You may have heard of a bug-out bag from a television show, from a book about preparedness, or from chatting with someone at your local gun range or outdoor store. But what’s a situation you’d ever need one anyway? Well, I’m here to answer those questions and point you in the right direction.
Put simply, a bug out bag is a backpack filled with supplies that can get you through 72 hours in order to get to a safer location. It needs to have everything that you’ll need to move and stay healthy along the way and should be ready to be grabbed at a moment’s notice. Another word for them is a “go bag”.
I should just throw everything I have into a bag, right?
Lots of people who are first getting into building a bug-out bag have fantasies of strapping everything they’ll ever need in the new post-apocalyptic wasteland to their back and surviving off their kit like a mixture between The Road and Harry Potter (where you can magically store entire rooms of things in a bag). The instinct makes sense. If I’m having to flee then I should have everything I might need with me, right? Unfortunately, you can’t carry your whole house on your back. You need much less than you think you do, and the more you weigh yourself down the slower you’ll be able to move. And most of the time the items you’re trying to add you’ll never use. Trust me, leave the kitchen sink at home.
When do I absolutely have to leave my primary location? Is bugging in a better option?
Bugging in is just as important as bugging out. You should have extra goods like food, water, sanitary, and medical supplies stored in your house for needing to hunker down and wait out whatever is happening, from civil unrest to a natural disaster. Your primary location should be a place that you’ll really have a hard time leaving because it DOES have all of those things you feel the desire to stuff into your bag. Bugging in should always be the first plan because we can prepare for many more things from the safety of our house or apartment. We know our environment, we know our supplies, and we aren’t having to battle the elements. But as safe as our house or apartment might seem there’s always things that can happen to make us have to flee to a different location. Civil unrest, earthquake, flood, tornado, etc. Anything that might put your life in jeopardy if you stay put. Which means it’s got to be ready to go at the drop of a hat.
Where should I keep it? Does it need to be with me wherever I go?
For most people we aren’t in situations on a daily basis that might call for us to bug out. But since most natural or civil disasters don’t give us very much warning time it should be within fairly close proximity. Work from home? Hang it in a front closet next to the door. Spend a lot of time at a job with a long commute? Keep it in your car or truck in the trunk or under a seat. It doesn’t have to be on your back at all times, but it should be in a place that if something were to happen while you’re at work you aren’t picturing it hanging in your closet as you race to get home.
Is everything in my bag a one-time purchase?
Some things in your bag are going to have expiration dates. That’s why you need to look at your bag like you would look at your car. It doesn’t need daily maintenance, but you’ll need to check in every now and again to make sure everything is up to date. For instance, a lot of medical supplies like Tylenol or Neosporin have expiration dates and need to be swapped out. And as much as I could repeat, “Do not dig into your bag unless you’re bugging out”, I know from experience that it’s almost impossible. When you run out of band aids and remember that you have more stashed away in your bag you will surely raid it before making an extra trip to the store. But it’s VITAL that you replace those supplies immediately and keep all medication or food items up to date. I set a yearly reminder to check everything in my bag and the bag itself for any deficiencies that might need correcting.
Isn’t this basically the same as my camping supplies?
While it’s tempting to use your bug out bag as a camping bag or vice versa, it should only be for true emergencies, and often camping bags are lacking in some of the crucial supplies you’ll need while bailing out of your location. It is a great idea to practice camping with some of the supplies in the bag as often as you can, but those should be only for practice. You don’t want to be bugging out with the old torn up rain fly that you’ve been using for hiking trips for years when your life now depends on it. And you don’t want to try starting a fire with the knife that you’ve dulled from pulling it out and using it in your kitchen. Try to keep your bugout bag as new and pristine as you can because you want that gear to be ready to stand up to some abuse.
Bugging out to where?
This is going to depend entirely on where you are. Are you in the middle of a city in a warmer climate and just need to get to a more rural area? Maybe walking would be ok. Are you in a rural area of a very cold climate in the middle of winter and need to get help? That’s going to come with many more challenges. These are all going to be completely dependent on your situation but needs to be taken very seriously. A bugout bag is great to get going but you have to have a place to go to. A cabin in the woods? A camping spot in a state forest that you know well? A relative or friends house that’s within walking or driving distance? This is something you absolutely have to think about ahead of time and come up with a plan.