I had no idea when I created the original Ultralight Bug Out Bag video two years ago that anyone would ever actually see it. Back then I only had about 500 subscribers and that video wasn’t even meant to go on YouTube. Almost 3 million views and 150k subscribers later, it’s time to revisit this and show you the updates I have made to my bag over the last couple of years.
The main purpose of having a bag that is pre-packed for emergencies is simple: to provide for your needs in that emergency. It doesn’t matter if you are at home, in your car trying to get home, at the office trying to get to your car, or forced to go on foot for some unforeseen reason. Your needs are your needs regardless of where you find yourself. Those needs directly line up with the Survival Priorities:
First Aid for Life Threats
Core Temperature Control
First Aid for Non-Life Threats
Repair and Maintenance
These are the needs that must be provided for regardless of where you find yourself, so it only makes sense to pack any emergency kit to meet those needs. Your “Bug Out Bag” is no exception. It is a pre-packed emergency kit that is meant to provide for your needs in an emergency. “Bug Out Bag” is just a catchy name. Contrary to popular belief, it is not just for the end of the world as we know it or some apocalyptic event. There are a few reasons why a person could be down to providing for their needs (or someone else’s) with nothing more than what they have on their backs in this bag. That could be for a short period of time, or for an extended period.
Consider the things that happen on a frequent basis like car accidents and violent crime. These are daily occurrences. Less frequently, but still more common than we may like to admit, are situations like rioting and looting, highways being blocked with commuters being mobbed and beaten, active shooters, bombings, and other terrorist attacks, and natural disasters leaving people displaced from their homes. Storms often send panicked and unprepared people running to the grocery stores and clearing the shelves. Power outages can be a huge issue when it comes to people living in areas that are less than hospitable without the props of heating and air conditioning.
These things happen in the United States and elsewhere often enough that any intelligent person should see the value in having an emergency kit to handle those situations, even if only temporarily until the properly trained and better equipped agencies can take over. In some situations, like a mass casualty event, those agencies may be completely overwhelmed and not be able to help for some time. What if you or someone from your family were the ones waiting on them? These are the things that are far more likely and much more common than any apocalyptic event.
Having said that, there are some other situations that would be more catastrophic, although more uncommon. Less likely and uncommon doesn’t mean impossible. Famine, Tyranny, Large Scale Terrorist Attacks, War, Refugee Crises, Social Unrest, Economic Collapse, Pandemics, you name it. They are all happening somewhere in the world at any given time. First World countries like to think that they are immune to Second and Third World Country problems. I would encourage you to educate yourself as to the fragility of our systems and decide for yourself if something catastrophic could or couldn’t happen. The fact that you are reading this leads me to believe you may have already done that assessment and came to the same conclusion I did.
I personally do not plan for specific causes. I have no control over what happens to cause the emergency. What I do have control over is my ability to provide for my needs and the needs of my family in that emergency, for however long it takes.
I also do not subscribe to the multiple bag’s principle. An emergency kit is either suitable to provide for my needs, or it isn’t. These needs don’t change. I need to maintain my Core Body Temperature, Hydrate, Consume Calories, and Rest. I need to be able to handle injuries. I need to be able to navigate. I may need to signal others in an emergency. There are basic tools that I would like to have on hand to facilitate those other needs. Doesn’t matter why I am down to providing for them out of this bag, doesn’t matter if I am at home, in the car, or in the office. If the needs do not change, why can’t the bag be the same?
When I am home, this bag is right by the door. When I travel somewhere, I place it in the car so that it’s available. I carry this bag with me wherever I go. It is my Everyday Carry (EDC), Get Home Bag (GHB), and my Bug Out Bag (BOB). Call this bag whatever you want to call it. The bottom line is that it is meant to provide for your needs in an emergency.
A major point that I think people need to be realistic about is weight when it comes to Bug Out Bags. I have carried heavy enough loads to know that I don’t want to carry them again if I don’t have to. The main purpose of a BOB is to provide for your needs, and worst-case that could mean providing for your needs while on foot traveling from a dangerous area to a safe area. A heavy bag will have a negative impact on your ability to do that. You will move slower and require more water and calories than you would if you were carrying a lighter pack. All those conflict with that goal.
As a rule of thumb, your BOB weight should be around 10% of your body weight. Of course, body compositions differ, and each individual will have to adjust based on that. You want to go as light as possible while still being able to provide for your needs. It is impossible for anyone to provide a checklist of gear that would be applicable to every person. Skill levels, environments, seasons, budgets, and situations are way too variable. What is possible is to give you a template; a baseline packing list that highlights the needs that you should be prepared to provide for, and what I choose for my bag to provide for those needs.
You may have other gear choices that you want to plug into that template for your own bag, and that’s okay. The specific gear or brands are not meant to be the takeaway. The gear that I choose for my own bag is based on months to years of field testing and these are the items I trust for my own bag and the bags of my family members. For me, this bag is critical. I want the best items I can possibly afford if I am down to living off nothing but them. My Bug Out Bag packing list with links to my gear choices can be found here.
It’s also important to understand that this is my baseline packing list and is limited to what goes inside the bag. This bag is part of a larger system. My next film details part of that system, and I plan on filming two more in that series to capture my entire system and how it all works together. IN the next film, you will see that one of the reasons I can travel so light is because I have a system of caches in place that I can use to resupply when I am on the move. I discuss different types of caches, what I pack in them, and how I emplace them.
I also detail what I call “supplemental kits”. These kits are meant to be added to the baseline to address things like seasonal changes or different environments. Examples include an Urban Supplemental Kit for those rare times when I find myself in or traveling through an urban area; a Cold Weather Supplemental for those times when the weather gets harsh; a Camouflage Supplemental for situations where I may want more stealth and concealment; and a Tactical Supplemental for a variety of reasons where I may want more personal protection. These are all detailed in my next film, so don’t miss it! Make sure you are on my email list so you are notified when it’s released and can take advantage of the deep discounts during the launch. You can subscribe to that here.
Since I brought up personal protection, I got a lot of negative input on my original BOB Packing List video because I didn’t show what firearms I would carry. I did speak about them in the video, but never showed them. Here is the thing: displaying firearms on a public platform that doesn’t hide the fact that they are not fans of guns and not really wanting my personal inventory (if I had any that is) on display for anyone to see aside…the video was limited to what goes inside the bag.
I don’t carry firearms inside a bag. Depending on what you are carrying and what the situation is, they either go on your hip in a holster or in your hands at the ready. Of course, there are some exceptions, but that is a general rule I follow. That in no way means that firearms for personal protection do not have a place in the bigger system. With that said, there are situations that I may not feel that I need a firearm, much the same as I don’t always need body armor or a helmet. Aside from not belonging inside a bag if you do need them, they aren’t part of a baseline packing list or template that is meant for people to be able to adopt and adapt for most situations. They are supplemental within my system.
I won’t get too far into the weeds on specific items within this baseline packing list since you can get the list here. I do, however, want to highlight some of the choices (especially the updates I made over the last couple of years since the original video was published) and discuss how they work towards providing for my needs within the larger system.
My baseline BOB starts with a good durable backpack. Originally, I chose the 5.11 Covrt18 and I still have a couple of those. If you were able to get one, know that I still stand by that endorsement and recommendation. With that said, many were having issues sourcing it and for all I know they aren’t even made any longer, so I found and tested another that is still available. I chose the Mystery Ranch Urban Assault 24. I carried Mystery Ranch in the Middle East for several years. The comfort and durability of these packs, even under a very heavy load, can’t be overstated. The UA24 is no exception.
As far as First Aid for life threats, in working with North American Rescue, I was able to develop my own Individual First Aid Kit (IFAK) that fit my needs a little better. That is not to say that the Black Scout Survival IFAK that I originally used and recommended is no longer a good kit by any means. The GB2 IFAK just has a bit more in the kit that I consider improvements and fits my system best. Speaking of system, I recommend adding some trauma shears, a second CAT, and a Mylar Blanket to really round out the GB2 IFAK, these just aren’t things I would want in the actual vacuum pack itself. I do have a custom IFAK pouch that is currently in development, so stay tuned for updates on that.
When it comes to Core Temperature Control, that of course starts with choosing appropriate clothing for your weather and environment. That is your first form of shelter. After that, a good shelter kit and fire kit are essential for staying warm and protecting you from the elements. Every good shelter kit has something to sleep under, something to sleep on, and something to sleep in, along with some cordage and in this case, tent stakes. My shelter kit didn’t change. I still recommend the same items to provide for those needs.
I did make a couple of changes to my fire kit choices. I still recommend the same three ignition sources, but I changed the emergency tinder that I carry now. I used to carry the TinderQuik fire tabs which work well, but after being introduced to the Mini-Inferno, I switched. I found that they are easier to use because they are large, flat, and round.
The Mini Inferno gives you a bigger target to hit when it comes to lighting it, and I like that they have a resealable tin that is also useful once it’s empty for charring or carrying other items that I may find along the way. Another change is switching from the UCO Beeswax candle to the Exotac CandleTins. Still beeswax candles, similar burn time, but the packaging really sets them apart. They come in reusable tins rather than an unprotected candle in my pack. My next film will talk about considerations for using a fire and how to do it discreetly and tactically when needed.
I decided to stop carrying water purification tabs and replaced the Sawyer Mini with the Grayl Geopress. The water purification tablets had an expiration date and I just found them to be an unnecessary redundancy. The Grayl will filter around 250L of water, so I expect that even if I were to drink 5L per day, one filter cartridge should last me for over 50 days, and I can put additional filter cartridges in my resupply caches and not have to worry about expiration dates. The other benefit to the Grayl over the Sawyer is that it is also its own container. Carrying it gave me an additional 24 ounces capacity, so it was a great addition to my bag. I’ve used mine in the field for well over a year now and had no issues. You can see me using it and talking more about it in the Into the Woods film.
I am still going with the SOS Emergency Rations for my baseline food on-the-go. Trapping in a worst-case Bug Out, when my goal is to get from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible, doesn’t really make much sense. Neither does actively hunting or fishing. I don’t want to be in an area for long enough to do any of that. I want to get to my next cache that has more food in it, or my alternate Bug In location that is stocked with food. All I need is quick calories that I don’t have to stop and cook.
I still rely on the same Navigation Kit as the original. The Suunto compass has never failed me. I have a lot of people ask me where I get my maps made. I get my maps from mytopo.com. Keep in mind that you will need maps for the entire area you expect to have to cover, worst case. That may be more than one map. Personally, I carry the map of my immediate area in my BOB, and additional maps I place in the cache closest to the area it would be needed for. I don’t need them until then, so I don’t want to carry them through an area that I don’t have to.
I categorize my headlamp as signal, because it could be used for that, but I think we can all agree that there could be situations where you don’t want to be seen, or at least only be seen by your own people. Originally, I was using the Petzl because it had a manual red filter that I could slide up and ensure that when I turned it on, it wouldn’t be white light. Most of the push button models defaulted to white or had separate buttons to turn on filtered light. I didn’t like the number of times I accidentally turned on white when I wanted red, so I liked the manual Petzl filter.
This headlamp was discontinued from my understanding so it was another thing that I was recommending to folks and they would be frustrated because they couldn’t get it, so I went on the hunt for a replacement (that and mine finally broke after a few yards of use). What I found was the Princeton Tec Vizz. Talk about an upgrade! This one is a push button, but it defaults to reed and you have to long press it to turn it white.
With the Vizz, there is no more chances of accidentally breaking white light discipline. It also has green and blue options, as well as infrared which is handy for Night Vision Devices (NVD’s). Excellent headlamp that I wouldn’t trade. I had found a Princeton Tec brand headlamp laying on the ground on a drop zone that had been exposed to the weather for who knows how long? I picked it up and turned it on and it worked. I think I used it a few more weeks before I had to change the batteries, so I was impressed with that brand after that.
You may not be aware of this, but about a year and a half ago I designed and made my own knife. It is a puukko design that I am very fond of and it fits me and perfectly. It is a no-frills woodsman knife that does everything I need it to do in the woods and is exactly how I want it. It is a full tang, 1095 steel, forged finish, scandi ground knife with simple wood scales that is now being produced by Pathfinder Forge and Tool and is available commercially. You would think that I would recommend this knife and only this knife to everyone for everything, wouldn’t you?
Here is the thing: this is a woodsman knife in that it requires a bit of knowledge and skill to use it effectively and safely. In other words, you have to know how to safely handle a knife and use it for slicing as it’s intended. It doesn’t have any “training wheels” or safeguards like a finger guard for folks that try to thrust or push with the knife. The puukko design is a continuous curve that is beautiful for carving and slicing, but it has an inherently delicate (not weak) tip, so it is not meant for prying or banging on the tip with a baton. You have to know how to split wood properly with a knife to use this and not expect any forgiveness when you try and split wood that is too large in diameter that forces you to hit the very tip.
The GB2 Puukko has a Scandi to zero grind, so it has an extremely sharp edge, but it does not have a secondary micro-bevel to compensate for trying to bang it through a knot in the wood or prying with the edge. For me personally, I am comfortable carrying it in my BOB. For others that may not have as much experience with technique and material selection that just need a knife that will compensate better for a lack of those skills, I would still recommend the Mora Carbon Garberg. That’s as unbiased an assessment I can give you on that.
For gear repair (and some first aid applications), I like to use a piece of gorilla tape to secure a large sail needle to the back of my sheath. You may choose to carry them somewhere more secure, but I have not lost one yet personally.
I did add some optional items to the original packing list. It was not as apparent to many that the bag was intended to be a baseline that could be added to, so this time I have specified a couple of things that are optional. Are they completely necessary? Are you going to die if you don’t have them? No. Are they nice to have? Yes. Things like a small hygiene kit with some soap, toothbrush, and toothpaste, and maybe some insect repellant are really nice to have.
For those of you that are not familiar with mullein (plant), maybe you want to carry some toilet paper and wipes. I would also recommend a change or two of socks so you can better take care of your feet over a long movement. Maybe a clean t-shirt to change into. That has a lot of other uses as well, so it might be worth carrying. What I will caution you on is this: the nice-to-haves will quickly add up to more and more weight. Your house is full of nice-to-haves. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that comfort is a requirement to get you from Point A to Point B.
Thanks for taking the time to read this! I hope you got something out of it, and it was worth your time. I recommend you join me on my weekly live stream on Twitch https://www.twitch.tv/graybeardedgb where we will be discussing this and many other topics. If you haven’t already, watch the YT video on this subject here, and get your BOB 2.0 packing list here.
Hope to see you in the woods!