Two Letters Re: Backpackers of the Apocalypse: Selecting and Ultra-Lighting Your Bug-Out Bag

Hello Mr. Rawles,
Thanks again for this blog; it’s my nightly reading before bedtime. Regarding the letter from John the Midwestern Hiker, here are some other possibilities/opinions about bug-out bags. Naturally, edit as you see fit, should any of this merit mentioning….

Because I live in a large metropolitan area in the eastern US, I try to remain prepared for just such a bug-out event. I know approximately how much time I would need and how much fuel I would need in order to arrive in “Free America”–my fuel tank is never less than 3/4ths full. I have at least two places along the way where I have a stash of related items for addition and/or replenishment (at friends/relatives places) and I also now keep a few MREs in my vehicle, no longer only as part of the winter travel kit. I am familiar enough with the middle third of the USA that I would not really need even a map. In a bug-situation, my hardest decision would be the first decision: leave immediately or wait?

Although I try to keep active year ’round, I do most of my hiking and backpacking in the 6 months that are not winter. In my opinion the most important items in my packs are (listed in order of importance) 1) water filtration and/or purification 2) non-folding hunting knife 3) rain gear, including water-proof and insulated gloves and clothing items 4) basic compass 5) basic First Aid kit 6) food items with a good mix of high carbohydrates, fat and protein 7) finally, a good sleeping bag. Some down bags now have waterproof material; non-down bags (such as Wiggy’s) will have insulating function, dry or wet. The investment in a good, well-fitted pair of hiking boots is a given.

In addition to the above, I do carry a tent for the appropriate season/elevation and MSR gas stove with the familiar red fuel canister and other odd miscellany, like a drinking bottle and a spork. While the small canister stoves are light and convenient, if one were to do much backpacking at all, a small fortune will be spent on fuel, in addition to finding a place to properly discard the empties. If I were ever to get into the ultra-light mindset, I wouldn’t even bother—use fuel tablets such as Esbit. Probably not even have much of a tent either.

I have two packs that are always packed–one for early-/late-season/winter conditions, the other for normal summer. As a precaution I always plan for winter conditions and wet weather when in the mountains–elevation is everything! I’ve been in below sub-freezing conditions at high elevations in August, not to mention the usual monsoon season in the Rockies in the fall. Upon returning I take care of all cleaning, washing, repairs and re-packing of items, including freeze-dried foods, which usually have a long shelf life. With everything pre-packed, it is possible for me to grab two packs, toss ’em into my vehicle and bug out. A Google search [on “ultra-light backpacking”] will come up with many sites providing lots of information. However, I highly recommend the wonderful, good ol’ standard “The Complete Walker” by the late Colin Fletcher (may his Welsh hiking soul now hike in peace!) and the still-very-much-alive Chip Rawlins. This book is at least in it’s fourth version by now, and makes for wonderful reading, especially by the fireplace in winter! Everything you’ll need to know about having your “house on your back” is covered in great detail in this book.

While I don’t expect to be faced with a bug-out situation any time soon, I do believe that backpacking, in addition to being a fun way to see the world, is also a good physical and mental preparation if such an event were to happen. History is full of “unexpected” events! Cheers, – Mark S.


Mr. Rawles;
I agree with John about the ultralight camping equipment. A Sil-Nylon Cat Tarp, sleeping quilt from Jack’s R Better, Pad, Food, Water, personal hygiene, and cooking gear for 3 or 4 days can easily be put together under 16 pounds, including the pack. The days of the 50 pound (or heavier) one week pack are, thankfully, long gone.

Now, if you want to talk Super Ultralight, like my nine pound three-day load, (which includes my clothes and boots on my feet), you have to be willing to make much of your gear…but there are patterns all over the S/UL blogs and sites on the net. – Mike on the Res.