Camping & Survival

Assembling a Bug-Out-Bag

Anyone who has read much about or spent much time around the preparedness community has undoubtedly heard the term B.O.B or Bug-Out-Bag. The Bug-Out-Bag is a bag that you can quickly grab as you are heading out. It is generally prepacked with a number of survival and preparedness items to enable you to get to your destination safely and establish a recovery plan. Bug-Out-Bags are generally only designed to contain 48-72 hours of food and equipment.

Do you need a Bug-Out-Bag? Chances are, you already have one of sorts. A purse, briefcase, day pack, or vehicle rescue kit all constitute rudimentary bug-out-bags. While they may not have everything you would need to survive for 72 hours, they generally have the things that you need the most or that are most important to you. Cash, medicine, a lighter or matches, knife or multi tool; all of these are commonly found in purses, briefcases, and day packs. Put a little more thought and planning into the design of a slightly larger bag and you’ve got yourself the perfect Bug-Out-Bag.

The construction and design of your Bug-Out-Bag is something to bear in mind: some people prefer a large duffel type bag or large rubber totes, and this may be fine if you are bugging out by car or truck, but if you’re stuck on foot a backpack or frame-pack may be more appropriate. Also consider your local climate. If you live in a rainy area, or foresee yourself needing to evacuate from or during severe weather, it may be important that your Bug-Out-Bag be water-resistant or waterproof. You will need to analyze your individual situation and determine what the most likely means of transport and what your needs will be before assembling your bag.

I’ve heard of some Bug Out Bag setups that were nothing more than a series of large Rubbermaid containers numbered 1 through 5 (or more depending on however many you have). In an emergency situation, the containers were simply loaded one by one into a waiting pickup or SUV in the order they were labeled. The most important documents and survival items were kept in the container labeled “1”, with less vital items kept in the next container, and so on and so forth with luxury items kept in the last container. This enabled the user to simply grab the first container and take off if need be, or if time allowed continue loading containers until they were all loaded or there was no longer sufficient time to continue packing.

This type of “grab it and go” methodology is very important to adhere to when assembling your own Bug-Out-Bag. The smallest component of your bug-out setup should be a backpack sized bag that is easy to carry, but which can contain the bare minimum of necessary survival gear. In an emergency, you may not have time to pack a bag with necessary items: that’s why you have a Bug-Out-Bag. By packing multiple bags of multiple sizes, you can grab the smallest and most necessary first and then grab more as time allows. This small survival bag can also be used as a portable Bug-Out-Bag and carried 24/7 in the trunk of your car. Such a bag can also double as a “get me home” emergency bag, should you find yourself stranded away from the safety of your home.

What goes into a bug out bag is a very personal choice, and is highly dependent upon the persons needs and experience. In general however, most bug out bags include emergency food rations, first aid or medical supplies, tools, documents, cash, and various other survival gear. Some rudimentary starter-kits are available with the basics you will need for a Bug-Out-Bag that you can customize and add to on your own. Your bare bones survival kit contents may vary, but should contain at a minimum cash, tools (knife, sewing kit, multi-tool), rations (MREs or energy bars, dog/cat food for pets) and water/purification gear, duct tape, rope or paracord, personal hygiene items, respirators or particulate masks, maps and compass or GPS (or both), fire making equipment (tinder, lighter and/or matches), AM/shortwave radio or communications gear (prepaid cell phone, etc.), medical supplies (first aid kit, prescription medications), poncho, and at least one change of clothing appropriate to the season and climate. This is generally accepted as the bare minimum that anyone should include in their basic Bug-Out-Bag. Many people will also include various self defense tools ranging from pepper spray to a personal firearm and ammunition. While this may not always be necessary, and may in fact be illegal in some jurisdictions, it is something you should consider when assembling your Bug-Out-Bag.

The San Francisco Department of Emergency Management recommends that you have a minimum of the following in your “Go Bag.”

  • Food and water (as much as you can practically carry)
  • Portable radio and extra batteries
  • First aid kit and handbook
  • 5-day supply of any medications you take regularly and a copy of your prescriptions
  • Whistle (to alert rescuers to your location)
  • Personal hygiene supplies (including toilet paper)
  • Emergency lighting (e.g. glow sticks, flashlight, headlamp) and extra batteries
  • Large garbage bags and paper towels
  • Change of clothing and a hat
  • Sturdy shoes, in case an evacuation requires walking long distances
  • Dust mask
  • Pen, paper and tape
  • Cash in small denominations
  • Copy of health insurance card and driver license or identification card
  • Photos of family members for reunification purposes
  • List of emergency contact phone numbers

More tips:

  • In children’s Go-bags, include medical consent forms, a family photo for reunification purposes and a favorite toy, cards or book.
  • Include flares and jumper cables in your vehicle’s Go-bag.
  • Remember to make a Go-bag for your pet!

When assembling your Bug-Out-Bags remember that you will be assembling them with survival, recovery, and comfort in mind in that order. Your smallest and easiest to reach bag should be only for survival. If you can grab two bags or more, the successive bags should have items and equipment geared towards getting you back on your feet and then providing some level of comfort. Consider packing smaller ruck sacks inside of your larger Bug-Out-Bags in the case that you are forced to downsize your load. If you have geared your Bug-Out-Bag towards evacuation by vehicle and suddenly find you are forced to flee on foot, it will be handy to have smaller shoulder carried bags available to reassemble a downsized emergency pack.

Having a Bug-Out-Bag presupposes that you already have an evacuation plan already in place. You do have an evacuation plan, don’t you? If not, take this opportunity to put one together. Consider what threats might cause the need to evacuate and where you might go if forced to flee. Plan alternate routes to a number of safe destinations. Where you will be retreating to and how long you will be staying will play a large part in deciding what items will need to be packed in your Bug-Out-Bag.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (28)

  1. “Many people will also include various self defense tools ranging from pepper spray to a personal firearm and ammunition. While this may not always be necessary, and may in fact be illegal in some jurisdictions, it is something you should consider when assembling your Bug-Out-Bag.”

    In an emergency, we should be worried about the “illegality” of carrying an adequate self-defense weapon? My life is more important than my having to dither about which weapon to take. When it counts, a .45ACP trumps pepper spray—any day, anytime.

  2. Whay I find most disconcerting is how many have fishing gear in thier bags. Sure it weighs little, and does not take much room, but actually, where would you use it? How much time would it take to find bait, and actually catch a fish? Also, Fish have few calories and nutrients.

    1. Fishing line can be used for all kinds of things. You can fish almost any were. Streams, Lakes, ponds. Bait is easy. Use your hand and dig in the dirt and find worms or bugs.
      Fishing supplies are always a great idea.

  3. One other item I have included is 10 silver dollars, and 10 silver quarters. Just in case the good old greenback isn’t worth anything. Oh yes, and 30 pieces of lead.

  4. Great suggestion with the jumper cables for your vehicle. That’s one that I have missed in the past.

    Something else you also need is a good knife. Whether a survival knife, a multitool or an everyday carry knife. It’s a multipurpose tool that can drastically help in a number of survival situations.

  5. Good article for starters. Covers the basics well. Build your BOB as you can and all the while strap it on and take progressively longer and more challenging walks/hikes. As your BOB grows, so to will your ability to handle the weight; you get some fresh air and a little work-out to boot!

  6. Good start (assuming urban os suburb situation). 1.Add in pictute of loved ones, religous prayers or symbols. Motivation in hard times to keep going. 2.Extra perscription glasses if needed. 3. personal medicaton should be for more than five days, like 14 days. 4.If you need tea, coffee etc to get going in the AM take it with you (instant coffee/tea bags). 5.leather gloves for work. 6. if tabacco or booze is a daily requirement for you take it with you, it is the wrong time to go cold turkey. 7. At least MACE for self defense, hand guns depending on your laws/mental toughness/ability. 8. metal cup/spoon/plate to get food with when it is available.

    Plannfor the worst and hope for the best……

    1. A tip from my days in the Boy Scouts, replace the plate with a Frisbee. It works as a plate and as entertainment. It weights less than half of a metal plate.

  7. You make some solid points, but I think that most BOBs are going to be entirely worthless. I fear that most people have not thought this subject through past “i need this kit to get me where I need to be”. How many people do you supposed have ever tried walking even just 2 miles with their BoBs? Did you know that a single gallon of water (1 days supply for 1 person) weighs about 8 pounds?

  8. A bit of advice learned from hiking and mountaineering – Buy only as much bag as you absolutely need. We tend to fill any bag with stuff we’ll likely never need; the additional weight may keep us from getting to our destination.


  10. I have more than one bag. I have one at the residence and one in my truck. The reason is simple, If you are home and the situation comes up you can grab it and go, But what if you are at work and it happens. Are you going to be able to go home and get it? Alway be prepared.

  11. Good article with a number of good points. You talk about minimums, the importance of multiple routes to use in case of evacuation and more. The biggest point is that you need to think about these things now, not during or after an event or emergency. Prior planning is key.

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