For many preppers, the bug-out bag is a central piece of equipment for disaster response plans.
When it comes to dealing with a crisis big or small, the bug-out bag can be thought of as a mobile supply room, and just like having a supply room packed full of gear and goods at home, your BOB must be ready for dealing with all occasions and all contingencies.
Most preppers who have been at this lifestyle for any length of time know what they specifically need and what deserves to go in their BOBs, but in my experience, I have noticed more than a few items that are downright critical be omitted or forgotten.
Maybe this will lead to a bad day or maybe not, but I can make a great case for including certain bug-out bag items.
That’s why I’m bringing you a list of 20 critical bug-out bag items that are worth getting ASAP, assuming you don’t have them already.
A Quick Note on Personal Context
Real quick, before we delve into the list proper, I just want to remind readers to always use their common sense when reviewing lists of this type, including mine.
I assert that the items you’re about to read about are eminently useful in a wide variety of survival scenarios and that my personal bug-out bag contains every single one of them, but now as always, your personal context might be different.
Depending on your personal situation and all the variables attendant on your planning some of the items on this list might not be that useful.
If something isn’t truly useful, it is dead weight and dead weight is something to be avoided when packing a bug-out bag.
Reserve the right to make your own call on these items if you know you won’t have cause for a specific capability, or if something else that you are carrying provides an alternative or even equal capability.
A checklist should serve you, not be a master to you! On the other hand, if I present to you a better way to skin the cat, so to speak, don’t be afraid to delete some items from your existing loadout.
All right, that’s enough of that and I trust you all to make smart, informed decisions for yourself. Let us get to the list!
Hands down, pepper spray is one of my favorite self-defense tools. It is one of the only non-lethal self-defense tools that can provide a person with range and repeatable capability.
Contrary to what jacked-up meatheads might tell you, a good application of pepper spray is highly effective at giving the bad guys a strong incentive to leave you alone.
In the unlikely event that they are able and willing to continue their attack, they’ll be starting off at a major disadvantage thanks to excruciating pain, watering eyes and dreadful coughing.
The reason I mention pepper spray on this list is not that most preppers omit weapons from their BOB, they don’t, as most BOBs are incomplete without a firearm of some kind, but instead to give people some measure of effective defensive capability that is between bad language or hand to hand at the low end and the lethal force of firearms or bladed implements at the high end.
If someone is acting sketchy and is demonstrating preattack behaviors, you can soak them with pepper spray and shut them down without risk of inflicting serious or lasting injury.
Instant Coffee / Tea
Food and water are absolutely critical and perennial inclusions in every single bug-out bag.
Every kind of snack, freeze-dried food, and of course water will be among these provisions, but one ubiquitous beverage that’s often forgotten or omitted for misguided reasons that warrant serious inclusion is tea or instant coffee.
Usually considered luxury items and thus scorned by prepping ascetics and hardcore, snake eating types, coffee or tea nonetheless fulfill important survival objectives.
First and foremost, they can give you a little bump of caffeine that can help you to remain alert and energized when fatigue is exerting its awful grip against you.
This might help you go a little farther down the trail or stay awake and ready when you are on watch.
Second, one should not underestimate the morale value, the touch of normalcy, that tea and coffee can provide you and others when at a campsite.
Survival is definitely a mental game, and anything that can give you an edge is a good thing. Instant coffee packets and tea sachets weigh almost nothing, so what do you have to lose?
Sunscreen should be your constant companion when engaged in al kinds of outdoor work and activities.
The remorseless, high-energy UV light from the sun will easily damage skin and can contribute to heatstroke by reducing your body’s ability to cool itself.
Not to mention a severe sunburn is excruciating in the extreme, the last thing you want to deal with in a survival situation! Sunscreen is just the ticket to help prevent this.
Curiously, most folks seem to omit sunscreen from their bug-out bags even though they plan on carrying said bags in outdoor environments.
I can promise you the sun won’t spare you this time around just because you are dealing with a bigger picture problem. You still need to protect yourself from that harmful UV!
A small bottle of high-FPF sunscreen should be a mandatory inclusion in your BOB, and you must make time and allowance for periodically applying it whenever you are exposed to the sun’s rays.
Can liners are nothing more than jumbo-sized, durable trash bags, and though collecting trash for disposal is probably the last thing on your mind in the middle of a survival situation these waste control items are nonetheless versatile, adaptable, and durable, highly suitable as components in various constructions and other improvised items.
For instance, you can cut a few holes in one of these can liners to use it as an impromptu poncho or place one as is over your bug-out bag or other important luggage as a rain cover.
Sliced open down the sides these are just the ticket for creating completely moisture-proof lining material for improving shelters and you can even cut out the bottom of one, tape it to another, and then fill it up with dry leaves, pine needles, crumpled newspaper or other insulating material to create or supplement a sleeping bag.
A small roll of these will provide you plenty of material for any conceivable situation and when required you can always use them as designed for containing all sorts of nasty waste that you would rather not handle.
Probably one of my biggest pet peeves that is actually a legitimate survival consideration, especially in a long-term scenario, is hygiene.
Staying clean is critical, and although you’ll be getting dirty at an alarming rate during most survival situations, it is imperative that you take the time to keep your body clean.
This is for a number of reasons. First off, it is good for your mental state and good for the sanity of people around you.
No one wants to be around a smelly, musky, unwashed body if they have any other choice.
Second, and most importantly, dirty bodies are breeding ground for all kinds of germs, and lowered hygiene protocols are the first step towards pestilence tearing through your group and anyone else that comes into contact with you.
This could be a showstopper on top of everything else you were already dealing with. One easy preventative measure is the use of baby wipes for impromptu wash rag bathing in the field.
Hitting the trouble spots of your body with a few disposable wipes takes only a couple of minutes and goes a long way towards keeping the germs at bay.
Vaseline is a ubiquitous staple in medicine cabinets and bathroom closets all across the nation and has long been a choice for treating dry skin and other aggravating ailments. But Vaseline can do so much more than it is worth including in our bug-out bags.
Vaseline works great for treating dry skin, cracked lips, and other types of irritation, but it also works wonders as a preservative and lubricant in certain situations and even makes a wicked good fire starter when you douse a cotton ball with it.
This stuff, also known by its generic name of petroleum jelly, was heralded as a sort of miracle material when it was first introduced way back when, and it has persisted so long for a reason.
A small pot tossed in your medical kit will take up very little room and weigh almost nothing, so it is definitely worth having!
I don’t know of any smart prepper that doesn’t have a medical kit in their bug-out bag, but unfortunately, I know more than a handful that have a medical kit that does not have any antibiotics inside.
This is a major shortcoming, particularly when dealing with any survival scenario where professional medical intervention will be totally unavailable or rationed due to the scope of the scenario.
We take antibiotics for granted today, cheap and freely available as they are, but it was antibiotics that were mostly responsible for turning what used to be grievous injuries into trivialities.
Even a small wound that becomes infected could have life-threatening consequences, and a raging infection can lead to systemic problems in the body that can make improving your situation almost impossible.
Following the military model of having a “combat pill pack” consisting of pain relievers and potent, wide-spectrum antibiotics is a great choice as a preventative measure when dealing with any injury out in the field. Note that antibiotics do lose potency over time, so you need to stay on top of rotating them.
You probably already have flashlights and headlamps in your BOB, but I’ll bet you have omitted this impressively useful and elegant lighting and signaling tool.
Chemlights, also known as snap lights, are those radioactive-looking glow-in-the-dark light sticks you always see around Halloween, but these are no mere party favors.
A good chemlight can provide useful, soft and absolutely safe near area lighting that is incredibly handy for signaling, marking people or objects or trails, and staying safe around the campsite.
Available in a variety of colors and producing virtually no heat, no toxic by-products and requiring no electricity they are eminently useful, especially when other illumination tools go out or are inappropriate for the task at hand.
They are a great way to provide worry-free soft light when you go to sleep, or for cheering up any children who might be upset under the circumstances.
Zip ties are what I like to call one of those foreheads slapping bug-out bag inclusions that I cannot believe I didn’t think of earlier.
These lightweight, ultra-strong fasteners have obvious utility when creating shelter, strapping down or strapping on gear and even creating improvised tools.
You can throw a bundle of zip ties of various sizes in your pack and forget they are there until you need them, but when you need to make something in a hurry, especially when you were already cold, tired and hungry zip ties can readily get the job done in a hurry and take the place of other skills especially if you aren’t very practiced at not tying and shelter construction.
When you need to attach something to something else or keep something that is moving from moving, you’ll be glad you have a bundle of zip ties handy.
Activated charcoal is a buzzword that is getting thrown around a lot these days when talking about makeup, hygiene items, and other personal care products but it is far from an ingredient included only to separate you from your money.
In fact, activated charcoal can do things for you that few other items can, and I think you’ll want to keep some of it in your BOB just in case.
Activated charcoal functions as an excellent filtration and binding medium, and is often a component in factory-designed water filters for that reason.
You can make use of it in the same way with your field improvised water filters to help purify any natural sources that you come across.
Perhaps more importantly if you have an unfortunate run-in with any poisonous plants or mushrooms or bad food, activated charcoal can be consumed where it will serve to bind toxins in the body before they are distributed through the stomach and intestines.
Though not a cure-all, and ineffective against certain poisons, this is nonetheless a crucial capability for anyone who might be making use of gathered wilderness foods. Learn all you can about this wondrous stuff, and include some in your BOB today!
Supplementing your carried provisions with edibles you can catch or forage is important during a survival situation.
Trying to pick berries and other edible plants is one thing, but you’ll need to be cautious you don’t eat anything toxic.
Some preppers plan on hunting game to stoke the dinner pot but bringing down large and capable game is difficult, laborious and highly skilled work. It may or may not be dependable in a pinch.
On the other hand, you might try trapping. Trapping allows you to “hunt” for game by placing traps that don’t need constant engagement or supervision.
They are what you call victim-activated, and will only need to be checked periodically.
One of the best traps in any category, especially for smaller game, is the snare, and this is where a roll of snare wire can save the day.
Compared to other traps, snares are easy to set and reliable enough to be worthwhile, allowing you to churn out a broad field or run of traps in short order.
Snare wire is flexible enough to activate easily while being strong enough that most critters cannot easily chew or get through it to free themselves. It is also light enough that you can carry quite a length of it easily.
Steel wool makes a regular appearance in workshops and all workbenches around the world but is not something you see too often in a bug-out bag.
That’s a shame because steel wool is another item that provides a big return on weight investment.
Naturally, you can still use steel wool to maintain metal implements and tools by removing rust that can corrode them to uselessness, but it has a clever trick waiting just up its sleeve.
By combining steel wool with a 9-volt battery you can create a fire starter capable of igniting even the most stubborn or damp tinder.
To utilize it in this way, all you’ll need to do is roll up the steel wool into a tube shape before touching either end to the terminals on the battery.
Somewhere in between a glowing hot nearly molten coal will be created and prove more than capable of getting a fire going.
This is a great trick to utilize with a scavenged battery or when all other fire starting methods fail.
Yeah another entirely mundane item with plenty of survival utility, safety pins work great as part of a compact survival kit kept on your body or buried in your BOB as a backup plan.
Safety pins naturally still work wonderfully for a variety of common purposes, namely holding fabric together for stitching or as an improvised repair until such stitching can be accomplished, but they can also do so much more.
Repurposed as a trap component they work wonderfully for catching small game without inflicting deleterious damage and can also be fashioned by the bushel into fishing hooks, trident tips and even specialized arrows.
They also have some utility for leaving messages with people or providing critical information to those who are continuing casualty care by safety pinning information to the clothing of the victim.
Once again, this is an item that takes up basically no space and weighs almost nothing, so a small handful won’t even be noticed among the rest of your load.
Found in tool boxes, junk drawers, and on hobby benches all around the world, cyanoacrylate glue, more commonly known by its colloquial name superglue, is one adhesive that lives up to the honorific.
There are few people that have ever used this stuff who have not had the, ah, experience of sticking a part of their body to another part of their body good and tight. This stuff works!
In fact, it is so good at joining and mending that it works wonderfully for repairing all sorts of things we will depend on the survival situation, from the rubber handles of tools to torn fabric and more.
Believe it or not, and even works well as an improvised liquid stitch for small cuts and punctures.
Although the manufacturer would never recommend it, there is basically no difference between this stuff and the far more expensive liquid stitch that is sold in pharmacies.
Make sure you clean the wound out well and then seal it up so you can get back to business.
For most of us, it is hard to even think up an accurate tally of all of the tools, machines and other metallic items we depend on as part of our survival complement.
But while we depend on these tools, the tools also depend on us for maintenance, and maintenance is one thing that we, sadly, forget about making provision for in our bug-out bags.
If you do nothing else for your tools, keeping them lubricated will do so much towards keeping them free of corrosion and reducing wear.
Considering that you might have to depend on your tools for a long time coming until you come out the other side of a major disaster, you should treat them like the lifelines that they are.
A small bottle of multi-purpose lubricant that is chosen carefully can take care of blades, tools and firearms alike.
Emergency blankets, also known as space blankets, are those silver or gold-colored foil wraps that you see people bundled up in at the sites of accidents and other disasters.
Usually handed out by first responders to help keep people warm and ward off the shock, these aren’t just some cost-saving measure compared to a real, fabric blanket.
Emergency blankets are incredibly effective and incredibly light, making them perfect for our purposes.
These blankets function by reflecting upwards of 90% of the infrared radiation emitted by the human body, heat energy, and heat energy that is otherwise lost to the open air.
By keeping this energy contained near the body and reflecting it back onto the skin and clothing these ingenious devices will keep you piping warm even when it is surprisingly cold outside.
Perfect for supplementing the other shelter supplies in your BOB, they also serve double duty as a reflector that can be hung up behind you while you sit next to a fire, hoping to warm you from both sides and providing a better return on your fuel investment.
We were just talking about the fire in the entry above for emergency blankets, and no survival kit is complete without the capability to make a fire.
Usually, this will take the form of a lighter or matches and some sort of ferro rod or flint and steel arrangement, but there is often a missing component from a well-developed fire starting kit: tinder.
Most preppers know by now that building a proper campfire is a multi-stage affair. Kindling is used to ignite larger pieces of long-lasting fuel, but it is tender that is used to get the fire going and the kindling itself ignited.
Tinder should be compact, dry, easy to light and hot burning.
You can buy purpose-made commercial tinder from any camping store or come up with your own. Some of my favorites are dryer lint, sliced-up rubber inner tube and corn chips!
Far and away one of the most commonly omitted inclusions in a bug-out bag is a set of spare eyewear, be it sun or safety glasses or the ever-critical prescription eyewear.
The old saying that “two is one and one is none” definitely applies to our bug-out preparation, and considering how easy it is to lose most eyewear, not to mention how fragile they are, having a dedicated set of spares makes sense.
Whatever kind of I wear you depend on, make sure your spare set is safely ensconced in a hard-shelled, securely closing container so that they will not get crushed amidst all of the other gear you have in your pack.
It is also worth pointing out that if you depend on contact lenses for vision correction, you might consider a set of prescription glasses as a supplement because they generally require less care.
Alternately, make sure to include a spare set of contacts and everything you need to care for them.
Most of us dab on some bug spray for an afternoon out by the lake or taking care of the lawn during peak season, but there is a world of difference between the amount of biting and stinging insect life you’ll encounter in the deeper parts of the country and knows that persist near civilization where remedial action is constantly implemented.
Although it is true that most blood-sucking and biting insects won’t kill you their persistent predation is enough to drive you absolutely mad.
Probably the best way to prevent being drained dry is heavy-duty, Backcountry bug spray.
Remember what I said above about survival is mostly a mental game? Being eaten alive by insects is going to make it hard to keep your mind right, so throw some bug spray in your bug-out bag!
The final entry on our list is the humble, supremely multi-purpose bandana.
Far from just an apocalypse fashion item, a bandana can be a prepper’s best friend and is useful in so many different situations it is difficult to even now to list them all.
Your bandana can serve as a head covering, a sweatband, a face mask, a neck gaiter, a pot holder, a handkerchief, padding, ground cover, a bindle, an emergency bandage, a signaling device, a first stage filter, a blindfold and much, much more.
Pretty good for a humble piece of fabric! I always keep two spares in my bug-out bag and one in my pocket.
A well-equipped bug-out bag is central to disaster preparedness planning. Make sure your bug-out bag is fully equipped for any conceivable situation by including the items listed above.