Bug Out Bags come in all shapes and sizes. Let’s spend a few minutes and discuss 3 different bag types and what you should carry in them. We are going to get into the details of what we consider the 3 main bags you should consider, a work bag, a “standard” bug out bag, and a bag designed for a long trip home. As we get into each type, we discuss what you need to plan for heat, shelter, water, food, sanitation, communication, security, and a few miscellaneous items.
This is article 1 of a 3 article series covering Bug Out Bags:
As George Carlin once said – we all need a place for our stuff. During an evacuation that place is our bug out bag. Let’s get into it.
Bug Out Bags: The ‘What’ in Response to the ‘Why’
In my last article, Bug Out Bags – Everything you need to know about why and how!, I discussed several questions associated with Bug Out Bags (BOBs). In that piece, I briefly described my three personal bags. Looking abstractly at any prepper concept can be educational. However, at some point, you need to get into the weeds and see practical applications.
I have taken an approach to BOBs that fits my life circumstance best. Over the years I’ve learned a lot and applied that to the current state of my bags. I’d be lying if I said that they represent a permanent solution for me. That isn’t possible.
I’d be a fool to say that they represent the perfect solution for anyone. I can’t step into your shoes and tell you what is best. What I can do is let you know about my journey and how I’ve come to my current kit and gear. I’ll let you know what works, what hasn’t, and where I can do better.
From this, I hope you can find a few new bits to move you a little further down your preparedness trail to the perfect BOB. It is a fun journey after all.
Rehash time. I’ll make it quick if you just finished the other article.
I have three bags. I’ve come to this point based on my life’s events and the establishment and analysis of my threat matrix. The bags are as follows.
- Work Bag: This is an extension of my Everyday Carry (EDC). It is with me at my job and when I travel. It is designed to get me “Off The X” to a place where I can re-evaluate and re-supply.
- BOB, Just BOB: This is a traditional BOB designed for 3-5 days. When I’m not traveling in my commuting vehicle, or we are traveling away from home, this is the bag I take. It’s also the bag I take if we have to rush “out the door” now.
- Long Trip Home Bag: This bag lives in my car and designed for the long trip home if the balloon goes up while I’m at work.
I often travel with more than one of these bags. I use that to my advantage as I can swap gear as necessary for the situation. The overlap is a nice extra.
As I stated in the prior article, I prefer to organize all things prepping using the necessities of life. In order of priority, these are heat and shelter, water, food, , health and sanitation, security, and communications. With this in mind, let’s pick apart each of the bags.
I have a normal 9-5 office job. I commute a long way to get there. I also travel on occasion. During busy times I’m out of town once per month. These travels are split 50/50 domestic and international. I try to have this bag with me, or at least no farther than my office at all times.
As an excuse, I leave my laptop in it so I have a reason to carry it around. When I travel I’m known to take it to meals. You never know when we will need to talk “work stuff.”
I have set up the BOB as a mix of work and survival. Work is work (boring). This half of the contents must support my mobile work life. Laptop, notebooks, an assortment of cables, multiple 5v batteries, pens and pencils, and business cards. The high-tech items are disposable in a time of flight. I have no problem taking my boot to the laptop to destroy the corporate data.
Several other items are on the short-list to include on the trail. I will gladly use my work notebook as tinder. Finally, I include several survival-only items. These are to assist in that time of need.
I used to carry a great Maxpedition bag for work. It was well made, had lots of organizational space, and we logged thousands of miles together. On one trip from Europe, the person next to me fit the title “Military Contractor” type to a tee. I picked him out in airport security, then again at the gate. The giveaway was his bag. Which was the same one I carried…Oops.
I immediately swapped my bag for an L.L.Bean day pack. It looks a lot like a school backpack but has a few outdoorsy elements. It’s since been around the world and back. It’s held up great and fits everything I need.
Heat and Shelter
This group keeps your body temperature at 98.6. If it’s cold or rainy, it keeps you out of the elements and provides warmth. If it’s hot, it keeps you out of the sun.
This is one area that this bag is purposely lacking. I cover the basics. Unfortunately, the size of the bag and use during international travel create limitations.
For shelter, I carry a single drum liner (60 gallon) garbage bag. I can poke a hole in the top and wear it like a poncho, or slit it open and use it as a tarp. I would love to upgrade this to a quality tarp however that will take too much room and draw too much attention.
Fire is covered by a single Bic lighter. Despite recent TSA pinball regulations, this Bic has survived multiple domestic and international flights.
Tinder is supplied by the notebook and business cards. I can improvise improved tinder with a smear of Chapstick from the medical kit.
Although lacking in comparison to my other bags. This is enough to get me down the road and huddled and warm in a corner or under a bridge for a few evenings. I’ll remain alive in all but the most extreme conditions.
This is another limitation of this bag. A filter is too conspicuous. I have several LifeStraws and even carried one for a while but I found it too bulky. I haven’t tried a Sawyer Mini yet in this bag. But I feel it will still draw too much attention.
Currently, I carry a 32-ounce Nalgene bottle. It carries a fair amount of water when rationed. I’ll need to replenish rapidly via spigot or water fountain. Within my small medical kit, I carry water purification tablets. I have enough for a few gallons of water. The issue is finding a water source.
To open up potential water options, I should carry a Sillcock wrench. This tool turns on urban spigots. Handy little items if you can create a story for carrying them.
The other option is a water bottle with a filter such as the Berkey Sport. This would be the best of both worlds.
At the risk of turning this bag into something it is not, I am comfortable with the water capabilities. As opportunities allow, I’ll upgrade but that is not a critical need.
The average person can go three weeks while without food. I can, ahem, make it a while. Therefore, food is not a priority but a convenience. I’m comfortable one day without food with minimal complaining. I’ve gone as long as three days. Not that I want to do that. Especially, in a time of stress.
The food I keep in this bag consists of protein bars or granola bars. They are small and can take the edge off for six hours minimum if I’m flat out starving. Day to day they are there as a quick snack if I have back to back meetings. When traveling you never know when you’ll have a break to grab a meal.
The reason these were added to my bag was a particularly crappy business trip. The week was beyond busy with only junk and fast food for meals. The final night I didn’t get dinner before I hit the sack.
An early morning budget flight (no snacks) had me out the door without breakfast. Then two connections and no meals later I got onto my last flight. I was hurting for food. I finally talked the stewardess out of a preflight bag of chips when I mentioned that “I can feel my blood-sugar dropping quickly.” She took me for a diabetic and loaded me up. That won’t happen again.
The only recommendation I can make is avoid chocolate-coated bars. The coating will eventually melt and smear. Not fun in a suit or a rush.
Health and Sanitation
I carry two small medical kits. The first is an off the shelf first aid kit that is good for only minor scrapes. It has Band-Aids, antiseptic wipes, and a few medications. I have modified it further with a few carefully chosen items.
- Chapstick for chapped lips and as a fire starter
- Water purification tablets
- Melt-away aspirin tabs (ever been on a plane with someone having a heart attack?)
- Tape for bandages as well as improvisation options
The second kit is a small trauma pack from Dark Angel Medical. This kit contains gloves, a compression dressing with a hemostatic agent, as well as a SWAT Tourniquet. I have augmented it with a CAT-Tourniquet, which I prefer.
The wrapper of the Dark Angel kit can be improvised into a chest seal if needed. I’ve also extended this kit with a few extra dressings.
Stuffed into spare spaces in this BOB are extra medications (Tylenol, Benadryl, Imodium, Ibuprofen). A migraine on a trans-Atlantic flight SUCKS! Not gonna be in that situation again.
I also carry caffeine pills and gum. I recently gave up caffeine but I still value it as a tool. I am no longer addicted but when you have to drive late into the night, or function after a late evening a caffeine pill can take the edge off. Psychologically, taking a pill is giving caffeine more “respect” rather than just downing another diet coke or cup of coffee.
Finally, I carry a small squeeze bottle of hand sanitizer. Used for sanitation or as a firestarter it can bridge daily and survival usage. As a bonus rubbed on wet feet it speeds their drying or rubbed in your armpits it freshens up your stink.
This is the category that most suffers due to air and international travel. I can’t go armed or even with a small knife. My best bet is to avoid conflict as much as possible. I do try to hedge my bets a little bit.
I pack a great issue of Wired Magazine. Great articles AND it has a stiff spine and thick paper stock. I can roll it up tight and with tape from my first aid kit and it makes a decent baton. It will never replace my Glock 26, but any port in a storm.
I carry the standard compliment of cordage which in a pinch can be used defensively. I also have a few plastic and metal cards can be sharpened (on concrete or with the grout between tiles in a bathroom. Again, not ideal but you can be creative given time and thought.
I include flashlights in this category as well. I’ve used my Surefire defensively before. Nothing like blinding an aggressor to give you a way out of trouble. I carry two. The first is a Surefire G2X. It’s a lighthouse in your hand. It comes out when I need to shove aside the dark.
The second light is a little more of a novelty but it has its uses. These lights (I carry several) are small USB LEDs. I can use them as a task light or as a general light to read or see by. Cheap and almost weightless. Since I already have the 5V batteries, why not.
My EDC covers communication with my cell phone. Unfortunately, phone batteries die. Mr. Murphy ensures that this happens at the worst possible moment. In my case, it was in a car rental office. I was about to make an unscheduled seven-hour drive to New Orleans (9 months after Katrina) and my phone was dead.
I carry several 5v external cell batteries (power banks). I use them for my phone and several electronic accessories. I can get three charges for my phone out of one.
They also power my MP3 player. I keep the player loaded with music and old radio theater shows. Don’t underestimate entertainment in times of stress. The player is the size of a thick book of matches and adds less than an ounce to my pack. Thinking multifunctional, the player also has an FM radio so I can keep in touch with the local news.
Occasionally, I’ll add a HAM handi-talkie with a roll-up J-Pole antenna. This is based on how full the bag is and where I am going. It’s an option, not a regular item in the bag.
Time for the junk drawer category. Not all items fall nicely into the above categories.
Maps. I carry a lot of paper maps. Whenever I step off a plane my first stop is the tourist kiosk to grab a local map. Good to have as a backup to my phone but also good to mark out points of interest during your area study. Mark out points of interest and points of avoidance in advance. If that is not possible I do it in the hotel.
As noted above I carry a small MP3 player. I hate being bored or having my mind idle. Especially during times of stress. An old radio play in one ear goes a long way towards soothing an overactive imagination. Likewise, in the entertainment category, I carry a deck of cards. Great for passing time.
In an internal pocket is a small bivy sack. It weighs only ounces takes up almost no space and expands to 2x the size of my backpack. If I need to gather extra supplies and my pack is full, I have this as an option. I can also drape it over my pack for a water-resistant layer.
I also carry cash as a part of my EDC and that says on my person, not in my bag. Internationally, many issues can be resolved with a crisp US $100 dollar bill. I haven’t had to use one yet. But they are there if I need them.
Another social lubricant is cigarettes. A cigarette forms a brief bond that can be in your benefit. That being said I don’t smoke. A well-known “Murican” brand like Marlboro does wonders overseas.
These are the contents that I hang my short-term survival hat on. They won’t sustain me for days on end, nor will they get me through extreme weather. But for the other 99% of events, it’ll take the edge off.
Now that we have our basic work bag taken care of, let’s move on to our Basic Bug Out Bag.