Water. Though you may die after three days without water, that is most likely in ideal conditions with low exertion. If you have ever gone hiking before, you know that after an hour or so you are pretty parched already, and by the end of a single day you will be pretty much functionally depleted of water and in desperate need of rehydration. Especially if your bug out happens to be in the summer or a very hot time of year, water is going to be the most important element you need to keep going effectively.
This is where knowing your bug out route is essential. If there are going to be places you could refill from natural sources, you don’t need to carry enough water to get you all the way from Point A to Point B. If you have a short (under three day) bug out route that crosses or follows rivers or free standing water, carrying a lightweight water filter should meet most of your needs. If you are planning on traveling with a larger group and will need to supply water to multiple people, it may make sense to carry a higher output water filter designed for hiking, such as the Katadyn Hiker Pro. Depending on your length of trip and general murkiness of the water in your area, you may want to pack a spare filter and a few coffee filters that you can place over the front end tubing (and use a rubber band to secure it) that goes in the water source to minimize the amount of work your internal filter needs to do. If you want to go really light weight or have redundancy in your water purification options (a very good idea), using iodine tablets is probably your best bet.
Water is absolutely essential to survival and keeping yourself in peak condition. If you will not be able to refill as you go, you need to pack all of the water you need to get to your destination. This is where understanding the amount of weight you can carry is essential. The amount of water you will need is dependent on your physical condition and the climate and terrain you will be covering. A safe bet is 0.5 liters per mile you need to travel. Since water weighs about 2.2 lbs per liter, you can see how this can add up quickly.
A 10 mile route will require 11 lbs of water. If you can only comfortably carry a total of 30 lbs, you need to plan on carrying 1/3 of that weight in water! Even longer routes will require more. This is why, if possible, you should plan a route that has access to water refill points so you don’t need to carry everything all at once.
How much water should you carry if you plan on refilling? A safe recommendation is to have at least four to six liters of water on you at all times. Try to fill up at all available water sources.
The question becomes how do I store all this water? The inexpensive and easy way is to set aside some 2-liter soda bottles (that you have thoroughly cleaned and filled with fresh water) with your bug out bag. Smaller plastic bottle sizes can also be used and packed in free places in your bag.
More “professional” water bottles include Klean Kanteen (a metal bottle that is strong enough that you can boil water in it if necessary) and Nalgene bottles. If you plan on hiking extensively in your free time, an investment in a water bladder could be a good idea. These require a little more maintenance than a water bottle, but they have the convenience of a straw attachment so you don’t need to stop to pull out your water bottle every time you want a drink.
Food. Last on the list of basic necessities is food. For many this may be surprising. The human body is capable of surviving for about a month without food. Of course, your physical and mental capabilities will degrade significantly during this time. Anyone who has spent time with a woman who easily gets “hangry” without snacking through the day knows the importance of food for morale and to keep your body going in prime condition.
Food is an area where weight is a great concern. Different types of food have different types of preparation requirements. You need to find the right food type for you that balances weight, preparation time, and calories.
There are four major types of food we will look at:
- Wet Foods
- Dry Foods
- Freeze Dried Foods
- Meals Ready To Eat
“Wet Foods” are meals that already have moisture added to them. These include canned soups and most canned goods. A can of pre-made soup will require no effort to prepare or eat other than opening the lid. However, wet foods usually weigh a significant amount. If you have a very short trip planned, wet foods may make sense for you. By choosing foods that don’t require any preparation resources you can make up for the added weight by not needing to carry a stove or cooking pots. Just make sure to pack a light weight can opener and utensils.
“Dry Foods” include foods that do not require any water to be added but do not have large (or any) amounts of liquids in them. These are items like trail mix, beef jerky, and granola bars. Since these don’t have any water added, you need to make sure you drink plenty of water when eating them to aid in digestion. You end up carrying the water for them anyway, when you think about it.
While they are not ideal as a sole source of food for a hiking trip, there are a variety of high quality hiking bars that pack nutrients and calories. Clif Bars are a great brand, which packs energy in a bar and actually tastes good. Other brands include Power Bar, which also have protein and energy. Carrying some dry food in addition to other types makes sense, since you can snack throughout the day so you aren’t starving by the time you stop walking.
“Freeze Dried Foods” are popular for camping and hiking. Basically these are dehydrated meals in a serving packet. You heat up water and add it to the packet, stir, wait a few minutes, and presto you have a tasty hot meal. The advantage of these is that they are low weight on their own. The downside is that you still need water for them, and you will still need to carry that water with you. So the weight savings can actually turn out to be negligible, if you don’t have a source of fresh water near your camping site. The other downside is that in order for them to work, you need to be able to boil water. This requires a fire and a pot. This is all weight that could be avoided by picking a different type of food.
If you do choose to carry Freeze Dried Food, a small camping cooking set makes the most sense for heating water. The JetBoil system is a low weight option for quickly bringing water to a boil. You could also try making a Penny Stove, but remember to pack enough fuel and you will need a separate pot for boiling water. In a bug out situation, making an open fire to boil water will probably be very difficult and draw unnecessary attention. I recommend that you plan on not making any open fires until you arrive at your Point B. If you are using a stove, make sure you pack a Lighter to start the flame. A backup source of flame that will not get damaged if it gets wet (say you fall in a stream on your bug out route) also should be packed if you will be dependent on fire to heat your food. The Light My Fire system makes sense for this. They even sell their striker in a package that fits inside a Mora Knife, if you are looking to hit two birds with one stone.
With either wet or dry foods you need to make sure you have utensils for eating them. Use your primary knife for any cutting needs, but bring a spoon and fork for eating. Or better yet, bring a spork!
“Meals Ready To Eat” (MRE’s) are pre-packaged meals that are, surprise, ready to eat! Devised by the military to answer the same questions we are struggling with here, MRE’s are meant to keep deployed troops fed when they are away from supply lines or on an extended mission. A MRE will usually consist of a primary course with some sides. A heating packet is included so you don’t need to worry about boiling water to warm the food. Taste on these is not usually top notch, but the advantages of not needing separate water or cooking supplies make them a very good choice for a bug out situation.
MRE’s are available both in military surplus styles or in “civilian” versions. The military ones are to military specs, but the problem is that you have no idea where they have been. They may have sat in a shipping container in Afghanistan for a year at 130 degrees Fahrenheit before they made it to you, in which case they will have a drastically shortened shelf life. A safer option is buying a freshly-made version from a reputable source. Sure-Pak sells MRE’s by the case or individually. Make sure you get MRE’s that have the flameless heaters included.
Now that you have the essentials of air, shelter, water, and food covered, it is time to think about the unexpected. There are a few more areas that it is wise to pack for.
Health problems may be both expected or unexpected. If you have any chronic illnesses or issues, you need to plan for them. Diabetics should have extra insulin and injectors packed in their bag. If you suffer from asthma, it is essential to place at least one extra inhaler in your bag. People with severe allergies should carry an EpiPen, and if you are taking any medications on a daily basis you should have at least a month’s worth stored in your bag to account for the trip and any time you spend at your destination until things calm down.
In addition to planning for expected medical needs, you should also have a medical kit that can handle most smaller emergencies. You shouldn’t plan to do a root canal on your trip, but at least think about cuts and scrapes. A pre-packaged medical kit, such as the Adventure Medical Kit Day Tripper is a good start, since you get a pouch and most of the basic supplies you need. A kit like that can then be customized to your expected needs by supplementing in additional items like sun screen packets, hand sanitizer, bug spray, chap stick, and moleskin.
Don’t forget basic hygiene items as well. Simple things like a toothbrush, toothpaste, and deodorant can make life seem somewhat normal, yet they don’t add much weight. Plus, if you keep your bag in your car you will have them on hand if you need them during normal times.
Specialized Equipment for your Route
Depending on the route you have picked to get to point B, you may need some specialized tools. If there will be multiple chain link or barbed wire fences, pack a pair of mini bolt cutters to help get through. (Just don’t get shot cutting someones fence, and I recommend paying for repairs once the emergency is over.)
On a more extreme level, if you don’t see a way around crossing a river on your route, consider packing an inflatable boat that could get you across and then be ditched. What you will need depends on your route; think critically about any obstacles you will face!
General Tools for Your Bug Out Bag
Up to this point, we have talked about tools that fulfilled a specific purpose within the “rule of three” philosophy. In this section we will look at more general, common sense tools that you will also want to have available. These go without saying. Hopefully, you can figure out the use for each of these:
- Backup battery for electronics
- Emergency radio
- Sharpening stone
- Water bottle
- Spare eyeglasses
- $300 cash ($200 in 20’s, $95 in 5’s and 1’s, and $5 in quarters)
- Small sewing kit
- Small roll of duct tape
- Spare AAA and AA batteries for electronics
- Two full-size trash bags
Once you have all your gear assembled to make your trip, you need somewhere to put it. Naturally this is the “bag” part of “bug out bag”. Now many people get all excited at this point and buy some sort of tactical bag with Molle attachments for all of their accessories. I think we can all agree the Molle type bags look awesome and are very functional. If you just have to get one, then do it. However, if you are really thinking tactically, any advantage you get from being able to attach items to the outside of your bag will be far outweighed by the negative perception it forms in many people’s mind. I instantly go on alert when I see someone with military gear, and I assume they are carrying concealed. Is that how you want everyone you come into contact with to treat you? It makes more sense to have a normal camping style backpack in earth tones that will not stick out like a sore thumb.
Either way you go with the bag, just having a 72-hr Bug Out Bag of some sort puts you ahead of 90% of the population.
Good luck getting from A to B.