What is the Best Bug Out Bag?
That is a great question. It would be awesome if it was an easy question to answer like “What is 2 + 2?”. But the problem is, the “best” bug out bag for me is probably not the best bug out bag for you. There are simply too many variables for me to say in a blog post “____ is the best bug out bag for you.” THAT’S why you can’t buy it. There is entirely too much to think about to say that “X bug out bag” is the best for everyone, everywhere in every situation. That is why I would NEVER tell someone something like “Oh just get this one. It will take care of you just fine.” It’s not going to take care of you like you need, especially for an extended bug out (which is what most bug outs will end up being)
However, what I would like to do in this post is walk you through how to put together the right bug out bag for you and your loved ones.
You need to ask yourself some important questions to make sure you cover all your bases:
Are looking for a bag for a long term bug out, or short term bug out?
In order to determine “What is the best bug out bag”, you may want to look at threats to your survival and see what that may require. Ideally, you want to bug in, as your home, properly stocked with food, water, and ways to stay warm will be much easier to come by. Very few situations would actually warrant a “bug OUT“. Bugging out is a last resort.
A bug out is usually only required if you specifically are being targeted, or if a group you belong to is being targeted with severe persecution (Religious, social etc.). In other words, the city or civilization in which you live is now extremely hostile toward you and you need to leave. That is how I am going to approach this bag. This is going to be a bug out bag that is designed to help you sustain yourself for weeks or months at a time if necessary.
So, first, let’s tackle the bag itself.
Most backpacks these days are made of extremely durable nylon. The way that they measure the nylon is something called denier (Pronounced din-ee-er). This is a weight measurement, not a durability measurement. And while typically heavier products are more durable, that is not always the case. (There is an excellent and easy to understand material guide here if you want a little more in-depth information.)
For example, a 600 denier backpack is not as heavy as a 1000 denier backpack. While the fabric of the 1000 denier backpack is heavier and thicker, backpacks don’t usually fail where it is just the backpack’s material. They usually fail at the seams and at the zippers.
I sit here feeling the fabric of my 3V Gear Paratus Backpack as I write this and the material feels quite durable (This bag was my answer to the “What is the best bug out bag?” question). I think it would take an extreme amount of wear and tear for this backpack to fail where it is just the material itself. 1,000 denier is even better. But, I would take an expertly sewn and assembled 600 denier backpack over a marginal mass produced 1000 denier backpack any day. It’s the seams and the zippers you need to carefully examine. The best bug out bags are going to have solid zippers and seams.
So let’s figure out what kind of zippers and seems you are looking for.
When it comes to zippers on outdoor clothing and bags, the most common (and from what I understand the most durable) zipper is the nylon mono filament. This is a rugged, durable and typically self-realigning zipper. I haven’t had a bad experience personally with metal zippers, but metal can warp and if your zipper warps it’s useless because you will never be able to completely repair it. Plastic molded zippers should be avoided like the plague. (Want to know more about zippers than you ever wanted or are you having trouble going to sleep? Click here!)
Bottom line: Go with a nylon monofilament zipper. Most quality backpacks will use this anyway so it’s not like it will be difficult to find one.
Seems and Sewing
When it comes to the stitching of the bag, use these tips:
- Look for loose strings or material. There shouldn’t be any. It’s one thing if an extra length of string is hanging at the end of a stitch. That is not a big deal. It’s just extra thread the needs to be cut off. What SHOULD concern you is if you can grab any of the small loops and move the thread. That is bad. It should be tight and uniform (spacing between stitches should all be the same). Bonus points if it has a double stitch.
- The closer/tighter the stitches the better. It’s simple math: the more stitches/loops there are in the material, the less burden each individual loop has to bare. The less of a burden each stitch has to bare, the more likely it is that the material will stay intact.
- Kick the tires. No, not literally. What I mean is, look at the places where there is going to be a lot of tension (Should straps, belt, sternum strap etc.) and tug on it…HARD. Any quality backpack should be able to take a few good solid tugs like that and not give. If it gives in the slightest, move on. Really, you should be able to FEEL the quality of the bug out bag in how well it handles your abuse.
How Big A Bag Do You Need?
The size of the bag is another debate of “What is the best bug out bag?”. Beginners tend to think that you need to pack everything and two kitchen sinks. I understand this instinct, but there are a lot of things that we can do without. That being said, I think as a general rule, your going to want a bag that (When loaded) ends up being no more than about 20% of your body weight. If you are not in good shape though, you’re probably going to want to decrease that number down toward 15% or even 10%. Any heavier than that and you lose your mobility and your going to start harming your body long term.
People will debate over this all day long, but honestly, I would say, go with a bigger bag than you think you need, but don’t exceed the weight you can handle. There may be a situation where you find something incredibly valuable that makes it worthwhile to add the weight, and if you don’t have a bag that is on the larger side, you might be out of luck and be unable to take it with you. You can always leave a large bag under packed, but you can’t over-pack a smaller bag.
I would say at MINIMUM, you should have a 40-liter bag. If your wallet and frame can handle it, consider going larger.
Critical Backpack Features
Belt and sternum strap: NON-NEGOTIABLE. “What is the best bug out bag?” It bloody well has a belt and a sternum strap I’ll tell you that much! If you get a bug out bag without these things, you are asking for misery. Using a backpack with a belt and sternum strap makes all the difference in the world.
I remember in high school when I had to carry around a bunch of books in my Jansport, it was awful. (Absolutely NOT the best bug out bag. In fact, if the best bug out bag had an arch-nemesis, it would be a jansport from the 90’s) In college, I ended up getting a bag with these straps and I was amazed at how much easier it was to tote the bag around. If you have these straps adjusted properly, it will make your trek so much easier. If any of the straps you get end up not working well (which happened with my Paratus) replace it with a quality aftermarket buckle.
Well placed loops or D-Rings: There are times when you come upon something unexpected and need to have access to something, and fast. Carabiners and D-rings are a magical combination. Almost anything you need can be securely attached to you in all sorts of locations. Extremely convenient.
Compatible with a hydration bladder: I love hydration bladders. Specifically, I love 3-liter hydration bladders. Finding water in the wilderness can be tricky. That is why when you do find a good source, you should stock up. Three liters of water is quite a bit and if you have a hydration bladder, it takes up almost zero space, weighs nothing and makes drinking liquids a breeze. (Hint: With a good knife, quality material and sewing skills, you can make basically any bag hydration bladder compatible. It’s just easier to buy one that already has that done for you.)
Be Molle Compatible or have a crap-load of external straps: You may find yourself wanting to attach things to the outside of your bag (Like tarps, water bottles, etc.) In order to do that, you want to make sure that your bag has places for you to put carabiners and paracord through to secure them to your bag. For me: I’d just go for an all out Molle bag. They are incredibly useful and versatile.
The Best Bug Out Bag for you should:
- Be made of a durable material. Preferably 600 denier nylon or higher.
- Monofilament nylon zippers
- Well sewn seams (give them a few really hard tugs and see what happens)
- Belt and sternum straps (Make sure they don’t slide easily)
- D-Rings (Make sure you buy some good carabiners)
- Be able to work with hydration bladders
- Have a lot of attachment points, or be Molle compatible
Here are a few recommendations:
3v Gear Paratus – (The best bug out bag for me at the time I am writing this.) Very durable. Lots of room. Hydration compatible. My only complaint is that the belt buckle SUCKS. I spent $30 on an aftermarket belt buckle (which I found irritating, but the new buckle is sweet!). I also ended up getting the three-liter hydration bladder which works quite well. There is a two-liter version available as well.
5.11 Tactical Rush 72 Backpack
Condor 3 Day Assault Pack
There are a lot of options to look at here on Amazon.
So, now that we have gone over the qualities of the best bug out bags and the options you have, it’s time to move on to what to actually put in your bag.
What should I Put In a Long Term Bug Out Bag?
As we continue in our quest to answer the age old question “What is the best bug out bag?” We now come to the critical question: What to put in it?
First of all, remember: your ultimate goal is to make it back to civilization or a homestead in which you can safely make a new home. Being on the lam is not your end goal (if it is, why are you reading this?).
Remember our four critical elements to survival:
- (Depending on your medical situation, you may need to include certain medications on this list. Don’t forget about those.)
There are a lot of options when it comes to food. You can find all sorts of pre-packaged foods. But remember, we are prepping for an extended bug out here. So, I would encourage you to get away from the idea of having canned beans and dehydrated filet mignon (So, I did a google search right now and was relieved to find that there was no dehydrated filet out there. Crime against humanity if anyone ever makes that product. But I digress.) However, if you do want to have some prepackaged food with you to help you get off to a good start, try the Datrex 3600 Emergency Food Bar. They are individually packaged which makes rationing extremely easy and they don’t take up much more space than a Kleenex cube. Again, just don’t get used to having them around.
Eventually, you are going to have to live off the land for a while, which means that you are going to have to eat what you can find or catch.
Catching small game
In order to catch the smaller critters that will be around you, snares are a fantastic option. They require very few materials, are easy to make and require almost no effort on your part once they are made. There are much better guides out there on how to snare small game, so I will leave that for another time. But the great thing is with some cordage, observational skills with regards to animal habits and game trails, and an understanding of physics, you can become quite proficient at catching small game.
It’s probably not the worst idea in the world to strap a good rifle to your bug out bag and have some extra ammo too. If you are in an area where large game is plentiful, a single kill could feed you for a week or more. Also, the rifle has the added benefit of being use for self-defense and takes up no room IN your bug out bag. Simply use your Molle system (aren’t you glad you chose a Molle bag? The best bug out bags are Molle bags. Period.) to secure it to your bag, or sling it over your back.
Know the Local Edibles
Unless you are traversing the Sahara (in which case, God-speed) chances are there are going to be wild plants around you. There is a good chance that some of them will be edible. Do a google search of your area to find out what edible plants grow near you, find them and try eating them now before things go south. Doing this will make it much easier to contemplate should the time come when you actually NEED to eat them to survive. There are also small guides for edible plants by area. For example, I live in the northwest and keep a copy of this book in my bug out bag.
If you are fortunate enough to be near a body of water, a gill net like this one could be the difference between feast and famine. The beauty of a gill net is that it is another passive way to catch food. While it does it’s work, you can be off looking for edible plants and when you get back, you could have the main course ready to be butchered.
I also stumbled upon fishing yoyos recently. These things look like a FANTASTIC survival investment. They won’t take up too much space, but one of these could catch you a lot of fish over time.
If you think you would have better luck with a more traditional fishing approach, a small fishing kit like this might be more up your alley.
In Summary, the best bug out bag should have:
- A few survival bars to get you going for the first day or two
- A gill net and/ or fishing yoyos. So useful. So efficient. and its something you could hang on the outside of your bag if you needed to.
- Snare materials (or if you really want something specifically made to snare game, you could try these. Three different sizes for three different animals.)
- A rifle and extra ammunition. This is really going to be situation specific.
- Don’t spend your calories and time wondering around looking to throw rocks at animals and making a bow and arrow. You will loose energy and become frustrated. Make time your friend by setting lots of traps.
Water is another element that is going to vary largely from environment to environment. Where I live in the northwest, water is plentiful, it is simply a matter of purifying it. However, in dryer regions, getting water is going to be a challenge.
When water is usually available
No matter what climate you are in, I can’t recommend enough the hydration bladders. And the bigger the better in my book. Water is so important. If you find a source, and you are able to make it safe, get as much of it as you can. You never know when you are going to have a dry spell (he he he…get it?).
Most of the time, simply boiling the water will be enough. Having a nesting canteen is good, but it may take you a while to purify large quantities of water. Because cooking pots are hollow and other objects can be stored in them, I am a fan of having a bit larger cooking pot available. This one-liter pot fits the bill nicely: it has a locking lid, stainless steel, one-liter capacity. It’s big, but not so big as to be cumbersome and it will dramatically reduce the time it takes you to purify water.
There is also the option of the Lifestraw which is an extremely well-respected survival item. My only complaint is that it is only useful when you are near a water source. If you need a drink away from a water source, you are out of luck unless you happen to get the Lifestaw bottle. The lifestraw bottle (at the time of this writing) is $40. A bit expensive all things considered. But, my number one option would again be the hydration bladder combined with a Survivor Filter Pro. With this combination, you can maximize how much water you can take with you at any stop. It’s about double the price of the Lifestraw bottle option, but to me, water is just too important. I want the ability to get as much water as I can when I have the opportunity.
When Water is Rarely Available
If your bug out occurs in a much dryer climate, getting water is going to be a challenge. Which is why I think the hydration bladder combined with a Survivor Filter Pro is the only way to go here (I make no bones about it: You want the best bug out bag? It will need to have a filter and hydration bladder). You may not even find enough water to make use of the filter, in which case, you are going to need to get extremely creative. There are very few options out there.
Your best bet (if you absolutely cannot find any naturally occurring source of water) is a solar still. You need to be careful when you make one though because you may end up sweating out more moisture than you will be able to collect. A collapsible shovel would be a good idea as well (Yes the one I link to is extremely expensive. But I think it is worth it. If you are going to do a lot of digging, you are going to want a longer handle for extra leverage, cutting back on how much energy you expend.)
In addition to that, do everything you can to keep from sweating or expending water (You should still pee though as that is the kidneys getting rid of the crap in your body you don’t want there. Don’t think that not peeing is going to help you. It won’t.)
Ultimately, you are going to have to decide which way to go when it comes to water. Your body needs it. Lots of it. So do not skimp here. Take the precautions you need.
No bug out bag is complete without a water solution. Without it, it’s just a “stupidly stalling your death” bag.
Shelter is probably the easiest of the four. There are a lot of options out there for shelters. Often you can find a shelter almost completely ready for you if you just look around the environment for a while (Caves, fallen trees, etc.). Perhaps the best option for a shelter from a standpoint of flexibility and price is just a good tarp with strong grommets. A traditional tent adds poles and usually is made of less durable material. The fact that the tarp is just a giant rectangle makes it very flexible. Not only that but if you angle your tarp properly, it can make a fantastic rain collection system to help your water situation.
The types of survival shelters you can make is limited only by your imagination. There is a great resource here to show you some of the basics and then you can add on as you go. Just keep in mind, if you are in a long range travel mode, you want a shelter that is easy to put up and take down. No point in building a log cabin if you are just going to abandon it the next day.
A few things to keep in mind when making a shelter:
- If you are in a very cold environment, keep the shelter small so that you trap as much as your body heat as you can.
- If you make a shelter with a small fire inside, leave a space at the top for the excess heat and smoke to escape. Duh.
- Try to keep your sleeping area off the ground. Sleeping on the ground means that the heat is conducted away from you, essentially sucking the heat out of you much faster than it would through convection in the air.
- Water is the enemy. Keep your shelter dry at all costs. If you are on a slope keep that in mind and even consider building a small dam to divert any rainwater to run away from your camp. Yes, it is that important.
The best bug out bag with regards to shelter:
Shelter usually isn’t that big a problem so long as you are willing to make use of what you have around you. Yeah, you’re going to be cold, uncomfortable and scared. But if you maintain the right mindset, you will make it through the night. Stay calm. Stay warm. The night ends, and joy comes in the morning.
Learning how to make a fire with two sticks is cool. Totally cool. I’m working on perfecting it myself right now. But don’t be stupid. You should have AT MINIMUM two different ways to both start and kindle a fire in your bug out bag. If you live in a wet area, you may need to take very extreme measures. Don’t believe me? Watch Alone and see just how hard a time the people had getting fires going. They were constantly saying how amazed they were that there was almost no dry fuel to put on the fire. That is the NORM where I live. Which means you need to be willing to scavenge like crazy and maybe even think about packing a good deal of multipurpose accelerants to help you get a fire going.
The key thing to starting a fire the right way is to collect all of your fuel first before you begin ignition. Collect your kindling, larger wood and tinder bundles before you start the ignition process. Let me say that again: collect all of your fuel FIRST before you begin ignition!
My recommendations for fire starters (In order of effectiveness):
- MORE Lighters (Seriously. I can’t stress enough what a difference a good lighter can make)
- Waterproof matches that burn long and hot (You will want try these first in windy conditions)
- Magnesium/Wood fire steels (I like the magnesium steels because the magnesium, once lit, will burn very hot)
- 9V Battery and super fine steel wool
- Make a fire bow (Don’t expect to be able to do this the first time you try, or with ease. If you really want this as an option, you need to practice it first and become familiar with the types of wood in your area so you can use effective materials).
My recommendations for pre-made tinder bundles (Store all of these in waterproof containers like ziplock bags)
- Dryer lint. I’m serious. Dryer lint is fantastic. Start packing that stuff into ziplocks and put them into your bug out bag. They are great.
- Live Fire Original (It won’t “burn for hours”, but it will make starting a fire in poor conditions WAY easier)
- Cotton balls and Vaseline
- Bonus tip: If you really want to be sure you get a good hot fire started, bring along an accelerant of your choice (Personally, I would go with a plastic flask of vodka because it is so versatile) and pour the accelerant over the tinder. It’s fun to watch. 🙂
Other Bug Out Bag Considerations
- Even the best bug out bag will be useless if your body is not properly protected. Put a separate bag next to your bug out bag with a warm set of clothes and 3-4 pairs of warm socks. Change into these when it is time to bug out and remove and add the layers as needed
- You MUST have a reliable, full tang knife. If you’re a beginner, go with a Morakniv. They are GREAT entry level knives. If you get more into this, you can invest in something else down the road, but a Morakniv is a great place to start. and I would HIGHLY encourage you to have a good multi-tool as well.
- Do you have any life and death medications? Is there a way you can get an extra month or 90 day supply ahead of time? If so, do that.
- Get a copy of your essential paperwork (Social security card, drivers license, passport, etc.) and keep those in a ziplock too.
- Get at least 100′ of 550 paracord (it’s dirt cheap).
- Get a topographical map of your area and a compass and learn how to use them.
- Carabiners. Just buy them. Thank me later.
- A reliable flashlight and extra batteries. There are so many folks out there with better knowledge on flashlights than I have.
- A hatchet or Kukri. Basically, something that will chop wood. Also, a pocket chainsaw is wonderful when used properly.
- Warm gloves
- Duct tape (You always end up needing it for something)
- Warm stocking hat
- Quality hiking boots
- A small portable hand crank radio
- Small bottle of liquid soap to clean wounds
- Since you got a Molle bag (You got a Molle bag, right?) a Molle first aid kit would be great to add to your bag as well
- Large black garbage bags
- Extra ziplock bags
- I would say get a knife sharpener, but just get yourself a Lansky BladeMedic. They freakin’ ROCK!
- Consider getting a durable USB drive to keep any important digital documents on them.
- A quality headlamp.
- A rifle and ammunition
- (This is more luxury than anything, but we have become such a mobile society, that if you can make this work, you may want to take advantage of it. Just keep in mind that if you SPECIFICALLY are being tracked, you will want to toss your smart phone at the outset of your journey) I really like my Poweradd 20W solar panel paired with this power bank. You can keep your device charged forever with this combination.
- This thing is great too. Radio, light, USB charger with a hand crank. It’s not an ideal shape to keep in your bag, but a carabiner and some paracord should attach it to a D-Ring. Great little device.
Bringing it all together
So, as you can see “What is the best bug out bag”? is a loaded question. This is a question that requires hours of observation, thinking and planning. Remember, Ideally, you will want to bug IN. Home is going to be the safest place for you 99.9% of the time. Bugging out is a last resort.
So, What is the best bug out bag? It’s the one you make, customized for you, your environment, your needs, and preferences.
Is there anything I missed? Anything you would change? Any trolls out there just wanna piece of me!?!? 🙂
Prep. Share knowledge. Have fun.