Lighting Up Your Bug Out Bag

Today’s typical bug out bags can weigh between forty and seventy pounds. For many of us that’s just to much weight to haul. Happily, significant backpack weight reduction is possible without giving up the necessities, and even some of the comforts.

For our growing population of aging, and with our often sedimentary lifestyles, walking for days with a very heavy backpack is just impractical.

Many have given up on the very idea of trying to save themselves in a S.H.T.F. situation. Even young healthy folks can find it daunting to lug seventy pounds of supplies and equipment around for days, or weeks, over all sorts of terrain, in all kinds of weather.

Some who address the issue of lightening our load go about it by suggesting that the answer is to assemble smaller kits. Their answer is that BOBs should be the size of GHKs and that GHKs should be the size of EDCs. I maintain that this is a wrong approach.

The capabilities and comforts that you will leave out may become very important to you as your bug out journey moves along. Happily there is another approach.

Traveling for days, even weeks, over roads, and back trails carrying a heavy backpack is exactly what long distance hikers do for a hobby.

It’s not unusual for them to travel forty, fifty, even sixty miles on one of their multiple day treks, carrying a heavy backpack, and setting up several camps at points along the way. Why is it the Prepper Community so often ignores the wisdom that these folks offer from actual experience?

There is an interesting phenomena today in the backpacking community. It’s the idea of “ultra light” backpacking. It began with the notion that the lighter your kit, the farther, faster, and more enjoyable you can journey.

A rabid competition has developed in the Ultra Light Backpacker Community to see who can come up with the very lightest, workable kit. Some have developed kits for two, three, and four day excursions that weigh a mere four or five pounds (minus food).

Even though some of the equipment in the more extreme ultra light kits has proven flimsy and inadequate, there are still many ideas and innovations we can use to cut unnecessary weight from our own various classes of bug out kits.

The approach offered by the Ultra Lighters focuses on three fundamental principles:

The first principle is to reduce redundancies as much as possible. I’ve seen many Bug Out kits where there are five or more knives, three or four flashlights,  and three separate medical kits.

It’s nice that you love knives, or you have medical training, but one good knife – if taken care of – should be enough. One flashlight with extra batteries, and possibly an extra bulb should be enough. One medical kit should be enough.

Yes, it makes us feel better if we have several Bic Lighters, a couple of fire steels, several containers of weatherproof matches, and God knows what else along, but realistically, how much redundancy do we really need?

How often do we include things in our kits just because we have them around? Stay focused on the fact that non essential redundancies only add unneeded weight! Commit yourself to getting rid of most of the redundancies in your kits.

The second principle is that packaging adds weight. I must admit that I really admire the sophisticated organization skills of some in our community. I’m jealous of those folks, usually from the military and/or paramedic backgrounds who sub-kit everything by function, and sub-function into amazingly neat and organized professional looking assemblies.

But, as much as we admire their organizational skills, we need to understand that all that packaging and sub-packaging add a surprising amount of weight.

Ounces count! You’ll be amazed at how a couple of extra ounces here and there in your kit conspire to add pounds.

Loose as much packaging as possible. A plastic baggie weighs a heck of a lot less  than a canvas pouch.  Sure, it doesn’t look as professional but the bottom line it saves weight.

Never underestimate the power of the zip-lock kitchen bag to save weight. Sometimes stuffing things in a pocket on, or in your BOB without the plastic bag works too. Go through your kit and remove and replace as much packaging as possible!

Then there’s our backpack itself. Almost all of out backpacks are made from sturdy damage resistant materials. If the fabric used is not canvas, it’s something that looks and feels like canvas.

Those materials are used because they give you the impression of sturdiness. It’s largely about how you feel about the pack you’re about to purchase. We buy military packs, like Alice Packs, because they’re sturdy.

I have an Alice Pack, and even empty it’s damn heavy! You can find backpacks made from Silnylon. This stuff is strong, and weather resistant, while being drastically lighter. Often we’re talking about pounds of difference for the same carry volume.

Silnylon backpacks are available from specialty manufacturers who cater to the Ultra-Light Backpacking Community, and can be expensive. Interestingly, sometimes quite adequate Silnylon packs can also be found among the cheaper versions of backpacks made for School Kids. Loose and lighten the packaging!

The third principle is to loose as much weight as possible in the necessities that you’ll have to carry along.

We know that we need shelter. How much does you’re chosen shelter system weigh. Are there lighter versions or alternatives?

A cottage industry has grown up around the Ultra Light Backpacking Community producing a wide range of much lighter substitutes for tents, sleeping bags, and air mattresses, etc.

Many of us carry a tarp in our kits. Plastic tarps can be heavy. A SilNylon tarp, though much more expensive is amazingly lighter and can serve just as well.

How much does a military canteen weigh compared to a disposable water bottle of the same volume? What about the weight of the canvas canteen pouch? Loose the military canteen and pouch!

How about the weight of the containers that the disposables like sun block, soap, and food flavoring come in? Repackage them wherever possible into smaller, lighter containers.

What about the cloths you’ll be wearing? Nylon, and Lycra will be lighter. Do you really need those heavy military style boots? What about lighter hiking shoes?

Total weight should be based upon your total standing weight with all your equipment on. After all, isn’t that the weight you’ll be hauling around?

What about the knife you’ll carry along. Is there a lighter knife that’s serviceable and will do the same job, and hold up just as well?

Many of us like to bring a hatchet along. Hatchets are typically quite heavy. Perhaps a less heavy saw, or a Kukri will do.

a kukri knife
a kukri knife

Consider little things, like cutting down the handles of your tooth brush, and shaving razor. Even very small savings contribute to total bag weight.

There are much lighter versions of tent pegs made from stainless steel or aluminum rods.  How heavy is the cordage you’ll be carrying. Will bank line do as well for some applications, as opposed to a heavier alternative?

Weight can usually be saved in your cook set and utensils. How many pots  and pans do you really need? Is there a lighter alternative stove system?

A canteen cup and lid is carried by many. They’re heavy. Would something like the can from a can of salmon serve as well? What about eating utensils? Can you think of much lighter substitutes?

How heavy is the source of fuel for whatever stove you’ve been packing? Are there lighter stove, fuel combinations?

Food is, and should always account for most of the weight you’ll be carrying. M.R.E.’s tend to be heavy. Are there lighter food items that will serve as well? Can repackaging food items reduce the carry weight? Food should always be organized by the day, and calculating the total number of calories for each day.

Many find a small digital scale very useful in calculating weight savings.

For so many of us who are not young and physically fit, less pack weight could be the difference between making it –  or not, in a bug out situation. It could be life or death!

By employing many of the above principles I’ve reduced the carry weight of my own BOB  and GHK by over six pounds. I’m working on getting it even lighter. Imagine the benefits of reducing your own pack weight by ten pounds or even more.

Lighter pack weight usually translates into longer travel distance, fewer calories burned, with less fatigue. Lightening your bug out packs is something really worth doing.

I suggest that you visit the web sites and YouTube videos of our friends in the Ultra Light Backpacking Community for more ideas on lightening your load.

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13 thoughts on “Lighting Up Your Bug Out Bag”

  1. I agree with ‘most’ of the suggestions and while you may give up ‘some of this’ to keep ‘some of that’ to save weight & avoid redundancy… I myself, with 24 years in the Army, with 3 of those years in Arctic Recon and 15 in Special Forces, will not give up my (issue) canteen & canteen cup. That is the only ‘mess kit’ I need, nor will I give up a good pair of heavy duty boots for light trekkers. If you think those tennis shoe type hikers (even the high end models)are going to carry you & your pack for (up to) hundreds of miles or months, you are sorely mistaken. Your feet are the most important body part (besides your brain) in a bug-out / get-home senario, period! Without good foot & ankle support you’ll soon be layed up in place for days or weeks and delaying your travel even more. Just speaking from experience, hope it helps.

  2. I have to agree with Roberto, this stuff is made for speed and distance, not rough use and durability. That said ultra light packing seems a good resource to shop certain light weight equipment. Regards, D.

  3. If you need a BOB the shit has hit the fan. So lets be realistic; Ammo 10lbs+, Armor 18lbs.+/-, Shelter system 7-10lbs.+/-, Weapons 9-13lbs.+/-, Water 6lbs.. Remember you don’t even have food or clothes yet. Heed the advice lighten up…

  4. While there are several good suggestions listed above, please remember that you are comparing apples to oranges…..or more accurately, apples to MRE’s.
    Long distance hikers are there to hike. Known routes for a known distance, with a known end point. It is extremely easy to make an ultralight alcohol pocket stove out of a soda can, knowing that you only have to provide enough fuel for a 3 day hike.
    Bug Out is different. Bug Out is more akin to a survival situation, than a hiking trip, but even that is not a good comparison. While a long distance hiker may travel 10-20 miles a day, in Bug Out you may only travel 2-5 miles a day.
    There are literally thousands of products out there made for limited use. A perfect example is the cheap space blanket ($1-$2). There are many larger, heavier, more durable, more expensive products out there. The new ones by S.O.L. are excellent. The cheap version is perfect for a long distance hiker. Low cost. Light Weight. Small size. And only has to last 2-4 days. After the trip, toss and buy a new one.
    Bug out – you are likely NOT coming back anytime soon. You will likely NOT have the opportunity to purchase a new one anytime soon. You will LIKELY have to fight with someone over the one you currently have.
    The better example to compare a Bug Out prepper to are the Old West settlers. While the nifty folding nylon water bucket is nifty (yes, I have one), the steel pail is likely to last forever (along with having a number of additional uses (seat, impromptu pot for boiling, etc).
    I do completely disagree with the premise of eliminating redundancy. You should always have redundant items. The trick is in applying multi-use to the equation. For example, a tomahawk with a sturdy poll incorporated. This may be a redundant item for: a hatchet, field dressing game (ulu style blade), hammer, CQB weapon, chisel, etc.
    Redundancy doesn’t necessarily mean that they have to be equal. A swiss army knife is a redundant knife to a sheath knife, but incorporates many additional features.
    Again, an Old West comparison, most had a pocket knife along with a sheathe knife. In addition, they kept skinning blades, kitchen blades, etc for specific tasks.
    In a Bug Out, if something breaks, is lost, stolen, loaned out…….IT IS GONE! And now you’re trying to cut firewood by gnawing around the limb of a tree because your flexible wire saw that you carry for hiking broke.
    When material for backpacks and such were discussed, I must admit, I don’t know what the capabilities of Silnylon are (I do intend to research it though). My concern would be of durability. I KNOW that the military style packs are tested under hard use and extreme conditions. They are meant to endure under adverse weather conditions. A Long distance hiker can usually plan a trip to avoid the massive storm, in Bug Out, that’s not an option.

  5. While I agree it would be wise to take an objective look at your gear to evaluate where you can save a few POUNDS, I side with the those who prefer durability to weight. I also believe in redundancy, perhaps too much. I use the SOL Bivies and other lightweight items in the smaller survival kits that I build. They are geared more for “Get Home” than “Bug Out”. I openly admit an allegiance toward the military gear. Time and battle tested, the rucks and Load Bearing/Carrying Equipment perform. I am confident that the designers and manufacturers consider weight in the designing phase because some soldier or Marine is going to be walking great distances with them. I think Preppers can easily obtain military gear as it is available through many vendors at decent prices. It seems to me that some of the newer civilian camping gear was rather expensive. I know it would cost me considerably to change out all the military stuff for my family of 4, if I had a change of opinion and opted to use lighter civilian equipment. I have wondered about the civilian equipment that mountain climbers use. Their stuff is lightweight and must be durable to withstand high winds, sleet, snow, etc. I don’t know if mountaineering gear is similar to what the Backpacking community uses, or not.

  6. Thanks for all of the thoughtful comments.
    What does our Bug Out Bag mean to us on an emotional level?
    I know that mine gives me a feeling of security. Sometimes I find myself wondering if it’s kind of a false sense of security. Maybe all that redundancy and heavy gear adds to the illusion.
    The history of actual G.O.D. situations, is that they fall into just two general categories. The first is that of the refugee. This will be the attempt to move you and your loved ones from a place of danger to a place of perceived safety. This place of safety will be many miles away. You will want to bring along some of the things you treasure, your family albums, Grandma’s silver, the wife’s jewelry box. Likely, you may never return to whatever’s left of your home again. If you ever do, it may be years before that’s possible. Give some consideration to what you and your family would need to refugee. Are B.O.B.s really going to cut it? The second, is escape and evasion, somewhere not to far from home. For this, a B.O.B could prove useful. But understand that Escaping and Evading is not practical in the way that some of us are contemplating, except for the short term, fairly localized events. The Bielski Family were caught up by the invasion and occupation of Poland by the Nazis in 1941-42. They were farmers, and Jews. Danger of capture by the Germans, and even more danger, from their anti-Semitic neighbors drove them to escape and evade to a large forest north of their village. They had hunted, and gathered food in that forest since childhood. Even so, it became immediately obvious that living off the land was just impractical. They lived, a little at first by the charity of a few kind Christian friends who allowed them a nights shelter in a barn, and gave them a little food. But how they soon ended up surviving, was by taking what they needed at gun point from local farmers who hated them as Jews. The Bielski’s had no option to refugee. The Germans were to the East. The Russians, to the West, and North. The Balkans to the south were generally allies to the Germans. They only went to the forest, because they had no better choice. as to thinking of bugging out as some sort of military Special Ops mission? When have you ever heard of a S.O.G. Guy going on a mission alone, and taking his wife and kids along?

  7. I done an extensive amount of “rucking” in the Infantry, as well as “backpacking” for recreation and hunting. I am also now considered to be a “mature” American, so humping a ruck is more difficult than it used to be. If you can spare the FRNs, that lightweight kit looks like a winner to me. Using ultralight gear equals either less weight carried, or more food carried at the same weight as your old-school gear allowed. You may have to be more careful with how you handle the silnylon (while bushwhacking, and around open fire). As for the fire/sparks… I know that wool & canvas are more resistant, but if you are buggin out/E&E-ing, are you really going to be using fire all that much? Do not go too light on the footwear, the stitches of those running shoes probably won’t hold up to busting brush all day. I have seen sites with patterns for making your own ultralight gear. That might get us past the $$$ obstacle. The other issue with the ultralight stuff might be the colors of the fabrics, but dyeing, spraypainting, or covering can address that.

  8. My biggest conundrum, weight vs durability! Usually balanced by the kids’ bags get the lite gear. Upgrades are in a constant state which is at least possible since camping gear in good shape is always easy to re-sell. Keep in mind this does mean getting the bags out and refamiliarizing oneself with the current contents, which is good in a way, since then we get practice using it. I actually started going with as lite of gear as I could afford, cuz I hit fifty, and the idea of packing for camping was starting to sound like a pain in the butt. So, I went for lighter and smaller. I miss my Dutch oven recipes, but I enjoy them more at home now. Admittedly, durability is down, and hopefully, having the kids equipment as well, gives me my needed redundancy, as I am a firm believer in two is one and all. I have to admit, I have frequently wondered how far we could make on foot?


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