How to Lighten a Bug Out Bag (BOB): Top 8 Tips from Survivalists

To be as prepared as possible it is easy to overload a bug-out bag and for it to become too heavy. I have found that a good rule of thumb is to keep a bug out bag between twenty-five and fifty pounds. 

In my opinion, I believe a BOB can be too light which begins to enter into the realm of ultralight packs. Packing an ultra-light bag has become a bit of a sport among certain individuals wishing to challenge themselves or to push the limits.

Now, this article is not about that particular sport, if you will, but I have seen some of this ultra-light mentality bleed over into preparedness topics, specifically bug out bags.

Not Too Light, Not Too Heavy, But Just Right

I wanted to briefly discuss the weight range of a bug out bag a bit more. 

If a person wants to create an ultra-light pack for races and adventure purposes, that is fine and dandy. But I believe that way of thinking should not be applied to a bug out bag and here are my reasons why.

I am going to go along with the assumption that ultra-light packers are experienced in what they do and train often. This means that they should be able to get by with minimal supplies better than the average person. I am not saying this is a good idea, but they can do it. 

The average BOB sits in a vehicle, garage, or closet for long periods without really being used. I do not believe the average person trains often enough to retain skillsets in the outdoors to get by with minimal gear. 

Lastly, packing minimal gear to deal with unknown situations is downright dangerous. The idea of a BOB is to provide supplies to a person so that they can get from point A to point B within a set amount of time.

Most people agree that timeframe is around 72 hours. However, if possible, I like to advise people on planning for a longer period, let’s say a week.

This is because plans never go off without a hitch and people drastically underestimate how quickly they can travel when the SHTF, especially when traveling on foot.

Unknown scenarios and unknown timeframes mean we should carry as much gear as we comfortably can to deal with whatever comes our way. 

On the flip side, a heavy bug out bag has its own problems.  

The first is that the weight of the bag can cause physical problems such as in the back, shoulders, and knees. If a person is not physically fit and does not train often with their bag, it is unrealistic to believe that suddenly, they can strap on a fifty pound plus bag and be good to go. It is just not going to happen. 

The second problem is that a heavy bag will cause mobility issues, slowing a person down and making it difficult to move through certain terrain.

Even an individual who is physically fit will eventually have difficulty keeping up a certain pace when they are carrying a heavy load. It is simply tiresome, no matter who you are.

Also, a large bag packed to the rim will be difficult to move through certain areas, such as areas dense in vegetation and trees. 

I think the weight of a bug out bag should fall within that zone of not too light, not too heavy, but just right while at the same time not sacrificing safety due to a lack of gear. 


Basic Bug Out Bag Setup

Before jumping into the ways to lighten a bug-out bag I thought it would be important to go over some of the basics. The initial setup of a bug out bag should begin by covering these basics. After the basics are covered you can then decide what items to include or leave out based on your weight requirements. You can use the rule of 3 to help get you started. 

Three Minutes Without Air 

This first rule is sometimes immediately dismissed with the notion of “there is air all around us.” But do not forget first aid items associated with the breathing and that it may be difficult to breathe in certain environments. Not to mention wearing masks in contaminated areas. 

Three Hours Without Shelter

A shelter can certainly be important, but this is speaking more to three hours without maintaining core body temperature. That can be accomplished by wearing weather appropriate clothing coupled with heating and cooling techniques. 

Three Days Without Water 

We all know how important water is to our survival. Every bag should have a means to collect, filter, purify, and transport water. 

Three Weeks Without Food 

Since a bug out bag is meant to serve a short period, around three days, an argument could be made that food does not need to be dealt with in a BOB. 

However, it is important to keep our energy levels up and it is certainly possible that you may have to rely on the supplies in your bag for longer than three days. For these reasons, a few food items should be packed as well as a few tools for acquiring food, like a small fishing kit

First Aid and Navigation 

While first aid and navigation are not a part of the Rule of 3, they are important categories that fall into the basic loadout of a bug out bag. 

A first aid kit with proper medical supplies should be packed. The knowledge of how to deal with a variety of medical issues should also be known.  

A compass and a physical map of your entire region should be packed as well as knowing some basic navigational skills.  

A Word of Caution 

The following are suggestions and ideas for how to lighten a BOB and not actions you must do. Please keep in mind your situation and the region in which you live while reading.

For example, I discuss the option of swapping out a tent for a tarp. But depending on your region’s climate or what time of the year it is, this may not be a good option for you.  


Lightening A Bug Out Bag 

When the time comes to use a bug-out bag, you are going to want a bag that can be carried with the least number of problems possible while providing you with the gear you need.

If you find yourself with a BOB that is too heavy here are some ways to lighten the load while maintaining your level of preparedness. 

The Bag 

The weight of a bag is something to consider. In the eyes of most, a bag’s weight is probably negligible but when carrying gear on your back there is an old saying, “ounces turn into pounds.” 

And we do not want those pounds to add up from the bag we stuff all our gear into. A regular school backpack is not going to weigh all that much whereas a military-style bag or proper outdoor pack with a frame system is going to be noticeably heavier. 

Now, I am not telling you to use a school backpack over the other options simply because it is lighter. I am merely pointing out that there can be a noticeable weight difference between different bags and to do your research to find a durable bag without being too heavy. 

Research Bug Out Plans

Bug out plans is an area of people’s preps that I have found lacks follow-through in the details. When asked what your plans are for bugging out, the usual answer that I get from people is, “I am going to grab my bag and go to my bug out location.”

Here are some questions that I then follow up with.

  • Exactly how far is it to a bug out location from your home, work, or any other places that you often travel to?
  • What are the alternative routes to your bug out location and how much distance do they add on to the trip?
  • What are your choices for alternative modes of transportation? 
  • What is the weather like in your region?
  • How many people are in your group?
  • Do you or any of your group members have any health problems that need to be addressed?

The reason that I bring these questions up is that the answers will help a person to appropriately pack their bag rather than just filling it with as much stuff as possible.

For example, a person whose bug out location is one hundred miles away in rugged terrain is going to have different supplies than a person whose bug out location is ten miles away in a more urban environment. 

Use Multipurpose Gear 

Having items that can serve multiple purposes is a great way of packing fewer items into a bag and reducing the overall weight. 

Tools

One example that I like to present to people is the use of a quality multitool. Without getting into the ins and outs of its usability or whether you even like them, the fact remains that a single multitool can replace many larger and heavier items in a bag. 

Cookware

When it comes to cookware you have to keep in mind that bugging out is not a camping trip and there are going to be a lot of niceties you will need to do without. 

This reminds me of another conversation I once had where an individual was describing the contents of their BOB that served them and one other person.

They started listing the cookware and I think my jaw started to drop. They had pots, pans, skillets, lids for the pots and pans, plates, eating utensils, cooking utensils, cups, a grill, and the list did not seem to end. 

Outdoor cookware kits have become very compact and I would be lying if I said I was not a fan of some of them. But it is still a lot of items that could be reduced. 

For example, I would suggest trimming all that down to a single small pot, an eating utensil, and maybe a cup. 

All the cooking can be done in a pot, and the food can be eaten right out of the pot which eliminates the need for plates. The pot can even be used as a cup which would eliminate the need for that item. Do you see where I am going with this? Trim gear down to the items that can serve multiple purposes. 

Shelter

I have never been a huge fan of tents even though they do have their place. This is mainly because they can only be used as a tent unless of course, you are willing to cannibalize it and piece it out. 

Tarps on the other hand I am a huge fan of, and here are some of the reasons why:

  • They are extremely affordable.
  • Can be set up in different configurations.  
  • Easier to set up and takedown.
  • Can be used for other things besides a shelter. 
  • And for the purpose of this article, they are not as heavy.

Choose Different Materials 

Another way of reducing weight is to consider what kind of material a piece of gear or tool is constructed from. 

I am going to use cookware as another example. Cookware can be made from stainless steel, copper, cast iron, aluminum, or titanium. 

A pot made from titanium is going to be extremely lightweight whereas a cast iron pot is going to be extremely heavy.

It may take a bit more time to research and compare gear based on what it is made from but choosing supplies made from lighter weight material will make a difference.  

Limit Niceties

I often suggest putting items in survival kits and bags that are not necessities but are more of a comfort item. This could be a book, a deck of playing cards, chocolate, take your pick.

I believe these items can play a role in boosting morale and providing a little comfort. But at one point I realized the number of comfort items in my bag had increased quite a bit without me fully realizing it. 

They were unnecessarily taking up space and adding weight, several pounds in fact. After reorganizing the bag, I only allowed myself one item for this category. 


Wrap Up 

A bag that is at either extreme end of the weight spectrum has its advantages and disadvantages. But as long as your basic requirements are covered a bug-out bag can be as heavy or as light as you like. 

I hope that this article was informative and helped in pointing out some of the ways you can reduce the strain of a heavy BOB.

Thanks for reading and stay prepared!

What are ways you have reduced the weight of your bug out 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.