I have the same mindset as M.D. – bugging out is your absolute last resort. You’ll never be able to carry as much as you can store in your house, and your house is (or very well should be) water tight.
That being said, there are going to be situations where you have to get out. If your city is under water. If Ebola is going around (stay away from people with blood coming out of all of their orifices, eh?), if martial law is called, if the power is out and you live in a big city – all these things are good cues for you to leave.
Everyone should have a bug out bag. Everyone. Disasters and situations can come very quickly where you need to leave and NOW – you won’t have time to pack a bag in all cases, so you must have one ready to go. But if you’re like me, you don’t have all sorts of excess money to throw at high end products for something you may (and hopefully never) have to use. Also if you’re like me, you’re healthy and in not too bad shape, but you’re also no Olympic athlete. There’s a saying when it comes to bags for camping, hiking, and especially bug out bags where you have to be mobile – “Ounces mean pounds, and pounds mean pain”.
Your bug out bag should overall be small, light and portable. But that’s a whole topic for an entire other article of a type that’s already saturating the internet. I’m here today to talk about cheap, light ideas for shelter to bring with you on your bug out.
What Is Shelter?
Shelter is the idea of keeping the elements at bay so you can stay warm and dry. This is why you live in a house or apartment, and not out in the open. Humans, with our slow crappy metabolisms and our hairless skin, are probably one of the most susceptible creatures on the planet to the elements. We need to stay out of the wind, we need to keep our temperatures at a decent level, and an excess of water tends to make our skin shrivel, then get infected, then rot and fall off.
No one wants their skin to fall off, I’m almost 100% sure of that.
Seeing that we can die of exposure almost as fast as we can die of thirst, shelter is an absolute must in your bug out bag. I’m sure you’d all like to bring a 3,000 square foot holiday house with granite counter tops, but that’s not going to fit in your 45 liter bug out bag. Your shelter will not be comfortable, but it will keep you alive, that’s the idea. It will not be heavy, and it will not be expensive, and here are some ideas for you.
Contractor Grade Garbage Bags.
They are thick, they are big, they are cheap, they are durable, they are light, they can fold up in to a teeny space, and they have a million uses.
I have one in my bug out bag specifically to use as a ground sheet. The ground can conduct cold and wet very quickly. Using a big garbage bag will stop moisture from getting through the ground to you. If you are in an area with some dry vegetation, stuff the garbage bag full of dry leaves, or soft pine branches or grass or straw or whatever is around. This will give you both some insulation from the grounds cold, as well as some padding for comfort.
You can also use a garbage bag as a make shift bivvy sack (see below) or a make shift rain poncho or tarp. Put a few in your bug out bag, you won’t regret it.
A bivvy sack, or bivouac sack, is a small, light and 100% waterproof sack that’s designed to slip over a sleeping bag. It’s an alternative to a tent and basically wraps you in a cocoon of waterproofing. It’s incredibly small and light and very, very portable. You can pick one up online very cheaply and store it in your bug out bag. I have a bivvy in my bug out bag made by a company called SOL. They are thermal bivvy’s made from a mylar material that reflects your body heat back to you and they are completely water proof. You can get the original product for less than $20, and it’s actually about the same price for a two person version if you’re bugging out with someone you don’t mind spooning with in a giant plastic bag. I actually have the SOL product with the breathable fabric that is still 100% waterproof but will not build up any condensation in. It’s a bit more expensive but at $40 it’s totally worth it to not be damp, in my opinion.
Again, a small tarp is cheap, light and waterproof. It can be folded up to take no space in your bug out bag. If you have some rope, you can tie a tarp in such a way that it will keep most of the rain off of you. Even if your bivvy sack is waterproof, I’d still like not to get rained on if at all possible. Tarps can also be used to help conceal you if you decide to buy say a green or brown tarp and not one of those bright orange ones.
Single Man Tent
I have a single man tent I purchased a couple of years ago. I absolutely hate it. Sure, it was cheap, and light, and small (rolled up its smaller around and shorter than my forearm). Sure it’s waterproof. But the top of the stupid thing is inches away from my face and if it’s warm and even a bit humid out you get some serious condensation in the thing. That’s why the bivvy is in my bug out bag and not the single man tent. That being said, to each their own, and I would a million times rather be claustrophobic and slightly damp than soaked and exposed.
Multi Man Tent
Multi Person Tents are larger, harder to set up and heavy. However, if you know for sure that you’re bugging out with several people and you don’t think you’ll get separated, having the stronger person carry this on their pack might work. You’ll certainly get more space in your shelter but for the reasons I listed above, I don’t like or recommend this.
A Folding Shovel
You heard that right. A folding shovel. This can absolutely help with shelter. If you live in a cold climate, and if you’re in the horrible situation of having to bug out in the winter, that totally completely sucks and should only be done if you have absolutely no other choice, a shovel makes sense. That’s because if there’s snow on the ground, snow can be used as a shelter material. Take your shovel and make the snow into a wind block. If you’re really good, you can build an underground snow shelter, because snow actually is a good insulator. Only do this if you know what you’re doing though. No one wants a snow collapse to deal with.
Putting it all together
So, in my bug out bag I have a tarp, a couple of contractor garbage bags, and a water tight, heat reflective bivvy sack. I find some high ground in between a couple of trees. I tie my tarp up on an angle to form a sort of tarp lean-to. I stuff my contractor garbage back full of dry grass and leaves, and put it under the tarp lean-to. I put my bivvy sack out on top of the stuffed garbage bag. All these items together weigh less than two pounds, cost a little over $40 ($20 if you get the cheaper bivvy) and if put together right, form a weather resistant, dry and (relatively) comfortable place to sleep.
There it is. If I’m very lucky, I’ll never have to use it…