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A Thru-Hiker’s Thoughts on the Bug Out Bag, by Pete R. Pan

This year I thru-hiked the entire 2,184 miles of the Appalachian Trail. I started in Georgia on the 4th of April and finished in Maine after walking through 14 states, on September 17th. The 5 ½ months I spent on the trail taught me a lot about living out of a backpack and efficiently covering miles on foot. In this article I’ll explain how others can use this experience to create or refine their own G.O.O.D. [1] bag.

There are a few packs that fall under the umbrella term “Bug Out Bag” or “Get Out Of Dodge” bag. First off, there is the 72-hour pack. This pack is intended to get you from point A to B as quickly as possible. Just as the name implies, this bag will support you for 3 days, although stretching that out to 4 or 5 days is easy. The 72-hour pack is the one you grab as your bugging out to a safer location.

Another type of bug out bag is the “I’m never coming home” (INCH [2]) pack. This is the pack you put on when you don’t have anywhere safe to go. That’s a scary thought… If you haven’t squirreled away supplies somewhere else, you could end up with all your possessions on your back. This pack would be heavy. In addition to hunting, trapping, and fishing equipment, this pack should have a bow saw blade and entrenching tool to build a more permanent shelter. You’d also want to carry some seeds and pray to God you livelong enough to see them bear fruit. This article is not about this type of bug out bag.

The last type of pack could be called the “I’m going to war” pack. The weight of this pack would include web gear, extra magazines, ammunition, and a little bit of food. This article won’t be about this type of pack either.

In this article I will focus on the 72-120 hour pack. The reason I feel qualified to write about this topic is because a 72-hour pack is nearly identical to what a thru-hiker carries. While I was on the trail, I would typically re-supply every 4-5 days. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I could hike more miles, faster, and with less fatigue the lighter my pack was. Getting my pack weight down made such a difference in my daily mileage that I was able to get to the next town a day earlier to resupply. That meant I could further reduce my pack weight by not carrying that extra day of food. This positive feedback loop works the other way around too. If you carry a heavy pack you can’t walk as far or as fast, so you have to pack out even more food to get to the same destination.

When I started the trail in Georgia, my fully loaded pack weighed 37 pounds. By the time I got to Maine I had my pack weight down to 17.5 pounds with 4 days of food and full water. I admit that I carried extra water through Pennsylvania and New York this summer due to the lack of rain. But my total pack weight during that time still never exceeded 20 pounds.

A lightweight pack allows you to perform better no matter what your fitness level is. Ultralighters that are in good shape can cover 30+ miles a day through mountainous terrain. Several times on my hike I covered 100 miles in 4 days, that was a more comfortable pace for me. But the real beauty of ultralight backpacking is what it can do for people that aren’t in top shape such as children, the elderly, and people with desk jobs. How often do busy folks get out to do training hikes? I bet there are preppers reading this that have fully prepared G.O.O.D. bags and still haven’t felt what it’s like to do 15-20 mile hikes with them. I challenge every prepper who has taken the time to put together a Bug Out Bag to map out a route and actually hike it! A good way to save weight is by making note of water sources along your route and carrying less of it on your back. My pack was so light on the Appalachian Trail that I actually did quite a bit of running on my way to Maine. Being able to run with your Bug Out Bag could mean the difference between life and death in a Schumer Hits The Fan scenario. Try doing that with 50-60+ pound pack!

The G.O.O.D. bag has a specific purpose. If I’m fleeing a city trying to get somewhere safe, I want to avoid confrontation and get out of the area as fast as possible. I don’t want to be bogged down with the weight of a heavy long gun and extra ammunition. My only weapon should be the lightweight concealed carry pistol that’s always on me. In the beginning of a societal collapse the zombie hoards will be most interested in looting stores. By the time they start getting desperate enough to mess with us we’ll be long gone. All the bigger equipment and extra supplies should already be at a defendable retreat location. It’s prudent to not only map out several routes to that Bug Out Location, but also walk there under simulated conditions. Using snowmobile trails, logging roads, and two tracks may be the safest way to get there. Knowing the area at ground level puts you at a big advantage. How many miles will I need to cover before the next water source?

An ultralight 72-120 hour pack will give most people a range of 100 miles. Even someone who’s out of shape can comfortably make 50 miles in 5 days with a light pack. When the retreat location is further then that you can bury resupply caches along the route. This can extend your range hundreds of miles.

Getting your pack weight down will challenge your preparedness mindset. You don’t need or want backups in your G.O.O.D. bag. The 2 is 1, and 1 is none mentality doesn’t work when the weight is on your shoulders. Leave the kitchen sink at home. After carrying a backpack over 2,000 miles the term “less is more” has taken on a whole new meaning. You really want to get your pack down to the bare necessities.

Hopefully this article has encourage you to put together an ultralight bug out bag or overhaul an existing one. A great way to start is by purchasing a scale. Keep a list of the items you carry and how much they weigh. Where can I cut weight? Is there a lighter option? What can I do without? Military surplus gear is made of really heavy materials. A backpack designed for a 100-pound load can weigh as much as 7 pounds empty. This would be perfect for the I.N.C.H. bag, but totally wrong for an ultralight 72-hour pack. We need to equip ourselves with the type of gear used by the ultralight backpacking community. This type of equipment isn’t as durable as military gear. But if it’s strong enough for a 2,000+ mile hike, it’s strong enough to take you where you need to go.

Making specific gear recommendations is no substitute for educating yourself on this topic. Searching the Internet for “ultralight backpacking” will reveal loads of information. New stuff is coming out all the time. My personal kit is in a state of flux as I find new equipment that can increase my comfort while reducing my pack weight. Don’t be afraid to experiment. During my hike I swapped out every piece of gear for something lighter at least once. The equipment you carry will differ depending on your location, the time of year, and the size of your group. Traveling with at least one other person gives you the advantage of being able to share the weight of one tent, one water filter, and one stove.

I kept an online journal for my friends and family while I was out hiking the Appalachian Trail this summer. If you are interested in learning about the equipment I carried, click the “gear” tab on the left hand column of my journal page. My journal can be found here:

http://www.trailjournals.com/late4dinner [3]

Again, what I carried won’t work for everyone in all situations but hopefully it will give you some ideas. I believe it’s irresponsible to stuff a pack with what we think we’ll need and let it sit around until the balloon goes up. Plan a backpacking trip and get to know your kit. Not only is it fun, but you’ll learn a lot too. By the time you get back home you’ll know how to pack more efficiently. God Bless, – Pete R. Pan