Bugging Out 101: The Essential Bug-Out Bag Checklist

Bugging Out 101: The Essential Bug-Out Bag Checklist


When disaster strikes, don’t be left unprepared. Use our checklist to start your own 72-hour home bug-out bag.


Hold On, What’s A Bug-Out Bag?

Picture this: you’re hanging out at home relaxing with your family, maybe bingeing Netflix alongside a furry friend, when suddenly, disaster strikes. It could be a natural disaster or man-made, but it dawns on you that your home is in the path of destruction and you have to get out of there to survive. What do you do? What do you take? How do you carry it? You have to act quickly, but you don’t know when you might be able to return - if at all. How do you prioritize the items you’ll need to survive and what do you grab? If you’re prepared, all that thinking has already been done: You grab your Bug-out Bag (BOB).

A bug-out bag is a pre-packed selection of survival gear (usually in a portable bag or pack) designed to help you survive 72 hours, unsupported and in unfamiliar or rugged territory. No raiding the local Walmart; just you and your bag. That way, if disaster strikes and you have to bail on your present living situation or “bug-out,” you’re totally prepared. Even if the only place you know you’re headed for sure is the hell outta Dodge.

How to Make Your Own Bug-Out Bag

There’s no one way to build a bug-out bag. Some of it depends on your surrounding area and/or your personal preference. That said, there are some necessary and common pieces of a BOB that you don’t want to be without for three days. To build a bug-out bag, we recommend accounting for the following eight core building blocks (plus some other good-to-haves) that you shouldn’t miss before starting to get fancy with your own tweaks and modifications. Feel free to “choose your own” as you navigate through our recommendations; if you have a favorite, let us know.

Bug-Out Bag 101 - BOB Essentials

Water. Duh. That might come in handy while you’re hiking yourself to higher ground. You won’t get very far without a hydration plan and to make it 72 hours comfortably you should pack at minimum one liter per day per person. Some survivalists recommend even more since that’s just for hydration – not accounting for food preparation and hygiene.

You should also account for hydration tools like reusable water bottles, multi-use hydration packs, and filtration systems to make sure you can keep going once your 72-hour supply is up. In a bug-out bag every ounce counts, so we’ve put together some of our favorite and most efficient hydration tools to consider for your BOB. Which one best suits your hydration needs?

Which would you choose to Bug-Out with?

Hydro Flask - 40oz Wide Mouth Bottle

Hydro Flask - 40oz Wide Mouth Bottle

Pack Your Bag Ready!
GEIGERRIG - Bando Shoulder Hydration Pack

GEIGERRIG - Bando Shoulder Hydration Pack

Pack Your Bag Ready!
Katadyn - Endurance Series - Combi Microfilter

Katadyn - Endurance Series - Combi Microfilter

Pack Your Bag Ready!

Nice pick. Now that you’ve got water covered, let’s find you some grub.

This guy claimed he survived without food for two months, but he was stuck in a car eating snow. We think you can do better with a properly equipped bug-out bag. Reasonable pack weight won’t allow for three healthy meals per day, but that’s not necessary for survival. When packing food, look for lightweight, calorie-dense items with a long shelf life; a year is ideal but don’t forget to replace your food supplies after a year of storage or whenever items reach their expiration dates. Candy bars or energy bars are a good choice as well as dehydrated meals, but keep in mind you’ll need a source of hot water to make those edible. Canned food is great for longevity but will add some weight. Whatever you pack, be sure it’s something you actually enjoy. A food you really like might be one of few comforts during those 72 hours.

Tools for food prep are important too. We recommend metal silverware instead of plastic since it will be more durable and can withstand the heat of open-flame cooking. Sporks make a great food utensil in a survival situation (who knew) since they’re more efficient with pack space. In addition to utensils you’ll want a cup and some kind of pot to prepare food – also for boiling water. Lastly, a gas-powered heat source can also get added to the mix as a backup to cooking with an open flame, particularly if you’re packing a lot of dehydrated meals.

For easy-to-store, minimal prep BOB food items and meal prep tools, check out our suggestions below.

Which would you choose to Bug-Out with?

Wise Company - 5 Day Survival Backpack

Wise Company - 5 Day Survival Backpack

Pack Your Bag Ready!
Wise Company - Gluten Free Premier Kit – 1 Month Supply for 1 Person

Wise Company - Gluten Free Premier Kit – 1 Month Supply for 1 Person

Pack Your Bag Ready!
Wise Company - 4320 Serving Long Term Food Supply Package

Wise Company - 4320 Serving Long Term Food Supply Package

Pack Your Bag Ready!

Now that’s an emergency food stash. Let’s make sure you’re properly clothed for any emergency in the next section.

Aside from portable shelter, the clothes on your back will be your only protection from the elements, so a smart and light selection of clothing is a must. Since you might be on the move for a while, a rugged pair of shoes or boots are also a piece of gear you don’t want to leave home without. Regardless of climate, we recommend preparing for any and all kind of weather, especially for the cold (see our top jacket selections below). Even in some of the warmest daytime climates, it still drops to hypothermic temperatures when the sun goes down. Here’s a quick “laundry” list of clothing items you should have ready (intended for one person).

  • A warm hat
  • Sun protection hat
  • Long sleeve shirt
  • Short sleeve shirt
  • Poncho/ waterproof shell
  • Warm fleece/ jacket
  • Comfortable, non-abrasive pants (not jeans)
  • Underwear (2 pair + 1 long underwear)
  • Wool hiking socks (2 pairs)
  • Ankle-high hiking boots

Pro-tips on clothing – grab some convertible/ zip-off pants that will give you the option of shorts without added weight. A rugged pair of gloves (more tool than clothing in some cases) is also a good addition. For rain gear, some military ponchos are designed to second as a tent if you want to be super-efficient with your weight and space when considering shelter (next section).

Which would you choose to Bug-Out with?

5.11 Tactical - Men's Chameleon Softshell Jacket

5.11 Tactical - Men's Chameleon Softshell Jacket

Pack Your Bag Ready!
Snugpak - Sleeka Elite Reversible Jacket

Snugpak - Sleeka Elite Reversible Jacket

Pack Your Bag Ready!
Beyond - A3 Alpha Jacket Alt 1

Beyond - A3 Alpha Jacket Alt 1

Pack Your Bag Ready!

Good choice, but a jacket can only do some much when weather takes a turn. Select a shelter next.

Your home-away-from-home will also need to be packed away and ready to go. Those who have camped in rugged and desolate environments will be familiar with this loadout. Lightweight camping tents are effective and you’ll need a sleeping bag that is easily packable that will allow you to sleep through freezing temperatures or at the least the coldest nights of winter months (see our top sleeping bag suggestions below). An emergency blanket is also a good call as a versatile way to pad hard ground for sleeping and efficiently conserve heat. A tarp and some line can also make for efficient and durable shelter in warmer climates.

Which would you choose to Bug-Out with?

Show details for Snugpak - Travelpak Traveller

Snugpak - Travelpak Traveller

Pack Your Bag Ready!
Mountainsmith - Cordova 0F Degree Synthetic Sleeping Bag

Mountainsmith - Cordova 0F Degree Synthetic Sleeping Bag

Pack Your Bag Ready!
Snugpak - Softie 18 Antarctica RE Sleeping Bag

Snugpak - Softie 18 Antarctica RE Sleeping Bag

Pack Your Bag Ready!

Cozy. Now that you’ve got a sleeping bag, let’s stock up on another necessity: first aid.

In a bug-out scenario, preparing for the worst will save your life. There are quite a few variables in a first aid kit, so consider your own personal medical conditions and the risks in your local area. Pain medication and treatment of cuts, bleeding, and burns are pretty universal, but the most effective bug-out bag first aid will be custom-tailored. Pre-made, store-bought first aid kits are a good place to start (check out our first aid and survival kit options below), but be sure to take stock of what you have and add or remove to meet your specific needs.

Remember also that medication will go bad over time so make sure to check your expiration dates and replace meds as needed.

Which would you choose to Bug-Out with?

Officer Survival Solutions - Trauma Plate Pack

Officer Survival Solutions - Trauma Plate Pack

Pack Your Bag Ready!
Stat Gear - Auto Survival Kit

Stat Gear - Auto Survival Kit

Pack Your Bag Ready!
Officer Survival Solutions - Patrol Pack

Officer Survival Solutions - Patrol Pack

Pack Your Bag Ready!

Good choice. To make sure you can see when you’re tending to those bites and scratches, check out emergency lighting in the next section.

Can’t stop surviving when the sun goes down. You’ll need a way - ideally multiple ways - to start a fire and see in the dark. For fire, start with a lighter or two (they take up minimal space and last quite a while) as well as some matches and a case to keep them dry. Pack a flint to have a backup with more longevity. Battery-powered light sources should also be included. A headlamp is strongly recommended, as well as a high-lumen flashlight and replacement batteries. Glow sticks too if you’re into that sort of thing…

Which would you choose to Bug-Out with?

Zippo - Hero Series Lighter

Zippo - Hero Series Lighter

Pack Your Bag Ready!
Wise Company - Wise Fire

Wise Company - Wise Fire

Pack Your Bag Ready!
BioLite - BaseCamp

BioLite - BaseCamp

Pack Your Bag Ready!

You have made fire! (Well, almost). Make sure you have the tools you need to succeed next.

You won’t know the tool you need until you need it. Our top pick here is a reliable, fixed blade survival knife, which is an extremely versatile tool that you can use to prep food, carve wooden implements, and generally will nature into forms more suited to your survival. A rugged multi-tool should also make it in your BOB, considering the utility packed into such a small, lightweight package. Consider also some sturdy rope and/ or wire to secure shelter. Check out our top suggestions for knives and tools for your BOB below.

Which would you choose to Bug-Out with?

Stat Gear - Surviv-All

Stat Gear - Surviv-All

Pack Your Bag Ready!
Leatherman - OHT

Leatherman - OHT

Pack Your Bag Ready!
Gerber - Offroad Survival Kit/SUV Kit with Black Nylon Case

Gerber - Offroad Survival Kit/SUV Kit with Black Nylon Case

Pack Your Bag Ready!

Ooh that’s a good one. But now that you’ve selected all your gear, you’ll need somewhere to put it. Pick your ideal bag next.

Got your BOB essentials? It might seem obvious but the last thing you’ll need is the bag itself. Pick the bag last so you can find the right fit for your gear. The last thing you would want is to have a solid supply selection, only to find an awkward fit in your bag. With our selection of military-grade packs, you can be sure to find one that will reliably fit and carry everything you need to bug out.

Which would you choose to Bug-Out with?

5.11 Tactical - NBT Duffle LIMA

5.11 Tactical - NBT Duffle LIMA

Pack Your Bag Ready!
Snugpak - Rocket Pak

Snugpak - Rocket Pak

Pack Your Bag Ready!
Alps OutdoorZ - Commander + Pack Bag

Alps OutdoorZ - Commander + Pack Bag

Pack Your Bag Ready!

You can’t go wrong there. But before you bug out, we have some final recommendations below.

Other Good-To-Haves

There is a near endless list of other could-haves or good-to-haves, but we’ll leave most of them to you in the comments. Things we’ve heard and like the sound of include duct tape, fishing kit, cell phone/ radio communications, machete/ hatchet, insect repellant, sunscreen, and sunglasses. You shouldn’t forget about hygiene either. Minimize space with a multi-purpose soap (leave the shampoo and conditioner behind), toothbrush, toothpaste, toilet paper, and moist wipes. We would also recommend some hand sanitizer.

Now You’re Ready to Bug Out!

You’ll have to fill in some gaps, but with our checklist and gear suggestions, you’ll be well on your way to bug-out preparedness.

Did we forget something? Have any particular survivalist tips for new bug-out bag creators? Let us know in the comments! We’re always happy to hear your stories and experiences contributed to the GovX community.


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Leave a comment:

James G.

3/7/2016 12:57 PM

Good Start. Some how to books for those who don't know how to do things would be nice. Example: Build shelter Pick wild berries Skin animal Creating Snares

Brent H.

3/11/2016 9:58 AM

Solid suggestion! There's enough content to create an entire collection of outdoor-related articles.

Todd B.

3/7/2016 3:01 PM

I often see many articles about creating a 'bug out bag' or survival kit. And the author is right, no one setup works for everyone.. It all depends on WHERE you are. For example, I was in rural Kansas. Water could have been an issue as well as food. So my kit was setup for that very thing. Now I am in Wisconsin. And my kit no longer carries water as it did before. Why? Because here, I have abundant fresh springs bubbling out of the ground all over the place, creeks/streams, lakes, rivers, ponds... I have no need to carry water here, I only need to have purification methods. But there is one thing that I see a lot of these articles cover that I do not understand or agree with. They all seem to be setup for some arbitrary 72 hour mark. And I do not understand why?! If the SHTF and 72 hours passes and we are still in the situation, you can bet at that point whatever happened is going to keep us in a survival situation for a heck of a lot longer, weeks, months.. or possibly even years. 72 hours does not give a person a chance to actually survive. It only delays the inevitable. Example: Today most people that work travel by car to their job. And a high percentage of those that travel drive anywhere from 50-100 miles to get there. If the SHTF, there is no way you will ever get home in 72 hours unless you are 1) a marathon runner, 2) bi-athlete, 3) lucky enough to still have a running vehicle or be with someone that does. An average person IN shape will do an average of say 15 miles EASY walking per day. A great day, MAYBE 20 miles. So the most you can travel is 60 miles in 3 days at the top level of exertion. What if you home is farther than that 60 miles? And when you consider MOST people will not be able to handle a travel pace of maybe 10 miles per day for at least the first two days of a SHTF scenario, less if under duress, than a 72 hour survival kit is not going to do it. Not at all. Which I why those I teach I never tell them to set up a kit for 72 hours. I show them how to setup a kit that can and will last 30 days. Weight about 40 lbs give or take a few including the ability to defend themselves. When people read these articles, I recommend you take the 72 hour thing and throw it out the window. Use the information of course, but get rid of that 72 hour mentality. Think REAL life survival. 30 days minimum. Look at it as if YOU were stuck from home, 80 miles away. How long would it take you and what would you need to make it? Clothes, boots, food, water, fire and weapons? Would would you need to survive that 80 miles that realistically might take you 8 days or longer depending on situation, terrain, duress and so forth? And if you have a static location you are preparing for, say home... then 72 hours again makes no sense. You have the room and the means and putting together a 30 day survival kit for each person especially at home, is a must... and you have the room to do so without question. The nice thing is if you do it right, that same kit is the one you will also grab and go should you need to bug out from your static location. Planning your preparation properly is how you will survive. Not just throwing a few things, a couple of meal packs and some flashlights in a pack that will get you through 3 days.

Jeremy C.

3/22/2016 12:37 PM

Todd B. If most people are prepping for a natural disaster, 72 hours would be long enough to survive and locate more resources or aid. If something more permanent were to occur, you could stretch the use of your supplies more and give yourself some time to locate additional resources, aid, etc. I don't think a lot of people drive 100 miles to work, maybe 80 miles would be a good round trip estimate, but not one way. Your average person should be able to walk 30+ miles a day. Someone that is more physically prepared could probably get home in 2 days if they really hoofed it. More importantly it would be reckless for someone to store firearms in their bag assuming they are leaving this in their car while working in their office. I certainly don't plan on lugging a bag around with me everywhere I go. I expect most people to leave this assembly in a easy to access location in their home, or in a compartment in their vehicle. IF a natural disaster occurs, moving around is one of the last things you want to do anyway. Normally people are advised to stay put unless they are facing further danger. Don't delve too far into the abyss of paranoia.

Carol C.

3/24/2016 11:02 AM

I totally agree! 72 hours is a great start for some but you need to be thinking longer time will be needed. The way you described your 30 day kit is what my family has done. Thank you for your wise opinions I hope others follow as well.