If you have been prepping for any amount of time, you’re probably already well acquainted with the concept of a bug-out bag.
But, if you are new to prepping, or are just now getting around to choosing and assembling the contents of your BOB, you might be feeling overwhelmed with choices.
There are many factors you’ll have to prepare yourself for if you want to say you are truly ready to face whatever gets thrown your way during an SHTF event.
You’ll have many survival priorities, some of them competing with each other, and accordingly you’ll need the right gear and the right supplies to help you maximize your time savings while minimizing the investment of effort.
But here is where many aspiring preppers and brand new BOB owners go wrong. There are some things that just don’t belong in a bug-out bag.
Maybe they are inefficient, maybe they are plainly unnecessary. Maybe there are just better options that can do the job faster, better, and most importantly lighter.
Today I’m bringing you a list of nine items that will make you sorry you ever bought them for your bug-out bag.
Table of Contents
1. Gas Mask
The gas mask is, in a way, sort of emblematic of prepping. You might say it is the general public’s idea of the prepper “uniform!” Whether it is right or wrong, a gas mask can help its wearer defend against airborne contaminants of all kinds.
In a way, this definitely makes sense as a bug-out bag item. Nothing is more important than air when it comes to survival necessities.
A human being can go a couple of days without water but only a couple of minutes without air, after all.
And we all know that many disasters, particularly industrial accidents, man-made urban catastrophes, and more can easily contaminate the air with all sorts of hazardous chemicals and particulates.
Therefore, a gas mask makes sense as the perfect countermeasure for just such a scenario.
Yes, except chances are you aren’t going to be better served by a gas mask than you would a high-quality respirator with appropriate cartridges.
A gas mask is only truly worthwhile when you are dealing with airborne hazards that can affect the eyes or do damage by contacting skin alone, and in that case, you should be wearing a full-body suit to go along with it.
These are things like riot control gasses, chemical weapons, radioactive materials and the like.
If you are worried about smoke, ash, dust and other common airborne pollutants that always accompany major disasters, you don’t need a gas mask.
They are large, bulky, difficult to store effectively and surprisingly delicate. This means they are still a niche piece of PPE that should only be included if you are worried about a likely specific threat that could contaminate the air.
2. Big Binoculars
The ability to see well and see farther is crucially important. Sight is our primary sense and the one that helps us make heads or tails of the world around us.
Anything we can do to improve the efficacy of our vision is worthwhile.
Optical magnification of any kind will allow you to spot things while you are still far away from them, or sometimes see events or people that you would otherwise miss.
This is of tremendous benefit in survival situations, especially ones when you are traversing unknown areas with unknown threats.
Naturally, binoculars, or perhaps a spotting scope, are a worthwhile inclusion in any survival kit, including your bug-out bag.
The problem is that many preppers go way overboard when it comes to size and capability.
Gigantic, powerful optics do indeed provide you with impressive capability, but at an equally massive cost in weight and bulk, not to mention expense.
Generally, you just don’t need that much magnification. If you were out at sea, or if you are surviving at a mountain top retreat or fire lookout tower, then the situation might be different.
But, according to the real conditions you are likely to find yourself in, you probably don’t need binoculars or a scope that will provide you with anything more than 10x or perhaps 20x magnification on the high end.
Keep in mind that as technology, manufacturing techniques, and science have advanced you can get a lot more performance in a much smaller package than you could in decades past, and even better that performance can be had at a much kinder price point.
Leave the giant “battleship” binoculars at home, and stick with a compact, lightweight pair or an equally lightweight monocular for your BOB.
3. Extra Ammo
For at least a significant fraction of preppers out there, I don’t think it is much of a stretch to assert that prepping and guns go together like peanut butter and jelly.
And, truly, many gun enthusiasts use prepping as a convenient excuse to “get ready” by acquiring more guns, optics, and ammunition for their stash.
After all, it is better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it, am I right?
While that sentiment might be true, problems arise when overenthusiastic preppers want to, quite literally, load their bug-out bags for bear.
We are talking dozens of magazines or hundreds and hundreds of rounds of loose ammunition. Just in case…
The problem, as always, is weight. Ammunition is heavy, surprisingly heavy, even when carrying pistol rounds (to say nothing of rifle rounds or shotshells).
This can quickly make what is going to be a heavy pack much heavier, maybe even backbreaking. And, except in the rarest circumstances, this much ammo is simply not necessary.
Yes, yes, the correct amount of ammo to have is always “N+1”, where N is the amount of ammo you have.
You always need more, and though each round is an opportunity to solve a potentially life-threatening problem, you should plan around avoiding trouble, not getting into it.
You don’t want to be getting into multiple rolling gun battles when you’re in the middle of a legitimate survival situation that has sent you fleeing with your bug-out bag.
You want to carry enough ammo to get yourself out of a fight or two, enough to catalyze a threat so that you can get away- break contact- and then hopefully have enough left over where you can effectively defend yourself when you get to your bug-out location.
Ideally, you’ll have additional ammo stashed along your route or at your BOL so you don’t have to carry it and can still expect reliable resupply.
Carrying way too much ammo means you have a lot less room and weight capacity for other consumables you desperately need, things like food and water.
4. Coleman Camp Stove
If you have been prepping for any length of time, or already enjoy a lifestyle full of outdoor activities like camping and hiking, you probably already have a camping stove.
If you like the classics, that stove might even be the iconic Coleman “briefcase” type camping stove, the one with a couple of burners, a big pivoting lid, and a handle on the side.
It is iconic for a reason. It works well, it’s reliable, and is generally convenient to tote. But, though it is a cost-effective and nostalgic option, it is just the wrong choice for a bug-out bag, period.
It is too big, too bulky and too heavy compared to other ultralight, modern options.
Remember: every inch and every ounce counts when it comes to packing your bug-out bag. You must justify every inclusion.
How are you going to justify such a large ungainly contraption for heating what rations you have brought or for boiling water?
A better option by far is to invest in one of the aforementioned ultralight camping stoves, or even a multi-fuel rocket stove, and then pack a fuel bottle with it, if appropriate.
You’ll be shaving pounds and many cubic inches off of your load, savings that you can immediately put to use for other essential inclusions.
These old Coleman stoves are still a nice piece of kit, but save them for a day by the lake or for tailgate season.
5. Complete Tool Set
You want to be prepared for all eventualities within reason when packing your bug-out bag. This is true.
However, you are still constrained by reality and your too-human limitations when it comes to carrying these contingency items.
Tools, all kinds of tools, are useful, even vital for inclusion in your BOB but being made of metal much of the time they tend toward being extremely heavy.
One error I see many preppers commit is packing a complete toolset in their BOB, usually consisting of various sockets, ratchets, wrenches, and the like.
Their reasoning is usually that it will allow them to maintain their own vehicle, if they are using one, or even repair other vehicles or machines on an opportunistic basis, furthering their survival objectives.
It’s a fine theory, but it is just that- a theory. Although a mechanics tool set should definitely be an inclusion with your vehicles on board supplies, it doesn’t necessarily belong in your bug-out bag.
The notion that you’ll have at the time, opportunity, and other resources necessary to affect repairs on other machines is a roll of the dice.
In the meantime, you’ll be carrying a literal boat anchor of a toolbox on your back.
Do you really need all of those tools? Could you get by with a couple of simple tools like a multiplier, vise grips, and so forth?
Generally, there is no plan that will be better served by burdening your BOB with an extensive toolkit.
6. Giant “Survival” Knife
I want to get this out of the way right up front before I get mobbed and torn apart in the comments.
I am not saying you shouldn’t include a knife in your bug-out bag loadout. I’m not even saying you shouldn’t include a large knife.
Knives are truly a fundamental tool and should be among the very first things you include.
But what I am talking about are the giant, over-engineered, and frankly fantastical survival knives that still proliferate on the market today.
It could be a “multi-function” knife with 12 other built-in tools, a hollow handle packed with a dinky survival kit, and things of that nature.
It might be the Rambo-type blade with the aggressive serrations that are so coarse you can’t even get them started in a piece of wood.
Whatever form it takes, these sexy-looking but ineffective blades should not be included in your BOB.
Invariably, these blades are outclassed and materials, design, or both by less exciting but more capable knives that have a proven track record of standing up to the rigors of various field survival tasks.
From batoning and chopping to throwing as an improvised spearhead being used in desperate, close-quarters self-defense, your survival knife must be up to the task.
These hyped-up, crazy-looking imitation survival knives invariably never are. At best, they will be less efficient and harder to use.
At worst, they will break at a critical moment when you need them the most. Save your time and potentially your own life by omitting these knives for something more sensible.
7. Canned Rations
Food is another must-have inclusion in your BOB. Pretty much every prepper knows this instinctively even if it is not based on rote procedure.
However, the type of food you pack is equally important as having it in the first place and just as important as that is how the food is packaged.
Canned food is greatly beloved as a long-term survival staple because it is widely available, affordable, stable, and easy to prepare.
Naturally, many preppers make the leap of intuition that it would be perfect for inclusion in their bug-out bag also, and for the exact same reasons.
However, canned food is invariably full of water and typically has a container made of steel. Both of these factors together dramatically increase weight.
Also, cylinders, for all their advantages when it comes to containing their contents, tend to cause organizational chaos.
They do not stack or nestle together efficiently, and it is very difficult to pack things between cylinders in an efficient way.
For these reasons, with few exceptions, you are better off packing similar survival foods in a compact, foil packages that are easy to stack and easy to store in your bag. The added weight savings are just a bonus in this case.
8. Cast Iron Cookware
Cast iron cookware, for all of its utilitarian functionality, still has a romantic sort of air about it.
This is the stuff that explorers, pilgrims, and frontiersmen have used since time immemorial. It is tough, adaptable, and effective.
In fact, many campers today have a dutch oven or large cast-iron skillet as the centerpiece of their outdoor cooking setup.
But, for all of its material advantages, cast iron has one fatal flaw for our purposes. It is fantastically, brutally heavy.
Even a medium cast iron skillet can easily weigh upwards of 10 pounds, or if you are talking about a true dutch oven or combo cooker along with a hanger or stand to go with it, you could be hauling 25 lbs-plus of cooking gear for just those items.
Look; cast iron cookware is awesome. I have a big collection myself. But it in no way belongs in your bug-out bag.
You might, might make a case for it if it is stored in a vehicle or maybe you’re traveling as part of a caravan, but heaven helps you if you’re trying to haul it on foot.
9. Survival Guides
This is another controversial inclusion that might set people off if I don’t explain myself.
To be totally clear, I’m not saying don’t include reference guys, manuals, and other useful survival literature in your bug-out bag. But what I am saying is that you should leave the full-size books and manuals at home.
I love books. I really do. I have all kinds of books on every kind of subject you can imagine.
And even though our modern electronic devices are increasingly reliable, energy-efficient, and include downright mammoth storage capability, they don’t quite replace the reliability of an ink and paper book. After all, books will still work when all the power runs out!
However, like most of the other items that earned a place on this list, books tend to be large, bulky, and heavy.
That makes them a poor inclusion and a piece of luggage where size and carrying capacity are always at incredible premiums.
Take a tip from me, here’s what I do: If there is a reference guide that I want to include in my bug-out bag, I always get a compact format of it if I can, or else I figure out a way to print and bind a PDF version in a small format.
You can even buy weatherproof printer paper for the purpose (Rite-in-the-Rain makes some). For everything else, I carry a weatherized tablet with a reliable solar charging system.
That way I can carry a library’s worth of reference materials and not have to worry about being a slave to a power outlet.
There’s Always an Exception
Now, I want to point something out. Whatever sort of bug-out bag setup you have, whatever kind of events you are anticipating and whatever your plan might be you must know yourself.
This list is not entirely comprehensive, and it is not even close to being truly determinative for all people in all situations.
It is a guide, and a good one, based on the mistakes I have seen many preppers make year in and year out, both friends and clients alike, But there is no way I can understand the totality of your circumstances like you can.
Accordingly, because your life and your requirements might be different than mine or anyone else’s, one or more of the items found on this list could be entirely worth including in your BOB. And that’s okay! Common sense must apply.
That being said, you can use my reasoning for any of these items to go over your current loadout with a fresh eye.
Maybe you haven’t thought through all the eventualities or the actual probability that you might need something you’ve had in your BOB for years now. Take the time to go back over it and be ruthless in your assessments.
Some items might deserve to be replaced with something else. Other items might deserve to be deleted entirely, freeing up weight. Either way, that’s a win for you.
Tom Marlowe grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, He has the experience in helping civilian shooters figure out what firearms work best for them.