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How to Build a Bug-Out Bag in 16 Easy Steps

Despite being one of the most popular and well known aspects of prepping, most bug out bags are still very poorly put together.  Many times this is because the bags have been pre-made by stores, and are thrown together using items that are low quality and don’t take into account the unique situation of the buyer.

The truth is that your bug out bag has to be designed for a unique scenario, and it can only be designed this way if it is put together by you.  While it can be a daunting task to select the right backpack to be your bug out bag and then decide which items to put in it, this article will walk you through the 16 different steps you need to follow in order to build an effective bug out bag.

FIGURING OUT HOW YOU’RE GONNA USE IT

Before you even buy a backpack to be your bug out bag, you first have to consider what kind of situations your bug out bag is for and any special circumstances that exist.

Step #1: How Long Does It Have to Keep You Alive?

Obviously your bug out bag has to be big enough to hold the items you need for an estimated amount of time.  A good rule of thumb, and one that is repeated multiple times in the survival and prepping community, is for your bug out bag to have enough gear to keep you alive for at least three days (or seventy-two hours). A solid bug out bag, however, should have supplies you can stretch to last you at least five to six days.

Your planned duration, however, may be different.  For example, if you’re planning to live long term out of your bug out bag, it’s going to need to contain more items and ways to get food and water.  You’ll need an inch bag for this.  If you’re planning your bug out bag to be more of a get home bag or something that can get you from your car to your house, then it may be a little smaller and lighter.

In the end, your estimated duration is what will most heavily influence the size of your bug out bag and the kinds and quantities of items that you’ll be holding within it.

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Step #2: What Type of Environment Will Your Bug Out Bag Be Keeping You Alive In?

The location you are in also heavily influences what goes into your BOB.  If you live in colder climates, then things like extra sets of warm clothing, fire starting materials, and shelter building items will take precedence.  But if you live in warmer climates, then you’ll need to focus more on things such as water, purification tablets, sunscreen, and sunglasses.

Things can become tricky if you live in a location with extreme temperatures.  For example, the Northwestern United States has very hot summers and very cold winters, and you may be seeking to build a standard bug out bag that you can grab and use no matter what.  In this case, your bug out bag will need to keep you safe regardless of the situation you are in.

In addition to weather and climate, consider geography and terrain.  If you live somewhere with lots of rivers and lakes, it would be wise to include a complete fishing kit and waterproof everything, for example.

Step #3: What Type of Emergencies Could You Face?

Many preppers recommend assembling different bug out bags for different emergencies, so ask yourself what specific kind of an emergency you have in mind before starting on your bug out bag.  For example, are you mostly concerned about an economic collapse, a terrorist attack, or a natural disaster?

If you are assembling a bug out bag for an economic collapse, then you would want to include valuable possessions that can be used as bartering items, such as gold and silver, ammunition, and toilet paper.  For social unrest, you would want your bug out bag to include things such as first aid/medical kits and defensive weapons.  For natural disasters, food, water purification tablets, and a way to cook food would take precedence.

Step #4: Take Your Health into Account

This one is easily the most overlooked step in preparing a bug out bag.  If you, or anybody in your family for that matter, have unique health conditions then you absolutely have to take it into account.

If you’re in poor shape, then it would be wiser to build a lighter bug out bag.  A heavier one would slow you down and cause you to over exert yourself.  If a member of your family cannot walk well for long distances (or at all), then you’ll need to either include a stretcher or items to make a stretcher in your bag.

If you have specific medical conditions that require medical prescriptions, you should include plenty of your medications in your bug out bag as well.  Ultimately, medicine may end up proving more valuable than weapons.

SELECTING THE BUG OUT BAG

At this point, you have decided what the purpose of your bug out bag is and have taken all unique conditions related to you and your environment in mind.  These factors will be what most heavily influence the type of bug out bag you select.

Step #5:  The Volume of the Backpack

Many bug out bags will claim to hold the same capacity, but they can’t all hold the same amount or type of gear due to the amount of compartments they have and the design of the bag.

Regardless of your bug out bag’s volume, it should contain MANY compartments of large and small sizes.  More compartments not only allow for improved organization; it also means that your bag can hold more gear.  In addition, all compartments and the pack itself should be easy to close securely with either Velcro or zippers.

If you want your bug out bag to get you through one day, it should have a volume of up to forty liters.  A bag to keep you alive for three days will need a capacity of around sixty.  A bag made to keep you alive for a week will need at least a ninety-liter capacity.

Step #6: Choosing Between Internal and External Frames

You will have to decide between light and heavy, and specifically internal and external frames, for your bug out bag.  Between the two, internal frames have a hidden frame located on the inside of the pack.  They cannot hold as much weight but they are more flexible and will position most of the weight of the pack on your hip rather than your shoulders.  They are more than suitable for the standard three-day bug out bag, and they also permit faster movement through the forest because they don’t have an external frame to get hung up on branches and thorns.

External frames are stronger and heavier, and as the name suggests the pack is supported by a visible frame on the outside.  External frame backpacks are also almost always larger than internal framed bags, meaning you can attach more heavy duty gear such as tents.  If you want a ninety-liter or more bug out bag designed to last more than week, the external frame is the better choice.

Step #7: Checking the Quality of the Backpack

Finally, and this one should go without saying, your chosen pack MUST absolutely be top quality.  Things to check for include waterproof/water resistant materials, the zippers and Velcro all working without mishaps, and thick, sturdy, adjustable straps.

While you can always read reviews of specific bug out bags online, it is recommended that you buy your bag in person so you can inspect the bag yourself for defects.

WHAT TO PUT IN THE BUG OUT BAG

Our next series of steps are going to focus on the fun part of bug out bag building: deciding what to put in it!

Step #8: Water

Water is essential for your survival, but it is also heavy.  Regardless of how much you manage to store in your bug out bag, you probably won’t have enough water.  For this reason, your bug out bag should always include ways to purify water found in nature, so it is safe to drink.

Purification tablets and portable water filters are your two best options in this case because they are effective, lightweight, and don’t take up too much room.  You should also have a small canteen cup and fire starting materials on hand so you can boil water too.

Step #9: Fire

Fire will provide you with warmth, comfort, security, and the ability to cook food.  You should have many different types of fire starters in your bug out bag, from matches to lighters to magnesium flint strikers.

In addition, have emergency fire kindling in your bug out bag so that you can quickly start a fire on the go.  The best choice for this is cotton balls that have been soaked in vaseline, but as an alternative, you can carry dryer lint soaked in alcohol and stuffed into a cardboard toilet paper roll or prepare a fire bundle made out of twigs and moss.

Keep everything pertaining to fire in your fire-starting kit in a waterproof container such as a waterproof pouch, an airtight plastic container or a Ziploc bag.

Step #10: Shelter

Shelter is what will protect you from the natural elements in a survival situation.  Two person tents are best recommended for this task. In extreme weather conditions, your life can be in danger after just 3-hours of exposure to the elements so good shelter is a priority.

As an alternative, you can include items that allow you to forge a makeshift shelter.  Examples include rope, space blankets, a tarp, and a poncho.  In addition, don’t forget to include insulation material, such as trash bags or polyethylene foam.

Step #11: Extra Clothing

Rather than including a full change of clothes, just include specific clothing items in your bug out bag: a hat, extra pair of socks, gloves, and a bandana. Keep all your clothes in Ziplocs to avoid getting them wet.

Step #12: Weapons and Tools

There are certain items under the ‘weapons and tools’ category that you simply must include in your bug out bag.  The first one is the knife, and you better have more than just one.  One of your knives should be a fixed blade model for heavy duty purposes, while the other should be a smaller, folding knife for more precise work.

Additional weapons that also serve as tools, that you would be wise to include are a hatchet/tomahawk, a handsaw, and/or a machete.

Hand tools such as a multi-tool, screwdrivers, wire cutters, an Allen wrench, hammer and nails, and a pair of pliers are not as essential as the above tools, but they are still worth considering.

Step #13: Medical and First Aid

Every single one of your bug out bags should have medical items, and you should know how to use them without question.  Absolutely include standard first aid equipment such as bandages, gauze pads, aspirin tablets, hand sanitizer, medical gloves, tape, tweezers, and tourniquets, but also remember to keep your personal health in mind.  If you have any prescription medications like we talked about before, now is the time to include them.  If you have asthma, there should be at least one if not two inhalers in your bag.

Step #14: Personal Hygiene

When it comes to putting things in the bug out bag, personal hygiene is what many people often tend to overlook.  Nonetheless, it’s still very important and necessary for your health.  Keep soap, toothpaste and a tooth brush, chap stick, and a roll of toilet paper in your bag at the bare minimum.

Step #15: Food

Even though you can last weeks without food, you’ll feel a dramatic drainage of energy if you go just one day without it.  For this reason, include compact foods that are high in proteins, carbs, and calories, and that have a high shelf life.  Examples include protein bars and freeze dried foods or pemmican.

In the same way that you need to have a means to procure water and make it safe, you need a way to gather more food as well.  Have fishing equipment on hand, in addition to several materials to make traps and snares.  Store a small book on edible and medicinal plants in your bag as well as fire starting materials so you can cook any food that you catch or forage.

Step #16: Navigation and Communication

The critical need for maps truly cannot be given enough attention.  Have maps in your bug out bag that both show the general area and specific locations, alternative routes and roads.  You can easily find these kinds of maps at grocery stores and gas stations.  You can include a GPS if you want, but there’s no guarantee that it will always pick up a signal, so at least include maps a backup.

For communication, emergency radios will give you important information in regards to what the government is doing and where you can seek help.  A two-way radio will allow you to communicate with others and call in for help.

FINAL WORD

Building your bug out bag will take time, but it’s well worth the effort.  In the event of an emergency or survival situation, it can and will keep you alive.  As long as you follow the steps in this article, you’ll be well on your way to building a bug out bag that can do just that.

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About Nick Oetken

Nick Oetken
Nick Oetken is a prepper, outdoor enthusiast but, most of all, he is our in-house firearms expert. Look out for his articles on guns to find out which ones you need for your survival.

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