Can You Survive Without a Bug Out Bag?

man alone in the woods

BOBs, or bug-out bags, those big packs preppers keep loaded with all manner of vital survival equipment and provision, feature so centrally in prepper doctrine and planning that you’d understandably think them utterly vital to survival. BOBs are important, no doubt about it, but how important are we talking, here?

If a bug out bag is so vital to survival, what happens if you don’t have it when the balloon goes up? Does the loss of a BOB spell certain death in the face of real trouble? And are there any situations where a BOB is not strictly a necessary component of a good, well-rounded readiness plan? It might seem sacrilege to ask, but…

Are BOBs overhyped? Can you survive without one?

I’ll be tackling this most inflammatory of prepping questions in today’s article.

The “Why” of Bug Out Bags

A bug-out bag, chosen with care and loaded smartly after much careful deliberation and analysis, is seen as something of a golden egg in Prepperdom: this one piece of kit contains everything you may need to survive, and just as importantly has it all in a self-contained package that you can tote away with only a moment’s notice, a veritable storeroom, armory and pantry on your back.

Your house can blow away, shed can topple, and bunker can be flooded, but the reasoning goes that so long as you have that BOB, you are going to be okay. The BOB is treated with near reverence as a hedge against true disaster. No matter what happens, so long as the bug out bag is intact, you can flee or stay and survive.

Much of this is true, all things being equal. A seasoned prepper is more than capable of packing nearly everything he or she needs to deal with likely and anticipated threats into a large backpack and in conjunction with their skills can use that equipment to good effect in the middle of nowhere or the ruins of a city to furnish shelter, water, food and security.

All things being equal, a BOB is never a bad idea. A compact and portable source of gear is always good to have no matter your situation. But the efficacy of having a BOB is not what I am talking about today. I am talking about negative outcomes, i.e. losing or being deprived of a BOB, or deliberately planning to go without one.

I get it, the former sounds like a nightmare and the latter unthinkable, but if you will put the keyboard down before you smoke me in the comments and hear my case I think you’ll see I am approaching this from a position of enhancing readiness, not degrading it.

Negative Outcomes – Loss of the Beloved BOB

I am all about BOBs and Go-Bags; I have two of the former and one of the latter packed at all times, and a supplementary, smaller Bag of Doom (a term I like that I saw coined by Greg Ellifritz on his blog) containing just extra ammo, medical supplies and light sources in my vehicle.

I have come to rely on the idea that I can survive out of these “reservoirs” of gear and provision, and having them at the ready for me to draw from should something terrible happen, man-made or natural.

But over-reliance on any piece of equipment can set you up for a nasty shock should something happen to it. In the case of a BOB, for some folks, loss of it might mean crushing fear or panic that they are no well and truly up a creek with no paddle. Imagine it: no food, no way to filter water, no ready-made shelter, change of clothes, medical gear, ammo, tools- nothing, nada, zip, except what you might have in your pockets.

That’s a sobering thought, really downright chilling. But think about it you must because there is always a chance you can lose access to your BOB and its sweet, sweet cache of goodies. Any number of things may happen before or in the wake of a disaster that just plain see you separated from it when things start getting festive. The reason why you don’t have it matter little in the broad scheme of things; what matters is how you are going to deal with it.

You are naïve or crazy if you think a criminal or someone just driven to desperation will not steal your BOB from your vehicle, or right off of your back if they can. Have you considered how you will handle a hold-up if you believe your own safety and the safety of your family is riding in that bag?

Your BOB could be destroyed or rendered lost by the very disaster you packed it for. A flood could sweep it away. A tornado might blow it away. Fires can burn up your house or vehicle and everything in it. Bang. The starting gun has fired and you were simply caught with your pants down. Life sucks that way.

You may simply be away from your bug out bag when things break bad and be overtaken by events. If you are at work and your BOB is at home, across town, or in the next town over, it does not do you much good when things are getting sporty where you happen to be right now.

Should any of the above happen to you, you can of course say, “Welp, I suppose I’ll just lay down and die, all is lost.” Or you might dig in and grit this thing out. Even this can be overcome if you will rely on your first and best tool: your brain.

It took your ancestors going back all the way to the dim times of prehistory an awful lot of suffering, blood, sweat and death to see you equipped with the tools that we all enjoy and take for granted today. Obviously it was not always so, and if our ancestors survived the worst the planet had to throw at them using only primitive technology, you can too if you have the will and the smarts to do it.

Dealing with a Bug Out Bag Loss

You should take the time now to plan, practice and prepare for a disaster or emergency that sees you without a BOB. This is no different than planning for any worst case scenario (this is really a worst case scenario of a worst case scenario, it seems).

How you choose to prepare and thwart this eventuality is up to you, but the smart money is on integrated, holistic, well-rounded readiness, not just more gear stashed here and there like some sort of deranged squirrel.

My prescription for staunching the stomach-churning naked feeling that will result from BOB loss? Start with zero-extra –gear solutions, specifically improvisation, scavenging (or sourcing) and primitive skills.

That naked, helpless feeling you experience when deprived of tools to help you along is definitely a human one, as we humans are only top of the food chain thanks to our big brains and the tools we come up with. Without them, we are woefully ill-equipped to survive the worst of nature’s fury compared to many of the animals we share the planet with.

More than that, that shivering fear is a symptom, and the disease is that you don’t know how to handle yourself without your gear! Luckily the cure is simple, if not easy: start buffing your primitive and austere environment skills.

Knowing you can head into an environment with a knife and little else and then do everything you need to do to survive, even thrive is one hell of an empowering feeling. Once you are seasoned enough to know what’s what when surviving with all your cool gear, take the safety net down and start working those “frontiersman” skills.

You should know how to get a fire going using traditional friction methods, build a shelter from natural materials or from the earth itself, and locate and prepare food indigenous to the area you are in.

None of this will necessarily come easy, and of course all of the above can be achieved many times faster using modern gear, but knowing how to do it all from scratch is a priceless capability that money cannot buy.

Hear me well: these skills suffer no pretenders. A simpleton can stumble off into a quiet niche in the wilderness far from people, set up a tent, stoke a fire with a lighter or matches, and crack open an MRE while he puzzles over a map by lantern light.

Sure, he is doing it, and surviving, but once the gear wears out and the supplies are used up he is finished, akin to a SCUBA diver in the ocean whose air tank has emptied. He must “surface” for resupply or die.

Compare this to a person with serious, comprehensive primitive and austere environment skills. With a blade alone (and not even that, if he can fashion one from rock or other material) he can fully sustain himself in relative comfort using only what the environment furnishes him and what he can craft.

Our bold outdoorsman is more like a creature of the ocean in the above analogy; he needn’t come up for air as the ocean provides his air. Ponder that.

The following sections will offer ideas and procedures that will help you survive and prevail over a situation that sees your BOB lost, stolen or wrecked.

Improvise or Go Without

This is not to say that you have to commit to living strictly off the land, per se: all kinds of man-made materials can be put to good use repurposed as sturdy and effective survival components.

Plastic sheeting makes an excellent wind- and waterproof barrier, and is also useful for insulation, water catchment, and other tasks. Metal can be fashioned into all kinds of cutting tools, fishing lures, reflectors and more.

Rubber burns readily, useful for fire starting but more so in daytime for the billowing black smoke it can produce for signaling. All kinds of things people would consider trash or debris, charitably, can be used alone or together to fashion useful tools.

This type of crafty improvisation is not limited to gadgeteering useful items together from rubble or discarded material; found equipment or the items you are able to salvage from a wrecked BOB can be pressed into service in ways that the designers never intended, MacGyver style.

Common batteries can have their contacts connected via steel wool to create red-hot slag that will easily start a fire. Circuit boards from destroyed phones and other electronics can be broken and honed to produce a serious cutting edge. A roll of duct tape in the hands of a creative person can whip up all kinds of solutions to problems.

All kinds of innocuous things can be turned into stabbing implements with a little time to work on them, usually by whittling, friction, applying heat, or some combination thereof. Adding a little something extra for a handle and you have a weapon, or affix it to a trap to bag dinner.

The point is this: I could spend all day coming up with and listing new and innovative improvised solutions, but what is most important to learn is that everything you need materially and physically is rooted firmly in a principal.

Learning to think of a solution by way of the principal at play is what will separate problem-solving survivors from those dependent on their gear.

You don’t carry a knife- you carry with you a sharpened edge. You don’t bring a tent or bivy to sleep in- you use a shelter to thermoregulate your core. A GPS is not a wayfinder- it is a navigational aid. See where I am going with this? Start thinking about your solutions that way and you’ll be surprised at how much easier creative solutions will come to mind.

First-Line Gear

One concept that we can handily borrow from the military that I find has tremendous value for those who practice a lifestyle of readiness and self-sufficiency is that of first-line gear. Certain sectors of the military broadly classify gear that its members wear into “lines” based on their importance and position on their personnel’s equipment.

In this case, first-line gear is the bare minimum needed and is supposed to be kept on person at all times, usually on the belt and in pockets. Second-line gear in military parlance is the main harness or vest and all equipment that executes the fight, while third-line gear is heavier sustainment gear and other equipment carried in the pack.

Considering first-line gear, if we tune the mission parameters a little bit we can treat our EDC items as the very bare minimum we need to survive. Without delving too deeply into the “why” of personal EDC choices, you could make a very good case here for some survival essentials easily carried on or about your person with very little inconvenience.

For instance, a sturdy, high-quality pocket knife is always worth its weight in a survival situation. A firearm will be a given for many of us and obviously useful on defense but can also be used in a pinch for signaling.

A tiny compass like Suunto’s Clipper can be kept on a watchband. An unobtrusive key fob cylinder with duct tape wrapped is supremely tote-able and useful.

Speaking of tiny but useful implements, a small tin (like the kind that curiously strong mints come in) makes a convenient container for a bare-bones survival kit complete with fire-starting kit, minor first-aid supplies, fishing/trap kit, signal mirror, backup blade, firefly light, mini-tool and much more. Maybe you don’t feel the need to keep such a kit on your person, but how about in your car, or a coat pocket?

With a little forethought, your daily-carry gear can become your well rounded first-line gear, and that means that so long as you make it past the onset of a disaster or survive the initial incident with the clothes on your back you will more prepared than most.

In conjunction with knowledge of improvisation and other techniques we discussed earlier, you can work your way back to your supply point or simply improve your situation where you are.

I have really taken to this concept, especially in this era of terror attacks and isolated outbreaks of high-intensity violence here in the U.S. Having all the things I want or need on my person in such a way that is not obvious, uncomfortable or compromising to my usual attire is a big comfort and cheap insurance.

Caches

The concept of prepper caches can be mildly controversial depending on what you plan to put in the cache and where you plan to site it, but they are one way to hedge against loss of your BOB and other needed supplies.

Caches can take many forms, from the classic “buried treasure” located in an out of the way or unlikely spot to a simple stash of gear in an office locker or self-storage site. The choice of a cache is up to you, but it should be undertaken only after much consideration.

You should address issues like access by considering how a given event may shape your access to the site of your cache. A low lying area will be totally obstructed in the event of flood.

A self-storage site in an urban area could become difficult to impossible to access in the event of significant rioting or police lockdown. You must take things like that in to account while also ensuring, as best as possible, that your cache will not be discovered and raided by miscreants or treasure hunters.

Preventing observation and tracking of your movement to and accessing of the cache should be a priority, especially for any remotely located or hidden point. The allure of uncovering what someone does not want found is a powerful incentive for anyone with a curious bone in their body, and in the case of suburban and suburban caches may lead to thieves targeting it.

The things you keep in your cache should be the same things you keep in your BOB, and perhaps even a duplicate of it entirely. You might also consider storing some additional sustainment provisions like stable food there in case you had to go the looong way around to access your cache.

Think ahead, and stock accordingly. Don’t forget to rotate and perform periodic maintenance checks on items you keep in a cache. This is a major pain if you have buried it.

Your stuff must be stored in a container or in such a way that it will resist the climate at the cache site. Failure to do this will see you presented with rusty, ruined or otherwise spoiled and grubby supplies.

Is a BOB Always Necessary?

Despite the insistence of much of the prepping community, a BOB may not always be a strict necessity depending on your plan and circumstances. If a BOB exists to support us when the time comes to bug-out, what purpose does it serve if there is no plan, even need, to bug-out?

This sounds like heresy of the highest order to plenty of preppers, but hear me out. Does a person who has effectively zero capability to bug-out need a packed bag full of goodies to support that end? I’d argue no. How about a person living on a self-sustaining farm or homestead? Probably not, if it is well sited and otherwise secure. Why would you leave a place that confers so many advantages?

Some folks will simply be taking their chances on bugging-in, staying where they at least have a home field advantage to face whatever comes, and hopefully with the support of friends, family and partners. Keeping your equipment and provision cooped up in a backpack is not the best way to access it when you are staying in place.

Now, this is not to say there is no merit in having a cache of survival and sustainment equipment ready to go at all times. No matter how well prepared or how secure your domicile is, nature still gets a vote; any number of natural disasters (or man-made ones) could see you scurrying from your house like a rat off a sinking ship.

In that instance, you will be well-served with a bag or other container of supplies that you can snag on your way out the door or jettison out a window so you at least have something to work with in the event all is lost.

BOBs are never a bad idea, but be honest about your intent and capability: There is no need to prepare a BOB if you are not willing or able to leave where you are.

Conclusion

BOBs are thought of as ubiquitously necessary components of a serious survival plan, but this over-reliance and zealous adoration of the concept can lead to weaknesses and blind spots in even a seasoned prepper’s planning phase.

To one who has come to rely too much on the idea of a portable survival supply, the loss of a BOB can be a crushing blow to morale, one that may incite panic or a feeling of helplessness. To a person who has planned and practiced accordingly, the loss of that same BOB is just a setback.

Further, not every prepper needs a BOB, no matter how useful they are on paper. If after careful consideration and an honest assessment of the potential outcomes stemming from a given event you determine that a BOB is not the best use of your time, effort and funds, there is no reason at all you have to have one like some sort of membership pass.

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1 Comment

  1. THAT is the very why i carry at ALL TIMES at least 2to 3 blades of some sort and more than one method of fire starting some para cord and a blade sharpening system and have a bag with some really serious stuff in our car along with 2 to 3 diff kinds of survival books thats why ni have spent YEARS learning diff methods of fire starting learning how to purify water and learning how to find food that can be found all over the place even in some cities ive learned over the years SURVIVAL isnt about gear its a whole mind set ive have seen stories where people without any kind of training have survived but then there those with REALLY SERIOUS training have died because they had given up its ALL ABOUT THE MIND SET

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