How to Put Together The Ultimate Bug Out Bag

bug out bag

Disasters, both natural and man made are becoming more and more frequent in our world today. If you woke up in the middle of the night to find yourself in a situation where you needed to leave your home within minutes, would you be prepared to do so?

Or would you run around the house trying to pull together supplies and gear you could find and simply hope you had everything you needed? I have a friend who woke up in the middle of the night to find his apartment already partially flooded.

The river nearby was flooding and the overflow had already begun filling the apartment building. They had minutes, in complete darkness, to get to safety. He and his family made it out but they lost everything they owned. To make sure you don’t end up in a similar situation, it’s important to learn how to put together a bug out bag that is ready for you to grab and go within minutes.

When it comes to bugging out, you definitely need to think about what goes into your bug out bag. The supplies and gear you take with you when you are forced to leave your home could end up being all you have left to start over somewhere else.

Your bug out bag may start out a bit chaotic and haphazard at first. But the best bug out bag will keep evolving over time. It will get better and better as you gain knowledge, experience, and the funds for better quality gear. You’ve probably heard the saying “two is one and one is none”.

If you’ve got a bug out bag ready to go, even a cheap one, you are ahead of those people who aren’t prepared at all. So, do what you can now. When you know better or your budget is such that you can do better, improve your BOB gradually.

What Goes Into The Ultimate Bug Out Bag?

Consider supplies and gear in all the main categories including:

  • Food & Water
  • Shelter
  • Fire-starting
  • First aid
  • Hygiene and Sanitation
  • Security & Self Defense
  • Communication
  • Navigation
  • Tools

This article has a full checklist of bug out bag items for you to consider. Customize the contents to meet the needs of you and your family. Make sure to understand and practice correctly using the supplies and gear in your BOB before you have to rely on it to save your life.

Multi-Purpose Items

When packing your BOB, whenever possible include items that can be used for multiple purposes. Trash bags for example, can be used as a liner to provide additional waterproof protection for your supplies but they can also be used to dispose of trash, to collect water, as a makeshift rain poncho, etc. Other multi-purpose items to consider for your BOB include:

Swap or Add More Items

Your bug out bag contents should be dynamic and change as your knowledge, circumstances, and skill level changes. You may start with a bug out bag that includes water, food, and other supplies for you and your family to survive several days.

As your skill level grows, you can gradually add or modify supplies that enable you to survive for a week or longer. As you become more skilled at building simple tarp shelters or shelters from natural materials, you will have additional space for other supplies for an extended bug out situation, such as extra ammunition, alternative weapons, snares, extra clothing, cooking equipment, supplies for food preservation, etc.

As you master the many bushcrafting skills, you may find that you can swap out critical shelter, food, and other items and instead carry items to use for bartering or for comfort.

Below are several other things that can help you put together the ultimate bug out bag.

The Bag Itself

It’s important to modify your BOB for your situation no matter which bag you start out with initially. But there are different types of bug out bags, including internal and external frame hiking bags, backpacks, and duffel bags, all of which have different advantages and disadvantages.

It’s important to research the type of bug out bag and choose the one that will work best for your body type, skill level, fitness level, and the contents you need to carry. Starting out with the bag that is most suited to your needs makes customizing it easier.

Keep It Discreet

Avoid bright colors, overly tactical bags, or backpacks that have identifiable designs, logos, or bold patterns to them. You want to blend in and not stand out. Your goal is to be able to walk through a crowd without drawing attention to your pack of supplies and without being “memorable” to anyone you pass.

The last thing you want in a SHTF situation is to become a target by looking like you have supplies that others who didn’t prepare well enough so desperately need.

Comfort & Design

Above all, your bug out bag must be comfortable for you to carry. An inexpensive backpack that fits right is a better choice than an expensive bag that is too big for your body or has straps that dig into your shoulders.

Use a guide to measure yourself to help ensure you get a bag that will fit right. Once you know what size and type of bag will work best for your body type, it’s time to think about additional comfort features such as:

Padding and Straps are important when it comes to comfort. If you’ve ever carried something on your back for a few hours, you know that the strain on your back and shoulders can be painful. Narrow straps don’t distribute weight well and can often dig painfully into your shoulders or hips.

Choose a bag with wide, padded straps for the most comfortable fit. Look for a pack that has a padded hip strap which will pull the pack tightly over your hips.

A good padded hip strap helps to lower the center of gravity and distribute the weight over your hips and thighs, not your back and shoulders. A heavy load balanced in this way will be much easier to carry for a long period.

A chest clip is an important feature for your bug out bag because it again helps to secure the load you’ll be carrying. If you must move quickly or walk for long periods of time, the last thing you need is for your load to shift because your shoulder straps are slipping down.

A chest clip helps to keep the shoulder straps in place and counteracts the force of the load pulling backwards to keep it centered.

Breathability is a critical component of choosing the ultimate bug out bag. If you’ve carried anything on your back for a long period of time, you know that your back can get hot and sweaty and make you very uncomfortable.

Look for a bag with mesh or channels that allow air to flow between your pack and your back to minimize discomfort from poor air circulation.

The size of the bag you choose will largely depend on how much you need to carry with you. Those carrying supplies for just themselves who have mastered bushcraft skills may want a smaller bag.

If you must carry supplies for a large family, you may need a larger bag for yourself, a medium sized bag for your wife, and even smaller bags for your children. Think about what you need to carry and how you can distribute it among the members of your group. Choose a bag slightly larger than what you may need but make sure it fits comfortably.

Weight of a bug out bag is another very critical component to a successful bug out. When choosing your bug out bag, make sure to consider the weight of the bag when its empty.

If you start off with a bag that weighs 5 pounds empty, you’ll reach your maximum weight more quickly. Even a bag that fits you perfectly can become extremely uncomfortable if the total weight is more than you can manage. Keep reading for suggestions on how to lighten your BOB.

Quality of your bug out bag is also an important factor when putting together the ultimate bug out bag.

The last thing you need during a bug out trip is a cheap backpack which quickly becomes waterlogged or where a strap or zipper breaks, leaving you worrying about the safety of your supplies instead of paying attention to potential threats on the path ahead.

Look for a bag with high quality zippers and check for reinforced stitching on the straps and seams to help keep your contents protected.

Choose a bag made of high quality, ballistic nylon which is more durable and water resistant than many synthetic materials. The Alps OutdoorZ Commander X is a 66 L bag made of ballistic nylon. It’s discreet style makes it appear to be your typical hiking backpack.

In truth, the Alps Commander X is one of the most flexible backpacks money can buy. The frame is designed for carrying freshly caught game back to camp. The pack detaches and there’s a removable fanny pack for short trips when you need to travel even lighter.

Style is another important feature of putting together the ultimate bug out bag. Some bags will open and load only from the top, others will completely unzip on the side or have multiple compartments and sections for you to store your supplies.

Some bags have multiple exterior pockets, others include MOLLE webbing or loops which allow you tie or hang frequently used gear to the exterior of the bag. The style of the bag you choose can greatly impact how you organize its contents which we will talk about next.

Organization

One of the factors that makes for a great bug out bag is its capacity for organizing the contents so you can access what you need quickly and easily.

Having a bug out bag filled with supplies isn’t going to be helpful if you can’t find what you need without putting it down and unpacking everything to get to your flashlight or knife.

Pockets

Look for a bug out bag that has at least a few external pockets as well as some internal zipper pockets. External pockets allow you to store items you need to access quickly on the outside of your bag so you don’t have to take the time to set it down, unpack, and find the item you need.

Internal pockets are great for storing things such as documents, cash or other items because it keeps them flat and safe from damage and prevents them accidentally falling out if you unpack your bag quickly or in the dark.

A popular bag is the 5.11 Rush. You can get the 5.11 Rush bag in various sizes and colors, with multiple storage compartments, hydration pocket, and wrap around MOLLE to provide great storage versatility without looking overly tactical.

MOLLE webbing

If your ideal bag doesn’t have exterior pockets, make sure it at least has some MOLLE webbing on the exterior of the bag. MOLLE webbing is great for attaching modules with supplies you need to access quickly, such as your first aid kit. It also works well for attaching gear you need to access while on the go, such as a canteen, knife, or compass.

Add Modules

As mentioned above, MOLLE webbing is a feature that enables you to add modules to the outside of your bug out bag. You can use the modular pouches to organize your bug out supplies. Consider modules for things such as:

  • Extra Ammunition
  • First Aid
  • Snacks
  • Electronics
  • Fire starting materials
  • Water filtration

DIY Organization

If you must choose a bug out bag that is more of a duffel bag or “one big pocket” design, you can still compartmentalize it. Use a combination of dry bags or trash bag liners, zip lock bags, and airtight containers to organize your supplies so they are easy to find, accessible, and protected from the elements.

Add sturdy clips or carabiners to the exterior of your bag for gear or supplies you need to access on the go and/or ramp up your everyday carry (EDC) to include items you will use frequently during a bug out trip.

Make It Lighter

Weight is a critical factor to having the a great bug out bag. It’s something many new preppers and even some more experienced preppers, don’t adequately consider. Your BOB shouldn’t weigh more than about 20% of your body weight.

You must be able to do more than just pick it up, put it on, and carry it around the house or around the block. You could be lugging it for a period of several hours or even several days in a row.

The terrain could be uneven, your route could be uphill, the weather could be bad, all of which can make it even harder to walk. Your life depends on the ability to carry your bag for as long as it takes.

For this reason your BOB should be as light as possible. The heaviest items your bag are typically the backpack itself, food, shelter materials, water, and clothing items. Focus on reducing the weight of those items whenever possible. We’ve provided some suggestions for making your BOB lighter below:

  1. Consider swapping out your heavy sleeping bag for something like the SOL Escape Sleeping Bivvy. The Escape model is heavier duty than the standard model but still lightweight, and it comes in olive drab for easier camouflage.
  2. If a bivvy isn’t an option, choose a down-filled sleeping bag rather than a synthetic one reduce the weight. If you use a sleeping pad, a foam pad will take up more space but should overall be lighter than an air-filled pad.
  3. When it comes to shelter, your tent just might be one of the heaviest items you have to carry. If you aren’t quite skilled enough to rely on making shelter from natural materials, opt for a pyramid tent (less than 1.5lbs) or learn to setup a single walled tent (1.2 lbs to just under 3 lbs).
  4. If your budget allows, you can purchase a backpack, like the Gregory Baltoro 65, which has a waist strap design which reduces pressure on the shoulders and quite honestly, makes it feel like your bag is floating as your body moves.
  5. One liter of water weighs just over 2 lbs and one gallon weighs over 8 lbs. Experts indicate the average person needs at least a gallon of water daily. Practice using a lifestraw or water filter. Prepare a map marked with fresh water locations along your bug out route. Always carry some water just in case, but you can lighten your load significantly if you master the skill of how to find and purify water.
  6. Consider swapping out the hiking boots in your bug out bag for a sturdy pair of tennis shoes or a good pair of trail runners. Your feet will thank you too as trail shoes are more flexible, much lighter, and more breathable than hiking boots which means reduced chance of blisters and other issues.
  7. Instead of packing full size bottles of medicines, shampoo, lotion, toothpaste and other personal hygiene items, stock up on the mini bottles. You can often find mini versions of your favorite products in small bins at the grocery store or discount stores such as Marc’s, Dollar General, or Dollar Tree. If you can’t find your product in a mini bottle, buy empty plastic bottles and fill with your favorite products. Be sure to label clearly.
  8. Instead of a full size toothbrush, use a mini one or pack disposable ones which are lightweight and come with a drop of toothpaste already in the toothbrush. Cut the handle off your hairbrush, your toothbrush or other items to shave off a few ounces of weight. It may not seem like a lot but it can add up.

Protecting Your Gear

The contents of your bug out bag can be a life and death difference for you and your family in a SHTF emergency or other crisis. Your bug out bag is your last line of defense for protecting those supplies so they are ready for you to use when you need them.

Waterproof

  • Water repellent spray on the outside of your bug out bag and on the cover can go a long way toward protecting your supplies against an unexpected downpour or accidental or unexpected immersion in a creek, river, or stream you must cross.
  • Use trash bags or dry bags inside your bug out bag as added protection to keep vital supplies dry in the event water does get through the exterior of your bag.
  • A waterproof rain cover with elastic bottom is easier to keep firmly over your bug out bag than a drawstring cover when you are moving rapidly.

Puncture Proof

During a bug out, there may be times when you need to move quickly through brush and branches or other debris that could puncture your bug out bag. When you upgrade your bug out bag, look for a bag made of nylon over polyester.

Nylon is more abrasion resistant and ballistic nylon, military grade nylon, or Cordura brand nylon will provide even more protection against punctures from debris and in some cases shrapnel or even bullets.

Packing Your BOB

Accessibility

How you pack your BOB can be a critical factor. We mentioned above that you need to organize items so you can easily access critical items such as:

  • Flashlight
  • Firearm
  • Knife
  • Paracord
  • Water
  • Map and Compass
  • Signaling Mirror or Whistle
  • Fire starting Materials
  • Snacks
  • Canteen and Water Filter

Pack your BOB so these critical and frequently used items are attached to the exterior or in an outside pocket where you can access them while on the go. As a last resort you can pack them in the very top of your bag.

Extra Protection

If your bug out bag is bouncing against your back when you walk or run, sensitive contents such as flashlight bulbs and electronic components could be damaged easily. A bag that fits securely against your body or “floats” on a frame will help.

But you can also pack sensitive items wrapped in clothing, in a zip lock bag with dryer lint or other tinder, or wedged between softer items to provide added protection against any unexpected impact.

Items susceptible to water damage should be packed toward the middle of your bag or in dry bags or zip lock bags to help protect them if the side or bottom of your bag gets waterlogged.

Balance

Bulkier items should be packed at the bottom of your bag or attached to the bottom near your hips to help balance weight. Heavy items and those you won’t need until you stop to camp should be in the bottom of your bag. Lighter items can be packed near the top to help reduce the strain on your shoulders.

If you use clips, carabiners, or modules on the outside of your pack, consider their placement carefully so you can balance the weight. A heavy item swinging from a carabiner on one side of your pack can add extra strain and make your pack more difficult to carry.

Practice carrying your BOB for several hours, pay attention to where you feel strain and adjust your items to minimize it when possible.

So…

What features did you look for when you put together your first bug out bag? How does your current bug out bag differ from that very first one? What techniques or features would you recommend for beginners on how to put together the ultimate bug out bag for the first time? Let us know in the comments below.

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Megan Stewart
About Megan Stewart 43 Articles
A mother of four children and a grandmother of 10, Megan Stewart is actively prepping for emergencies big and small, while taking care of her children and teaching them to be prepared and become self-reliant.

3 Comments

  1. AWESOME INFO!!!!!!!!!!! The ONLY issue I have is that my better half is bed ridden(from years of medical problems)and there is no way in hell to leave in a short period of time…I have BOB’s(bug out BOXES) as I have accumulated lots of “make you BOB better,super,ultimate” kind of stuff over the years..but back to square one…I need a vehicle that has a ramp for wheelchair/medical bed access(working on that) one that has 110vac in it for med. equip for the wife and the one I own now won’t fit the bill…with money REALLY tight…things get pushed to a far back burner.My biggest issue I guess is the vehicle…maybe an used small school bus with a hydraulic lift in the back..WIP!!

  2. I feel for your situation, but you have to realize that in a true disaster situation, very few vehicles will get you far. Unless you can get out of the area before everyone realizes there is a problem, you will be surrounded by fear-crazed people, which means that any normal road will quickly become a parking lot due to “everybody” trying to get out, and multiple accidents as people “push the boundaries”.

    You will need to have plans with locations to go to, non-standard routes to get to each, and probably an “off-road” capable vehicle.

  3. Health issues can certainly make bugging out more difficult to manage. For the immediate future, I invite you to research the resources that may be available to you via friends or family first. Is there someone who you know and trust who could provide transportation in an emergency? If not, do some research to find out what options are available in your local or county area to evacuate those with disabilities. While relying on emergency services personnel might not be the ideal plan, it’s better to have that option in place and know how to get help on the way than to have nothing. In the meantime, I suggest you look into Dave Ramsey’s debt free information. You can likely find the book at your public library and there’s some information online. I know how tough it can be to save any money when your income is limited, but it can be done little by little. Cut expenses and increase income which I know isn’t always simple. But all of the cable companies offer low cost internet for elderly and disabled–but you have to know to ask for it. I know because my mom gets Internet service for just 19.99 per month. She can add basic TV for another 14.99. Also, there’s a free online budgeting app called EveryDollar which is very helpful. It actually pairs very well if you are following Dave Ramsey’s debt free recommendations too. The other option would be to do some kind of fundraiser in your local community or through your local church perhaps? I know there aren’t easy answers. Do what you can when you can. I wish you the best of luck!

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