WHAT TO BRING WHEN YOU HAVE TO BAIL
Abasic bug-out bag is “Survival Prepping 101.” No matter where you are or what you do, keeping some rudimentary survival gear in a package that is easy to grab and go is the first step on a greater journey toward self-reliance. However, the size, contents and design of your bug-out bag should be as unique as your fingerprint. This is one case wherein one size definitely does not fit all.
The military called it “METT-T” back in the Dark Ages when I wore the uniform—mission, enemy, troops, terrain and time. As it applies to survival prepping, this reflects the situation: Will your area of operations be urban or rural? What potential threats might you conceivably face? How many friends and family members will be in your party? What sort of area will you have to traverse to reach your safe space? How critical might you expect things to become? Will you ride, walk or both? Think through the possibilities and plan accordingly.
A Mississippi cotton farmer and a Manhattan investment banker have utterly dissimilar needs when it comes to survival. If you are on the coast, the primary concern is likely storms. If you live in a large urban center, civil unrest might be your biggest headache. Rural areas could suffer from a breakdown of transportation that provides the goods and services we all take for granted. Each scenario is unique and demands different gear and equipment.
The first question to answer is whether you think you will need to carry your bag long distances or just to your vehicle. This one question drives everything else. What you choose and how you pack it all stems from this.
You’ll need a knife. A big, honking skull-cleaver might look impressive, but you’ll likely get more mileage out of something more compact. Number-10 scalpel blades with a holder make quick work of skinning chores. A proper multi-tool offers a blade and much more. If you might need to make a backwoods camp or manage firewood, something adequately substantial to either chop or saw will make camp chores much more palatable. That could mean a modest knife, along with a hatchet or a single blade that represents a compromise between the two.
Be sure to include a little tape, cord and wire. Duct tape can be removed from the roll and then wrapped tightly around itself so that a fair amount need not take up any real space. The same thing goes for a length of nylon trotline. In addition, I keep handy a roll of fine wire I found in the crafts department at Wal-mart. This versatile stuff can be used for snares, as well as a variety of camp tasks. (In darker spaces, it could serve as a weapon.)
And if you wear glasses, keep a spare set in your bag so you don’t become little more than baggage in a crisis.
HYDRATE OR DIE
The typical healthy adult can make it 30 to 45 days without food. He’ll be gaunt and grouchy by then but should, nonetheless, remain atop the daisies. By contrast, you can’t make it more than three or four days without water.
I keep a little shelf-stable water in my bag. This gives you something to sip on if you cannot find a reliable external source. A flat or two of store-bought bottled water is always a good idea, particularly if you have space. You wouldn’t want to tote it, but it’s likely worth a little room in your car if that’s how you are rolling. Remember to rotate your stock to keep it fresh.
You can (and I have done this) purify water using clean socks and Clorox bleach. The end result is safe to drink, but it tastes funny and will leave you feeling vaguely ill. By contrast, a proper water filter will transform some of the most noxious bilge into clear, tasty drinking water. These things need not be expensive, and they take up very little room. They also leave you functionally immune to boil-water notices at home. A decent water filter is a must.
EVERYBODY LIKES FOOD
MRES might seem like the obvious solution, but they have a surprisingly abbreviated shelf life. I had more than a few MRES stashed away, only to find they were no longer great to eat because the “end of the world” was a bit overdue. MRES are typically only fully reliable for about three to five years, depending on how they’re stored. It can also be hard to assess how fresh they are when you get them. Certain components of MRES remain edible for much longer periods, but taste can suffer.
A better solution is freeze-dried food of the sort produced by Mountain House. This stuff is quite tasty if properly rehydrated and prepared, and it lasts 25 years when left sealed. Freeze-dried food is available in individual pouches and institutional tins. Just keep in
mind that you will need plenty of water to prepare the stuff properly. Additionally, a small camp stove or chemical heater can markedly increase its palatability. You can certainly eat it cold, but it’s tastier if you warm it up a bit.
Food is important, but it is not critically important in the near term. Victuals can be bulky and heavy, particularly if you might need to go anywhere on foot. As always, assess your circumstances and plan accordingly.
Most Americans place way more importance on food than is necessary. A modest stash of food can go a long way in a crisis. Once you’re hungry, your standards will drop precipitously regarding what you are willing to eat. I once ate stringy boiled rabbit in the frozen wilds of Alaska and was thrilled to get it. Even kids will typically not turn their noses up at otherwise bland food once they become adequately peckish.
FIRE AND LIGHT
It is important to be able to make a fire, but it is seldom your first priority. Chances are fairly unlikely that you will be simmering someplace around a campfire while the world comes crashing down around you. Regardless, I try to keep two or three methods handy, because they need not take up any real space or weight: Ferrocerium fire starters are easy to use. Each of my home-schooled kids could conjure fire with these devices by their 5th birthday. Lifeboat matches are a timeless standby. Disposable cigarette lighters are cheap and effective.
More important than fire is light. Chemical light sticks will often keep longer than their expiration date, but you should expect performance to diminish after the stated expiration date. A decent flashlight or two can be invaluable, but swap out the batteries on your birthday every year, whether you use them or not. You can then use the old batteries for less-critical tasks around the home.
We Americans are a remarkably sickly group. One-tenth of the population has diabetes, and it seems almost everybody is taking some kind of medication for something. Keep at least a month ahead on your chronic meds and rotate your stock through your bug-out bag. If you need a spare prescription for this, ask your doctor. As long as the meds are not controlled, he or she should be supportive.
Your health insurance company does not care whether you live or die. It would sell your organs on ebay if it could get away with it. Don’t expect your insurance company to pay for a single pill beyond what you need day to day. As a result, you might have to pay for a month out of pocket to build up a decent stash. An end-of-the-world bug-out event is not the time to be running out of medication for depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or some similar metabolic or psychiatric malady. In addition, keep a decent first aid kit handy to help manage medical crises.
If anyone in your party requires insulin, you must have a portable refrigerator. It is possible to secure one that will operate off of solar power or a vehicle’s onboard power system. Amazon.com is your buddy. If you have insulin-dependent diabetes, you don’t want to run out of insulin.
HOW WILL YOU TOTE IT?
Your bug-out bag, by definition, needs to be something you can just grab and go. If money is tight, Wal-mart has some decent inexpensive bags. If money is really tight, a cheap duffle will do. World War Supply offers inexpensive surplus aviator kit bags that will carry a ton of stuff over short distances.
If you can afford to do it up right, Flying Circle makes the best tactical bags I have ever used. The zippers and seams are about twice as tough as those on the cheap gear. They also typically have a cool pass-through pocket for a weapon.
… THE SIZE, CONTENTS AND DESIGN OF YOUR BUG-OUT BAG SHOULD BE AS UNIQUE AS YOUR FINGERPRINT.
Consider the mission. If all you have to do is get your stuff from the house to your tricked-out doomsday survival vehicle, most any cloth carrier would do. If you might have to actually hump this stuff any distance, weight and pack design can make the difference between success and failure.
Building a bug-out bag is a fun exercise. You can put as much or as little money into the project as desired, but planning your bag can help you develop a survivor’s mindset before the zombies actually arrive. Think through eventualities, consult family members to get their input, and be logical about the process.
If you don’t feel like accumulating all this stuff yourself, there are several reputable companies that advertise regularly in the pages of this very publication that can do the heavy lifting for you. Ours is the most refined consumer society in human history. If you need it, somebody has it for sale.
KEEP AT LEAST A MONTH AHEAD ON YOUR CHRONIC MEDS, AND ROTATE YOUR STOCK THROUGH YOUR BUG-OUT BAG.
The wailing of our leftist friends notwithstanding, in the face of a true crisis, you will want a proper weapon. A river of ink has been spilt on this subject, and I, myself, enjoy nothing more than
dissecting the vagaries of what gun best suits which mission.
At the very least, you need a decent handgun, three magazines and a couple of extra boxes of zombie ammo. Cheap FMJ rounds are for training and fun. High-end hollow points fill your ready mags for counterzombie purposes. If your particular locale won’t allow you to maintain a firearm for personal defense, you should move.
Anything beyond that is situationally dependent. If you are streaming inland to avoid a hurricane, I’d pass on the heavy-barreled sniper rifle. However—and particularly given the popularity of the pistol-stabilizing brace—a compact rifle-caliber weapon no longer needs to take up much space. (It would also be mighty comforting if your vehicle ends up surrounded by rioters.)
A reliable .22 rifle will, indeed, fill the cooking pot, but how many times will you really be hunting for subsistence in a modern bug-out scenario? What is much more likely is that you might be pushing through unfamiliar areas, along with a lot of other folks who are heading for safety. A .22 can be an effective deterrent to ne’er-do-wells,
but something a bit scarier might hold you in better stead. Plan your ammo out in advance so you aren’t having to scrounge something downrange.
If you choose to store a firearm with your bug-out bag, make absolutely certain it is in a place and a condition so that little fingers can’t get into it. There are plenty of inexpensive contrivances to help you do this. Plan for weathering the next tragedy, but don’t set yourself up for one by storing dangerous stuff irresponsibly.
You’ll need shelter. If you are driving, that will likely be your vehicle. However, if there are too many folks to sleep comfortably or if you might end up on foot, it sure would be nice to stay dry and out of the rain. A decent tent isn’t necessarily expensive, and the disposable sort is downright cheap.
A military surplus poncho will keep the rain off while you are on the move. It also makes a decent improvised shelter. All it takes is a little nylon cord, a properly sited sapling to keep the top elevated and about 20 minutes to put one together.
It is nice to be able to keep up with the outside world. The cell system will likely be knocked out or overwhelmed if things really go sideways.
A portable weather radio will keep you abreast of government warnings and updates. Mine includes both a solar cell and an onboard dynamo to keep it going. My family and I have spent a couple of evenings here, in the Deep South, huddled over that thing at 2 o’clock in the morning, listening to the track of an oncoming tornado. A proper radio can, indeed, bring peace of mind.
If you are in a chilly place, keeping warm becomes a priority. Making a fire is the obvious solution, but that might not always be practical. A couple of Sterno cans will keep you toasty and heat your dinner without producing much visible flame.
Keep in mind that your body does not tolerate the products of combustion in enclosed spaces, so if you’re burning something, make sure you have plenty of fresh air.
If you are driving, you can obviously carry lots of stuff you might or might not need. If you are hoofing it, weight and bulk can become critically limiting. I try to keep one of each. There is a light pack with the bare essentials that is lightweight and handy. A larger, bulkier bag packs the nice-to-haves and is easy to throw into the back of the SUV. As always, let your own unique circumstances drive your gear.
THE IMPROVISED “DISTRACTINATOR”
Smoking is stupid—no matter how you slice it. However, disposable cigarette lighters can be remarkably versatile survival tools. In addition to starting fires, they can be improvised into a simply superb distraction device.
Take a short piece of fine wire and wrap it length-wise around the lighter so that it depresses the activation lever. Then, suspend the lighter, inverted from a handy branch or stob. Strike the striker and run. The flame wraps upward around the lighter and melts through the pressurized gas container in about a minute, producing a splendid boom. You’ll not seriously weaponize this thing, but it makes for a marvelous distraction.
How might this be practically useful? It’s tough to say. Care must be taken to avoid inadvertently starting a fire, and the resulting noisy detonation is relatively harmless at all but close ranges. However, if you are trying to escape someone with evil intent, such an improvised device will inevitably draw attention elsewhere.
THE HUMBLE SLEEPING BAG
In cooler climes, a compact sleeping bag for each member of your party can be critical. Modern sleeping bags are lightweight, inexpensive and effective.
You can sleep in it—of course. However, if you are trapped in a vehicle or are otherwise unable to travel, spending as much time as possible in your sleeping bag minimizes heat loss and can reduce your caloric requirements as a result. Lay your jacket or spare clothing over the top to enhance the bag’s insulative qualities. Also remember to insulate whatever you are sleeping on. Stretching a sleeping bag out on
I like to keep a little shelf-stable water handy in case there are no ready external sources. Keeping a flat or two of bottled water is always a great idea—if you’ll be in a vehicle.
Below left: MRES are now remarkably tasty. The appeal lies in the fact that they keep, despite rough handling, and provide a balanced meal. The downside is that they really don’t last all that long in the grand scheme.
Below right: Food is important, but it isn’t critically important in the near term. Mountain House freeze-fried foods take a little effort to rehydrate. However, they are tasty when properly prepared and last 25 years or more when stored, unopened, in a cool place.
A decent water filter is a must. Such a device need not be expensive, but a good one will turn almost any objectionable bilge into drinkable water.
You’ll want a proper blade. A modest survival knife kept sharp can perform fine tasks and also chop. A multi-tool brings versatility. Tomahawks and hatchets are both effective tools and frightful weapons.
Right: A decent first aid kit can certainly be handy if anyone gets injured. A spare pair of eyeglasses can also keep you in the fight.
Keep a month’s supply of critical medications in your bag, and rotate them out monthly.
You’ll need a decent handgun, three magazines and some ammo. If your locale won’t allow you to maintain a firearm for protection, you should move.
Right: Bug-out bags can be tailored to fit your budget. The black bag was a cheap purchase at a local big-box store. The tan bag is pre-packed from Echo-sigma. The tote in front was free as a marketing promotion. All three will carry your stuff at least as far as your vehicle.
Below: A sleeping bag for each member of your party can be a lifesaver in colder climes. The cheap, disposable sort can be handy … as long as it doesn’t get terribly cold.