“That’s not a Bug Out Bag… that’s an I’m Never Coming Home Again bag!”
When you’re putting your preps together — particularly your space-constrained go-bags — it’s natural to feel frustrated that you can’t pack everything you would want for the scenario you’re imagining.
That understandable feeling causes people to make a serious mistake that does more to make them feel good today at the expense of actually being prepared for tomorrow.
Instead of accepting and dealing with the realities of modern prepping, they take the short-term path of least resistance and design their bag loadouts based on planned timelines. One bag might be built to just get them through 72 hours and another bag built for total Walking-Dead-style SHTF collapse and wilderness survival.
We can’t blame them — splitting things up that way does make it easier! When all you have to think about is evacuating ahead of a storm you know is coming to spend a few nights in a Red Cross shelter, it’s much easier to overcome the mental gymnastics of planning for more diverse scenarios.
A “shelter bag,” for example, might just have a few days worth of snacks, clothing, bedding, cash, and documents. While a “doomsday bag” would skip the short-term food and comforts for more tools, survival reference books, medicines, self defense gear, and so on.
But that model breaks a whole bunch of sane prepper rules.
Instead, modern preppers should use a prioritized system, where you grab one bag, then another, then another, until you can’t take any more.
Even the most prepared people aren’t clairvoyant
You simply can’t assume that, when the moment comes to leave your home, you will already have enough trustworthy info about the emergency to know:
If you have fortune-telling prophecy powers, please let us go to Vegas with you. For everyone else, dealing with more questions than answers is just the reality of preparing.
- where you’ll go
- what things will be like
- how long you’ll be away
- what the aftermath will be like
- will first responders be available
- what kind of injuries will be around you
- what your physical and mental state will be like at that time
- does your kid have the flu or a broken ankle
- how much gas is in your car’s tank
- how you’ll get updates and messages
- and so on, and so on
There are plenty of examples where a “short” emergency for everyone else turns into a massive life-changing nightmare for some. Vice versa, some people seem to glide through months-long crises (eg. Puerto Rico after 2017’s Hurricane Maria) because their house was in some magical spot.
Even if you have a bug out location and predetermined routes — which is great! — you can’t assume things will work out the way you’ve planned.
Some of the most facepalm-worthy moments are when we meet preppers who’ve invested heavily in a specific bug out location and travel plan. When we ask “how will things work out if that highway is blocked, you have to abandon your vehicle, and change directions?”
“… Well, I guess I’ll be screwed!” #badprepper
The point is to be able to leave quickly
The ability to leave your home on foot at a moment’s notice — picture waking up at 3 AM to a massive wildfire nipping at your backyard — is one of the core foundations of any beginner’s prepping checklist.
Since you can’t assume you’ll know in that potentially confused, chaotic, adrenaline-fueled moment whether you should take a “three day bag” or a “forever bag”, you want to avoid being forced to make that decision.
Good news: There’s a way you can avoid that decision if you need to, but still have the flexibility if you want it.
Split bags up based on priority, not time
Imagine having bags that are built and stored/labeled based on their grab-and-go priority rather than a time window.
- The #1 bag, which should be stored in a way that makes it easy to grab and go quickly, is a well-rounded bag that likely looks similar to our primary bug out bag list. For #2 and beyond, start customizing to your heart’s content.
- The second bag tends to have the “overflow” stuff people normally wish they could have in a #1 bag but can’t, such as more consumables, weapons, shovels, and other borderline-critical gear such as seasonal outerwear.
- Perhaps the third bag — which may not even be a bag at this point, but a tote, pelican case, ammo can, etc. — goes deeper into “long term SHTF” territory, which may include seeds, reloading gear, advanced medical equipment, a copy of The Handmaid’s Tale, etc.
- And so on. There’s no real limit, although most people stop when they reach the amount that would reasonably fill their vehicle.
Only have a few seconds to leave? Grab the #1 bag sitting right by your exit door. You can be confident you have the right mix of stuff given the uncertainty ahead of you.
Leaving on foot? You’re likely limited to one bag. You can try two bags and see how it goes. If you need to abandon one of the two bags, you don’t have to think about it, just ditch the #2 bag or give it to someone else.
Tip: That’s why a backpack is preferred for second-priority kits. You could carry two backpacks on foot if you really needed to (eg. running one backwards on your chest). And if you hand it off to someone else, they’d prefer it be in backpack form too. Even the #3 bag in the picture above is a duffel that has hidden backpack straps.
Leaving by bike or vehicle? Same story. Grab #1 if you only have seconds. Grab #2 if you have the time. Grab #3 if you have more time and space. Keep throwing in as many of the next bags as you want and have the ability to.
Technically have some time but want to beat the gridlock rush of traffic? Everyone else will be spending precious time running around trying to find their pills and undies while you’re already cruising down the highway with a justified smugness.
Have to abandon your vehicle? You know what to keep and what to ditch/trade.
The overworked FEMA volunteer forcing people to ditch things (since people bring too much) when getting on an evacuation bus? Easy.
Someone is visiting your house when SHTF or your adorable neighbor kids are giving you the “don’t abandon us!” sad puppy eyes? Hand them the bags you normally wouldn’t take due to time/capacity limits.
Mapping to reality while still planning for the worst
Modern preppers know that events like natural disasters and moderate grid failures are far more likely than major collapse scenarios.
This priority model better reflects that reality. Yet it still scales to meet the most doomsday-oriented needs because even black swan events likely won’t limit you to only seconds of vague decision making.
Consider a pandemic that could plunge society into chaos for years. That’s the kind of scenario you might want “INCH” supplies for. In the earliest phases, when people aren’t yet aware that something bad is spreading, you’re not going to bug out yet anyway.
When that tipping point comes — when you realize it’s time to bug out — you’ll very likely have the time to load at least a few of your highest-priority kits into a vehicle and leave, while still maintaining the flexibility to change plans later.
If you don’t have that kind of time, that means you’re already in the thick of it anyway and you have more immediate survival needs than the crop seeds and spare winter coat you have in your #4 INCH kit.