by Kelly Crigger
While some people look at their savings accounts and think “there’s never enough,” I look at the storage area of my basement and think the same thing about disaster readiness; there are never enough supplies for me. If I could buy an old farm with an unused silo and fill it with goods while simultaneously digging out a cavernous bunker underneath it, I would. But few of us have the means to build a fortified compound so a basement of the basics will have to do.
But what about when the time comes to get out of the house and hit the road for a few days to reach a safer place? What if you lived in Washington DC and need to get to your cousin’s house in Charleston, West Virginia among the throngs of frightened masses choking the roadways and buying up all the supplies during a natural disaster? A simple answer is bug out bags.
Bugout bags are just what the name implies – bags you and your family can grab at a moment’s notice and bug out of the area. On the surface, they seem like easy things to make, but what most people don’t realize is there’s one major limiting factor when preparing a bugout bag – space.
Whether you’re prepping for a natural disaster, the zombie apocalypse or a life-ending comet to strike the earth, gathering supplies has to be done in a methodical manner that meets your expectations and criteria. Stocking up the home is one thing, but stocking a bugout bag is another. A bugout bag can get you through a few days by itself, but it’s a temporary means to an end. The water and food will eventually run out.
So when prepping bags, it’s important to keep in mind a few things:
-What is the threat? What are you bugging out to get away from? A natural disaster? A manmade conflict? The collapse of society? This is important because it will dictate what sorts of items you pack in your bag. If you are trying to avoid people, you’ll need more weapons. But if you’re running from a natural disaster, you’ll probably need more food and water since they may be hard to find later.
-What is the environment? A bugout bag for a family living in the Everglades is not going to look much like a bugout bag for a family living in Anchorage. Determine what it is you need the most of – water, heat, food, etc?
-How much can you and your family carry? If you’re a big guy and can carry a lot, then, by all means, find a large rucksack and maximize it. But if you have kids (who should all be carrying their own bags), take their capabilities into account and pack accordingly. A 15-year old teen can carry a lot more than an 8-year old girl. The storage capacity of a bugout bag is limited so it has to be carefully thought out and packed accordingly, but it also has to be packed with the capability of the person carrying it in mind.
-Be redundant. That old cliché “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” is very true of bugout bags. Let’s say you and your family are crossing a stream and one bag gets lost downriver. If that bag had the only Epi-Pen for your allergic son, you’ve just made your situation worse.
I have 3 kids and have packed them each a bugout bag according to how much they can carry and what they would need to survive in the Northern Virginia area for 5 days with no assistance. Our area has a lot of natural water sources, so I’m not overly concerned with finding water. It’s also temperate. It doesn’t get overly cold here. But what worries me is the population density and their lack of survival skills. DC is packed with people who would panic, buy everything in sight, and choke the roadways the second a hurricane warning goes off. And in fact, that’s just what happened when COVID hit.
All three bags of my kid’s bags have the following basics:
-Water. The human body cannot survive without water! Keep this primary directive in mind at all times. You can survive without food for weeks, but you cannot survive without water. Water packets are great for the short term, but you will need to find a water source as soon as possible. My bags all have a folding water bottle and water purification tablets so I can fill a bottle, disinfect it, and drink fairly quickly. I also have a Life Straw in each bag which allows us to drink from any source on the go.
-Food. Everyone has a different definition of “one day’s worth of meals.” A general guideline for an average adult is to intake 800 calories per day. In a bugout situation, that number will be lower, but you still have to keep your strength up. You won’t want to carry 15 MRE’s in your pack because it would take up all the room. Freeze-dried foods take up less space, but they also require preparation, which means stopping and finding a place to boil water and eat. Personally I like to keep moving, so my bags are balanced between MREs, freeze-dried packs, and survival rations. Several companies make blocks of food that can be eaten on the go and provide tons of calories. For food prep, a small folding stove, a canteen cup, and 3-4 cans of camp fuel (or heat tabs) is great for boiling water for freeze-dried meals. One set of steel utensils is a must too.
-Fire making materials. Redundancy is key here. It’s easy to carry several forms of fire making materials without overloading the pack. Wise Firestarter, fire sticks, butane lighters, magnifying glasses, and flint are all fairly lightweight.
-Heat. Each bag has hand warmers, a poncho, an emergency blanket, and warm clothing (gloves and ski caps)
-Light. One headlamp and a powerful handheld flashlight that can act as a blinder are great. I also pack light sources that don’t need batteries, like light sticks and hand crank flashlights.
-First aid kit. Each bag has a small, basic first aid kit with bandages, alcohol wipes, gauze, wraps, etc. I keep an IFAK (Individual First Aid Kit) on the outside of my ruck so it can be accessed easily. If I’m injured, I want my kids to be able to get to it and treat me without having to dig through the ruck. I also keep my ammo on the outside for easy access. Both of these pouches can be removed easily. I carry a little more of everything than the kids because I can.
-Basic meds and specific meds for each particular person. Each bag has a travel container of Neosporin, Advil, Benadryl itch stick, and other basic over-the-counter meds. One of my sons requires an inhaler and an Epi-Pen, so my bag also has his meds in case his bag gets lost.
-Toiletries. Hygiene is more important than you think. Besides fighting off bacteria and infections, a shower can raise your morale. Each bag should have a small travel pack of toothpaste, toothbrush, body wash, deodorant, and baby wipes.
-Tools and Weapons. Mace guns, pocket knives, a small camp axe, Gerber multi-tools, mess kit multi-tool, multi-use bracelet on the outside with a compass, cord, and flint, a watch that doesn’t need a battery, tree saw, and a fishing kit if you live in an area with abundant water sources.
-Basic Communications. Everyone has a cell phone nowadays, which is good and bad. They provide immediate communications, but the networks they rely on can be knocked out easily. Backup comms are a must. A simple battery-operated radio with a limited range in each bag provides short-range comms and most importantly, can help avoid family members getting separated.
-The Accessories. A whistle, deck of cards, notepad, small survival manual, batteries, and a signal mirror are all things to consider packing.
I keep my bug out bag in the car because I’d rather have it with me at work and on vacations than sitting in my basement. That would force me to go home in the case of societal collapse. Also, if I find myself in a survival situation (snow, car failure, etc), I’m ready. This also saves money. Instead of having a bugout bag for myself and a bin of survival goods in the car, I can use one for both.
However, if you have a teenager who drives your car frequently, it’s not a bad idea to have a bin of supplies in the back. This also gives you the ability to keep larger items that you don’t want to carry in your bug out bag readily available in the car.
Heavy rope with carabineers
Propane stove and 3-5 cans of propane
Mess kits, utensils, napkins
Two basic radios
One pack of fire sticks and two lighters
Hammer and multi-tools
Large first aid kit with more basic meds
Box of MREs or survival food, like Wise
Case of water
If you know where you’re bugging out to, rehearse the route and let the kids explore their bags. It doesn’t do them any good to grab a bag if they don’t know what’s in it and how to use it.
Kelly Crigger is a retired Army officer who owns and operates DASH Survival Systems. He is a graduate of the US Army Ranger school and the Special Forces Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) school as well as a New York Times bestselling author. He currently works as a Defense Analyst in Washington DC.