Emergency kit / bug out bag list

Building a bug out bag (sometimes a “go bag”, INCH bag, 72 hour kit, emergency kit, etc.) is one of the most important steps you should take to get prepared. These packed and ready bags serve as your “I need to leave home right now!” kit, and as useful supplies if you’re sheltering at home.

Even if you never use it, the peace of mind that comes with knowing you can handle almost anything is well worth the cost.

New? Start with the beginner’s guide to emergency preparedness for more about the role of a bug out bag and how it fits in the overall modern prepper plan.

Putting a bug out bag checklist together can be daunting — even if you’re only thinking about one or two types of scenarios, the list of items you’d like to have in an emergency is always longer than what you can take. Even the most experienced and skilled people have to make tough choices about what to pack.

In our own journey as common-sense preppers, we were often anxious and frustrated by the horrible lists out there and the mental gymnastics of trying to figure out what gear we needed across different scenarios, what we didn’t need, why, how to prioritize, and so on — all while trying to keep it realistic within the range of modern reasons to prepare and sane prepper rules.

Good news and bad news: There’s no such thing as The Ultimate Bug Out Bag. There are just too many variables to allow for a universal answer that is perfect for all people in all situations. So the good news is you don’t have to stress over being perfect.

Yet there are still clear, life-altering differences between a good kit and a bad one. Many people pack bags that are too heavy to be useful, for example, because they (wrongly) assume they’ll definitely have access to a working vehicle.

You might see all kinds of labels for what is essentially the same concept:

  • Emergency kit / emergency bag
  • 72 hour kit / 72 hour bag
  • Bug out bag
  • Go bag
  • Evacuation bag / evac bag
  • Survival bag / survival kit
  • INCH bag (“I’m Never Coming Home Again”)
  • GOOD bag (“Get Out Of Dodge”)
  • SHTF bag (“Shit Hit The Fan”)

We use some of those labels interchangeably, like bug out bag and go bag, but don’t tend to use time-based labels like 72 hour bag or INCH bag.

More: Why you should use a prioritized bag system instead of bags based on timelines

Although an “emergency kit” can mean a lot of different things (like a kit you keep in your vehicle during snow season), we believe a bug out bag is the closest thing to a singular emergency kit because it’s the one bundle of stuff that can help you deal with the widest range of scenarios.

It’s important to use a solid mental framework and understand why gear is included (or not), so that you can make your own decisions when putting together what’s right for you.

That’s why, in addition to pointing out our favorite products, weights, and reasonings for each category, we include common customizations and things to avoid so you can personalize your bag.

Or you can just keep things easy and follow this list exactly. We’re confident it’s a great mix for a wide range of people and scenarios — many of our personal bags look exactly like this.

Just want to see a list of specific products? Disagree with our suggestions?

We used our brand-spankin-new (and still in development) kit builder to turn this guide into kits that you can clone, customize, and share, complete with recommended products, weights, and prices:

If you disagree or just want to share your own loadout, leave a comment with a link to your kit!

Summary bug out bag checklist

Since general lists aren’t helpful, we’ve prioritized the items below into three levels:

  • Level 1: Under 20 pounds, fits in bags over 25 L, $400-$1,100. A well-rounded kit that covers the essentials of what you need to survive and recover away from home. Good for keeping things cheap or light. Built for more standard emergencies, such as a natural disaster that disrupts things for a few days, but can handle serious emergencies with the right survival skills.
  • Level 2: Under 35 pounds, fits in bags over 44 L with sleeping pad and bag strapped to outside (otherwise need > 50 L), $800-$2,300. Adds core gear that can make a real difference, such as a solar charger and sleeping gear to get you off the ground with comfortable temperature control.
  • Level 3: Under 45 pounds, fits in bags over 49 L with sleeping pad and tent strapped to outside (otherwise need > 60 L), $1,050-$2,750. Around the maximum weight anyone should carry, this kit is the best way to prepare for the widest range of emergencies, including longer-term SHTF.
Level 1: < 20 lbs Level 2: < 35 lbs Level 3: < 45 lbs
First aid kit – Level 1 First aid kit – Level 2 First aid kit – Level 3
27-32 oz potable water stored in a hard canteen Food that needs boiling water (eg. Mountain House) Ferro rod fire starter and striker
Collapsible canteen / vessel Stormproof matches x 20 Extra AA/AAA/etc batteries
Water filter Portable stove for boiling water Battery charger
Water purification tablets x 30 Pot / dedicated boiling vessel Tent
Food that’s ready to eat Spork Extra full magazine
Lighter x 2 Second flashlight / lantern Hand sanitizer
Tinder Sleeping bag / bivy Signal mirror
Headlamp Sleeping pad Whistle
Field knife Sleeping mask and earplugs Hand saw
Multitool Wet wipes Blade sharpener
Cordage x 50′ Travel toothbrush and toothpaste Second pair of socks
Tarp Chapstick Duct tape (flat travel roll)
Waterproof paper and pen Sunglasses Field guide book
Documents (USB and paper) Goggles Misc fasteners / carabiners / ranger bands / etc
Cash Gloves
Condensed camp soap Belt
Toilet paper Pistol / holster / full mag
Nail clippers Maps
Hat Compass
Socks Solar charger
Underwear Waterproof deck of cards / small mental health item
Pants Headphones
Top base layer Pack straps for lashing tents / pads / bags to outside
Jacket / outer shell
Shemagh / bandana / gaiter
One- or two-way radio
USB charging cable and wall plug
Li-Ion power bank
Respirator (and filters if needed)
Storage bags / Ziplocs
Contractor trash bags x 2
Cell phone *
Footwear *
Why you can trust this plan

This list was crafted by a diverse group of experts with over 100 years of combined emergency and survival experience, including post-disaster shelter administration (eg. in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina), military SERE instructors who teach pilots how to survive if they eject behind enemy lines, Special Forces operators, doctors, and the mentors behind the scenes of popular survival TV shows. Another 55 hours was spent debating and researching the details.

Most importantly, this list follows the Sane Prepper Rules by planning for a wide range of realistic scenarios and by assuming you’re a typical person who doesn’t already live off-grid.

Be prepared. Don’t be a victim.

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Tips and common mistakes

Don’t carry too much weight (details in next section).

Don’t design your bags based on specific timelines such as three days or two weeks — use a priority cascade instead and ignore the BOB vs. INCH arguments.

Don’t pack a bunch of extras. The point is to survive — not to battle zombie hordes. That essentially boils down to staying hydrated, fed, warm, dry, and uninjured. Everything else supports those goals or is a bonus.

Don’t assume your predetermined path and “bug out location” will work the way you hope. You are not prepared if you can’t handle unpredictable disruptions to your plans.

Be thoughtful about the environment around you and what risks are likely — but don’t get tunnel vision on specific scenarios like earthquakes or hurricanes. Spend more time thinking about things like terrain, whether or not there will be water (or too much water), temperature variances, urban vs. rural, if everyone around you is likely (or not) to be armed, and so on.

You don’t want to be at either extreme in the “carry a bunch of fish vs. teach a man to fish” tradeoff. Don’t simply carry 72 hours worth of consumables, and don’t skip consumables assuming you’ll hunt and craft your way through (unless you’ve already proven that you comfortably can in your area).

Premade kits are not looked at favorably by experts because almost every company tries to get under a $50-$200 price point by cutting corners, ie. including cheap gear you cannot depend on, having the wrong mix of gear to begin with, or requiring you to replace/add so much stuff that it defeats the purpose.

A good kit, even a basic one, is not going to be cheaper than $150-200. You spend more than that each month on insurance, so don’t skimp on this critical prep.

If you’re on a limited budget, don’t go cheaper than any of the “budget picks” we recommend in our reviews — it’s not worth buying a prep item if it will fail when you need it, and almost all of the uber-budget items found online are crap. Generally speaking, the cheaper the products, the heavier they will be. A budget Level 3 bag, for example, will likely weigh multiple pounds more than average. Whether you use the same budget for a great Level 1 bag or a middle-of-the-road Level 2 bag is up to you, for example.

You can’t assume your party/family will always be together, so don’t spread critical gear across bags. For example, it’s a bad idea to have water gear in one bag and food in another. Every person over 10 years old should have their own essentials in case they get separated.

Children under 10 can have their own bags, but you build theirs more for their comfort and your redundancy. In other words, 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, and so you can raid their bag if you lose something critical like your water filter. But make sure it’s no big deal if they lose the bag altogether. In 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.

Don’t just throw everything into one pile in your bag. Not only does compartmentalizing your gear help you find it in a hurry and create better load distribution while carrying, the individual containers themselves are a great stem cell if you need to improvise something in the field.

There are only two items on this list that don’t need to be kept in your bag at all times: shoes and cell phones — and that’s only because it’s impractical to do so + it’s safe to assume 99% of people will have them on hand or nearby when it’s time to bug out.

Don’t double dip, mix gear with your camping/hiking supplies, or take other shortcuts that might stop you from being able to grab and go without thinking. Part of the whole purpose of a bug out bag is knowing that it’s ready at all times.

What’s the right survival kit weight?

bugout bag weights

People usually build bags that are way too heavy because they assume they’ll be in a vehicle, overestimate their physical fitness, underestimate just how hard it is to carry 50 pounds on their backs for hours, or can’t resist the urge to bring the Kitchen Sink.

You might have to abandon your vehicle, hike 10 miles through the wilderness, wade through floodwaters, or rush up high-rise stairs. You or someone in your party might be injured. You’ll probably be tired, hot/cold, and hungry.

Across our experience and with feedback from the experts interviewed for this guide, we like this rule of thumb:

  • 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.

Studies that specifically focus on this “optimal pack weight” question reinforce those rules. A study of hikers on the Appalachian Trail, for example, found that the sweet spot was 30 lbs or 20% of body weight. While another study in the military found an optimal load of 30% — and that’s for soldiers who train with heavy gear every day.

It’s critical to test your bag. Go for a one mile walk around the neighborhood with your fully loaded pack and see how it goes!

Item weights

We calculated category weights by weighing and averaging what we thought was a good cross section of our favorite products. For example, common orienteering compasses averaged 2 oz while lensatic ones were 7 oz, but we used the blended average of 4.5 oz because 2-3 ounces in either direction felt acceptable.

When some people refer to their pack weight (especially in an outdoor recreation context), they’re actually referring to the “base weight”, which is the pack without any consumables (stored water, food, or fuel) or wearables. However, we include everything when stating weights.

Review: Best bug out bag backpack

Backpack weight was kept consistent across levels at 70 oz, even though such a bag is more than enough for a Level 1 loadout, because even if you’re at L1 you might want room to add more stuff after you’ve bugged out.

Level 1: Ounces
First Aid Kit – Level 1 20
32 oz potable water stored in a hard canteen 40
Collapsible canteen/vessel 1
Water filter 2.3
Water purification tablets x 20 1
Food that’s ready to eat 29
Lighter x 2 2
Tinder 0.3
Headlamp 3.1
Field knife 10
Multitool 9.5
Cordage x 50’ 3.5
Tarp 24
Waterproof paper and pen 4
Documents (physical and USB thumb drive) 1.4
Cash ($400 of mixed bills) 0.5
Storage bags (20L drybag and 5x gallon ziplocs) 5.5
Condensed soap 2.2
Toilet paper 1.2
Nail clippers 0.3
Hat 3
Socks 0.3
Top base layer 10.5
Pants 22
Underwear 3.3
Jacket / outer shell 16
Shemagh / bandana / gaiter 3
One- or two-way radio 11
USB charging cable and wall plug 1.6
Li-Ion battery pack 7.5
Respirator 5
Contractor trash bags x 2 3
Subtotal 326.2 oz / 20.4 lbs
Level 2: Ounces
First Aid Kit – Level 2 32
Food that needs prep 5.2
Matches x 20 in waterproof container 1.6
Stove 18
Pot / vessel for boiling water 6.6
Spork 0.6
Second flashlight / lantern 6.1
Sleeping bag 35
Sleeping pad 32
Sleeping mask and earplugs 1.1
Wet wipes 4.6
Toothbrush & toothpaste 1.6
Chapstick 0.3
Sunglasses 3
Goggles 1.2
Gloves 6.6
Belt 5
Pistol + holster + full mag 36
Maps 4
Compass 4.2
Solar charger 24
Cards / entertainment / mental health 5
Headphones 0.5
Subtotal: 234.2 oz / 14.6 lbs
Level 3: Ounces
First Aid Kit – Level 3 24
Ferro rod 1.6
Extra AA/AAA/etc batteries 4
Removable battery charger 5.8
Tent 50
Extra full magazine 7.7
Hand sanitizer 3.3
Signal mirror 0.7
Whistle 0.7
Hand saw 9
Knife sharpener 1.6
Second pair of socks 2
Duct tape (flat travel roll) 0.6
Field guide book 8
Pack straps 1.7
Misc fasteners / carabiners / etc 0.5
Subtotal: 121.2 oz / 7.6 lbs

Notes on using this checklist

Items are split into prioritized levels, but are not ranked within a level.

The 5 C’s of Survival (cutting, combustion, cordage, cover, and container) and other models/acronyms out there are fine, but they’re just shortcut variations of the same concepts — not a rigid definition you must follow.

See the first aid kit checklist for breakdowns of each IFAK level.

Think of each item on this list as a goal to fulfill, not necessarily a separate product.

Adaptability is a key criterion when experts think through what to include in various levels. Many products are included because they do more than one thing. A tarp, for example, can be used for dozens of different shelters, bedding, rain collection, as a medical stretcher, to conceal you or your gear, a poncho, signaling device, and more.

On the other hand, experts find there are some needs where a dedicated product makes a real difference — even if it’s just mental. You can use the petroleum jelly in your medical pouch as chapstick, for example, but we recommend carrying a separate chapstick because it’s easier to keep in a pocket and apply without dipping dirty fingers into the jelly jar you might need for serious injuries. Similarly, you can get by using a knife or multitool for nail care, but combat medics have learned to carry a dedicated set of clippers for convenience and dealing with gnarly cases.

Combo and hybrid products are a wildcard. While we generally dislike products marketed as “14-in-1 survival tools!” because they tend not to be worth it, it’s common for otherwise fine products to come with a random button compass or some other “‘survival” feature built in. In some cases it’s okay to let that one product check two boxes — a compass with a large mirror that can be used for signaling is an example — otherwise err on the side of caution and only consider those bonus features as backups, not replacements.


what to put in an emergency kit

You know water is critical, but it involves some tricky decisions:

  • Water is really heavy at 8.3 lbs per gallon. Do you even carry water at all and deal with the extra weight? If so, how much?
  • How can you turn random water into safe potable water?
  • Is it better to filter or purify?
  • How do you actually treat water with limited gear?
  • What do you carry water in? How do you collect it?
  • How do you separate clean and contaminated?

We strongly recommend storing potable water in your bag. It’s just too risky to assume you’ll find some random water and have the ability to treat it in a reasonable amount of time after bugging out.

How much to store is a debated topic. Across our experience and with feedback from experts, we recommend 32 oz (1 liter) or as close to that as possible (eg. a 27 oz Klean Kanteen is fine). That’s enough to get you through a day or so and only adds 2 pounds of weight. Some FEMA guidelines talk about three gallons of water, but that’s ridiculous (24 pounds!) and they must be assuming you’re an unprepared person throwing something in your car at the last minute without filters or purifiers.

Use a rigid canteen to store that water so there’s no risk of breakage in your bag. The right container — a single-wall metal canteen — does double duty as a vessel you can boil water in. That might be a lifesaver if you only have a Level 1 kit.

To make safe water, filtering water is generally better than purifying. One reason why is that filtering is instant while purification products can take up to four hours to treat your canteen.

Yet we include both in a Level 1 kit because a pack of 20-40 purification tabs are so small and light, you may as well throw some in.

Review: Best survival water filters and portable water purifiers

You have to be aware of cross contamination. Once a vessel holds dirty water, you can’t use it for potable water until it’s been properly cleaned.

Only having one container not only limits your ability to carry more water (eg. if you find a rare source yet have to move on), but some filtration setups are designed to work with two. One container, usually a soft canteen, is used to squeeze dirty water through filter pores or to hang and let gravity do the same. Your hard canteen can then catch the clean water.

Since a soft canteen is light and can be rolled up to reduce space, we include one in a Level 1 kit, resulting in a hard and soft canteen that together can handle a wide range of scenarios.


  • Consider adding more stored water (up to double) to your pack if you live in a very hot climate or you’re skeptical about easily reaching nearby water sources. It’s worth sacrificing less important gear if you need to make room/weight.
  • If you’re really trying to shave ounces, you can store half the baseline amount (down to 16 oz) and save a pound. Just be thoughtful about that choice.
  • Some people like to carry coffee filters because they help screen the big nasties from dirty water before a proper treatment. They also double as tinder. But you’ll have a shemagh/bandana anyway, which can fulfill the same pre-filter role, or you can DIY with rocks, sand, etc.
  • People who build their kit for more long-term or less-mobile emergencies might add a large gravity water bag to Level 3. These make it easier to set-and-forget treat large volumes of water in fixed locations.


  • Don’t store water in flimsy pouches, juice-box style containers, etc.
  • Hydration bladders. They’re great for hiking, but the downsides aren’t worth it in prepping: less adaptable, can be punctured, it’s easy to lose track of your usage, etc.

what to put in a go bag

Although you can survive up to three weeks without food and can hopefully find or procure your own after bugging out, it’s good to have some on hand to keep your energy levels up and combat hunger pains and bad moods in the immediate aftermath.

But food can be heavy, space inefficient, expire, melt in a hot car trunk, require cooking, and other qualities that disqualify most common options from this kit. What food you choose matters. You want:

  • Food that is ready to eat or requires nothing more than boiling water to cook.
  • Maximum nutrition and calories in as small and light of a package as possible.
  • “Durable” food that won’t expire quickly, fall apart in a bag, react weird to extreme temperatures, etc.
  • The right kind of food for survival, not for taste and comfort. Put on your adult pants and leave the tasty snacks at home.

Level 1 priority is food immediately ready to eat — no cooking, no boiling. Good choices include granola bars, trail mix, peanuts, peanut butter packets, some types of jerky, pemmican, shelf-stable fats, etc. Ration blocks (ie. lifeboat rations) are a great choice because they pack a lot of calories into dense bars.

MREs are tricky because although they include everything you need (including an internal ‘cooker’ instead of external boiling water), they are not space and weight efficient for the nutrition you get. It’s telling that many military vets don’t carry MREs as their primary food choice in a bug out bag.

Level 2 introduces food that requires preparation — which in this case should only mean the need for boiling water.

Standard freeze-dried hiking/camping food, like a Mountain house pouch, are the best choice. They’re light, nutritionally sound, tasty, you can pour the boiling water right into the pouch for cooking and eating, and they can even be consumed cold.



  • Anything that requires more than boiling water to prepare.
  • Coffee. Your medical supplies have caffeine if you really need it.
  • Salt supplements. The military stopped issuing salts to soldiers because they found there’s more risk than reward — you almost always get enough salt from the kinds of food you’d have in a BOB, but overdoing salts can cause constipation. The exception is if you’re in poor shape in a very hot and humid climate.
  • If you choose a dietary restriction in normal life, such as being vegetarian or gluten free, recognize that a survival situation is not the time to nitpick over things like how you get proper protein.
Cooking & eating

Since “cooking” in this case simply means boiling water or roasting something you found/hunted/fished, there’s a clear overlap between this topic and general fire making.

Your Level 1 kit has the bare essentials already. You can make an open-flame fire with random fuel and boil water in your hard canteen, or roast whatever else you have on a stick.

But there are two potentially better methods if you go up to Level 2.

A hobo stove is kind of like carrying a mini campfire ring in your bag. They’re essentially portable, flat-pack metal boxes that you feed natural fuel into (eg. twigs and brush). It’s still an open flame that requires fuel you find around you, but the box provides protection against wind, making it easier to build a concentrated cooking flame than just a pile of sticks on flat ground.

Hiking stoves are mini versions of the gas-fueled burners used in many home kitchens. You need a fuel source (typically a 100 gram gas canister) and the burner unit that screws onto the gas can.

Don’t carry both types of stoves. Which type you carry is up to you. Each have their tradeoffs.

There may be cases where you can’t or shouldn’t build an open fire: maybe you’re in an evacuation shelter, don’t want to be seen, wind and rain are making it difficult, you just can’t find random fuel around, or you don’t have time to build a fire and wait for it to heat up. A fueled stove is perfect for those situations. For example, you can go from a packed bag to boiling water in two minutes!

The clear downside to fueled stoves is the need for a specific fuel in a specific canister. So if you’re experienced with bushcraft, expect to be in nature, or want to be ready for the long term, a hobo stove might be better.

Another upgrade from Level 1 is the addition of a pot or kettle specifically for boiling.

Although you can boil water in your hard canteen, we generally dislike doing this because it creates ‘fouling’ on the metal, can lead to warping, and means you have to pour out whatever clean drinking water you had in there.

Many hiking stoves come with such a pot already, and the kit is designed so that the gas can and burner store neatly inside the pot. So you’re usually not adding much space or weight to include a pot dedicated to boiling.

Freeze-dried food pouches rarely need over 2 cups / 0.5 liters, so save the space and don’t go larger than a 0.8-1.0 liter pot.

Utensils are another Level 2 addition. Don’t go overboard — a simple camping spork will do the trick.


  • A small, light, and durable salt and pepper shaker marketed to backpackers can help with bland food (which is why they’re a popular prison item).
  • If you end up with food that requires cooking inside of a pot or other washable container, you might want to add a small hiker’s dish brush. Stones and other misc stuff can work, but it’s a chore and tears up your gear.


  • Multi-piece mess/cook kits. This isn’t car camping.
  • Nothing that’s meant to be reusable should be plastic.

A simple lighter is the best overall choice, so having two are part of a Level 1 kit. We then add matches to Level 2, and lastly a ferro rod striker to Level 3.

That optimal mix means you can handle most needs in the short term, but if you go deeper, you end up with multiple ways to start a fire that compliment each other. For example, a lighter might fail in strong wind where the stormproof matches will work. Or if it’s a real nasty SHTF scenario, the ferro rod will keep your fires going for years after the lighter and matches are gone — but they’re harder to use, so they’re last on the list.

Reviews: Best survival lighters and cases, matches and waterproof containers, ferro rods and strikers, and tinder

Keep your lighters in a case (they’re cheap and common) so that they don’t get wet or accidentally leak fuel from a button press inside your bag.

Many people assume that as long as you have a lighter or other fire starter, you can always find random fuel around and it will spark right up. But experienced bushcrafters usually carry dedicated tinder, which can make a world of difference when things around you are wet or not great for catching a spark.

There are premade, small, and lightweight tinder products. Many preppers like to keep an old pill bottle or altoid tin with some cotton balls coated in petroleum jelly or similar (which catch a spark very nicely), or it could be as simple as some dryer lint, tampons, or your used and dried-out wet wipes. Whatever you pick should work when damp.


  • While you should always have a plain gas-fueled lighter, since a L1 bag has two, the second one can be a USB-rechargeable lighter.
  • A fresnel lens is a lightweight addition or substitution, but only if you have already successfully used one.
Shelter & sleeping

Shelter is one of the trickier parts of a bug out bag kit because of a wide range of climates, terrain, configurations, bulk, and weight. But it’s vital to be able to protect yourself from the elements and maintain core temperature — so much so that shelter may become your top priority, even above water.

More: How to shelter in and survive a winter emergency

Experts think of shelter in three pieces: What you sleep on, in, and under.

Level 1 has the bare essentials: multiple layers of clothing, a tarp, cordage, knife, and fire makers. With those few items you can make (or break into) rudimentary shelters, cover yourself, and retain a bit of body heat. It won’t be pleasant, but it will keep you alive.

Tarps are one of those versatile products that almost every seasoned pro keeps in their minimalist kit. Besides a wide range of shelter types, common tarp uses include rain collection, hiding your supplies, medical stretchers, sealing off a larger room for heat efficiency, covering a damaged home, or sealing off an area in an NBC/CBRN emergency.

Review: Best tarps for your bug out bag and small survival tent

Level 2 introduces gear that can make a huge difference in your ability to sleep comfortably and control body temperature: a sleeping pad, sleeping bag/quilt/bivvy, and an eye mask with ear plugs.

A sleeping mask and ear plugs are one of those hard lessons learned by people who’ve actually had to bug out. For example, you might be holed up in a public school classroom with 20 other people who are snoring, farting, crying, talking, and using their lights. Some shelters even keep the fluorescent lights on 24/7.

Sleeping on the ground sucks. It’s not just a comfort issue. The real problem is contact with the cold, heat-sucking ground — anything that breaks that contact and traps some warm air is helpful.

That’s why homeless people use cardboard and newspaper even though it may seem meaningless — anything that creates cushion and insulation can make a difference. You can often create a “bed” with random materials around you, such as leaves or trash stuffed into a large garbage bag or poncho.

A sleeping pad designed for ultralight campers can make a surprising difference in comfort compared to just sleeping directly on the ground or a makeshift bed. There are versions with a meaningful amount of insulation (up to an R value of 10) at the expense of a few more ounces, which we think are worth it in all but the hottest climates.

It’s a personal choice whether you pick a sleeping bag, camping quilt, or bivvy. Just get the lightest, most compact version you can afford that’s right for your climate. A sleeping bag liner can be an easy and worthy addition if you’re in colder climates, and we like to store them ready-to-use inside the main bag.

Level 3 adds a two-person ultralight tent (which is actually only for one person). You can get most of the same value through your tarp, but a tent is nice because it closes you off from bugs and predators, can do a better job cutting the wind and rain, and can be set up more easily and in more places than a tarp — saving you time, calories, and exposure.


  • Ponchos are a popular addition or hybrid substitution for other gear. Some people have a tarp and rain jacket, while others use a combo product that can do both jobs reasonably well.
  • Hammocks are one of the most debated shelter choices. There are benefits — getting off the ground, overcoming uneven terrain, and making use of the tarp you already carry as the overhead cover — but in the end we recommend robust bivvies and/or tents unless you’re already an experienced hammock camper or have specific reasons to go that route.


  • Cheap gear. Pads, bags, bivvies, and tents tend to be a category where you get what you pay for. Higher price points typically mean lighter, stronger, and better-insulating materials.
  • Inflatable sleeping pads save weight and space, but they may pop from a puncture or fire ember.
  • Some parents think it’s better to have a bigger tent so they can keep children corralled. If children are small enough where you need to keep them that contained, then they’re usually small enough to share a two person tent with. Big tents are just too cumbersome for a modern bug out bag, so do what you can to avoid that kind of scheme.


Although it adds a bit of bulk and weight, keeping a full set of climate-appropriate clothing in a Level 1 kit makes a ton of sense.

The key is to store the right kind of clothing.

Use the same products and principles backpackers use and do whatever you can to avoid underperforming materials like denim, khaki, and cotton. It’s worth spending a little more money on “technical” clothing from a sports or outdoor store because they’re lightweight, often take up less space, are designed to move, might have durable patches on hotspots like the knees, wick moisture, retain heat, can be easily washed by hand, and dry out quickly.

Even if you live in a hot climate, it’s generally a good idea to store pants and long-sleeve tops. The extra protection can be invaluable. The right gear is often adaptable, too, such as convertible pants that zip off to shorts and tops with features for rolling up and holding the sleeves.

Similarly, even hot climates can benefit from an outer shell to break up the wind and rain. Keep in mind that many desert areas can get very cold at night.

Depending on their local climate, some people (ourselves included) rotate the clothing in their bug out bag twice a year at the beginning of summer and winter to make a lot of this gear-mixing simpler. That method’s fine if you have the discipline to stick with it — if you want to keep it easy, err on the side of caution by storing clothing for the colder side of your climate. You can always wear less if it’s hot, make a summer layer or rain jacket with a tarp/poncho/bag/shemagh, wrap yourself in slain zombie skin, etc.

Quality socks are a critical part of footcare, which in turn is a critical part of surviving. Just ask anyone who’s been in the military or spent a lot of time outdoors. You definitely want at least one pair in Level 1, and it’s okay to add more as space allows.

Shoes, like phones, are another category where it’s okay to depend on having them around anyway, sparing you from keeping a dedicated set stored in your kit at all times — assuming you keep the bag stored somewhere obvious and shoes are naturally nearby.

Level 1 includes some kind of “does lots of things” bandana, shemagh, neck gaiter, or similar. These types of versatile products can be a hat, mask, scarf, sling, water filter, rain collector, signal, retain heat, cool via evaporation, etc.

A hat is clearly critical at Level 1, both for warmth and sun protection. We add sunglasses to Level 2 because although they might be considered a luxury, you’re pretty crippled if you can’t see.

Gloves are helpful for both warmth and protection, but we add them in Level 2 because you can get by without them in Level 1. Most of us aren’t calloused farmers anymore, so suddenly splitting wood with a knife or clearing debris after a natural disaster can really tear up your hands.

If you’re in a cold climate, consider having two sets of gloves, with one a thinner glove that can fit inside the second (and ideally more durable) glove for two layers of warmth.

A belt comes in at L2 because you can skip the bulk and weight in Level 1. If you only have Level 1 and need to keep your pants up, you can always use paracord or some other safety pin / fastener in your kit.

There are three types of belts common for these packs: The lightest possible, something built to hold survival gear or money in hidden compartments, or something sturdy enough to act as a MOLLE pouch and gun holster platform. All are fine, just pick what works for you.


  • Sink laundry kits are popular with ultralight travelers. It’s essentially just a pouch of concentrated detergent powder and a flat plastic drain cover so you can build up a bowl of water in a sink.


  • Sandals, Crocs, Vibrams, etc. It doesn’t matter how tactical they are or how much you worry about a grimey shelter shower. Use proper footwear.


A headlamp is almost always the best primary lighting choice because you can hold it like a flashlight, hang it on or around other items, or wear it on your head to keep your hands free (which can be a real lifesaver!) They’re small, relatively lightweight, and many modern models can produce a lot of light for a long time on a USB-rechargeable or standard AA/AAA battery.

Review: Best headlamps

Your Level 1 kit also includes one or two lighters, a cell phone, and possibly a solar/crank-powered radio, all of which serve as backup light sources even in a minimalist kit.

Level 2 includes a second powered light source. You can choose between a handheld flashlight, second headlamp, or lantern. As products in this space have advanced, we tend to carry a lantern for our second light because they’re small (some collapse down to the size of a hockey puck), rechargable, and do a better job flooding light into a room or camp site than a headlamp/flashlight.


  • Candles used to be a good idea across the board, but modern battery and charging tech has changed that balanced to the point where we generally don’t think they’re worth the weight and space. If you want candles anyway, a pack that takes up a few square inches and 5-6 ounces can provide 25-50 hours of light. You can buy citronella versions to help keep bugs away.


  • Glow sticks. They used to be a decent choice, but advances in powered lights have overtaken the value of carrying glow sticks.
  • Similar story with standalone crank-powered lights. They used to be necessary, but advances in rechargeable tech have made them a niche thing.

communication radio signal

Your cell phone is clearly a critical part of your prep. 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.

A phone is one of the few categories where it’s okay to not have one stored in your emergency kit at all times. This is mostly because the chances are very high that you’ll have your phone on your body or within easy reach when it’s time to bug out, and partly because it’s impractical for many people to keep another activated phone on hand just for emergencies.

However, you can buy prepaid “burner” phones or just keep an old phone with a spare SIM card from your main mobile phone account — just make sure they’re modern enough to use the same charging cables as the rest of your kit. Cell phones can call 911 without an active plan no matter what, but you could activate the SIM in your spare phone if the need arises.

But what if the grid is down?

Amateur (ham) radio to the rescue! Radio is a big topic, so start with our ham radio for dummies guide, which explains why ham is the best choice and why you should avoid other types like walkie talkies and CB.

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.

Signalling might make the difference between life and death, but it’s hard to pick one universal, portable product because the right signaling method is very dependent on your circumstances.

The best choices for small, light, and relatively versatile products are a signal mirror and whistle. They aren’t high on the list, only coming in at L3, because they only become more useful than your existing Level 1-2 gear in a narrow set of circumstances.


  • Many advanced preppers buy tarps, mylar, or other gear they’d pack anyway with at least one surface in a bright color (like hunter’s blaze orange) so they can choose to be visible if needed. Here’s an example.
  • If you’ll be on the water, signaling dye and/or flares are nice. Flares in a general sense typically aren’t worth the space and weight, though.
  • Some people like to carry a “I need help, come find me!” GPS device known as a Personal Locator Beacon. The Garmin inReach is a popular choice.
  • Satellite phones might be helpful, but they’re prohibitively expensive.


  • Dedicated smoke products. Yes, smoke is a great signalling method in some situations where other methods fail. But the cost, size, and weight usually don’t justify the rare cases where you’d really need it and a fire won’t do.
  • Tactical-minded folks sometimes carry a laser pointer because it can signal at a distance without giving away their position, but most civilians shouldn’t bother.

power battery charger

The only powered items in a L1 kit are a headlamp, radio, and phone. Because of how battery chemistry works, you should store gear with around a 50% charge. Check and top up the power level during your routine prep reviews.

More: Beginner’s guide to batteries and beginner’s guide to off-grid power

Including the relatively-heavy and limited-use Li-Ion battery in Level 1 was something we debated. But in the end, the few powered devices in a L1 bag are such critical preps that if felt important to have at least 1-2 charging cycles worth of power on hand no matter what.

Review: Best rechargeable portable power bank

Adding a simple wall plug and USB charging cable completes the L1 setup. Be careful to look at the totality of your powered gear to understand what kind of USB-A, -B, or -C ports/cables you need. It’s better to have a wall plug with only a USB-A port, for example, with A-to-B and/or A-to-C cables based on your needs. Vice versa, only throwing in the plug and cable that came with a Google Pixel phone, for example, is too limiting because the plug and cables are all USB-C and still too limited within the broader market.

Actually generating power comes in at Level 2 with a portable solar panel. Although they add a bit of weight and space, these panels can provide an infinite supply of power for any of your core gear.

Review: Best portable solar chargers

A solar panel alone can charge devices directly via USB, such as plugging the panel straight into your phone. A growing number of popular battery types (eg. AA and CR123A) also have USB plugs integrated directly into the battery.

Reviews: Best disposable batteries and removable rechargeable batteries

But Level 3 adds a dedicated battery charger for removable batteries that don’t have such a built-in plug. We also add a spare set of removable batteries that fit your core gear, especially if you have or find gear that can’t be charged directly from a solar panel via USB — ham radios are the usual culprit.

Review: Removable battery chargers


  • Odd battery/power types. Try to standardize your power as much as possible so that everything uses the same common USB cables and battery types.
  • Gimmicky water/wind/crank power generators. The tech isn’t good enough yet, but we look forward to the day it is.

compass map

Part of being prepared is already having at least a general feel for your surroundings, knowing major routes and landmarks, and keeping basic map info downloaded on your phone so it doesn’t require the network.

Experts generally feel that, if you could only have one, a map is more valuable than a compass because a compass alone will only tell you NSEW direction while a map alone provides more immediate help — such as knowing if a hospital is nearby.

The trickier decision was whether to put a map in Level 1 or 2. Either way is fine, particularly since they don’t take up too much space or weight.

In the end, we didn’t think a map was critical enough for a L1 bag for the following reasons: your existing knowledge, the tools you should have in your phone anyway, the fact many GPS apps still work even when the phone network is down, your car should have maps too, and that a general sense of direction (eg. “we need to get away from the city”) will be enough in many circumstances.

Maps should be waterproof and, if you only have one, at a scale that shows the area within 1-2 hours of driving from your home, ideally including topography.

More: Learn how to use a map and compass and review of the best compasses

Severe scenarios will require you to figure out your location without GPS, navigate terrain or waterways, estimate distance, and find resources. So a Level 2 kit includes a compass, which, combined with some basic skills and a map will cover almost everything you need.


  • Portable GPS units are fine if they specifically make sense for your plans.
  • Ranger beads or pedometers are helpful for keeping your pace count. Knowing how far you’ve walked can keep you on course if you’re navigating without the grid.
  • Binoculars seem like a good idea, but in practice they tend not to be worth the space, weight, and cost. Still, you can add them if you know you have reason to.

tool knife saw paracord

A field knife and multitool are two of the most important tools you can carry. They will always be in a Level 1 kit, even if you cut our suggested list in half, because there are very few items that provide more bang-for-your-buck versatility. Both tools should be kept in a sheath that you can attach to a pack or belt.

Reviews: Best survival knife, field knife sheaths, and survival multitool

Cordage is another critical prep. So much so that it has its own “C” in the popular “5 C’s of Survival” framework. The uses are endless, it’s relatively cheap, and it won’t add much weight to your pack for how much value you get.

Paracord is the go-to choice, rather than standard rope or other line, partly because you can split paracord apart into multiple smaller strands. So if you really needed it, 50 feet of paracord could be 350 feet of line. Plus some paracord products come with survival extras built in, such as a fishing line.

Review: Best survival paracord

We recommend carrying at least 50 feet because that’s a common package size and it’s enough to build basic shelters, rappel, and perform other common tasks. If you’re experienced and know you can get by with 25 feet, that’s fine too.

We don’t add another dedicated tool until a hand saw in Level 3. In a severe emergency, you may be processing a lot of wood, breaking into or out of things, crafting items, and so on. A great knife can get you through most needs in a pinch, but a hand saw can make a world of difference.

Review: Best hand saws

Another Level 3 addition for serious emergencies is a blade sharpener. You might be using your bladed tools quite a bit, and not only is a sharp blade safer, it can help you save calories and time. Go with either a pocket stone (strongly preferred) or pull-through sharpener to keep things small and light.

Reviews: Best portable sharpening stone and pull-through sharpener


  • Sewing kit
  • Fishing kit
  • Trapping kit
  • Lock picking gear / bump keys
  • Silcock keys are a common add-on for urban kits because they open (some) water valves commonly found in city buildings.
  • Although a hand saw is a good universal choice, if you have experience with hatchets, machetes, kukris, and tomahawks, then consider which one is right for your environment and if you want to replace the hand saw. Choose something small enough to be portable, but some of the larger options might end up strapped to the outside of your pack.
  • A shovel, trench tool, or frankenstein “emergency tool” is generally not a good idea because they take a large amount of space and weight for relatively limited value. Plus we don’t see many in the market that we actually like. Some people really have a need for one based on their plans (such as buried caches or snow cave shelters), in which case they’re not crazy to include.
  • Pencil sharpeners are one of those neat prepper tricks that float around social media because it seems crafty and cool. A tiny $1 pencil sharpener can make tinder shavings or sharpen a stick, but you already have multiple blades. So the only time that might be a worthy addition is if the sharpener itself is magnesium, which can be scraped into tinder shavings.


  • Don’t bother with the handheld wire saws commonly seen in amateur survival kits. They just don’t work well enough to be worth it unless you’re already practiced.
  • A can opener is very likely already included in your multitool, and you can always use a knife or something random, so don’t bother with a dedicated opener.
  • Door stoppers / wedges are another viral hack based on some stories of being in shelters (like a high school classroom) where people wished they could block the door for privacy. The need is valid, but you can use or make something else instead.
  • Fuel siphons aren’t worth the space and weight for the very limited scenarios where you’d want one and they’ll work.
Medical & hygiene


See expert’s checklist of survival first aid kit items, which map directly to the same three-level model for your bug out bag. The weights used in this guide are based on that list, including common containers used for each size.

Respirators are vital in emergencies ranging from fires to pandemics to civil unrest to nuclear war because they protect your lungs from contaminants.

But a full gas mask is just too big for a realistic bug out bag. Outside of the most extreme nuclear and bioweapon disasters, you can recreate the value of a full mask by combining a half mask to cover your mouth and nose with a pair of googles to cover your eyes.

Whether you carry a reusable or disposable half-face respirator (with extras / extra cartridges) is up to you.

Review: Beginner’s guide to the best gas masks and respirators

Level 2 adds the goggles. You might be walking through smoke, tear gas, contaminated air from an earthquake or other disaster (eg. the 9/11 first responders lung illness), or even high wind. People often buy swim goggles, onion goggles, or other “industry safety” goggles that seal off the eye.

respirator tear gas goggles
Hong Kong protestors using industrial goggles to protect against tear gas – via WaPo/Philip Fong/AFP/Getty Images

People often underestimate how important hygiene is in an emergency. Yet organizations like the WHO, CDC, FEMA, and Red Cross all stress its importance because they see first-hand how disease can spread as soon as groups of people get together in an austere setting. Typhus, tuberculosis, and even the literal plague are making their way through US homeless populations, for example, and recent hurricane floodwaters have tested for extremely high levels of feces and toxins as people wade through them with open injuries.

Soap is a no-brainer for Level 1. A small bottle of condensed camping soap, which you add to water to froth up, doesn’t take much space or weight and can make a world of difference in your health and comfort.

There was some debate among our experts about which levels to add nail clippers, toilet paper, and wet wipes. There are solid arguments in any direction, so you have some flexibility on how you prioritize these items.

We included nail clippers in Level 1 — even though you have other cutting tools — because hand and foot care is so vital, yet often overlooked, and experts with experience treating soldiers and hikers in the field have seen first hand how a proper nail clipper can make the difference.

Toilet paper was favored over wet wipes for L1, with wipes added to L2, because the soap already in a L1 kit can help with general cleanliness. Wet wipes are better used as whole-body showers, rather than simply as bum wipes.

Review: Best wet wipes

Chapstick and a travel toothbrush/toothpaste are added in L2 while hand sanitizer is added in L3. Similar to nail clippers, you can technically get by without these specialized products. You can fashion a toothbrush with your knife by flaring the end of a twig into whiskers, for example.

Experts find in practice, however, that people are more likely to keep their hands and mouth clean and prevent injuries when these cheap and light products are around. Plus it helps save water, soap, petroleum jelly, and other supplies with more versatile uses. But you can skip these if you’re experienced in the field.


  • Menstrual products. Although menstrual cups are great for home supplies, avoid them in bug out bags because you don’t want to assume you have clean hands for insertion/removal and want to avoid wasting water and soap for cleaning.
  • If you need prescription eyewear, be sure to have a spare set of glasses in a hard case.
  • Anything tangential you need for critical medical care, such as extra hearing aid batteries.
  • If you’re in a very hot climate, you can add travel sunscreen, although you have enough other gear to shield you from the sun even when on the move.
  • Some preppers include a small towel, usually marketed for travelers, hikers, or swimmers. There isn’t a ton of value here, though, so keep it light.
  • Floss isn’t a bad addition because it’s insanely small and light and can act as a backup fishing, trap, sewing, or general line.
  • You can consider a full gas mask if you have a bona fide reason to be worried about CBRN disasters, such as living near a toxic industrial facility.
  • Iodine tablets don’t add much weight but will be vital in a nuclear scenario.
  • Condoms and birth control. We’ll always remember the answer a tribal chief gave us when working in a remote village with an insane ratio of children to adults: “There’s no electricity here. What else do you think we do at night? ;)”


  • Deodorant. If you’re around other people, they’re probably stinky too. If you’re not around other people, then who cares. Plus the wet wipes, soap, and technical clothing help mitigate odor.
  • Mouthwash.
  • Single-use pocket hand/foot warmers. You’re better off using that money/space/weight on something more valuable, such as better gloves. If you’re in a very cold climate, however, a USB-rechargeable pocket warmer tucked into an armpit can help.
Entertainment & mental health

It’s easy to dismiss creature comforts in an austere survival scenario, but even the most rugged manly man has to manage their mental health — a critical element to survival.

A small token or two can help fill the time, lift your spirits, and give you something to talk about that isn’t the emergency itself. As a bonus, sometimes the best thing to do is sit still, and if you have something to fill your time then you’re less likely to move about or do something stupid.

The classic go-to is a waterproof deck of cards. Small, lightweight, cheap, and versatile for solo and group use. Other common choices:

  • Pocket Bible, Koran, Tanakh, Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, etc.
  • Dice
  • Magic The Gathering
  • Travel tabletop games
  • Rubik’s cube
  • Kindle
  • Airplane-mode games, music, movies, podcasts, and books on your phone

You likely have pictures of loved ones for documentation and recovery reasons anyway, but a simple photo of anything that brings you joy (or even a will to survive) might go a long way.

Simple earbud headphones are added to Level 2 for entertainment, general hands-free communication, and (if compatible with your radio) to be more stealthy in tactical scenarios.


  • Vices like cigarettes, a USB vape pen, travel booze, etc. Some people carry these items as barters — an addicted smoker might give up something valuable in exchange for a cigarette. But they can also be acceptable choices if you are addicted, need something to dull pain from an injury, or just generally benefit from a hit to put you to sleep when you otherwise can’t.
  • If you’re a parent and want to keep something small in your bag just in case you have a scared child without their own bag and toys, that’s okay, but try to leave the stuffies and other bulky stuff in the kids’ bags. What you keep in your bag is the emergency-tantrum backup.


  • Keep it reasonable and don’t stress too much about “boredom.” You’re trying to survive. A large Harry Potter book is not right for this situation, you filthy Slytherin!

A weatherproof notepad and pen are a no-brainer in Level 1 because they can help with almost every other category, from documentation to navigation to medicine.

Important documentation should be stored both digitally and physically. In a bug out bag that typically looks like a USB thumb drive and small laminated papers you print and seal at home. Keep them stored in one of your watertight containers. That should cover all of your bases when combined with files stored in the cloud and on your phone.

Documents to keep copies of in your emergency kit:

  • A list of important people and their contact/location information
  • Birth certificate
  • SSN card
  • Passport
  • State ID
  • List of financial accounts and credit card numbers — don’t forget the expiration and CVV codes as well as the phone numbers for your providers
  • Titles/deeds
  • Marriage certificate, especially if you have different last names
  • Anything proving parental relationships, especially if adopted or different last names
  • Pictures of important people, both for morale and to give to others for recovery/reconnection
  • Estate planning docs
  • Health, homeowners, auto, life, and other major insurance policy numbers and phone numbers
  • Important medical history, medication (with dosage), and allergies
  • Living will or Do Not Resuscitate instructions

Level 3 adds a well-rounded pocket field guide. Since a L3 kit is typically for the more severe emergencies, having a small reference guide that covers basics like shelter making and animal trapping can be a real lifesaver.

More: Best survival books


  • Children’s bags should include things like a picture of their house, a map with a pin of their home location, pictures of and contact info for their family, etc. That way they can still get the right kind of help from strangers even when they’re upset and can’t remember or communicate specifics.


  • Full-sized documents. It’s fine to shrink the printout copy of your documents and IDs for the sake of space. Or make your own text file with tiny font and cliff notes. It should not take much space to include the relevant portions of every document in the list above.

You clearly want to pack some cash, but how much? There’s no real rule, just a general guideline: as much as you can, within reason.

For most people, that looks like a few hundred or few thousand dollars in cash, split up between large and small bills. You may want to split it up so it’s not stored in one place, which may be helpful if someone loots or mugs you.

How helpful cash will be greatly depends on the situation. In a shelter after a natural disaster? $100 could be very handy. Total SHTF with people panicking? You might need $1,000 or more before someone you want to bribe will actually care.


  • Some preppers hold gold, silver, or other hedged stores of value. It’s fine to keep some smaller, more tradeable bullion in your BOB if you really want to. Just be careful of weight.
  • Better yet, carry wealth in the form of jewelry instead of bullion. If you have to barter with it, it’s better to play it off like “this is my wedding ring and last keepsake!” instead of one gold coin that makes the person think “hm, I bet they have more.”
  • If you think of cryptocurrency as part of your prep, or you simply have a bit of wealth there, keep your wallet and other critical info stored physically and/or digitally in your bag.
Self defense

self defense

Another area where people tend to overdo it. It’s just not practical to carry multiple weapons with tons of ammo so you can fight your way through the zombie hordes. (And if your plan is to use weapons to take what you need from others, you’re a #badprepper.)

A L1 bag already has bladed tools that could be used for defense if needed. But in Level 2 we introduce a pistol, holster, and full magazine. Combined with a sturdy belt, you’ll be ready to defend yourself in most circumstances.

L3, which takes on more weight in order to handle more long-term or serious emergencies, adds a second (or even third) full magazine.


  • If you want something more robust than a pistol, try to keep it as light and concealable as possible, such as an SBR or takedown bow.
  • If you don’t want to carry a firearm, but do want to carry a less-lethal option such as pepper spray, you can add it to your kit wherever it makes sense for you.
  • It’s okay to throw in a simple taco holster or something similar for spare mags.


  • Rambo fantasies.
  • Multiple calibers of ammo.
  • Night vision and other bulky but unnecessary accessories in a primary bug out bag.

It’s a good idea to keep gear stored in compartmentalized bags or sacks within your overall backpack. You’ll find what you need more quickly, can grab-and-go specific pouches as needed, etc.

Those containers are also preps themselves, with countless uses when you’re adapting in the field. You might use a Ziploc bag to protect a severed finger, for example, or collect rainwater.

Whether you use standard Ziploc bags, ultralight packing sacks, stuff sacks, or dry bags is up to you. We like to have at least one large bag that’s capable of being watertight — not only for the reasons you’d expect, but because it can double as a floatation device.

Large contractor trash bags are included in L1 because they don’t add much weight yet can be useful for human waste, as an additional poncho or tarp, bedding or clothing layer, something you can use to go scout for supplies without taking your whole pack, and so on.

Fasteners are infinitely useful for improvising, repairing, and organizing. Be thoughtful about what you include. A quality twist tie to keep your USB cords together is better than a flimsy one, for example, and can serve double duty if needed.

Pack straps are added to L2 because you’ll likely want to strap your sleeping pad and/or sleeping bag to the outside of your pack (assuming you have a reasonably-sized pack). In a L3 kit, the sleeping bag tends to go inside the backpack, with the pad and tent strapped outside.

We like to add a small flat-pack travel roll of duct tape, climbing carabiners, and ranger bands (ie. thick and sturdy rubber bands) to our L3 bag.

The duct tape can patch torn clothing or shelter. The carabiners help hold weight without knots, such as suspending a bear bag or rappelling from a window. Rubber bands are generally useful and often used when combining two high-use products together, such as a light strapped to a weapon. Pack straps help carry gear on the outside of your backpack, like a sleeping pad or extra hoodie you find along the way.


  • Watch or time keeper, especially if you don’t assume you’ll have your cell phone.
  • A padlock / luggage lock can be helpful when you’re sheltering with people you don’t know. Unfortunately, looting does happen when people are in a tough situation, but when in shelters they’re mostly crimes of opportunity — a simple, lightweight luggage lock can make the difference.
  • Handcuff keys.


  • Zip ties can do double duty as makeshift handcuffs, but they’re generally less versatile (and definitely less reusable) than other fasteners.


    • A2

      Being female, I add a Pitch and Trek Female Urination Device (FDA approved) to my BOB bags. I want to keep bare butt-squatting to a minimum in an evac scenario.

      5 |
      • John RameyStaff A2

        Nice, good add

        1 |
    • Arterial Red

      Hey all!

      Really enjoying these articles. Thank you all so much for the effort you are putting in!

      3 |
    • Scott Byron
      [comment deleted]
      1 |
    • Scott Byron

      I absolutely love both this and the ifak list. You folks are making things so much easier for someone like me who’s only recently started prepping. I trust you and I know I can start with your lists, and not having to worry if I’m doing the right thing. Thank you!!

      2 |
    • Lee Lichtenwalner

      Any chance you have this as a PDF???  Great material worth sharing and including in files folder on facebook.

      2 |
      • John RameyStaff Lee Lichtenwalner

        Thanks for asking Lee, but since our info is frequently updated, please share the link to this page, not a copy.

        1 |
    • Mr. Blenderson

      Really like your site – I waded through lots and lots of confusing and generally low-quality information before I found yours.  Many thanks!

      I am struggling with the decision to put the belt, chapstick, and firearm in the L2 bag when these are items I keep on my person on a daily basis. (In addition to lighter, folding knife, flashlight, and pepper spray).  Should I consider those still to be part of the L2 bag in addition to what I already have on me, or move them to L1 for myself?

      2 |
      • John RameyStaff Mr. Blenderson

        Thanks for saying so 🙂 We felt the same about what’s out there, which is why we started this project. Still a lot to do though!

        Great question, and a perfect example of personalization. You might decide that since you everyday carry those items anyway, you don’t need to duplicate them in your BOB, or you may put them further down the prioritization list (so you only end up with two of those things in a fully-loaded kit.)

        Or you might decide that the EDC stuff and BOB stuff are separate, since you may have to bug out quickly in the middle of the night and wouldn’t already have your EDC stuff on your person. (This happened recently to people in wildfire areas who had to sprint out of the house at 3am.)

        Personally, I’m at the point where I duplicate / consider EDC and BOB to be separate concerns.

        What do you think you’ll do?

        2 |
      • Mr. Blenderson Mr. Blenderson

        Thanks, that makes sense.

        I think I will duplicate my EDC items in the L1 bag as the more likely scenario is needing to grab that in the middle of the night for some reason.  Plus the things in my EDC are so useful, lightweight, and indispensable to me that I wouldn’t mind having two of them.

        3 |
    • Friend of the Pod

      Not that the Jetboil linked to on the BOB “Kit” page wouldn’t be great, but I was wondering if there was any consideration of solid fuel stoves, like the Esbit pocket stove. Or rather, is there a particular drawback to solid fuel stoves that kept them out of contention? Personally, I’m packing a small (7.8oz weight) pot, with an Esbit and a dozen or so fuel tabs stowed inside it, which I think will give me everything I need, with less weight and space than the Jetboil, unless I’m overlooking something important.

      3 |
      • The Prepared Friend of the Pod

        If you already have a solid fuel, are comfortable with it, and understand the overall context/tradeoffs of it, then it’s fine. We just haven’t done a full guide yet to portable stoves, but linked the Jetboil because we’ve used a bunch of those products and know they’re one of the best in the market. Especially for muggles with no bush experience.

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      • Fair enough. Thanks for the reply.

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    • Katie Batie

      Ladies will need sanitary items. Tampax are also good tinder. Thank you for such a fab site! It makes me feel good about doing this and not crazy xx

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    • Trying to be Prepared

      I really enjoy these. It gives me a reason to buy yet another bag! Much to my wife’s dislike…Do you and your experts have any recommendations for packing all this gear in a bag? I am sure much of it is personal preference but a general guideline would be helpful. Thank you for the work that you put in and the information that you put out. If you need any novice testers I am happy to volunteer my wife and I.

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      • John RameyStaff Trying to be Prepared

        Thanks! Love the username. We do plan on putting a packing guide together sooner than later, but TBH this coronavirus stuff has totally swamped us and pushed everything back.

        Quick tips:

        • Use ultralight organizational bags and/or MOLLE bags, both internally and externally where it makes sense to, to keep related items together. eg. When it’s dark you can grab the red bag with your fire stuff.
        • Consider what should be quick / frequent access. You don’t need your stove often, and when you do, you’re stationary. But you might want to grab your multitool 30 times a day.
        • Heavy items go closest to the spine, either at the middle or bottom of the pack.
        • Shelter gear, like a sleeping pad, can go on the outside (and often need to).
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    • Jmo

      Hi! Great blog, I am glad I found it. Could you share the type of pistol and holster pictured in this bug out bag? I would like a starting point for self defense, and really like the size and look seen in this article. Thanks!

      3 |
      • Friend of the Pod Jmo

        It’s a Glock, and I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s a G43X with an aftermarket light, laser, or light/laser mounted on it, and a set of aftermarket sights. If you’re new to firearms, I would strongly suggest that before you jump into buying your first pistol you do two things:

        1. Take a basic pistol class at a local range.
        2. Try shooting a bunch of different pistols to see what you like, and what works well for you. Many ranges also rent guns.

        FWIW, I wouldn’t recommend a subcompact like the G43X as a first gun. All else being equal, smaller guns are generally harder to shoot well, and can be quite uncomfortable to shoot. IMHO you’d be better off training and learning good fundamentals on a larger gun (like even a G19 for example), before investing in a tiny gun for concealed carry.

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      • John RameyStaff Jmo

        FOTP is correct, it’s a Glock 43X with a Streamlight TLR-6. It’s specifically meant for concealed carry / daily wear, and if you’re brand new to firearms, it may be a little too small. (Small pistols are harder to learn with than big ones.)

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    • Kori Baij

      If sleeping bags are stored long term packed tight, they lose loft and become less effective. I store mine in a large shopping bag next to my BOB. I can easily carry both for a short/medium distance. It takes less than a minute to cram it in at the top of my BOB. If I can’t grab it, I still have an emergency bivvy that can get me by.

      Also, hair ties are a fairly versatile fastener and easy to forget, even when you use one every day.

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    • DocOnes

      John and staff at TP,

      Thank you all for your time and wisdom putting this together. I was a medic in the OK ARNG. I have personally been deployed overseas 3 times and to 3 natural disasters and helped in 3 additional disasters with Team Rubicon. Those include the 2013 Moore, Joplin tornado, and Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

      I am into the 20%, but never felt validated with my equipment or strategy. Since beginning to read your site in January, I have been able to confirm suspicions, relieve stress, and tighten my kits. Thank you for consolidating knowledge for “sane prepping.”

      For all those who are new to prepping, use the hell outta this site. It’s great succinct info that is 80% unarguable 😉

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      • DocOnes DocOnes

        Personally, I do highly disagree with the strategies outlined to have one unaltering, dedicated, not heavy bugout bag. My experiences have shown that may lead to glaring deficiencies for those who actually need specialty equipment. Not keeping it in their bugout bag because of weight is potentially more dangerous than needing to take the few seconds to remove excess, unneeded specialized equipment. For example, having smoke evacuation masks in California would be an ideal prep for a bugout bag, but add 3-5lbs per person. Per your list, it would be one of the first to items to be culled for weight restrictions, but that could lead to disaster at 3 am struggling to find where it was saved.

        My wife and I each have 30-35 lb bags in our car and a 70 lb family bugout bag. Each weighs far to much for their given purpose, however they have a light weight base kit, advanced general category items, specialty items and a universal (edc type) item kit. It is packed in reverse order. This means the specialty items would be easily accessible to be culled before leaving and taking the kit into a situation.  This strategy would be like keeping your level 3 items in a separate compartment of your bugout bag for culling, if necessary. It’s worked for myself in tornado alley and for my friends.

        I do look forward to future articles and even some competing narratives to help guide myself and others to understand what they must consider for their own circumstances. Keep up the good work.

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      • John RameyStaff DocOnes

        Thank you for the thoughtful comments and very kind words!

        With this guide we tried to make it easy for newbies and those who just wanted a direct answer, while still building a scaffolding that people can use to customize, if they want to.

        Sounds like you’ve customized to fit your needs well, especially since you kept the core concepts in mind (eg: what’s most important, weight, what would you ditch, etc).

        For now we still think having one primary bag (combined with a waterfall of #2, #3, etc. bags/kits) is the best model for most people since it keeps things focused and practical — which is important given most people end up on the wrong side of that line.

        In case you missed it: https://theprepared.com/bug-out-bags/guides/bob-vs-inch/

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    • Mike Ehrmantraut

      Great site! Very informative. I’m retired U.S. Army, spent two decades with the 10th Mountain Div. out of Ft. Drum. I had some pretty extensive training in the area of mountain and cold weather survival and I learn something new every time I visit. One thing I’d like to ad on this topic, if I may, is don’t just pack up your gear and toss your pack in the closet and think you’re all set. One thing I can’t stress enough is to actually go out and use that gear! Plan 3-4 day get-aways and hit the boonies for a camping trip, using nothing but what you have in your B.O.B. Use your ferro rod to start fires. Set up a couple snares and try to catch yourself a rabbit or squirrel – prep it, cook it and eat it. I assure you, it will be one of the tastiest meals you’ve ever had. Build yourself a shelter. Filter your water from a creek, stream or pond. Do it right! It’s these exercises that will give you what no website can – experience, hands-on know-how,  and confidence. I try to go twice a month… rain or shine, winter, summer spring or fall. I can’t stress enough how important this exercises can be….  and gosh darn it, it’s a lot of fun!!

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    • fishermansfriend

      Thanks for this good advise. Just had to use my BOB for the first time. A family relative had stepped into a gardening tool and was bleeding quite heavily. The BOB did a great job: cleaning the wound from soil, desinfection and patching up the entry area. Despite the common advice I still had a candy bar in my bag. This is useful if you have small children or like in my case a 35 year old… With the current virus situation this saved us one trip to the hospital. Lets hope it does not get infected. Stay safe guys and keep up the good work.

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    • Ringladiator

      I stumbled across this site and I’m loving it. With all the information you have here I may have missed it, but do you have any information on traveling with children ie what they should carry or could carry depending on age and size? I couldn’t imagine bugging out without my granddaughters. Any info would help. Even what size bag they should carry if any. Thank you for any information you can provide.

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      • John RameyStaff Ringladiator

        We will make a dedicated guide about children, but in general:

        1. Remember not to spread core needs around multiple bags. Every adult bag should be able to stand on its own in case people are separated. Don’t put food in one and water in another, for example.
        2. Decide if you’re treating them as a “child” or as a “young adult.”
        3. If child: their bag isn’t going to be what you and your family survive on. It’s more of a nice-to-have if they don’t happen to lose it along the way. You could pack their clothes, a favorite toy or book, shelf-stable snacks they like, and whatever else could keep them from being a nightmare in a shelter etc etc. Some parents also put in extras of core lightweight stuff, like a water filter, as a third (or more) backup within the family.
        4. Also for child: Include kid-appropriate documents, like a printed picture of their house, a printout of where it is on a google map, and so on. That way they can get help from an adult (like a shelter worker) if separated.
        5. If young adult: You decide how “adult” to treat them, eg. do you include knives. Then build up through the Levels above depending on how much weight to give them (don’t overdo it!)
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    • Red Mercury

      Wanting to provoke objective thought, and not incite a left/right gun debate, I want to start with the disclosure that I am a US gun owner with a strong distaste for modern US gun culture.  Now that you know where I’m coming from, here is my comment:

      I think it is a really bad idea to keep a loaded, non-secured gun in a go bag.  I also think it is a really bad idea to promote that practice on a site that preaches reason.  Universally supported data on this is as rare as the western jackalope, but there is significant evidence that loaded, unlocked firearms are involved in thousands of deaths each year in the US alone.  With countless natural disasters in the past 20-30 years, I’m hard pressed to find a reliable account of anyone whose health or life was extended because they were carrying a firearm that they didn’t have time to get out of a safe.

      Likewise, if this site is going to encourage (yes, encourage) gun ownership, it should include a discussion of the risks of gun ownership, including theft, homicide, suicide and other misuse, and how to minimize them.  Encouraging gun safety training is a respectable start, but it’s only a start.

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      • As a fellow US gun owner with a similar strong distaste for “mainstream” gun culture, I strongly agree with you about unsecured guns. Which is why it’s my plan to keep a sturdy lockbox secured(*) in the trunk of my car, into which my pistol will go when I leave home in the morning, and from which I will retrieve it when I return.

        (*) By secured I mean fastened to the car itself in a way that makes it impossible for the average thief to remove it.

        P.S. If you’re like me, you might appreciate a site called pewpewtactical.com. They don’t take themselves too seriously, and have tons of great info on shooting, guns, gear, etc., but without all the posturing, macho, rah-rah B.S.

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    • Angela A

      The hard part for me is finding survival food that won’t trigger migraines. One thing I’ve found helpful is toddler/preschooler formula that you add water to.That said I haven’t found MRE type meals without a bunch of chemicals I can’t pronounce and I know those will probably trigger migraine. I would appreciate any suggestions about more natural options.

      No, joke: the best survival flashlight is a playskool 3 color flashlight now only available on places like EBay. Reasons: it’s completely plastic meaning that it can be dropped on cement and still work. It has a feature where the light switches off if you are not holding it ( great battery saver). It’s not LED which means that you can change the bulb. It has a red light which I know is useful for keeping a low profile. The other color is green which might be useful. Also, I think if someone were stealing gear they might overlook it since it says playskool on the side. I recommend the year 2000 remake because it has a handle that is a better size for adults. I think they did it with nostalgic adults in mind.

      Last year, the power was out for 4 days in a row. I have 2 of these as well as several other flashlights. These were the only 2 that lasted throughout on one set of Duracell batteries. The only thing they aren’t suitable for is water. I added a piece of glow in the dark tape to make them easier to find.


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      • A2 Angela A

        I pack PROBAR “wholeberry blast” bars. Non-GMO, gluten free, organic, plant-based. 16g protein, 50g carbs, 370 calories per bar. Available on Amazon.

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      • I saw a cookbook once for backpackers who wanted to prepare their own pre-cooked, dehydrated meals. I think that kind of approach would be your safest bet, but would require the purchase of a food dehydrator and a vacuum sealer. Meals stored this way won’t be nearly as shelf stable as commercial versions, but adding an oxygen absorber to each pouch and storing them in the freezer should keep them in good shape for at least a few years.

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    • Angela A

      I’m a bit confused. So, let’s say someone builds all 3 levels. How do they figure out which to grab when the fire department comes and says they have half and hour to get stuff together? Or do they just Molle all three together.

      For mental health I suggest:1 Water games. They are like very low tech handheld games with water inside. Plus side if you really had to you could drain them and filter the water and drink it. Might be a way to hide water in plain sight too if the guys next to you in the fema camp go through your gear while you’re in the shower.

      2. Choose your own adventure trade paperbacks. Hundreds of stories in one book.

      3 . McDonald’s made tiny handheld games for happy meals so year ago. They run on a watch battery that almost lasts for ever. You can still get them on EBay.

      4 for children the most comforting stuffers are ones that they are already attached to. You might consider getting them a teddy bear that has a personal alarm or Gps tracking app attachment or at the very least an empty cavity that you can hide money in, ahead of a disaster. If you go to a build a plushie toy shop and get one with a sound chip, it will have a pocket with a zipper. The sound thing can be removed and money can be hidden in it instead. Another multi use plushie would be to get a recordable sound chip and record the child’s phone number. That way if they are separated from you they have something with your voice and they only have to squeeze the bears paw to tell someone how to contact you if they are too upset to remember your number.

      I have a lion plushie attached to my bug out bag by a puppy collar and carabiner. It has extra gear hidden in it. I used to go to summer camp and every year some of pretty much everyone’s stuff would go missing as a “ prank”. So yeah you know those bare-basics altiode tin kits? One is hidden in my stuffed toy. It’s in a plastic bag I thought the tin would feel too obvious

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      • The levels are a way of prioritizing what should go into your BOB, they don’t represent separate bags. A level 3 BOB would contain all of the level 1 and 2 items, plus the level 3 items, which is why the summary calls for a larger backpack at each higher level. So in your scenario, if you’ve assembled a level 3 BOB, that’s the first bag you’d grab. If you had time, and you’d assembled additional bags with other stuff (take a look at the article on using a priority-based bag system), you might grab one or more of those too.

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      • Angela A Angela A

        Thanks for the reply. I recently bought the Xbob 5 phase Molle bug out bag. How do I decide which level to use when packing it. I’m still in college so money is an issue. The backpack was my birthday gift from my whole non-prepper family. I think they are probably fairly convinced I have completely lost my my mind.

        I am also a wheelchair user which can be somewhat of an advantage because I won’t be carrying the bag the way most people have to.  I was actually quite impressed with the marketing video. The designer put the survival priorities in the correct order. Too many times companies play off fear and say that food is top priority. Also, the list it came with included Escape and Evasion items. They are the only company I have seen that includes that category.

        The next big purpose will be bulletproof inserts for it and to replace the board under the seat cushion for my wheelchair. The seat is a gel cushion in a fabric cover. Also inside the cover is a piece of wood that is meant to protect the cushion. I figure I might as well replace it with something a bit more functional.

        The bag came with a camel bag that holds a liter of water and an in-line filter. It also came with wholesale food discounts. Other than that I am on my way to buy everything. I recently discovered that flex seal tape is very difficult for me to cut. I’m wondering if it might work to get sticker backing paper and precut some pieces ( have someone help me ahead of time)

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      • Which level to use when packing it? Do you mean how to decide whether you want to build your BOB all the way out to level 3, or whether to stop somewhere short of that? That’s really a question only you can answer, though obviously the further up the levels you go, the better prepared you’ll be.

        If, on the other hand, you’re asking what you should concentrate on buying first, given limited financial resources, the easy answer (as described in this article) is to concentrate on level 1 items first, since they’re the highest priority, then level 2 items, etc. I think almost all of us are in the same boat in that respect. I know I don’t have the money to shell out to buy everything all at once.

        The strategy I’ve used for buying BOB and IFAK items over time is to put together a shopping list on Amazon for each level, which makes it easier for me to keep track of which items I’m planning to buy, and what’s still left to get on the list. Then, since the price of items on Amazon can vary greatly over time, I use a free site called camelcamelcamel.com to set price alerts on the more expensive items, so I get notified by email when an item’s price drops to an amount I’m willing to pay. The camelcamelcamel site also has a browser plug-in that makes it very easy to see the price history of an item and create alerts while you’re looking at that item on Amazon, which is extremely convenient. To give you an example, the price of one of the portable power banks recommended on this site normally hovers between $50 and $60, but occasionally drops lower. I set an alert at $40, and managed to snag one on the cheap when it dropped to $32 for just a few days.

        As far as getting a bulletproof insert for your backpack… Not for nothing, but I would prioritize just about any other prepping supplies/equipment above body armor. Maybe I’m naive, but IMHO getting shot at is the least likely survival scenario any of us are going to face. That said, I own firearms, and they’re a part of my prepping, but I still won’t be buying body armor any time soon.

        Any particular reason for Flex Seal tape, instead of ordinary duct tape? If not, perhaps duct tape would be easier for you to deal with. I’m just uncomfortable with the idea of pre-cutting tape, when I have no way of knowing what size pieces I might actually need. But hey, that’s just me.

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      • Angela A Angela A

        I have both duct tape and flex tape. The “list” ( 20 page or so booklet) that came with my bag recommends gaffer tape, duct tape, rescue tape and flex tape. Since I don’t know enough about each of them to exclude any of the 4 I was planning to get all of them but I might replace the flex tape with the spray can version. Gaffer tape comes in glow in the dark which is brilliant for adding to flashlights to make them easier to find. I have trouble cutting duct tape too but it tears easily at an angle. I took a class on escaping from kidnappers some years ago and they taught us that about duct tape.

        since I am already disabled, I figured the last thing I would need during a SHTF scenario is a gunshot wound on top of the issue I was born with. There’s been several incidents where some nut pulled a gun at a large public event such as a concert not too long ago. Also it would be harder for me to get to cover. Since my bag is probably going to just replace the backpack that lives on my chair right now I thought it might be worth adding my own cover to it. Thanks for the reply. It’s nice to be engaging with someone.

        the bag I got came with a huge list and video lessons and 12 Molle modular packs. Do most bug out bags come with video lessons about packing and bugging out? That was part of how I was able to convince my family to get it for me. Although they were like what kind of lessons could anyone need to pack a bag? I don’t have firearm. I don’t have a crossbow and the list recommends a certain type of air pistol for quietly hunting small game. I currently know where a colony of wild cats live near my house. If food were ever a huge problem, I would try setting a live trap ( for legal reasons) and either take my crossbow or the air pistol and dispatch any cat the trap caught. I’m in the suburbs and kill traps are illegal because they worry about people getting injured. I do leave food for the cat colony occasionally so hopefully they would trust me somewhat which would make it easier to use this insurance plan. The crossbow came with steel arrows so definitely enough to stop anyone who is trying to make off with my water supply unless they have firearms of course. One advantage to using a wheelchair is that I think most people would assume that they would not meet resistance and therefore feel less of a need to bring arms to try to raid my stuff.

        Also, I think people are less likely to think that I have preps to take in the first place. People do assume that if your legs don’t work it means you only have a preschool education. My bag is blue so it looks recreational and there’s a stuffie lion attached to the outside. So, hopefully it looks like I had no idea what to pack if I ever need up at an evac shelter.

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      • Hi Angela,

        I’d be happy to talk to you more, but maybe we should take our conversation off of this site. If you’d like, you can email me at chris at urbanjaguar dot org.



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    • Gerard A

      Would be possible to see (pics / vids) the load out of the backpack with all the stuff?

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    • phiguru

      I live in the mountains and do a fair amount of fly fishing, backpacking, and winter camping.

      I second the FUD recommended by A2. There are several types – definitely worth finding the one that works for you. I also carry a designated pee bandana that I keep on the outside of my pack. If you are packing for women, definitely add an extra bandana for pee or to serve as a pad (in a pinch).

      I know camping towels are a questionable item for some, but I carry one extremely small (4″ square)  towel for muffling clanking gear, washing dishes, and a second for washing myself and/or to cut up for washable menstrual pads. I have a lightweight mesh bag that can be used to wash and store such things.

      Although duct tape serves in the moment, I really love Tenacious Tape for making gear repairs. Unlike duct tape, it can be a permanent repair to down sleeping bags, tents, jackets, stuff sacks, etc. After 24 hours, it is washable so it not only keeps the feathers from coming out that day, but it also keeps them in for the next several years. The amount of weight it adds is negligible and this keeps the duct tape for it’s other thousand uses.

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    • Victoria

      Hello, have you looked into the best female hygiene products to keep in a BOB before or the best way to tackle the blood and pain without taking up too much space in the bag? Thanks! Your website is amazing! It would be nice to see items for women added as well, reading through the comments and seeing other women’s suggestions have been helpful, but if I didn’t happen upon the comment then I may not have though of their tips otherwise.

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      • A2 Victoria

        Here’s my $0.02 on periods—Motrin and tampons. Pads take up a bunch of room and this is about being able to travel fast and light, if possible. Tampons can be stuck inside other things, under other things, in all sorts of nooks and crannies. Also pack some plastic baggies for disposal (or bury?). Tampons also make good tinder. On the other hand, pads can be used for wounds, in a pinch…but I still wouldn’t carry them *unless* heavy flow demands their use. Same with Motrin…it may not be enough to cover really dire cramps, and if there’s an emergency that demands a lot of hiking, I’d opt for some codeine. Not a lot, but enough to keep me mobile.

        Other items I pack: a long hooded rain poncho that can also provide privacy while peeing or changing tampons. A pee funnel so I can pee standing, if necessary. Big Otter compressed tablet towels. A sports bra or other wide-strapped bra is more comfortable under a backpack’s straps (or a bandeau for smaller busts). Hair tie backs (light, fit anywhere, useful for other things).

        And yes, I agree that it’s sometimes fairly male-centric ‘round these parts. 😉

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      • DocOnes Victoria

        My wife and I have figured that out for her while hiking. Everything is spot on with what A2 said. My wife has really enjoyed having toilet seat covers, for sketchy bathrooms, and, we carry a couple of RV toilet chem packets to help keep down odors  and break down poop when camping remote at the same spot while hunting in the backcountry. Just be careful not to carry too many as they can add weight quickly.

        I would primarily suggest that, if you have a partner,  have a plan for contraception, other than condoms. Condoms can become heavy if carrying supplies for any significant period of time. I know many women who carry a thermometer for this purpose, and that is important because a thermometer is not part of the first aid kit on this site.

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      • A2 Victoria

        Thanks, doc! Glad to hear that my preps work for your partner, too 🙂

        Re: contraception—most methods are dangerous for women, or not highly effective, unless one/both get tubes tied 🙁

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      • Audrey Victoria

        Love the input on customization for women! A good sports bra is absolutely one of the adjustments I made to the core list. Imagine the scenarios where you a) have to bug out in the middle of the night, possibly not wearing one already, or b) being stuck with nothing but an uncomfortable underwire. Either is my nightmare. Guys – if you’re the one assembling the bags in your household, add it. I’m also considering adding a small stick of anti-chafing gel, similar to what long distance runners use. It’s lightweight and in a hot, humid climate like mine I could see it being a godsend in a “we’re walking a bit” situation.

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      • phiguru Victoria

        I agree 100% with the bra problem. I have a “yoga bra” in my bag because it is comfortable for long periods of time and very washable. It’s not as supportive as my very good sports bras but it is more comfortable on the second day. I was planning on using my petroleum jelly for chafing but a small stick of the runners stuff, which is less sticky, may be better. Someone will be thankful for it for sure. I’m thinking of carrying a very small bottle of that well known yellow body powder for chafing and problems with dampness as well.

        Definitely women need to pack what they need for personal items because we make different choices for our needs. For example, I choose reusable pads over tampons even though I hate pads normally.

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      • A2 Victoria

        Honestly, I don’t wear a bra when I’m hiking. I’m small enough that it’s a lot more comfortable and less sweaty to just skip the dang thing. Runner’s anti-chaffing stick sounds like a good add at only a couple of ounces. I go with tampons because there’s less mess and mass and heat and I can use them for tinder.

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    • Audrey

      I know it might seem counter-intuitive, but if you’re on a budget one place to not scrimp is the actual bag. A good bag that distributes weight properly (onto your hips and off your shoulders) will allow you to carry more weight with less fatigue. If you can go to a place (like REI) that helps you get a proper fit, all the better. I learned the hard way when I began hiking/backpacking that 20 lbs quickly feels like 40 when it’s been hanging off your shoulders for a few hours. And for the women – sometimes a women’s model has fit and features that help – like the clasp across your chest to hold the straps   sitting higher on your chest. Personally, I went with the Mystery Ranch Scree 32. I have to be thoughtful about space since it’s on the smaller side, but it 1) doesn’t look anything like a tactical bag (dead giveaway), 2) has a women’s model, and 3) almost all the weight sits on my hips.

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      • phiguru Audrey

        Totally – I have a Granite Gear Crown 60 – a pack I would not have picked online but it fits me great.

        People should also take into consideration the weather conditions that are common for their region. When I lived in NC, I needed rain gear and an extra tarp. Living in Northern Mountains, I need bulky Winter gear 9 months of the year. This means two sleeping pads (in the summer, I don’t carry one at all), a sleeping bag with liner, winter bivy, parka, hardshell pants, etc – a larger pack was required just to hold the bulk.

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    • squirrel

      Excellent information. Having worked on my bags for years, I concur with pretty much everything here. Except for food.

      Your lists, and also the bug out bag sizes you recommend, are based on food for just one to two days. That may be fine for level 1 or 2, but in an SHTF scenario, if I have to run, chances are that a safe area will not be around the corner. Worst case I’m looking at a week-long hike, likely through woods and hills, and associated hardship.

      The last thing I want is to burn 3000 cal a day and not having anything to eat, with the prospect that shelves will be empty even when I get to relative safety. I plan on carrying food for a week (for a range of about 100 miles), and in its most compact form that means 8 lbs and 6 l of storage on top of everything you have listed.

      I’ve done extended hikes with 40 lbs and aim to keep overall level 3 weight below 50, which is 30% of my body weight. I’ve also done 3 day strenuous hikes without food. It can be done, but then we go from prepping to survival.

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    • HYDRAE

      Curious about the authors thoughts on alcohol stoves like Trangia?  They need a stand anyway and can be coupled with a hobo stove like Bush box or emberlit would give ultimate flexibility for not much weight.  Could burn tabs, alcohol, heet, organic matter etc.  I also really like the multiple uses for things in my bag and everclear could be used as disinfectant, for trade, or fuel….plus it doesn’t expire like other stove fuels so it can sit forever and hopefully never get used.

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    • C P.Contributor

      I love the lists, including the notes on customization.  I see that you have included a sewing kit as a possible add-on.  I would suggest a minimal repair kit as standard at the L1 or L2 level – basically a few feet of duct tape (wrap a few turns around a water bottle or even your pen), 2 heavy sewing needles, waxed dental floss (to use instead of thread), and a handful of safety pins in various sizes (link the holes of the smaller ones through the biggest one for tidy storage).  This is enough to fix most clothing, pin or stitch up broken zippers and pack straps, cover a tear in your tarp, and replace zipper pulls.

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      • Björn Anderson C P.

        Yes the needle is the only thing missing in the list compared to ten c:s. 

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    • Alex P

      Clothing: I live in the Pacific Northwest, where 6 months of the year it’s raining and just above freezing. Clothing *must* be of the warm-when-wet type, meaning polyester (fleece, wicking-type long underwear, both absorb less than 1% of their weight in water) or wool (absorbs 30% of its weight in water) and avoid cotton for other than a t-shirt (2500%). Also, raingear is mandatory.

      Backpack: larger than a 25 liter daypack, must have a hip belt and internal frame. The hip belt carries almost 100% of the load. Make sure you buy a size that will fit when wearing all your layers.

      Make sure you carry Moleskin or many good-quality band-aids, and stop immediately to deal with “hot spots” on your feet, which will turn into blisters.

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      • A2 Alex P

        I live in the PNW, too. My clothing choices from skin out: TOP—poly zip-neck turtle, fleece zippered jacket, down jacket, Gatewood rain poncho/tent. (When I can afford it, I’ll be replacing the down jacket with an Oros jacket. Synthetic, NASA-inspired tech, less bulk, hyper-warm. I chose a poncho over a jacket because it works as poncho, pack cover, privacy, a way to defecate without getting my ass wet, tent, water collection). BOTTOM—fleece-lined leggings, rain pants (I may add snow pants for a mid-winter pack. My summer pack has convertible pants, but still includes fleece and rain gear.) HEAD—knit cap, poly neck gaiter, balaclava, bandana, depending on season. FEET—Darn Tough wool socks, hiking boots, plus a pair of lightweight Moerdeng water shoes/aqua socks for water crossings. I also have a pair of telescoping walking poles for water crossings, too.

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    • Victor Andres

      Has anyone used the jetboil cylindar directly over a campfire? If you take the sleeve off, it should expose a totally metal “pot” that could theoretically be put directly into flames or coals to boil or sanitize water. It seems like it would be great alternative if you run out of fuel or simply want to save it for later. 

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