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Minimizing bug out bag weight

I’m interested in any tips or advice others would like to share about minimizing bug out bag pack-weight without sacrificing the quality and usefulness of gear. While I really appreciate the gear reviews, basic no-nonsense information and the kit builder feature on this website I also know that the  pack-weight of 41.7lbs listed for a bug out bag on this site isn’t realistic for me to carry. I’m a farmer and very active but carrying something that weighs a quarter of my body weight over any distance more than 5-10 miles would most likely result in some type of soft tissue damage or other complications that would be disadvantageous in an emergency situation where I would have to bug out farther than that distance to be safe (and I like to play on the safe side and assume I would have to bug out at least part-way if not all the way on foot). Currently my bug-out bag which contains the essentials I feel I need weighs about 27lbs (not including a full 2L water reservoir) because I look mainly at ultra-light camping gear for traditionally heavy items (ultra-light gear can be pricier to obtain the same high quality but it is worth it for me in the weight savings category).

There is a lot of discourse on how to reduce pack-weight for long distance hikers that I read before building my kit since I knew pack-weight would be a concern but only some of that can translate to a bug out bag because the expectations for the kits are incredibly different. I  have never seen any discourse by preppers about reducing pack weight despite the fact that if you can’t actually carry it-you aren’t getting out of an emergency situation anytime soon with the things you need to bug out with the most. Thank you in advance for any suggestions or tips!

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  • Comments (33)

    • 5

      Hi!  I can’t tell you specifics w/o knowing your kit makeup; and, this is only my opinion based not on making a BOB but rather backcountry hiking.  All the things you’ve done so far sound like the right strategy.  My thoughts are probably fairly obvious, recognizing that you’ll have to make choices.

      1) reduce redundancies. following this site’s kit list, do you need water filter and purifiers? Do you need plastic garbage bags?  Is a radio critical or can you make do with your phone?    The weight of H2O pills seems minimal, but ounces add up.  I know people who would remove the zipper pulls from their bags to reduce weight just a little more.  There are plenty of items on the list that are “nice to have” depending on what type of situation you think you’ll face.  Obviously, look at heavier items first.

      2) prioritize.  I used to hike with a paperback book b/c I liked to read after making camp.  If I thought I wasn’t going to have time to do that, I’d obviously leave the book.  Or, I could tear it down to chapters, or keep it digitally on my phone now!

      Some other thoughts…  27 lbs is a really good weight, I’d be really happy with that.  25 years ago, I’d carry 50+ lbs and be able to make 15 miles in a day.  That’s not my range anymore.  at this stage of my life, circumstances are such that I don’t imagine I’d be going anywhere quickly.  But, my assessment is that I can’t even think of anything that would force us to leave in a hurry.  So, I emphasize having a few more things knowing we’ll be going slow anyway.

      Lastly, I purchased a small woodburning camp stove so we could practice cooking in the backyard (though, we mostly just make s’mores).  It’s decent.  The benefit of packing this is not having to carry fuel.

    • 6

      My go bag is just under 40 lbs fully loaded with food, water, and fuel (which is how I store it), and although I am in good shape, I would agree that I couldn’t carry it very far. That being said, if we have to bug out, plan A is leaving by car (or train or bus or some other form of transit). While we also store some supplies in the car, but my point is that the backpack form factor is maybe for plans C or D or E. Maybe also for going short distances (like from the train station to a bus station).

      I have worked hard on cutting bag weight (believe it or not), but I also don’t think bugging out is likely to resemble ultralight wilderness camping. If it’s the actual apocalypse everywhere, there’s no point in travelling. Short of that, you end up relocating to some place that was less hard hit. If that place is hundreds of miles away, and foot is the only way to travel (roads, trains, buses, boats, planes all blocked and I can’t ride my bicycle either for some reason?) I’m not making it regardless of pack weight. If you are a highly skilled ultralight through-hiker, maybe you can, but for me that’s not realistic.

      OK, forgive my ramblings, here’s something that’s you might find more useful. I have my go bag organized by theme into smaller bags (such as these https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01MQXLKS9/ and these https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B007KJU022/). Not only does that make it much easier to find things in the dark when you’re tired and stressed (all the water filtration stuff is in one particular bag, and it’s blue), it makes it easy to ditch stuff. If I do have to walk 20 or 30 miles to get out of a disaster zone, I can remove the least-relevant kits in seconds and lighten my pack weight by 5 or 10 lbs.

    • 6

      Hi Camille!
      I see prepping as a spectrum, with gear on one side and skills on the other.  Really the best prepping you can do is learning skills.  “The more you know the less you need to carry.”  Native peoples didn’t use duct tape or toilet paper and they did just fine.  I’m not saying spend years learning how to live in the wilderness in the middle of winter starting out naked with a knife, but there are a lot of things I don’t need to carry or stress about because I know how to make/do what I need without man-made items.  I know it’s also much harder to take my skills from me than my gear.
      I recommend taking some classes from a reputable school that teach how to meet your basic survival needs without selling you a pack full of stuff.  Note that there is a significant difference between learning survival skills versus primitive living or homesteading skills too.  Many schools don’t make that distinction, but solid homesteading and primitive living skills WILL take you months if not years to learn.
      Happy prepping!

    • 6

      Camille,

      I am just getting started and am hoping to keep weight down as well. If you have any specific recommendations on how you did so well on your low weight BOB I’d appreciate any info

      • 7

        Hello!

        Before I bought a lot of supplies for my bug out bag kit I did two things:  a lot of research on what to include (this website has a great kit builder list if you are just starting) and post-research I then made a google doc with items that were recommended or that I personally knew I wanted to include and then I did a lot of research into finding light-weight but still highly functional alternatives for the recommended items that are typically heavy (for example, my bag the Deuter Trail Pro 32, recommended in a list on this site, weighs about 3lbs instead of the typical 5lbs most bug out bags weigh when empty, and my sleeping bag from Mountain Laurel Designs weighs 1.25lbs as compared to the 4.8lb sleeping bag recommended in the kit builder on this site). I also invested in a really light weight aluminum cooking pot set and I like items that are multi-use which can potentially cut down weight as well. I keep a running total of the weight of all items in my google doc so I know where I stand weight-wise on gear and that is a factor which helps me decide whether or not to purchase something to add to my kit. I also went through things I already had before I started buying items off my list (for example I already had a reliable rechargeable light source so no need to buy another). While I agree with one of the above commenters that survival requiring a bug out bag is highly unlikely to look like ultralight wilderness camping, I prefer to buy gear designed to be ultralight for my kit because it gives me more confidence in knowing I can easily carry it whenever and wherever (even though ideally I’m bugging in and staying on my farm and not bugging out). What works for me may not work for you, but I hope this can be helpful as you delve into prepping!

      • 5

        That is a wealth of knowledge-Thank you SO much! I am doing a ton of reading, research, list making also and so feel good about that. However, I appreciate your specifics as there is just so much out there and hard to wade through it all. I plan on trying backpacks on next to get a sense of what will fit best. I wish you well in your farming season!

      • 5

        Thanks Camille.  I’m also in the great spreadsheet trade study and optimization phase.  Glad to hear there are others out there with the same concern and process.  I’m also planning for the body I currently have which isn’t superwoman by any means.  I am inspired to do more research as I tend to want to have something ready then optimize.  But once I have something, it doesn’t get the consistent revision/update.  This community may keep me motivated and inspired to stick to it.  And of course, this pandemic has provided me more time and focus.

      • 4

        Just a follow-up I found this: https://theprepared.com/blog/why-ultralight-gear-isnt-always-the-best-for-preparedness/

        I agree with quite a few of the points in this article and think it’s worth a read, because while I like to minimize weight I think there is definitely a point in which sticking with ultra-light gear goes too far. For example, I don’t see any harm in buying and using an ultralight cooking pot set, but I can see a lot of harm coming from buying an ultra lightweight tarp that can’t hold up to use and abuse during an emergency.  The point made in the article about price points, redundancy and wise spending is important to keep in mind. I think in the end it comes down to customizing your kit and making it work for you, your situation and the area you live in.

    • 6

      OMG the prepping community is so bad at telling you what NOT to pack! I think there is an ego attachment and smugness to “I thought of EVERYTHING” and a lack of realism about what that actually means.  I posted on a facebook group asking for thoughts on keeping pack weight down – I have joint problems and can’t carry a lot – and still people mostly chimed in with stuff they thought I should ADD to my pack! Or they told me I should increase my fitness so I could carry more. A good goal, but my motto is pack for the person you are, not the one you wish to be.

      Another guideline I chose for myself, which you seem to be following, is “If I can’t survive it, I’m not going to pack for it.” My pack anticipates evacuation to a shelter or relative’s house with a maximum of three days walk in warm weather and one day in cold weather. I neither have the skills nor the fitness for long term wilderness survival (plus I live in a suburban area) so I don’t include a lot of camping/wilderness gear. No tent, just a tarp, poncho, and paracord. I don’t have cooking gear (I do in my camping tub if I evacuate by car), and I have very minimal food. I did pack a good amount of toiletries, anticipating that the most likely destination would be a shelter, but those can be ditched. Other people commented I had too many clothes but I stuck by my choices – I see hypothermia as one of the biggest risks.

      So I don’t have specific guidelines for you, only general support for your goal of keeping pack weight down! Ignore people who pile on with “Well what about THIS” and make judicious choices to make that pack manageable. You can’t pack everything, you can’t survive everything, and long term outdoor survival is an unlikely survival situation anyway.

    • 5

      It’d be helpful if you shared the link here with your current or planed kit! Just make sure it’s set to “public” in kit builder so we can see it.

      FYI, the BOB list we put together (the 42 lbs you quoted) was the maximum. There’s guidance in the article on how to prioritize, where to cut weight, etc.

      • 6

        It took me awhile to switch over everything from my original google doc into the kit builder on this site – but here is the link to my kit for anyone interested:

        This certainly isn’t an end all be all kit for anyone and I absolutely don’t claim to be an expert, I’ve just done a lot of research on what will work best for my lifestyle, skill set, and where I live. I chose to add a HAM radio and a solar charger as well as to purchase a second water filter since my original post, which brought the weight of this kit up to about 30lbs.

        Additionally, you’ll notice that none of the medical supplies on my list have links-I’d reference the IFAK list already on this site for what to buy. You’ll also notice my kit is customized with a hammock – I sleep in an indoor hammock year round anyway and the set up I have in my bag is suitable for the heavily forested areas where I live, however if you aren’t an experienced hammock user I wouldn’t recommend getting a hammock system. To echo the advice on this website: the best kit is a kit that is customized for your lifestyle and skill set. This is mine (and I’m still tweaking it), best of luck as you build yours!

      • 4

        Thanks for sharing!  I didn’t realize the Kit site permitted you to post your own.  The detail on the medical category was illuminating and thought provoking.  I’ve not gotten to reviewing the FAK page on this site in detail yet.  I also noticed no stove so your forested surroundings are providing good source of fuel for you.  What a weight savings there.  Great kit!

      • 4

        @Camille — Awesome, thanks for sharing the kit! Excited to check it out.

        @Alicia — Yep! You can share kits, clone and customizes other people’s kits (including Camille’s!), etc. We’re working right now on getting more example starter kits made, searching through other people’s (public) kits, kits made by outside experts for inspiration, and so on.

      • 4

        Happy to do so- I think the kit builder feature on this site is such a great resource!  An aside to anyone who checks out my kit: I put a lot of thought into what is in it (and what isn’t) however I’m always trying to learn more and consider different perspectives so I’m certainly open to any constructive feedback people have.

      • 4

        I was put off  Titan Survivor cord by their website that states 100′ weighs 13oz.  Since you’re going lightweight I’m encouraged as you list it at 6.5oz.  John’s 50′ of 550 paracord is 3oz.  So I am really hoping that you’re right here and the survivor cord is less than an ounce different.  Was that from weighing it?

      • 4

        I only carry 50 feet of the Titan Survivor Cord which comes to a total weight of 6.5 ounces, and while there are more lightweight paracord options I like all the additional strands the Survivor Cord includes (like snare wire and fishing line) so a few extra ounces was worth it to me.

      • 3

        Thanks for the followup. that explains it.  I’ve not committed to cordage yet.  Waiting to see how much I can shave off other places.

      • 1

        It took me a while to switch everything over from my original google doc into the kit builder on this site, however here is the link for anyone interested:

        Kits

        This bag isn’t an end all be all kit for anyone and I absolutely don’t claim to be an expert, I only claim to have done a lot of research on what would work best for my lifestyle and prepping goals. I chose to add a HAM radio and a solar charger as well as to purchase a second water filter since my original post, which brought the weight of this kit up to about 30lbs.

        Additionally you may notice that few of the medical items in my kit are linked, as I figured it would be best for folks to check the IFAK list on this site for links on what to purchase. Also my kit is customized to include a hammock set-up because I sleep in an indoor hammock year round and the set-up included in my bag is well suited to the heavily forested area where I live. However if you aren’t an experienced hammock user, I don’t recommend including a hammock in your kit. To echo the advice on this website: the best kit is the one that is customized to your lifestyle and skill-set. This is mine (and I’m still tweaking it), best of luck finding yours!

      • 2
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      • 2

        It took me a while to switch everything over from my original google doc to the kit builder on this site, but here is the link for anyone interested:

        Kits

        This kit certainly isn’t an end all/be all kit for anyone and I don’t claim to be an expert by any means. I do claim to have done a lot of research into what would work best to suit my needs and lifestyle. Since my original post I have chosen to add a HAM radio, backup water filter and a solar charger to my kit which has brought the weight up to around 30lbs.

        Additionally, you’ll notice that none of my medical supplies are linked – I’d check out the IFAK list for links to purchase items that you’re interested in acquiring. Also my bag is customized with a hammock set-up because I sleep in an indoor hammock year round and the set-up I have included in my bag is well suited to the heavily forested area where I live, but if you aren’t an experienced hammock user I don’t recommend adding one to your bag. To echo the advice of this website: the best emergency kit is the one that is customized to your lifestyle and skill-set. This is mine (and I’m still tweaking it), best of luck as you build yours!

      • 2

        It took me a while to switch everything over from my original google doc to the kit builder on this site, but here is the link for anyone interested:

        Kits

        This kit certainly isn’t an end all/be all kit for anyone and I don’t claim to be an expert by any means. I do claim to have done a lot of research into what would work best to suit my needs and lifestyle. Since my original post I have chosen to add a HAM radio, backup water filter and a solar charger to my kit which has brought the weight up to around 30lbs.

        Additionally, you’ll notice that none of my medical supplies are linked – I’d check out the IFAK list for links to purchase items that you’re interested in acquiring. Also my bag is customized with a hammock set-up because I sleep in an indoor hammock year round and the set-up I have included in my bag is well suited to the heavily forested area where I live, but if you aren’t an experienced hammock user I don’t recommend adding one in your bag. To echo the advice of this website: the best emergency kit is the one that is customized to your lifestyle and skill-set. This is mine (and I’m still tweaking it), best of luck as you build yours!

    • 4

      Have you seen the monowalker? Google it!

      • 2

        Looks neat, but you always need to be able to bug out on foot!

    • 6

      @ThePrepared.  I’d like to hear the rationale for carrying both a tarp and a tent in the example BOB in the Kit Builder page.  That is 4.1lbs between the two of them.

      • 4

        Great question. Context for others reading this: a tarp is included in a “level 1” bug out bag, meaning it’s a core item you’d have even in a small kit. As you build a bigger kit (still within reason, of course), you might choose to also include a small tent.

        A tarp is first because it’s a “jack of all trades, master of none.” You can use it to make basic shelters, plus lots of other uses like water collection, signaling, as a stretcher or sled, covering holes in structures, hiding supplies, fishing, clearing debris, and so on. There’s lots of ways you could use a big piece of durable fabric with attachment points.

        You do need some basic cordage and knot knowledge to make worthwhile shelters with tarps, though, in addition to tie-off points for the cordage.

        But if you’re going to carry a bigger pack, it can be great to add a separate tent. For most people, tents are fundamentally easier and better than tarps for shelter because they’re specialized for the task — you don’t need to be good with cordage and knots, don’t have to think as much about ground water runoff flows, etc.

        Since shelter is such a core need (in many cases even more important than food), we like the idea of having two ways to create shelter, especially when one of those ways (tarp) is so versatile.

        So even if you also carry a tent, we still think it’s worth carrying the tarp. Besides all of the other potential tarp uses, something may happen where you no longer have your tent, but at least you still have the tarp. You can also use them in combo with each other for more versatility, such as better ground protection against flood waters, better overhead protection against sun or snow/rain, better heat retention (turning your three-season tent into more of a four-season tent), and so on.

        That said, you can of course customize things how you want.

        How do you think about it Alicia?

      • 4

        It would be wonderful to carry both a tent and a tarp, especially if you don’t have to carry the weight.  Since you do, it is time to consider relative advantages.

        Generally, a tarp is adequate in nicer weather; the tent comes into play in poorer conditions.  A tent is also useful in providing privacy, which may or may not be important.

        You can rig  perfectly satisfactory shelter, using only a tarp that will withstand steady rain (but not windy squalls), especially if used with a bivvy sack, an item which will provide added warmth to your bag.  A tarp can be rigged in a very inconspicuous manner, while a tent tends to be more obvious.

        For most of us, there is a big difference between summer and winter conditions, so it is a good idea to adjust the bag as appropriate.

        In any case, weight is the enemy if you are walking.  Carry only what you really need, and dispose of the “‘possibly useful” stuff.

        I have spent many nights with only a tarp and a sleeping bag, the night sky, and a much better view of my surroundings – that might be important as well.  There have also been times when I have been very happy, snug and cozy in a tent

      • 3

        I’m really trying to get the weight down overall or at least convert it to consumables so it naturally gets lighter as I use or eat it.  Shelter and Sleeping are two of the heavy weights in the pack but also as you state – critical to the point of redundancy.  I’m investigating how to lighten up and/or get some double duty gear in this area.  I also read the article on ultra-light gear (double duty options) and appreciate the need for  durability (the nemesis of lightweight).  I’m considering a rain poncho/cape that would work as a tarp/tent because rain isn’t typically in the forecast where I live, but also would be miserable (and possibly risky) walking in the rain with a wet pack. Some sort of bug net would be necessary to truly get the full benefit of a tent which is appealing.  The versatility of a tarp as described in this response and in @Hikermor below helped me decide to compromise on the tent side of the equation – because multi-purpose gear makes all uses less than optimal but has the advantage of weight/volume reduction.  It also made me realize I’m such a piker at this as I hadn’t considered many of them 🙂  I may decide upon a smaller tarp to reduce weight and because I’m smaller in stature but won’t in durability.  Thanks for the responses!

    • 2

      First, I think it is unlikely, though possible, that I will need to carry my pack for long distances on foot.  But I want to be prepared should that become necessary and like you I can realistically carry only a small bag.  So similar to others on this thread, I compartmentalize my main pack into smaller interior packs using Sea to Summit Ultrasil daypacks, which are super tough minimalist backpacks that weigh only 2.5 ounces each. These help me organize and protect my gear (they’re very water resistant) while also making it possible to quickly remove one, hide one under a tree, hand one off to someone else – or ditch one that it least important.  Critical stuff, like the first aid kit, is in a red interior pack which tells me at a glance that I have to keep that (and plus I can grab it quickly if needed, or tell someone else how to find it). Water prep in blue. Clothing in gray. And stuff I’m most willing to ditch is in a clear ziploc.  In each mini-pack I have a printed out inventory so I can always remember at a glance what’s in what (for example, I keep my lighter in the first aid kit) so I don’t have to fully unpack to remember what is in there.  I also have my name, contact information, emergency contact information, and critical personal details like medication allergies on that printed list so in case I am injured and someone finds me they’ll have those details and, if I have to ditch a pack, perhaps some nice human can return it to me somehow.  It is essential to PRACTICE. Like, take your fully loaded bag, fully imagine a scenario where you have seconds to dump weight, and practice actually doing that. This will help you realize (as I did) that the things you want to dump first are at the very bottom of your bag when they shouldn’t be. Also practice going “bare bones” minimum if you really have to move quickly and maybe dump your largest bag. For example if absolutely pressed I would probably grab the water bag and the first aid kit and leave everything else like the change of clothes and the contractor bags.  Practicing THAT told me that I should put my tarp in the water bag, too – I’m willing to give up my change of clothes but protection from the elements would be even more critical then.  And that is why my lighter is in my first aid kit – if that’s one of the things I refuse to ditch, having a fire starter in there will be critical.  I’d love to see an article on The Prepared about “bugging out” best practices for the elderly or physically impaired.