Preppers know that one of the most critical aspects of being prepared is having the gear you need to get through any emergency.
Whether it’s a natural disaster, economic collapse, global pandemic, or an outbreak of warfare, there are so many things that can threaten the health and safety of our family.
However, while many of us focus on stocking up on emergency supplies or creating a bug out bag for the entire family, few realize the value of creating a specific bug out bag for each person in your home so that everyone can be ready when SHTF.
Especially when it comes to families with children, having a bug out bag tailor-made for them and their specific needs can make a huge difference if you need to bug out for an extended period of time.
So, to get you started, here’s your ultimate guide to building a bug out bag for your kids, complete with my top tips for key items to have when bugging out with children in tow.
Table of Contents
Why Your Kids Need Bug Out Bags
Kids are just like little adults, right? Well, not really. If you have a family, you know that children are wonderful, but you also know that they present their own unique challenges.
Depending on the age of your kids, they may or may not be able to adequately handle an emergency situation on their own.
While starting them young and teaching them how to survive and deal with a SHTF situation is certainly a good idea, as parents and caregivers for children and teenagers, we need to be sure that they, too, have the gear that they need to make it through a bug out situation.
What does this mean for you as a parent or caregiver? Well, you’ll want to start by making sure each one has their own bug out bag.
Doing so will ensure that your kids have precisely what they need to get through an emergency.
Often, this includes much of the same gear you’d pack for yourself, but you’ll also want to include some kid-specific items that I’ll cover in detail in a little bit.
If you’re wondering why you can’t just make one large family bug out bag instead of a bunch of individual ones, think about a situation where you might need to send your kids to stay with a relative for a period of time as you and your partner head back to your house to gather up more emergency supplies.
Or, perhaps you’re at a soccer game with one kid while your spouse is home with your other two when you need to take shelter immediately because of an impending disaster.
In these situations, if you have just one bug out bag for your whole family, you’re going to be in trouble if you ever need to split up.
On the other hand, if you have an individual bug out bag made specifically for the unique needs of each member, you can rest assured that everyone has at least the basics to weather a storm.
Kids Are Just Kids
Now that you understand why your children should each have their own bug out bags, it’s time to start thinking about what you’re going to actually put in them.
However, before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s talk for a moment about what’s actually important in a kid’s bug out bag.
When it comes to adults, a bug out bag should be filled with all the tools you need to get survive for 72 hours at a moment’s notice.
Therefore, an adult bug out bag will be filled with survival items, like a shelter, fire-starter, and stove, as well as emergency food, water treatment systems, clothing, and a small first aid kit.
However, when it comes to children, we need to be realistic about what a child is actually capable of in terms of survival skills.
Of course, the abilities of a child will greatly depend on their age – as you can imagine, a 15-year-old can do much more than a 2-year-old – so we need to take this into account when building their bug out bags.
Thus, my personal philosophy in building a bug out bag for children, especially younger kids, is that comfort is the top priority.
Sure, we want to give them the gear they need to survive, but if they’re not even capable of tying their shoelaces, we can’t necessarily expect that they’ll be able to use a lot of the tools that they’d find in our adult bug out bags.
When you bug out with your family, survival is of the utmost importance, but you’re going to have a hard time managing your own stress and performing to the best of your abilities if you’re worried that your kids are going to have a total meltdown in the next five minutes.
Therefore, when building a bug out bag for your kids, it’s important to keep in mind that children are not little adults.
They’re kids, and that fact comes with a whole host of unique challenges that we need to address when helping them prepare for an emergency.
With kids, comfort and a sense of safety is critical, so we need to keep this in mind when we choose what to include in their bug out bags.
Individual Considerations for Kids’ Bug Out Bags
While we know that pretty much every child will benefit from having some comfort items in their bug out bag, we also need to keep in mind that every kid is unique, so there is no one-size-fits-all bug out bag that will work for all children of a given age group.
So, here are some other factors to keep in mind when building a bug out bag for your kids:
- Physical strength and fitness. Smaller kids can carry less than older kids, so your child’s physical fitness and strength will determine both the size of their bug out bag and how much weight they can actually carry.
- Health conditions. A child with a pre-existing health condition is going to need some specific items that others just won’t. Usually, you can accommodate these needs by stocking their bug out bag with spare inhalers, Epi-Pens, or other medications, however, children with autism and other specific needs will require certain items to help them get through a difficult situation.
- Maturity. Children of the same age can have vast differences in their maturity levels. When it comes to bugging out, a child’s maturity level, more than their age, will dictate what kinds of comfort items they need and how much you can actually expect them to be able to do when it comes to fending for themselves in an emergency.
- Mobility limitations. Toddlers and infants simply just aren’t as mobile as older children, so they likely won’t be able to carry their own bug out bag. Additionally, if you have a child that’s a wheelchair user or has other mobility limitations, you might need to pack specific pieces of gear into their bug out bag. Older children, and kids without mobility limitations, will need less consideration here.
Bug Out Bags for Kids: The List
As you can imagine, deciding what to include in a kid’s bug out bag can be quite tricky and a whole lot of your decisions will depend on the age and maturity of your child.
So, as I list out some of the most important things to include in your child’s bug out bag, I’ll offer different suggestions, based on age so you can create the perfect bug out bags for your family’s unique needs.
All bug out bags need, well, a bag, to house all of your most essential items. While the bag itself might not seem like a huge deal, having a quality bag can make a big difference when it comes to organization and durability.
Younger kids, however, tend to form a bond with their school backpacks and can often find a lot of comfort from a fun backpack that has their favorite cartoon character on it.
Therefore, when getting a bag for your child, it might be worth investing in a fun, yet durable kid’s pack.
These kids packs might be a bit small, but keep in mind that you’re not going to pack that much gear into your child’s bug out bag when compared to your own personal bag.
Plus, small kids can only carry so much gear, so there’s no point in overloading them with a huge pack.
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Older kids, especially teenagers, often couldn’t care less what their backpacks look like, so something simple and functional will probably suffice. The classic JanSport pack is always a solid option that’s also quite discrete.
Or, if your kids are used to hiking and backpacking, you could always just repurpose one of your old packs into their dedicated bug out bag.
Bug Out Bag Essentials for Kids of All Ages
While many of the items you put in your child’s bug out bag will depend on their age and other factors such as maturity and pre-existing health conditions, there are some things that are beneficial for all kids. So, here’s what you should put in a bug out bag for every child:
- Emergency Contact and Information List. Although we hope that we won’t get separated from our kids in a SHTF scenario, it’s always helpful to give your kids a laminated sheet of paper with their name, home address, and important telephone numbers. Numbers and addresses on this list should include family members, neighbors, family friends, as well as numbers for local emergency services. It’s also a good idea to list any pertinent medical information on this sheet, just in case your child ends up at a hospital without you there.
- Cash. Unless your child is old enough to have a credit card or debit card, it’s unlikely that they’ll ever walk around with more than a few dollars in their pocket. Even then, if the power supply is disrupted, credit and debit cards won’t do you any good. Pack your child at least $20-$40 so that they can get food or other necessities in an emergency.
- Pre-Paid Cell Phone. This item is particularly important for kids that don’t yet have their own cell phones. With a pre-paid phone, your child can call for help or just send you a text to let you know they’re okay. Even very young children have been able to call 911 in a true emergency, so if you teach your child how to use a basic phone and pre-load important numbers on speed-dial, it can make a huge difference.
- Rain Jacket or Poncho. A compact, waterproof layer can help keep your child warm and dry in bad weather.
- Warm Jacket and Hat. Kids get cold way more easily than adults, so a warm hat and jacket can be comforting and essential, even in the summer months.
- Food. Not only is food essential for survival, but it can also be a huge source of comfort, especially for children. However, keep in mind that, unlike an adult, most younger children won’t be able to operate a stove to make dehydrated meals. So, you’ll need to pack simple snacks for them to eat, instead. Since comfort is key here, a mix of healthy food and snacks/candy is a good idea.
- Water bottle. Like food, water is essential, so a small water bottle is a must-have in any child’s bug out bag.
- Bandaids. Kids love bandaids and placing one on a small cut can help a child stop crying, which makes them essential in a bug out bag. Fun, colorful bandaids are ideal for an emergency where morale is key.
- Flashlight. You don’t need anything fancy here, but a small, waterproof flashlight or headlamp with extra batteries is always helpful.
- Emergency Whistle. Even a child that isn’t old enough to know how to call for help can blow a whistle. Packing one in your child’s bug out bag and teaching them how to use it can help them draw attention to themselves in an emergency.
- Prescription Medications. A child should never be without their prescription medications. Pack at least a week’s worth of your child’s medications into their bug out bag and make sure it’s all labeled with instructions for use. It’s particularly important that you pack an extra emergency inhaler or Epi-Pen into your child’s bug out bag if they need them.
- A Personal Note. If your child is old enough to read, consider writing a short note to them and placing it in their backpack. In an emergency, even just seeing a note that their parents wrote can be a huge morale boost for a child that might be struggling. A family photo can also be a nice touch that reminds them of home.
Bug Out Bag Essentials for Infants and Toddlers
Even though your infant or toddler probably can’t even carry their own bug out bag, you should certainly have one made for them. Children at this age are the most vulnerable during an emergency because they can’t do very much to help themselves.
Here are some essentials for an infant or toddler bug out bag:
- Diapers. If you have to bug out from your home, the last thing on your mind is probably diapers. So, pack at least a few days’ worth into your child’s bag, just in case. It’s useful to have both disposable and cloth diapers packed so you have options.
- Dry Formula. Even if you breastfeed your child, it’s a good idea to have some dry formula as a backup in case your child gets separated from their mother for an extended period of time. Don’t forget to pack a bottle!
- Wipes and Lotions. Pack travel-sized bottles and containers of whatever you use at home to bring with you in an emergency.
- Warm Clothing and Blankets. Infants and toddlers get cold very quickly, so have some warm items to wrap them up with.
- Snacks. Unless your child is exclusively breastfeeding or on formula, small treats are a great thing to have. Those individually-wrapped puree squeezes are particularly handy.
- Toys. Whether it’s a pacifier, a teething toy, or just a nice stuffed animal, toys are welcome distractions for kids in an emergency.
Bug Out Bag Essentials for Children Ages 4-12
Most of what you’ll pack for a school-age child will be comfort items, but there are a few other useful things you can put in their bug out bag. Here are some essentials for school-aged children:
- Ear Plugs Or Noise-Cancelling Headphones. Kids are quite sensitive to loud noises, so these items can help keep them calm.
- Food. School-age children can devour a lot of food, so pack a handful of snacks for them to enjoy. Candy and treats will certainly be a fan-favorite, but you can also include high-protein food items, like trail mix, to stave off hunger.
- Games. A deck of cards or a travel-sized version of your child’s favorite game can be a welcome distraction.
- Books. For a younger child, one small book can be a nice thing to have so you can read to them at night. An older child might appreciate having a longer novel to read, especially if you’re away from home for a long period of time. You might even consider a coloring book and some crayons for a younger child.
Bug Out Bag Essentials for Teenagers Ages 13+
Once a child hits their teenage years, they will want to start becoming more independent and will have the skills and capacity to do more for themselves in an emergency.
Of course, their abilities in these situations will depend greatly on their maturity level, but you can start to pack more “adult-like” survival items in a teenager’s bug out bag.
Here are some things to consider packing for a teenager, in addition to what you might pack for a younger child:
- Multi-tool or Pocket Knife. Whether you pack your teenager a knife will depend on their maturity level. However, if you do choose to give your teenager a pocket knife and teach them how to use it, you might be surprised how well they can use it in a survival situation.
- Fire Starter. Starting a fire is a skill that any teenager should know. So, it’s a good idea to teach your kid some basic survival skills and how to make a fire using a variety of different starters and materials. I recommend a magnesium strike set as well as waterproof matches and a traditional lighter, just in case.
- Compass and a Map of the Local Area. Teenagers are more than capable of learning how to navigate by map and compass. Teaching them how to navigate in the backcountry and giving them the tools they need can make a huge difference when SHTF.
- Mini First Aid Kit. A basic assortment of OTC meds (with instructions) and some trauma supplies are useful for any teen to have, especially if they might end up caring for some of your younger children in an emergency.
- Food. Teenagers are like human garbage disposals and they love sugar. While older teens will often put on a brave face for their younger siblings, packing them some snacks can provide a calming resource in an emergency.
- Water Treatment System. A simple water pump or a pack of water treatment tablets can allow your teen to provide freshwater for themselves and perhaps their younger siblings in an emergency.
- Stove and Fuel. If you have an older teenager (15-18 years old), it might be worth packing them a small stove and some fuel, as well as some freeze-dried meals for their bug out bag.
- Power bank and Charging Cables. Most teenagers these days have a cell phone, which can be an incredibly useful tool in an emergency. But, all phones are only useful if they have power, so consider packing a small power bank and some relevant charging cables in their bug out bag.
Bugging Out With Children
At the end of the day, bugging out with children is completely different than bugging out on your own. While older teens can take on a lot of adult responsibility, younger children will turn to you for their comfort and survival.
Packing a quality bug out bag for each of your children can help ensure that they have some of life’s essentials with them, even if you get separated.
For the most part, a bug out bag for a younger child will focus more on comfort items, while older kids can benefit from having some basic survival items.
It’s important to keep in mind, however, that you should take the time to talk to your children about what their bug out bag is and where they can find it in your home in case they need to bug out without you.
Especially when it comes to older children, it’s worth spending some time discussing each item in their bug out bag so they’re fully aware of the tools they have available to them so your whole family is prepared for when SHTF.
Gabrielle is a professional outdoor educator, mountain guide, and survival expert with a passion for helping others be prepared for whatever might come their way. She is a polar guide in the Arctic region and is an experienced wilderness medicine instructor/EMT.
1 thought on “How to Build a Bug Out Bag for Your Kids”
What a great article! I’m really glad you addressed that children are not just small adults and have unique needs. I was, however, really surprised to not see a spare set of clothes on this list. Especially for kids 12 and under, a clean set of dry clothes can go a very long way to comforting a child. Whether they fell in a mud puddle, or had a potty accident because they couldn’t hold it long enough to get to a bathroom, or whatever, having clean clothes is an essential in my book. Just make sure to check it every 6 months to make sure the clothes still fit.