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Do you have a bug out bag prepared? I think it is safe to say that, given the current times, most people are on edge and feel that we are bound for some type of large catastrophe.

That’s why having a plan to get out of dodge and a bug out bag essentials list of supplies to get you where you need to go is imperative. That is where building a bug out bag and checking off your bug out bag essentials list comes in.

Preparedness is key and this guide aims to help you be ready for any emergency. 

Let’s dive into this extensive bug out bag checklist guide

bug out bag list banner

What Is A Bug Out Bag?

There are many different names for emergency preparedness bags.  The “bug out” bag is probably the most common but you may also hear the “go bag”, “72 hour kit” and “SHTF Bag” among many others.

Despite the many different names, most of these bags are very common in their contents. The major differences are going to be in their intended use.

A bug out bag is made with the goal of actually bugging out in mind. Meaning that you plan to abandon your current location and retreat to another, that is hopefully predetermined and safe, in an emergency. This is the kind of bag we are going to be focusing on in the guide.

While this article focuses on building a bug out bag with the intention on sustaining yourself and your family, you can use your bug out bag essentials list to help you even if you decided to “bug in” during an emergency as well.

Bugging out is a last resort in a true SHTF situation and sticking it out in your home gives you access to more supplies, safety and comfort. This is assuming there are not real immediate threats to you, your family and your home. That’s why I carry a get home bag with me everywhere I go. It will help me get home to my family no matter what happens.

      =>If you are looking for an everyday carry kit that will help you to get home in any emergency, check out our article on building a get home bag

That being said bugging out may be your only option when home is no longer safe to be. A real bug out bag isn’t just some emergency kit you buy from the store (most preassembled bug out bags are junk). A quality bag is a full blown pack that has all of the supplies on your bug out bag essentials list in it. Building a bug out bag is meant to help you survive with nothing else but what’s in your bug out bag. 

Be Realistic

Just because a bug out bag list is intended to help you survive for an extended period of time without anything else, does not mean you can just choose to throw in anything you want. Even the most experienced preppers and survivalists have to make sacrifices on what to bring in their bug out bags and it will be no different for you.

You need to build your bug out list with the realization that you will be carrying this on your back on your bug out journey. In any given emergency scenario, traveling by vehicle will most likely become unavailable at some point. Damaged roadways, gridlock, flooding, rioting, government road blocks and barricades are all examples of why traveling by vehicle will not last long.

That means you need to carefully choose what you include in your bug out bag list and should ultimately try and pack as light as possible. Especially if you consider the fact that you will probably carry the burden of relieving your loved ones loads periodically on the road.

Furthermore, now is the time you should be asking yourself:

  • “Am I physically capable of lasting in a SHTF event?”
  • “Can I provide effective protection for my loved ones?”
  • “Will I be able to lead my family through inevitable peril or will I gas out and become a liability?”
  • “Will I fail them?”

You need to be asking yourself these questions now. Not later. NOW.

If you cannot walk up a flight of stairs, let alone run a mile, without becoming incapacitated then you are in for a rude awakening if things were to go down…

Becoming Physically Capable

Whenever I see “prepping experts” that are overweight or noticeably out of shape, I always cringe. While they may have some incredible knowledge and unique skills for prepping and survival (in theory), when the rubber hits the road, they will eventually come to a point where their bodies will not be able to hack it. They will fail to perform plain and simple.

Being physically capable to last and perform are essential to survival in any SHTF scenario. That is why I prize physical fitness as one of the best things you can do to prepare. You don’t want gear or firearms that will fail you when needed the most, so why would you accept having a body that will fail you when you need it most?

Strength Training:

Building physical strength is essential an overall healthy lifestyle and it only benefits you. There are not any down sides to becoming stronger. It improves your energy levels, joint strength and keeps you going strong for years to come.

=>Give my FREE “Ultimate Guide to Building Strength” a read

My free guide can help you get acquainted with strength training if you aren’t already familiar with doing it right. It also has lots of helpful info for the seasoned weight lifter. 

Muscular/Cardiovascular Endurance:

Building strength also builds muscular endurance which is a must. It also aids in building cardiovascular endurance, both of which are something you want to build in your body without a doubt. You need to be able to last as long as possible through physical exertion in order to be fully prepared for anything. 

Need to carry your kids through rough terrain or away from a threat?

Need to carry extra gear, ammo, water, etcetera?

You are only going to be able to do that if you are physically fit.

Through my 15+ years of experience in my own fitness journey I have learned a lot and decided to write a no nonsense eBook to help guys build muscle and strength, dial in their nutrition and lifestyles and change their lives overall.

Being able to have the physical capacity to carry your bug out bag long distances is a necessity (if I haven’t made that abundantly clear yet). 

ebook cover 3 scaled
The Fundamental Pillars of Building Muscle

Planning Your Bug Out Bag And Its Contents

When planning out your bug out bag list, there are many factors that will dictate what you carry and how you carry it all. The entire purpose of a bug out bag is in its name. To “bug out” is to leave your current location and get to a pre-determined and safe location. You may also need to evacuate without any planned location, leading to living with nothing but what you have on your back.

This is a serious undertaking and should not be taken lightly especially if you have children. Bugging out with no where to go is a last resort. Bugging in or making your way to a known and safe location is much more practical.

That being said here are of the factors that will influence how you build out your bug out bag list:

  • Your current climate
  • Your family members
  • Your fitness levels
  • The population around you
  • Local/natural resources
  • Your budget
  • Your current gear (not planned, build a bag based off what you actually have)
  • And much more

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When you start planning your bug out bag list you need to actually take in your big picture scenario and pack accordingly. There are some basic essentials but what might be in one mans bug out bag might not be in another’s. Some of the biggest factors will be your family/group members, your climate/resources and your available gear/budget.

Family Members and Bug Out Bags:

Every person who is able to carry a bug out bag should have their own essentials in case they get separated. You can’t assume your family will always be together, so it is critical to make sure everyone has their own essentials if it makes sense (obviously younger children/babies cannot carry anything). For example, it’s a bad idea to create a bug out bag list that have water in one and food in another.

Children under 10 can have their own bags, but build theirs more for their comfort and to keep them happy. Build a child’s bag so that if they get separated they at least have some basic stuff/info to aid whatever adult finds them. Also it can hold really light extra supplies and gear to help you care for them (i.e. tissues, etc.). But make sure it’s no big deal if they lose the bag altogether. Use a bag that’s small enough to be appropriate for their age, you can usually fit in a few essentials such as a full set of clothes, special medicines, and documents/photos about their family and home, while adding more kid-friendly items like a stuffed animal, book, and sweets.

Not to mention you also need to pack for every member of your household or planned bug out group because it isn’t possible, or wise, for you to try and carry everything your children need if they are physically able to carry a pack on their own. Bugging out with a family is a last resort move and the decision should not be taken lightly. Bugging in is much more practical if it is possible to do so.

Climate, Resources and Location:

Your local climate will be a huge factor in what/how you pack your bug out bag list. Someone who resides in rural Montana will undoubtedly need a bug out bag that is different than someone in Southern Florida.

The weather plays a huge role in the types of items you will pack. Extreme cold, wet weather and extreme heat all pose different threats to one who does not have any shelter. This will have to be taken into consideration when building your bug out bag list.

On top of that you should ask yourself: “What resources do I have around me?”

For instance, if you have multiple lakes or rivers nearby then carrying lots of heavy water isn’t necessary. Maybe only a little and means to purify water you collect.

The general idea here is to see what you will potentially have at your disposal so you don’t have to carry loads of it and can carry more of the stuff that isn’t readily available in nature or otherwise.

Available Gear and Your Budget:

Here’s a somewhat sensitive topic but really influence how your bug out bag list will turn out. Your budget and gear you actually physically have will dictate your bug out bag list and its usefulness. The fact of the matter is that, if you want a quality bug out bag, you are going to have to shell out the money for it.

Premade kits are not typically looked at favorably because almost every company tries to get under a $50-$200 price point by cutting corners. They include cheap gear you cannot depend on and may have the wrong mix of gear to begin with. This would require you to replace/add so much stuff that it defeats the purpose altogether (I know from experience). If you decide to go this route at least get a hold of me so I can try and get you one for cheaper so you waste less money!

A quality bug out bag, even a basic one, is not going to be cheaper than $150-200. In fact it will be much more when it’s all said and done.

It is a difficult struggle but just follow a mantra I always say: “We work with what we got and build as we go”.


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Bug out Bag Weight and Fitness:

We already talked about fitness but another big influencing factor in the outcome of your bug out bag is its weight. Obviously you can only carry so much and what you choose to include makes a big deal.

Certain items are heavier than others so this huge when deciding what to pack. All the other factors we discussed are linked together and budget plays a role in the items you choose based on weight because, generally speaking, lighter versions of specific items cost more because of their materials.

Almost everyone thinks that you will be able to utilize a vehicle when bugging out. You may but I wouldn’t rely on it.

You will probably have to abandon your vehicle and may need to hike miles through the wilderness, traverse rough terrain, or move quickly up high-rise stairs or a hill. Not too mention you or someone in your group could get injured and you’ll probably be tired, hot/cold, and hungry.

We all underestimate these adversities until we are in them. Put on a 50lb pack and hike around for a few hours and you’ll see. Try to climb a wall, jump, swim or any difficult task with weight on you and you’ll find out how hard it is. 

These are some guidelines you can follow:

  • If you don’t exercise at least three hours a week, you should stay under 20% of your body weight or 45 pounds, whichever is less.
  • If you’re very active and already comfortable hiking with gear, you can go up to 30% of your body weight or 60 pounds, whichever is less.

This is a HUGE thing to keep in mind throughout the process of building your bug out bag and going to be up to you. These are just general guidelines to start. Be sure to test out your limits and carrying your bug out bag list yourself.


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Do’s and Dont’s When Preparing Your Bug Out Bag

Do’s and Don’ts:

Here’s a quick little overview of some guidelines to follow, or not follow if it makes sense for you, when building out a bug out bag.

Do’s:

  • Do pack essential items that are light and useful to surviving.
  • Do buy quality gear at the best price you can afford and take advantage of the discount codes/links I offer (*wink wink).
  • Do carefully make a plan with contingencies and build a bug out bag according to your actual needs and climate.
  • Do carefully decide what you will bring when it comes to your tactical gear. You can only carry so much.
  • Do take your bug out bag building process seriously. Once you put it together it will most likely sit for a while and stay out of mind.

Don’ts:

  • Don’t pack every single possible thing you can imagine. If your pack is too heavy to carry on foot then it’s too heavy.
  • Don’t buy gear at “too good to be true” prices unless it’s well known and on-sale. You will potentially be depending on this stuff to stay alive.
  • Don’t just follow some online list and call it good. You need to plan out what you will do when building a bag.
  • Don’t go tactical crazy. Yeah defense is a small aspect of it but, unless you’re traveling by vehicle, all that gear is extremely heavy and you wont make it far. (Use your best judgement on this).
  • Don’t neglect building this bag. Especially if bugging out to a safe location is your primary plan.

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Building The Bug Out Bag

Now let’s get into the fun part and actually talk about building a bug out bag. I’m going to go fairly detailed and provide multiple options for the same category of product based off of some reader requests. I will include a straight list as well further down the page (w/discount code attached of applicable). Let’s jump into it!

The Pack Itself

Probably the most important item of your bug out bag is the actual bug out bag itself.

Picking the best bug out backpack for you can be challenging. First you have personal preferences like fit, color, aesthetics and feel. Then there are other considerations like: what kind of pocket layout is best, how well does the bag balance, blending in vs. tactical features, weight vs. durability, etc.

A lot of these will boil down to personal preference. The market is flooded with options and what you spend your money on is ultimately up to you.

The size of bug out bag you’ll need depends entirely how much you decide to invest into it and how much gear you decide to carry. Buy a good quality bag that is big enough to hold everything you plan to carry with some extra space in case you decide to add more.

Some recommended brands to look into:

There’s plenty more out there, it is just my recommendation to go with a well-known brand in the industry and not a knock-off Amazon product for cheap.

Bug Out Bag Content List

Let’s face it, there’s A LOT of stuff you could carry. In fact, it’s impossible to carry everything you would want to take so you will have to pick and choose carefully. The following list you should be able to pack into a good size bug out bag but that depends.

I will leave the full list here and then break down each category after for those who want to know more details. I broke the list up into different “tiers”. The tiers have gear that provide different levels of capability/comfort in survival with tier 1 being most of the basics and then each tier builds upon the others. They are not set in stone but it helped me to format it for writing.

Ultimately what you pack will depend on your preferences and what you desire out of the bag. Do you need a more mobile pack? Do you need long term sustainment? Ask yourself these questions.

Discount codes will be in parenthesis and active at the time of publishing.

Bug Out Bag Content List Tier 1Options/(Discount Codes) *active at time of publishing
First Aid Kit/IFAK/Med Kit (Small)
32 oz potable water stored in a hard canteen
Collapsible canteen/vessel
Water filter
Water purification treatment
Ready to Eat Survival Food
Lighter/s
Tinder
Headlamp
Field knife
Multitool
Cordage x 50’
Tarp
Waterproof paper and pen
Important Documents
  • Copies of ID, Passports, anything you feel might be worthy of keeping on you.
Cash
  • Have some cash on you for when banks/electronics fail
Storage bags (20L drybag and 5x gallon ziplocs)
Condensed soap
Toilet paper
Nail clippers
Hat
  • Hat of choice
Socks
Top/bottom base layer
Pants
  • Pants of your choice
Underwear
  • Underwear of your choice
Jacket / outer shell
Shemagh / bandana / gaiter
One- or two-way radio
USB charging cable and wall plug
  • To charge your devices
Li-Ion battery pack
Respirators/Masks
  • Particulate Masks for Debris x3
Contractor trash bags
  • Big Trash bags x2
Emergency Blankets/Ponchos
Bug Out Bag Content List Tier 2:Options/(Discount Codes) *active at time of publishing
First Aid Kit/IFAK/Med Kit (Large)
Food that needs prep
Waterproof Matches
Mini Stove/Portable means to cook
Pot / vessel for boiling water
Small eating utensil
Second flashlight / lantern
Sleeping bag
Sleeping pad
Sleeping mask and earplugs
Wet wipes
Toothbrush & toothpaste
Chapstick
  • As many sticks as you need for your group
Sunglasses
Goggles
Gloves
Belt
Land Navigation Kit
Maps
  • Local/Regional Maps
Compass
Solar charger
Cards / entertainment / mental health
  • Some small items to keep you sane
Headphones
  • Small set
Watch
Bug Out Bag Content List Tier 3Options/(Discount Codes) *active at time of publishing
Expanded Med Kit/longer term treatments
Expanded Fire Starting Kit
Extra AA/AAA/etc batteries
Bivy Sack
Tent
Extra Knives
Hand sanitizer
  • Prevent infection/illness
Signal mirror
Whistle
  • Multi Use Whistle
Hand saw
Knife sharpener
Second pair of socks
Duct tape (flat travel roll)
  • Make a flat roll
Field guide book
Pack straps
  • Various Applicable Straps
Misc fasteners / carabiners / etc
  • Have extras
Misc. Items
  • If you can carry, add an items your desire

How’s that for a bug out bag list? Feel like this guy?

bug out bag meme

Personal Protection

You probably noticed that I didn’t include any firearms, ammo, plate carriers, chest rigs, magazines, holsters or anything along those lines to the above list. I did that intentionally because it deserves it’s own section and it is a highly personal topic. Honestly no matter what I say here will change your mind, nor I am attempting to do that. I wouldn’t listen to some dude online telling me what guns to carry either.

Some guys are going to prioritize carrying full kit, rifles and pistols while others might only include a pistol and a magazine.

That being said I will leave that entirely up to your discretion with one caveat.

AT THE VERY LEAST carry a pistol, 3 full magazines with a solid holster and means of carrying them concealed.

Some good places to buy are:

For this you are going to want to read these two articles:

Breakdown Of Bug Out Bag Essentials

The above list had a lot of gear to mull over and consider. In this section we will go into more detail on essential topics and important supplies.

Water

Water is essential. In good conditions we can only go about 3 days without i so having access to clean water is vital. The problem with water is that it can get you sick if not clean and weighing in at nearly 8 pounds per gallon, it is heavy.

Packing water for a bug out bag is a no brainer. However, you need to take in a lot of variables to help you decide how much to carry, what to carry it in, how to make it drinkable and so forth.

You also need to evaluate your surroundings and figure out if you have access to water in any emergency. Particularly through natural resources like a lake, river, pond, etc. (Drinking ocean water is not advised so don’t rely on that). If you have reliable access to water sources then it drastically influences how much you carry on your person.

What you store the water you carry in also matters. Everyone loves their double insulated fancy water bottles from their favorite brand. My suggestion is to carry it in a single walled stainless steel water bottle like the Klean Kanteen water bottle. If you carry a non-insulated water bottle you can use it to carry water and to boil water at some point if needed. They are also lighter and less bulky.

As listed above in the bug out bag list, it is also a good idea to pack water filters and water purification tablets. Both of these methods will get you drinkable water, but it’s worth knowing that filtering is almost instant depending on the type of filter and purifying can take hours at times. That’s why I would carry both. It helps you to remain versatile, capable and adaptable with your primary necessity.

Packing Food and Cooking

Food isn’t as imperative as water but we still need it to survive and for energy to complete hard tasks and function. We can survive up to 3 weeks without food, but it is best to avoid the starvation process if at all possible so packing some emergency food is a good idea.

There are a couple levels of food/cooking you can pack in your bag and how far you take it will be up to you:

  • Level 1: Is ready-to-eat survival food that wont go bad and does not require any cooking at all. Like survival ration bars
  • Level 2: Is food that requires cooking/preparation. Preferably only requiring boiling water. MRE’s fit into this level. There are many survival food pouches/packs like this one to choose from. Mountain House Products are a popular option.

With the bare essentials it is possible to just build a fire with the natural wood around you and boil water in your metal canteen. If/when you decide to bump up to the next level with your bug out bag, you can pack a mini backpacking type stove or something like a hobo/rocket stove.

The hobo stove type is like basically carrying a miniature fire pit with cooking grill/top. So you’ll need natural fuel still.

The backpacking stove type uses a gas canister as fuel. They both have their pros and cons so make a smart decision when deciding which to carry if at all.

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Starting Fire

With lighters in abundance and it being the easiest way to start a fire, it makes sense to carry a couple of these in your bug out bag. Carry Bic Lighters, not the cheesy crack lighters either because they don’t last.

Furthermore, you can carry a ferro rod to supplement your lighters and they will last a long time. They take some practice to get a fire started though so you need to keep that in mind.

Either way, carrying some tinder or fire starter is a good idea. Getting a fire to catch in unpredictable conditions can be a pain in the ass.

The best possible fire starting supplies you can get is from Black Beard Fire. Hands down something you want to add to your kit.

Lastly, this section isn’t about pride. Your skills making a fire without anything at all may be well developed, but taking chances isn’t a joke or cool. Carry a couple lighters, tinder and a ferro rod just to be safe.

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Shelter And Sleeping

Because of a wide range of climates, terrain, configurations, bulk, and weight, having some sort of shelter and method of sleeping safely might be a vital addition. To others it might not be so important so use your better judgement. Regardless, it’s vital to be able to protect yourself from the elements and maintain core temperature.

A survival tarp/regular tarp should be included in your essentials. There are so many uses for one it is a must have in your bug out bag. You can build a shelter, hold heat, hide supplies/gear, collect water and a whole lot more with them. Size and type vary widely but the AquaQuest Safari or Defender tarps work well if you want a survival specific and ultra light option.

When you move into Tier 2 you start adding a tent/sleeping pads/bags/etc. These dramatically increase your comfort levels. A tarp does the job for many but a tent takes comfort a bit further and can block off the world a little better. Consider a bivvy, survival tent, ultralight sleeping pad and/or a quality sleeping bag. A good poncho is also something to consider.

Tier 3 gets you into a larger shelter with all of the comfort items mentioned. Viable if you have family members or small kids you want right there with you.

This stuff can add up in cost and a lot of it may not be needed or you can make due without it. Use your better judgement here.


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Communications

Your phone is clearly a critical part of your prepping supplies. It already has your info, and it can contact anyone, find anything, entertain you, act as a backup flashlight/compass/map, take pictures of damage or where you’ve been, etc.

No you do not need one in your bug out bag because you likely always have your phone on you or nearby. That’s the world we live in.

But what about when the grid goes down?

Amateur radio, otherwise known as HAM radio, is going to be the best option here most likely. Radio is a big topic so you will want to do more research on this to learn about it, licensing requirements and how it all works. But for a true “sh*t hit the fan” scenario an affordable HAM radio, like a Baofeng BF-F8HP, can be a life saver.

Since an amateur radio can also pick up public broadcast / NOAA stations and possibly local emergency services, people who know how to work a ham radio tend to only carry that one device.

If you’re not on the ham path, most people use a crank- and solar-powered NOAA radio to pick up one-way public broadcasts. They’re kind of bulky for what you get, but you’ll at least be able to hear what’s going on outside. Bonus: Many of these radios have a flashlight and USB charging port built in, so you have a second or third backup layer of solar/crank-powered light and electricity. Check these out on Amazon.

Another option is the Bivy Stick. It is a device that turns your phone into a satellite powered 2 way text message device so when the grid goes down, you can still remain in contact with anyone who is still on the grid or also has one of these devices. They are worth looking into if you’re a serious prepper and have the money for it.

Here’s my recommended handheld HAM radio (BF-F8HP) to start and I have a couple of them. There is also the UV-5R which is cheaper but doesn’t have as much broadcasting power

Medical Gear

I am a huge believer in carrying quality medical gear to take care of any injuries you sustain or in case of an emergency, especially if you carry a firearm. Training to save lives with that gear is also essential. You should carry a well thought out and high quality kit to handle some minor and life threatening injuries. Here are a few suggestions and discounted resources I have for you:

Having medical supplies on hand is essential to your survival and safety in SHTF and really during the day to day. If you or someone gets seriously hurt, you will have supplies (and hopefully the know how) to save someone’s life. It is also good to have because someone else can use your supplies to save you if you’re down.

Conclusion

Thank you for reading my guide to building a bug out bag for when SHTF! I know it was a long one but this bag could be a life saver in an emergency situation.

The last thoughts I’d like to add are no matter what you read online, a bug out bag is entirely tailored to your needs and plans. What you pack, how much of it, and how you organize it is entirely up to your needs.

I hope this guide helps you to get started or even make adjustments to a bag you may already have in place.

I try to provide helpful resources to save you some extra money as well so be sure to check out my links and discount codes!

If you thought this article was helpful, please share it with someone who might need it or on your social media pages!

Stay safe and stay strong

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