The Ultimate Guide to Prepping a Bug Out Bag

So you wanna build a bug out bag? That’s a smart move Rookie! A bug out bag is one of the most important preps that you can have to help you and your family survive in times of crisis.

Your bug out bag is your lifeline during an emergency. Your bug out bag can be the difference between living through a SHTF disaster or becoming another casualty.

Your bug out bag is so incredibly important that you should have this prepared before anything else – before you store food and water; before you build up your defenses; before everything!

If you are new to prepping, you might not have a bug out bag yet.

This guide will help you to fix that. It will help you put together your own bug out bag that is designed to work for you and your family in the environments you will encounter during a bug out situation.

After reading this guide, you will know the answers to:

  • What makes a good bug out bag?

  • What survival gear should I pack in my bug out bag?

  • How do I choose the best bug out bag to hold my gear?

  • Should I just buy a pre-made survival kit or build my own bug out bag?

  • Is a bug out bag the same thing as a 72 hour emergency kit?

Sit back, get comfortable and keep reading Rookie. We will answer all of your questions and more in this highly actionable and dense guide to bugging out.

The Ultimate Guide to Prepping a Bug Out Bag

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Bug Out Bags

my bug out bags

Building a bug out bag is one of my favorite things to do as a prepper (building survival shelters being a close second).

You will find that if you become serious about prepping, you will check your bug out bag often. If you are ever forced from your primary shelter, this bag will make the difference between life and death.

What is a bug out bag?

If you are new to prepping, you might be wondering what exactly a bug out bag is. You likely see it everywhere on prepper websites and forums.

A bug out bag (BOB for short) is a collection of gear and supplies that you pack with the explicit intention of grabbing it if you have to evacuate your home immediately.

Imagine that you are at home with your family when you see on the news that a nearby train carrying industrial chemicals has derailed and there is a deadly gas cloud headed right for your home. You have 5 minutes to collect your family and leave. And you might have to leave for quite some time.

Will you have everything you need?

When you pack your BOB, you must consider that you will not have time to put anything into it. That you will literally have to grab it and run. If you don’t pack for this worst case scenario, you will regret it when it happens.

Bug out bags are known by several other names: bail out bag, I’m never coming home (INCH) bag, 72 hour bag, SHTF bag, go bag, get out of dodge (GOOD) bag. But they are all the same.

They are the pack you put together in advance that will sustain you through an emergency evacuation of your home.

Is a bug out bag different from a get home bag?

Yes these two gear packs are different because they are designed with two different goals in mind. As we have already talked about, the bug out bag is ready so if you have to evacuate your primary shelter immediately, you have what you need.

A get home bag is designed to help you get to your primary shelter if you are not there when disaster strikes. The contents of a get home bag will vary from those of a bug out bag because of this.

Your get home bag might have less food and water than your bug out bag. If you work in dress clothes, it might have a change of clothes and boots in case you need to walk.

Unlike the bug out bag, the get home bag is not designed to sustain you for more than a day or two.

But, you will find that there is a lot of gear overlap between a bug out bag and a get home bag, including fire starting material, a compass and map, food preparation supplies, water collection and purification supplies, etc.

If you are interested in a deep dive into get home bags, check this out.

Is a bug out bag different from an everyday carry bag?

Yes, these two gear packs are also different because they are also designed with two different goals in mind. The everyday carry (EDC) kit is designed so that you have tools and supplies with you at all times. It is much more like a small version of a get home bag rather than a BOB.

If you look around at other prepper EDC kits, you will see they are all very small and contain things that fit in either a very small bag or in the pockets of clothing. And, almost all of them include a handgun.

If you are interested in a deep dive into everyday carry kits, check this out.

Factors That Influence Bug Out Bag Gear Selection

What you choose to pack and what you choose to exclude are very personal decisions. What you carry will come down to a few different factors.

Where you live, where you are bugging out to, and what is in between those two locations is one factor. The environment will play a major part when you bug out.

What is the weather like? Do you need to plan for it?
What about starting a fire? Will there be wood for fuel?

What about water? Would you be able to find it easily if you need it?

The answers to these will play a part in what you pack in your bug out bag.

Another factor that will heavily influence what you pack in your bug out bag is what you know. The more you know how to do, the less gear you will need to get things done.

Knowledge is the safest prep you can have because no one can ever take it away from you. Knowledge and skills don’t cost money. They don’t take up space. They don’t expire. They increase the effectiveness of all your other preps.

Don’t go light on learning and expect that you will figure things out as you go Rookie. This is not how a prepper operates. Take the time now to learn and practice your skills so you will always be ready.

But, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t include gear in your bag to help you with your skills. Even if you are an expert at using a fire bow to get a fire started, why not just pack a lighter?

Another factor you need to consider is how many people you will be bugging out with. Ideally, every person in your group will have their own bug out bag. They have the supplies like food and water, clothing, hygiene, and first aid they need to take care of themselves.

This way, if anyone gets separated during the bug out, they won’t be without their own survival supplies. They also help spread out carry weight if you are on your feet during your bug out.

If you are looking for more information on this, there is a great book that explains adaptive personal survival.  This approach makes you look at factors that are specific to you and your family, your location and your specific needs and then preparing accordingly.  This is must read for Rookie preppers.

Bug Out Bag Essentials

my bug out bag essential gear

When you build your bug out bag, you have to make certain assumptions. You might not be able to check into a hotel. You might not be able to stop at a restaurant or store for food. You might not have accessible clean drinking water.

In essence, you might need to take care of your basic human survival needs of food, water and protection from the elements and predators or enemies.

There are ten essential categories that your bug out bag gear needs to focus on so you can do that.


bug out bag essential gear - fire

I have listed fire first because having fire can make a huge difference between life and death in so many ways.

Fire keeps you warm, preventing hypothermia and death from exposure

Fire cooks your food, keeping you from getting sick from bad food.

Fire allows you to boil water making it safe for you to drink.

Fire can signal for help and rescue.

Fire can be a weapon against wild animals or other people.

Fire is so important to our survival that it should be the first thing you plan for in your bug out bag and the first skill that you learn. If you can’t start a fire, your chances of surviving while on the run are so much worse.

It’s not up for debate Rookie! Learn how to make fire!


bug out bag essential gear - shelter

Next up is our ability to protect ourselves from the elements. Fire is important, but it is not effective alone. You must also have shelter to survive.

In a situation where you are on the run, you will need to be able to improvise a survival shelter if you are going to survive.

When it comes to shelter, it is best to stock up on more knowledge and skill than gear. You should know how to make several different types of shelter depending on the environment you find yourself in.

Of course, having gear with you can help if you don’t have a lot of time to put up a shelter. There are several pieces of survival gear you can put in your bag that are both small and lightweight but will provide you adequate shelter to survive exposure.


bug out bag essential gear - water

Water is the building block of life. The human body is made up of over 50% water.

It helps us regulate our body temperature through sweating and respiration. It carries our nutrients to our cells. It cleans us and flushes our waste.

You cannot live much longer than three days without water.

Once you have taken care of fire and shelter, you must secure a reliable source of water. Even if it isn’t clean water. You can always learn how to purify water and carry the supplies you need to do it.


bug out bag essential gear - food

We can live quite awhile in a survival situation without food. But why would you if you don’t have to?

Having food is extremely important to keep your body operating with enough energy to do what you demand of it. It is also very important to our mental well being.

Imagine living in some pretty rough conditions. Your shelter is small, cold, and dirty. Your family is afraid and looking to you for protection. If you can give them a hot meal every day, it will go a long way toward morale. Having a belly full of food is very comforting.

At the very least, you should have compact, high calorie food that will sustain you for three days. Depending on your choices, you could carry food to last for 5-7 days.

Since you don’t know how long the SHTF situation will last, you should also have gear, knowledge and skills that will help you supplement your food stores.

Consider fishing, trapping, hunting, and gathering wild edibles since you might encounter a longer bug out situation than just a few days.

It’s also important that you have the means of cooking food. As I wrote before, it really helps to have warm food in your belly. And, if you have to eat something disgusting, it will help if you cook it.

Medical / Hygiene

bug out bag essential gear - first aid

If you are in a bug out situation, the chances of someone getting hurt are pretty high. You will probably be in unfamiliar territory, living in dangerous circumstances and that can lead to injury.

We hope that injuries or illness don’t happen, but it would be completely irresponsible to not be prepared for them in the event that they do happen. That includes carrying a well-equipped first aid kit.

More importantly than that, it means knowing how to use your first aid supplies.

Your kit should be able to handle smaller things like bug bites, small cuts, or debris removal from cuts.

You should be able to care for burns and infections.

You should be able to tourniquet and stabilize major injuries.

It’s a good idea to keep a small selection of medications for illness and pain as well.

Besides illness and injury, you might consider carrying some sanitation and hygiene supplies.

Being able to stay clean will help you keep your mind and your body healthy during a SHTF situation.

Lastly, consider protection from different disasters, such as glasses, facial masks or gas masks, gloves, and other clothing designed to protect you.


bug out bag essential gear - tools

It is a good idea to keep a small selection of tools available to you for various unplanned needs. You just don’t know what you might encounter while bugging out.

Fortunately, there are many tools that are designed for multiple uses, making the amount of tools you need to carry much less. You can cover most of your needs while bugging out in just a few of these multitools.

The most important of the tools you can carry is your knife. The selection of a knife for survival is hotly debated in the prepper and survival community.

Your choice of knife should first solve for need but there is nothing wrong with buying a quality knife that also matches your personality.

Other tools we’ll consider are hand tools, cutting tools, digging tools, tools for breaking, etc.


Let’s face it, there are other preppers out there whose sole plan is to raid, rob, loot and plunder for their needs. They will be intent on your supplies if they see you with them.

If you aren’t prepared to defend yourself against this, you will become an early casualty.

This is most easily accomplished with a handgun. Handguns are easy to use, easy to carry and easy to conceal. But they still do a damn good job of protecting you and your family from assault.

There are other methods of defending yourself as well, such as long barrel guns, tasers, or pepper spray.

Even if you think you are against any type of lethal defense, remember that this person is scared and hungry and wants what you have. They will certainly be lethal towards you.

As harsh as it sounds Rookie, if you can’t respond in kind, you are not going to survive.


bug out bag essential gear - navigation

It is important that you are able to navigate your way around any environment. Ideally, you will have a GPS unit that will identify where you are and how to get where you need to go.

But, if there is a SHTF situation that renders electronics or satellites useless, you won’t be able to use GPS.

That means being able to use a compass and a map and having both with you. Again, this is an area where skill is just as important as gear.

This is not an easy skill to learn or practice, but it could save your life. If you are lost, you might never make it to your bug out location and your chances of survival drop significantly.

Learn how to get where you need to go Rookie, and keep the gear that will help you do that in your bug out bag.


bug out bag essential gear - entertainment

The least considered essential item you should have in your bug out bag is something to help you better pass the time while bugging out. This will help you keep your mind occupied rather than worrying or being scared.

There are different items to consider adding into your bug out bag – small items like a book, or a deck of cards, a small notebook and pen to journal, or a travel game.

The only thing that matters is that you would enjoy the activity you include. It should go without saying: If you don’t like reading, don’t pack a book.

Signal & Communication

bug out bag essential gear - signal & communication

I saved this for last because you could very well encounter a SHTF situation where the last thing you want to do is let others know where you are. There are times when stealth and evasion are more important than signal.

But, if your BOB also serves you during camping or other travel situations, you might need to signal for rescue.

In that case, you need to know how to signal and make sure you have redundant ways of doing so. Rescue might be your only chance for survival (especially if you don’t know how to navigate).

Additionally, you will need to be able to communicate if you are in a group and you get separated.  The whistle and mirrors can help with this, but the easiest way is to make sure you are using two way radios.

How to Choose the Bag to Store Your Bug Out Gear

The bag you choose to carry your gear is the most important piece to your bug out bag.

  • It must be large enough to carry everything you need.

  • It must provide you with quick access to those emergency items you need right away.

  • It must be durable and comfortable.

  • It must be light so you can carry it for miles if necessary.

Deciding which bag you need for your gear should take many things into consideration.

You can choose from several different styles of bags, including tactical, ordinary (think gray man), backpack style, messenger style, sling style, or duffle style.