19 Crucial Items for Your Bug Out Bag

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It’s always debatable on what you should carry in your bug out bag. It could also depend on your geographic location on how to prepare for the worst. For instance, on the west coast you might consider earthquake kits and in other colder climate areas, maybe have a survival kit that will get you through being stranded in cold weather or hypothermic conditions. There are tons of articles showing what preppers consider to be necessary in order to survive at least the crucial 72 hour period after a disaster. The first few items that should come to mind are food, water, first aid kits and shelter. This is our take on the 19 most essential items we think should be in your bag before anything else.

1. Survival Food Kits

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You will need to have foods that can be eaten as you walk and enough for 72 hours after a disaster or fallout. If you can last 72 hours then your chances of prolonged survival increases dramatically. Protein bars, energy bars such as Soldier Fuel have great reviews for sustaining soldiers. You can go 21 days without any food, but be assured that having no food for even a day or two can cloud judgment and your decision making in a survival situation, so it’s always important to have a survival food kit in your bag.

2. Water / Filtration Device

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Like food, this almost goes without saying, but you will need access or be able to carry 72 hours worth of water per person in your party. If you live in an area with natural water supplies, get a Sawyer Mini Filter. It can filter 100,000 gallons of water. If you do not have a natural water source, you need to store water along frequented routes if possible. Storing water in your car, especially in plastic containers can be unhealthy for prolonged periods of time, however if it’s life or death a plastic container doesn’t sound terribly bad.

3. Fire Starter

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You should have three ways to start a fire in case the other options fail. Lighters break and lighter fluid can run out. Friction fire has been used for thousands of years, but does require lots of practice and can be hindered in a damp environment. Mastering a traditional fire starter with flint and steel takes some practice, so make sure to field test your methods to become good at them. I like the Strike-A-Light by Emberlit or the UST Blastmatch. Regardless of what you decide to pack, make sure you are efficient at using your method of getting a fire going.

4. Insect Repellent in Liquid Form

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Bugging out typically means you will be outside for a unknown period of time. Unless you’re sleeping in the car you’ll have to deal with exposure and yes, that means insects. If you’ve watched survival shows you see the biggest complaint is exposure to bugs which ultimately affects sleep, which is vital to survival. Fighting with mosquitos, ticks etc can cause infections and disease if not treated or prevented. Always pack some form of insect repellent. I prefer something with DEET.

5. Multi-tool

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Having a tool that has a blade, several screw driver varieties, locking pliers and wire cutters is nearly irreplaceable as those tools are hard to replicate in nature. You never realize how much you need a multi-tool in a crunch until you don’t have it. Having just the blade can perform several important life saving functions like creating tinder shavings, self defense, fashioning hunting gear out of wood – and the list goes on. If you’re looking for a good multi-tool to get the job done, I like the Leatherman OHT multi-tool.

6. Walkie Talkie or HAM Radio

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Having a radio communication device is hugely important in a survival scenario. Being able to communicate with group members for recon gives an advantage over those that have nothing. Also being able to work to higher ground and transmit signal will increase you chance of rescue. I’ve enjoyed using my Baofeng UV-5R HAM Radio. You do need a license to broadcast, but not in an dire emergency scenario. Always remember to pack lots of rechargeable batteries and a solar panel to supply power.

7. Stainless Steel Pot

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Another item that’s hard to reproduce in nature is a container that’s capable of boiling water and cooking if needed. Purifying water without a fire friendly container or a water filter is difficult. Water filters break and you need a backup in preparing your drinking water. I always like keeping my car kit small so I would go with something compact and stainless steel, for example the MSR Alpine Stowaway Pot. You can also just pack a camping cup if you prefer to go even smaller.

8. Rechargeable Compact Flashlight

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If you’re bugging out, you’re gonna be in the dark sooner or later so you’ll need a compact flashlight. I always liked my Fenix UC35 because it can charge using a USB cable. If you have a portable solar charger you can charge your flashlight directly from the sun. If you have a USB to cigarette lighter adapter for your car, you can recharge your flashlight easily and rather quickly given you still have gasoline in your car or some power in the battery left.

9. Stainless Steel Canteen

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Having an alternate means to purify water is important in case your filter malfunctions. Much like the stainless steel pot, a stainless steel canteen might be a better option because you can haul the water as well as boil it. Hauling water is just as important as purifying it. In some places the water source may be miles away. Having a canteen will allow you to carry the water without spilling it while you travel on foot. The only drawback is that you cannot cook using the canteen, whereas you can with the pot.

10. First Aid Supplies

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Kinda goes without saying, a first aid kit is a must for your 72 hour bag. Some like to piece together their own first aid kits so they know exactly how to use the contents and become efficient with them. Others aren’t as educated on first aid gear and just need the bare essentials that would be needed in an emergency. Just having a first aid kit for your car doesn’t do you much good if you’ve never inspected it and become familiar with its capabilities. Being able to administer and use the contents efficiently is equally important.

11. Sewing Kit

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Having a sewing kit comes in handy for repairing backpacks, clothes, tents, tarps and most importantly a wound. Thread and needles are very difficult to reproduce in nature and could mean the difference in life or death if you sustain an injury or laceration that is exposed to bacteria. It’s important to make sure you have a means to close wounds at all times. Like everything else, practice administering stitching so you can do it calmly when the situation arises.

12. Hand Sanitizer / Soap / Wipes

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Having hand sanitizer and wipes will help you conserve water when cleaning wounds or keeping yourself clean. Alcohol based sanitizer is great for killing off bacteria and germs when there’s not a reliable water source around. You can sanitize tweezers, needles and other first aid gear with hand sanitizer. Keep a good stash of this in your vehicle at all times. If you have access to a water source you can use soap instead and use it to wash your clothing.

13. Fishing Hooks, Line & Tackle

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Always pack fishing hooks, line and tackle. You can make your own version out of regular lightweight line and soda pop tabs if you are trying to save money. Fishing is a tried and true way of getting food when all else fails, but it’s never a guarantee. Having access to hooks and line is just another means of being redundant in your preps in case another plans falls through. Give yourself options and don’t rely on just packing a candy bar for survival food.

14. Mace or Other Self Defense Items

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Obviously it’s hugely important to have a way to protect yourself. In a survival situation people are going to come after you and your supplies. It’s truly inevitable, so now is the time to train and prepare yourself using many self defense mechanisms to protect yourself. For example, mace and other items – you can use your imagination for other alternatives that I’m not going to mention.

15. Bandana

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Bandanas are a great addition to your bug out bags for several reasons. They can be used to filter water, dress wounds, make char cloth and protecting yourself from the sun. I own several Hoorags which are glorified bandanas and can be worn in a variety of different ways to protect you from the elements in almost any season or condition. Pack three or four – you can never have enough bandanas.

16. Nylon or Wool Sleeping Bag

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Being outdoors you’re going to need a warm place to sleep and rejuvenate your body and most importantly your brain. Getting a good night’s rest even in the most stressful situations is a must. One of the largest killers is not from a disaster but exposure to the elements. Having an appropriate sleeping bag and shelter is hugely important for survival. I like this bag from Snugpak. It can be compressed down tightly by inserting it into a carrying case, making it a great compact bag for your car or bug out bag.

17. Paracord

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You need paracord in your bag. It’s hard to make extra strong cordage in nature that will sufficiently hold together shelters. Once you’re out in the wilderness, you will think of a million needs for paracord when you don’t have it. You can use it for lashing to construct shelter, as a tourniquet as well as making a fire. Paracord is an essential part of a bow drill kit if you want to start a fire using a primitive method. You can also use it for trapping small game by setting traps. There are limitless ways to use it, so make sure it’s in your bag.

18. Poncho or Bivvy

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Packing a poncho or bivvy for your bag is probably one of the more important items you can buy. It’s a very lightweight and cheap option for your bag and it doesn’t take up much space. Shielding yourself from cooler temperatures can save your life by trapping your body heat and reducing your risk to hypothermia. Keeping yourself dry and out of the elements is critical for survival. Most of these are reflective as well, which can also keep you cooler in hotter climates and makes a very effective signaling device for seeking help in an emergency. I have the Adventure Medical Kits version.

19. Extra Socks / Underwear

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Extra socks and underwear can do a lot to lift your spirits in a bug out situation. For that matter, just having an extra change of clothes is a good idea in case you get your originals wet in a cold climate. The key is staying dry as possible. I own several pairs of WigWam socks that are great for both hot and cold weather and they do the job well. I’ve hiked extensively in my socks for a year and they still look brand new, even after all the punishment and washes.

20. Magnifying Glass

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Yep, you guessed it – another fire starter. Being able to create a fire out in nature can make the difference between surviving or dying. You can literally never have enough ways to start a fire in your bug out bag and this just creates a needed redundancy in your preps. The sun is gonna shine at some point and when it does, you can start a fire with a magnifying glass with a dry tinder bundle.

So in summary, you don’t have to pack everything in the house to have an efficient bag that will get the job done in just about any scenario. Focus on the bare essentials and rely on nature as much as possible. Being able to start a fire and have sufficient shelter and water are the priorities. You can go without food for about three weeks!

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