How to Pack a Bug-Out Bag

Most nights when we go to bed, everything is alright. We wake up the same way. We are lulled into routine until one day we wake up, and something is not quite right.

When a crisis arises, it does so at the most unexpected time – are you prepared? What makes the difference between survival and demise are the decisions we make in the first split seconds of a disaster.

Beyond this, the initial 72 hours of an emergency situation are the most crucial. During this period of time, you should ask yourself:

Are you ready to leave your residence at a moment’s notice with food, water, and medicine in hand?

Be honest with yourself, because if the answer is no, we are here to help you change that.

What is a Bug-out Bag?

To bug out is to make the calculated decision to abandon your dwelling. The decision is in response to a sudden unforeseen crisis that has the potential to threaten your life.

When that happens, the supplies you need are packed in a bag we refer to as a bug-out bag.

Fundamentally, your bug-out bag is regarded as a survival kit and packed with necessities. These essentials will help you through any number of contingencies for at least 72 hours.

Why Should You Have a Bug-out Bag?

Recent history has proven to us that even in our modern times, calamity can fall upon us at any time. Without preparation, you expose yourself and your dependents to untold suffering.

If you see the importance of preparing, we will walk you through the essentials of a bug-out bag. We have created a detailed checklist to help you make it through the worst of any crisis.

This checklist is split into 12 parts. The first four parts are based on the Rule of Threes. These are the things a human being needs to survive:

  • Three minutes without air
  • Three hours without shelter under extreme environmental conditions
  • Three days without water
  • Three weeks without food

Go through each of the categories that we have exhaustively researched and listed according to their order of priority.

Note: Remember that this is a bag that you have to take with you quickly during a life or death scenario, so limit the items to what you believe is truly necessary.

The Bug-out Bag Checklist


Without clean air, you have a three-minute window to survive. To increase your chances, pack an air filtration mask. Filtering particulates may be the only way to access clean oxygen for breathing.


If you are stuck under extreme weather, immediate shelter is necessary.

  • Tents– When natural disasters such as hurricanes occur, finding shelter tends to be difficult with widespread devastation. Pack a Mylar emergency tent, as it can retain heat and repel water, keeping you warm and dry. The Mylar tent folds into its bag small enough to fit into your palm, saving your limited space for other supplies.
  • Space blanket– Emergency aluminized blankets are lightweight and versatile additions to your bug-out bag. In addition to keeping you warm, or cool, you can turn them into a makeshift shelter. The blankets fold into the size of a napkin.
  • Sleeping bagsFind the most lightweight sleeping bag that provides maximum warmth and then pack it.


Safe drinking water is essential for your survival in a crisis. Since having access to some may be hard, keep the following items in your bug out bag:

  • Portable water filters – These lightweight filters make water from unfamiliar sources safe to drink by filtering out sediments, bacteria, protozoa, and even some viruses.
  • Bottled water/water bottle/bladder – Water bottles should be strong enough to resist puncturing. Stainless steel water bottles are the best for emergency scenarios.

In a normal environment, a person can only go 72 hours without water, so make sure your bag has the appropriate hydration, as much as you can carry.


Keep enough ready-to-eat food in the bag to last at least three days. Food provides the energy required for physical exertion.

If your emergency situation is a flooded town or a war, you must practice rationing. It may take at least 5 days for relief food to be assembled for distribution.

  • Rationing– There is no room for a feast in a bug-out bag. You must only eat your planned ration at every mealtime. If you are stranded with your pets, there is packed food for cats and dogs as well.
  • FishingIn the event that your bug-out location is near a body of water, you may as well get your own food. Think of packing a fishing kit, a string with a hook, and some bait too.


Your clothes protect you from the physical environment. Make sure you carry the appropriate clothing in the backpack.

  • Winter gloves – Get protection from frostbite with the right warm gloves. These gloves offer a firm grip, protecting your hands from injuries and infection. The aftermath of disaster more often than not involves cleanup of heavy debris. Quality gloves ensure that you maintain manual dexterity to finish these tasks.
  • Waterproof jacket – Your situation will already be uncomfortable enough, so small victories like staying dry really count.
  • Change of clothes– Pack at least one change of clothes in case you get wet. Damp clothes speed up hypothermia.
  • HeadwearBeanies are crucial for heat retention. Pack them instead of hats.


Just in case you are stranded outside with no viable shelter, you must find the means to generate warmth. When disaster forces you out into the elements, it’s important to have sources of warmth on-hand.

  • Fire starters – These are an efficient way to start a fire for warmth and for heating food. Some brands of fire starters work even when they are wet, so include them in your bug-out kit. Keep some matches as a back-up.
  • Hand and leg warmersWarmers contain chemical components that generate the heat that keeps you warm when exposed to the air.


Once the sun goes down, you don’t have to stop your journey if you are on foot. There are three classes of light sources that you can pack in the bug-out bag.

  • Headlamps – Headlamps provide hands-free lighting that you can attach around your head. Headlights can be used under extreme weather conditions and even underwater for a limited period of time. They have a shelf-life of up to a decade.
  • Chemlights – Chemical light sticks will provide light for up to 12 hours. The brightness can be seen from a mile away. This makes them great for signaling.
  • Flashlight– Everyone should keep a strong and compact flashlight in the go-bag.

First Aid

Medical supplies make up an essential component of the bug-out bag. Injuries of all kinds are common whenever tragedy strikes.

Your bug-out bag must have the following items in order of priority:

  • Tourniquet
  • Pressure bandage
  • Z-fold gauze
  • Coban roll
  • Trauma shears
  • Over the counter medication(Paracetamol, Ibuprofen, Benadryl, and Loperamide)
  • Band-aids
  • Chest seals
  • Tweezers
  • Vaseline
  • 2 needles and thread in isopropyl alcohol
  • Silk medical tape
  • 5” x 2” Moleskin
  • 4.5” x 4 yards Gauze Rolls
  • 6 Gauze pads 4” x 4”
  • Plastic cling film
  • Cravat
  • 16 Butterfly bandages 0.5″ x 2.75″
  • 3 safety pins
  • ACE bandage 4” x 5 yards
  • 36” aluminum splint
  • 2 pairs of Gloves
  • Reference guide
  • Saline eye drops
  • 2 ab pads 5” x 9” –
  • 28 French Nasopharyngeal airway
  • Pepto-Bismol
  • Caffeine Pills
  • Hydrocortisone cream
  • Miconazole
  • Broad-spectrum antibiotics

Start by stocking the items at the top of the list and work downwards. How far down you go depends on the emergency you are preparing for.

Feel free to customize the bug-out medical kit according to your needs.

Note: Learn how to treat blisters, clean wounds, bandage, and close them. Take up a certified first aid course to bolster your skills.

Navigation Instruments

In situations that dictate you to find an alternative route, navigation instruments are a life-saver.

  • MapsKeep a map of the local area and another of the state and neighboring states. Natural disasters tend to remodel landscapes, so you may have to find a plan B.
  • CompassGet a compass to help you maintain your course according to a map or GPS. Learn how to use one, otherwise it will be useless.
  • GPS tracking systemBattery and solar-powered GPS systems exist, so bring extra batteries or a solar charger in case the charge runs out.

Multi-Use Tools

These tools are to help you overcome a myriad of challenges you may encounter in the field.

Hatchet and Shovel ComboThis combination was invented so that outdoorsmen and survivalists could carry all their tools with less weight. Some tools like the Pathway North are a combination of at least five survival tools in one. One shovel contains:

  • Hexagon wrench
  • Window breaker
  • Shovel board
  • Saw
  • Screwdriver
  • Multifunctional knife
  • Hollow tubing for storage

Multi-toolThis useful tool is a combination of various individual functions in one single unit. Some units have as many as 27 tools in one! Your bug-out multi-tool should have the following:

  • Small knife
  • Philips screwdriver
  • Wire snips
  • Carabiner
  • File
  • Bottle opener

ParacordUse this strong fiber to secure a makeshift shelter. Learn how to hunt, create snare traps, fish, and string up a bear bag with it.

Duct TapeSome emergency uses are repairs on tents, equipment, and backpacks, just to mention a few. It also speeds up the process of lighting a fire.

CrowbarUse your crowbar to roll out heavy objects from your path. Break into a shelter or wield it as a self-defense weapon.

Folding Saw– If you choose to include this item, use it to clear your path, chop firewood, and build a shelter.


Situations may arise where you need to defend yourself from hostile people or animals. If that happens, grab a tool from the bug-out bag.

Most of the tools we have already included in the bug-out checklist can also be self-defense weapons. Here are some dedicated weapons you might pack:

  • KnifeThis is a self-defense staple. However, in many survival situations, it ends up being used to cut cans of food and other objects. Opt for knives with a safety sheath.
  • Pepper SprayUse pepper spray to ward off wild animals and to discourage attacks from people.

Note: The fact that you are packing weapons in your go-bag should not make you overconfident. The best kind of self-defense is to avoid confrontation.


If you still have some space in your bug-out bag, and it’s still foot-portable, read on.

  • Universal Charger – A charger is used to power the electronics in your backpacks such as flashlights, radio, and phone.
  • Whistle -A whistle is used to call for help or signal your position to other members of your party.
  • Eyewear -Goggles pack tightly around the eyes to provide complete protection and clear vision.
  • Contacts and addresses of family members -Make a list and practice memorizing all the phone numbers of the people who matter most to you.
  • Digital and physical copies of official documents – Seal the physical copies in waterproof and airtight lamination or canister. This is especially useful if your town/city has to be evacuated.
  • Passport –Keep your passport with you at all times during an emergency. Necessity may dictate that you cross the border.
  • Title deeds and contracts -Keep a copy of all contracts and titles in your name. When normalcy resumes – and in the event that your residence was destroyed – you will still have proof of ownership.
  • Sewing kit –The sewing kit is often overlooked in the go-bag list. It is worth considering, since it performs crucial repair work.
  • Disaster preparedness for the whole family –You may be ready to handle an emergency, but what about your family?

Surviving disaster is easier as a communal effort, since the collective chances of survival are usually higher.

Share your skills with your loved ones and make a plan for getting to safety when disaster strikes, how to communicate, and where to meet.

The Bug-out Backpack

So you have spent a lot of time and resources building up your evacuation supplies. What kind of bag are you planning to use?

Your regular backpack is not good enough for this situation. A bug-out bag must have the following:

  • Constructed of a thick, indestructible material
  • Foam padded back and hip straps for comfortable carrying
  • Pockets and several compartments for organizing supplies
  • Splash resistant outer and inner lining
  • Airtight
  • Roll-top construction

How Heavy Should The Bug-out Bag Be?

More often than not, people tend to build up a bug-out bag that is barely portable on foot on the local terrain. Why is this so common?

  • People falsely assume that they will haul the bag in a vehicle
  • Individuals tend to overestimate their physical fitness
  • Some people are incapable of prioritizing supplies, so they throw in anything and everything
  • It’s easy to underestimate how arduous it is to carry 50 pounds of weight on our backs for hours

These assumptions may cost you heavily once you are face-to-face with a catastrophe. In real life, you will probably be forced to ditch a vehicle due to blocked roads or breakdowns.

The journey on foot to find a bug-out is physically taxing. In the event that you are forced to use alternative routes on foot, you may encounter difficulties: miles of wilderness, floods, injuries, exhaustion, and wild animals, to mention just a few.

Note: The rule of the bug-out bag is that it should not weigh more than 10% of your body weight.

To test your endurance while carrying the go-bag, take a mile-long hike with it on your back. Either keep practicing regularly to build up your endurance or drastically reduce the contents of your backpack!

Mistakes to Avoid While Packing The Bug-out Bag

  • There is no point in packing any type of food that requires more than boiling to prepare.
  • You already have caffeine pills, so there is no need to pack coffee.
  • You do not have the luxury to indulge in dieting during a survival situation. For example, if you are vegan, or only eat gluten-free products, please recognize that you have to get your supply of protein through whatever ration is available.
  • Store water in canteens or stainless steel water bottles. Pouches or juice box containers are susceptible to punctures.
  • Hydration bladders are also susceptible to puncturing and misuse of rations, since it is hard to keep track of consumption.
  • Anything that you intend to re-use from your bag should not be plastic material.
  • Salt supplements do more harm to your health than good. There is enough salt in both the food rations and canned food.
  • Buying cheap pre-assembled gear is as bad as not preparing at all. Investing in more expensive gear means superior quality and less weight.
  • Inflatable sleeping bags are susceptible to puncturing and burns.
  • Always use proper footwear while evacuating.
  • There are a hundred lighting sources that are more advanced than glow sticks. Give them up for better lighting sources, such as chemical lights or headlamps.
  • Cranking lights are relics of the past. Technology has innovated rechargeable lights, which are more efficient to use.
  • Please don’t weigh down the bag with multiple cooking kits. It is a life and death mission, not a cookout.
  • Multiple rounds of ammo are not necessary unless you are part of a militia headed out to war.
  • You are not Rambo.
  • Night vision goggles and diagnostic tools such as blood pressure cuffs will only add unnecessary weight.

Full Bug-Out Bag Checklist

  • Air filtration mask
  • Stainless steel water bottles/canteen
  • Food rations
  • Fishing kit
  • Cold weather gloves
  • Multi-tool
  • Portable water filtering system
  • Paracord
  • Emergency tent
  • Space blanket
  • Prescription drugs
  • Broad-spectrum antibiotics
  • Painkillers, antacid, anti-inflammatory, anti-diarrhea medicine
  • Band-aids
  • Gauze rolls
  • Gauze pads
  • Nitrile gloves
  • Cravat
  • Coban roll
  • Trauma shears
  • Over the counter medication (Paracetamol, Ibuprofen, Benadryl, and Loperamide)
  • Chest Seals
  • Tweezers
  • Vaseline
  • Needless and thread in Isopropyl Alcohol
  • Silk medical tape
  • Moleskin
  • Gauze rolls
  • Gauze pads
  • Plastic cling film
  • Butterfly bandages
  • Safety pins
  • ACE bandage
  • Aluminum splint
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Antiseptic wipes
  • First-aid manual
  • Tourniquet
  • Axe and shovel combination tool
  • Folding saw
  • Duct tape
  • Crowbar
  • Space blanket
  • Headgear
  • Hand and foot warmers
  • Waterproof jacket
  • Change of clothes
  • Knife
  • Pepper spray
  • Matches/fire starter
  • Chemical lights
  • Flashlights
  • Headlamp
  • Maps of area
  • Compass
  • GPS tracking system
  • Goggles
  • Whistle
  • Sewing kit
  • Physical and digital copies of important documents
  • Cash
  • Small mirror
  • Universal Charger

What is Your Bug-out Level?

Level 1

These are go-bags weighing less than 20 pounds. All level 1 supplies will fit comfortably in a 25L backpack.

This bag is light and packed for mild emergencies, such as minor disruptions from a localized earthquake. It has all the essentials you need to survive away from home for at least 72 hours.

If you have advanced survival skills, a level 1 bug-out bag will comfortably help you through a more devastating crisis.

Level 2

Bug-out bag weighing less than 35 pounds and fits into 44L backpacks. In addition to the level 1 items, it contains equipment that will make you more comfortable. For instance, a solar charger, tent, and blanket.

Level 3

This is the recommended maximum weight of a bag that everyone should carry. This is for bags whose weight is greater than 35 pounds but less than 45 pounds. These supplies fit into 49 to 60L bags.

This bag caters to an array of emergency scenarios and extended displacement from home. Your preparation is not complete until you have this go-bag in place ready to leave dodge. This bag literally holds your life inside its compartments, so handle it with the seriousness it deserves.


Being forced out of your residence is traumatizing. Having the right supplies at hand makes the transition somewhat bearable. In the event that you may never come across an exigency, the peace of mind each day is worth it.

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