10 Bug Out Bag Essentials

bug_out_essentials_stuffCall this back to basics, or getting started from the get-go, but there are as many varieties of opinions on bug out bag contents as cats have lives.  And then some.  Then there are the definitions of exactly what constitutes a bug out bag, but no two preppers or survivalists bags are the same much less their contents. So, up front, let’s politely agree to disagree if this suggested list varies from yours.  After all, my bug out bag is not your bug out bag.  Your circumstances are not the same as mine. 

You may live in a congested mega-city.  Others live in rural areas or in the suburbs.  All of these conditions allow for differences in what we put in a bag to grab on the way out of the house, office, or vehicle.

Bag for Bugging Out or a Body Bag?

My idea of a Bug Out Bag is a single source medium sized bag with the bare minimum of supplies to last 24-48 hours with some potential stretch.  This bag was created to last long enough to get out of Dodge to an alternative secure location or to a pre-determined supply cache or a more permanent pre-supplied bug out location.

Related: More Tips for your Bug Out Bag 

This Bug Out Bag is not intended to be a long-term supply resource.  It will not weigh a hundred pounds or contain long range subsistence or gear for a camp out in the wilderness.  Your bag may be designed for other types of missions or alternative plans.  That is fine.

Bug Out Bag Priorities

handgun_bug_outThis is where the fight of opinions usually starts.  What to pack first and what items are most likely to be needed initially with other bag items being needed or available as the bug out ensues.  It is easy to argue that the choice of any self-protection defensive weapon, most likely a handgun and ammo should be readily available for access or as appropriate worn in a weapon ready condition.   Let’s accept this as the first item in a bug out bag.  

Sure, when you grab your bag to jump in your escape vehicle or head down a long flight of stairs to evacuate a work site or other location, you may be darn thirsty or maybe even needing a boost of energy from a bar, but first, you’re going to want to secure your mode of personal protection.  From there the other items in the bag don’t matter in terms of priorities until they are needed.  So, grab a drink, but go slow on it.  Some of the items in your BOB you may not end up using at all, but it is nice to have them along just in case.  

Read Also: Knee Deep in Bug Out Vehicles

So, here are the ten items of basic need or utility I place in a BOB.  Other than the pistol, no particular order of priority.  Also, note, there is no suggestion of which specific item or brand to get or have, just the categories are listed here.  You figure out what you want on your own.  

The Other Nine Essentials

Meds or OTC.  If you have to have certain medications to live, then you best have them.  This goes for diabetic supplies, heart meds, or any other life essential medicines.  Support that with over the counter pain medications, antacids, antiseptics, etc.   You can keep these in the original bottles or boxes, or get a little personal med kit to store them.  Just organize them so you can find what you need quickly.  This could include a small, basic first aid kit, too.  

Water.  Have several bottles of water or a canteen.  Have more in your vehicle, but always carry some along.  Make the judgement on how much to carry balancing weight and volume in the bag with your hydration habits.  

Food Items.  Pack energy bars, not candy bars.  These should provide carbs, but some real nutrients as well.  Small bags of nuts, trail mix or other snacks that are not junk food.  Check the contents and calories ahead of time so you know how much to take along.  Again, you can store additional food in your vehicle, assuming you get to it.  

knife_handgun_bug_outKnife.  Have some sort of cutting instrument.  You choose, but be practical.  Remember, reliability and function are absolutely crucial. You may not need that huge Bowie knife on a bug out.  A good, solid, sharp folding knife that locks for safety works.  Multiple blades are great, but not the 87-blade-tool version.  I could be talked into a multi-tool that has a good cutting blade.  

Flashlight.  Gotta have one or two.  Pick a light that is super durable, extra bright, uses standard batteries, and has shock resistance in case you drop it, which is likely.  Some like to add a red or green lens cover for clandestine hiding or in vehicle use at night to reduce drawing attention to your location.  

Cell Phone/communications or News Radio.  A way to call or get calls is important, so long as the towers function.  Add to that a good basic emergency radio even a hand crank variety.  You need to get news and government broadcasts if there are any.  Ironically, even being able to get a music channel can add some comfort factor during a stressful situation.  

Firestarter.  If your travel plans get waylaid for any multitude of reasons, you may have to stop over and spend the night somewhere.  A fire can be a great comfort and under some conditions a lifesaver.  So, have a selection of ways to ignite a fire from simple matches, butane lighter, or a strike stick.  Pack a tiny bag of wax soaked cotton balls, too.  

bug_out_clothingSeasonal Clothing.  Pack a jacket, preferably a rain jacket that doubles with some insulation with a hood.  Depending on the season, add items like a warm hat and gloves, or a lightweight shirt, jeans or shorts, hiking shoes-boots and socks.  Of course, pack according to your environment. If you are in more northern environments, be sure to have warmer clothing. Additionally, more clothes should be kept in your vehicle.  

Cover Tarp and Cord.  Finally, if you have to camp out, have a temp-tarp.  Staying in the vehicle may or may not be comfortable.  A good cover will give you extra options.  

There, that’s one BOB equipped and ready to run.  Is it perfect?  Hardly.  Some can do with less, others will admittedly want to add more.  That is why we are all individuals.  Regardless, have one, supplied, packed, and ready to grab.  



John J. Woods
Written by John J. Woods

John J. Woods, PhD, has been outdoor writing for over 35 years with over 3000 articles, and columns published on firearms, gun history, collecting, appraising, product reviews and hunting. Dr. Woods is currently the Vice President of Economic Development at a College in the Southern United States. Read his full interview here. Read more of John J.'s articles.

13 thoughts on “10 Bug Out Bag Essentials”

  1. Not a bad list at all! If I may add my 10 cents then I would suggest that for most people a small (perhaps folding or break-down) rifle like an Ar-7 would be a better ideal, since a 9mm pistol is hardly optimum for small game hunting (or large) much less a full-blown fire fight! And a thousand rounds of 22LR will likely last much longer than 250 rounds of 9mm, at about the same weight. I'd say counting cover tarp and cord as one essentials is cheating a bit but better to have, etc., though I'd add a wool blanket to that category. I would suggest that you keep your meds (and med kit) in a water-tight container as well as your extra ammo since moisture has an adverse effect on band-aides, pills, etc. Since I live in Colorado, which is mostly a semi-arid place, I carry a gallon and a quarter in three canteens as well as a canteen cup (with c.c.stove) to boil water in. Only carrying one canteen is failure to acknowledge Murphy's Law, or in other words, you're asking for trouble; always be careful of what you ask for! A knife is too important of a tool to carry only one, even a utility knife makes a good back-up for a full-size blade (with extra blades) and weighs almost nothing. I carry long-term food like Millennium Bars that have a 5-year shelf life in a water-tight container, this time more for protection from rodents. In addition to your flashlight, add a headlamp using the same batteries, if your only light dies/breaks at night on the trail in an unfamiliar area, well, remember Murphy's Law! The one thing you overlooked is the BOB bag itself, whether it be backpack, shoulder bag, utility vest, (brief case?) or a combination of these or others as long as its made well and of durable materials! GLAHP!

  2. Great minimalistic list Dr. Woods.

    I have a folding stainless steel limb saw and 11MM Kernmantle Rope and a couple hanks of 550 paracord secured to my pack with carabiners and a mini block & tackle for use with 550. Much of the stuff that Roger includes in his post. I carry 2 Kru 82 1.75 liter vodka stainless steel bottles. Sawyer mini filter some coconut charcoal for those chemicals & heavy metals. I choose 22's
    5 to 10 times more rounds.
    Anyone that needs power to charge devices communication light multiband radio I like the Kaito KA500 size weight and features make it indispensable.

  3. Dr. Woods,
    You've provided an all-around excellent list, and one that would probably work well for most people, whether their objective is simply getting home (making it a GHB instead of a BOB), or if they are truly "bugging out" to a secondary location that may be more distant. It becomes a matter of critical judgment for the individual as to how much gear, clothing or food they will require. A couple of suggestions I would offer for reader's consideration are:

    1. When you are planning and organizing your BOB, don't forget to allocate space and a method of carrying an extra magazine or two for your sidearm. Most individuals would opt for external carry, so your firearm and extra mags should not consume space inside your pack. If someone is wary about an exposed pistol, a shoulder holster is a good option and can be worn underneath a jacket or shirt. Regardless, you have to be able to reach it if defensive circumstances arise.
    2. Meds and other items that are susceptible to weather can be sealed in waterproof vacuum pouches. If you don't need to access those supplies while on foot, they will still be safe from rain, forging a stream, etc.
    3. As suggested by Roger, I carry long term, high energy food bars. In my case, these are "Mainstay" from Survivor Industries. Each bar provides 400 calories of quality nourishment.
    4. Access to reliable water is likely to be a major issue if you are trying to avoid crowds and keep off the road. For that reason, I strongly recommend something like the Life Straw. They are very light weight, durable, and will outlast any conceivable bug out duration.
    5. I would include a military grade poncho for temporary shelter, as well as a set of Frog Togs for conditions where you are on the move in rainy conditions.

  4. Your phone can be tracked, leave it where you are. I have a garmin 655t GPS that has two transmitters for comm. Make a code so you don't transmit your intentions in clear voice.
    A fire will give you away, smoke. It will attract visitors who may want what you have.
    If you are really bugging out this is a serious E&E scenario. This is life and death hide and seek, be vigilant.
    I agree with the other items. I would be careful with the flashlight.
    I plan on seven days to get to my bugout location.
    Bridges are major ambush sites be careful crossing one.
    If martial law is in effect there will be check points. They will take all weapons and any camping gear you have, avoid them. If you have a back round that will cause concern you may be apprehended, don't go into the check point. Roving patrols will be an issue also, hide.
    If you carry a weapon I suggest a suppressor, 22's are perfect.

  5. I keep an Colt 1911 Rail w/ TLR-2s will silencer, and also a Mossberg 90A1 on hand, too will plenty of ammo. I chose 2,000rds of 45 and 500 shells. I killed a deer last year at 50yds w/ my 45 (one shot to the shoulder and then one to the lung when he dropped)

    • We never carried binos in Laos and North Vietnam on recon in the sixties. I guess we were lucky for a bunch of amateurs. I feel quite competent. We did carry suppressed weapons, they came in very handy.
      An armature is a small electric motor.

  6. I don't carry a phone because I don't need one and if the info I have is correct, then a cell phone (even turned off) has a active GPS chip in it and I don't plan on making it easy for "THEM" to find me (whoever they may be)! Also, if forced to bug out, I know several ways to get to my secondary BOL as well as the caches I have buried within a 3-day walk so I don't feel that I need a GPS! Going cross-country in a SHTF situation is unrealistic at best! Mini-binoculars? Maybe, if you're in fairly open country, in thick forest, it won't be any help! Ninjutsu is the art of stealthy movement, basically blending in, walking around with a pair of 'spy glasses' might send the wrong message. Since I doubt that anyone (with any experience) with limit themselves to ten items, the challenge will probably be to keep the weight of your BOB down to a manageable one! I think the two-is-one, one-is-none mentally is mostly correct, for example, IMHO no blade made is good at both skinning or gutting small game and/or fish and at chopping down logs! Personally, my BOB includes a neck knife, a 10" heavy blade and a 14" machete, no axe because I am not planning on cutting down any large tree on a bug out! Perhaps the most important thing to remember and do is practice; most people have quite sedentary life styles, for many a three day walk in a SHTF situation could easily turn into a seven day walk (or longer). A suppressor sends a certain message, especially to LEOs or military forces, something like a small water bottle filled with say rice with make a one-time make-shift short-range suppressor if needed last-ditch! If not needed as suppressor, then a pint of rice would still come in handy!

  7. Great stuff everyone! I would add that a rain poncho should be of the camouflage that best works in your environment.
    Also the pack itself. Same with tarps, this is a BOB not a survival pack- not being seen as paramount. Suppressor ? Heck yes, if worried about LE(in idle times) then pay the tax and they can FO. A suppressed .22 breakdown rifle(and the extra ammo you could carry) could do 10 times the damage a large bore pistol and the heavy ammo could. Squirrels and rabbits can sustain you if your 2 day trip gets extended. Plenty of 550 and some camo duck tape does not weigh much and can be really useful. A stainless steel cup is extremely handy.

  8. I would add a heavy leather belt to the BOB. In a SHTF bug out situation the heavy belt would supplant, or be worn over, a work pants belt. Many work belts are insufficient to support a sidearm, larger knife and mag holders, especially for an extended walk.


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