Useful Stuff to Know » article » Important Survival Items for every Bug-Out Bag » Dec 3, 07:42 PM

Important Survival Items for every Bug-Out Bag

Be prepared for weather disruptions, power outages, and other emergencies with a backpack containing essential survival items. This is called a “bug-out bag” because it’s the one bag you’ll grab when you need to dodge disaster. It also provides tools and added security on camping and road trips.

The key to preparedness is covering your bases with minimum time, energy, and money. This way you neither blow your life doing nothing but obsessing about survival, nor risk your life by taking no action whatsoever. And the bug-out bag is the perfect example of a balanced compromise. Once it’s assembled and you know how to use all the items, you can put it out of your mind until the time comes to open it.

So here is a list of suggested items that should go into a bug-out bag:

  • Wad of Cash — the number one item to keep in your bag. A tame disaster will simply mean leaving the town and finding a motel room somewhere, or trekking cross country in your vehicle. You will need cash to pay for gas, motel room, food, and possible car repairs along the way. If you want enough to be able to relocate anywhere in the country within a moment’s notice, you’ll need about $3k. Otherwise $300 in small bills ($5, $20) is the absolute minimum to be safe. Have a roll of quarters as well.
  • LED light that you can strap to your head – Very important since it frees both your hands for writing, reading, doing dishes, fixing things, going to the bathroom, and other activities done in the dark. When the power goes out for days, you’ll appreciate this.
  • LED flashlight — can’t have too much light. There should be one headlamp, hand-held flashlight, and lantern per person. Hopefully one of those lights has a red filter or red LED to use at night to preserve night vision.
  • LED Lantern – illuminate a living space with an electric lantern. The 6V batteries last a long time. Preferably get an LED model, otherwise regular bulbs are fine if you get some spare bulbs.
  • Rechargeable Batteries and Regular/Solar Charger — another critical item. Get two to three packs each of AA and/or AAA batteries, depending on what items you have. The most compact chargers are flat ones that roll up into a pouch, used by the military, but they are quite expensive.
  • Wide brimmed water-repellent hat – good for keeping your face and neck free from sunburn and rain. The hat should be floppy enough to fold and thus take up less space in the bag.
  • Rain poncho* – these fold up nicely and keep the rain from soaking through your clothes and chilling you into hypothermia.
  • Pair of work gloves* – you will likely be using tools outside where the cold and the friction of the tool handle will hurt your hands. Therefore be sure to have decent work gloves.
  • First aid kit, field surgical kit or suture kit, butterfly stitches – most important items for a first aid kit: Neosporin, assorted bandages, small bottle of iodine or alcohol or wipes instead of bottle, anti-diarrhea medicine, aspirin, gauze pads, and tape. The field surgical kit is not something you can use without medical training, but chances are you may end up being with someone who does have enough knowledge to use it. Not as essential as the First Aid Kit however.
  • Small bag containing soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, folded wad of toilet paper – Going without these can be demoralizing.
  • Packet of baby wipes (the ones in the wrapper sold as refills) – when you don’t have a sink, shower, or bathroom, these wipes will keep you fresh. I used them while camping in the wilderness for a week and they worked great. Just make sure they have a sealable bag or container to store in otherwise they will dry out, although water revives them if they do.
  • Bottle of 90% rubbing alcohol – aside from disinfecting skin and medical instruments, this also serves as a firestarter. Unlike hydrogen peroxide it has a long shelf life. It can be wiped under the arms to kill odor-causing bacteria as well.
  • Bag of cotton balls, jar of Vaseline — you can make incredible firestarters by soaking the cotton in Vaseline and lighting it beneath a small mound of twig kindling atop larger twigs/branches. Swipe each cotton ball around in the Vaseline, massage it so that the Vaseline penetrates into the center, and squeeze out any excess, then fluff it up a little. For convenience you can prepare these ahead of time and pack them into an Altoids tin or other small container. Each ball burns for about a minute, enough to light the thicker kindling.
  • Cone shaped coffee filters – doesn’t take up much space, can be fashioned into dust masks, used to make tea from wild-picked herbs, and help filter particles from water.
  • Box of Power Bars or other small-size high-calorie food – let’s say you split town and have to drive three days without stopping for anything but gas, or have to hike for a couple days. Here is where some food bars can get you through. They should have a long enough shelf life that you can eat them up if the expiration date approaches without their being used yet.
  • Tea bags (green, black, hibiscus/rosehip) – morale booster and energizer. Long shelf life. Avoid coffee, as it will go stale.
  • Bottle of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) – very important. If you end up eating nothing but canned or preserved foods, hunted game meat, and/or grains, you will soon develop sores in your mouth and on your skin from lack of Vitamin C. It’s difficult getting fresh fruits and veggies with adequate Vitamin C in survival situations, thus having a bottle handy saves you much trouble. The other important vitamins are the B-Vitamins, but they go bad more quickly… however, if you don’t mind rotating out a bottle of B-Vitamins with a new bottle periodically, you’ll prevent other maladies.
  • Compass – Whichever one you get, know how to use it. For most people a simple but rugged compass suffices, enough to tell North from South, and East from West when navigating according to a road map. It should be marked with degrees. Avoid the micro-compasses that look like watches, as they are too small to be useful. Suunto or Brunton are good brands. If you will be navigating in the wilderness, the only proper solution is a topographic map with a more complex compass, but you’ll have to practice it at least once and know all its functions, else it will be more confusing than useful.
  • Sunglasses and dust mask – protection from sun and dust when walking or cleaning up debris. Sunglasses should be sports-style that wrap-around and are durable. Dust mask can be basic, as long as it fits. Don’t expect to avoid biological agents with a basic dust mask, however. This is more for volcanic ash, road dust, particles from burning buildings, and so on.
  • Two changes of socks, underwear, and undershirt – at the very least have those. Depends on how much fits into your bug-out bag. This way you can wear one while washing/drying the other two.
  • Pair of walkie-talkies with at least 3 mile range – the cheap alternative to CB radio. This is critical if you and your friend or partner will be using separate cars, or will ever temporarily split up, otherwise you risk never seeing them again, at least not without confusion and worry about where they are. Don’t expect the cell-phone network to stay up. There may also be other people in the area with walkie-talkies and you can scan through for their communications and vice versa. By the way, when they say 22 or 35 mile range, they really mean 3 to 5 miles max. The higher figure is if you’re broadcasting off the top of a mountain with line of sight to the target.
  • “Two packets of emergency camping blankets”:Emergency Survival Blanket – High Quality Polyethylene Heatsheet Survival Blanket – By Adventure Medical Kits (For One Person) – folding foil covered mylar sheets, available in the camping section of sporting goods and general stores like Wal-Mart. They can make temporary lean-to shelters, make you harder to detect by infrared-equipped helicopters (god forbid you should ever have to face that situation) and keep you from freezing to death if caught without shelter by wrapping it around you to reflect back your body heat.
  • Hand-operated water filter — of course water is critical. Chances are you will have access to faucets or bottled water, but equal chance is you’ll have only a stream, puddle, or rain water to drink. Don’t mess around with water — getting cholera, diphtheria, and other diseases will knock you out. Filter the water, boil it for 10 minutes, and do whatever is necessary to make sure you don’t drink contaminated liquids. Water filters can be expensive, though, so be ready for the sticker.
  • Collapsible water container — these hold up to one gallon, yet collapse into a deflated bag. Very good for filling up at gas stations and elsewhere. You’ll want to fill a couple of these at every opportunity, to make sure you’re never caught without water. Otherwise you only have a couple days before you get too weak from dehydration to get more.
  • Solar powered calculator, paper notebook, ball-point pens — you will calculate mileage, leave notes, make lists, and other important tasks that should not be left to juggling solely in your head.
  • Four cans of Sterno fuel and folding camp stove or attachment, or small Woodgas Stove — The Sterno cans are cheap and easy to use, but will run out eventually. It’s better to pack them than have nothing, as they will boil water, heat food, sterilize metals through heat, and globs of the gel can be put onto wood piles to start a camp fire. The Woodgas Stove is a great alternative since it uses fuel always available everywhere: wood scraps, twigs, branches. Just load up the stove, start a fire, plug in the AA battery pack, and it burns not only the wood but the smoke that comes from it, leaving a clean flame. I’d say avoid those small camp stoves with the propane canister attachments as the fuel cans will be difficult to come by.
  • Steel camping cup to cook stuff in, metal spork — Make sure it’s steel or titanium and not aluminum, and if you get a cooking set, it has to be compact by nesting the various pans/pots into a single sizable package.
  • One case of military MREs — Not a bug-out bag item (too large and heavy) but useful enough to mention anyway. If you can afford it, and don’t want to bother with any other food preparation or PowerBars or anything, these military “Meals Ready to Eat” are the way to go. Decent shelf-life, fully waterproof packaging, and they come with utensils and condiments. They will last one person between one and two weeks. You can also get just a few full MREs, and then buy a case of just the entree packets to avoid paying extra for redundant utensils. These can be eaten without heating. You can make your own MREs inside zip-loc bags from: pouch chicken/tuna/albacore, dehydrated minute rice / potatoes / oatmeal, milk or hot cocoa powder, can of veggies, packet of honey, bullion cubes, candy bar.
  • Crowbar / tire-iron — nice weapon, can pry open candy machines and doors, make sure that the tire iron actually fits the lugnuts on your car.
  • Can of Mace / Pepper-Spray — This is the legally safest form of self-defense. You can spray someone in self-defense and not go to jail for having wounded or killed him. Being non-lethal, it can be used more often. Also works on attacking animals. Will buy you the time and advantage needed to run away (best option) or further incapacitate with other stronger means. Even if you’re a guy, and can legally buy pepper spray, get one. Clip it onto the outside of the bag within easy reach, or in an outer pocket.
  • Packet of nylon rope — too many uses to list them all, but some uses include: stringing up the foil blankets for a lean-to shelter or tent, hang or tie stuff together, etc…
  • Box of long-lasting emergency candles — with these you can make wax firestarters, light damp wood through prolonged application of the flame, and seal cracks and edges to be more water resistant.
  • One spool of fishing line, 50-100 lb strength or greater — as many uses as the nylon rope. Aside from fishing (provided you have hooks and bait) you can also make snares for birds and small game.
  • Packet of Bic lighters — don’t bother with Zippos, as they don’t work well, are difficult to light, and run out of fuel too easily. Bics flick on easily.
  • Roll of duct tape — entire books have been written on the creative uses of duct tape. But most likely you’ll use it for patching holes, keeping things attached, and binding the ankles and wrists of your enemies (just kidding).
  • Small roll of plastic sheeting (aka drop cloths) — these make large and quick expedient shelters. Can also serve as water collection membranes for air wells, if you know how to build one.
  • Compact tent, 0-15 degree sleeping bag, camping matt — optional, but if you have the space and money, these are worth having. If you are short on cash, at the very least have a good sleeping bag, which you’ll be able to use inside unheated vehicles or buildings. Avoid the bags under $25 with the polyester fill as they are poor quality and don’t insulate well. Ones in the $45-$70 range with Holofil or better fibers are good enough. If you want a sleeping bag liner to help keep it clean, get a cheap $10 fleece one from Wal-Mart, which adds about 10 degrees of warmth. The degree ratings on sleeping bags is a joke — when they say “30 degrees rating” read it as “You’ll be frozen numb but not quite dead at 30 degrees when you use this bag.” Therefore I recommend nothing weaker than a 15 degree mummy bag, preferably 0 degrees, as you’ll probably end up using it on freezing nights.
  • Backpack — Only if you expect to hike long distances would you need an expensive frame backpack, otherwise any backpack big enough to contain these items (except the MREs and sleeping bag) will do. Even tying them up inside a thick garbage bag (to seal out moisture) and placing inside a cardboard box is good if you’ll simply be moving it from house/apartment/motel to car.

I will add more to this list over time. Remember you don’t have to get everything on this list, nor buy it all at once. The good thing about items featured here is that, even if you never end up using them in a bug out or emergency situation, they can still be used in everyday life. Always prepare for the possibility that you’ll never end up facing an emergency or disaster. In other words, don’t waste your life preparing for the end of the world, rather make survival preparations a little side thing to cover the minimum needed to not be caught with your pants down should something indeed happen.