How to Organize a Bug Out Bag

You may be at the point where you have spent several months, if not entire years, researching different types of bug out bags and the gear to put inside of it.

In your research, you’ve likely come across a great variety of opinions on what the best overall type of bag is and which equipment you should put in it and what you should leave out.

The goal of this article is to bring your exhaustive research to a comfortable end by explaining must have bug out bag features, gear to include, and most importantly, how to organize and pack it appropriately. It’s not difficult to select and put a bug out bag together. The information presented here will make this process as easy as possible for you.


Mobility, accessibility, and weight are the top three things to consider when putting together your bug out bag or get home bag. However, packing and organizing a bug out bag doesn’t need to be intimidating.

In fact, the basic principles of it are different than packing a regular backpack or an EDC bag. When it’s dark or rainy out and you need to access your gear quickly, you can save yourself a lot of aggravation and time by going through your bag in an organized manner.

  • Your bag should be comfortable for you to carry for long periods of time. Practice carrying it fully packed. If you can’t carry your bag for more than twenty or so miles, then you need to do some major downsizing.
  • As a general rule of thumb, your pack should be no more than one-third of your total body weight. For smaller individuals, you may want to stick to a pack that is one-fourth of your weight.
  • There are two forces at work when it comes to bug out bag organization: the containers and the order that you pack your gear into your bag.
  • Containers should be as water tight as possible to help keep your gear safe and dry.
  • When packing your gear, don’t just toss and cram everything into your bag wherever it will fit. You may need to get to this gear quickly later on, this will be easier if you know exactly where everything is located.
  • A well-balanced bag reduces the stress and strain on your back which can be crucial when you are forced to carry the bag for long periods. When packing your gear, you want the center of gravity of the pack very close to your body and just below your shoulders.


The heaviest items and those that you are going to need less frequently are the items that you should pack in first so they are at the bottom of your bug out bag.

  • Examples are things like shelter materials, like tarps and stakes as well as sleeping materials, such as sleeping bags, blankets, cushions, or hammocks.
  • Alternatively, you may want to attach some of these things to the outside of your bug out bag.
  • Some preppers tie their sleeping bag or mat to the bottom of their BOB on the outside rather than stuffing it inside. This is a good strategy for a smaller sized bag.


The core part of the bug out bag is in between the bottom and the top.  It should be packed after your shelter materials and heavier items have been already packed on the bottom

  • In the core of your bug out bag, you should pack your extra clothes, food, cooking stove, and tools such as a hatchet or handsaw.
  • These items are lighter than the previous ones which is why they should go in the core, but more importantly, you’ll need to get to these items more often. Packing them in the middle of your bag makes them easier to access without taking everything out each time you prepare a meal or need to use your tools.


The top part of your bug out bag is the part that you will be packing and organizing last.

  • The items that are on the top of your bug out bags are both the lightest items and the things that you could need quickly and frequently throughout the day. Examples are snacks, fire starting materials, first aid kit, maps, and rope.
  • You shouldn’t have to dig around inside for these items. These are the kinds of things that you need to get to as soon as you unzip the top compartment of the bug out bag.


The overwhelming majority of backpacks that are suitable for bugging out will have side compartments for extra yet smaller gear and are more easily accessible while you’re on the move.

  • These compartments are suitable for carrying water. You know right where your water is and you can easily access it without even having to take off your bug out bag.
  • Side compartments are also suitable for holding some of those light yet critical items such as matches, pen and paper, cell phone, and/or maps.
  • The beauty of side compartments is that they are sometimes dedicated to hold specific kinds of items. There may be a small side compartment that is clearly made to house a smart phone or a water bottle for example.


Now that we’ve learned about the different locations of your bug out bag and which gear goes where, we can talk about organization. The best way to keep things organized is to store them in small containers.

  • Your fire starting materials, first aid kits, some articles of clothing, personal hygiene items, and food should all have their own containers. When you need to treat a wound or start a fire then, all you have to do is pull out the container from the bug out bag before accessing the items you need inside of it.
  • By containers, we aren’t just referring to actual plastic containers with lids that might come to mind. You can also use smaller packs, MOLLE pouches, nylon organizers, Ziploc bags, and stuff bags to keep similar gear organized together.
  • An added benefit to storing your items in separate containers is that it provides an extra layer against water and moisture. Your bug out bag should ideally be waterproof, but you can’t always count on it to resist torrential downpours or even complete immersion in water.
  • If your spare clothes, fire starting materials, or food gets wet and you need those things, you’re in trouble. That’s why it’s comforting to know that there’s an extra layer that’s protecting those items even if water seeps through your bug out bag.
  • You can also label your containers, though it’s not really necessary. Many preppers know what’s inside each container by the color or the type of container.
a green MOLLE backpack
a green MOLLE backpack

Regardless of how many or what types of containers they are great for organizing gear. When you’re under stress, it’s imperative that you know where everything is. That’s why you should avoid simply stuffing everything into your bug out bag randomly.  Who knows, being able to quickly access your gear might even save your life.


When packing your bug out bag, it’s important to avoid making it too heavy for you to carry comfortably. Earlier in this article, we mentioned that your bug out bag should be between one fourth to one third of your total body weight.

If your bug out bag is too heavy (don’t let pride or ego get in the way of your honesty here), it’s best to lighten the load in order to give yourself more mobility.

Fortunately, there are some tactics you can use to reduce the overall weight of your pack:

  • You can stick with the essentials bug out bag items and sacrifice excess items that you don’t need. You can also choose items that are multi-purpose. For example, it would be wiser to have a regular Swiss Army Knife than a separate pocket knife and sets of screwdrivers for example.
  • You can choose to carry lightweight space blankets instead of heavier sleeping bags or a tarp instead of a tent. Any of these will serve your shelter purposes without weighing you down, but keep in mind that tents are way better than tarps to protect you from the elements.
  • Even though the individual pieces of gear will be nearly weightless, when stuffed together it’s easy for your bug out bag to get up to 60 or even 70 pounds. This kind of weight will slow you down, put unnecessary strain on your back and shoulders, and require you to make more frequent stops to rest.


Here are some final tips to make organizing and packing your bug out bag a more efficient process.

  • Leave some extra empty space. Many preppers make the mistake of filling their bug out bags to the maximum. Even if weight wasn’t such an issue, it leaves little to no room in your bag for extra things that you may find along the way that you know you will need.
  • In a survival situation, never pass something by that could be valuable to you. Maybe that item will save your life later on.  Your bug out bag should have some free space that you can use to hold things you find along the way.
  • Avoid packing what you don’t need. Make a list of items before organizing your bug out bag. Then run down that list and take away anything that is not necessary. Keep in mind the more skilled you are at using natural resources, the less gear you will need to carry in your pack.
  • The goal of your bug out bag is to hold essentials to survive, not to carry your entire stockpile. Make your list, run down it, and remove anything you don’t need. Then complete this process again and again until you’re sure that everything that’s unnecessary has been eliminated.
  • Pack duplicates of crucial items. This one may sound contradictory to lightening the load of your bug out bag, but the old saying “two is one and one is none” is valid. It is wise to have duplicates for crucial survival items in the event that one is lost or damaged.
  • Ideally your duplicates should be limited to lighter and essential items such as knives, fire starting materials, water filters, fish hooks, and so on. Duplicates of heavier items such as tarps or blankets will only weigh down your pack.
  • Have your bag ready to go at all times. The whole idea of having your bug out bag organized is so that it’s ready to go on a very short notice. When you don’t have a lot of time to evacuate, you aren’t thinking clearly and there won’t be time to rush around grabbing things you need.
  • Keep your bug out bag(s) in a strategic, easy to get to location. The precious minutes you have to evacuate should actually be spent evacuating, not packing up your bag or trying to dig it out of an attic or other hard to reach location.
  • Last but not least, keep in mind that you’ll organize and re-organize the items in your bag continuously. You’ll never reach perfection but you’ll sure as heck get close to it.


Hopefully you now have the information you need to put your bug out bag together. You never know when you may need it, so keeping your bug out bag organized and ready to go is the best way to keep yourself prepared in that regard.

20 survival items ebook cover
Like what you read?

Then you're gonna love my free PDF, 20 common survival items, 20 uncommon survival uses for each. That's 400 total uses for these dirt-cheap little items!

We will not spam you.

5 thoughts on “How to Organize a Bug Out Bag”

  1. I like using spacebags for things like winter gear and clothing.They can be deflated simply by rolling them up with the valve open…no vacuum necessary. I also color coded much of my containers and bags in case someone else needs to retrieve something out of my BOB. Red for medical, Blue for water filtration/purification, Green for food/snacks, Orange for fire, Yellow for lighting/ communication. Brown for shelter…etc. This way, should I have multiple items on multiple containers, they can be placed in different area of my bag and I still can get to necessary items quickly and easily.

  2. While I was a paratrooper we used the large rucksacks. The guys in the Mechanized Infantry used the medium rucks, because they also had a duffle bag in the armored personnel carrier. Anyway, we all had 2 waterproof bags. One bag held your sleeping gear, the other held your clothing and toiletries. We shoved our wet weather parkas and trousers in the pouches on the outside, where it was easy to get to. It was a very simple system.

  3. Thanks for the advice. Every couple of months I repack month as I learn new packing techniques and as I add items.

    I am also going to put together a 72 hour kit for at home. Similar to the red cross recommended 72 hour kit.

  4. For those ziplock bag containers, it would be a good idea to reinforce the seams with duct tape to help with their longevity and strength. ArtsyPrepper above had good advice about choosing specific colored bags for function. A small wet bag (riverrafting) makes a decent water container if you don’t have time to pre filter before leaving water source.

    Thanks for the post.


Leave a Comment