What Exactly is a Bug-Out Bag?

If you’re new to prepping, you have doubtlessly seen bugging-out and the corresponding piece of luggage that all preppers love, the bug-out bag, mentioned all over the place in self-sufficiency and prepper circles.

green molle bug out bag with first aid kit, knife, multi-tool, and fishing kit, next to it
green molle bug out bag with first aid kit, knife, multi-tool, and fishing kit, next to it

I know for a fact you have seen it all over this very site; I have contributed plenty on the topic!

But everyone started somewhere, and since you are new to prepping you might not know what a bug-out bag is. That’s an easy fix, and we are going to take care of that in today’s short and sweet article.

So What Exactly Is A Bug Out Bag?

A bug-out bag is a portable kit consisting of a backpack loaded with supplies and equipment for the express purpose of life support if one ever needs to evacuate from their home or shelter to escape imminent danger.

A BOB’s other salient features like material, frame style or lack thereof, coloration, and other features are subjects of constant debate among prepping advocates and in fact, are mostly dependent on an individual’s objectives and preferences.

The final determination of what is or is not a bug out bag remains that is kept packed and on standby in the case of a Shit-Hit-The-Fan emergency.

The Two Types of Bug Out Bags

There are two “types” of BOBs, each with its own set of gear: urban bug-out bags and rural bug-out bags.

Preppers in rural or urban settings have different needs, different survival goals, and different types of disasters they are likely to face. The two biggest differentiating factors between urban and rural scenarios include:

  • population count
  • the distances one might have to travel

Bug Out Bag Essentials

A BOB is just a backpack if you don’t have it stuffed with the things you need to stay alive in an unforgiving and potentially hostile wilderness environment.

Discussing BOB loads for different needs is a school of prepper philosophy in itself, and one that I and other authors have written about in great detail right here on Survival Sullivan. Be sure and check out our other articles when you are done with this one.

To get you started, below is a quick down-and-dirty list of the things should be in most BOBs most of the time. Remember, there’s no one-for-all BOB; each one is tailored and tuned to the user’s plans, needs, and goals.


  • Tent or Tarp
  • Blanket
  • Reflector blanker
  • Sleeping pad
  • Spare Clothing suitable for the climate

Exposure is one of the surest and swiftest killers that preppers will have to face, and unless you live in one of only a few ideal climate zones, you’ll need to be ready for it with the things you need to stay warm or cool accordingly.

This includes items like clothing and proper shelter and bedding gear like tents, tarps, blankets, and potentially sleeping bags.

Food and Water

  • Food
  • Utensils
  • Snacks
  • Water
  • Water vessel
  • Water filter and sterilization gear
  • Beverages
Mountain House freeze-dried meals
A few freeze-dried meals from Mountain House: granola with milk and blueberries, and hot apple cobbler. Freeze-dried food is excellent for bug-out bags because it’s lightweight.

You’ll be burning up calories like a furnace when bugging out, and even if you have ample stores of fat- ahem, solid fuel- around your middle, you will still want stable, long-lasting, and easy-to-prepare meals and snacks for quick calorie intake and ready energy.

Not for nothing, a decent meal or even a tasty snack is a great morale booster even when you are in the middle of a crisis and some folks, old Tom here included, get cranky or “hangry” if they miss too many servings.

You can live for a long time without food but your performance (including your mental performance) will start to degrade.

Water is however an urgent survival requirement, compared to food. You can go a few days without water, tops, and then it’s lights out.

The real rub is you will be severely debilitated well before you die from dehydration, with both physical and mental effects racking up fast as your water deficit climbs.

You, of course, will want to carry water with you, but water is heavy at around 8 pounds per gallon. To offset this, every BOB will have with it a water filter and water sterilization chemicals to make found water supplies safe to drink.

Fire Starting

  • Stove with fuel
  • Lighters
  • Storm matches
  • Ferro rod or flint and steel

The ability to create fire is not the sole concern of preppers in cold climates. Night time temperatures can plunge even in temperate seasons of warmer climates and if you are exposed outside you’ll be in trouble.

A roaring campfire can keep you from freezing to death, dry out wet clothing, cook a tasty meal and signal for help.

The ability to create a fire in all weather conditions and using found or carried fuel sources is essential, and no prepper worth their salt will ever carry less than two fire-starting methods in even the leanest BOB.

two small flashlights
The flashlight on the left is hand-crank, the one on the right runs on an AA battery.


  • Flashlights
  • Headlamps
  • Chemlights

Even if you are a suburban or urban prepper, you must assume that power will be out for the duration of your particular event or that you’ll be bugging out to a place with no lights at all.

The ability to generate light on demand and banish the darkness is crucial. To do this, preppers use a variety of flashlights, hands-free headlamps, and supplemental light sources like chemlights.

Lights of all kinds are also useful for signaling, marking, and communications.


  • Maps
  • Compass
  • GPS

When you bug out, you have to know where you are going, how to get there, and where you are.

Maps, compasses, and hopefully a good GPS if you can afford one (and it still works after the event) will be required to find your way, even if you think you know your local area like the back of your hand.

Medical Kit

  • Trauma Kit
  • First-Aid Kit
  • Prescription Meds

You’ll have to be the first responder for yourself and your family or group members when disaster strikes. A fully equipped medical kit and the skills to make use of it should be an inseparable part of your kit.

knife portable stove and fire starter next to backpack
rural bug-out bag: knife portable stove and fire starter next to backpack

Tools and Weapons

  • Knife
  • Multi-tool
  • Folding saw
  • Duct Tape
  • Vise-grips

You’ll have plenty of things that need fixing or repairing in the wake of a major disaster, and in the case of human or animal assailants, a few things that need breaking. You’ll need in your BOB the tools to fix and build rudimentary things you need and also defend yourself from an attack.

bug out bag Pinterest image

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