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Building an Emergency Kit (Bug Out Bag) That’s Right For You

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If you’re trying to research on putting together a BOB (Bug Out Bag) it can be quite daunting with the amount of information available. Much like the 5th point of contact when it comes to opinions on the matter everyone has one, and at times they are conflicting. This only goes to further confuse the poor sap trying get a bag together (sorry about calling you a sap; don’t take it personal). As if there’s not enough information already out there (some of it great and some better labeled as DOOKIE) I’ve decided to offer up some advice on the topic.

First, let me share a little wisdom. That’s right I’m wise, and by wise, I mean old enough to have learned the hard way through experience. I have a few perspectives that have allowed me to understand the use and nature of the BOB as well as feel very comfortable with throwing mine together. BTW: I keep multiple bags stocked for various reasons (work, vehicle, home etc.).  So about that experience:

  • I’m a Prepper

I’ve been what you would call a prepper for well over a decade now. During that time I’ve had the opportunity to test various bags and content on different trips and such. Even during a few small events (nothing of significance). Additionally, I’ve read quite a lot on the topic and processed and banked what I consider worthwhile.

  • I’m a Special Operations Veteran

I throw in the Special Operations here because it has relevance. In my unit, we would constantly deploy on short training trips and short real world deployments. Additionally while deployed we would also deploy on missions frequently. All of this as you can imagine encompassed a lot of bag packing and toting. Over the course of deployments and years, you learn a lot about what really matters in the bag. Most related to this topic would be what we called our overnight bag (or many other names). When you’re consistently humping a bag around on your back in a combat zone or even a training exercise you tend to take a personal interest that it is tailored to what really matters.

  • I’m a Survival SME

This has a bit of relevance too. My background with the SERE program (keyword Survival in the acronym) gives me an in-depth understanding of what survival really entails. As such this is considered when packing my bags.

 

This article is not going to provide you a BOB packing list, but rather covers some items and general topics to consider as you build your kit.

 

Now that we’re passed me trying to validate myself as an expert (both for your peace of mind and my personal desire to feel important) let’s get down to business. This article is not going to provide you a BOB packing list, but rather covers some items and general topics to consider as you build your kit. Before I move into a point by point list let me give you this advice. Don’t stress it! You’re putting together extra credit. Everything you add is one more thing you didn’t have otherwise, so don’t go stressing about….what if I forgot something. Of course, you’ll forget something don’t be a puss, adapt and overcome. Trust me when I say that knowledge and training go a lot farther than gear in most situations. If you continue to sharpen those, an oversight on packing is a small challenge. If however, you are the type who believes you can obtain security through simply buying some cool gear and watching a few YouTube videos you’re probably going to die. I hope not, but it’s best to accept that now or change it. For the list below I want to mention a few things. They are not in any particular order of priority. Also, I’ve included inline links throughout for your convenience. Any of the products I’ve linked to are ones that I personally own and use unless otherwise noted.

 

LESS IS MORE

Actually less really isn’t more, but it is a cool saying. That scientific fact aside, less can be better at times. Lugging around a heavy ass bag with a bunch of extra stuff you don’t need is not a good situation. Even worse in the wrong conditions, it could cost you your life. I’ve seen people that brag about how they can hump their 3,000lb BOB around with no issues. They even do it occasionally to make sure they are ready for the SHTF day. The problem is they are doing it on their leisure time. While it is great to use and get familiar with your equipment, merely toting your bag around on a Saturday afternoon is not a true simulation of conditions you would likely need to use the bag. Sleep, Nutrition, Nerves, Weather, and numerous other factors will influence how that load really carries for you when really use it.

Additionally, duration and speed make a great deal of difference as well. If given the choice between a too heavy bag and no bag at all I would choose……the heavy bag of course ….duh. Still, it’s not an ideal choice. Of course you can shed some weight by discarding gear, however, it’s best to get it closer to right the first time. If you’re in an evasion situation discarding gear is not a good thing. Furthermore who likes to throw good gear away? There are a lot of great bags out there. Here is one by 5.11 that I’m a fan of. Of course shop around and find the one that’s right for you
Check out more here: Tactical Bags

 

QUALITY MATTERS

                Sure quantity is more important at times; like for instance ____________ _________________
I’m not sure what you filled in there but it tells you a lot about yourself. You should reflect on that and then continue reading. One particular area I want to hit on here is your actual bag. Quality should be a serious consideration. That’s not to say that quality always = expensive, however, it often does. Regardless, you want to ensure you have a well-fitting and very durable bag. It would truly suck to set out in movement only to have a shoulder strap break on you. A lot of people like to buy the pre-packaged kits (bags and contents). This is better than nothing but I prefer a more personalized approach. Either way, if you do go that route I encourage you to replace the bag with a better quality one as soon as you can. Most of them I have seen (or tested) are not fit any type of rigorous use.

Beyond the bag, there are other areas that quality should be considered. Use good common sense and you can generally identify those particular items.  For instance, it probably doesn’t matter if you choose to carry some generic beef jerky over the brand name stuff. Conversely, if you carry a High Point over a Glock you need to re-evaluate your priorities.

 

CROSS LOADING

 

One important note here. DO NOT place all your eggs in one basket. I highly recommend cross loading those items (or categories) across your persons and gear. For instance you may keep the primary first aid kit in the bag, however, it would be ideal to keep personal kits (like this) on each individual. Ultimately you do not want to put yourself in a position that you’re empty handed if you lose the bag for some reason.

 

WATER

Water is in my opinion (and Biology’s) one of the most important necessities in a BOB. That said it is heavy stuff! Fortunately, there are some considerations here. One simple consideration is your surrounding area and that along the planned routes you’ll be taking. Are there water sources available? Of course, a chemical attack would contaminate the water, but then again it’s probably best to not bug out in the middle of a chemical attack (I know floods, pandemics, etc. can also impact the above). The bottom line is this if I live in a well-hydrated area having actual water in my bag is less important than the guy in the middle of the Nevada desert.

What should be important for all is having the means to procure (Container), Treat, Purify and Filter water. If you have this capability and a knowledge of where and how to acquire water you’ll be set. I personally carry a steel cup that fits over my Nalgene bottle. This works great as the cups space is negligible in this case and doubles as a boiling pot.

Condoms (non-lubricated) are also an excellent addition to your pack as they work great for a quick water container. I actually recommend that everyone carries one on their person. If you are married and you do this I highly encourage you to inform your spouse in advance. Not doing so could drastically decrease your chances of survival in general.
QUICK NOTE ON TREATING WATER: A lot of treatment tablets use iodine. If you’re allergic to shellfish you very well may have a reaction to iodine. It is best to test or find out ahead of time in a safe manner (consult your doctor).

A quick personal secret that I don’t recommend necessarily but I’ll share anyway, along with my logic. I’m personally not a huge fan of plain water (I wish I were) so I don’t typically pack water. Instead, I pack a replenishing type sports drink. It has worked fine for me (I’ve not been a dehydrated victim yet). It allows me to stay hydrated, enjoy the taste (somewhat), and provides needed minerals and electrolytes for virtually the same weight. Avoid caffeinated drinks and other supplements that are diuretics if you go this route. Finally, I also pack some flavor packets in my bag as well… like I said I prefer flavored water.

FIRE

Another survival necessity, and can also be used for purifying water. Fire is critical in a wilderness survival situation, as such it should be given a fair amount of attention in your BOB. I don’t care if you can whip up a bow drill in your back yard just fine I would still recommend a more expedient method making it into the bag.                                                                  In fact, I would highly recommend that you carry a Ferrocerium rod (or a couple). These last a very long time and work in any environment. I also personally carry survival matches and a lighter as well. By all means, they’re great, but if stuck with one I (along with most others I know in the field) will choose the ferrocerium.

Beyond the spark, I encourage you to carry some tinder as well. Depending on weather and environment tinder can be challenging to gather for a quick fire. There are plenty of buyable options out there like WetFire or you can make your own. One of my favorites is a small tin (Altoids, Skoal,) filled with cotton balls or dryer lint that have Vaseline rubbed into them. These really take the sport out of getting a good fire going, and if you’re in a survival situation you want easy.

 

KNIFE

                A knife (or multiple ones) is a critical piece of gear. The uses for such an item and numerous in many of the situations you’ll likely encounter. I recommend at a minimum having a great quality fixed blade and folder. I’m a big fan of knives and as such have a pretty extensive collection, some of which are quite expensive. That said I realize that not everyone wants to (or can) go out and buy a few hundred dollar knife so the two knives I’m linking to here are ones that I carry quite often and consider an excellent buy for the cost.       FIXED BLADE     FOLDER  In addition to the knives I like to include a small sharpening stone (if the knife doesn’t have one built into the sheath).

 

FOOD

                Food is a low priority in the BOB. Ultimately you can survive quite a while without food, it just sucks to do so. I do carry some edibles but I’m very picky on that. I recommend some energy gel packs. I’ve used these out of necessity and they work short-lived miracles. Personally, in the food category, I look for best caloric/nutritional bang for my space. Look for lightweight high-calorie nutritional options. They sell some pretty good bars made for this purpose. I also like to carry some beef jerky. IMO it’s a good treat to chew/suck on while moving out. A small fishing kit is a great item to include. I make my own or you can buy a readymade kit. Though flatware is not a food they do make it easier to enjoy it. I recently received a K-Bar Spork and like it quite well. I also use this cheap collapsible flatware set. I personally love these. They’re light and hold up quite well for just a few dollars. A nicety that I include in my bag and consider worth the space is a small container of salt and spices. While not a necessity some niceties are worth the weight/space cost IMO.

Baby formula should be considered if required in your situation.

CLOTHING

                Clothing is one of those areas I consider pretty objective specific. If I’m traveling to an area that I may need to evade then a clothing change or modifier is considered as well as the ability to blend with the local populace. For general purposes, I don’t get to caught up on clothing. There is an exception to that. SOCKS!!! At a minimum pack some. Take care of your feet and they will take care of you. Here are some of my favorites. They’re not cheap, but they are great.

LIGHTING

                Lighting is one of those things that just make life easier. This is one of those areas that I don’t consider an absolute requirement, but I always pack nonetheless. There are some excellent options in this area from extremely cheap to very expensive. In my bag, I include a headlamp (if not worn), Surefire, and 6 Hour candles (note: I’m not giving a candle link because the cost is ridiculous on the internet. Get them at your local Dollar Tree; they are the ones that look like fat crayons). I also have a few chem-lights as well, but I utilize those more for signaling or marking areas.

 

NAVIGATION

Navigational aids are an important part of a BOB. I recommend at a minimum a small map and compass. Personally, I carry (between bag and person) two GPS (not counting my phone), Compass, Pencil, and Map. Also, this is an area that I highly advise practicing on….with the compass navigation. Trust me on this, I’ve seen people that couldn’t find the CLAP in Vegas trying to navigate in the woods; it’s a developed skill and perishable.

SIGNAL AND RESCUE

                This particular area is often left out of the BOB discussion. I can understand why as the BOB is often thought of from a get out of town quick the Russians are coming type bag. That being said you’re much more likely to use it in a natural disaster or emergency style event. Regardless it is a good idea to have the ability to signal in rescue if needed. There are numerous methods and equipment out there for this. At a minimum, I recommend a quality signal mirror. They can alert rescue at a very good distance, potentially aid in fire, and most importantly allow you to make sure you look good while on the run. After all just because you are a refugee doesn’t mean you have to look like one…..get some self-respect!

COMMUNICATION

                Humans are by nature social creatures, therefore it only makes sense that a certain level of communication should be included in your BOB. That and the fact that your ability to communicate could directly correlate with a quick recovery if the need arise. When I approach communication for my bag I do so from a few angles. I consider communication between those I’m conducting movement with, and the ability to communicate with those outside of our group. For internal communications, I carry two-way radios and emergency whistles. For the outside world, I carry my cell phone and a small portable HAM radio. This doesn’t all need to necessarily go in your bag as some can be worn by the individuals on their person. Another consideration for this I highly recommend is buying a multi-powered option radio, preferably one that includes hand crank and/or solar power capability. After all, you may not be able to simply stop and plug into an outlet along your travels. Beyond the obvious above considerations, you can also include a drop phone and multiple pre-paid calling cards.

INFORMATION

                What is our one natural response anytime a major news event or the like occurs? No, I’m not talking about pulling out your cell phone to record it, but sadly that is the case for many. Typically we want to know more, right? You rush to the TV or the internet and do a search to find out the latest update. It’s an uncomfortable feeling of being left in the dark when you don’t have that ability. Part of this is curiosity and part of it is self-preservation; especially when the particular event has an impact on you or your family. For this very reason, I carry a small weather alert radio.(and the HAM mentioned above). I personally carry a ETON FRX3. What I like about it is that it will run via electricity, rechargeable battery, solar, and hand crank. It also has a built-in flashlight and cell phone charger. A good rule of thumb in survival (and packing in general) is to utilize items that give you a lot of value for their space.

SELF DEFENSE

                I’m not going to bog down too much on this particular area, but I will share a few things. Obviously, you should travel with a firearm and ammunition for the respective weapon(s). If you hate guns and think they are evil then you’re on the wrong site I would encourage you to visit HERE instead. Great, now that we’ve gotten rid of them let’s move on. There are times, and places that you, unfortunately, cannot travel or carry a weapon. In these cases, you’ll have to be creative and consider other options for the bag. Note this; I do not encourage placing your only firearm or all spare ammo in or on the bag. This would obviously leave you in a pretty compromised situation if you lose the bag for some reason.

SHELTER

                Shelter is one of those areas that you need to be somewhat creative with in your BOB. For my actual bag, I do not carry shelter. Instead, I opt to carry a lightweight tarp (folds flat and takes very little space) and 550 paracords. By carrying this minimal amount of equipment I can make a variety of good shelters depending on the environment that I’m in. I also recommend carrying some excess 550 line as you’ll find there are numerous excellent uses for cordage.

I do have personal tents (similar to those, however mine are subdued) and even a large family tent that is co-located with our evacuation gear. These make the cut if we’re traveling in our vehicle for the evacuation. We also keep a couple of space blankets in the BOB as well. These can be utilized similar to a tarp, however, they are not nearly as durable (that’s not their purpose). What they do work particularly well at is a firewall reflector (reflects heat toward your sleeping area).

POWER SOURCE

                There are numerous considerations when thinking about what types of power sources you should throw in your bag. What items do you have that require power? Some examples of mine are Night vision, Optics, Flashlights, cell phone, GPS etc. I recommend you try your best to align your equipment to utilize similar batteries. This allows you to carry less. One of my favorite items I keep in my bag is a high capacity battery (recharger) like this. They have numerous styles out there and a good one will provide a great deal of charge for the small tradeoff in space. Another option to consider is a solar power recharging panel. I haven’t personally used these so I can’t speak to their effectiveness.

FIRST AID

                This is an area that can be quite broad in category. As a general rule here I like to keep it primarily trauma related. Pack a basic compact first aid kit. A few unique items that I include in mine are Skin Stapler; Quick Clot; Nasopharyngeal Tube; EMT Shears and Tourniquet. Additionally, I also carry a small supply of various medications in the kit, antibiotics are great to have on hand. An important (and I would like to think obvious) note here is that it’s important your trained on the use and application of the equipment you carry. Throwing a tourniquet on little Johnny’s arm for the paper cut is generally not good practice.

Another thing that should be considered and I find is often not thought of are your teeth. I carry an emergency dental kit for this purpose.

Required medicine or supplies. Depending on your family’s specific needs you will want to ensure you have any required medicines or supplies. For instance insulin for a diabetic in the family.

PURCHASING POWER

                You definitely want to include some purchasing power in your BOB (and/or on your person). I personally approach this like many things and include a variety. I keep approximately $200 cash in a mix of $1-$20 denominations. Some pre-paid Credit Cards (note; many of these expire or charge you after a certain period of time so make sure you keep track). I also include some precious metal items (Primarily coinage) as well. Ideally, you want to shoot for smaller value items to allow broader flexibility. After all, you don’t want to end up trying to cut a sliver off of a 1oz gold coin to pay for a gallon of gas.

QUICK TIP 1: I keep a dummy wallet with my kit or when I travel. This is a cheap wallet with fake credit cards, hotel room key (old) and twenty dollars in small bills cash. This can be handed over in a robbery and gives the appearance or realism.

QUICK TIP 2: I don’t really use checks anymore, however, I always keep at least one or two blank ones folded in my wallet for those unforeseen needs. This has helped me out of tight spaces on multiple occasions over the years.

DOCUMENTS

You want to ensure you have your most important documents and IDs packed. Some considerations are Government ID, Passport, Social Security Card, Emergency Contact #’s and Information, and Bonds.

Miscellaneous

                Below are some various items that I don’t necessarily include at all times, but do make it into the bag for various situations. It’s worth noting here that my setup is likely different than a typical family would have or need. This is in large part due to the fact that I run a training company and travel frequently. At the end of the day, you’ll want to tailor something that fits best with your lifestyle and preparation concerns.

NOTE: Check the legality in your area before buying or utilizing these.

55 Gallon Trash bags. These serve numerous purposes and always come in handy.

Ziplock Bags. Another great all-purpose helper.

CELL SIGNAL DISABLER

REVERSE PEEPHOLE VIEWER

CLEAR OUT (Tear Gas)

LOCK PICKING SET

DISGUISE MATERIAL. I intend to write a full article on this topic in the future.

RF Detector

Once again this list is not complete, but it should give you a great start toward putting your bag together. Remember, rather than approaching it with ‘which items should I pack?’ consider the question ‘what situations may I encounter and what are my essential needs’. Finally, enjoy the process. Use it as an opportunity to learn while you prepare. Get to know your gear. Don’t just buy it, pack it, and not look at it again. It’s important to use it to identify bad products as well as shortages in your equipment or skillset.

Please share your tips and thoughts in the comments below!

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