Makeover of a pre-assembled BOB in 1 week and $125

Last weekend I pulled my husband’s BOB out from its storage spot and did an inventory. He bought it pre-assembled when we first started dating (and I said, “You have an earthquake kit, right?”) and I remember going through it at one point, but I had forgotten how long ago that was and how crummy the kit was to begin with. (I don’t know what I thought about who was maintaining it during this period of time.)

At first, I thought it would take a lot of time and money to rectify the situation, but then I found a ton of extras and replacements in the house, spent $125 on new stuff, and one week later, the bag is SO much better. It’s not “done”, but I’m really pleasantly surprised at what a difference I was able to make. I thought I’d share it with you all to celebrate this small prepping win, and also because it might prompt some interesting discussion about where these pre-assembled kits fall down.

On that point, I feel like the biggest gaps between what we got in the pre-assembled kit and my husband’s actual needs were in the following areas:

  • IFAK. I give the kit maker credit for including a triangle bandage and safety pins in the FAK, but the rest of it was basically bandaids, and I don’t see the point of including trauma shears if you include none of the other materials one would need in the scenarios in which one needs shears. The “improved” kit still needs a lot of work, but my husband doesn’t have a lot of first aid knowledge, so I think training should be the priority for him here. In the meantime, I was able to improve the kit a lot by adding a lot of basic OTC medicines in small Ziplock bags that I already had on-hand, as well as useful things like oral rehydration solution.
  • Toiletries. His had a lot of cheap stuff that he didn’t actually need and wouldn’t make him comfortable.
  • Power/charging. It makes sense that the pre-assembled kits don’t include charging cords, since that has to be customized to one’s own electronics, but this was a major hole in the kit, and a power bank, wall plug, and charging cable set me back $40.

The “survive outdoors” stuff in the kit was also pretty bad, but given our particular circumstances, that doesn’t bother me too much: I’m against buying BOB duplicates of our better-quality backpacking and camping gear that we use regularly, so I’m fine with a cheap tube tent and mylar sleeping bag as lightweight, low-volume insurance in case we don’t have time to grab the better stuff on our way out the door.

The thing that bugs me most about his BOB right now is the quantity of cotton clothing, but we have some pretty good used outdoor gear stores here that I plan to hit for synthetic replacements and a fleece.

Here is a list of the CURRENT contents of his BOB, broken down by categories. Everything with an asterisk (*) is a new addition, (†) indicates new purchases. Aside from power, most of the $$$ were spent on a better food and water setup.


  • Lifestraw*
  • 27 oz. Klean Kanteen, single-walled, filled*
  • 30-pack Katadyn Micropur Purification Tablets*†
  • 2 Coast Guard-style ration blocks*† (1 replaced from home supplies, 1 ordered)
  • 5 tea bags of his favorite tea* (Note: I have a stove to heat the water.)
  • 1 collapsible mug*†


  • plastic tube tent
  • 1 mylar sleeping bag
  • 2 single-use hand warmers (almost certain they are expired, but they’re light)
  • 1 rechargeable headlamp
  • 2 lighters* (had 1, added 1)
  • an unknown, but volumetrically large quantity of very cheap cordage
  • 1 “5-in-1” survival tool consisting of a whistle, a tiny compass, a tiny signal mirror, a very tiny and questionable “flint”, and a compartment for matches (came without matches)
  • 12 stormproof matches*
  • packet of dryer lint “tinder”*


  • 1 cotton t-shirt
  • 1 pair jeans
  • 1 pair long underwear bottoms*
  • 1 warm hat
  • 2 pair of socks* (had 1, added 1)
  • 2 pair of boxers* (had 1, added 1)
  • 1 old down jacket
  • 1 old rain jacket
  • 1 plastic poncho
  • 1 bandana*


  • 1 travel toothbrush
  • 1 travel toothpaste
  • 2 oz. Dr. Bronner’s*†
  • 2 oz. hand sanitizer*
  • 1 compact roll of toilet paper (i.e., no cardboard tube)*†
  • 1 Paper Shower*
  • 3 pair ear plugs*
  • 1 eye cover*†
  • 1 chapstick*
  • 1 pair nail clippers*


  • 1 walkie talkie and charging cord
  • 1 very crappy hand-crank radio
  • evacuation list* (things to grab in addition to the bag if we have a few minutes)
  • photos of us together and with our dog*
  • names, addresses, and phone numbers for various friends and relatives
  • emergency information specific to our city
  • the “critical information sheet” I made with all of our insurance policy numbers, claims department phone numbers, the dog’s vaccine info and microchip numbers, regular and emergency vet contact info, our most recent vaccines and doctor and dentist numbers, etc.
  • detailed street maps for 3 West Coast cities
  • small Rite in the Rain notebook*†
  • pen, mechanical pencil, sharpie


  • 1 off-brand Swiss Army Knife-style multitools (the big kind with a scissors)
  • 1 credit card-size Fresnel lens*


  • 8 cleansing wipes
  • 5 Q-tips, sterile
  • 4 gauze pads (2 sizes)
  • 1 pair trauma sheers
  • 6 pair nitrile gloves* (kit came with 1 pair, which I put in an exterior pocket for ease of access; other 5 are in the kit)
  • 1 CPR mask
  • 1 triangle bandage
  • 4 safety pins
  • 1 pair tweezers
  • 1 teeny tiny roll of medical tape
  • 65 bandaids in varying sizes
  • Coban roll*
  • 3 packets oral rehydration solution*
  • 20 Benadryl*
  • 11 Acetaminophen*
  • 6 Naproxen sodium*
  • 20 Ibuprofen*
  • 6 Loperamide*
  • 5 mini-Ziplock bags for storing medications (dosage info written on these)*


  • 1 Novoo Explorer power bank*†
  • 1 USB wall plug*†
  • 1 USB A to USB C charging cable*†


  • 1 KN95 mask*
  • 1 cloth mask*
  • 1 reusable half-face respirator*
  • 1 packet of respirator filters*
  • swim goggles*
  • 1 deck of cards
  • heavy gloves
  • cash
  • extra Ziplock and trash bags, varying sizes*

And here is what I removed from the pre-assembled kit:

  • 12 packets of emergency drinking water, expired
  • 2 Coast Guard-style ration blocks, expired
  • 1 very flimsy “can opener” that looks far more likely to open one’s hand than one’s can
  • 1 mylar sleeping bag
  • 2 glow sticks
  • 2 plastic ponchos
  • 1 vinyl bag for toiletries, so stiff and sharp-edged that I nearly cut myself trying to open it
  • 1 travel toothbrush
  • 1 tiny hotel soap wrapped in paper
  • 1 wash cloth
  • 4 single-use shampoo packets (my husband shaves his head; it would take a long time for him to really need any shampoo, let alone three packets’ worth)
  • 2 menstrual pads (my husband does not menstruate)
  • 1 large plastic comb (as long as he has trauma shears, he won’t have hair long enough to need this 😀 )
  • 1 disposable plastic razor
  • 1 travel-size shaving gel
  • 1 roll of toilet paper (like a giant normal one from the bathroom, with the cardboard inside)
  • 1 off-brand Swiss Army Knife-style multitool (there were two)
  • 4 cleansing wipes
  • 5 cotton balls, packaged to be sterile
  • approximately 2 million-minus-65 bandaids

  • Comments (18)

    • 2

      Look at you being an awesome wife! We all should do a yearly checkup of our packs and upgrade them throughout our lives. One of the little hidden gems in your pack that you caught and I missed out on mine is to pack a USB charging wall outlet brick. I have a power bank and USB cable to charge my phone, but don’t know what I was thinking and I left out a charging brick. That brick will help me to charge my power station or phone if I get to a location with power. You also just gave me the idea to pack a small outlet extender like this. If I go to a shelter or hotel and am bunkering up with a dozen other people, everyone is going to have to take turns charging their phones and wall outlets will be a hot commodity. By bringing an extender, you can have three people charging from the same outlet at the same time.

      I laughed when you took out your husband’s menstrual pads!

      • 3

        Funny you should mention the outlet extender: I got a wall plug with two USB ports on it so we (or others we are with) could both charge our phones out of one, or so we could top off a power bank and charge a phone at the same time. I like the outlet extender you found for taking that flexibility principle even further.

        I try to revisit my preps on 10/17 and 4/18 every year (anniversaries of the two big SF earthquakes; easy for me to remember since I grew up there) to look for expired items and stuff that needs upgrading, but clearly I haven’t been great about including the husBOB in this. I think those pads were riding around in there for 5 years. 😀

      • 2

        Pre assembled kits are usually worthless.  You can do much better with DIY kits oriented to your own circumstances.  At a minimum. most of us need to tweak our kits to fit the changing seasons.

        Putting cotton clothing in a BOB borders on criminal behavior….

      • 4

        I don’t suspect you mean it literally, but I would argue that “worthless” is an overstatement. Sure, a lot of the stuff is cheap and shoddy, but a lot of it is totally usable, e.g., the Coast Guard rations, which are exactly the same ones that I have bought for DIY kits. I’d much rather that my family members have pre-assembled kits than no supplies at all.

        …and sometimes that IS the choice. A lot of people (including my husband circa 2016) have a vague sense that they should be prepared but are not willing or able to put in the time and effort to learn how to DIY a bag. It can be a lot less overwhelming to buy a pre-made bag and add to and upgrade it over the years. I made this thread in part because I suspect some people who come to TP might have recently purchased a pre-made bag, and that it might be helpful for them to think of that as a “good start, if I keep at it,” rather than as a “giant mistake that only an idiot would make.”

        All this to say, it is very possible to think of pre-made kits as something that are, in fact, “oriented to [the] circumstances” of some people. And even though TP’s guide to BOBs clearly recommends against buying pre-made kits, it’s actually folks on this forum who have reminded me of that— e.g., by pointing out that we shouldn’t make fun of people for buying kits from Judy or Preppi, because at least they’re taking responsibility for their preparedness, it’s better than nothing, it might be their gateway drug to more serious prepping, etc.

        Not wearing cotton is pretty much the cardinal rule of outdoor sports, which is why my husband wants every piece of his high-quality wool and synthetic clothing for backcountry skiing and won’t relinquish any of it to his BOB. 🙁 (It’s a species of the “Should I buy duplicate fancy outdoor gear for my BOB?” problem we’ve discussed in the forums before.) Call it criminal if you want, but until I solve that problem, I’d rather he have a full change of clothes in the bag, even if the materials aren’t ideal. The most likely use case for this stuff is staying with friends or in a motel in the next town, not hacking a rugged and meager living out of the wilderness for the rest of one’s natural life, and despite all its drawbacks in the wilderness, cotton works great in motels.

      • 2

        I’ll stand with my comments.  A little background.  For years i was an active member of our local search and rescue group.  Most of us soon developed a basic bag for our operations.  We were notified to assemble IMMEEDIATLY or perhaps tomorrow at dawn…So I often had time to fine tune the contents of my bag, but the basic bag had everything i would need for the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours.  You generally have the same situation in bug out events. My wife and I had to leave our house at 1AM a few years ago during a raging wildfire, yet we still had about twenty minutes to gather items, including more water, important papers, and handy items.

        I include lots of my high end clothing in my bags  I am a hard core Patagonia fan and have been for years.  When I am getting ready for a recreational trip, I simply go to my bug out bag, extract the item, and eventually return it- no big deal.  i don’t draw a hard line between emergency items and every day use items.

        In your very informative piece, one thing you did not comment upon was the quality or size of the back pack furnished with the ready made kit.  Let me venture a guess that it was not very high quality.  This is unfortunate, because when you are wearing and using your pack continually, its quality and fit becomes very significant.  Good pack are not cheap, but they are worth every penny.

      • 2

        It sounds from your example like we actually agree on not buying duplicate high-quality items, and on the fact that it’s realistic to imagine that one will be able to augment a bag with some additional important things on the way out the door in most cases. We’re just doing different things with that likely flexibility, and I would argue that that’s because your use case and your level of commitment is VERY different from that of my husband.

        When we had the debate about the cotton shirt and jeans, husb. actually said, “But I can just grab my good shirt and pants when we evacuate.” He also argued that he uses his “weekend” stuff a fair amount during the week, and I had to give him that— he does. And if he is so disinvested in his BOB that he’s counting on me to maintain it, he’s probably not going to return gear to it consistently after regular use.

        I fully agree with you about the importance of pack quality and fit (my BOB is an Osprey), and that you can put money on the packs in pre-made bags being pretty awful. This one is neither the best nor the worst out there. Good points include heavy denier nylon (if you’re into that kind of thing), large volume (they intentionally provide space to add the supplies not included, like clothes), sternum strap, sturdy zippers (though any zippers can break; my Osprey doesn’t rely on them), and the fact that there is decent padding on the back and shoulder straps. It doesn’t have a hip belt, though, which means the best grade it can get from me is a D+ on an A-F scale, since you’re not getting far in comfort if you can’t transfer some of the weight to your hips. Noteworthy here is that husb., though a life-long backpacker, is not a gear head. His backpacking backpack is a duct-taped-up second-hand off-brand UL tube (though it does have a hip belt!), so it’s gonna be tough to convince him that an upgrade is warranted.

        To be clear, I’m not arguing for the quality of the gear that comes in the pre-made kits, or advocating that anyone buy one if DIYing a quality bag over the course of a few months is an option. But a Level 1 BOB stocked with TP-recommended products costs >$1,300, which means it is definitely not going to be a thrilling undertaking, or even on the table, for everyone. Prepping for someone else introduces other challenges/nuances, too, namely that you can’t force people to commit to prepping just because you love them and don’t want them to die prematurely of exposure. With both of my parents and my now-husband (when he was my new boyfriend), pre-assembled kits were a way to make it a little more likely that they would survive a disaster, without me nagging them to blow a thousand bucks according to my priorities (which seemed like an unpleasant way to behave). 

      • 2

        The $1,300 price for a level 1 ag is rather theoretical and most of us can achieve that goal for significantly less.

        One example- canteens.  I have lots, of varying kinds but my fave is a recycled Gatorade bottle (cost $0).  Fitted with  a matching steel mug, these have worked well for years

        For years, I built fires with available fuel and kitchen matches but I now have various stoves, the most useful of which is a Pocket Rocket burner and canister.  Acquire your stuff gradually, learn thee best way to use it, and the financial pain will lessen.

        Of course, it helps if this stuff in useful in some of your other interests.  There is also no denying that quality gear is not cheap, but good stuff yields abundant returns for years to come.

        When it comes to using this stuff, knowledge and skills are more important than simply having a bunch of gadgets.  This is another reason why I think emergency equipment should b used, and not just stuck in a bag somewhere.  You ust know your capabilities and limits…

    • 5

      Great post, PNWS!

      I really like your pragmatic approach to working with family members where they’re at.  In a perfect world, everybody would read TP and methodically build a customized DIY BOB.  In the real world, some prep is better than doing nothing and you’ve certainly identified ONE good way to go about helping friends and family members who simply aren’t going to approach prepping with the same zeal as the rest of us.

      Plus, I just like your approach to BOBs and preparedness in general, particularly:

      • Not buying duplicate backpacking/camping items for the BOB.
      • Recognizing that most BO scenarios, at least for those of us in densely populated urban areas, are most likely to require a stay in a motel room or a friend or family member’s home, not an extended stay in the wilderness.  Indeed, if I end up bugging out to a place that requires camping (as opposed to an extended stay at my parents’ house), it will most likely be on the football field adjacent to the local high school/FEMA shelter or under a noisy highway viaduct NOT a backcountry campsite. 
      • 2

        Thanks, Colorado— very kind of you to say! Since I started being more open about my interested in preparedness/prepping, I’ve had so many friends, family members, and co-workers ask me for help or “how to get started”. Initially, I made lists for several of my co-workers who broached the subject with me, customizing them based on whether those individuals were partnered and had kids or pets, and they’d be so happy that someone had “told them exactly what they needed to get”… but then I’d follow up and find out— or they would offer!— that they hadn’t done anything. I think I started to see pre-made kits quite differently after that. 

    • 4

      I had a family member reach out to me if they should buy a premade kit or make one themselves. Curious, I pieced out what it would cost for them to build a kit from the camping section at Walmart and compare that to what the kit would cost from the company. It’s a bare bones kit, but the general principle could be expanded to larger bags.

      My findings were that it wasn’t too horrible to buy a premade kit if cost was your main concern, but they always should to be upgraded somewhat. So cool that you were able to upgrade your husband’s pack such a significant amount on such a low budget.

      Premade kits are better than nothing and wonderful for those people who do not care that much or wouldn’t have one otherwise.

      • 3

        When you actually have to use the items in your kit in a demanding situation, however acquired, you will find that cost becomes quite irrelevant.  Experience speaking……

      • 4

        Hey, I totally agree with you there. If you ever have to use your bug out bag, you will have wished that you put as much money into the best gear possible. 

        What I recommend is if someone is first starting out, buy a premade kit or make one for very cheap, get some of the basics down in other areas, and then donate your first bug out bag to someone less prepared than you, like a family member, and then put the time and money into a quality bag. That way you have at least something and you aren’t that week old prepper who spent $2k on a BOB but don’t have any bug in supplies.

      • 2

        @Robert — I was totally going to bring up your point about “donating” the pre-made kits, or at least a variation of it, which is to do it piecemeal. There have been a lot of instances where I was able to upgrade one of my own initial preps, or helped a friend or family upgrade their pre-made kit, and recycled the cheaper initial items into either the same person’s get home bag or car supplies or into another family member or friend’s initial preps. I am often able to pass along higher quality things, too, since there are a lot of preparedness items that are much less expensive on a per unit basis if you buy them in larger quantities, and then you have extra contractor bags, Fresnel lenses, AAA batteries, gallon-sized ZipLock freezer bags, Sharpies, lighters, zipties, nitrile gloves, mylar blankets, pill containers, vet wrap rolls, oral rehydration solution packets, and so on. I also have thrifter friends who pass me old wool or fleece from time to time. All this to say, if you help enough people prep, there may be a lot of opportunities to reclaim, redistribute, and reuse “meh”-level supplies as a stopgap for multiple people.

      • 1

        … and, I love that you actually tried to price out both versions. I definitely don’t have the patience for that, but am now totally curious what I could get for the price of my husband’s kit, which neither of us remembers, but he thinks he might be able to find a receipt. 

        Also, good price on those Datrex bars!

      • 2

        Hey, if your husband’s kit needs any more bandaids, let me know and I’ll send you some. 😉

      • 1

        😀 😀 😀 [Edit: I thought those would look more like they were laughing than they do. Because I did laugh, when I saw your reply. Thanks for that!]

    • 3

      Update: Last weekend we went to the big local outdoor gear store that has an amazing used gear department to look for, among other things, some non-cotton clothing for my husband’s BOB. I’ve been putting this errand off for a long time because this store is in a giant unreinforced masonry building, and the used gear department is in the basement. I do not want anyone to be there when The Big One hits. But one cannot live in fear, and they were having a giant sale.

      I was unable to find any used synthetic or wool clothing that my husband considered acceptable, however, the mere fact that I was about to spend money on extra clothes for his BOB made him return to his closet and— What a miracle!— this time he found a synthetic long underwear top and a wool sweater that he no longer wears. We’re still stuck with the jeans for now, but… progress!

      The used gear department did have copious quantities of wide brimmed, packable sun hats (like the kind OR makes) for $4-8, which was pretty great. I got one of those for his BOB.

      • 2

        That totally sounds like me! 

        Wife goes through my closet… “What’s this?”

        Me: “Oh, I forgot about that, cool!”