Although modern society has brought tons of conveniences, what happens when the shit hits the fan, and you’re forced to survive on your own grit and moxie? While it would be nice to think that you can make it with just the shirt on your back, survival comes down to having the right supplies. That’s where a bug out bag comes in.
If you want to be prepared for a SHTF scenario, your bag needs to have all the essentials. However, if you’ve never been in a survival situation before, you might not know what to pack and what to leave. Today, we’re going to show you the complete bug out bag list so you can be a lean, mean, surviving machine. Here’s what you need.
What is a Bug Out Bag?
A bug out bag is a pre-loaded pack you can grab at a moment’s notice. If you only have a few minutes to get ready, you can’t afford to scramble to find all the supplies you’ll need to survive for a few days. So, having the right materials can make a significant difference.
Before we get into the checklist, here are a few considerations for your bug out bag:
- Durability – Fortunately, you can find military-grade backpacks easily online. You want something lightweight yet rugged so that it can handle all terrains and weather types. Modular, lightweight, load-carrying equipment (MOLLE) bags are ideal since you can attach multiple items to the outside to make it even more capable.
- Size and Weight – Every ounce counts with a bug out bag, so you have to determine what makes the cut. If you’re carrying 80 pounds of supplies, you’re not going to make it too far. When getting a bag, be sure to wear it fully-loaded to see how heavy or uncomfortable it is. Depending on your height and stamina, you might need to get a smaller pack, which can limit your supplies.
- Storage – Finally, you want as many pockets and clips as possible without making the bag too complicated. There should be a mix of interior and exterior pockets so you can grab what you need without having to stop and open the whole thing.
Essential Bug Out Bag List
When in a survival situation, you have to focus on the bare necessities, which are water, food, clothing, and shelter. We’ve broken this list down by category to make it easier for you to pack accordingly.
Water is ridiculously heavy. Try carrying a three-gallon jug up a hill, and you’ll see what we mean. So, it’s impossible to take enough water for yourself for more than a couple of days. Instead, it’s far better to find water along the way. With that in mind, here are the essential water-related items to put in your bag:
- Stainless Steel Water Bottle – Typically, modern water bottles are designed to keep liquids cold. In a survival situation, that doesn’t matter. Instead, you want a single-wall steel bottle that you can use to boil water if necessary. Boiling is the simplest way to remove microbes and toxins from impure water sources, so you’ll need to be ready to do it regularly.
- Water Purifiers – There are two ways to clean water when boiling isn’t an option. First, you can bring purifying tablets, which remove sediment and bacteria from the liquid. Second, you can bring a purifying “straw”, which allows you to drink directly from a tainted source while straining up to 99 percent of pathogens. While you can carry both, we recommend choosing one or the other.
Bonus Tip: Be sure to map out potential water sources and mark them down. These sources can include streams, lakes, ponds, rivers, and even county reservoirs. You can follow these sources until you reach a safe haven.
Ideally, you can hunt various animals, but that’s not always feasible, depending on where you live.
- High-Calorie Food Bars – A regular granola bar isn’t going to cut it when you’re in survival mode. You want calorie-dense products that can sustain you for hours. Some bars have over 2000-calories, making them ideal for SHTF situations.
- MREs or Freeze-Dried Meals – Rather than bringing cans of soup, an MRE takes up less space and weight. Best of all, you don’t have to cook anything either. Remember that these items do spoil eventually, so check the expiration date and replenish them accordingly.
- Multivitamins – The food sources above should have enough nutrients, but if you run out or start eating local wildlife, you need to make sure that you get sufficient vitamins. Otherwise, you could get sick, which makes a bad situation so much worse.
Additional Equipment Needed for Food
- Utensils – You’ll need some way to eat your food, but you don’t have to pack the fancy silverware. A multi-tool spork should do the trick for most meals. We also recommend a collapsible mug that you can use as a bowl if necessary.
- Fishing Equipment – If you’re bugging out to a specific location, you won’t have time to stop and fish for a few hours. However, if your situation becomes more long-term (i.e., a couple of weeks), fish can be an excellent food source. You can find compact poles, braided fishing lines, and hooks for your bag. Be sure to practice with these items, so you know how to use them.
- Portable Stove – Building a fire is necessary when bugging out but not always feasible. A camp stove will take up space (as will its fuel), but it can make your life so much easier. If you have to trim your pack, this should be the first to go. But, if it fits, bring it.
Bonus Tip: While hunting your food is the ultimate test of survival skills, the process can sap your energy and time. Even worse, you may wind up empty-handed. Instead, focus on plants first and then worry about trapping or killing animals—research local edible plants and how to prepare them.
- Underwear – You should be able to get away with one or two pairs. Just be sure to wash and dry them regularly.
- Socks – If your feet get wet, you could be in trouble. Bring heavy socks that are easy to wash. Again, one or two pairs should suffice.
- Undershirt – If you have room, bring an extra shirt to wear under your coat and heavier clothes.
- Jacket – Ideally, your coat will have lots of pockets, so you can store even more survival gear as needed. This jacket should be weather-resistant as well.
- Gloves – Ideally, you’ll have gloves that are thick yet agile so that you can do almost anything (i.e., fire a gun or strike a match) without taking them off.
- Boots – Your footwear is vital since you’ll be doing a lot of walking. Make sure that your boots are comfortable and waterproof. Be sure to break them in beforehand as well.
- Poncho – When it starts to rain, you need to avoid getting soaked. A lightweight yet durable poncho can keep you and your bag dry.
- Hat – Any hat will help keep your head warm and protect you from the elements.
- Sewing Kit – Your clothes will rip and tear, so you need some way to mend them. If you don’t know how to sew a patch, learn how now, so you don’t have to figure it out in the field. Also, having a few safety pins can be a quick fix until you can break out the sewing needle.
- Soap – Bringing a small bar of soap allows you to clean yourself and your clothes. While you don’t necessarily need this item when bugging out for a few days, it will be essential if you’re out for more than a week.
Bonus Tip: Save room in your bug out bag by keeping the exterior clothing (i.e., coat, hat, and boots) bundled next to it. This way, everything is together, but you have more space to pack other essentials.
While it would be handy to bring a pup tent with you, you might not have room in your pack. As with everything else, it’s better to source your shelter on the road rather than bringing it with you. That said, there are some other components that help you stay warm and cozy at night.
Additional Components to Consider
- Tarp – Hanging a tarp over a rope can be just as good as a tent for keeping the rain out. It won’t do anything for the cold, but it’s much lighter and easier to carry. You can find survival tarps that offer camouflage as well.
- Hammock – If you’re used to sleeping in a camping hammock, it can be an excellent option. However, if you’re not sure how to use one or sleep in one, there is a learning curve.
- Paracord – When it comes to making a survival shelter, paracord is versatile and reliable. Best of all, you can reuse it over and over again.
- Emergency Blanket – It’s not feasible to bring a full-sized sleeping bag, but an emergency blanket can be just as good. It will keep you warm, and it is tiny and lightweight.
- Fire Starters – You’ll need a fire to stay warm at night. We recommend a Ferro rod since you’ll never run out of sparks, but a waterproof lighter or matches can also do the trick. Feel free to bring a few cotton balls as well.
Bonus Tip: Practice making shelters in various environments. Doing this will ensure that you can get settled for the night quickly and efficiently.
Additional Supplies to Pack
- Survival Knife – A reliable knife can be the most versatile item you have. We recommend bringing a couple of different options for specific situations. For example, you will want a smaller knife to cut rope or prepare food and a larger one for hunting or cutting branches.
- First Aid Kit – You don’t want to have a small cut lead to a massive infection. Your kit should include the basics, such as band-aids, gauze, and antiseptic wipes.
- Map and Compass – Ideally, you’ll have a route and location set before things go south. As we mentioned, be sure to mark any water or food sources along the way.
- Tactical Flashlight – You’ll need to see in the dark, particularly if you are moving at night. Feel free to bring a headlamp as well to keep your hands free.
- Hand-Crank Radio – Batteries die, and you don’t want to carry a bunch of replacements. A radio helps you know what’s going on so you can plan accordingly.
- Firearm – Protection is necessary, particularly in a SHTF scenario. You can also use your gun to hunt. Be sure to bring extra ammunition, but not so much that you’ll sacrifice space for other essentials.
- Notepad and Pencil – You may have to take notes or communicate with other people. A notepad can also be useful for fire starting if you have nothing else available.
- Personal ID – If society is collapsing, your social security card and driver’s license won’t be necessary. But, if you’re just escaping a natural disaster, you want to have these items on you for later.
Bug Out Bag Bottom Line – Prepare for the Worst, Hope for the Best
Ideally, your bug out bag should only have to sustain you for a couple of days. However, in a worst-case scenario, you might be on your own for several weeks. If you’re not prepared for that kind of situation, you’ll struggle to make it out the other side.
Practice using any items you’re not familiar with, and keep tabs on your bag to ensure that everything is in good working order. It may be years before you need to use it, so you have to be sure that it’s ready to go when the time comes.