enough, but rather because the class of pack is not well suited to carrying extremely heavy or large loads typical of other packs.
This may be an issue for you, or it may not.
If you are a graduate of the Kitchen Sink School of BOB Packing, a sling pack will probably always disappoint you.
But if you are of the notion that you should pack your BOB with only the things you are likely to need for the specific environment you will see that a sling pack is more than adequate for survival in most environments.
Urban environments and woodland environments both inherently furnish many more of the things we need to survive as far as shelter is concerned, and that means we can carry fewer and lighter items to maximize what shelter is all around us.
If your bug-out plan involves moving into a transitional or completely barren terrain space, a sling pack might not be for you.
If your plan instead involves repositioning to somewhere else in a city or just moving through the “fringes” of settled areas a sling pack will probably treat you fine and carry plenty of gear.
“Sling packs are hard on your shoulder(s).”
Probably the most common gripe about the sling pack is that they are hard on your shoulders, or rather shoulder considering the strap only runs across one.
This is true, at least compared to a double strap pack, but is proportional to the amount of weight that the pack carries.
As always, hauling a backpack, sometimes known as rucking, is a skill that should be developed, and dawning a backpack when you have not hardened your body to the experience of moving it around cross country is going to become very painful and short-order no matter what you are carrying.
If you have hardened your body to the rigors of carrying a pack, including a sling pack, you will fare much better.
Regardless, there are some things you can do to help prevent one shoulder from getting broken down before it’s time.
Quite a few sling packs on the market are designed with an ambidextrous design that lets you route the main strap over the right shoulder or over the left shoulder.
It takes only seconds to reconfigure such packs for carrying on one side or the other, allowing you to rest the ailing shoulder.
Another option is to simply flip the pack around to your front and carry it up front for a time as this will greatly ease the weight borne by your shoulder.
Setting Up the Sling Pack for Success
Setting up the sling pack for success in an urban environment involves no special considerations beyond packing a bob normally.
You’ll want to situate the load so that the majority of the weight is as close to your body as possible and carried low, near your hips.
You’ll want to pack the contents in such a way that commonly used items or items you anticipate needing more frequently or nearest to the surface of the pack when you open it. Nothing new here.
Compared to many other bug-out bag choices I recommend you make one change when it comes to a sling pack and make it something brightly colored, or even a civilian-acceptable fashionable pattern.
The reason being is that proper camouflage is not commonly seen in many settled environments unless it too is part of a fashionable pattern, i.e. the “mimicry” of designer clothing or ubiquitous deer hunting camo common in rural towns and villages.
Bright and cheery colors or muted sophisticated patterns will actually do more to camouflage you among the mass of humanity found in a populated environment than any improvised or high-end military camo pattern.
Also, consider that should you find yourself in a position or situation where discretion becomes a mandate you can easily camo the pack with paint when you need to or just pop a camo cover over it.
Lastly, it would be in your best interest to equip your sling pack with a few small accessory pouches on the main strap and a modestly sized admin pouch on the main compartment if it does not have one already.
Just like any other survival situation, there will be gear and equipment you will need regularly, and you might not have room or inclination to place these items in your pockets.
Having these tools located where you can reach them instantly while the pack is carried is a boon.
You won’t need to make too many changes to sop in order to find success with the sling pack in urban environments.
Sling packs are an undervalued choice of BOB for most environments, and are often overlooked for their inherent lack of stability and supposed lack of adequate capacity.
But in reality, these perceived flaws are either not flaws at all or a feature in the pack’s favor.
Sling packs can afford preppers an ideal combination of mobility, capacity, and convenience uniquely suited for the challenges and trials inherent with moving around in dense and congested terrain, populated or not.
These unique and unusual packs are typically superior to large hiking packs and military-style rucksacks in built-up environments. Review this article and give them a try to see if it will work for you in the urban jungle.