Survival Skills: Essential Items You Need In Your Bug Out Bag

bug out bag - essential survival gear

Everyone has an essential list of survival items that you need to have in your bug out bag. The problem with many of these lists is that their first goal is to sell you something and their last goal is to be informational. In fact, the words bug outbag and survival bag are both terms that are highly subjective.

For them to be effective you need to consider their use, the situation, and how many people are involved. Given that, we will give you a list of topics for which you should consider.  Let’s get started.

The Essential list of Survival Topics for You to Consider

Keep in mind that every bug out bag needs to have a purpose. Define that purpose up-front. If you are preparing for an apocalypse then your Bug Out Bag is going to be different from one you prepare for a remote camping trip. That is an important detail. By recognizing this you are able to plan more specifically for the what-ifs.

The result is that you are better prepared than if you just have a standard list of items. Think critically about the goal and about what you are preparing to handle.

1. How Many People Are You Preparing to Supply?

This is an important question because it determines many things. How much food, How many blankets? How much water? etc. Food is something that we consider an obvious supply, but how much food do you need?

Colorado State offers an emergency food calculator which can help make the job of figuring out how much food you will need an easy task.

The drawback to this system is that it is designed for an average adult – someone who is 5’10” and 160 pounds. It also limits exercise to 30 minutes. So the consideration for you is that all of those stats are subjective.

What if you exercise more? What if you are 6’5″ and not 5’10”? Their food calculator is a good tool, but you will need to bend the results to your own situation. In some situations, you will need to exercise for a lot more than 30 minutes.

The food issue is an important example of why you need to determine how many people you are supplying. Another consideration is what happens if you have more people than you planned to have? A good tip is to know how to ration your food stock. This may mean reducing the number of calories per person. It may also mean learning how to hunt and gather.

Food Considerations:

  • Freeze dried food that is prepackaged works well for emergency food rations. They are light in weight, packed based on calorie, and often just need water to make them eatable.
  • Energy Bars are perfect for adding calories especially if you need to exert yourself to survive. In those situations, you need extra carbs and energy bars offer that.
  • Water filter. There are plenty of small ones on the market. You want one that does not require a bunch of supplies. Another good thing to pack is a camel pack so that if you need to leave your water source you have an easy way to carry water.
  • Extra Packs: If you are traveling with animals or children, use them to carry part of your food supply. Freeze dried food is very light and they can manage that task. A dog pack or child’s backpack is perfect. The benefit is that they get to help and allowing them to carry the light stuff frees up space in adult packs. Just check them often if they are not used to carrying much weight.

2. Environmental Concerns

This is a big category. You have day and night, hot and cold, wet and dry, dry cold, wet cold, air quality, safety from lightning, flooding, fires, etc. One of the biggest considerations is the area you will be or are located. High altitude summer camping – Backwoods remote forest, above the alpine mark, etc.

We already know that we have to consider things like ambient night temperatures, daytime highs, and the possibility of the unexpected – snowstorm, blizzard, forest fires, flood, avalanche, etc.

Day and Night considerations: The day is long and the night is often longer. Consider the following as standard equipment.

  • Tactical flashlight: If you need to bug out you will need some sort of light. Tactical flashlights work well in these situations because they are bright and offer multiple types of lighting. A good tactical flashlight offers a variety of energy setting, x number of hours on high, x number of hours on low, etc. You want to be able to use the light and still have power left.
  • Solar Power Bank: Along those considerations, consider a solar-powered charger so that your power equipment, tactical flashlight,  GPS, and cell are not limited by battery capacity. In fact, there are a few dry boxes out there that also offer solar chargers. That combination kills two birds with one stone.
  • Dry Box: You will need a dry box or two to keep electronics, matches, and other water sensitive gear dry.
  • GPS: A GPS is very handy, especially if you are bugging out at night or looking to connect to another road or path.

Temperatures: Temperature is a big determination. Medically refer to this as exposure. People die of exposure to high heat and freezing cold. One of the biggest ways to counter temperature is to remain hydrated.

Even in the snow, you should drink water. Don’t eat snow, but melt it because snow will lower your core body temperature and cause hypothermia. Your body needs water to function.

Consider packing:

  • A candle stove. These are small little stoves that are capable of boiling water. Not only can use boiling water to cook with, you can purify it in terms of bacteria. Heavy metals will not disappear simply because you boil the water so a water filter is still necessary. The good thing about a candle stove is that they are cheap, lightweight, and you can use wood if you run out of candles. These are also a source of heat. So one tool has many uses.
  • Thermal Space Blankets: These are small and they help to recycle body heat. They are also waterproof and if you are stuck in the desert can provide an instant refuge from the sun. If you have a tent, you can put a space blanket on the top to act as a solar resistant canopy. Another plus is that you can use them for an extended period of time. They do not expire, so you can store them until you use them. This is another object that has more than one use.
  • A Camp Shovel. You would need a camp shovel in snow, sand, and during emergencies such as a fire or flood. These often have multi-tool capabilities, which means you gain more tools from one item then if you just packed a shovel. You may notice a theme. It is always best to buy something that has more than one use, especially for bug out bags. You have limited space and you can only carry so much gear.
  • Shelter: This usually means a tent of some kind. Preferably one that is waterproof and lightweight. You want your bug out bag to not be a huge burden and that means not overloaded.

Water Consideration:

Water comes in a variety of forms — Rain, snow, sleet, hail, and ice. Depending on where you are headed you may need to consider water in all of its forms. Consider:

  • Tarps: tarps help keep tents dry. They also act as windbreaks if securely tied or staked. A tarp is a good tool to help you overcome the elements. In snow, you can cover your tent with a tarp and then make a snow cave. In the rain, you can use a tarp to help keep gear and packs dry.
  • Pack Covers: These are waterproof bags that slip over a backpack to help keep them dry. They are small, durable, and they can make the difference between being warm and dry or cold and hypothermic.
  • Waterproof Shoes: This is something that you should think about before you ever leave home. If you are going backwoods or boating, waterproof shoes are a must. In fact, consider the types of clothing you take with you. Wicking technology, base layers, and outer layers should all work together to keep your core body temperature in a safe zone.

3. Safety and Rescue

Any emergency situation requires the means to move to safety or to hold fast until help arrives. Each of those considerations should primary focus when you build a bug out bag.

Like many of the other items on this list, this too is subjective to where you are going and what you will be doing. This is also another example of why a standard bug-out-list does not work for every situation.

Along those lines, consider the following:

  • Tactical Flashlight: This is another place to bring up lighting such as a tactical flashlight, especially one that has a beacon type pulse setting that you can use for long-distance signaling.
  • Matches: You need a way to start a fire in the cold and matches are usually a good bet. The problem with matches is they are a finite resource so you may also want to pack a flint and steel and learn how to use it. Having the ability to start a fire does three things. It allows you to get warm and stay warm, provides a place to cook game if needed, and can act as a signal for search and rescue. Put some consideration into how you want to make a fire. You also need to learn how to make a fire. So practice that art before you need to bug-out.
  • Basic First Aid: Emergencies and injuries go hand-in-hand. A basic first aid kit is necessary. You should also be prepared to use other things in your pack as first aid gear. Things with multiple purposes are high on your pack list. Consider things for allergies and headaches too. Anything that slows you down is a problem. A headache is no fun in an emergency.
  • Rope or Paracord: Paracord is easy to pack, lightweight and you can wear it on your wrist as a bracelet. In fact, everyone in your party can wear a Paracord bracelet or two. You will need strong string or cord to set up your tarps, set snares, and tie gear together so you can take it all with you.
  • Waterproof paper and tactical pen: If you need to leave a note about which direction you went then you want the note to survive. waterproof paper works. You can put it in a zip baggie too. If you bring a few sheets you can tie them along the trail so rescuers and trackers can find you.
  • Crank-powered Radio: If you are fleeing an emergency you will need to keep abreast of news so you can be better informed about what to do. If you are waiting to be rescued you can use the crank-powered radio to also stay informed about rescue attempts. If many people are waiting for rescue then you can decide if you should stay put or bug-out. Cell phone service is iffy in remote locations, but you can also use a cell phone, just do not rely on it to be informational if it cannot access the internet or a cell tower.

There are a lot of considerations for building a practical bug out bag. The key is to build your bag in conjunction to where you are headed and the types of terrain, emergencies, and environments you expect to face. The reality is that you can only carry so much stuff. That is why it is important to plan carefully.


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