Any bug-out bag is just a starting point. No matter how nice the bag, or how cleverly you have it packed to the brim with your survival kit and accoutrement, you can improve on it in some essential way. Maybe you can make it more comfortable, durable, waterproof, or something else.
This is not to say you have to fidget and worry over your bag until it is perfect, but is instead a call to make sure you are getting as much capability from your bag as possible!
I have seen too many people buy a pack and then spend the remainder of their time and energy on what to put inside it, only for them to discover a serious flaw in their faithful bag at the moment of truth, usually a long, full weight march or hike.
Don’t ignore that little nagging voice in your head: there is a chance you will be living with and living out of your BOB one day. Take the time now to make sure it is up to snuff.
In this article, I’ll be presenting 10 ways to upgrade your BOB’s performance.
Break out the Needle and Thread..?
No! When I say upgrade that is not what I am talking about. There are probably more than a few of us out there who are pretty handy when it comes to sewing, but most nylon packs are too heavily made to modify easily in this way, anything more than sewing on a Velcro field or something similar.
Besides, any really heavy nylon requires specialty sewing machines to stitch.
Instead, I am talking about solutions to problems that are as easy as packing your items in a special way or improving your bag with add-ons. This is not just a call for more conspicuous consumption; your BOB serves a purpose, an important one, and it should be as durable, as robust and reliable as possible.
Since you are the one who will be carrying it, you should take pains now to save pain later; any comfort and ergonomic issues should be dealt with or at least mitigated as much as possible. Straps, belts, pads, frames, chafe points; all are good candidates for enhancement.
With some clever techniques and few smart purchases, you can take your BOB farther, literally, than you thought possible.
10 Ways to Upgrade Your BOB
1. Modularize Contents
I became a fan of modularizing my BOB’s contents a few years ago and since making the transition I have never looked back. Making your BOB modular means one simple thing: grouping its contents into like-category bundles, or subloads, that you can unpack together in a separate bag or cell without scattering everything in the pack far and wide.
Examples of a module could be a medical module, containing your trauma and boo-boo kits, a cooking module, hygiene module and so on. You don’t have to necessarily use smaller and smaller bags like some Russian nesting doll; gallon zip-locks work fine for smaller items and hold up great.
A modularized pack usually loses a small fraction of its internal volume to whatever your module containers are, but the organizational headaches it saves you more than makes up for it.
Face it, if you are bugging out, you may as well go ahead and assume the weather will turn against you if it has not turned on you in the first place.
It is a bad play to let rain completely inundate your pack. Not only can it ruin sensitive items inside, but it will add a ton of weight to your load; water is heavy, as you no doubt know!
You should protect against water with a lightweight rain cover that can stash handily on the outside of your pack, the kind with an elastic outer hem that will snugly secure itself around your pack.
Bonus points if you get the two-sided versions that have a high-vis color on one side and camo on the other for enhanced sneakiness.
Another option and one that works for water crossings as well is a heavy mil contractor bag.
3. Suspension / Frame
Some packs make use of an internal or external frame. For all except high end packs these often come with a pretty flimsy, dinky frame or panel. Take the time to upgrade that frame or panel and any accompanying straps and belts and it will make a world of difference in your experience.
A rigid pack or one that makes use of a rigid frame can allow you to carry a far heavier load in relative comfort if the frame and its suspension components are not fighting against you.
A cheap, lackluster frame especially is a fast track to injury and misery. Take the time to get these things corrected to your liking and you’ll have a much easier go of it on your route.
4. Electronics Protection
If you rely on electronics like GPS, phones, tablets and the like in your bug out bag, you should take the time to protect them from harmful radiation as well as hostile tracking attempts.
A signals-blocking bag, or Faraday bag, like the one shown here is a great option for protecting your electronics from snoopers, trackers, and potential destruction from something like an EMP.
Easy to use, compact and affordable, these handy pieces of kit are an easy way to decrease signature and increase protection in a SHTF situation.
5. External Load Bearing
Most of us will already make use of the smaller external compartments and pouches on our packs, keeping in these “admin” pouches all sorts of snacks, maps, and smaller, easy-to-access items. I like keeping gummy bears in mine. Just kidding…
But most of these pouches are still located on the surfaces of the pack, necessitating some serious contortions to get to them, or taking the pack off. For small and light items, consider adding a few select pouches to your packs straps and waist belt, if it has one.
These locations are perfect for lights, maps, knives and other small pieces of kit that you need to keep close at hand and access regularly, but hard to get to thanks to being strapped down with your pack.
6. Reduce Weight
Weight is your enemy when hauling a pack. It is doubly your enemy when it is accrued from useless stuff. Make it your mission to justify every, single ounce that is in your bag. If you must have something, can you get a lighter version of it, or get by with packing less of it?
A pound here and there may not seem like much, but I promise you’ll notice 5 lbs. 10 lbs. after a 10 mile march will feel like 100 lbs. if you are not well versed in rucking. Don’t settle for a heavy load! Chances are there is always something you can cut.
When buying gear, compare against quality and weight.
I just got done preaching about cutting weight and now I am telling you to duplicate some things! It seems hypocritical, but some things really do merit having backups.
If it is something like water filtration and purification, it needs no explanation. Fire starting material is the same. For the stuff that you have to have for immediate life support, you had better have a Plan B.
Even for things that seem larger and bulkier like a tent for shelter you can take along a lightweight backup like a tarp and cordage. Minimal weight, maximum benefit.
Water purification supplies and hydration equipment are not the same. Water purification supplies help make found water clean enough to drink. Hydration equipment helps you drink it.
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I know everyone reading this has an assortment of canteens, water bottles and the like, but for serious on foot movement with your BOB, nothing on earth beats the ease and convenience of a hydration bladder like a Camelbak.
Most modern packs of any size will already have a hydration compartment and routing for your drinking tube built in, but in case they don’t you can easily add one with just a little internal improvisation.
Be it from a MOLLE’d on pouch or simple sectioning off a part of the bag for the bladder and leading the tube out of a slot in the zipper, you can drink on the go with no loss of momentum or stopping to take a swig.
If you use electronics as part of your preps, you are surely familiar with packable solar chargers to keep your toys fueled up while off-grid. Most people envision setting up their array at a camp or stop, but that may not always be viable.
If you make use of a solar charger, or are considering getting one, make sure you come up with a solution to easily and quickly attach and position on one side of your pack or another. This will let you charge while you march.
You might not always have the sun in the right position, or be in the right terrain to make use of this, but even partial efficacy will mean more juice in the batteries until you can stop and set up for maximum effect.
10. Sound Reduction
I’ll just say it: most prepper’s packs have the sound signature of a gypsy wagon, all banging pots, pans and baubles. It might seem ridiculous, but you should definitely take the time to pack in such a way that as much sound-generating collisions in your BOB are eliminated, or at least severely dampened.
You don’t need to be an airborne ranger for a noisy pack to get you killed. A constant racket from your pack can keep you from hearing important sound cues, and of course also attract the wrong kind of attention, like a cow with a bell around its neck.
The quieter you can make your pack the better off you are. You can do this by tightly packing things, insulating from collision with soft items like clothing or blankets, or by compartmenting or strapping down any rattling culprits.
You may think your BOB is perfect but I promise there is always more you can do to enhance its performance. Look over the list above and you’ll surely find a couple categories on your own pack that are ripe for improvement.
Charles Yor is an advocate of low-profile preparation, readiness as a virtue and avoiding trouble before it starts. He has enjoyed a long career in personal security implementation throughout the lower 48 of the United States.