How to Make a Bug Out Bag: by Senior Police Detective Troy Edwards (Ret), The Crosshairs L.L.C.
The bug-out bag is also known as an “AWOL” bag, 72-hour kit, grab bag, GO bag, or GOOD (Get Out Of Dodge) Bag. It’s useful in a range of situations from emergency evacuations due to inclement weather, the end of the Mayan Calendar, a quick camping solution, or even the much anticipated zombie apocalypse.
A key motto that I have regarding a Bug Out Bag or for that matter, survival in general, is to make the best use of your space & to try to utilize equipment that has multiple uses. An example, not to be funny, is non-lubricated condoms. They can be used for water transportation, covering the barrel of a rifle, used as sterile gloves to tend to wounds & even in fishing as bait or as a bobber.
The point is that you have an easily accessible bag at the ready so you can get up, grab it, & get moving & survive for a number of days without assistance or direction. The chances of you actually needing a bug-out bag are slim, however in situations such as Hurricane Katrina, where a bad situation suddenly made a turn for the worse, it could mean the difference between life & death.
No matter where you keep your bag, make sure it is somewhere where you can reach it quickly when needed. You want to keep it somewhere you can access it easily. Some say the trunk of your car, making it available to you while on the road. Others believe your car may not be near you when you need it most, making the closet nearest to your front door a more ideal location.
Before you can prepare your Bug Out Bag, you must decide on the bag itself. In my opinion, modular is always better. M.O.L.L.E. gear, which stands for Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment is currently the most popular. Camping bags, as well as military solutions, have a remarkable selection of modular bag solutions that allow you to add & remove external pouches, pockets, & other components to help you compress or expand your storage capacity as needed.
Storage capacity is typically rated in cubic inches. A good standard bug-out bag will give you around 1,800 cubic inches of initial capacity with MOLLE expansion straps. This is a standard on which many external pouches & expansion pockets are designed to fit on the exterior of your bag securely. This looks like a series of horizontal straps that run along the front &/or sides of the bag with occasional vertical stitching creating sleeves on which pockets can be attached. Carabiners are also easily attached to MOLLE points.
The contents of your bug-out bag should depend heavily on the climate in which you live, needs of the user, & other personal preferences. Remember that you have no idea what could happen, so it’s usually wise to plan for the unexpected in advance. In general, you want to be able to survive on only the contents of the bag itself for at least 72 hours. This means you’ll need to pack first-aid supplies, food, extra clothes, & some system for water.
Water is heavy, especially if you think about how much of it you’ll need during a three-day period. Because of this, you may want to consider a solution that allows you to make use of existing water sources rather than depending exclusively on what you can carry.
One example of an existing water supply that is easy to carry comes from a company called Mainstay. This company makes portable drinking water that is stored in easy-to-pack pouches. When you need a drink of water, simply open the pouch and have at it. You can pack a few of these in a bag without overwhelming yourself with added weight, & the shape of the pouches makes it easy to integrate into your pack.
For filtering natural water sources, companies make a sports bottle with a powerful enough filter to make stagnant pond water safe to drink. It wipes out 99.9% of common toxic chemicals, microscopic pathogens, & heavy metals that makes some water potentially harmful to drink. You can learn basic survival water purification or carry water purification tablets.
First aid is an important consideration, if not the most important, in your bug-out bag. Because you would use this in cases of emergency, you have to assume that you may be administering first aid to yourself or others you find along your path. Are there any special medications you take? If so, keep a few doses in your bug-out bag just to be safe. Newly released articles in various medical journals state that for the most part, medicines only lose a slight percentage of their initial potency.
Fire, Cooking, & Heat
Even though we live in the 21st century, we still have to consider what might happen if you’re trapped in the wilderness & you need to get a fire going to survive. Thankfully, modern conveniences have given us plenty of tools to get this done without needing to pile large amounts of gear in your bag.
A tactical fire starting & stove kit can compress very nicely in your bug-out bag & provide you with a convenient & easy way to start a warm fire, cook food, & all with minimal risk of starting a brush fire. You can grab some all-weather matches & a waterproof match box & I suggest even learning some basic fire starting techniques.
Food is important. In fact, it is absolutely required when you’re out in the wilderness expending excess energy hiking, searching for shelter, or simply setting up camp. Food is energy, & you need energy to survive in emergency situations.
A standard meal ready to eat (MRE) pack will contain a multi-course meal that should give you enough calories to get through a day out in the field. You can also find some portable heater packs that require a little liquid, water or improvised) to start a chemical reaction that heats the bag up. By placing the bag inside of the cardboard meal container, you can enjoy a warm meal without having to start a fire. Be careful, though; those heater packs expel hydrogen, which itself isn’t something you should breathe in enclosed spaces.
Camping supply stores sell great alternative food supplies including dehydrated food & freeze-dried solutions that can be easily prepared and eaten. I recommend jerky & peanut butter. Great for calories.
Meal time when out in the wild is important not only for keeping up your strength, but maintaining sanity. It gets boring out in the woods, & your mind can drive itself crazy as you deal with whatever situation put you out there in the first place. In addition to packing reading material &/or simple games, eating a good meal can take your mind of things and make life a little easier.
Clothes should always be loose & in layers out in the wild. You want to stay warm, but restrictive clothing can cause you problems. Pack clothes that fold or roll up easily, & provide the maximum function over form. You’re not going on a trip to look glamorous, you’re surviving.
One trick I learned to maximize storage in a bag is to roll clothes rather than fold them. Pants, shirts, jackets, socks, & anything else you might wear can be rolled into tightly packed spaces that take up much less room than traditional folding methods.
Always pack an extra pair of shoes. You never know when you might step in a puddle, or otherwise douse your shoes. If your feet are wet, they may give you problems. Pack as many socks as you can, but make sure you have an extra pair of shoes that will be comfortable & sturdy in the wild.
Blankets and Tents
Emergency blankets are cheap & easy to pack. The reflective coating can signal for help, & the blanket itself was developed by NASA to keep humans alive in the harshest of conditions. They come as a single blanket or now as a sleeping bag.
Also, you may want to find a good soft polar fleece blanket somewhere that is large enough to wrap yourself in. When it gets cold outside, this can keep you warm & comfortable. It’s also easy to compress & pack, making it an excellent choice.
Tents are available all over the place, & if you can find one that compresses neatly, weighs very little, & promises to protect you from the harshest elements in your climate, you’re on to something. If you’re single, go for a single-person tent which is easy to carry & store. A two-person tent will keep you, your spouse, & your children (in a pinch) safe from the elements during the night.
Yoga mats sound crazy here, but if you can’t find a good camp mat to sleep on (even in a tent) then these can help. Anything you can do to separate yourself from the floor is a plus. The earth has a way of sucking all the heat out of you, & it could lead to hypothermia if you don’t have adequate protection.
Get a map of your region. Batteries are unreliable in the wild & you will need a good map to help you find your way.
A compass is a must-have, & your smart phone doesn’t count. Get a camping compass from an outdoor store & put it in the bag. You never know when you might need it. Learn basic orienteering.
Pack a book or two to entertain yourself with. A game would be great as well, even if it is one only you will play. This keeps your mind occupied & off the situation at hand. People have gone crazy in the wilderness before, & you don’t want to be one of them. Aren’t there enough crazy zombies running around already? I actually carry a bible in my bags.
Money is great, but precious metals are good, too. Pack a few silver ounces with you in addition to some cash. This will help if the absolutely unfortunate happens & you end up somewhere that doesn’t care for your currency. Precious metals have value all over the globe, & can be bartered with.
Bring a short-wave radio with you & extra batteries. You need to find out what’s going on in the world, & a radio such as this picks up signals all over the place, & will keep you informed on what’s going on.
Pack a good fold-able saw. This will come in handy when you’re gathering wood, but also for other needs around the campsite.
Tomahawks are still used by US Rangers today, & are incredibly versatile tools to have with you in times of need. As both a chopping & hammering instrument, there is very little you can’t do with a good military-grade tomahawk. A great defensive tool as well.
Fishing line & hooks are handy if you come across a stream & need to fish for food. Couple this with a little packed spice (you can find spices for camping all over the place) & your camping stove, & you have a feast.
I always go camping with a tarp. Even though we have a tent, a tarp comes in handy in that area outside the tent that you may spend most of your day. It helps keep bugs away, protects you from the rain, & could serve as a makeshift tent itself should your primary one be damaged or lost.
Bring plenty of rope. Modern ropes can withstand a lot of tension before snapping, & care thinner than the ropes of yesteryear. Get a bunch of this, you may need it. I prefer para cord because it has multiple uses.
Flares, glow sticks, & emergency whistles are excellent tools for signaling for help. Pack some or all of these, as you may need them when the time comes.
Sunscreen is an essential thing to have. You need it, whether it’s cold or hot outside. The sun will burn you & make you uncomfortable after a day or two.
Flashlights are great, & if you have room for a portable lantern, pack one too. It gets dark at night, & you’ll need a good light to keep an eye on things. LED lanterns can burn for hours upon hours without burning out batteries. Crank lights are also good, as they don’t require batteries at all, though it can be a lot more work to keep lit.
Bottom line: Pack smart, & make sure the weight of the bag itself isn’t so much that you can’t travel. Keep things light & small. Become familiar with the process of tying a good knot, starting a fire, learning about berries & other wild fruit, & become acquainted with the tips & tricks of survival that have kept humans alive for hundreds of thousands of years.