Survival: Then vs. Now (A Look Back)

At Survival Cache, our contributing authors come to us with great ideas for articles.  Chuck has come across some old survival information from the early 1900’s that listed out gear to have in case of an emergency.  He has written a great piece looking back at the Bug Out Bag from a different era.

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A Look Back

I’ve recently been looking into the B.O.B. (Bug Out Bag) lists from the early 1900’s and it got Pioneer woman Survivingme thinking about the differences between how a survivalist from that era would design their Bug Out Bag compared to a modern day survivalist such as myself.   The products available today are quite different from the limited options of the past however the function and use-ability of the basic items remains the same.

Some of the technological advances allow us to put together many similar items in our modern day Bug Out Bag to what our predecessors had but in a lighter more durable configuration.  I’m not sure that I can accurately tell you how the older generations would view my perspective, as I am a survivalist from today’s world.  The immediate threats to our predecessors were from different sources however the desired end result of the survivalist was the same, to be able to protect themselves and their loved ones either by repelling danger or escaping from it.  They also wanted to be able to continue to live and provide for their families in a situation where their common resources were scarce and in short supply.

People living in our modern world have grown more accustomed to comfort and convenience Great Depression Survivaland most of the products available today are geared towards making life easier for everyday life.  We have products like automatic coffee makers, flat screen televisions, self monitoring thermostats, refrigerators, TIVO, etc.  All of these things are great to have if your lifestyle and pocketbook can support them.  The drawback to having too many comfort items and the direction our modern day society has gone, is that there are too many people today who would not know what to do if all of these things were suddenly unavailable to them.

The people living in much earlier eras had to rely on their own sweat and hard work to have the necessities they used everyday.  They had to get their own milk from cows (or neighbors with cows), pump their own water by hand or draw it from a well or stream, build a fire when they wanted heat, grow and pick their own food and often hunt, kill and clean the animals they wanted to eat.  These people were mainly living a life that supported all of their survival skills.  For them to have to pick up and move, although inconvenient, was quite a bit more manageable.  With the advent of electricity and the automobile things have changed quite a bit.  It has opened up a number of new options for people living in the areas where these things became readily available.

As modern day survivalists, it’s important to remember our roots as a capable people, able toartic explorers surviving adapt and overcome any adverse situation that comes our way.  We can draw on the experience of our ancestors and look at their survival prep kits and compare it to what a modern day survival kit might look like.  There is no guarantee that we will always have the modern technological conveniences that we currently enjoy.  If we prepare for any survival situation that may come our way, we and our loved ones can ensure that we’ll be around to enjoy tomorrow, regardless of whether we can still see that new season of “Dancing with the Stars” on our flat screen TV.

Let’s take a look at a 1917 Bug Out Bag List: (It’s a short one)

-Small hatchet
-Sheath Knife
-Paper and pen
-Matches in waterproof container
-Spare eyeglasses
-First aid kit
-Repair kit: small scissors, tweezers, dental floss, needle, safety pins, rubber band, shoelace, twine, snare wire, rigged fish line, hooks, split shot, etc.
-Toilet articles: towel, soap, toothbrush, comb, mirror.

Some of the current advantages that modern survivalist have are technology & science driven but are every bit as reliable as the tools available to earlier generations.  We have lighters, antibiotics, iodine, rechargeable batteries, solar collectors, ziplock bags, multi-tools, etc.  Although the following is not a comprehensive list for a Bug Out Bag it encompasses the essentials that I feel like I need to survive in a TEOTWAWKI situation in my home state of Maine (depending on the season).  The survival list for your Bug Out Bag will no doubt differ greatly depending on your geographic area and priorities.

This is my modern day standard survival list: (From Chuck)

– A good backpack
– Fire starting tools (matches, bic lighter, blast master, flint and steel.)Bug out Bag Contents
– A good sheath knife
– Compass
– Maps
– Note pad and pencil
– Canteens (or durable water bottles)
– Flashlight
– Spare batteries (8x AA, 8xAAA, 8×123)
– Ammo for rifle and pistol (at least 200 for rifle and 100 for pistol)
– Rifle and/or pistol
Sewing kit
– Wire saw
– Spare warm clothes, socks, underwear, pants, shirt.
– Poncho
– Cook kit
– 50 feet Para cord
– Tent
– Sleeping bag
– A durable outdoor watch
– Toilet items (wash cloth, soap, toothbrush, toilet paper, toothpaste, and a razor)
– A good folding knife
– Gun cleaning kit with oil
– A couple of books
– I also have a couple of two way radios one for my wife and one for me.
– Three handkerchiefs
– Depending on the season, my snowshoes
– A good axe
– I bring Ziploc baggies to store fresh meat in or nuts and berries I find.
– Multi tool(like a Leatherman, Gerber, SOG, or Winchester)
– Fishing Kit
– A good “Riggers” type belt
– First aid kit- band aids, triple antibiotic ointment, medical tape, gauze bandages, tweezers, a small pair of scissors, iodine, I keep a septic pencil, and super glue.

Compared to today’s standards of living that is not enough to live on comfortably.  Most migrant mother with kidspeople would agree that our modern day standard of living is geared towards things being fast and easy (convenience as the standard).  A majority of us no longer have to go out and milk the cow every morning for milk, or make our own clothes.   All we have to do is go to a local Wal-Mart or discount clothing store and spend about 13 dollars on a bunch of clothes that would have been a fortune to preppers living in 1917.  I‘ve had the honor of meeting people from that era and believe they were some of the most hard working men and women I have ever known.  My great grandfather was one of the last blacksmiths in the state of Maine and he would grab a double bitted axe by the handle, hold it out at arms length, touch the blade to his noise and say, “If you are a man you should be able to do that.”  I never knew what he meant till just a few years ago when I was talking to my father about this and he told me it was my great-grandfather’s way of saying, unless you try you never will know what you are capable of.  With this in mind, lets compare what we are prepping in our survival kit / Bug Out Bag in this era to survival kits in the past.  Will we have what we need when TEOTWAWKI happens?

You might also like “7 Things You Need To Know About Bushcraft”

Also read Chuck’s article “Web Gear: The Backpack Alternative”

Photo credits:

Joel Jefferson
Written by Joel Jefferson

Joel is one of the original founders of After college, he joined the USMC where he served as an (0302) Marine Infantry Officer. Joel is an avid outdoorsman and spends much of his free time in the mountains. Joel’s hobby is researching survival gear & weapons as well as prepping. Read his full interview here. Read more of Joel's articles.

19 thoughts on “Survival: Then vs. Now (A Look Back)”

  1. I am surprised nobody has mentioned an eye glass repair kit. They are cheap, small, and if your glasses need a screw or screw driver almost nothing else will do. Even if you arn't rocking 4-eyes out of need like me, how are you going to fix those sunglasses? I keep one in my bag at all times and have had to loan it out a number of times to classmates, friends, and strangers who had a screw drop out of their glasses and had no way to fix it.

  2. I think I like your pictures contents a bit better than the list given . The gloves,ASP Baton and the safety glasses are a good extra level of protection. If someone is going to use your picture they should at least match their list.

  3. I did a fly in fishing trip into Canad this summer. 10 days of do it yourself.
    I found the 2 most useful things I bought were a small handmade hatchet – worked better than an ax for some frequent tasks like kindling, stripping poles and hammering nails and a nifty shovel that folds down into a very small package but built tough enough to stand up to constant use.
    What didn't work well was my wiz bang butane blaster/lighter. It blasted rather than lit most everything. Also most of my expensive flashlights came out of the pack either dead or missing. Wound up using a couple of cheapo disposables that worked fine.
    Also Dry AS A Bone jackets aren't although plenty tough.
    Also, camp swags or bivouacs are too damn small in mosquito country. Kinda like a coffin actually.
    I'd also like to take the opportunity to mention that moving blankets are a lot more useful than most any other kind of bedding. Thick and quilted they're very tough and you should consider using one of them instead of a bag in anything other than real cold weather.

    • You have the discovered the key to a successful kit, which is that you constantly update, change, and revise your gear until you get what you want. Thank you for sharing your input.

  4. One thing I didn't see mentioned in either set, that my grandfather taught me how to use MANY more years ago than I care to admit…. a whittlin' knife. While if you want to get "picky", you could argue that the folding knife can be used as one, but anyone with same experience carving will attest to, a whittlin' knife is a whole different animal all together! It's a handy, lightweight tool that can help take your mind off things and give you the ability to make small carved wooden items that can make your life a little easier. If I was stuck in the middle of nowhere, didn't have a firearm and could pick ONLY 3 things out of my pack- collapsable cooking pot (titanium), MY Bushman knife (I keep a small first aid and fishing kit in the handle) and my whittlin' knife!

    Has anyone else ever carved their own fishing hooks out of bone/antler/wood?! Had to ask!

    Just my thoughts and what I grew up with.

  5. Something I saw on the "old" bug out list that I've never read or thought of before… spare eyeglasses. Back then, when times were tougher and rougher then they are today, fragile things like that were easily broken. Expensive, but fragile non the less. My father was born in 1940 and even then glasses were thick and bulky, held together with fragile frames.

    I myself have horrible vision (~200/20) when uncorrected. I wear 2-week disposable contacts most of the time, and when I'm not I have a couple pair of glasses that I wear, mostly around the house for the fragile aspect I mentioned above (I work in a mechanic shop) I wouldn't be able to wear them for a month without then getting smashed or heavily scratched. Having horrible vision in a shtf moment or even a non-shtf emergency situation could be life or dead. I have trouble identifying peoples faces or distance of cars without corrected vision, so having good eyesight can make the difference.

    I will definitely be packing a couple months' worth of contacts and a pair of adequate eyeglasses in a hard case in my BOB from now on.

    • Wheeler-I was the same situation with eyesight,was like 400/20, probably legally blind! Contacts, solution, more contacts and glasses being fragile. Thought the same in a bad situation what if I had no eye wear. Per your post for those who have never had poor vision, it is a real scary scenario. I took the plunge and got Lasik done. Best decision I've made in a long time. Only glasses I wear are sunglasses now, will need readers soon but at 49, I can work that out. Distance vision is 20/15. Not cheap, but figure it pays off in the long run.

  6. I do not think you want a knife with a hollow handle, you should look at some full tang survival knives, you can buy them at survival, walmart, or possibly at cheaper than With a full tang knife you can chop things and not have your knife blade fall of or break in half.

  7. When I put my bug out bag together,I only put the things I would really need and use.I do not go with the more is better idea, I now have a small and light backpack ,so WHEN TSHTF I can go fast, light, and never be seen by others wishing to do me harm! I still have my 8 million volt stun gun, my base ball bat and best of all, my 12 gauge shotgun.

  8. Hi, you might enjoy R. M. Patterson — A Dangerous River. He spent a year on the Nahanni River in Canada in 1927. That is north of 60. Great info. regarding the supplies he took with him. One of the first to go to the headwaters of the Nahanni. Great true adventure.

  9. When gold was discovered in Colorado, some of my ancestors from Georgia, lacking horse and/or wagon, pushed their belonging in a wheelbarrow, seeking fame and fortune! A tarp was usually the top item as it could become a tent and ground cover in short order, the wheelbarrow becoming the frame. Very few struck it rich, some stayed, some pushed that wheelbarrow back home to Georgia. Most BOBs are designed/designated as 72 hour+ kits because supplies (water especially) is quite heavy on your back, especially on the long haul. I prefer a garden cart to a wheelbarrow since the weight of your gear/supplies are on the wheels not on your back, legs, shoulders,etc. A metal ground stack that can be used through the handle should be in your pocket or otherwise handy to use as a brake,especially on uneven ground; you don't want to be chasing your cart down a hill/mountain. I suggest you train, whether with back pack and/or cart, with about 20 percent more weight than you expect to use/carry, because last minute item always seem to appear, sometimes on the road/trail. Please build up your payload slowly but surely so injury doesn't set you back! Good Luck!


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