What is a bug out bag?
A bug out bag checklist is a list of all the items necessary for survival. These should be ready to go in your backpack. Thus, when you have to leave the house in emergencies, you will have everything ready.
When it comes to survival items, there is no “one fits all rule”. We are all different; this means that we have different needs.
Suppose you have an illness that requires specific medication. You will have to add that medication to your survival bag.
There are some general items that every bug out bag should have. Things you need to start a fire, set up shelter, purify water, or get food. These are items that are mandatory for your survival kit.
Your bug out bag might also change based on your location. Most likely, you won’t need winter clothes in a desert survival situation.
You have to consider different factors when you build your bug out bag. We recommend the best survival kit configurations. This doesn’t mean that you cannot customize them based on your needs.
Table of Contents
Do you need a bug out bag?
Bug out bags prices range from a couple of hundred dollars to several thousand. It depends on the tier of your bag and the quality of the items you choose.
Expert preppers build their bug out bags from high-quality tools. Some of the items come with a lifetime warranty. This means that you only have to buy it once and never replace it again.
Bug out bags are becoming more popular as the global problems worsen. The economic difficulties, severe natural disasters, and other emergencies are becoming more frequent.
If you don’t have a large budget dedicated to prepping, you should start small. Go for a tier 1 bag. This will help you get back on your feet if something terrible happens.
We recommend that you be careful and prepared at all times. A bug out bag can make the difference between life and death.
Bug out bags Do's and Don'ts
When it comes to survival kits, there are a few things that you need to know. Some might call them rules; others call them guidelines. Whatever you call them, you should always follow them.
Don't overestimate your carrying capabilities
If you don’t exercise, you should limit your backpack to 20% of your weight or 45 lbs. You should consider the one that is less.
If you are active, then you can carry more significant weight. You should not go over 30% of your weight or 60 pounds.
Focus on the priorities instead of the chronology
It would be best if you never focused on the chronology when configuring your bug out bag. If you think that you will be away for a certain amount of time, you might omit something important from your backpack.
Focus on the priorities and the elements that help you stay alive. If you have the right tools and skills, you can survive for a very long time.
In survival situations, you have to stay warm, safe, healthy, well-hydrated, and fed. These are your number one priorities. Everything else will only add comfort.
Expect the unexpected
If you have a bug out plan, expect some things not to go as expected. Things change in survival situations. This is why you must learn to adapt. You have to learn how to use the items in your backpack at their full potential.
Think about the big picture
Prepare for a general scenario, not for a particular one. You can forget essential items if you focus on a single event type. Focus on the location, weather, resources, people, and defense.
You should carry emergency food and water and items to help you get food and water in the future. This way, you can stay well-fed and hydrated until you get to safety.
Do it yourself
If you want a high-quality bug out bag, you have to put it together yourself. You can find pre-made survival kits on the web, but they are not very good. Many experts think that companies take shortcuts when it comes to bug out bags. The reason for this is because they want to keep the kits under a certain price.
If you want a good bug out bag, get ready to spend at least a couple of hundred dollars for a tier 1 kit.
Don't pack vital items in separate bags
If you prepare to bug out with your family, don’t split essential items into many bags. You might get separated and miss crucial tools from your backpack. Anyone over the age of 12 should have their own bug out bag with all the necessary elements.
Organize and save space
When packing your bug out bag, always organize your items and save any space you can. Space and weight are critical when bugging out. There are compact alternatives to everyday items that take up less space in your bag.
You can fold your clothes using special techniques. This way, they take up 50 percent less space compared to normal folding.
Why should I trust this plan?
We have created this bug out bag checklist after days of research. There is a lot to learn from past events, disasters, military tactics, and practices.
Every emergency scenario is different. This is why we learned from different experts. We watched hours of video reviews about the tools you should carry in your backpack.
Each expert has his own preference when it comes to tools. The brands might be different, but the purpose of the tools is the same.
Bug out bag tiers
When it comes to bug out bags, there are a few things you should know. There are many items that you might find useful in the wild. Unfortunately, you cannot take it all into your backpack. This is why you have to focus only on the essential items.
To do that, you have to consider your needs in a survival situation. It would be best if you focused on the rule of three to survive.
Choose the bug out bag tier according to the weight you can carry and your situation’s severity. Do not pack too much and plan before taking action. Please keep in mind that the tiers stack and are not separate bug out bags.
Bug out bag content weight is under 20 lbs. Items fit in bags over 25 L.
The first tier equips you with everything you need to survive and get back on your feet. You don’t need a big budget for this bag, but it will get things done.
This tier helps you survive short term emergencies like natural disasters or riots. It’s also lightweight and allows you to be very mobile.
Bug out bag content weight is under 35 lbs. Items fit in bags over 44 L. It includes a sleeping bag on the outside of the bag.
The second tier will bring a plus to your survival situation with the addition of the sleeping bag. This provides comfort and allows you to stay warm during the night.
Bug out bag content weight is under 45 lbs. Items fit in bags over 49 L. It adds a tent on the outside of the bag.
If you aim for the third tier, you have to consider the extra weight. It provides the best protection and comfort level. Keep in mind that you have to manage the considerable weight. We do not recommend going over this weight as it will be almost impossible to carry long term.
Tier 3 provides you with full gear that is suitable for long term survival situations. Since this is a complete bug out bag, it needs a decent budget too.
Bug out bag checklist
You can find the bug out bag checklist for all three tiers below. Please note that tiers are not individual bags. Each tier stacks on the previous one. For example, a tier 3 bag includes tier 1 and tier 2 items.
Survival items and their uses
Now that you know what items to have in your survival kit, let’s see why each item is essential. Everyday items can have crucial uses in the wild.
Staying dry, warm, and protected is vital in the wild. An adequate shelter will increase your survival chance. In a harsh environment, you can survive up to three hours without the protection of a shelter. This is why it should be your number one priority.
If you’re opting for a tier 3 bug out bag, then you’ll have a tent in your backpack. You can choose an ultralight tent that will add very little weight to your bag. If you have a tier 2 or tier 1 bug out bag, you can make a shelter from a tarp, a poncho, or natural resources. If you don’t know how to build a shelter, check out our article: 19 best survival shelters for preppers.
Emergency blanket / Space blanket
Emergency blankets are a must in survival situations. The uses of these blankets are endless, from medical uses to signaling and keeping you warm. You can carry one in your backpack, and it will add almost no weight to it.
Ponchos are versatile and can be very useful in the wild. They are lightweight and have many benefits. If you are looking for a rain jacket, this is a cheaper alternative. They are large enough to cover your backpack, and you can also use them to set up a quick shelter.
The tier 2 bug out bag should contain a sleeping bag. This will improve comfort and increase your survival chances. The main benefit of using a sleeping bag is the fact that it keeps you warm. It also protects you from the wind and the cold ground. You can use it with a sleeping pad for extra comfort and insulation.
A sleeping pad can provide some insulation between you and the ground. This will provide comfort and an extra layer of protection. Sleeping pads and sleeping bags go hand in hand. You can pack a sleeping pad if you choose a tier 2 bug out bag.
Tarps can be very useful when it comes to building a shelter. If you do not have a tent, a tarp shelter is the fastest to make. There are many types and configurations for tarp shelters. The design you choose depends on the location, environment, and weather.
Clothes are one of the most critical factors in survival scenarios. They provide the first layer of protection against the elements. Below, we’ll explain how each clothing item helps you survive in the wild.
The first layer is essential as it contacts your skin. This clothing article will help you control your temperature and remove moisture. As a base layer, you don’t want any clothing item that can retain water or moisture. If you stay dry, your body will regulate its temperature on its own. This will help you stay cool in the hot sun and not freeze in cold weather.
You should choose a base layer made out of synthetic material or wool. This will increase comfort and help you stay dry.
When it comes to underwear, you should consider the season. In the summer, you should choose underwear made from thinner material. During the cold season, we recommend long underwear to keep you warm.
For your feet, you should opt for wool socks. These are great for both cold and warm weather.
The middle layer is the one that traps the heat and keeps you warm. As your body continues to lose heat, this layer will retain it. Like in the case of the base layer, wool is the most recommended fabric. Other great options are fleece and Goose Down.
Fleece can be a great option for the middle layer as it is a combination of wool and polyester. This is a lightweight fabric that dries fast and insulates very well. This makes it great for outdoor and survival situations.
The only downside is that clothes made out of fleece are bulky.
The outer layer should be the most resistant to elements. It should protect you from snow, wind, sun, and rain. Most survival jackets are treated with special substances to repel water.
This clothing item should be large enough to accommodate the other two layers beneath it. It should also allow you to be mobile to perform tasks with ease.
Headwear, footwear, and handwear
During the winter, your core is vital, but your extremities are also important.
Studies show that people lose about 7% of body heat through their heads in cold weather. While in the sun, you should always wear a hat. This protects you from the sun’s rays and helps prevent sunstroke. This is why you should always wear proper headgear.
In the wild, besides comfortable socks, your feet need proper footwear. Whenever you are hiking or outdoors, you should opt for comfortable and durable boots. These should also protect your ankles and keep your feet dry. You don’t want to injure your feet and become immobile in the wild.
Last but not least, you should protect your hands at all times. If you are unable to use your hands in survival scenarios, you are in serious trouble.
In warm weather, you should choose leather gloves. It’s up to you if you opt for regular or fingerless gloves.
You should wear wool gloves as the first layer and some warm mittens as the outer layer during the cold season. This will keep your hands warm and dry in almost any condition.
According to the rules of three, you can survive only three days without water. It is important to stay well hydrated to stay healthy. This is why you should have redundancy plans when it comes to water.
A hard metal canteen is a great addition to your bug out bag. It allows you to carry potable water and also boil it. This comes in handy when you find a water source, but you don’t know if it is potable or not. You can kill many bacteria by boiling the water in this canteen.
Collapsible soft bottle / Hydration Bladder
Unlike the hard canteen, the soft collapsible one only allows you to store water. You cannot use it to boil water, but it is a great way to store it. When you’re not using the soft canteen, you can collapse it to take less space in your backpack.
Water filtration system
Whenever you are out in the wild, you should always carry a water filtration system in your bag. This is the easiest way to purify water in the wild. Portable filters will provide you with clean, potable water in seconds, without boiling it first.
Water purification tablets
Water purification tablets do exactly what their name says; they purify water. You can use the tablets to get clean water in just a few minutes and without the effort of building a fire.
The least important on the survival rule of three is food. You can live up to three weeks without food. But this doesn’t mean that you should focus on being well fed.
While you can survive up to three weeks without food, you will get weaker and weaker as time passes. The reason for this is because your body will start to consume your muscles if you don’t eat.
Rations / MRE for 3 days
Ready-to-eat food is important for the first couple of days. This is why you should have a few meals ready to eat in your backpack.
After the first few days, you should rely on rations or MREs. Ideally, you should pack 3 days of rations in your bug out bag. This will give you enough time to set up your shelter and focus on more urgent matters.
Besides food, you need some utensils to eat. Instead of carrying a fork and a spoon, you should add a spork to your bug out bag. This allows you to eat any meal. Another plus of using a spork is that it does not take up much space in your backpack.
Once you set up your shelter and get things going, you need a way to get more food. It helps to build your shelter close to a river or a fishing area. This way, you can use your fishing kit to get fish and stay well fed.
Fire and cooking
Staying warm and dry in the cold season is essential. A fire can provide the much-needed heat and also cook your food and boil water.
Fire starting kit
You can find many fire starting kits online. Some have matches or bow drills, and others have a Ferro rod and striker. If you choose a tier 3 bug out bag, you should have an extra Ferro rod and striker besides the fire starting kit. This way, if one item fails, you have a second chance to start a fire.
Using a lighter is the fastest wait to start a fire. You should always carry two lighters and a waterproof lighter case in your bug out bag. This way, you don’t have to struggle with alternative fire starting methods.
Waterproof lighter case
In the wild, things can go wrong in seconds. When it comes to fire starting kits, you should always keep them dry. An essential item to carry in your backpack is a waterproof lighter case. This way, if you fall in the water, your fire starter is safe.
Power & Communication
It might not seem so in the beginning, but power is important in survival situations. Having a power source will make things a lot easier for you.
A power bank can come in very handy in the wild. You don’t have many electronics in your bug out bag, but the ones you have can make your life a lot better. These electronics can help you save a lot of time and energy.
Many electronic devices have built-in batteries. It would be best if you had a way to recharge them since you cannot replace their batteries. This is where the power bank can come in handy.
Cell Phone Cable and Adapter
If you have to bug out, you will most likely have your smartphone with you. It would help if you also took your charging cable and adapter. This way, you can recharge it using a power bank or a solar charger.
Emergency radios can help you call for help. A great way to call for help is to broadcast messages at regular intervals. You can also listen to certain frequencies in case rescuers are looking for you.
A great addition to your bug out bag is the solar charger. It allows you to recharge your electronics and your power bank. This way, you can continue to use your devices if you are not rescued in a few days. The solar charger is convenient in more extended survival situations.
Rechargeable batteries are great for storing power. They are cheap, and if you carry a power bank or a solar charger, you can recharge them repeatedly. Based on your bug out bag tier, you should carry a few batteries in your backpack.
Navigation & Light
Whenever you are in the wild, you have to make sure that you know where you are and where you are going. This can be tricky during the day, but at night, things get even harder. That is why, besides navigation tools, you also need light sources.
LED Flashlights are useful in many situations, as they are very powerful. They are also energy-efficient, meaning that the batteries will last longer. It would help if you got a rechargeable flashlight. This way, you can recharge them using power banks.
A headlamp is perfect for when you are working in the dark. It will provide light and still allow you to have both your hands free. This way, you can perform other important tasks. It is beneficial when you’re building a shelter, and the sun goes down.
Glow sticks can be a great alternative when you don’t want to use any device. These are waterproof, illuminate well, last for hours, and non-flammable. There are various colors available, so you can choose the ones you need.
Finding your way in the woods or the desert can be a challenging task. Some techniques can help you find cardinal points, but these can be time-consuming.
A simpler alternative is to pack a compass in your bug out bag. You can find compact compasses or even tools that have built-in compasses. This way, you save space in your backpack and make your life more comfortable in the wild.
Map of the area
A head start in survival situations is knowing your surrounding area. You can do this by exploring the site in advance or by using a map. It’s a lot more helpful to see and scout your surroundings than to see them for the first time when sh*t hits the fan.
Tools & Defense
Tools are your best friends in the wild. They allow you to build a shelter, start a fire and get water and food. You can craft certain tools in the wild, but it takes time and energy. Without these tools, your survival chance drops.
A multitool is a compact tool that allows you to perform many operations with the same item. This means that it is versatile and takes less space than if you were to carry separate tools.
Some of the tools that you can find on the multitool are knives, files, small saws, scissors, and more.
Folding knives are great in the wild. They are durable and allow you to do heavy-duty activities. You can even cut your way through the woods. Another benefit of this type of knife is it folds. This reduces the space it takes in your backpack. It also eliminates the risk of cutting yourself when you’re not using it.
Some models even come with a lifetime warranty. This means that the manufacturer guarantees that the knife will last you a lifetime.
Fixed Blade Knife
Fixed blade knives are part of every bug out bag. They are your go-to tools when it comes to cutting branches and sticks. Make sure you research various models before choosing one. Check the materials, warranty, and resistance before purchasing one.
Paracord is one of the most versatile items in your backpack. It allows you to build a shelter, carry things, craft other tools, and more. Make sure you have enough paracord in your bag.
You can check our article on expert vetted paracord uses for survival. We have prepared 45 paracord uses for survival situations.
Chainsaws are perfect for cutting down more giant logs for your shelter. Unfortunately, chainsaws are big, bulky, and need fuel to run.
A pocket chainsaw is the best alternative. It is compact, lightweight, and gets the job done.
It would help if you didn’t venture into the wild without a trusty hatchet. This is a versatile tool and allows you to cut down small trees and branches. It is excellent for chopping tasks where you need better control than with an ax.
Survival shovels are durable and compact. Most of them are foldable and have interchangeable ends. This way, the shovel becomes a multitool. Some of them even have other functions like Digging, Sawing, Chopping, Cutting, Picking, and Hammering.
Skinning knives are essential if you plan on hunting or trapping. It allows you to skin the animals with ease. This way, you save a lot of time and energy. There are different types of skinning knives, depending on the animals you hunt.
Pepper spray is handy for self-defense. It allows you to keep predators away in case of an attack. In case looters attack you, pepper spray can disable them, allowing you to run away.
There are different types of pepper sprays. Based on the size and range of the jet. There are four different models based on their spraying method: fog, cone, stream, and gel.
Health and medical items should not miss from your bug out bag. You need to stay healthy to be able to find your way back to safety. Try to avoid any injury, but you need the following items to patch yourself up if something happens.
First Aid Kit
First aid kits should not miss from any bug out bag. These are essential to survival situations. You might be careful enough and not need them, but what happens if you do and don’t have one in your backpack?
No matter what bug out bag tier you have, you should always have a first aid kit inside. There are three levels of first aid kits. The first one contains the essential first aid items. Level 3 first aid kits contain anything you might need in the wild.
In case of a severe injury, a tourniquet is a must-have. It can stop the bleeding and save your life. You should always keep one in your backpack. If you don’t have one, you can make an emergency one using a paracord and some sticks.
Some injuries might need immobilization of a limb or finger. Although you can make one in the wild, you should carry a Sam splint in your bug out bag. When you’re injured, it’s harder to craft anything. This is why the Sam splint can be a life saver.
QuikClot is a survival gauze that uses a substance that stops the bleeding. Kaolin, the substance impregnated into the gauze, helps coagulation and stop hemorrhages.
The Israeli Bandage is a great first aid item. It combines the benefits of the tourniquet and a bandage. Its design allows you to stop the bleeding and keep the wound bandaged. You can count on this combat-proven item to save your life.
Bugs might seem harmless, but certain insects have nasty bites and can cause problems. Adding a bug repellent to your bug out bag is a good idea. Even if you don’t encounter spiders, ticks, leeches, or wasps, it will protect you from mosquitos.
Hygiene kits are important in the wild. These contain deodorant, baby powder, a bar of some, toothbrush and toothpaste, shampoo, razor, and more. It has everything you need to stay clean and avoid infections.
Potassium Iodide Tablets
Potassium Iodide Tablets are useful in case of radiation poisoning. Radioactive iodine affects your thyroid gland. In case of an emergency, the Potassium iodide tablets protect your thyroid gland.
In case someone has fainted, you should try waking them up. An efficient way to do this is to use Ammonia inhalants. These are aromatic stimulants that, when crushed, treat and prevent fainting.
Documents are not mandatory, but you should consider taking them with you. You will most likely need a form of ID, and a pocket survival guide is beneficial.
You should add a form of identification to your bug out bag. It might not seem useful, but in some cases, you’ll need it. This way, if someone has any doubt that you are who you’re saying, you can prove it with ease.
Most people have their ID in their wallet. If this is your case, you might already have it on you. You shouldn’t add the original ID to your backpack as you might need it daily. You should add photocopies to your bug out bag.
Pocket Survival Guide
Pocket survival guides are small pocket-sized books that contain basic survival information. You can buy various guides for outdoor survival, disaster situations, first aid, or even bushcraft.
Whichever you find best for your situation, add it to your backpack. It will come in handy along the way.
Other small items might come in handy and will make your experience more comfortable. These will make your experience more comfortable.
A small mirror can come in handy in the wild. You can use it to signal for help or start your fire. You can also use it for medical purposes because it allows you to see parts of your body that are out of sight.
Duct tape is one of the most resistant and durable materials. It allows you to tie things together, patch things, or even insulate your shelter. You can also use it to hold bandages in place. It is a versatile item, and it shouldn’t miss from your bug out bag.
Dry bags are essential in the wild. If you cross a river or lake, or rain starts pouring, you have to protect certain items from getting wet. These durable and waterproof bags allow you to keep the items safe and dry. The bags can fold and take little space in your bug out bag.
Zip ties are useful for everyday and survival use. You can use zip ties to attach items to your bag, organize items, build a shelter, and more. These small items are so versatile that they are a must-have in every bug out bag.
Pencils can be a handy addition to your bug out bag. It allows you to write important information or plan your shelter’s layout. You can also use it to mark specific areas on your map or mark objects to create paths and trails.
It would help if you always had cash on yourself or in your bug out bag. In survival situations, you need as many barter items as possible. Cash is always a great asset for bartering, especially in urban survival situations.
Clothes are vital in harsh weather. But clothes and fabric can tear. This is why it’s important to carry a sewing kit in your backpack. You can sew and patch your clothes if something happens. This way, you’ll be protected from the elements.
Gray Bearded Green Beret's Ultralight Bug Out Bag
The Gray Bearded Green Beret is Joshua Enyart. He is a survival specialist, former Green Beret, and Army Ranger. His videos focus on bushcraft, survival skills, and prepping.
For an ultralight bug out bag, check out his video below.
Now you know what items you need in survival situations. Depending on your budget and the scenario’s duration, you can choose the right bag tier for you.
But as you know, tools and items are not enough to survive. You also need to have the required skills to stay alive. Let’s find out what survival skills you need to increase your chances in the wild.