Top 16: Bug-Out Bag Essentials

When you find yourself in the midst of an emergency or catastrophic natural disaster, you want to make sure you’re not running around at the last second trying to remember things you need to pack when what you should be doing is grabbing a pre-packed bag and getting the heck out of dodge. This list will help you remember everything you need before you’re in the middle of a frantic evacuation during a crisis. These are the top items typically needed for a useful and appropriate bug-out bag so you can have peace of mind when the stuff hits the fan.

1. A storage device

This one is a pretty obvious first item, right? Most people opt for a large, sturdy backpack that will fit enough supplies for one person for 3 to 7 days and isn’t too heavy to carry without assistance while hiking long distances. If you’re too out of shape to hike a long distance with a pack, you might want to consider some endurance training as a first step in your emergency plan.

2. Water

You will need to pack as much water as you can carry or supplies that will allow you to purify any natural sources of water you find. Obviously, if you live in the desert, you will need more water than purification equipment. Bottled water will work just fine. If you live in a place where fresh water is plentiful, you will want to focus your efforts on equipment like filters, a leak-proof container such as a canteen that you can clip to your belt or bag, and bleach or iodine with droppers to accurately measure appropriate amounts. There are some really great new products in the filter category, including sports bottles with filters, ultra-light personal water filters such as the LifeStraw, and a portable UV water purification system like the SteriPEN. If you opt for chemical disinfection, print a list of the correct amount of whatever type of disinfectant to add to the amount of water you can store and keep it with these supplies. You likely won’t have Internet access to look up such information during a crisis. Finally, keep in mind that too much water can be a self-correcting problem as you will be consuming some each day.

3. Medications

You probably won’t last very long without prescription medications you’re required to take on a daily basis. Duplicate them in your bug-out bag and update them immediately if any new ones are added. Enough said.

4. Food

While you can’t live without water, you can live without food for a surprisingly long time. However, you will want to carry enough food for a few days so that your strength and immunity—and ability to think quickly and effectively—don’t wane during a critical time. Also, any emergency situation will be much more tolerable if you don’t feel like you’re starving to death—even if you really aren’t. Food for your bug-out bag should be impervious to heat and cold, have lightweight packaging, not require cooking or heating, taste reasonably good, contain significant calories while providing decent nutrition, and have a significant shelf life. To address any nutritional deficiencies caused by a lack of fresh food, a small bottle of a good multiple vitamin and mineral supplement is also a good idea.

5. Personal protection

Your security may be endangered, especially if others not as well prepared realize that you have supplies they are lacking. Frightened and hungry humans cannot be relied upon to act politely. Antisocial behavior goes all the way back to Grog, the first caveman who clonked his neighbor upon the head and took his haunch of mastodon. A handgun you are comfortable shooting and able to shoot accurately with a good supply of ammo should do the trick. A belt with a holster will keep your hands free and provides quick and easy access. Plus you’ll feel like a wild-west gunslinger, and a little extra swagger never hurts when you’re in a scary situation. If you have moral objections to firearms, you may not live long in an emergency anyway, but a large knife with a scabbard is a distant second-best option for protection considering it requires extremely close quarters for effective use.

6. Multi-tool and flint

These handy little gadgets are utterly indispensable in an emergency situation. Get a good one and never let it leave your go-bag under any circumstance. A piece of flint can be an effective fire-starter if you’ve run out of matches.

7. Toiletries

Deoderant, toothpaste and shampoo can make your time away from home more pleasant and possibly even marginally comfortable. There are many common household substances you can carry that will serve multiple purposes, unlike most commercial products. A small tube of petroleum jelly can prevent chafing or blisters and also act as a moisturizer or lip balm. Baking soda, corn starch, or baby powder will serve as deodorant or dry shampoo to keep your skin dry and your hair free of oil and smelling good. Baking soda is an antacid when mixed with water and drunk, and it can also be used to brush your teeth. Don’t forget a travel-size toothbrush! A small tube of zinc oxide will prevent sunburn, but a large tube should be substituted in the desert or especially sunny locales. Travel-sized items are perfect for a bug-out bag. If you are unlucky enough to have less than perfect vision, contact solution and a storage case will be needed, and if you have them, any spare pairs of glasses and contacts should be included just in case. Sunglasses are good for both sunny and winter environments to reduce glare and protect the eyes from excessive UVA and UVB radiation.

8. First aid kit

Various sized bandages, gauze, and a roll of surgical tape won’t take up much space in your kit. Antibiotic and corticosteroid creams are good for minor bites or scrapes. Add your favorite pain reliever in a gel capsule form for quick relief. Ask your doctor for a cheap, one-time antibiotic prescription to put in your emergency kit. A DEET-based insect repellant is a must-have, especially in areas prone to flooding. A dust mask can be very helpful in certain emergencies. That iodine you packed to purify water can also be used as an antiseptic. Waterproof matches can be used to sterilize a needle or pin to pop blisters or remove splinters. Aloe gel can treat burns and skin irritations, and liquid lidocaine is great for a poorly timed toothache. Don’t forget safety pins, needles, and thread. Items like this don’t take much space and aren’t heavy, but can be life-saving when needed in a myriad of unforeseeable situations.

9. Manually charging flashlight and NOAA radio

Get busy cranking that handle or shaking that flashlight! Your survival could depend upon being informed about current events and if the electricity is out, a flashlight can provide both light and security in a dark, dark world. Having equipment that can be manually powered will extend the usefulness of these items without carrying heavy extra batteries.

10. Shelter and sleeping surface

A one-man tent and space blanket or a waterproof sleeping bag that attaches to the outside of your backpack can help you get the sleep you’ll so desperately need during a stressful disaster event if you find yourself without shelter.

11. Comfortable walking shoes or hiking boots

Rule number one: Make sure your footwear is well broken in before the emergency. Tie it to the outside of the pack to save valuable interior space.

12. Climate-appropriate clothing

Hopefully you’ll be wearing something suitable to the current weather when the emergency hits, but it never hurts to prepack an additional pair or two of undergarments and socks. Get materials that will dry quickly after washing, or if you live in a cold climate, keep in mind that wool will keep you warm even if it gets wet. Packing a light-colored long-sleeved shirt can protect from the sun or the cold and won’t attract unwanted insect attention. A plastic poncho with a hood will prevent much misery and keep you dry even in a torrential downpour. A straw hat or ball cap will keep the sun off your head and shoulders in the desert, and a knit hat, scarf and gloves in cold-weather climates are musts.

13. Sanitation supplies

Can you say toilet paper and disinfecting wet wipes? These necessary items will prevent an inconvenient and potentially debilitating illness when you can least afford it. Women should remember to pack any feminine products they may need.
If you still have room, the following items, while not absolutely necessary, can be very helpful.

14. Duct tape

This miraculous stuff is the multi-tool of tape, but it’s heavy and takes up a significant amount of valuable space.

15. Extra batteries

If you do pack any equipment that can’t be charged by hand, include one set of extra batters in the appropriate size for your gear. It helps to get equipment that takes the same size batteries, which will minimize the additional sizes you need to pack.

16. A survival book with a section on first-aid

This can be an invaluable resource in any emergency, but again, will take up significant space and add heft to your pack.

As with all emergency supplies, rotate the perishable and expiring goods in your bug-out pack and replace them with new items periodically. Make sure your clothing still fits and any elastic hasn’t given way due to age or non-use. One year is usually a reasonable period of time, and doing it at the same time each year is recommended because it’s easier to remember. Unpacking and repacking the bag each year also ensures you’re familiar with where everything is located within the pack. Pack items you are unlikely to need immediately toward the bottom of the pack and items you will need frequently on top.

Hopefully these tips will help you survive any emergency situation, at least for a few days or until you can get to a location that’s safe and away from the disaster area.