Bug Out Bag Organization by Experts: How To, Methods

A bug out bag is one of those items that is in constant change. 

They started as military bags, then outdoor packs, and now there are all sorts of sizes and designs that people choose to use. 

Additionally, the gear inside as well as how that gear is packed tends to change as well. I cannot tell you how many times I have swapped out gear or reorganized my bag in hopes of overall optimization. 

Over the years I have come across three main ways that people set up their packs.

3 Ways to Organize a Bug Out Bag

No Organization

The first method is that the bag is not organized, and the gear is haphazardly placed inside.

I am not a huge fan of this method because it is not efficient. I usually end up wasting time digging around or dumping the contents out to find what I was looking for. 

By Function

The second method is that the bag is organized by function. 

This means that the bag has one specific purpose. I have heard of this method being used when there are multiple group members. 

For example, one person will carry a bag that has nothing but food and food-related items in it. Another person will carry a bag that has all medical supplies, and so on. 

I am not a fan of this method either because if something happens to a person or they become separated from the group, then all of one kind of supplies are gone. 

Containers 

And lastly, the bag is organized into smaller kits within the BOB that contain a wide range of gear. This is the method I settled on long ago and overall, I believe it works the best.  

The last method is the one I will be discussing in further detail about and sharing my opinions on how to organize your bug out bag in that manner.   


Organizing a Bug Out Bag 

The Bag 

Since this is an article about organizing a BOB and not about the bag itself, I won’t go into great detail about choosing a bag, but I wanted to briefly touch on the subject. 

Any type of bag can be used as a bugout bag. 

From a $500 outdoor pack to a free plastic shopping bag. You do what you can with what you have. 

However, if a budget allows for it, I suggest investing in a pack that is durable with individual compartments and has a chest and waist strap. 

The extra compartments will help with organization and the additional straps will keep the bag secured and centered on your back. 

Starting Out

Now it is time to dive inside the bag. 

One of the best ways to organize a BOB is to think of the bag as a large container transporting several smaller containers. 

To begin, lay all your supplies out that you want to put into your bug out bag. 

Next, group like items together into their own categories such as first aid, fire, water, shelter, food, gear repair, etc. 

Once the supplies are appropriately grouped, it is time to put them into a container. 

Containers

At this point, you may be asking, “what is the point of putting everything into individual containers?”

Well, here are a few answers to that very question. 

  • You will know where everything is without having to dig through the bag
  • If a BOB needs to be ditched, several supplies can easily be grabbed if they are in containers. This is why it is a great idea to have a smaller survival kit within the bag. 
  • In an emergency, such as a medical emergency, items can be quickly accessed without wasting time
  • Containers help to protect supplies
  • Some containers may have multiple functions 

Choosing a Container 

In terms of container choices, the sky is the limit. But there are several characteristics to think about when deciding on what to use.  

Durability

A container should be tough enough to hold up to a lot of use and abuse and should not puncture easily. Hard containers will be the most durable but can sometimes be difficult to pack.

Waterproof

Keeping supplies dry is key when those supplies are all you have. This is one of the most important things to remember when it comes to packing a BOB.

Pack your supplies as though you will always be exposed to wet conditions. 

Size

Containers should be large enough to house items without wasting space. Space is a premium in a bug out bag. 

Versatility 

If the container can be used in multiple ways that is a huge bonus! 

For example, metal containers can be used to boil water, cook, and may work as an improvised signal mirror. 

Budget

Lastly, most people are not going to want to spend an arm and a leg on this endeavor. And not to worry as most of the containers I will suggest are quite affordable. 

Types of Containers

Tin Containers

Tin containers come in all shapes and sizes and will not break your pocketbook. Typically, they are either round or rectangular shaped.  

These are a good option because they are durable, can have multiple functions, and are fairly water-resistant. 

But tin is a softer metal and can dent or be misshapen somewhat easily.  

For smaller items, you can go ultra-cheap by using an Altoids tin which is a popular choice for a pocket survival kit (PSK)

Resealable Plastic Bags

It is my opinion that these should be in everyone’s bag because they are affordable, lightweight, come in several sizes, and are extremely versatile. 

Plastic_Bag

If budget is a concern resealable bags that can be purchased at the grocery store, like Zip Lock bags, work just fine. 

While they may cost a little more, thicker plastic bags can be found at specialty stores or ordered online.

I do recommend these as they hold up much better than a typical resealable plastic bag and there is a larger range of sizes to choose from.

Dry Bags

These are somewhat similar to resealable plastic bags but are usually are more durable and have a specific purpose. 

The bags come in different sizes, colors, are collapsible, and are designed to keep supplies dry.

These are often used to keep an extra set of clothes in when traversing through wet environments. 

Hard Plastic Containers

Plastic is a super lightweight option that does not sacrifice durability.

However, plastic is prone to cracking or breaking when exposed to extreme temperatures or when put under pressure due to an impact.

But plastic is waterproof and affordable.

Super Cheap Containers

Going ultra-cheap does not always mean you have to sacrifice quality or durability. I am a fan of repurposing items vs throwing them away and every day we throw away a lot of useful stuff. 

Coffee cans for example are bulky, but they are durable, water-resistant, and can hold a fair number of supplies.  

Plastic jars are another great option. Jars that once contained nuts, snacks, or spices, are durable and useful. Spice bottles are great for holding sewing supplies and fishing supplies.

Now, many of these containers are not designed to be reused in this manner so I do not guarantee any specific results. 

But I have repurposed containers for this task for years with very few problems. 

Color Coding

If you want to take your organizational skills to the next level, you can color code the containers. 

This provides a visual cue for quickly identifying a kit. 

Use whatever colors make sense to you but here are a few suggestions to get you started. 

  • Red= First aid supplies 
  • Orange= Fire starting supplies 
  • Blue= Water related supplies 
  • Green= Shelter supplies 
  • Yellow= Emergency signal supplies

Packing the Bag

All your supplies have now been separated and put into containers, so now it is time to pack it all away. 

How you pack your supplies will depend on the type of supplies and bag you have. 

But here is a general, widely accepted way for stowing gear in a pack. 

First, I like to line the inside of my bag with a large plastic trash bag. The bag can later be used for other purposes, but its primary function is to help keep everything dry. 

Next, place heavier items at the bottom and along the center back of the bag. 

This will help prevent other supplies from being crushed as well as provide better weight distribution when carrying. 

If you pack heavy items along the side of a bag the weight will not be balanced and will cause undue strain while carrying. 

From here, pack lighter weight items around the heavier items. This will help keep everything snug and prevent items from shifting around during transport. 

Accessibility

It is important to keep in mind the placement of items in terms of their importance and how regularly they are used. 

For example, a water bottle will be used often and therefore should be one of the last items packed. 

Fire starting tools and medical supplies are also important, so they should be easily accessible. 

There are a few tools that I like to keep in outside compartments that I can get to quickly if I need to. 

For example, I like to have a lighter or matches in an outside pocket in case I need to start a fire right now. Or a flashlight in case I unexpectedly run into a situation where there is not much light.  

On the other hand, cookware, or miscellaneous tools such as a sewing kit, will not be used as often and can be packed lower in the bag. 

These are items that are usually not of immediate need and can be retrieved when you stop to rest. 

The Exterior of the Bag

The exterior of a bag can provide ample storage space as well. 

From zippered compartments to mesh pockets, straps and Velcro, the outside can be utilized almost as much as the interior. 

When using exterior straps be sure that the items are tightly secured. 

Loose items will move around and cause strain when carrying, create sound when you are trying to remain quiet, and could become unattached from the pack, sometimes without you even knowing about it.  

Velcro is fine for displaying patches on a bag, but I would caution against using it as the primary method for attaching anything with weight. 

Always use a secondary anchor such as a strap or buttons to ensure an item remains secured. 

Trust me, when you stop for a rest, it is not fun to find out you lost something along the way.


Wrap Up 

Having an organized bugout bag not only gives peace of mind but is an efficient way of carrying supplies. 

By putting in a little extra effort to properly pack a BOB, your gear will be better protected, and you will always know where everything is. 

Remember, “there is a place for everything, and everything has its place.”

Thanks for reading and stay prepared!

How do you like to organize your bugout bag? Sound off in the comment section below and let us know!




Written by Bryan Lynch

Bryan grew up in the Midwest and spent every waking moment outdoors. Learning how to hunt, fish, read the land, and be self-reliant was part of everyday life. Eventually, he combined his passions for the outdoors, emergency preparedness, and writing. His goal was to spread positive information about this field. In 2019, Bryan authored the book Swiss Army Knife Camping and Outdoor Survival Guide. His second book, Paracord Projects For Camping and Outdoor Survival, is scheduled to be released on March 2, 2021. Read more of Bryan's articles.