BOB the Bug Out Bag
by Warrior Publications, Jan 5, 2014
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.
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 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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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).
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
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
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).
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.