BOB the Bug Out Bag

by Warrior Publications, Jan 5, 2014

How not to pack your Bob Out Bag; US soldier overburdened with high tech gear and weaponry.

How not to pack your BOB; US soldier overburdened with high tech gear and weaponry.

A Bug Out Bag (BOB) is a pre-packed bag of personal survival items that can be grabbed when you must quickly depart a location during an emergency. The bag must be light enough for you to carry over long distances, yet contain enough items to sustain you for up to at least 72 hours (3 days). The typical weight of such a pack is between 30 to 40 pounds. Once you have assembled the bag, take it out on hikes and camping trips to ensure that it works, that it’s light enough to be carried over rough terrain, and that the items contained in it are both durable and necessary.

A potential natural disaster might be the main reason you have a BOB (such as seasonal flooding, forest fires, severe storms, or an earthquake, etc.). In this case, your main concern is survival.

SERE shadow crossing

For SERE, you want to avoid detection from hostile forces, unlike simple survival.

For a warrior, the possibility that you may need to quickly deploy to an emergency conflict, or escape capture from hostile forces, would mean that you must consider not just survival, but also evasion, resistance, and escape (SERE: Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape).

The type of Bug Out Bag discussed in this article is primarily focused on wilderness survival. Not only might you take refuge in a wilderness area during a natural disaster or other emergency (or for SERE purposes), but even if you remain in an urban setting you may not have access to housing, a stove, or heat. Always being prepared for rough camping, even in a city, means you can still build a shelter and start a fire even if your home is destroyed or inaccessible.

Although this article has some tips on types of gear and their functions, future articles will have more in-depth information on equipment (including use, care and maintenance, and sources).

The Pack

5.11 backpack, the Rush 72, shows a typical medium sized pack used for BOBs.

5.11 backpack, the Rush 72, shows a typical medium sized pack used for BOBs.  This pack is 47.5 Litres and retails for approx. $180.

The pack is what carries your supplies, and most people use a back pack. It should be large enough to carry your gear, ideally with multiple outside pouches. If it has zippers, heavy duty ones are better with dual zipper tabs (if one breaks you still have the other tab). A padded waist belt can take some of the load off your shoulders.

If you get a very large pack, you will inevitably fill it with all sorts of items that, in reality, you probably don’t need. Most people struggle with keeping their BOB as small and lightweight as possible. It helps to start with a medium-sized pack and to avoid over packing. Most packs carrying capacity is measured in litres. For a BOB, a 25 to 40 litre pack should be sufficient.

US Army ALICE pack, an external frame pack.

US Army ALICE pack, an external frame pack. Approx. $80 at surplus stores.

There is a wide variety of packs suitable for a BOB. Some high quality (but also more expensive) brands include 5.11, Maxpedition, and Condor. The old US Army Alice pack (approx. 40 litres carrying capacity) is quite popular for BOB purposes and can be found in most military surplus stores (avoid the made in China counterfeit versions). Some Mountain Equipment Coop packs are also a good choice (mostly the overnight and multi-day packs). There are also many cheap, poorly made packs, some of which are counterfeit versions of brand name ones, that should be avoided.

For SERE considerations, avoid bright colours that attract attention; likewise, it may be useful to avoid military-style tactical and/or camouflage packs that could identify you as a warrior when moving through civilian terrain. If you do have a camo pack, rain covers used for civilian packs can be used to conceal it when necessary. Earth tones suitable to your environment are a good neutral choice.


The BOB should cover these 5 main survival concerns: 1) water, 2) food, 3) shelter, 4) fire, and 5) navigation. You can prioritize these based on your environment. For example, someone in a desert would prioritize water (how much they carry, methods for gathering, and water purification), while a person in the Pacific Northwest (a rainforest) might prioritize fire and shelter, and then water.

All clothing items, sleeping bags, and gear that would be damaged by water should be placed in durable plastic bags or waterproof pouches before being placed in the pack (even if you have a waterproof pack and/or rain cover for the pack).


Nalgene water bottle with metal cup and lid.

Nalgene water bottle with metal cup and lid.

A durable water bottle (filled with clean water) should be packed. This might be a Nalgene plastic bottle or a military style canteen made of hard green plastic. Water bottles of whatever type should have a carrying case so they can be attached to the hip belt of your backpack, or to the outside of the pack, or on a waist belt or shoulder strap. Military canteens have a carrying pouch, and most surplus stores stock both.

Military canteen with metal cup and carrying case.

Military canteen with metal cup and carrying case.

It is often recommended that a person have at least 1 litre of water per day. 1 litre is the same size as a standard Nalgene bottle or military issue canteen, so the recommended amount of water would see you packing three Nalgene bottles or 3 canteens. This is a large amount of water that would take considerable space in a BOB and would also add a lot of weight. Unless you live in a desert region, two water bottles should be sufficient.

Some water purification tablets should be carried (such as Aquatabs) or a small water filter system, in order to extend your supply of water. Water filtration systems tend to be expensive (from $80 to $350) and need their filters replaced periodically. Water can also be boiled for 5 minutes to purify it. If in a desert environment, as noted, more water and water procurement methods should be included in the BOB.

Aquatab water purification tablets.

Aquatab water purification tablets.

If a military canteen is carried, try to also get the silver metal canteen cup that is issued. This slips onto the bottom of the canteen, adding better protection against punctures while also used to boil water (for purification, for tea or coffee, or for dried food mixes, etc.) or to cook food with. Metal cups can also be acquired for Nalgene bottles.

The Camelbak style of hydration packs, which are water bladders carried in a small backpack, are not recommended. They can be more easily punctured and you will lose your water as well as your only water carrier. Some can be difficult to clean and mildew can grow on tubing and parts. They are also not as easy to refill as a water bottle or canteen, as the bladder must be removed from the backpack. Hydration packs are most suited for continuous physical activities such as cycling or running. Some people in arid regions prefer hydration packs, however.


Example of 3 day rations. The items below the metal mess tin fit inside it and include rice and noodles.

Example of 3 day rations. The items below the metal mess tin fit inside it and include rice and noodles. On the right are canned salmon, 2 cans of sardines, and beef bullion cubes.

Trail mix, pemmican, jerky, and other dried foods should be packed, as well as “power bars” (such as Clif Bars). Of all these, pemmican is probably the best as it contains dried meat, berries, and rendered fat. Another food option is freeze-dried foods, such as meals produced by Mountain House, which just require hot water to rehydrate. You can also pack rice and noodles, requiring cooking. Avoid canned goods as they are bulky and heavy. Consider that, in a SERE situation, it may not be possible to heat water or cook food. Carry enough food for three days (3 breakfasts and 3 dinners, with snacks while hiking). Food items should be checked and replaced every few months.


US military modular sleep system (MSS), with black inner bag, green outer, and camo bivy bag.

US military modular sleep system (MSS), with black inner bag, green outer, and camo bivy bag.

A shelter system should protect you from rain and wind (in desert regions you also need shade from the sun). Some minimalists might just pack a bivy bag that slips over their sleeping bag. These are waterproof nylon, and in some models Goretex lined, bags that are waterproof, protect against the wind, and add another insulating layer to your sleeping bag. Goretex bivy bags are preferable as they are breathable and do not collect moisture inside as do simple nylon versions. Surplus stores often carry military Goretex bivy bags (either Canadian or US) for approximately $75 to $125.

Examples of shelters made with either a tarp or poncho.

Examples of shelters made with either a tarp or poncho.

Some people prefer a tarp approx. 8 feet long and 10 feet wide, that can be used to build an A-frame or lean-to shelter. Tarps, especially those made of silnylon or thin strong nylon, can usually pack smaller than a tent. Some skill is required in order to make tarp shelters. Approx. 25 feet of strong cord (such as paracord) should be included to construct shelters with. Tent pegs are used to secure the corners and sides of a tarp. Tarps are often used along with bivy bags and sometimes mosquito netting.

Some people prefer small tents. They are easy to set up and provide protection against mosquitos and other insects, and also retain heat better. The drawbacks to a tent are that you can’t build a fire as you can with a lean-to tarp shelter, and tents are usually heavier and bigger packages than a tarp.

Survival or emergency blanket, a Mylar material that keeps in body heat.

Survival or emergency blanket, a Mylar material that keeps in body heat.

An emergency blanket (the silver aluminium foil type blankets) should also be carried. This can be used to wrap yourself in for warmth or as a water-proof shelter roof when building improvised shelters. More durable emergency ‘bivy bags’ can also be purchased that are about the size of a folded pair of wool socks when placed in their stuff sacks (such as those made by Survive Outdoors Longer). These are enclosed bags with a hood that you crawl into.

1-2 heavy duty garbage bags can be used as emergency ponchos or as water-proofing for shelter roofs. These can also be used to store your BOB in (i.e., an emergency cache) or for water crossings.

Sleeping Bag

In most regions of North America a sleeping bag is necessary to stay warm and to get a good sleep. Try to find as lightweight, yet as warm a bag, as possible that is appropriate for your regions temperatures (most bags have a temperature rating that is somewhat optimistic). A good system is to have two bags: one for colder conditions (such as fall or early spring) and one for summer, then combining the two for winter conditions. Military surplus stores usually carry sleeping bags, as do stores such as Mountain Equipment Coop.

Canadian military sleeping bag system; an outer, a flannel liner, and an outer, with waterproof valise carrier on right.

Canadian military sleeping bag system; an outer, a flannel liner, and an outer, with waterproof valise carrier on right. This set up is good for cold up to -30 degrees Celsius. In warmer conditions only one bag (outer or inner) is used.

Some people prefer down as it is light and warm, and packs small. But when it gets wet, down can lose much of its insulating qualities, become very heavy, and take a long time to dry. Down is best in dry cold conditions.

There are now many good quality and relatively inexpensive sleeping bags made with synthetic materials. These have the advantage, at least in wet conditions, of retaining much of their insulating properties when wet, and also dry fairly quickly. Although some synthetic bags can pack very small, especially with compression bags, they also tend to be slightly larger and heavier than down (although usually less expensive).

A sleeping bag dedicated for use as part of your BOB should be regularly checked and allowed to “fluff” out. A sleeping bag that is always tightly packed up will lose some of its insulating properties due to compression.


Example of a fire starting kit, with a Bic lighter, water proof matches, tinder, and magneisum block.

Example of a fire starting kit, with a Bic lighter, water proof matches and striking surfaces (in upper lid), tinder, and magnesium block.

A large Bic lighter should be carried at a minimum. 10-20 strike-anywhere matches in a waterproof container, and/or a firesteel with striker should be carried as a backup. A small candle can greatly assist in fire-starting as well as being a source of light. Packing some tinder (i.e., a clump of dryer flint, jute twine, or cotton daubed with petroleum jelly) in a water proof container can also aid in fire starting.


Silva Ranger compass, with mirror used for navigation as well as signaling.

Silva Ranger compass, with mirror used for navigation as well as signaling.

A compass is essential for navigation, such as a Silva Ranger or a lensatic compass. A compass need not be expensive, as long as it is accurate and reliable. A map of your area, preferably a 1:50,000 scale topographical map, should be carried as well. Knowledge of navigation can greatly assist anyone who finds themselves in a survival or SERE situation.


A good fixed blade knife, with a blade length of 4-6 inches, should be packed along with a way to sharpen it (a wet stone or diamond sharpener, for example). Your knife is considered a primary survival tool, and it should be securely carried in a durable sheath. For most areas either a carbon or stainless steel knife is good, but if you live along the coast or in a rainforest, stainless steel is a better option.

A Mora Bushcraft Black knife, with an approx. 4 inch long carbon steel blade.

A Mora Bushcraft Black knife, with an approx. 4 inch long carbon steel blade, makes a good survival knife (although for coastal or rain forest environments a stainless steel blade is better).

Another important tool for a BOB is a multi-tool, such as a Leatherman, Gerber or SOG model. It should have a decent knife blade and saw, which can be used to make shelters, snares, and other tools.

A Petz Tactikka headlamp with red lens option.

A Petzl Tactikka headlamp with red lens option.

A flashlight can be a great asset in the dark. Rotate batteries to ensure the flashlight has the newest ones possible. For SERE, get a flashlight that also has a red lens (or improvise a red lens cover); red light is far less visible than white at night and will not degrade your night vision. Many people prefer headlamps with a small hand held flashlight for back up. Try to get all electronic devices with the same size batteries (such as AAA, or AA, which are commonly available).

Additional tools can be carried depending on your environment. A small folding saw can be used to make firewood or shelters, and/or a small hatchet. Some people prefer a kukri, a large heavy curved blade from the Nepal region. But these types of tools also add more weight to your BOB.


US military "Battle Dress Uniform" (BDU), widely available in surplus stores both new and used.

US military “Battle Dress Uniform” (BDU), widely available in surplus stores both new and used.

Consider clothing as your first line of shelter. It should be durable and comfortable for your environment. In addition to what you are wearing when you “bug out,” your BOB might include extra clothing such as a field jacket with some insulation, and a pair of pants and shirt suitable for wilderness conditions (such as hunting, hiking and camping, or military fatigues). Avoid cotton clothing in cold, wet regions, as it soaks up water, loses its insulating qualities, and takes longer to dry. Most military fatigues are made of a combination of nylon and cotton (Nyco). A hat of some kind should be packed for head protection (for either hot, wet, and/or cold weather). A lightweight rain coat and rain pants, ideally Goretex, should be packed (military surplus Goretex gear packs up fairly small). A change of socks & underwear can also be packed.

US military poncho, available in many surplus stores.

US military poncho, available in many surplus stores.

An alternative for wet weather clothing is a water proof nylon poncho which can also be used as a shelter. US military ponchos are usually available in surplus stores. Medium weight leather gloves are a good clothing option as well for going through thick bush and handling hot items around a fire.

Footwear can be packed in a BOB if there is room, or attached to the outside so you can put them on as soon as practical or necessary. Footwear intended for use in the wilderness should be comfortable, durable, and waterproof. Most running shoes may be comfortable, but they lack durability and waterproofing. Mid-level hiking boots or military boots are recommended, including Goretex versions. Military boots can be found in surplus stores, in good condition, for between $80 to $100.

Canadian military Mark III combat boot, no longer issued but still in many surplus stores.

Canadian military Mark III combat boot, no longer issued but still available in many surplus stores.

The clothing in your BOB may change with the seasons; for example, in some regions winter requires more layers of clothing for insulation (such as thermal underwear, fleece top and bottom, etc). In areas with long periods of snow cover, white camouflage tops, bottoms, and a pack cover should be carried for SERE purposes.

As with your BOB, clothing should not be brightly coloured (unless your only concern is survival and rescue), but it may be preferable to have a mix of camouflage and drab civilian clothing for SERE. For example, forest green coloured pants, an OD green jacket, and a camouflage outer jacket could be used, packing the camo jacket away when entering civilian terrain (again, for SERE purposes).


Signaling with a mirror.

Signaling with a mirror.

Refers to signalling rescue personnel or friendly forces. This is most often to alert search and rescue teams and draw their attention to your location. Some common forms of signalling include flares (either hand held or those fired by a pen-like

A pen style flare launcher.

A pen style flare launcher.

launcher), a mirror (for reflecting and directing sunlight, some compasses come with a mirror and there are also signal mirrors available with aiming holes in the centre), flashlights, ground panels (large coloured pieces of material that fold into small packages), or signal fires (pre-made fires ready to light to provide a bright fire at night or lots of smoke in the day).

First Aid Kit

Example of a small first aid kit.

Example of a small first aid kit.

A minimal level of first aid items should be carried. This might include gauze dressings (or military pressure bandages) for larger wounds, bandages, moleskin (for treating blisters on the feet), an antiseptic (such as Polysporin or a traditional type such as a herbal salve), extra strength pain killers (such as Tylenol), and any prescription medicines you may require.


An emergency stash of money (for SERE, such as getting on a bus or in a taxi, going into a cafe, etc.). Hygiene (a small toothbrush, soap, razor, tampons, small roll of toilet paper, etc.). A small repair kit (sewing needles, thread, patches, duct tape). A notebook and pen.  A small compact survival manual can also be a great asset for wilderness survival (such as the SAS Survival Guide).SAS Survival Guide cover

For SERE, additional considerations in packing a BOB are track concealment (i.e., a pair of mocassins or similar footwear can greatly reduce tracks), camouflage materials, etc.

If there is any items you think should be included in a BOB, or if you have any other tips, please feel free to share them in the comments section below.


Posted on January 4, 2014, in Warrior Fieldcraft and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Great article!

    Thought of a few things to add:

    Ideally you want a knife that has a full tang, meaning the metal part of the blade continues the length of the grip/handle. A knife with a full tang is far more durable, also allowing the application of more force and leverage when using the knife. They also tend to be more balanced.

    If there is a carbon or other type of coating on your knife, you will need to scrape some of it off on the knife spine to use a fire steel.

    For clothing, socks are really important. Wool/synthetic blends are the best combination of durability, warmth, odor/bacteria management and moisture management. Blend socks with higher synthetic content will wick moisture better, and work best with waterproof/breathable Gore-tex type boots. Taking care of your feet is super important if they’re your only way of getting around.

    Wanted to elaborate on layering systems. Read below if you’re interested:

    Layering systems can be used in any climate but are ideal in cooler and/or wet climates. A layering system is designed to keep you warm and dry by managing moisture (both your sweat and the moisture in your environment), and more heat is trapped in the air between layers. All layers are available in bright or drab colours, and various camo patterns.

    Your system would be different depending on what the conditions are but can be broken down into three categories :

    1)Base layer- next to your skin to suck up your sweat (synthetic, wool, or a blend) basically long-underwear and a close fitting long sleeved top.
    2) Mid Layer- keeps you warm, can also protect you form abrasion (synthetic like fleece, wool, or a blend)
    3) Outer Layer- protects you from weather and abrasion. A quiet outer layer is important for SERE.

    Base layers are important to regulate your body temperature.

    Wool, especially merino are better at insulating, and naturally resist odor but are expensive and not as good at wicking your sweat as synthetics. Wool layers are better in colder climates.

    Base layers should be skin tight fitting to be best at wicking the sweat away form your skin. If your sweat remains next to your skin your bodies temperature will begin to drop. It’s the same principle behind why clothing made primarily out of cotton is a bad choice for insulation, or in wet climates. In a survival situation this can be very serious.

    If you are not able to get dry and warm quickly your core temperature can drop to the point where you get chilled. This can leading to illness or in some cases lead to hypothermia and death.

    In extreme environments and conditions remember: “cotton kills” and “If you sweat you die”

    Mid-Layers are your insulating layer(s). Synthetics are lighter and less expensive than wool. Fleeces come in different “weights” or levels of insulation, often light, mid, or heavy weight. A close fitting mid layer will keep you warmer and prevent your layering system from being bulky.

    In addition to the fabrics mentioned above, and in the original post Soft Shell” fabrics make excellent mid layer. Soft Shells are highly breathable, often have a water resistant (or proof) outer fabric, can be wind resistant (or proof). Soft shells are often durable, and are made out of 2 or 4-way stretch materials that are very easy, quiet to move in.

    Some soft shells, gloves, hats, pants, are made of WINDSTOPPER fabrics. They are highly wind resistant, breathable and water proof except for the seams. It’s basically Gore-Tex without seam tape. It is less expensive that Gore-tex, but not waterPROOF, just highly resistant.

    As was stated in the original post, additional insulating mid layers such as field jackets, down jackets (water repellent coating), or synthetic puffy jackets such as ones containing thinsulate, or primaloft are important in cooler climates. Warmth to weight ratios are important considerations, as well as how fast an item will dry and it’s ability to insulate when wet.

    Outer layers are your protection from rain, wind, cold and abrasion.
    You want your outer layer “shell” to be waterproof, windproof, breathable, and durable. Breathable means your perspiration can get out, but water can’t get in.

    Venting options like arm-pit zips can help you regulate your temperature without removing a layer.

    Waxed fabrics, or vinyl are heavy and don’t breathe well or at all.

    Gore-tex classic or Gore-tex Pro are generally considered the best combination of these features particularly durability when compared to other waterproof/breathable fabrics.

    Wearing a silencing layer (such as cotton or fleece) over your outer layer will make it difficult or impossible for your shell to breathe if it is wet.

    Hybrid Shells are the best combination of waterproof, breathable, durable, and QUIET. They are a laminated fabric like Gore-Tex, but have a soft shell outer layer that is much quieter. They are newer technology though so they can be expensive.

    Relatively reasonably priced shells are available at surplus stores the best prices can usually be found online.

    Well that was longer than I thought it would be… But your clothing is your most important shelter.

    Paying attention to your body temperature and responding accordingly is crucial for comfort and survival.

    The layers work together and can be changed depending the weather and your physical activity level.

  2. here’s the last item i bought for my BOB – super lightweight, filters 1000 liters of water extremely well, costs $20US.

  3. Gee Zip whats your next column, U.S. made vs Foreign hardware? hahaha
    Oh and don’t forget tactical guides.

  4. Reblogged this on what we discovered and commented:
    I think I need to pack one now!

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