34 Essential Items For Your Bug Out Bag

Imagine the following scenario. You are awakened in the middle of the night by the jolt of a powerful earthquake. Your house is leveled, but thankfully you and your family are uninjured. However, the roads are impassable, your utilities have been cut off, and many of your neighbors were injured or killed in the earthquake. The only thing you have to survive is what you have on hand and your bug out bag.

Unfortunately, this was a very real scenario for the people of Haiti. And in years past we’ve seen other examples, from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina to the tsunami in Indonesia. On a smaller scale, we’ve also seen blizzards, floods and other natural disasters leave many people to fend for themselves. With some preparation, and a little planning, you can greatly improve the chances your family can get through these types of survival situations.

What exactly is a bug out bag?

A bug out bag is a collection of basic survival gear that might be required in a disaster scenario, natural or otherwise. It is transportable, and consolidated into a single pack or two so that you can grab it and go in a hurry. I like to keep one at home and one in each vehicle, but how you implement the bug out bag is up to you.

The actual bag could be as simple as an extra frameless backpack or duffel bag, or as elaborate as a framed ALICE pack or similar framed backpack. The best bug out bag is one that you can pack the most in and still carry comfortably in the field.

What About Bugging In?

In some cases, it might make sense to “bug in.” If you have a decent generator and a good supply of fuel, you might be safer staying put and living off items stored at your house. Naturally, this assumes your house is still safe and there are few immediate threats around you. If there are, you are better off bugging out with a well-packed bug out bag.

What goes in a bug out bag?

Anticipating worst-case scenarios is never fun, but to properly pack your bug out bag with only the essential items, you must start here. Imagine no food, no electricity, no water, and no city services for days. What types of things would you need to survive?

  1. A couple rations of food We have a big bag of rice, and several packs of packaged tuna with a two-years shelf life. Both have a lot of calories and are easy to prepare, but are relatively light to pack.
  2. 3 Gallon Rigid Water Containers. Keep a couple of these on hand and toss them in your trunk before bugging out. At 3 gallons, it is not so heavy that the wife and kids couldn’t lug a couple in an emergency, or if I wasn’t there or was out of commission. These rigid style containers are more durable than gallon water jugs, so they are less likely to leak.
  3. Flashlights. Be sure to pack at least one flashlight per bug out bag. And never burn more than one light at a time to preserve batteries. A hand-crank light can come in handy too, for battery-less operation.
  4. Batteries.  Be sure to have the right size for your equipment, and pack plenty of extras.
  5. Glow sticks. When flashlights fail, or when you don’t need a high concentration of direct light, glow sticks are a wise choice.
  6. Hand-crank emergency radio. Staying informed is a key to survival. A hand-cranked radio requires no batteries or electricity, and can provide news bulletins, weather updates, and information on evacuation routes, etc.
  7. Multi-tool. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere without a multi-tool!
  8. Knives. At a minimum, I’d recommend a folding camp knife with a saw edge, a Swiss Army knife with attachments, and a large, fixed-blade survival knife.
  9. Rope/cord. Some 550 paracord is a must-have in your survival kit for tying up food, making a shelter, and plenty of other uses.
  10. Change of clothes. This is not vital, as you can always wash/dry clothing in the field. If you have room, take along an extra set and lean towards cold weather gear.
  11. Water purification tablets/drops. Boiling water is the most effective way to reduce the risk of ingesting a parasite. However, purification tablets are a close second when boiling isn’t practical. Of course, at home I’d just use my Berkey Light water filter.
  12. Anti-diarrhea medication. Be sure to have this one hand in the event you or a family member does suffer from diarrhea, which can lead to life-threatening dehydration very quickly in a survival situation.
  13. Stainless steel Kanteen. I like this stainless steel Kanteen for carrying water (no worries over BPA’s in plastic), and it can be heated by hanging above a flame through cord threaded through the screw-on cap.
  14. Bottle of multi-vitamins. While on a survival diet, chances are you will be lacking the required nutrients from food alone. A good multi-vitamin will help keep your immune system up.
  15. Emergency blankets. These Mylar blankets help hold in heat in an emergency. In addition to those in our bug out bag, we also have a couple in the glove compartment of our car, just in case.
  16. Bug repellent. After water disasters (floods, tsunamis, hurricanes, etc.) there will likely be standing water nearby, which is great breeding ground for mosquitoes. Mosquitoes, and other insects, are known for helping transmit diseases in these conditions, so keep your skin protected at all times.
  17. Compass. Nothing fancy needed here. Just look for a compass that can reliably provide a north heading.
  18. Map of your surrounding area. Who needs a GPS? When it hits the fan, I’d rather have a map of my city and state than something that requires power and communication with a satellite.
  19. Fire-starting materials. We have a butane torch lighter, water proof matches, magnesium stick, kindling sticks, cotton balls and petroleum jelly.
  20. Signal mirror. Putting a signal mirror’s reflection on a rescue pilot or boat captain is one of the best ways of attracting attention.
  21. Sun block. If caught out in the open on a hot summer day, you’ll be glad you packed sun block to prevent the sun from cooking your exposed skin.
  22. A safety whistle for each family member. Safety whistles can be used to attract attention from rescuers, and to communicate with family members if separated. Plus, they take a lot less energy and make a lot more noise than screaming.
  23. Fishing lures and line. If you can get to a natural body of water, chances are there is a food source in there. It’s possible to catch fish without lures and line, but having it sure improves your chances!
  24. Ziploc bags. Great for waterproofing items, rationing food, etc.
  25. Hand sanitizer. We personally packed a few bottles of Purell hand sanitizer. If you shop the cheap stuff, just be sure it has a alcohol content between 60% and 95% to maximize germ-killing effectiveness.
  26. Camp axe. Probably the most important tool when setting up a camp. A good camp axe can help clear a camp site, split firewood, and chop down small trees for shelter.
  27. Folding shovel. It isn’t pleasant to think about, but you may have to bury waste, or have the less-gross task of digging a fire pit. Either way, a folding shovel will do the job.
  28. First aid kit. I prefer the soft-sided kits here because they are more compact and flexible than the large, plastic box first aid kits.
  29. Survival handbook. A good survival handbook should cover information such as how to make shelters, identify plants and animals to eat, and strategies to get rescued.
  30. Roll of duct tape. Duct tape is the do-it-yourselfer’s best friend, at home and in an emergency situation.
  31. Cash and coins. We keep a couple hundred dollars in cash in a waterproof tube (originally purposed to hold waterproof matches). Also consider taking along a roll of quarters for any coin-operated vending, or to make change.
  32. Ponchos. When you have to leave shelter in search of food, or to move away from danger, keeping yourself dry greatly reduces the chances of getting sick from exposure to a cold rain.
  33. Tarp. With a section of tarp and a little rope tied between two trees you can provide instant shelter in a survival situation.
  34. Deck of cards (to fight boredom). Don’t discount the psychological aspects of survival. After a day or two, boredom will set in and you’ll be glad to have a deck of cards to pass the time.

I recommend picking up one or two items from this list each shopping trip, or ordering them online with a little money from your next few paychecks. It would cost a lot of money to purchase and pack these items all at once. And if you are like me, you’ll have a main bug out bag you keep at home, but a mobile version for the trunk of your car. After all, you never know where you might be in a survival situation.