I like to backpack and want to share my perspective on bugging out. I’ve done hundreds of miles out on the Appalachian Trail and have spent a good number of nights out on the trail in the woods as a result. Having the wrong gear while trekking out for any length of time makes life pretty miserable.
Bugging In or Bugging Out, With a Comprehensive List
With prepping there is a lot of debate on whether one should bug-in or bug-out post-disaster. The answer to that obviously depends upon not only the situation but how well prepared you are with tangible assets and outdoors skills as well.
I’ve seen a host of writers, who talk about bugging out, give their “comprehensive lists” with what you’ll need. But, to me, it is readily apparent that very few of these writers have ever spent a night out in the woods.
If somebody did attempt to take all of the unnecessary junk itemized on those lists out into the woods for any distance, they would quickly discover that life is pretty miserable because it’s impractical to lug around the amount of stuff that was recommended in many of those lists.
What To Take When Hiking Out
The proper gear, when carried the proper way, is not only doable but enjoyable as well. So I’d like to take a look at what you should take with you, and how to do so, if you are going to be bugging out.
If you’re going to drive to your bug out location, this advice isn’t going to apply. A car lets you carry a lot of weight for a long distance without any physical exertion on your part. If you’re planning on just hiking out into the woods and getting as far away from people as you can though, you’re going to want to figure out how you can apply the below advice to your bug-out bag.
Your bag needs to have a frame. Whether it’s an external or an internal frame, I don’t care. But without some sort of framing system to it, you’re not going to last. A framed bag protects your back and makes hiking infinitely more comfortable. It’s hard to go very far with a school backpack crammed full of gear that pokes into your spine at sharp angles every step and forces you to slump forward just to keep from falling backwards.
External frame bags allow you to stand up straighter and give you more ventilation at the cost of being more wobbly. Internal frame bags allow for greater mobility, but they hug your back close and force you to slump more. Choose one based on your preferences.
I like external frames. I feel that the ability to stand up straight and pain free is well worth the small amount of wobble I get when moving quickly.
You need something with a hip belt as well. Hip belts allow a good portion of the weight to go directly to your hips rather than your lower back. This enables you to hike farther and wake up less sore.
You have to have shelter if you are going to live out in the woods. Shelter is one of man’s primary needs. Without it, you die. Tents do a great job of protecting you from the elements, but they also take up a large amount of space in your pack. They can also be very heavy.
If you can, I highly recommend a hammock with a tarp large enough to keep the wind from whipping against your butt all night long. Hammocks are light, compact, and inexpensive. Tarps are the same thing and provide excellent protection.
However, if you’re in an area with little tree cover, are traveling with a wife and kids, or it’s incredibly cold outside, a hammock may not be the best option.
If this is the case, I recommend finding as compact and as light of a tent as possible. I’ve done a fair amount of camping with a one-person tent, and while this does feel like you’re sleeping within your coffin all night long, it makes hiking in the morning much more enjoyable when you’re not carrying unnecessary weight.
For tents with more than one person traveling where sleeping solo probably isn’t going to happen (such as with kids), get yourself as light of a tent as you can and be mentally prepared to not have as much space at night as you typically would. The point is to survive, not to stay at the Hilton.
I’ve found that easy to prepare dried foods are the most enjoyable to eat. They’re quick to cook, and they’re light, too. Pretty much anything instant works great. This includes things like oatmeal, pasta dishes, ramen, and the like.
Anything canned is extra weight, extra bag space, and is out. Peanut butter, tuna packets, tortillas, granola, and Clif bars make great ready-to-eat meals that are well worth the little space they take up and are packed full of the calories that you’re going to need if you’re out there.
For cooking, I carry a light stove and two fuel canisters that I got from Walmart. I keep the stove nested within a small lightweight backpacking pot. This allows me to cook my meals within 10 minutes. It’s not easily visible and is compact and light.
I use a UV sterilization stick as my primary water treatment source and chlorine tablets as a backup. Lifestraws are cool and light, but if you want clean water with them you have to suck it. I like cleaning my pot with clean water rather than my spit.
Keep two large bottles of water filled per person at all times. Anything more is overkill in my opinion, but it depends on how much you sweat and how far away you think you’re going to be from water. If you’re bugging out on the Eastern U.S., there should be plenty available. If you’re in Arizona or Texas somewhere, extra water may be worth the effort.
Get as light of a sleeping bag as you can afford that goes down to as low of a temperature rating as you can afford. Buy a mummy bag. They’re smaller, warmer, and lighter. Yeah, they give you less wiggle room at night, but the cost is worth it if you’re going to be moving around regularly. You can learn to sleep with your feet together if you have to.
You need to have some sort of sleeping mat as well. These provide comfort from the hard ground as well as insulate you by keeping all of your heat from seeping straight into the earth. Trust me, without one you can get pretty cold even in July.
- Flashlight with extra batteries. I use a small Maglite that runs off of AAs. Anything larger is extra unneeded weight.
- Bandana. You’d be surprised at how handy these things are. You can use bandanas for all kinds of things.
- Lighters. I always carry two small Bic lighters and a small flint and steel as a backup.
- A large knife. I carry a Cold Steel fixed blade knife that’s served me well. Anything that you get from those guys is going to be top notch quality. Leave the Swiss army knives at home. You need something with a fixed blade that you can trust.
- Gun. I also carry a S&W Shield 9mm with an extra clip of ammo. It’s not great for hunting, I admit, but for self-defense it’ll work. It’s light weight, compact, and I always keep it easily accessible.
- Map and compass. Knowing where you’re at will not only help you to find water and food, but it will help you to know how to avoid civilization and the best route to get away and back to it. A map is a huge morale boost as well. There’s something about knowing your location when you’re in the middle of nowhere that can help calm you down.
- Watch. I wear an old tough-as-nails little thing I picked up from Walmart that’s lasted me for years. I’m able to accurately guess the distance I’ve hiked, when sundown/sunrise will occur, and know if it’s meal time thanks to my little watch. Once again, you don’t realize how much this simple piece of equipment helps you out mentally until you’ve spent a week out in the woods without having an accurate concept of time.
- Clothes. I carry one extra pair of wool socks, one extra pair of non-cotton underwear, an incredibly lightweight rain jacket from Columbia, and one extra non-cotton shirt when I hike in. And that’s it. All of this is very lightweight and allows you to change out of wet clothing should you need to. I don’t carry extra pants. I don’t feel that the extra weight/space is worth it.
- Paracord. I always carry at least 50 feet. Having this paracord allows me to tie bear bags, secure my tarp, and make a host of other quick fixes to broken equipment. This stuff is lightweight and worth its weight in gold.
- Small tissue packets. These are my toilet paper. I’m not a huge fan of leaves. I always carry four or five packets.
I do everything I can to keep the total weight of my bag to less than 35 pounds. With all of the above gear, I tend to average right at 32-34 pounds. Anything more makes trekking long distances not fun. Thirty-five pounds gives me all of the gear that I need to survive out there with enough food to last me about four days.
If you’re going to anticipate being out there much longer, I recommend knowing edible plants, knowing how to set snares, and having food caches set out where you’re going beforehand. Joe Nobody’s The Prepper’s Guide to Caches is a good book on the subject that I recommend.
Yeah, I get that military personnel commonly carry 55+ pounds worth of equipment. But odds are they’ve been training a lot harder and longer than you have. They’re probably also younger.
Think you’re macho and that you can handle it? I challenge you to attempt a 10+ mile hike with that much gear and tell me how long it takes. You may be able to move that much stuff, but mobility is key after any disaster, and if you can’t lug your stuff around faster than a Pomeranian lugging a dog sled full of your wife’s travel luggage, you’re only messing yourself over.
Also, it’s a lot harder to keep your balance and prevent a twisted ankle with that much weight on your back as well, and surviving is a lot harder when you’re injured.
HOW TO PACK A BAG
There is a proper way to pack your bag to lessen the strain that you feel on your lower back. Put all of the heaviest gear as close to your back as possible in order to decrease the torque on your lower back. However, when the weight is far away from your body, your bag will feel as if it is constantly pulling you backwards.
If you’re going to be traveling on gentle terrain, keep the majority of the weight close to your back and high. This allows the weight to center over your hips. You don’t want to be top heavy or you’ll tip over, but a certain amount of weight up higher is okay.
If traveling over rougher terrain (off trail, steep slopes, climbing), keep the weight close to your back and low. This helps you to maintain your balance better.
Also, make sure that the pack is not unbalanced on one side. Don’t pack the light stuff on the left side and the heavy on the right. That’s extra torque on your back that’s not going to be fun. Therefore, you want it to be as balanced as possible.
By following this advice you’ll make traveling by foot out to where you need to get as comfortable, efficient, and safe as possible. For much longer than four days, yeah, you’re going to need extra supplies, but if you already have a bug out location set up out in the woods that you need to hike out to, if you only need to last out there for a couple days, if you already have survival caches placed, or if mobility is key, this is what’s going to work.
Experiment with packing your bag and taking longer hikes with it to find out what works for you. What equipment do you need to replace and what equipment do you enjoy using. Any weight that you can spare will work in your favor in my opinion except when it comes to a knife. Get a strong one, because you’ll need it.
Good luck everybody.
SurvivalBlog Writing Contest
This has been another entry for Round 71 of the SurvivalBlog non-fiction writing contest. The nearly $11,000 worth of prizes for this round include:
- A $3000 gift certificate towards a Sol-Ark Solar Generator from Veteran owned Portable Solar LLC. The only EMP Hardened Solar Generator System available to the public.
- A Gunsite Academy Three Day Course Certificate. This can be used for any one, two, or three day course (a $1,195 value),
- A course certificate from onPoint Tactical for the prize winner’s choice of three-day civilian courses, excluding those restricted for military or government teams. Three day onPoint courses normally cost $795,
- DRD Tactical is providing a 5.56 NATO QD Billet upper. These have hammer forged, chrome-lined barrels and a hard case, to go with your own AR lower. It will allow any standard AR-type rifle to have a quick change barrel. This can be assembled in less than one minute without the use of any tools. It also provides a compact carry capability in a hard case or in 3-day pack (an $1,100 value),
- An infrared sensor/imaging camouflage shelter from Snakebite Tactical in Eureka, Montana (A $350+ value),
- Two cases of Mountain House freeze-dried assorted entrees in #10 cans, courtesy of Ready Made Resources (a $350 value),
- A $250 gift certificate good for any product from Sunflower Ammo,
- Two cases of Meals, Ready to Eat (MREs), courtesy of CampingSurvival.com (a $180 value).
- A Model 175 Series Solar Generator provided by Quantum Harvest LLC (a $439 value),
- A Glock form factor SIRT laser training pistol and a SIRT AR-15/M4 Laser Training Bolt, courtesy of Next Level Training, which have a combined retail value of $589,
- A gift certificate for any two or three-day class from Max Velocity Tactical (a $600 value),
- A transferable certificate for a two-day Ultimate Bug Out Course from Florida Firearms Training (a $400 value),
- A Trekker IV™ Four-Person Emergency Kit from Emergency Essentials (a $250 value),
- A $200 gift certificate good towards any books published by PrepperPress.com,
- A pre-selected assortment of military surplus gear from CJL Enterprize (a $300 value),
- RepackBox is providing a $300 gift certificate to their site, and
- American Gunsmithing Institute (AGI) is providing a $300 certificate good towards any of their DVD training courses.
- A Royal Berkey water filter, courtesy of Directive 21 (a $275 value),
- A custom made Sage Grouse model utility/field knife from custom knife-maker Jon Kelly Designs, of Eureka, Montana,
- A large handmade clothes drying rack, a washboard, and a Homesteading for Beginners DVD, all courtesy of The Homestead Store, with a combined value of $206,
- Expanded sets of both washable feminine pads and liners, donated by Naturally Cozy (a $185 retail value),
- Two Super Survival Pack seed collections, a $150 value, courtesy of Seed for Security, LLC,
- Mayflower Trading is donating a $200 gift certificate for homesteading appliances,
- Montie Gear is donating a Y-Shot Slingshot and a $125 Montie gear Gift certificate.,
- Two 1,000-foot spools of full mil-spec U.S.-made 750 paracord (in-stock colors only) from www.TOUGHGRID.com (a $240 value), and
Round 71 ends on July 31st, so get busy writing and e-mail us your entry. Remember that there is a 1,500-word minimum, and that articles on practical “how to” skills for survival have an advantage in the judging.