The essential guide to building your ultimate bug out bag

Always be prepared.

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The day has come, and suddenly, you realize that you are a living, breathing doomsday prepper whether you like it or not. Pandemonium has struck, turning everything on its head. As the floodwaters rise downtown and the wildfire crests the ridge outside your window, you grab your bug out bag and hit the road.

The first 24 hours go smoothly enough, all things considered, but as the second progresses, you begin to realize that the pre-packed bag you bought for hundreds of dollars (or was it thousands?!) isn’t all it was cracked up to be. Sure, you’ve got plenty of food, but once you ditched the car, you started to realize that your “ultimate” bug out bag is not so ultimate after all. The bag sucks to wear, and some of the essentials you expected to find are a bit, shall we say, lacking. Even the company’s bold branding feels like retro flashing neon proclaiming, “Hey, everyone! Over here! Look at this loser! What an amazing target!”

As the clock strikes 60 hours since you left home, you have come to hate your expensive one-size-fits-all solution. Thankfully, your situation resolves before the 72-hour mark, but you have made up your mind to do things right in the future. Next time, you will be building the ultimate bug out bag with everything you actually need and nothing you don’t.

Doing it right with building a bug out bag

Time You’re Going to Need: An hour or two to lay the groundwork; a few weekends to reach boss level.

Difficulty: Intermediate

What is a bug out bag?

A bug out bag, sometimes referred to as a go bag or a 72-hour bag, serves as your survival toolbox for those times when uncertainty, vulnerability, and mobility conspire against you and the stability of your regular life. When a disaster strikes or an emergency derails your life, your bug out bag will serve as a mobile home, pantry, kitchen sink, doctor’s office, and more for up to 72 hours, usually plenty of time to relocate to a more secure base of operations while you wait out the storm.

Of course, all this assumes that your bag of choice is set up for you and your needs. There is no such thing as a truly universal bug out bag, and the only ultimate bug out bag is the one you build yourself.

What you’re going to need to build a bug out bag

Everyone has different gear in their kit. Make sure you have the best tools of the trade on hand for this specific task. Don’t worry, we’ve made a list.


  • Desk or table
  • Paper
  • Pen or pencil
  • Budget
  • Clear mind
  • A flat, relatively large work space, such as your garage floor, living room floor, or back porch

Strange as this may sound, DO NOT BUY A BAG for this project before you begin. As you progress, you may luck out and find that a bag you already own fits your bill, but unless you were born clutching dual four-leaf clovers, selecting a bag too early in the process will actually be a detriment to creating your ultimate go bag. Confused? Keep reading, and it will all make sense.

The bug out bag builder’s brief

Gear up, SERE specialist! Here’s how to build the ultimate bug out bag.

Know your habitat

The ultimate bug out bag is a toolbox filled with survival goodies, but before you can even begin preparing for a survival situation, you must first study your environment. Consider the following factors for the area in which you live:

  • Local terrain:
    • Potential shelter (forests, mountains, rock formations, buildings, etc.)
    • Water sources (streams, ponds, waterfalls, etc.)
  • Local weather:
    • Common weather patterns (low humidity, thunderstorms, below-freezing winter temps, etc.)
    • Common local weather emergencies (blizzards, hurricanes, tornados, wildfires, etc.)
  • Local food resources:
    • Edible plants (dandelions, berries, wild onions, etc.)
    • Game animals (grasshoppers, squirrels, deer, etc.)
  • Local medical resources:
    • Medical facilities (hospitals, emergency rooms, urgent care facilities, etc.)
  • Common threats:
    • Human threats
    • Animal threats (bees, scorpions, wildcats, bears, etc.)
    • Plant threats (poison oak, rose bushes, etc.)

Each of these factors directly affects what equipment you either will or will not need, and failure to prepare is preparing to fail. Understand each of these factors and their impact on any given survival situation. Learn just how dangerous a thunderstorm can be. Learn how to avoid becoming a victim of food poisoning. Learn when to engage with a human threat and when not to engage. Learn how to find water in the middle of the desert. As you learn, take note of the gear you need to survive each of these potential threats.

If you feel like your understanding of your physical environment is lacking, start spending more time outside in all kinds of weather, but especially the bad stuff. Consider camping out in the nasties as well, even if just in your backyard. Afterward, take note of what clothing and gear you use to ward off the elements.

In a bug out situation, your biggest adversary is nature itself, and in the classroom of survival, the instructor only hands out pass or fail grades. Make sure to study hard for your next exam.

Know yourself

Next, consider yourself. What survival skills sets do you possess? Which ones do you lack? Can you start a fire with sticks, or are you lucky to light a match on the first strike? Can you cook well enough to know when meat is safe to eat, or do you live on take-out and TV dinners? Can you do more than apply a Band-Aid or pop an aspirin when a medical emergency arises? You may not be the best at everything, but then again, no one really is.

While you may not know every trick in the book, the more tricks you know, the better off you’ll be. In many cases, more advanced skills equal gear with less weight, less bulk, and more flexibility, further decreasing your bug out bag’s overall weight; a lightweight pack is a lifesaver. As the old grunt saying goes, “Ounces equal pounds, and pounds equal pain.” Thankfully, this math is simple: Fewer pounds equals less pain.

A strong skill base will serve you well the next time a hurricane knocks out your utilities and threatens your home. The more you know now, the better and lighter your bug out bag will be.

Plan for the apocalypse(ish)

When the end of the world as we know it does come (or at least 72 hours-worth of disaster), you need to be ready to roll, which means planning your exit strategy in advance. While the details of such a plan are outside the scope of this guide, we will touch on the essentials to get you moving in the right direction.

First things first: Know your destinations. Yes, that was “destinations,” plural. Bugging out goes hand-in-hand with uncertainty, so having specific bug out destinations in multiple locations, such as one in each of the four cardinal directions (north, south, east, and west), provides you with a greater chance of survival.

Next, prepare a path (or three). Once you have determined where you plan to go, plan multiple different routes to get to each one. Every disaster comes with its own set of rules, including which modes of travel are permitted. In some situations, all you’ll need to get started is a full gas tank in the family car, but in others, you may be wiser saddling a horse or hopping on a bike (either kind). In every situation, however, you should be prepared to walk. Whenever possible, develop at least three travel routes per mode of transportation, one main route and two alternates. Traffic and road blocks are common occurrences during a disaster, and you will want to avoid both. Instead, find the roads less traveled. The scarcity of resources combined with the volatility of human desperation can be a deadly combination in a survival scenario.

Finally, consider the size of your party. For most people, bugging out will be a family affair, and even if you live alone and far from family, having a friend to bug out with can do wonders for both your morale and your chances of survival. If your wife/husband, girlfriend/boyfriend, children, parents, and other loved ones do not make it into your bug out plan, then your only realistic option will be bugging in right where you are. In some situations, this may not be a bad thing, but if you truly need to get out, taking time to figure out who to leave behind can quickly paralyze and even kill your chances of survival. This means preparing a strategy and, likely, packing multiple bug out bags for your family. It may also mean packing additional gear that will accommodate someone else in your group.

Camping and survival gear. (Depositphotos)

Get your gear

Now, it’s time to get serious. You’ve done your homework, and you’re ready to actually start building your ultimate bug out bag. While it might seem odd, always start with purchasing your gear before your bag. (More on that later. Can’t wait? Skip ahead to “Buy a bag,” then come back.) When selecting gear, consider using the following categories to keep yourself organized:

  1. Water
  2. Food
  3. Heat
  4. Light
  5. Tools
  6. Navigation
  7. Shelter
  8. Clothing
  9. Hygiene
  10. Medical
  11. Comms
  12. Security
  13. Documents
  14. Morale
  15. Miscellaneous

Shopping for gear requires significant time and effort in order to get the right setup. If there is a common consensus among true experts about a particular water filtration system, or if there is solid logic for including a survival rifle in your kit, pay attention. That said, there are plenty of “experts” on the interwebs that will swear that unless you buy a certain piece of gear, your chances of living out the first six hours of a disaster are non-existent. Even true experts may push you to use a particular piece of equipment, but in reality, everyone’s environment, skill set, and strategy will dictate what their bug out bag should contain. Consider the advice, weigh it with your needs, and make an informed decision.

Weight considerations

Whether you’re on a shoestring budget or plan to go on a shopping spree to rival the F-35 program, make sure you pay close attention to the weight total of each item. We recommend using a pad of paper or an Excel spreadsheet to record the total weight of each item and keep a running total of everything you add to your cart(s). As a general rule, your bug out bag, including the pack itself, should never exceed 25 percent of your total body weight. If possible, shoot for the 15 or 20 percent marks instead, because less weight equals greater range and mobility, especially when travelling on foot. This means cutting anything that is not absolutely essential from your kit. Only once you have eliminated all the excess from your loadout can you add any extras (wants, niceties, conveniences, etc.), but weigh each item carefully, mentally and physically.

Getting started

To get you started, we have included a list of items worth considering for your bug out bag. This is merely a non-comprehensive list of suggestions that may or may not fit your particular needs. It can be a solid jumping off point, but only you can know what you need to make your ultimate bug out bag. Whatever you choose, just remember to keep functionality high and weight low.


Water is critical to survival, so you must be able to both purify and carry water. You should also have a plan for transporting water with you. A bug out bag with a hydration pouch capable of holding three liters of water is a huge bonus.

  • Full hydration reservoir (pack permitting)
  • Water bottle (for hydration, gear storage, boiling, and/or water filtration)
  • Water filtration system
  • Water purification tablets (iodine tablets work well)

Even though a relatively healthy human body can survive without food for well over 72 hours, don’t go too light on the edibles. Even if you regularly go on three-day fasts, a survival situation requires higher levels of energy and even a small snack can provide a huge boost for morale.

  • Dehydrated food
    • Jerky (great for soup or a snack)
    • Dried rice
    • Dried beans
    • Dried vegetables
  • Prepackaged meals
  • Snacks
    • Granola bars
    • Trail mix
  • Spices (great for morale)
  • Edible plants guide for your region
  • Collapsible dishes
  • Cooking/eating utensils
  • Can opener (should you come across canned food)
  • Camp stove

Heat is incredibly valuable for cooking your meals, warming yourself, and drying wet gear. Fire, virtually your only source of heat, also goes a long way in boosting your morale.

  • Multiple fire starters
  • Stormproof matches
  • Waterproof match storage
  • Tinder
  • Kindling
  • Hand warmers
Building a fire. (Ian Keefe/Unspalsh)

We humans rely on light more than we know. Imagine setting up a shelter, preparing food, answering nature’s call, and investigating potential dangers in the dark, and you’ll start to figure out what we mean. Don’t skip the lighting department, and life will treat you much better.


Your survival relies on your skillset, and in many cases, your skillset relies on using certain tools. Blades and fasteners are your best friends, because your survival may well hinge on your ability to break, fix, or fabricate what you need.


Bugging out always ends poorly for those who skip the navigation department. Even if you have a route memorized, never assume that you will be able to stick to that route. Road closures, riots, and other factors may force you to change direction in a hurry.


Staying warm, dry, and rested will keep you in the game, no matter how crazy a situation may get. When choosing your shelter, make sure to take weather, terrain, and other environmental factors into account, but be careful not to go overboard in the bulk and weight departments.

  • Compact, lightweight tent
  • Bivy sack
  • Sleeping mat
  • Tarp/ground sheet
  • Hammock
  • Sleeping bag (compact)
  • Bug net
  • Mylar blanket
  • Wool blanket
  • Contractor grade trash bags

Proper clothing will keep you healthy, dry, and happy, but clothes get heavy fast. For most items, consider buying merino wool. Merino is soft, comfortable (rarely itches), lightweight, insulating (even when soaked), quick-drying, and antimicrobial. Just make sure to store it where water and moths can’t get to it.

  • Rain gear
  • Sweater
  • Socks
  • Underwear
  • Pants
  • Shirt
  • Thermal underwear
  • Beanie
  • Gloves

As the saying goes, cleanliness is next to godliness, and in a survival situation, this goes double. Bugging out is dirty business, and you will encounter biological threats for which your body has a lower immunity. Keep your defenses up, and stay healthy with proper hygiene.

  • Hand sanitizer
  • Soap
  • Comb
  • Washcloth
  • Camp towel
  • Toilet paper
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Sanitary napkins

Medical or first aid training often results in a felt need for more gear, and while this training is extremely valuable, make sure not to get carried away with your medical equipment. AEDs and oxygen tanks have a way of killing your mobility.

  • First aid kit
    • Vinyl/nitrile gloves
    • Hand sanitizer
    • Alcohol pads
    • Antiseptic wipes
    • Antibacterial wipes
    • Self-adhesive bandages (you know, Band-Aids)
    • Gauze rolls
    • Gauze pads
    • QuikClot Advanced Clotting Sponge
    • Triangular bandage
    • Sam Splint
    • Suture kit
    • Antibiotic cream (like Neosporin)
    • Antidiarrheal
    • Aspirin
    • Benadryl (for allergies/allergic reactions)
    • Burn cream
    • Clove oil (temporarily numbs toothache pain)
    • Eye wash
    • Ibuprofen
    • Poison Ivy/Oak cleanser
    • Poison Ivy/Oak lotion
    • Temporary dental filling
    • Tylenol
    • Ice pack
    • Insect repellent
    • Moleskin (for blisters, etc.)
    • Lip balm
    • Sunscreen
    • Trauma shears
    • Tweezers
    • Needles
    • Thermometer
    • Safety pins
    • Snake bite kit
    • Tourniquet (one per person)
    • Mylar emergency blanket
  • Vitamins
  • Prescription medications (a weeks days worth in two separate containers)
  • Electrolyte packets
  • Foot powder

Situational awareness can literally save your life. Communication equipment allows you to gather intelligence from the outside world, keep in contact with others in your group, and send essential messages to the wider world if and when the need arises.

  • Signal mirror
  • Whistle
  • Flares
  • Two-way radio (preset to desired channel)
  • Ham radio
  • Emergency radio with hand crank
  • Cell phone
  • Solar cell phone charger

Security equipment tends to focus on defensive tools, but often, the training and planning necessary for this category get neglected. Whatever you choose to buy, learn how to use it before you pack it.


Despite the dawn of the Information Age, modern society still relies heavily on paper. While some may quibble over which documents should bug out with you physically (instead of electronically), make sure you pack all your precious papers. For you minimalists, lamination is your friend.

  • Emergency contact information (names, phone numbers, street addresses, etc. for family, friends, doctors, lawyer, insurance agent, banker, etc.)
  • Multiple forms of ID (driver’s license, military ID, etc.)
  • International travel documents (passport, visa, etc.)
  • Licenses and permits (CCW permit, ham radio license, first aid training certificate, etc.)
  • Legal documents (birth certificate, marriage certificate, Social Security card, titles, wills, etc.)
  • Medical documents (medication prescriptions, eyeglass prescription, medical history, insurance cards, etc.)
  • Financial documents (last income tax return, last pay stub, last bill, etc.)
  • Banking information for each account (statements, credit card numbers, account security codes, etc.)
  • Concealed carry law guide
  • Constitution and Bill of Rights (handy if someone wants to play fast and loose with your rights)
  • USB flash drive with electronic copies of critical documents (all of the above plus diplomas, transcripts, business documents, insurance policies, family photos, etc.)
  • Weatherproof paper pouch

One of the most important keys to survival is a positive mental attitude. While things like cards, candy, and books might seem trivial at first, they actually can provide a diversion in the midst of difficult circumstances. A little boost in morale can take you a very long way.

  • Tea bags
  • Coffee bags (like tea bags but for coffee)
  • Lightweight, compact book
  • Deck of cards
  • Chocolate/candy

Some of these items don’t fall neatly into the categories above. Some are so versatile that they span multiple categories, while others are unique in their own right. Either way, do not overlook any of these valuable pieces of gear while building your ultimate bug out bag.

  • Dry bag (for storage)
  • Salt (for rehydrating, seasoning food, or use as currency)
  • Eye protection
  • Bandana or shemagh/keffiyeh
  • Magnifying glass (for starting fires, examining injuries, etc.)
  • Aluminum foil
  • Spare batteries
  • Currency, such as cash (a few hundred dollars, minimum), cigarettes, matches, or salt
  • Prepaid phone card
  • Extra keys (house, car, etc.)
Hiking backpack camping and mountain exploring tourist equipment outdoor on grunge wall. Adventure, summer, tourism active lifestyle (Depositphotos)

Buy a bag

For some, it may come as a shock that building a bug out bag starts with buying the right gear rather than buying the right bag. Tools, training, and responsibilities vary by individual, thus resulting in a wide variety of bug out bag loadouts. This variation in gear needs means that two physically identical people will require different bags for their equipment.

Consider this scenario. Dave and Josh are identical twin brothers with virtually the same build and physical conditioning. They live next door to each other and plan to share a bug out location if and when the need arises and both brothers are in town. Dave works as an IT professional, isn’t married, doesn’t have a girlfriend (currently), and spends his weekends either working out, playing video games, or camping with his buddies. Josh, on the other hand, is a married SERE instructor who spends his weekends at his eight-year-old daughter’s soccer games or hanging out with friends. Despite similar skill sets and the same physique, Dave and Josh will have different needs for their bug out bags. To accomplish the same survival feats as his brother, Dave will need more survival tools, forcing him to purchase a 55-liter pack. On the flip side, Josh will require much less gear for himself, freeing up some room in his own 50-liter pack for much of what his wife and daughter might need. Of course, once Josh’s wife and daughter each have their bug out bags, then he may switch out his large pack with a smaller, lighter 40-liter bag.

When purchasing a bug out bag, make sure to find one that includes each of these features: access, capacity, comfort, organization, and profile. All five will directly affect your bug out bag’s effectiveness in a disaster scenario. Let’s consider each one.


What good is a bug out bag if you can’t access anything inside? While shopping, look for packs that allow for maximum access to the main storage compartment. If possible, find a bag that uses a clamshell design, allowing you full access to the main compartment and all your gear. This makes packing and accessing your gear a breeze.


Capacity simply refers to how much cargo space a given bag possesses. Today, most bag and pack manufacturers will describe their products’ capacities in liters rather than the traditional imperial measurements. That said, some companies prefer to go the old school route and stick with cubic inches instead. If you need help translating from liters to cubic inches or vice versa, this website has both a conversion calculator and a conversion chart. Of course, you could also ask Siri, Alexa, or Google.

With all your gear purchased and laid out in front of you, figuring out a bag’s capacity should be relatively straightforward. If possible, find a bag with a known capacity that you already own, or borrow one from a friend. Pack everything you can into the bag and take note of how much gear fails to fit or how much extra space is left over once packed. Before making your final selection, seriously consider snagging a bag with a little extra cargo capacity to accommodate those random useful items you may scrounge during an unexpected “adventure.”

As a general rule, expect to purchase a pack with somewhere between 40 and 55 liters of cargo capacity, or 2440 to 3355 cubic inches for you old school types.


Your bug out bag may sit around in your closet or hide in the trunk of your car most of the time, but when it’s time to hit the trail, you’ll be glad you invested in a comfortable pack. Due to the weight of your gear, padded shoulder straps (with a sternum strap), a hip belt (preferably padded), and a padded, ventilated back panel are absolute must-haves, especially if you spend all day crunching numbers or dropping warheads on terrorist foreheads from an air conditioned trailer in New Mexico.

Most bug out bags tend to be a one-size-fits-all solution, but if you find a backpacker style pack, like the Osprey Farpoint 55/Fairview 55, you could benefit from a semi-custom or full-custom frame designed to distribute the weight of your pack evenly across your body instead of some random model’s physique. This takes your bug out bag’s comfort to a whole new level.


Another key feature of the ultimate bug out bag is top-notch organization. The term “top-notch” may vary somewhat from person to person, but the ability to find your gear quickly and easily in a stressful situation depends heavily on logical organization. The best bug out bags boast plenty of pockets, sleeves, and dividers, and some include external attachment points for both general and specialized MOLLE pouches or for large or awkward items, such as trekking poles. No matter which bag you settle on, do not skimp on organization.


Easily the most obvious feature of any bug out bag is its design or profile. Some packs are tailored for tactical use with plenty of PALS/MOLLE webbing and MultiCam to last a thousand generations, while others may be most at home on a backcountry trail. Still other bags may blend in nicely during an urban commute on the Washington Metro’s Silver Line train while still handling the rigors of a 72-hour emergency in the Shenandoah Valley.

In a bug out situation, you will encounter desperate people, and desperate people do desperate things. As such, make sure your bug out bag will be of little interest to those you run across. In Boston or New York, 5.11 Tactical’s Rush 72 could turn you into Target Number One, but the same pack could work nicely in San Antonio and the surrounding region. A Kelty Redwing 50 may be a smooth move in Portland, Oregon, but it might stand out a bit too much in Chicago or Los Angeles.

A pickup truck at a campsite. (Dusty Barnes/Unsplash)

Pack smart

You’ve got your gear, and you’ve got your bag. Now comes the fun part: packing. In a bug out situation, predictability is your friend. If you have to bug out after dark, you don’t want to have to unpack half of your bag to find your flashlight or fire-starting equipment, and when storm clouds are blowing in fast, the difference between being wet or dry could depend on how quickly you can find and set up your poncho.

The packing process requires plenty of thought, but by now, you’ve got some good experience. As you pack your bug out bag, consider how you stuff your bag will affect gear position, space efficiency, and weather resistance.

Gear position

Where you place your gear within your bug out bag directly affects whether or not your bag is packed for success. Objectively speaking, no bug out bag is lightweight, thanks to both the type and amount of gear you pack, no matter how minimalistic your approach. You will also have gear that, when you need it, you really need it. This is where weight distribution and accessibility will either make or break you.

Let’s start with weight distribution. By default, you will require both light and heavy gear, and strategic placement of those items can make a huge difference. Experienced backpackers, through-hikers, and other outdoor enthusiasts usually use the following approach:

  1. Bottom of pack: Place softer, lighter weight items to which you do not need quick access, such as a sleeping bag, extra clothing, or a tent/bivy sack. This provides cushioning for your low back, making travel more comfortable.
  2. Middle of pack
    1. Close to body: Position your heaviest gear here, such as a hydration reservoir, a camp stove, or extra ammunition. The closer your heavy gear is to your body, the less it will affect your center of gravity, making your pack feel lighter and, thus, extending your range.
    2. Away from body: Put your medium-weight gear here, such as food for meals, a water filtration system, or spare batteries.
  3. Top of pack: Store lightweight essential gear here, such as a fire starter, rain poncho, first aid kit, or TP.
  4. Small external pockets: Stash small miscellaneous items that you want to access very quickly, such as snacks, your cell phone, or a water bottle. This makes it easier to access hiking or trekking essentials without having to stop or remove your pack.
  5. External storage: In order to maintain a low profile, a slick pack is best, so as a general rule, avoid attaching gear to the outside of your pack, even if your bag can accommodate it. Eliminating external gear also decreases the likelihood of your pack snagging onto a wayward rock or tree branch as you pass by it. The only exceptions to this rule would be items you plan to remove before setting out, such as trekking poles.

During this part of the packing process, consider picking up a couple of packing cubes to keep smaller items well organized, especially if you anticipate storing them in your bag’s main compartment.

Space efficiency

When packing, look for packing hacks designed to decrease the amount of space your gear uses. Rather than packing socks, skivvies, and a t-shirt separately, learn how to make a skivvy roll. Use your handy Nalgene bottle as a container for smaller items, such as matches, spare batteries, and other gear.

Thinking in terms of space efficiency provides you with the benefit of a smaller pack while also encouraging you to get creative in other ways, potentially eliminating excess weight in the form of non-essential gear, things you once thought to be critical.

Weather resistance

Finally, pack your bag to resist the elements. Waterproof backpack covers do exist and take up very little space in your bag, but unless you chose a true dry bag as your pack of choice, you should consider protecting your moisture-sensitive gear with water-resistant storage solutions. Dry bags come in all sizes, and many are designed to store specific types of gear, such as sleeping bags and cell phones. Since a bug out bag is designed to hedge your bets against Murphy, it only makes sense to use secondary weather protection for your sensitive kit. Remember the prepper’s motto: “Two is one, and one is none.”

Practice makes perfect

Now, it’s time to see how the rubber meets the road, to find out what works and what doesn’t. Take a couple of trips with your bag and find out just how ultimate your bag actually is. For seasoned hikers and outdoor enthusiasts, the first two trips are optional, but if you are relatively new to backpacking and the outdoors, we strongly recommend taking each of the following trips:

Trip #1

Take a short hiking trip and evaluate how comfortable your pack is. Pay attention to any hotspots and the bag’s overall comfort level throughout your hike. If necessary, take some time to stop and rearrange the gear you have in order to find a more comfortable layout.

If your pack only caused minor irritations or dished out minimal discomfort, then stick with it for now; it (or you) might just need to be broken in. If your pack caused excessive pain and agony, then replace it. Use the knowledge you gained to find a better-fitting bag. Then, go on another short hike.

Trip #2

Take a long hiking trip, again paying attention to how your pack performs. Note hotspots and points of discomfort. Take time to rearrange your gear to see if these irritations go away, but if they do not or or they get worse, then you probably need a new pack. While backpacking (usually a big part of bugging out), what may seem like a minor irritation on the first day could turn into a serious medical concern by the end of the third day.

Trip #3

Take a short backpacking trip, somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 to 24 hours. During this trip, pay close attention to your gear. Take note of what you use and how you use it. Pay attention to any critical gear you may have missed when you first built your bag. After returning home, review your list of non-essential or missing gear.

Trip #4

Take another short backpacking trip, but if possible, find another location to test your gear. Once again, take note of any missing or non-essential gear. Afterwards, compare notes from both backpacking trips and see what they have in common. Eliminate any non-essentials that appear on both lists with obvious logical exceptions, such as your first aid kit. (Hopefully, you didn’t need that on your trips.) Now, add any essentials that you may have missed. If you did your homework on the front end of this project, then this list should end up blank.

Congratulations! Your ultimate bug out bag is now complete!

Survival and adventure gear. (Depositphotos)

FAQs about building a bug out bag

More questions? Here’s Task & Purpose’s additional brief.

Q. How heavy should a bug out bag be?

A. Your bug out bag should weigh no more than 25 percent of your body weight. If possible, shoot for 15 or 20 percent instead to make things easier on yourself.

Q. What items should be in a bug out bag?

A. Every bug out bag is different, but at minimum, your go bag should provide you with the following items: reliable sources of food and clean water (prepackaged meals, water filters, etc.), two or three different fire starters, a weatherproof shelter, a first aid kit with essential medications, some form of security against animal or human threats, and cash or some other form of currency. We also highly recommend packing along a place to safely store your most important documents (birth certificate, Social Security card, passport, etc.), a form of two-way communication (like a two-way radio, CB radio, or cell phone and charger combination), and something to help keep your spirits up (candy, a change of socks and underwear, a very small book, a toothbrush and toothpaste, etc.).

Q. How do you lighten a bug out bag?

A. First, eliminate anything that could be considered a want, nicety, or convenience; keep only the bare essentials. Second, replace multiple pieces of gear with single items that can accomplish multiple jobs. For example, replace your metal eating utensils with a lightweight camping spork and your (already essential) fixed blade knife.

Q. Where should I keep my bug out bag?

A. Stage your bug out bag in a private location yet somewhere you will see it and remember when disaster strikes, such as your bedroom closet. Some people even build two bags, one for the house and one for the car.

Q. What is the difference between a bug out bag, a get-home bag, and an INCH bag?

A. On a conceptual level, all three bags are the same, but on a practical level, they differ a good bit. A get-home bag provides enough gear to get you home in a pinch and usually contains 24 hours-worth of gear. A bug out bag is designed for leaving home in difficult circumstances, providing 72 hours-worth of supplies. An INCH bag lives up to its name: I’m Never Coming Home. The INCH bag contains everything you might need for starting a new life in a new location.

Q. How much does building a bug out bag cost?

A. While it can be done relatively inexpensively, building a bug out bag can be a costly endeavor. At the low end, you can expect to spend $250 for the bare essentials. The ultimate bug out bag will cost you closer to $500 at the outset.

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For over 25 years, Brian Smyth has been neighbors with the Air Force Academy and the U.S. Army’s Ivy Division. He loves the challenge of crafting words and has written for The Drive, Car Bibles, and other publications. Nothing gets him going quite like the roar of dual Pratt & Whitneys overhead, the smell of cordite, and the stories of the Greatest Generation.


Brian Smyth Avatar

Brian Smyth

Contributing Writer

Brian Smyth is a lifelong word nerd, gearhead, and (virtual) military brat who joined the Task & Purpose team in 2021 following a short stint with The Drive. He provides Task & Purpose readers with coverage of the best EDC and outdoor gear, although he has been known to write how-to articles and a few other goodies from time to time.