How to Make a Bug Out Bag: Your 72-Hour Emergency Evacuation Survival Kit

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The term ‘Bugging Out’ refers to the decision to abandon your home due to an unexpected emergency situation – whether a natural disaster or one caused by man. A ‘Bug Out Bag’ is a pre-prepared survival kit designed to sustain you through the journey to your destination once you’ve decided to ‘Bug Out’ in the event of an emergency evacuation. Typically, the Bug Out Bag (BOB) is a self-contained kit designed to get you through at least 72 hours. This kit is also referred to as a 72-Hour Bag, a Get Out Of Dodge Bag (GOOD Bag), an EVAC Bag, and a Battle Box.

The thought of having to evacuate your home due to a sudden and imminent threat is not at all unrealistic. The reality is that sudden and uncontrollable events of nature and man do happen. Natural disasters such as hurricanes, storms, earthquakes, floods and volcanic explosions can strike fast and hard – wreaking havoc on homes, vehicles, roads, medical facilities and resource supply chains such as food, water, fuel, and electricity. When Hurricane Katrina struck the Southern US Coast just a few years ago, tens of thousands of people had to evacuate their homes with little warning. Unprepared and with no emergency plan, many of these people were completely dependent on scavenging and hand-outs while living in make-shift shelters – fending for themselves in a time of complete chaos and disorder. A 72-Hour Emergency Kit packed with survival essentials would have been an invaluable and priceless resource. In our unstable and unpredictable world economy, we would be foolish to think there is also no chance of a terrorist or military attack from forces domestic or foreign that could possibly force us to evacuate our own home. An act of war is not the only threat from man. Dams burst, power plants go down, pipelines explode, oil spills occur, and other man-made structures and facilities can fail, resulting in disaster. Outbreaks of sickness and disease could also warrant an evacuation.

We cannot control when, where, or how disasters strike. But we can control how prepared we are to deal with a disaster. There is a fine line between order and chaos and sometimes that line can be measured in seconds. When every second counts, having a plan and the tools to see that plan through are crucial to survival. The Bug Out Bag is your #1 resource in your overall Bug Out Plan and may very well be your key to survival one day.

There are 10 supply categories that need to be considered when assembling your Bug Out Bag. Before we dig into each of these categories it is important that I discuss the bag (or pack rather) itself. Your Bug Out Bag needs to be a backpack. It needs to be large enough and sturdy enough to contain the gear necessary to get you through 72 hours of independent survival. You need to be comfortable carrying it for extended periods of time. And, in my opinion, you don’t want to APPEAR TO BE PREPARED and STOCKED with gear. A ‘tricked-out-pack’ can make you a target of people who want the supplies that you have. Try not to let your pack send the message that you are stocked to the brim with all kinds of survival necessities. Keep it basic. I personally use a SnugPak Rocket Pack as my Bug Out Bag.

Once you have chosen your pack, below are the 10 supply categories that need to be considered when assembling the contents of your Bug Out Bag:

Category #1: WATER

You will need at least 1 liter of water per day for proper hydration – preferably more, especially considering hygiene concerns and certain weather conditions. Since this is a 72 Hour Survival Kit, that means it needs to contain 3 liters of fresh drinking water – minimum. This water should be stored in 2-3 durable containers with at least one of them being collapsible to reduce bulk as the water is used. A metal army canteen is another good choice because it can be used to boil drinking water that is collected ‘in the field’ if your immediate supply runs dry. I carry a collapsible Platypus water bottle, a 32 oz. Nalgene water bottle, and a metal US Army issue canteen.

Because water is so critical to survival, I highly recommended also packing at least 2 water purification options. Boiling water for 10 minutes is an option but is not always the most convenient. I suggest packing 1 water filtration system and also some water purification tablets. I personally pack a Katadyn Hiker Pro Filtration System, an Aquamira Survival Straw (as a backup) and sodium chlorite water purification tablets. The 3 options of boiling, filtering, and chemical treatment will give you more flexibility in securing one of your most basic survival needs: clean water.

Category #2: FOOD

Don’t worry about planning for three well balanced meals per day – this is survival, not vacation. I’ve gone on many survival trips where I haven’t eaten for a few days, so you can live without any food at all for 72 hours. However, it isn’t pleasant. You should pack simple & easy to prepare meals. Canned meats and beans are great options. Canned beef or chicken stews are equally as effective. If the weight of your Bug Out Bag is an issue, dehydrated camping meals are excellent choices. Remember, though, they require hot water to prepare – so that means a stove or fire and valuable time (if you are traveling). Military MREs are also good options. They have a long shelf-life, contain their own heating systems, and are very packable. They can be expensive, though. I would also suggest tossing in a few energy bars and candy bars. These are packed with calories and carbs – both of which are extremely important.

When we discuss food, we also need to discuss preparing it. A very simple cooking kit is all you should need. It should contain at least 1 small metal pot, a spork, a metal cup and maybe a metal pan or plate. Anything more than this is overkill. In many instances, preparing food requires heat. A fire will always work but may not be practical in every situation. I would suggest packing a lightweight backpack stove with 1-3 fuel canisters. I’d rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it. I personally carry a self-igniting MSR Ultra light stove in my BOB with 1 fuel can.

CATEGORY #3: SHELTER

I include clothing in this category. Regardless of climate, I recommend packing the following (some of these items can be on your body when you leave): 2 pair of wool hiking socks, 2 changes of underwear, 1 extra pair of pants (NOT BLUE JEANS AND PREFERABLY NOT 100% COTTON), 1 base layer thermal underwear, 1 warm fleece hat, 2 extra shirts (1 long sleeve, 1 short sleeve), 1 mid-weight fleece, 1 warm rain jacket, 1 heavy duty military poncho (can be found at any Army/Navy Surplus), 1 pair of comfortable waterproof hiking boots.

What to pack for an actual shelter is a heavily debated topic within the survival community. I like having options and I like redundancy – especially when it comes to shelter. Protecting yourself from the elements, whether rain, cold, or heat, is incredibly important.

Your first emergency shelter option is the military poncho listed above. These are designed with grommets in the corners to be used as a make-shift emergency tarp-tent and are actually quite effective. I’ve spent many nights in the woods during all kinds of weather conditions with nothing more than a wool blanket and a military poncho…and have been fairly comfortable. Practicing the set-up is the key. Know HOW to use it before you need to.

A second emergency shelter option is a simple reflective emergency survival blanket. There are many different kinds and brands of these on the market. I prefer one from Adventure Medical Products called the Heatsheet. Not only can it be used as an emergency survival sleeping bag, but it can also be used as a ground tarp or as a tarp-tent shelter. These are lightweight and cheap.

Besides the poncho and the heatsheet, I also carry a 6’x10′ waterproof rip-stop nylon tarp. I use this style of tarp as a year-round camping shelter, so I know it works. It’s lightweight and really effective if you practice setting it up. You can also bring a lightweight camping tent. These can be pricey, but they are really nice.

Lastly, you will want to include a very packable sleeping bag. If I had to give a general degree rating I would say a safe bet is a 30-40 degree bag. This pretty much covers all of your bases. Sure, you’d be cold at 20 degrees, but you would live. If you have the room, a nice wool blanket is a great addition. Wool maintains 80% of its warming properties even when soaking wet and is a very durable survival fabric with incredible insulating properties.

CATEGORY #4: FIRE

Making fire is one of the most important survival skills of all time. You need a minimum of 3 ways to make fire. Because you are preparing this Bug Out Bag in advance, you can toss in a few of the easy options like lighters and waterproof matches. You will also want to include a fire steel which can generate sparks in any weather condition. Besides these items, you will need to pack some tinder for fueling your initial flame. You can buy tinder from any outdoor store, but cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly is the best I’ve ever seen.

CATEGORY #5: FIRST AID

Whether you build your own kit from scratch or buy a premade kit, make sure it includes the following items at a minimum: 1" x 3" adhesive bandages (12), 2" x 4.5" adhesive bandages (2), adhesive knuckle bandages (3), butterfly closure bandages (2), gauze dressing.

My personal gear for this category includes: Adventure Medical Kit’s First Aid Kit 1.0 and, I’ve added 3 suture kits, more alcohol pads, 2 rolls of 2" gauze, CARMEX Lip Balm, and some larger butterfly bandages.

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