Letter Re: A Different Perspective on Packing a Bugout Bag

Dear Editor:
The unanswerable question becomes what constitutes the absolute needed contents within the much discussed and dissected “Bugout” or “Bail Out” Bag (BOB). The generally accepted definition of a BOB could be summed as providing the carrier with seventy two hours of life supporting kit.  While the initial attempts to define its necessity would likely center around the need to displace due to such things as hurricanes, earthquakes or extreme civil strife I am not convinced this would constitute the apocalyptic SHTF scenario so many individuals seem to envision when compiling their BOB contents lists.  I do support the theorem of necessitating a grab bag that is prepared for immediate deployment.  However, I do not believe the majority of the items I have seen pre-positioned for rapid departure would be of use in the aforementioned natural disasters. For the record the aforesaid adversities are statistically more likely to occur versus the end of the world as we know it.  Thus, your primary concern should be to ensure your BOB is equipped for the most likely scenario dictated by your local seasonal phenomena. Under those dire circumstances a reasonable load of food, water, and personal hygiene items for a man, woman and child (children) would suffice until humanitarian aid arrived.  I would wager that upon a close examination of the after effects of Hurricane Katrina one would be hard pressed to find a verifiable incident evidencing death by starvation.  Therefore, a reasonable conclusion or statement could be made that aide, whether provided by the state/federal governments or a non-governmental agency (NGO), such as the Red Cross, would be sufficient to maintain timely subsistence.

I am not advocating described times would not be tough to cope with, but I am saying those that are subscribing to the 72 hour BOB theory at times appear to be preparing for two missions.  The intent of this commentary is to examine the concept of the Bail Out Bag from one of these two unique perspectives.  The first of which is to make it through the initial onslaught, seek and gain semi-permanent refuge within three calendar days so as to be supported by local/national level relief agencies.  Ultimately the intent would be to return home once declared safe.  Now on the other hand, some individuals seem to take into consideration an extreme objective when loading up a BOB.  Based on their packing lists and forum derived commentary, they seem to be leaning towards how best to prepare for the complete dissolution of the Rule of Law whereby every man, as the last vestige of humankind, is facing personal extinction on a daily basis.

Before I continue, I would like to reiterate and reinforce my stance that preparation for surviving a 72 hour movement to safety is great.   But I would strongly advise a prepper to concentrate in preparing his/her load out based on these three items.  First is water, second food, and finally the tertiary concern should be personal hygiene items with a basic first aid kit. 

Let us use the example of a 160 pound adult male backpacking 25% of his body weight, which should be exactly 40 pounds.  The initial guidance would be to carry two gallons of water and at 8.5 lbs per gallon this would be 17 lbs.  I would pack two pounds of food per day, which is six pounds for three days.  I would keep my personal hygiene and first aide kits down to three pounds.  At this point the weight carried equates to 26 pounds.  This leaves fourteen pounds of items to be carried at the discretion of said male, some of which is already accounted for in the form of the BOB itself.  Obviously, your load out equipment will vary based on the type of terrain traversed, time of season and proximity to a safe refuge.  Personally, I do not believe having immediate access to only two gallons of water is sufficient for a full three days of hiking, especially if you are operating in climates high in humidity, having to traverse over terrain versus defined roads or operating in desert-like terrain.  One very broad rule of thumb states an adult male should have three liters of water per day, which converts to .79 gallons. By day three the displaced male would be almost a half gallon short of water.  The problem with the given rule of thumb is the source, and a respectable source at that, did not specific the age, weight, physical condition, nor did it indicate if the “men” had to remain inactive on a daily basis to meet this threshold of three liters.  I believe a better way to determine how much water might need to be carried; one should measure his/her water intake over a series of inactive and physically active days to extrapolate an accurate demand for hydration during arduous activity.  Honestly, my opinion would be to advocate carrying another gallon of water and utilizing only 5.5 lbs for discretionary items.

So why have I taken the time to run the numbers on something as ordinary as water?  It is to underpin my earlier commentary that those who prepare are preparing to carry too much in unnecessary accoutrements.  Look how quickly the weight of the BOB increases with just the minimal necessities of food and water.  Therefore, extreme caution and moderation should be exercised when determining what extraneous items are to be packed.  You may have 100 pounds of high speed, low drag gear but that still is a 100 lbs you have to carry.  When one is contemplating the initial packing lists, are you just packing for yourself, a spouse and/or children?  It is fairly evident the individual physical fitness capacity of each person within your group is going to determine who carries how much and how much of what is going to be carried.  A five year old child may be able to carry only his supply of pull ups for three nights but in no way will he be able to carry his 72 hour requirement of juice boxes.  Trust me; my son who just turned six seems to consume his body weight in juice on a daily basis.  Consequently, I would have to carry my necessary items along with those needed by my son, which further reduces my ability to carry optional items. At this point I hope I have been able to clearly convey how I would approach a realistic resolution in easing one’s anxiety over how best to prepare a BOB. 

With saying the above, do you really need to pack snare wires for trapping small animals, a myriad supply of Swiss Army knives, machetes, axes, daggers, fixed/folding blades, combat tactical edged weapons, chemical lights in addition to LED flashlights, strobes, thousands of rounds of ammunition for your collection of assault rifles/combat pistols, stoves, pots, pans, titanium flatware, and finally lest we forget a level IV plate carrier with four ceramic inserts along with soft armor.   I will admit there is a time and place for that level of outfitting but I cannot advocate the need for the type or amount of equipment I have seen desired or acquired by a vast plethora of preppers who envision a three day movement.  Of course we are assuming you must leave your home of record and won’t be forting up within your residence due to the need, real or perceived, to relocate. 

If an individual or group has to displace and their collective plan includes the carrying of firearms, there are at least two concerns I would advise they take into consideration well prior to such a need.  The first is to ensure a complete understanding of their respective and adjoining states’ laws regarding the open and concealed carry of handguns, along with rifles/shotguns.  Just because there is a state of chaos or panic due to a disaster does not give a person immunity to operate outside the legal boundary.  Another point that should warrant thought is how are those carrying firearms going to be received by the agencies rendering aid?  I have always wondered what would happen when these people make it to the FEMA/NGO aide centers.  There is no why any government organization or relief agency is going to allow you to enter or partake of aide when you are carrying armaments in the quantities which surpass the basic combat load of an Infantryman.  It is one thing to legally carry a concealed handgun with a few extra magazines but to carry an arsenal of tactical rifles during the scenarios delineated earlier would likely cause more trouble than not.   

Taking into account the historic stability of western capitalistic-modeled, democratically governed countries, how many of such failed to adequately take care of their citizenry during any epic manmade or natural disasters?  I am not naïve to say governmental agencies are going to be Johnny on the spot when it comes to providing for its displaced citizenry.  Hence, I reiterate my belief that a 72 hour BOB, intelligently stocked, is indeed a wise investment in time and currency.  This strategy would allow the individual to bridge the gap between the time the disaster struck and arrival of aide.      

Now, let us consider the worst case scenario whereby the SHTF and every day that you awake you must answer the questions…do I eat and will I be eaten?  What assumptions must be made and what facts are applicable to this setting?  Firstly, something of such destructive power has completely eliminated the protections afforded to us through modern civilization.  While making assumptions as to what could cause a calamity of such annihilation is counterproductive to determining how best to prepare your BOB, it is the fact that your individual or group’s lifespan is now dependent on how well you can survive without the conveniences of modern times.  Therefore, in preparation of said earthshaking tragedy, the driving factor in prolonging your ability to function is derived from how well and comprehensively you have prepared your BOB.  As with the beginning of this commentary an unanswerable question has been posed yet again.  Clearly, the contents will be based on personal need, real or perceived, and what you believe will work best for you.   While I do not claim to know what best to pack for the time of omnipresent darkness I would find that subject matter a very worthy topic warranting more commentary. – F.J. (JWR Adds: F.J. is a U.S. Army officer currently deployed at a remote FOB in Afghanistan)