There have been many articles written about which items to keep in a bug-out bag. Everyone seems to agree that a water bottle, nonperishable food, a flashlight and batteries, a crank-operated radio, cordage, a fixed-blade knife and fire starters should be included; but the lists vary considerably after that.
What seems to receive less attention than the specific contents of a bug-out bag, despite being nearly as important, is the bag itself. In fact, a sturdy, reliable backpack is the first thing you should acquire before you start figuring out what you want to include in it.
Here’s what to look for when you make your backpack decision. It should be made of high-grade materials — if it feels flimsy when you hold it in the store, don’t buy it — and must include strong, wide and well-padded shoulder straps. There’s nothing worse than a full backpack with narrow straps digging into your shoulders as you’re walking. The straps also need to be adjustable because you may or may not be wearing a coat when you carry it. Make sure the bottom is reinforced and that it features an attached load-bearing waist belt.
The outside of the bag, which should be at least water-resistant if not completely waterproof, needs to include pouches, straps, zippers or buckles so that you can keep a variety of different items secure and easily accessible. Some people like a bright color for their backpack because it’s easier to spot if they’re lost. Others prefer drab or camouflage bags, which tend to be of higher quality.
One option for a bug-out bag, especially if you’re a serious hiker or camper, is a war surplus military assault pack. These packs can be found in war surplus stores or at online sites including Sportsman’s Guide and Cheaper Than Dirt. You can probably acquire a new one for about $100 and a used one for about $40.
Once you’ve selected your bug-out bag, proper maintenance is important if you want it to last for years. Among the things you can do to increase its life span is to soap the zippers if they get sticky and mend the seams when they fray. Clean it every time you’re finished using it, then restock it so it’s ready to go for next time. If your bag is not waterproof, spray on a quality water-repellent product annually.
How you pack your bug-out bag is also important. You don’t want it to be top-heavy or bottom-heavy. You want the weight concentrated on your center back, between your belt and shoulder blades. Place light and flat items, such as your poncho, trash bags, aluminum foil, rope, etc., at the bottom of the bag, and stack larger items on top of them. Then, start stuffing softer gear such as clothing and supplies in and around everything else.
Small items that you need to access frequently and possibly in a hurry should be kept in your bug-out bag pockets, in a fanny pack or on a utility belt. Items that you lash to your gear need to be secure so that they don’t swing or dangle, which can slow you down, not to mention annoy you and others.
Regarding fanny packs, buy one that is durable and husky with a strong, wide, load-worthy belt that will disperse weight better and is more comfortable on your hips. It’s a good place to keep your compass, lighters, cordage, bandana, sunglasses and insect repellent; and you can also sling on your hunting knife, canteen and other survival tools. An alternative to the fanny pack is a military utility belt with matching components and detachable storage pouches.
Reliable bags in which to keep your survival items are essential, so don’t scrimp on the quality of a bug-out bag. You may end up regretting it.