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The world is an unpredictable place. One day you may be enjoying a relaxing night with your family in front of the television, and the next you might find yourself desperately fleeing your home and trying to escape looting marauders, a biochemical attack or an unpredicted natural disaster. You will barely have enough time to think straight, let alone try to pack bags in a panicked rush to carry your family’s much-needed supplies. That’s where a bug-out bag comes into play.

A bug-out bag is a pre-filled backpack loaded with all the essentials that enable you to survive without any other form of assistance for a minimum of three days. Each family member should have their own bag specifically suited for their personal needs. This is no small task, and it requires some serious thought and planning well before any emergency situation becomes a reality. Remember, when your life or the lives of your family members are at stake, procrastination and unpreparedness are not options.

Bug-Out Bag
A sampling of some of the most important components of your bug-out bag.

Body Fuel

Without a doubt, food and water are the most important and essential components that make up your bug-out bag. It takes very little time for you to become hungry and thirsty, especially under abnormal conditions when access to these precious resources is limited or non-existent. A lack of food and water can cause bad decision-making, irritability and physical weakness, all traits that can be extremely detrimental to you and your family while trying to stay alive during a crisis situation.

There are two distinct classifications of food and water needs for your bug-out bag—immediate consumption and a long-term food-and-water plan. For the extremely short term, only a few hours after a major emergency situation, you should have packed quick, easy-to-eat items such as energy bars, beef jerky or trail mixes. These require no heating or cooking of any kind and can be eaten “on the run” if the need arises. Be sure to constantly rotate these items in your bag when it’s initially stored to prevent eating expired products. Next, once you are in a “stay put” location, you can build a fire, boil some water and reconstitute freeze-dried or dehydrated meals. These, along with meals ready to eat (MREs), are your food sources for the next 72 hours (try to plan for five days in your pack, if possible) and should be packed in each family member’s supply bag.

Long-term food resources include fish from lakes or streams, as well as game birds and a wide variety of land-based animals. These all require equipment including fishing gear, a rifle, bow and arrow, crossbow, slingshot or even a makeshift sling. Two or more of these items should be included in at least one person’s bag per family.

Water in durable, sealed pouches with at least a five-year shelf life should be packed proportionately into each person’s bug-out bag based upon an individual’s body size and environmental conditions. These work for immediate use and for water needs over the next few days. After that, alternate water sources must be found. A tarp carried in your bag can be constructed into a rain catch, for an easy-to-capture water source, while water purification tablets can make undrinkable, parasite-ridden water safe to drink. There are also many types of filtering straws on the market that allow you to drink directly from a tainted water source without incurring sickness from harmful pathogens or parasitic organisms.

Versatile Tools

Simply put, you need protective weapons and tools. Luckily, many tools can double as weapons in many instances, and vise versa. A machete can help clear a path through thick foliage but can also hold off thieving marauders if necessary. A camp shovel can multi-task around the campsite while also serving as a useful offensive weapon. Carrying a collapsible bow with arrows, or a compact crossbow, allows you to hunt small game for food, or use it for defense if danger strikes.

The knives you carry (you should always pack more than one variety: hunting, defense, utility, etc.) can become close-range offensive and defensive weapons in times of peril, and yet still aid you in completing daily tasks around your campsite. Some examples include cutting freshly killed meat, scraping tinder from branches, whittling twigs for deadfall traps, cutting needed cordage and creating a makeshift spear for fishing.

A machete and a multi-tool are two of your most important bug-out bag tools. But other tools that should be considered when building your bag include a wire or folding saw, a hatchet or tomahawk, and a durable and solid walking stick, which can be easily converted into a hunting spear.

Shelter Gear

The simplest form of shelter can be created from a waterproof tarp and a bundle of 550 paracord. These two components are already key items in your bag that can perform a great number of other purposes. Simply tie one or more strands of paracord between two trees and drape the tarp over the line to create a quick, temporary shelter. Variations in size and design can be made depending upon your specific needs and the layout of the surrounding terrain.

If you prefer a more enclosed structure, tents are your answer. Tents vary on the market by size, weight and quality of material. When choosing a tent, be sure to keep the weight low—no heavier than 2 pounds per person. Also, try to find tents that feature aluminum stakes and poles. They are naturally lighter than steel and will greatly decrease unnecessary weight.

Bug-Out Bag
Paracord comes in all sizes and lengths, and it is an invaluable part of any survival kit.

Once sheltered with either a tarp or tent, you will need a sleeping bag. Sleeping bags will allow you to get a good night’s sleep by keeping you warm and comfortable on the hard ground. Similar to choosing a tent, weight is very important when choosing the right sleeping bag. A 2- to 3-pound sleeping bag should be the maximum you carry in your survival bag. In addition, your sleeping bag should be packed in a compression bag when traveling; this will keep it extremely compact and easy to store. A sleeping pad is another option to include in your shelter supplies. These pads create a barrier between you and the cold earth and help keep you warm at night. If space is a factor, however, leaves or thick brush packed under your sleeping bag can do the same job.

A final option for shelter is a compact hammock. They are lightweight and easy to assemble. A simple hammock working in conjunction with an overhead tarp can create a protective shelter with minimal effort. If you want the next step up in design, some hammocks have built-in protective roofs with mosquito-netting “walls” to make your sleep as comfortable as possible.

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Campsite Essentials

First and foremost, you need fire-starting equipment. This should include a handful of butane lighters and waterproof matches, followed by a magnesium fire-starter and your choice of either a fire piston, a flint fire-starter or even a 9-volt battery and steel wool. Three to five fire-producing devices are ideal to carry with you in your bag.

A well-stocked first-aid kit is also an absolute necessity. You will find that first-aid items such as bandages, gauze, scissors, tape and antibiotic creams are a staple of most store-bought kits, and there is nothing wrong with starting with a “standard” kit. Items to add to an existing kit would be burn cream, anti-itch cream, a mini-suture kit, pain-relieving pills, stomach relief medicines, tweezers, cold and hot packs, as well as any necessary prescription medications. Medications have different shelf lives and break down quickly in hot or cold temperatures. Do your research first, before you have to bug out, so you don’t experience problems later, when it’s too late!

Other key items that will become indispensible when out in the wild (and possibly “on the run”) include duct tape, several bundles of 550 paracord, signaling devices, waterproof tarps, durable gloves, several bandanas, a fire-resistant canteen, a compact compass, a pack of zip ties and a hand-powered flashlight.

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Disaster Ready

As you build your bug-out bag over time and gather useful information along the way, you will be adding many more diverse items to individualize your pack for your specific needs, and the needs of those traveling with you. Creating your own bag from scratch requires a lot of testing of the products you initially choose. The equipment’s ease of operation, the durability of the tools and weapons, and the taste of the foods you will eat all have to be up to your own personal level of acceptance.

When under stressful situations and time is of the essence, you can’t afford to not know how to assemble your camp stove, set up your tent or use your fire-starters. You must walk the fine line between what you can afford and what level of quality you need with the various bug-out-bag items. Remember, things easily available to you under normal conditions will be lifesavers to have with you when access to grocery or drug stores is nonexistent.

This article was originally published in SURVIVOR’S EDGE ™ Winter 2015 magazine. Print and Digital Subscriptions available here

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