Build the Perfect Bug Out Bag

Build the Perfect Bug Out Bag

You never know when disaster will strike. I’m not here to say the end is nigh, but something bad is bound to happen in this life. It’s likely the region where you live will suffer some sort of disaster; it’s possible America could endure economic collapse, or a major war – even war on the home front; and we should never rule out the possibility of “apocalypse,” whatever form it may take. No matter the scenario, one should always be prepared for hard times, and part of preparing is planning various “bug out” locations to escape to. Keep in mind, getting there will require effort, planning, and supplies, so you need a bug out bag.

A bug out bag, or BOB, is packed with everything you need to survive for at least 72 hours. Here I’ll provide a list of essential items to include for your personal survival getaway pack.

Your Bug Out Bag Packing List

A bug out bag will give you everything you need to survive at least 3 days – and provides the tools you need to improvise if you find yourself dependent on your bag longer than 72 hours. It will give you food, water, shelter, clothing, tools and protection. There are various packing lists throughout the internet detailing these same provisions, and many are similar to this one, but I’ll highlight a few details explaining how to get more bang for your buck, and how to pack items that serve multiple purposes for cutting weight.

A Bag

What good is a bug out bag without a bag? You should consider how much you plan to pack before you purchase a bag. Any large backpacking bag or rucksack can work. Choose one that fits the length of your back, with adjustable straps and a lumbar strap.  I would recommend, again, avoiding bright colors; but if you’re looking for an attractive BOB to stash at the office, you might look into Herschel Supply Co’s Crest (ripstop) backpack. (Please don’t blame me if you get caught with a gun in your BOB at work – I don’t recommend it).

My suggestion with bags, based on military experience, is to choose a tactical bag with MOLLE straps.  Molle is the military’s current load carrying system for attaching items and pouches to your bag and gear. You can place water bottle pouches on the outside of your rucksack, as well as first aid pouches, and secure your bedroll and shelter to the top of your pack using cordage strung through the MOLLE straps. I also use a lot of carabiners to attach things to my MOLLE.


You may be able to survive using only your every day carry items, but you won’t last three days without H2O. If you pack nothing else, at least pack water. Many survivalist and medical resources will mention you need at least a liter of water each day – at least three liters for a 72 hour bug out bag. While there is merit to this practice, I caution you to consider the weight of your bag and length of your trek as factors that will require you to consume more water. If you have the room and strength to carry it, pack closer to six liters of water.

Keep weight in mind as well. Three liters will run you roughly 6.5 pounds, and six liters will weigh you down roughly 13 additional pounds. You definitely have the option of only carrying three liters if you know your body isn’t too water thirsty during strenuous exercise, but why put yourself at risk?

There is a saving grace when it comes to shaving water weight in your pack, and that is water filtration systems and sanitation tablets. Not only is it wise to carry these items, I highly recommend it. Don’t ever trust life to go perfectly – you’ve resorted to using a bug out bag, so you’ve obviously realized that “crap” happens. So why assume you’ll arrive at your destination safely in a perfect 72 hours, having only consumed 3-6 liters of water? What happens when you run out? Make your own potable water and you’ll buy yourself time.

As a water additive for survival I suggest investing in some electrolyte powders – preferably in single-serving packaging. You have to have electrolytes to keep moving. Electrolytes are your essential salts – they serve many purposes, including triggering your hearts electrical impulses – and when you walk you’ll sweat out many needed salts. A simple electrolyte powder can aid in water retention and help keep your heart rate at a healthy level as you march for survival.

For storage, use BPA free 1 liter bottles. Camelbak has a nice one with a bite valve.


The human body can survive over three days without food, but I don’t recommend it. You’re not packing three squares a day in a bag light enough to carry for three days straight, but you can certainly pack more than enough food without adding too much weight.

There are many, many backpacking and survival food products out there, but I recommend packing military MRE’s. One MRE has roughly 2,400 calories, more than enough to survive one day – although most people on the move with a pack will still burn more calories than they consume. The US Army did a study showing fit soldiers on deployment burned on average 4,200 calories a day. You may not classify yourself with a fit soldier, but rucking with a pack on your back does fit part of their job description – and unfit person may burn more calories. Thus, you need a lot of fuel for your trek. For this reason, I suggest packing four MRE’s. Each MRE with its packaging weighs from 18 to 26 oz. To shave weight, take them out of their main bag and dispose of the boxes, heater and condiments, leaving only the foliage colored shrink-wrap bags (hang onto the salt also, you’ll need it for electrolytes).

In addition to MRE’s, consider adding a few granola or energy bars, as well as candy bars. Hooah Bars, or Soldier Fuel, are a decent energy source designed by Army nutrition specialists for soldiers on the go. Clif makes some good granola bars as well. Also, as a practical creature comfort for survival, pack a couple of Snickers and Payday bars – they’ve got protein, calories, sugar, fats… you need ALL of these things on your journey.


You’ll grab for your bug out bag when SHTF; you’re not planning the clothes on your back daily around having your life upended. You may be at work, at the store, or even in the shower when it’s time to put the bag on your back. You need to have survival clothing in your pack so you can change at a moment’s notice. Whatever clothes you choose, make them practical for walking miles on end through rough terrain. Plan for layering so you can adjust for weather without repacking your BOB.

Make sure you have at least:

  • 1 pair of comfortable and durable boots or shoes (I suggest Palladium boots; they’re like tactical tennis shoes).
  • 2 shirts. Consider one long, one short sleeved. Think cotton – its more durable and doesn’t chafe as much.
  • 1 pair of Durable Pants. Maybe military pants. (I like very durable, like Filson tin cloth pants).
  • 2 pairs of socks. No cotton. Try wool.
  • 2 pairs of underwear (make them something breathable, and not boxers – you need support).
  • 1 set of long underwear, top and bottom. For layering, or pajamas so your clothes can dry at night.
  • One hat. An all season hat, with at least a bill. Consider something like a waxed cotton for rain protection.
  • Bandanas or shemagh – maybe both, for their many tactical uses. Look for earth toned colors.
  • Jacket. Something all-season and rain resistant, like this Muttonhead infantry jacket.
  • Gloves. I’d suggest investing in tactical gloves. I’ve always been a fan of leather. Neoprene gloves are nice too.
  • Pancho. Rain protection. I strongly urge you to consider the army pancho – for reasons I’ll explain later and in another post.


It goes without saying that you don’t want to go without a shelter at night, no matter the season or region you’re in. Weather and animals pose a threat to your survival – and so do other people trying to live who don’t have the same supplies you do, which is why I don’t propose using a bright colored commercial tent. In fact, avoid making a large profile at all. You want slim and minimal, and camouflage if possible.

I would suggest using military tent halves. It takes two halves to make a pup tent, but optional uses and setups are limited only to your imagination. They make great tarps, lean-to’s, survival blankets, and even camouflaging.

In addition to a roof over your head, you need insulation when you sleep. Pack a sleeping bag. You can use whatever  sleeping bag you prefer. I recommend using a lightweight backpacking sleeping bag. Stay clear of bright colors here as well. You may consider a surplus military sleep system; it has two sleeping bags – one lighter and one heavier, that when combined make are rated for -30 temperatures. It also comes with a camouflage Goretex bivy bag, which is a weatherproof tarp-like outer sleeping bag shell – you could sleep in this without a tent. It all comes in a compression stuff sack to condense its size. These are American made of superior quality.

First Aid

There are many first aid items you should carry, but you will sacrifice much when all the weight is combined. I would suggest starting with a commercial first aid kit, with all its cute little band aids and oinments, etc… then use it as a guide to replace most of its contents with better working supplies, and keep only the pouch to attach to your pack strap.

You need at least:

  • bandaids
  • 2×2 and 4×4 gauze strips
  • a few rolls 2″ and 4″ of stretch gauze (very packable)
  • 2″ cloth medical tape (you can tear off narrower strips for different applications, but have the option of larger, stronger coverage)
  • a couple different elastic bandages
  • alcohol wipes
  • antibiotic ointment
  • one irrigation syringe
  • medical scissors
  • tampons (for men too – good for plugging penetrating wounds such as gunshots)
  • acetaminophen (such as Tylenol)
  • diphenhydramine (such as Benadryl)
  • ibuprofen (such as Motrin)
These are staples I suggest everyone keep in their pack. You should also pack any prescriptions you need. You might also consider a CPR mask, professionally made tourniquet, a SAM splint, and QuickClot or other hemostatic agent. There are various other specialized first aid supplies out there, and if you feel the need to pack them, do so – just keep weight in mind. These are basically all the contents I carried in my medic bag in the military, minus my stethoscope, BP cuff, SpO2 sensor, and  a few things normal citizens can’t acquire.


What good are all of your provisions to you if someone takes them? Protect your lifesaving supplies from those who didn’t plan on their own. Pistols are your best light weight asset for defense that is packable in a bug out bag. Most people have their preferences with guns, so I won’t go too much into detail. I will say your gun is of no use if it’s in your bag when you’re walking, so keep a holster in your pack so you can wear it when you bug out.

Be sure to have one or two spare magazines readily available when bugging out (or speed loaders for you revolver-savvy survivalists). Also, keep additional ammunition in your bug out bag. It’s added weight, but much lighter than the heavy feeling of hunger after someone overpowers you and steals your pack.

I would suggest using something in a very common caliber, such as a 9mm. Here’s a post with some info on an affordable 9mm pistol good for survival. I personally use a Sig Sauer in .40 S&W.

In addition to a firearm, a good survival knife serves as a secondary line of defense (and a great tool – go with a large one that has a full-tang blade, a pummel, and a sheath you can mount on a belt or a pack). Your EDC pocketknife is a great tertiary weapon. If all else fails, try martial arts. Of coarse, you’ll need to train now to use all of these things effectively later. (Look into studying Bartitsu, and fight your opponent like a gentleman: see Art of Manliness).

Additional Supplies

The above items are all vastly important, but you may have other needs in your trek. Fire, light, cooking supplies and cordage come to mind. Try to pack light items that serve multiple purposes, and pack multiples of the very purposeful items. For instance you need to pack:

  • Fire
    • lighter
    • matches (weather-proof, stike anywhere in a match containter)
    • magnesium and striker (or flint and steel)
  • Light
    • two flashlights (preferably with exchangeable lenses)
    • spare batteries for each light
  • Hygiene
    • toilet paper, biodegradable
    • hand sanitizer
    • travel tooth brush and paste
    • wet wipes
    • tampons (for women, but men can benefit greatly from them as first aid and survival tools).
  • cordage – Try 550 cord. Perhaps braided in the form of survival bracelets for ease of packing.
  • Multi-tool. Go light – try the CRKT Guppie
  • Pocket Chain Saw
  • compass
  • Cooking
    • Lightweight aluminum camping pot (good for cooking, sterilizing water, and using as a cup.
    • Sporf - spoon, fork and knife in one.
    • lightweight collapsible cup
  • Collapsible walking stick (also good as a tent pole, defense weapon, leg splint, fishing pole, etc).

Optional additional items to have

Let’s face it, we can’t carry all the weight in the world. If you’ve packed lightly enough and have room for more supplies, go ahead an add additional items you want for survival. These can include:

  • topographic map of your area
  • hatchet
  • small spool of fishing line
  • machette
  • whistle
  • duct tape
  • fire-starter fuel
  • hand-crank radio
  • perpetual flashlight (not as a replacement to brighter battery powered lights, but at a supplement)

Customize & Have Fun

This list is filled with many great suggestions for survival, but it isn’t all-inclusive. Your lifestyle, your region, your preferences and current events will play a huge part in planning and packing your Bug Out Bag. Make packing your sack a personal matter, and have fun with it – just keep it at a manageable weight. There is no universal survival supply list.

What items do you carry in your pack? What would you do differently than this pack here? Leave a comment below.

Bruce is a former Army combat medic from the outskirts of Kansas City, MO now dwelling in the Ozarks. He is an avid outdoors-man, and is an expert in survival and improvised emergency first aid. He is a writer and entrepreneur focused on helping others prepare for nuclear winter, the zombie apocalypse, and Armageddon.

Latest posts by Bruce Allan West (Posts)

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Rating: 7.3/10 (15 votes cast)
  1. survival-minded December 3, 2012

    I like a heavier pack – harder to carry, but the end result is I have more gear. That being said, I like to keep a ruger 10/22 with my BOB.

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  2. PrepperMom December 3, 2012

    Great list! Covers all the basics. I try to cut more weight than this in my pack because I’m a more petite woman, but you can’t avoid making a heavy bug out bag no matte how hard you try.
    I would add that a zip-lock bag full of facial wipes makes a good addition to a BOB. Also, a handfull of zip-locks.

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  3. the survivor February 19, 2013

    i think you should have added more multiple use items for the BOB and add the hatchet to a necessary tool but other then that it is vary well done

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  4. Christine June 19, 2013

    wow!! I love the article

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  5. super man August 19, 2013

    Fabulous. Nothing to add.

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