Bug Out Backpack (BOB)

14 Categories for Bug Out Backpack Contents

Look at the list of categories below which describe the kinds of things I consider necessary for a BOB. These are categories, not items. If you can add or remove one, I would like to know which one. Each category link below will take you to a page on that topic. Some survivalists would take the items in Miscellaneous and sprinkle some in existing categories and create new categories for others, which they, and you, are free to do. For example: Cordage is rope, cord, twine, string, thread and some consider it important enough to be a category. I consider it important, but I put it in Misc. Similarly, you might put your folding solar panel, charger and batteries in a Power category. What I have done instead is to reduce the list of categories to the minimum, without omitting anything critical.

New BOB Videos page: To complement this information, I'm starting a new page of videos that show how others make their BOBs and what's in them. Note that they don't necessarily follow my system of categories, but I found them good enough to use as learning examples. There isn't one system for everyone and every situation, climate and so on. BOB videos here.

1. Water
2. Food
3. Shelter
4. Fire
5. Light
6. Clothes
7. Tools
8. Defense
9. Medical
10. Repair
11. Personal/Hygiene
12. Communications
13. Navigation
14. Miscellaneous
15. Gear worn and carried (BOB contents not packed in the BOB) see below
16. Clothing worn while bugging out, not packed in BOB, not listed as contents, see below

Why 14?

It's not a magic number, it's just the number of separate 'services' you'll probably want to provide yourself in a survival or bugout situation. Others have their own names for some of these or they combine them in different ways. These 14 categories are simply my way of organizing the kinds of 'services' I like to have available in all situations.

Can you survive with 13 or 12 or 10? Of course you can.

The point here is not to see how little you need to survive, because you might be able to eliminate everything - the entire BOB - and still survive. If you prefer finding and rubbing sticks together every time you want fire, hey, it's your choice. If you prefer to make a knife from stone, wrap leaves over wounds, weave roots and tree bark together into rope and eat grasshoppers and snails, go for it. I prefer to bug-out a little differently, because I will probably have a lot to think about and to do, without having to rub sticks and make rope.

This is an important point often neglected by some wilderness survival 'experts'. They push the idea that you and I, everyone, should learn how to make things from scratch. I agree, these skills are wonderful and may save your life one day, but if you are escaping a dangerous situation and trying to live in a new location, you have no way of knowing what you might have to do there. You might be injured and can't make a fire with sticks, and you may even have injured yourself trying that. Carry a lighter. Carry rope. When you are exhausted or injured, you really won't want to have to spend valuable energy rubbing sticks and weaving roots into rope.

This is not some Survival Bible, 14 Commandments or follow-this-or-die lecture. They are suggestions and completely subjective - my idea of a complete BOB. Items listed are followed by their uses and the reasons I carry them in my BOB, except for items which need no explanation.

The category is more important than the item. In fact, let the category guide you in your selection of items. For example, you might eliminate the entire Medical category from your preps and still deal with injuries, cuts and scrapes, but you will deal with them. If you consider Medical worthy of inclusion, the particular items are personal choices. I like Band Aids, but tape and gauze works. Tweezers are hard to replace or eliminate; nothing else works as well on slivers and thorns. A box of matches gives you 50 lights, a disposable lighter perhaps 1000. I'll take the lighter, but I also carry matches. Many of the items are so small and light that they add an imperceptible bulk and weight to a BOB. So the guiding principle I use in selecting items is 'unparalleled convenience' or simply 'very useful' and no reason not to carry it. Consider what you will have to do to provide a particular service if you don't have the item.

An excellent example of this idea of 'unparalleled convenience' is a sewing needle and thread - they take up almost no space, cost almost nothing and yet are so useful for repairing clothing and making things from fabric. Imagine trying to replace them with things you find in the bush. Good luck. So let that be a guiding principle: Carry items you need but can't easily find or make.

Bugging out may introduce a level of discomfort you are not accustomed to, possibly hardship and suffering, even misery (heck, you might die). Daily life might be difficult enough, without adding unnecessary labor and stress. I suggest carrying some items to reduce that hardship, especially when many of them are so small and light. Rub your sticks for fire if you want, I'll use the lighter. Sure, on a camping trip or as an experiment, you might like to 'rough it' or practice by making a fire the hard way. When you are 'camping' for a year (bugged out) and have to make fires on a daily basis, you might welcome the convenience of a lighter. Survival isn't fun. If it's fun, you're camping. -Michael Hawke, survival expert

Issues to consider when planning a bug out and when making a BOB:

1. The nature of the disaster

If you are expecting an earthquake, and your BOB is for that, you will probably want to have your BOB with you much of the time, like in your car, so you can grab it and go if you are not at home. Understand that earthquakes in cities can leave so much rubble in the streets that car travel is impossible. It may take days or weeks to clear them. Bicycles and small motorbikes are useful right after an earthquake. I've been in many earthquakes, so I know. Your BOB may have to fit on your bike. You do have a bike, right? Your BOB fits, right?

2. The period of time one expects to remain bugged out - Obviously, a BOB of any size is limited in what it can contain, but three days is within the capacity of all but the tiniest bag. I have fasted (no food, just water) for 23 days twice and have gone six days without food or water, so don't believe pronouncements about how long you can survive without food and water. However, if you have some idea about the length of time you may be bugged out and what you might have to provide for yourself, that should help to guide you in your selection of a BOB container and its contents. On the other hand, that is probably difficult to predict, so do your best in the selection of items and quantities for your BOB. I consider a daypack the minimum size for a serious BOB. To me, a fanny pack isn't a BOB, it's a survival kit.

3. The nature of the bug out location and what it provides or lacks

Bugging out to the desert will be more demanding than in a forest or jungle. Have a destination in mind when you prepare your BOB, and be realistic in your assumptions about what you can find there that you need. I suggest minimums of things like food and water, unless you happen to live in Sweden where you will fall into a lake almost no matter which direction you walk. If your area has abundant water, you can probably carry little without risk of danger. Here in the Arizona desert, water is scarce. My smallest survival kit (fanny pack) has two 12-OZ bottles of water, and my main BOB has a gallon. Update: I swapped the fanny pack bottles for 16 and 24 Oz bottles. See also Where Can I Bug Out?

4. The special needs of the person bugging out

You might need some items that others don't need: hernia belt, dietary supplements, medications, glasses, prosthetic, etc. Consider any physical limitations you have, like a 'bad' knee or back. If you have a partner, consider his/her special needs as well, especially if you might have to carry something for him/her. If you or your partner have mobility issues, consider finding others who can assist you in a bugout. If your BOV happens to be a wheelchair, you might need some help getting out of Dodge.

5. The skills and experience of the person bugging out

The more skills, knowledge and experience you have, the less dependent you are on your gear. If you don't know how or when to use a gun, don't carry one. Better yet, learn how to use everything you think you should carry. One exception: carry some medical supplies, like suture kits, even if you don't know how to suture a wound. You might meet someone who does know how to use them, and it could be your wound that's sutured. This goes for all very small and light items. They are just too useful not to have with you. And, they can be traded for things you need.

6. The number of other people present and possibly their needs, skills, gear

If you bug out with another or with others, you may decide to divide up some supplies. Perhaps your partner has special sleeping needs or equipment that she/he can't carry, but you can. Perhaps she can shoot a rifle but can't easily carry it. Ditto for extra ammo, water, food...

7. The social situation, level of violence and other criminal activity

Panic and desperation don't happen immediately after a disaster*, they are often the result of horrible conditions and no sign of relief. Watch things carefully and be ready to bug out before things become chaotic. If you plan to drive out, leave early, before roadblocks (by thugs and gangs), carjackings and looting begin. Even if you walk or bike out, don't wait until it's no longer safe to travel. In case things look ugly, your BOB should reflect that: guns and ammunition, pepper spray, smoke grenades. If they've got guns, you'd better have some too.

*There are exceptions. If the powers that be (government/corporations) decide to seal off all cities late one night and set up roadblocks on all major roads, that could create a panic quickly.

8. The ability of the person bugging out to carry a BOB of a certain size and weight

Well, hardly rocket science here. Don't make a BOB you can't carry (duh). In fact, I would suggest that you run a mile with your full BOB, just to prove to yourself that, if necessary, you can do that. Your bugout might not be a 'walk in the park', so be ready and able to run fully loaded. Warning/Disclaimer: Start your training with what you can manage easily and work up. I'm not responsible for your dumb mistake if you have been sitting at a desk for ten years and tomorrow you try to run with a loaded backpack. See Get in Shape

9. The space and weight available to keep the BOB prior to bugging out

More non-rocket science. If you keep your BOB in your car, sure, you can use the back seat and have just about any size BOB you want. If it shares the trunk with a lot of other things, size could be an issue. My suggestion: Give priority to your BOB, and make it just the size you need. Do you really carry things more important than a BOB that compete for space?

10. Two is one, one is none (2=1, 1=0)

If you carry a single flashlight, I don't care how great it is or how efficiently it uses power or how long the bulb/LED will last. If it breaks or you lose it, you are without light. The idea here is intentional redundancy. Another example: You carry one disposable butane lighter, usually good for 1000 lights (cheap ones may have far fewer)*. Why not carry also a pack of waterproof matches and a second lighter? How much will that add in bulk and weight to your BOB? Negligible. Why not also add a magnesium block and striker? A birthday candle? Your lighter may break, the flint can get oily or wet, or you may just lose or break it. Three ways to make a fire is fire security. A small magnifying glass can help you see and remove a sliver, and it can start a fire. Have a backup or two of essentials, especially when they are so small and light that redundancy adds so little bulk and weight to your BOB. If your sewing kit has ten needles of various sizes, you got the 'point'.

*Why not test your BOBs lighter, the one you think might one day save your life, to see how many times it actually gives you a reliable light? That information might be worth the dollar you spent to buy it.

11. Multiple-use items

Try to select items that can be used for more than one task. Some items are very specific in their usefulness, like matches (okay, you can scrape them for rocket fuel). A magnifying glass, as mentioned above, can help you see a sliver in your skin - it magnifies, extends your vision, like binoculars. It can also concentrate sunlight to make a fire. A strong sheath knife can be used to cut, pry, dig, fight and can be attached to a pole to make a spear. A multitool is already so useful, due to the 'tools' it contains, and some of those tools have multiple uses. If mine has a fish scaler/ruler, I grind it into an awl for poking holes in wood, leather, etc. It can be drilled to make a large needle for sewing.

My BOBs

This is not a game of 'mine's better', it's a presentation of one man's ideas for a BOB and its contents. My main BOB is an army medium ALICE backpack, modified by me. [ALICE: ALL-purpose Individual Carry Equipment] The standard pack has an aluminum external frame which is reasonably comfortable and quite strong, decent straps, padded belt and MOLLE webbing sewn to the sides and upper back. [MOLLE is a series of horizontal webbing strips sewn every few inches to gear, like a backpack, to which other compatible gear can simply be clipped on.] I've added four large waterproof OD (olive drab colored) pouches (MOLLE clips on the back), two on each side, one above the other, making the pack wider but not back-heavy, as they are in line with the front of the pack. Each added pouch can hold two quart bottles and still has room. So I use the lower ones for water (1 gallon total), and the top ones for clothing I may need quickly, like fresh socks, a rain poncho, gloves and stocking cap.

The standard pack has three large 'vertical' pouches sewn to one large, central compartment or bag. The pouches can each hold a half-gallon bottle or equivalent, and the central bag is roomy, with a second drawstring bag that can be opened out at the top (inside) of the bag (and as large in diameter) or left flat against the front (frame side). This upper bag (waterproof) can be used for wet clothing or muddy shoes, to keep them away from the lower bag contents.

My compact (small) survival kit is a fanny pack, with a quart bottle* on each side. This is the kit I don't have to think about carrying, when I go for a walk, go hiking, bicycling - it's small enough not to be any burden, and yet it contains all the basic items (no shovel or tent). Obviously, a kit the size of a lunchbox will not have things like a sleeping bag and extra clothing. I selected a handful of useful tools, a small medical kit, large plastic bags for shelter/rain parka, cordage, fire-making gear, LED, space blankets, repair kit, and other small things that would be hard to replace in the bush. Strapped to the bottom is an 8" folding saw - so useful in shelter building. *Update: I have recently moved the contents of that fanny pack to another fanny pack a bit smaller, because I realized that the larger one was actually not going with me most of the time - it was too big and heavy. It's like your big digital camera vs your compact one - the compact one is always with you.

The current one I found in a thrift shop and it's now with me more often. The two bottles are 12 OZ each (update - 16 and 24 Oz), but I'm okay with that. Some things that used to be inside my larger fanny pack are now on the pack's belt, like a compact binocular, multitool, GPS... What I feel is important is that the kit - especially a small one that is intended to be with you at all times - is a size and weight that you don't consider a burden, so you actually take it with you. Sure, you can have a 'survival' pouch on your belt that's so small and light that you don't even know it's there, but you have to ask yourself whether or not it is intended as a bugout kit. It probably has no water and only enough food for a tiny snack, a space blanket but nothing more in the shelter category, few tools... in other words, quite limited in the 'services' you might need to provide yourself in an emergency. It's your call. I have two BOBs, a backpack with enough supplies to keep me alive even if I find no food or water for several days, the other more of a survival kit, a fanny pack with more limited capacity. A pouch on my belt would not qualify as a BOB - I don't think of bugging out with so little support from my 'kit'. It's a survival kit, not a bugout kit. My 14 categories define what a BOB is to me. Can a tiny mirror replace a radio or walkie talke for comms? Can a band-aid replace a medical kit? Water and food? A pouch kit is better than no kit, but I prefer something more complete as a minimum. You decide what your minimum is. The next paragraph might help.

My compact (small) survival kit is completely waterproof, made from a 'tupperware'-type container with snap-on lid. It is carried in a North Face fanny pack, and inside it are four levels or trays (made my me) of gear and food. Water (2 liters) is carried on the fanny pack, not in the BOB. This BOB can be submerged for days or weeks and still keeps everything dry. This is the BOB I don't have to think about carrying, when I go for a walk, go hiking, bicycling - it's small enough not to be any burden, and yet it contains all the basic items (no shovel or tent). The strong, wide belt will hold a holster and other pouches and gear.

Update: I moved the contents of this kit to the small fanny pack and packed things in ziplock bags for protection from water. The plastic case was okay but difficult to get into and out of the fannypack. Although I no longer consider a fannypack an adequate BOB, due to the limitations in size, I like it as a survival kit. For some, the two terms might be interchangeable.

Conclusions

Select the contents carefully, your life may one day depend on them. Your BOB contains everything you need to survive hard times and worse. You often get what you pay for, so don't go cheap on vital items. Two is one, one is none (see 10 above). Have backups if possible.

Select your BOB (the container) with the same care, it may be required to perform in rough conditions for days, weeks, maybe much longer. Things made for and used by the US military are usually made well, though possibly ugly. Survival isn't a fashion contest, so learn to live with OD and camo. Use camo patterns that match your environment, if possible.

Your BOB should be water repellent (or pack your gear in plastic bags) and be comfortable to carry it for long distances. You may have to run with it. It should have pockets and lend itself to easy organization and access to your gear. A duffel bag may hold a lot of gear, but it is hard to keep things organized, and it is uncomfortable to carry.

Very important: Test yourself and your gear in a realistic place.

So, you can set up your tent in the house, great. Now do that in the bush, with a howling wind throwing it around. In short, do a practice bug out and try to use your gear in the real world. Because this is so important to all preppers, I am planning a practice bug out you can participate in, in Arizona. If you and your fellow preppers want me to organize a bug out in your area, contact me. Update: I'm busy building my survival retreat at the moment (summer 2014), so practice on your own or with others.

Is it a BOB or a Survival Kit? Again, I believe it achieves nothing to waste time debating words and which describes what. Obviously, both 'kits' are designed for survival and may contain many of the same things. I have used the word 'bugout' on this web site to describe an activity, leaving a place of danger in favor of a safer place. Where I see the difference in these two kinds of kits is in their intended purpose. A survival kit, to me, is a small collection of live-saving items packed in a container that can be carried easily in your backpack, car or boat and has things in it to save your life or keep you alive until you are rescued or until you self-rescue. A BOB, by contrast, is a collection of items that will not only keep you alive, they will allow you to start over with your life in a new location. The BOB will most likely have everything in it that the survival kit does, but it has much more, so it will be larger. More food and water, guns and ammo, clothes, tools, even books. A survival kit is often what you use to get back to 'civilization', whereas a BOB is what you use to leave that mess and start over.

Two More Categories

These are not BOB contents, but rather the other things - bugout gear - you will have with you when you bug out. One is the BOB gear you carry on your body, in addition to the BOB, and the other is the clothing you wear. Consider these as checklists to be sure you have everything you need with you, and that those things that you want close at hand are, in fact, accessible, without having to take off your pack.

15. Gear (worn) and Carried for Immediate Access

This category is for things that are already in a category, but these are not packed in your BOB (or you take them out and carry outside), they are worn, but they are not clothes worn (that's next). The purpose for this category is to itemize those things that you want close at hand for immediate use - you don't want to take off your pack to find them. If you have to take your pack off to access your personal defense items, well, you may not get another chance to do that! So you may want to have things like pepper spray, a knife and/or a gun on your belt, within easy reach and for immediate use. Obviously, you will consider the social context before going openly armed in public, even if open carry is legal. If things are peaceful, carry concealed - don't attract attention. If things 'go south' and the streets are unsafe, wear your defense gear so you can get to it fast.

The following are things I like to have on my belt or in a belt pouch or pants pocket.

I don't usually have all of them on my belt at the same time, but that's where I like to have them when I carry them (or in a pocket). If you are huge around the middle, you might be able to have all of your items on your belt, but if you're that big in the waist, consider losing weight before you are forced to. Obese people will have serious trouble bugging out.

1. Knives - Clip-on folding knife - clipped on my front right pocket. Sheath knife on my belt.
2. Multitool Leatherman Wave - once you carry one, you'll feel naked without it. Does so much. Heavy, not for a pocket, good on belt.
3. Pistol - Glock 19 9mm, 15 + 1 rounds, love it, on my belt holster for open carry, otherwise concealed holster.
4. Pepper spray - LTL defense, on belt or in a pocket
5. Extra mags for pistol - found a digital camera case that holds three mags nicely, on my belt
6. GPS - The Garmin Etrex is small and does all I need - great, on my belt or clipped to a backpack strap
7. Binoculars - I love my Nikon waterproof 10 x 30 binocs, small, great optics, on my belt
8. Flashlight - I'm currently loving an Energizer* crank LED, clipped on my 9 o'clock belt loop; also have a 2AA LED 200-lumen flashlight in belt holster.
9. Canteen - I prefer two bottles on my fanny pack, one on each side, or 2 half-gallons in the main BOB lower pouches
10. Extra mags for rifle (if carried open), on belt or BOB belt pouch
11. Walkie-talkie - I make paracord tethers for mine, so if I drop it, it dangles and won't break, belt or belt pouch
12. NVD - Night Vision Device, mine is a 1st generation, green-on-green monocular, belt or belt pouch

Notes: Since my main BOB is a backpack with belt, I cannot mount these items on my pants belt (under my backpack belt), so I have pouches (army mag pouches) attached to my backpack belt for some of them and a holster for my pistol. The BOB is army (ALICE) with a belt 2" wide. Very few gear pouches and cases are made with belt loops that big, so I sewed extra wide loops on the back of some, so they will slip over the backpack belt and buckle. I left the original loops for my pants belt. I also added three ammo pouches to the left side of the pack belt, and one on the right. Some items are best just put in a pocket.

My backpack also only allows items from about 8 to 4 o'clock (refers to a clock face, with 12 at the belt buckle) - the rest is backpack pad. In a lawless scenario, where I would carry a rifle in one hand, I would use at least one of the four pouches on the pack belt for extra mags for rifle and handgun. Binoculars might be okay on a strap around the neck, but if you have to run, a pouch is better.

To clarify where I carry what, if I'm not carrying my main BOB (backpack) with its wide belt, and I'm not carrying my smaller fanny pack BOB, all 12 items except 9 (canteen) and my clip knife go nicely on my pants belt. Due to the conflict of the BOB belt with my pants belt (it covers it), all those items have to go somewhere else when I carry a BOB, except my clip knife. Since I still want these items within reach, not in my BOB, I put my holster on the wide BOB belt and the rest of the items in a pouch on that belt. My GPS clips to my pack's shoulder strap.

Obviously, not all items have to be available at all times, some items can be carried in the BOB, like the NVD and flashlight during the daytime.

*Update on the Energizer crank light: The crank is not lubricated at the factory. I did some enthusiastic cranking and melted the plastic-on-plastic non-bearing crank and it fused to the case - argh. I managed to separate them and scrape the melted plastic off. After lubricating with petroleum jelly or chapstick, it works fine. If you buy one, lube the crank before cranking. I'm now looking for a better crank light. Also, found a super 200-lumen LED stick flashlight by Coleman ($25) but it came without case. Will sew a case.

16. Clothing Worn

This is the second clothing category, but reserved for clothing actually worn while bugging out. You don't want to forget about the clothes you bug out in - they may have to perform better than ever and might be 'in service' for days or weeks without a rest. Select the best you own for this.

Your geography and climate will dictate, or at least influence, your choices of clothing, so the list here is just to be sure you don't forget something important - a check list. From the top...

1. Hat - for sun, wind, cold, rain
2. Eyewear - goggles, glasses, shades. Bullets flying? Protect your eyes from bits of glass, concrete, rocks...
3. Scarf/bandana
4. Undershirt / t-shirt / long underwear
5. Overshirt / sweatshirt / sweater
6. Jacket - put useful things in the pockets: flashlight, binoculars, GPS, compass, maps, pen and paper, whistle, radio, talkie, knife, multitool, food bars. Windbreaker for milder weather.
7. Pants and belt - use the pockets, clip your folder on
8. Underwear / warm long johns, etc.
9. Socks
10. Shoes / boots - be sure you can walk, run and hike in them for hours without getting blisters or sore feet.
11. Snow shoes - Hey, if you need them you need them.
12. Roller blades - just kidding. Possibly as a BOV? Skateboard?

Put everything on, make adjustments, then put on your BOB. Does everything fit right and fit together? If you wear a cargo vest or chest rig and then put on a backpack, they will conflict, especially the belts. They're not supposed to be worn together. A chest rig or cargo vest is for carrying extra mags, grenades and such for an assault. You won't be doing things like that wearing a backpack, at least not for long '_'

Conclusions, again, finally

Your BOB may be the most important thing you own, because it contains all the things you believe you will need to survive an emergency or crisis. Invest an appropriate amount of time to plan your BOB, it's size, weight, organization and contents, then invest an appropriate amount of money to make it fulfill your plan. Consider in what situations you might need to use it, have it with you or in your vehicle or at work or wherever, ready to go. Consider also that the 'crisis' situation may play out very differently than you are planning or expecting (see Survival Retreat). The whole point of making a BOB is to have it ready in case you need it, and obviously to bug out with it when you think the time is right. That, however, is the hard part. Knowing when to leave or G.O.O.D. - get out of Dodge (bug out) - is not easy. If you leave too soon, you might be bugged out for a long time before any crisis actually manifests. If you leave (or try to) too late, you might not get out at all and could be stuck in a city. I can't tell you (because I don't know) what the signs will be that it's time to leave. For some, the time to leave was last year, for others, it is still a waiting game. Consider that your best option might be to prepare a secure place - a survival retreat - and then gradually sever your connections and attachments to so-called 'civilized' society and establish yourself in your retreat, permanently, self-sufficiently, sustainably. I know, it might sound impossible, so check out the section on Survival Retreat.

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