Bug Out BagsPreparedness

How to Build a Bug Out Bag: An Ultimate Checklist

Download our free Bug Out Bag Checklist.

As societal complexities increase, being prepared for unexpected events has become more important than ever. Enter the Bug Out Bag (BOB): a portable kit containing items one would need to survive for 72 hours when evacuating from a disaster.

Building a BOB is both an art and science. As an experienced prepper, I understand the daunting nature of starting from scratch. Thus, I’ve curated an ultimate checklist with reasons for each item to guide beginner to intermediate preppers:

There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution to a bug out bag. Your bug out bag, or BOB should be as unique as you are. What goes into your bag depends on many different things, such as:

1. Water and Hydration

Water is one of the most essential components for survival. The human body can survive for weeks without food, but only a few days without water. Ensuring you have access to clean, drinkable water should be your top priority when building a Bug Out Bag.

  • Water (1 liter per person per day)
    • Reasoning: Dehydration can quickly impair cognitive and physical functions. Having a supply of clean water helps maintain hydration levels and supports basic bodily functions.
    • Product Recommendations:
  • Portable water filter
    • Reasoning: In scenarios where your stored water runs out, having the ability to filter water sources like streams, rivers, or ponds can be lifesaving.
    • Product Recommendations:
      • Sawyer Mini: Compact, long-lasting, and has a 0.1-micron filtration system that removes bacteria, protozoa, and microplastics.
      • LifeStraw Personal Water Filter: A lightweight, straw-like filter that can purify up to 1,000 liters of contaminated water.
  • Water purification tablets
    • Reasoning: These serve as an excellent backup for your filter or when you need to purify a large amount of water quickly without waiting for filtration.
    • Product Recommendations:
  • Collapsible water containers
    • Reasoning: While on the move, you might come across a reliable water source and will need a means to store a larger quantity than your bottle can hold. A collapsible container can be expanded to hold this water and then compacted when not in use.
    • Product Recommendations:

When considering water and hydration products for your Bug Out Bag, always think about weight and portability. Your water source might be miles away from your evacuation spot, so every ounce and inch in your bag counts. Ensure that whatever products you choose align with your physical capabilities, the region’s water sources, and the probable emergencies you might face.

2. Food

When considering food for a Bug Out Bag (BOB), it’s important to factor in weight, shelf life, nutritional content, and ease of preparation. Given the circumstances you may face during an evacuation or emergency scenario, you’d want food items that are both energy-dense and straightforward to consume. Here’s an expanded list of food-related essentials for your BOB:

  • Ready-to-eat meals (MREs): These provide essential nutrients and require minimal to no preparation.
    • Recommendation: XMRE Blue Line. Known for their balanced nutrition, these MREs have a long shelf life and are used by many in the prepping community. They come with self-heating units, eliminating the need for external heat.
  • Energy bars: Compact, lightweight, and packed with calories, they offer quick energy and essential nutrients.
    • Recommendation: PROBAR Meal Bars. They are organic, gluten-free, and offer a decent amount of calories per bar. Flavors like ‘Oatmeal Chocolate Chip’ or ‘Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip’ are not only nutritious but also delicious.
  • Fishing kit: For those with the skills or willing to learn, a fishing kit can provide a renewable food source in certain environments.
  • Compact stove and fuel: Ideal for heating water or preparing foods that require cooking. Remember, only use these in well-ventilated areas to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
    • Recommendation: MSR PocketRocket 2 Mini Stove Kit. This is lightweight, compact, and very efficient. Paired with the MSR IsoPro Fuel, you’ll have a reliable cooking system.
  • Freeze-dried meals: An excellent alternative to MREs, these require some preparation, usually just adding hot water, but they are lightweight and can offer a tastier meal option.
    • Recommendation: Mountain House Adventure Meals. These meals come in a variety of flavors, from breakfast skillets to chili mac with beef. They have a long shelf life and are favored for their taste in the outdoor community.
  • Sealed pouches of water-packed tuna or chicken: These provide a protein boost and are easy to open and consume.
  • Instant soups or broth packets: These are lightweight, and when mixed with hot water, provide both hydration and nutrition.

Remember, while these product recommendations are based on quality reviews, and my own experience, always do your own research based on updated reviews, your dietary needs, and personal preferences before making purchases. Also, periodically check the shelf life of all food items and replace them as needed to ensure freshness.

3. Shelter and Warmth

Protection from the elements is crucial. Exposure to extreme conditions can rapidly lead to life-threatening situations such as hypothermia or heat exhaustion. That’s why your Bug Out Bag (BOB) must include items to ensure adequate shelter and warmth. Here’s an expanded list of essentials along with some recommended products:

  • Compact tent/tarp:
  • Space blanket (also known as emergency or mylar blankets):
    • Purpose: Reflects body heat back to the user, preventing hypothermia. It’s lightweight and compact, making it perfect for emergency situations.
    • Recommendation:
  • Sleeping bag:
    • Purpose: Provides insulation and comfort during colder nights, ensuring a good night’s rest which is essential for maintaining energy levels.
    • Recommendation:
      • TETON Sports Tracker Ultralight Sleeping Bag: It’s suitable for three-season use and is lightweight. With its mummy-style design, it provides efficient warmth.
      • Sea to Summit Spark Ultralight Sleeping Bag: This is an ultra-light option, making it easy to carry in a BOB.
  • Sleeping pad:
  • Bivvy sack (optional):
    • Purpose: A lightweight alternative to tents. It’s a minimalist, single-person shelter. Can also enhance warmth when used in combination with a sleeping bag.
    • Recommendation:
      • SOL Emergency Bivvy: It’s lightweight, made of reflective material to retain body heat, and is waterproof.

When choosing shelter and warmth products, consider your local environment. If you’re in a tropical climate, protection from rain might be a priority. In colder regions, insulation is paramount. Make sure to familiarize yourself with any product you choose, so in an emergency, setting up your shelter is second nature.

4. Clothing

Your choice in clothing is crucial as it offers the first line of defense against environmental elements. It’s important to choose clothing that’s versatile, durable, and suited for the range of weather conditions you might encounter.

  • Durable pants and jacket:
    • Recommendation:
      • For pants, the 5.11 Tactical Stryke Pants are known for their resilience, with a blend of polyester and cotton, making them both comfortable and rugged. They come with multiple pockets which can be very handy.
      • For jackets, the Arc’teryx Beta AR Jacket provides a good balance between durability and weight, and it’s waterproof yet breathable, ensuring you’re prepared for unpredictable weather.
  • Underwear and socks (at least two pairs):
    • Recommendation:
      • ExOfficio Give-N-Go underwear is a favorite among many travelers and preppers due to its antimicrobial properties and quick-drying capability.
      • For socks, Darn Tough Merino Wool Socks are unparalleled. They are moisture-wicking, comfortable, and incredibly durable with a lifetime warranty.
  • Hat and gloves:
  • Sturdy boots:
    • Recommendation:
      • Salomon Quest 4D 3 GTX hiking boots are both comfortable and durable, providing great ankle support. They are waterproof and offer a grip suitable for diverse terrains. For a lighter option, the Merrell Moab 2 Ventilator shoes are well-regarded.

Clothing Tips:

  1. Layering is Key: Always opt for layering your clothes. This approach provides flexibility to add/remove layers based on the weather.
  2. Avoid Cotton: Cotton retains moisture and can be dangerous in cold conditions. Look for synthetic materials or merino wool which wicks moisture and regulates temperature.
  3. Maintenance: Keep your clothing items clean and check them periodically for wear and tear. A small tear in a jacket can compromise its water resistance.
  4. Camouflage vs. Visibility: Depending on your scenario, you might want to blend in with your surroundings (camouflage clothing) or ensure you’re seen (bright colors) especially if you’re looking for rescue.

When choosing products, always consider your local climate, the seasons you’re preparing for, and personal preferences. This list provides a solid starting point, but it’s essential to select items that make you feel comfortable and confident.

5. Fire and Light: The Luminous Backbone of Survival

The capacity to produce fire and light isn’t just about seeing in the dark or cooking food; it’s about warmth, protection, signaling, and boosting morale. Without a reliable source of fire and light, survival becomes exponentially tougher. Here’s a deeper dive into each item, accompanied by product recommendations based on my experience and popular reviews:

  • Waterproof Matches
    • Purpose: Ensures ignition in damp conditions, essential in wet environments or after rainfall.
    • Recommendation: UCO Stormproof Matches. These matches will burn even after being submerged in water. They’re windproof and can burn up to 15 seconds, giving you ample time to start a fire.
  • Lighter
    • Purpose: Quick and convenient fire starting. Good for multiple uses, as long as there’s fuel.
    • Recommendation: BIC Mini Lighters. These are reliable, have a long life, and are compact. Another option would be the Zippo Windproof Lighter, known for its durability and wind resistance. Just remember to keep a refill canister of fuel if you’re packing a Zippo.
  • Ferrocerium Rod (Firestarter)
    • Purpose: A reliable backup that sparks at high temperatures to ignite tinder. Works even when wet and has a long lifespan.
    • Recommendation: Light My Fire Swedish FireSteel 2.0. It boasts 12,000 strikes and produces a 3,000°C spark, making fire-starting easy even in poor conditions.
  • Flashlight
    • Purpose: For navigation, tasks in the dark, signaling, or as a potential defensive tool.
    • Recommendation: Anker Bolder LC90 Rechargeable Flashlight. This flashlight offers a balance of size, brightness (up to 900 lumens), and battery life. It’s also waterproof and has a zoomable beam. Remember to pack a backup USB charger or have a solar charging mechanism. For a non-rechargeable option, consider the Streamlight ProTac 2L-X.
  • Extra Batteries
    • Purpose: To ensure prolonged use of your flashlight or other battery-operated devices.
    • Recommendation: Opt for name brands like Energizer or Duracell for reliability. However, the exact type (AA, AAA, etc.) will depend on your flashlight or device’s requirements. Consider lithium batteries for longer shelf life and better performance in cold conditions.
  • Glow Sticks
    • Purpose: A flameless light source, useful for signaling, marking locations, or a gentle light in shelters.
    • Recommendation: Cyalume SnapLight Glow Sticks. They have a 12-hour duration, are non-toxic, and waterproof. Their bright illumination makes them perfect for emergencies.

The items for producing fire and light are among the most essential in a Bug Out Bag. Not only do they provide practical uses like warmth and visibility, but they also offer psychological comfort. In a survival situation, the simple act of creating a fire can boost morale and provide a sense of control over the environment. When choosing products, always consider your personal needs, local conditions, and ensure regular checks to replace used or expired items. Remember, preparedness is a journey, not a destination!

6. Tools

Having the right tools in your Bug Out Bag (BOB) can make a vast difference in an emergency. They can facilitate tasks, improve survival odds, and even offer psychological comfort knowing you’re equipped to handle various scenarios. Here are detailed tool recommendations:

  • Multipurpose tool or knife:
    • Recommendation: Leatherman Wave+ Multi-Tool. A reputable brand known for its durability, the Wave+ offers 18 tools, including pliers, wire cutters, knives, and screwdrivers. It’s compact and perfect for a BOB.
    • Reason: A multipurpose tool provides various functionalities, from cutting to repairing. A reliable tool minimizes the need for many separate tools.
  • Paracord:
    • Recommendation: TITAN SurvivorCord. This paracord integrates fishing line, waterproof fire tinder, and a snare wire alongside the usual strands.
    • Reason: Apart from tying, shelter construction, or hoisting food, the additional components can aid in food acquisition and fire-starting.
  • Duct tape:
    • Recommendation: Gorilla Black Duct Tape. Known for its high adhesive power and durability.
    • Reason: From mending equipment to emergency medical uses, such as blister protection or splinting, a strong duct tape is indispensable.
  • Compact shovel:
    • Recommendation: SOG Folding Shovel Survival Shovel. It’s a high-carbon steel shovel that can also be used as a wood saw edge and rotating spade shovel.
    • Reason: Beyond digging, this tool offers multiple uses – from chopping to sawing, which can be crucial in survival scenarios.
  • Compact saw (added):
    • Recommendation: Bahco 396-LAP Laplander Folding Saw. Renowned for its effectiveness in cutting both green and dry wood, plastic, and bone.
    • Reason: Helps in collecting firewood or creating a shelter. The Laplander’s anti-rust blade and safety lock make it a favorite among preppers.
  • Firestarter:
    • Recommendation: Light My Fire Swedish FireSteel 2.0. With a compact design, it can ignite a fire in any weather or altitude.
    • Reason: Matches and lighters can get wet or run out of fuel. A fire steel offers thousands of strikes, ensuring you can always start a fire.

Remember, the best tools are the ones that match your skills. Make sure to practice with them so you’re familiar with their functionalities when it counts the most. The listed products have been tested and recommended by many in the prepper community for their reliability and durability, but always conduct your own research and choose what suits your needs best.

7. Communication and Navigation

Being able to communicate during a crisis or navigate unfamiliar terrains can be a matter of life and death. Modern technology offers a variety of tools, but remember that during some emergencies, typical communication infrastructures like cell towers might be down. Here’s an expanded look into this category, including product recommendations:

  • Emergency Whistle:
    • Purpose: A whistle can be heard over longer distances compared to shouting and is ideal for signaling help, especially if injured or lost.
    • Recommendation: The Fox 40 Sonik Blast CMG Whistle is a top pick among survivalists. It’s durable, loud, and can be heard over ambient noises.
  • Battery-operated Radio:
    • Purpose: Radios can provide updates, emergency alerts, and valuable information when other communication tools fail. A battery-operated radio is essential since it doesn’t rely on the power grid.
    • Recommendation: The Midland ER310 Emergency Crank Weather Radio is a versatile choice. It offers multiple charging methods, including hand crank, solar, and battery. It also has a built-in flashlight and a USB charging port.
  • Compass and Maps:
    • Purpose: Electronic navigation tools may become non-functional in certain scenarios, making old-fashioned compasses and maps indispensable.
    • Compass Recommendation: The Suunto MC-2G Global Compass is known for its reliability and precision. Its global needle works accurately in both northern and southern hemispheres.
    • Maps Recommendation: It’s best to have topographic maps of your local area and any areas you might travel to. USGS (U.S. Geological Survey) provides detailed topographic maps. Make sure you store them in waterproof containers or bags.
  • Satellite Communicator:
    • Purpose: When cell towers are down, a satellite communicator can send SOS signals, track your journey, and sometimes even send and receive text messages.
    • Recommendation: The Garmin inReach Mini is a compact satellite communicator with two-way texting, SOS functionality, and location sharing. It does require a subscription, but for its features and reliability, many find it worth the cost.
  • Signal Mirror:
    • Purpose: On sunny days, a signal mirror can be used to signal aircraft or distant searchers.
    • Recommendation: The UST StarFlash Micro Signal Mirror is lightweight, virtually unbreakable, and comes with aiming features.
  • Two-Way Radios (Walkie Talkies):
    • Purpose: For communication between group members when venturing apart.
    • Recommendation: The Motorola T600 H2O Talkabout Radio is a popular choice for preppers due to its rugged design, waterproofing, and long-range capabilities.

In an emergency, information and communication become paramount. Investing in reliable tools can make all the difference. Regularly check the batteries, understand the functionalities, and practice using them. Remember, the best gear is the one you know how to use effectively.

8. First Aid and Personal Care

A well-stocked first aid kit is crucial for any Bug Out Bag (BOB). It’s essential not just for treating injuries, but also for preventing small issues from becoming severe problems in an emergency situation:

First Aid Kit

Personal Care

When building your BOB, it’s crucial to think about personal medical conditions or needs. If you or someone in your group has a specific condition like asthma, diabetes, or severe allergies, ensure to include necessary medications or equipment. Regularly checking and updating your first aid kit is also essential to make sure nothing is expired or used up.

9. Personal Identification and Important Documents

In any emergency or evacuation scenario, ensuring that you have appropriate identification and crucial documents is paramount. They might be necessary for verification, accessing resources, or even restarting life in a new location. Here’s an expanded list of what you might consider carrying and product recommendations to keep them safe:

  • Passports & ID Cards: Essential for identity verification and especially important if you need to cross borders.
    • Product Recommendation: Use a RFID-blocking passport holder. Brands like “Travelambo” and “Zoppen” offer wallets that block skimming attempts, protecting not just your identity but also any embedded chip technology.
  • Driver’s License: Apart from driving, it can serve as an additional ID.
  • Insurance Cards: These include health, car, home, or any other insurance that can assist in emergencies.
    • Product Recommendation: Use a compact organizer pouch. “Rite in the Rain” offers weatherproof pouches to keep such cards safe.
  • Medical Records & Prescription Medications: Especially if you or your family members have conditions that might require immediate attention.
  • Birth Certificates & Marriage Certificates: Essential for family verification or accessing certain benefits/services.
  • Property Documents: Proving ownership might become crucial in case of displacement.
    • Product Recommendation: Lockable fire-resistant document bags provide maximum safety. Brands like “COLCASE” and “ENGPOW” offer bags that can resist both water and fire, ensuring your documents are safe from most threats.
  • Backup Credit/Debit Cards: Having a backup financial resource can be vital.
    • Product Recommendation: Store these in RFID-blocking card sleeves to prevent skimming. “OPTEXX” offers high-quality sleeves that can be added to any wallet or pouch.
  • Physical Backup of Important Digital Data: This can be family photos, essential work documents, etc.
    • Product Recommendation: Invest in a rugged external hard drive. Brands like “LaCie Rugged Mini” are known for their durability and can withstand falls, water, and dust.
  • List of Important Contacts: Includes family, friends, doctors, and any other essential contacts.
    • Product Recommendation: While you might keep a digital list, have a physical copy laminated to protect it against wear. Local print shops often offer affordable lamination services.

While it’s essential to carry these documents, it’s equally important to keep them organized and safe. The right protective gear ensures your documents remain intact, legible, and ready when needed. Additionally, always keep your Bug Out Bag in an accessible place and remember to update your documents periodically.

10. Miscellaneous but Vital

Certain items, though they might not fit neatly into conventional categories, can prove to be lifesavers in emergency scenarios. Here’s an expanded view:

  • Extra Cash: In situations where electronic payment systems are down, having cash on hand can be crucial.
    • Recommendation: Store a mix of small bills ($1, $5, $10) and coins in a waterproof pouch to ensure you can make exact payments, buy essentials, or use payphones.
  • Local Maps: Knowledge of your surroundings can expedite your escape routes or lead you to safe zones.
    • Recommendation: Purchase topographical maps that highlight elevations, water sources, and terrain details. One trusted brand is the National Geographic Trails Illustrated series.
  • Notebook and Pen: Keeping notes, jotting down crucial information, or simply leaving a message can be essential.
    • Recommendation: Rite in the Rain weatherproof notebooks and pens work well even in wet conditions. Their durability ensures the retention of valuable information.
  • Signal Mirror: In case you need to signal for help during the day, especially if you’re in a remote location.
    • Recommendation: The StarFlash Signal Mirror is a reliable choice. It’s lightweight, unbreakable, and effective, even on overcast days.
  • Sewing Kit: Tears in clothing or equipment can compromise your safety or protection against the elements.
    • Recommendation: Gear Aid Outdoor Sewing Kit. Compact and versatile, it’s equipped to handle most minor fabric repairs.
  • Solar Charger: Keeping your electronics charged can be a game-changer, especially if you’re using devices for navigation or communication.
    • Recommendation: Goal Zero Nomad 7 Plus Solar Panel is a lightweight, rugged option for on-the-go charging.
  • Portable Power Bank: This complements the solar charger, offering power storage for your devices.
    • Recommendation: Anker PowerCore 20100mAh is a reliable choice. It’s durable, fast-charging, and has enough capacity to charge smartphones multiple times.
  • Zip Ties: Handy for quick fixes, securing items together, or even for first aid purposes.
    • Recommendation: Buy a multi-pack of various sizes. Heavy-duty UV-resistant zip ties are preferable as they’re more durable and versatile.

This “Miscellaneous but Vital” section illustrates the nuanced layers of preparedness. The key is to anticipate potential challenges and gear up accordingly. As you refine your bug-out strategy, you might find other miscellaneous items that suit your specific needs better. Always prioritize flexibility and multi-functionality when selecting items for your BOB.

11. Emotional Wellbeing

Amidst the chaos and stress of an emergency, it’s essential to maintain emotional balance. Not only does this help in making better decisions, but it also promotes overall mental health, allowing for a faster recovery once the situation improves. Here’s an expanded look at items to pack for emotional wellbeing:

  • Family photos or letters:
    • Rationale: These personal mementos can serve as reminders of loved ones, motivating you to keep going.
    • Product Recommendation: Consider using a small, waterproof and durable photo album like the Pioneer Photo Albums FRM-46 which is designed to keep your precious photos safe.
  • Small book or deck of cards:
    • Rationale: Engaging in familiar activities can help distract and calm the mind, providing a semblance of normalcy in unfamiliar situations.
    • Product Recommendations:
      • For Books: Opt for pocket-sized editions for portability.
      • For Cards: Bicycle Standard Playing Cards are durable and versatile, suitable for a variety of games.
  • Journal and pen:
    • Rationale: Writing can be therapeutic. Journaling allows you to process emotions, track the passage of time, and even strategize your next moves.
    • Product Recommendation: The Rite in the Rain All-Weather Journal is waterproof and durable, ensuring your thoughts remain safe.
  • Music or small musical instrument:
    • Rationale: Music has been proven to soothe anxiety and uplift spirits. Playing an instrument or simply listening can be comforting.
    • Product Recommendations:
      • For Listening: A SanDisk Clip Jam MP3 Player is lightweight, compact, and has good battery life.
      • For Playing: A Hohner Special 20 Harmonica is pocket-sized and requires no prior musical knowledge to get started.
  • Comfort items:
    • Rationale: This could be a small plush toy, a trinket, or a religious item. Having something tactile and familiar can provide immense comfort in unfamiliar settings.
    • Product Recommendation: The Gund Snuffles Teddy Bear is a small, soft, and durable plush suitable for all ages.
  • Guided meditation or breathing exercise guides:
    • Rationale: Meditation and controlled breathing can help manage panic and anxiety, offering a break from the stresses of the situation.
    • Product Recommendations:
      • Apps like “Calm” or “Headspace” offer offline modes. Download guided meditations onto a device.
      • Pocket guidebooks like “The Little Book of Mindfulness” by Patricia Collard provide short exercises that can be practiced anywhere.

Incorporating items for emotional wellbeing in your BOB not only addresses the physical and tactical side of survival but also the emotional and mental challenges you may face. Such preparation ensures a holistic approach to any emergency, promoting resilience in all facets of the experience.


A BOB is a dynamic resource. It should be tailored to your needs, local environment, and the potential challenges you might face. It’s also essential to routinely check, update, and refresh your BOB to ensure items are in good condition and consumables are not expired.

Remember, the primary purpose of a BOB is to keep you safe, hydrated, fed, and sheltered during those critical first 72 hours. As you advance in your prepping journey, you’ll find nuanced ways to enhance your BOB. But, for now, this checklist offers a comprehensive starting point. Stay prepared, stay safe!

Download Bug Out Bag Checklist

Use the checklist below as a guide and adapt it to your own needs. Gather your materials and edit what you are going to carry.

Download Bug Out Bag Checklist

Photo by Cody Black on Unsplash

Show More

Related Articles

Back to top button