by Kumbha : What is in a bug out bag?
I first discovered the concept of survival preparedness in a newspaper article a couple of years ago. I had always prided myself on being “prepared”: I carried a mini first aid kit in my purse and my car was outfitted with jumper cables, a gas can, a blanket, and even an empty jug for water. However, when I read about people who were doing everything from stockpiling food to building underground survival bunkers, my first thought was, “Those crazy survival nuts.” Over the past couple of years–with the natural world, the US economy, and human society in general on a downward spiral–the idea of being prepared for anything (man-made or natural) makes more and more sense.
I first began by reading. There are a multitude of survival blogs and books out there, and I spent several days researching the best place to begin. I decided the most logical would be to build Bug Out Bags (BOBs). These packs of survival gear would give me easy access to the most basic needs, ready to go at any time, while I then built up other reserves. However, I have never been an outdoorsy person. Was never into camping, hiking, hunting, or even fishing. I hadn’t accumulated those odds and ends that many people do. So, when I discovered the very real need for preparedness, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, especially because I am on a very limited budget. I was not going to be able to run out to the local REI and pick up everything I needed.
After perusing several online lists of necessary supplies, I then checked out websites that offered complete BOBs ready to purchase. The amount of information out there can be overwhelming! I began to make a list and realized that most websites and books contained the same basic categories: water, food, fire, shelter, signalling, and first aid. Using the information online as a guide, I compiled my own list of what I considered necessities in addition to the most basic of survival needs.
My list categories consisted of: water, food, fire, shelter, first aid, weapons, tools, clothing/hygiene, and cats (I will be taking my animals with me if at all possible!). Under each heading, I began to list several items. For example, in the “fire” category, I wrote matches, lighter, tinder, flint and steel, and protective cases. It’s recommended to have more than one way to start a fire in your pack in case one item fails, to be prepared for differing weather conditions, etc. I did this with each category, taking into consideration budgetary limits, weight of the packs, and the area in which we live. I soon had three notebook pages filled with necessities…several hundred dollars worth of merchandise, according to the online stores I checked.
My next step was to see what I already had around the house. For my “fire” category, I already had lighters and wooden strike anywhere matches, cotton balls, petroleum jelly, and dryer lint for tinder and plenty of ziplock baggies to keep everything dry. Now all I would need to purchase would be waterproof matches and flint and steel. My expenditure in that category was already cut way down.
I did this with each heading on my list, piling everything on the bed as I went through the house. I had two cheap backpacks made of windbreaker material in the closet. No, they may not last very long if I have to go out traipsing through the tundra, but they’ll do as a starter pack, keeping the gear in one place and ready to go until such time as I can afford to buy a more sturdy pack. For those who may not have a backpack on hand, a tote bag or even a canvas grocery bag could work temporarily until a better pack could be found. The important thing is to have your gear ready to grab and go.
As I looked around the house, I found useful items. Flashlights from the junk drawer, duct tape from the tool box, bandages from the medicine cabinet… surprisingly, a large majority of my list was already on hand–everything from prepackaged foodstuffs and first aid supplies to toiletries and clothing. I even made simple bedrolls from extra blankets (to be swapped out for good quality sleeping bags in the near future). Cost for the bedroll: $1 for some sturdy nylon rope to tie them up. In a pinch, even duct tape could be wrapped around the bedroll.
Although my list was not complete, in one afternoon I was able to assemble, organize, and get the packs set up. At least for now, if SHTF, I was somewhat prepared, which is way better than not being prepared at all.
Something I didn’t have on hand was a good knife. I had a cheap pocketknife that I had always carried around in my purse for self-defense, but once I took a good look at it I realized it wouldn’t help out in the woods. The edge was so dull it wouldn’t even cut paper. So, I bought a knife sharpener ($2 from the local department store’s camping section) and spent a couple of hours honing a fine edge. Now I have a useful tool that will get me by until I can afford to get a better quality item.
The next step was to check out local dollar stores. I am lucky enough to have two different “buck or less” stores in my area, so off with my list I went. Although I wouldn’t recommend everything at a dollar store, there are always useful and good quality items to be found. Things like first aid gear, sunglasses, and mini personal hygiene items are always at these stores–and when you’re on a budget, the less you spend per item the more items you can buy.
Although I wasn’t able to purchase everything off my list at once, even at the dollar stores, I did set an amount to spend every week. I prioritized purchase order by need; for example, bandages were more important than deodorant, batteries more important than wet wipes.
The best thing about dollar stores is their stock is always rotating, and you never know what you might find. One afternoon I found a rack of pin-on compasses. While they weren’t high quality, they were as reliable as the more costly one I carried in my purse (I compared several to make sure). Now we have an extra compass in each pack and backups in our home stock.
Am important factor was foodstuffs. If you check around, you can find MREs (meals ready to eat, or military rations), freeze-dried portions, food bars with a 5 year shelf life, and other prepackaged camping/survival meals. These, while nice to have, are not necessary. I packed ramen noodles, individual packs of macaroni and cheese, mini bags of trail mix, peanut butter crackers, and granola bars, all found for a couple of bucks in most grocery stores. For those who eat meat, bags of beef jerky and foil packs of tuna are inexpensive and valuable sources of protein. These are all easily portable, easy to fix with nothing more than boiling water, and as long as you remember to check the “use by” date and replace them with fresh as needed, you can fulfill your emergency food requirements very easily.
The next step was to make a list of what couldn’t be found at dollar stores. Obviously one will not find a tent, sleeping bags, or camp cookware at the dollar store. The next logical place is to check thrift stores, and then department stores and online. The last place on my list to purchase from is a specialty store; they tend to have the highest prices. I carry my list with me at all times and I have a set amount that I can spend every week as well as a small amount for saving for those big-ticket items that are on the list. I will eventually get that Bear Grylls Ultimate Multi Tool (this is not an endorsement, merely my own personal want)!
I’ve been working on my BOBs for a few months now. So far, I have about 70% of what I need. Some items will eventually be swapped out for better quality gear and some items may wind up being discarded altogether as I learn more about prepping and survival. While I may not have every last item I need (or want) for my packs, I am much more prepared than I was and, so far, have spent less than $50. I now have a sense of security that if worse comes to worse, I have what I need to survive.
My complete BOB list is below. I would recommend that everyone stock up on the basics but personalize their own BOBs as well. For example, I have several daily prescription meds and glasses, so I’ve made sure to pack accordingly. I still don’t have everything on the list but I’m getting close!
- Stainless steel water bottle, water purification straw
- Water purification tabs, coffee filters
- I also keep a 6 pack of bottled water next to the BOB, to stuff in the bag when SHTF
- Energy Bars (granola bars and protein bars)
- Packaged food (ramen noodles, precooked rice, mac & cheese, peanut butter crackers, bouillon cubes, sugar, salt…enough for about 3 days)
- Drink mixes (tea bags, powdered Gatorade)
- Mess Kit (aluminum), can opener, spork
- Matches (both wooden strike anywhere and waterproof)
- Flint & steel
- Tinder (petroleum jelly and cotton balls, dryer lint)
- Space Blanket
- Rain poncho
- Plastic tarp
- Small tent
- Sleeping bag/Bedroll
- Bandages (assorted sizes, waterproof)
- Gauze roll, waterproof tape
- Alcohol wipes, antibacterial ointment, burn gel
- Latex gloves, scissors, tweezers, needle
- Ace bandage, cold pack
- Acetaminophen, anti diarrhea, antacid, antihistamine
- 1 weeks worth of my prescription meds
- Survival knife
- Sidearm, extra ammo
- Pepper spray
- Multitool, swiss army knife
- Folding saw, folding shovel
- Mini fishing kit (I’m vegetarian, so this would be a last-ditch emergency)
- Binoculars, candles, a mesh bag (for mosquito netting, fishing net, carrying sack)
- Signal mirror, compass, whistle (all basic signalling/travelling gear)
- Flashlight (led, battery-powered)–I keep two along with extra batteries
- Crank flashlight/radio combo
- Duct tape, paracord (50 ft), WD-40
- Sewing kit, waterproof paper and pencil
- Emergency stove and fuel tabs
- Ziplock baggies of varying sizes, 10 ft of aluminum foil (folded small)
- Padlock (on backpack strap) and key (pinned inside)
- Some emergency cash in small bills
- Clothing/Hygiene: (this is assuming I already have one travelling outfit on)
- Camo pants, shirt, jacket (camo is not necessary, but I prefer it for stealth)
- Long johns, 3 pr socks, 3 pr undies, 1 bra
- Hiking boots (kept next to the BOB, not in it, in preparation for quick changing)
- Wool hat, mechanix gloves, warm gloves
- 2 bandannas
- Toilet paper, Dr. Bronner’s Liquid Soap
- Wet wipes, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant (unscented)
- Hand sanitizer, sunblock, bug spray, lip balm
- Handwarmer emergency pak (2)
- Old, non activated cellphone and charger (hopefully 911 satellites will still be working)
- Old spare glasses, hard carrying case, extra clip on sunglasses
- Two small microfiber towels
- Map of the area, first aid/survival manual
- Mini photo album, deck of cards (to give motivation, stave off boredom)
- Halters, leashes (my cats are trained on these)
- Freeze packed dry food (1 lb), 4 pkgs of wet food
- 2 collapsible pet bowls
And hopefully I’ll also have time to grab my purse (which has additional toiletries, first aid, & meds) and my cell phone and charger. My husband also has a similar BOB. They are kept together within easy reach on the floor of the closet. The idea is that if only one of us can get there, the packs are light enough for one person to grab and tote for a short while.
This is an entry in our non-fiction writing contest where you could win:
- First Prize) Winner will receive a gift certificate for $170 worth of Winchester Ammo donated by Lucky Gunner. A Smith & Wesson Heat Treated Collapsible 21″ Baton and a copy of my book Dirt Cheap Survival Retreat.
- Second Prize) Winner will receive a Wise Food Storage meat bucket and 3 dozen Tattler Reusable Canning Lids donated by LPC Survival.
- Third Prize) Winner will receive a LifeStraw water filter system donated by Eartheasy and a copy of the Wolf Pack Cookbook.