American Survival Guide - - NEW PRODUCTS - BY WILL DABBS, M.D.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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

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: 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.

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.

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,...

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...

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.

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