When it comes to bug-out bags, we spend a lot of our time thinking about the different types of gear that we might need in a whole range of situations that we might find ourselves in if the SHTF.
We often consider what our skill levels are in different areas, and then reach for certain pieces of gear to maximize our capabilities in the field.
A common struggle is collecting too much gear and then having an oversized pack that is way too heavy. This opens us up to injury if we ever have to carry it for any sort of distance.
Assuming that we get the proper gear selected, the weight within reason, and a proper backpack, then we usually think we are done.
However, there happens to be a little more thinking that you should do in order to guarantee that your BOB will hold up well to several different factors in the environment.
In this article, we are going to explore the key areas that might threaten the integrity of your bug-out bag, and put you in a bad situation without proper working gear.
By using some of these ideas you can take a few easy steps to make sure that your BOB is battle hardened against these different threats.
My Bug Out Bag
As an example case study, I’d like to go through the different things you can do to your BOB by using mine to illustrate the different problems.
I built my BOB with the standard outdoors skill set in mind, including being able to make fire well, tie knots for various tarp shelters, and good know how on purifying water. As a reference, you can check out all of the gear in my bug-out bag over at Trek Warrior here.
The BOB includes a total weight of 31.6 pounds. Combined with the bug-out clothes that I would be wearing, which weigh 5.7 pounds, my total add-on weight for my body is 37.3 pounds. That is about the max recommended weight for a male at my age, weight, and physical shape.
I spent a lot of time reducing the gear to get it down to this weight, and it still takes up quite a bit of volume and consumes a 50 Liter backpack. Remember that the weight of your BOB is an important thing to consider.
To give you an idea of some of the gear, I plan on carrying 3 Liters of water on me at the start, and picking up more along the way. I opted for a tarp shelter that I can make out of my military poncho and paracord.
I also have a 20-degree Fahrenheit sleeping bag and I use a compression bag to shrink it. This is a personal choice that I made because I had the pleasure of almost freezing to death out in the woods one time in below-freezing weather, and I vowed to never let that happen again.
Those are some of the main features of my gear selection to give you an idea. Depending on the gear that you choose, you may have a slightly different setup to execute some of the ideas that follow.
An important area that can really destroy some of your critical gear’s capability is punctures. There are a few pieces of gear here that are extremely sensitive to holes: water containers, ponchos, tarps, and tents.
For example, a hole in any of your water containers can be disastrous for two main reasons.
For one, you can lose the clean water that you have and two, you may not be able to carry clean water far enough between your designated water spots on your bug out location journey.
A hole or tear in your poncho, tarp, or tent can also lead to water-soaking either you or your gear. In colder climates, this could lead to hypothermia and death. You must always have the ability to keep yourself dry and if you get soaked, be able to strip down and dry out your clothes.
So what can we do to prevent punctures? It all starts with your backpack. The material that your bag is made out of is your first line of defense.
When selecting a backpack for your BOB, you need to pay attention to the material type used. The denier (D) is a common unit that helps you understand the strength of the material.
However, bags could be made out of Nylon, Polyester, or other materials which may make it more difficult to compare the denier units.
For example, the common materials that you often find in the most popular bags are 1050D Nylon, 1000D Nylon, and 600D Polyester to name a few.
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For my BOB, I chose the Condor 3 Day Assault backpack, which is made out of 1000D Nylon. I wanted tough material in my backpack that wouldn’t break my bank account. If you have a bigger budget, the 5.11 Tactical Rush 72 is double the price, made out of 1050D Nylon, and is more durable.
You won’t ever find a bulletproof bag, so the key here is to select material that is tough enough to hold up over time. Better materials have better abrasion resistance, which means they won’t start wearing out as quickly. That way they aren’t as prone to puncture fails. Of course, no bag material can withstand a very hard stab with a super sharp object.
I personally recommend getting a 1050D Nylon or 1000D Nylon material bag. They are usually cost-efficient and give you great results.
If your bag does suffer a penetration, then what can you do to get more protection inside? A key thing is to keep your vitals in their own separate inner bags to offer another layer of protection.
For example, a good military poncho should come with an outer bag of the same type of material. This means that anything that punches through your outer backpack layer will also need to make it through the bag holding your poncho.
The same thinking can be applied to your sleeping bag, tent, or tarp. Keep them in their own little bags that they most likely came with for better protection. Many people will dump these outer bags to save weight, but there is more value in puncture protection.
Your sleeping bag should be in a compression sack as well, which offers another layer of protection against puncture and water.
For your water containers, you should have at least one metal container so that you can boil water in it. A metal container has the best puncture protection. Hard plastic containers are popular too, but more prone to punctures.
Your other containers can be the sturdy collapsible water bottles that usually are made out of puncture-resistant plastics. Survivor Filter and Platypus are some popular choices for these water bottles.
These are lightweight and don’t take up much space, so it makes sense to put a spare in your bag just in case you spring a leak in your other containers. I have a metal, two plastic, and one spare water container.
These practices should prevent the majority of punctures that you might encounter. If you are still a little paranoid, consider going to your local hardware store and buying a sheet of thin hard plastic that you can cut into sheets sized perfectly for your bag.
If you get the thin kind, it shouldn’t weigh too much and you can insert these sheets as a sort of puncture plate right inside your backpack material as another protection layer. This is extreme overkill though.
There are a few key ideas on water intrusion to think about. It’s almost impossible to keep your backpack dry when you are out in the rain traveling. Unless you break camp for the day and get your shelter setup, you will most likely be getting your bag wet.
The standard course of action in this situation would be to break out your poncho to keep yourself dry. However, depending on how big your bug-out bag is, you may not be able to have the poncho fit over you and your BOB.
My strategy is that my backpack is simply a shell to hold all of my gear and is not the main line of defense against water intrusion. One critical feature of your backpack is to have draining holes in the bottom. If water gets into the bag, or if you will be using the internal water bladders and they leak, you want the water to be able to drain.
Of course, there are backpacks out there that come with a cover included, or covers that you can buy to add on. From my experience, they are usually dinky and don’t work well. You could also consider treating your backpack with chemicals to make it water shedding.
The best solutions I have seen include putting each small subset of your gear in its own plastic bag. You should get the decent-quality ones here with solid waterproof zippers. The more plastic-sealed bags you can break your gear into, the better the protection you have against water intrusion messing up your stuff.
The key things to protect here are your spare set of clothes, sleeping bag, and any electronics. If you find yourself drenched in water and in a cold environment, you will need these items to be dry to stabilize your core body temperature quickly. I actually put the majority of my gear in little bags.
A safe bet is also having a high-quality bivvy and thermal blanket in your pack just in case to fall back on. If your other gear fails, it might be a last-ditch option that could save your life. I have a list of all of the best ones that I have personally tested.
Another solution in combination with breaking your gear into smaller plastic sealed bags is to get a 55-gallon trash bag, open it up, and put it in your backpack first before you put your gear in.
This only works in the main compartment, and if your bag is broken down into small compartments, it won’t work.
Then, once you fill your gear inside the 55-gallon bag that is in your backpack, you can close it off at the top to seal it up. This scheme offers you two layers of water protection inside your backpack. These big trash bags are already very useful in a bug-out situation, so you won’t be wasting weight by using this strategy.
There might be times that come up where you might have to drop your BOB down a ledge, you may fall, or something might bump it. You’ll want to make sure that any sort of jolt won’t easily damage the gear inside of it.
Your absolute best strategy here is to pick a properly sized bag for the amount of gear that you have. One mistake that many people make is buying the backpack first, and then trying to find gear to put into it. Instead, it’s wise to buy your gear first, then find a backpack that is the ideal size for it.
You will want your backpack to be snugly full with your gear. This doesn’t mean overfilled where it’s hard to get the zipper shut. With the proper filling, and being smart about how you pack your gear, it is one of the best ways to keep things from slamming around if the bag takes a hit.
If you’re concerned about this area, you can employ the same solution that we discussed for the extreme pierce protection by getting some hard plastic sheets and cutting out some plates to line the different sides of your bag. The hard plastic will help absorb some of the energy from the bag taking a hit from the outside.
Another factor is that if you do end up with a lot of dead space, then you will need some filler material to keep everything packed tight.
Instead of using material that has no value or use to you in the field, consider getting a bigger tarp that is lightweight and that you can fluff a bit to consume the empty space. Bug nets are another luxury in summertime that is very fluffy and perfect for this. Wrap them with an outer material to help prevent punctures as discussed before.
Most people don’t consider theft in a bug-out situation, but chances are you most likely will encounter other people along the way, and they will be desperate.
It’s important for your bag to look as boring as possible, and for you to not have any fancy gear hanging off the outside of your bag. The grey man philosophy plays well here.
Otherwise, you are advertising valuable items to anyone that you might come across and if they think there are things they want on the outside, they will imagine that there is even better stuff on the inside.
Simply be smart here. Make your BOB look boring and very vanilla. You aren’t trying to win a popularity contest or make other people think you are cool. Remember, it’s for survival. What may get you extra points online in stable times, can get you killed in a crisis.
You’ll notice that my bug out bag just looks like a plain black camping setup. There’s nothing fancy about it. It doesn’t scream expensive gear, even though it does have some inside.
That wraps up our discussion on how to battle harden your bug out bag. Remember that once you have all of your gear together in your backpack, you are not quite done yet.
You want to employ some of the things we talked about in order to give your bag better immunity to pierces, water intrusion, shock, and also thieves.
Whether its choosing the right backpack material to start with, keeping your vital gear in its original storage bag, or partitioning your gear out into small, sturdy, and sealed plastic bags, you have plenty of options here to keep your gear protected.
About the Author
Tom Sheppard spends a lot of time on survival and prepping. He has been perfecting his bug out bag for many years and is always looking for ways to make it better. He frequently writes articles on survival gear over at Trek Warrior.
My dad was military. My grandfather was a cop. They served their country well. But I don’t like taking orders. I’m taking matters into my own hands so I’m not just preparing, I’m going to a friggin’ war to provide you the best of the best survival and preparedness content out there.