It’s finally happened.
The country has suffered complete economic collapse and rioters and looters wreak chaos in the major urban centres as everyone fights for food, water and survival.
But not you. You saw this coming and began to prepare for the inevitable.
Through your hard work, endless research and countless hours in the bush you’re confident the bag on your back has everything you’ll need to survive in the coming months ahead.
Want to be that person above? Whether you’re an experienced vet or a prepper newbie it’s likely your bug out bag list has something missing from it. Follow along with me here and I’ll lay out the 9 categories of items every bug out bag needs.
Whether you’re using it for cooking, cleaning or drinking, water is the most important part of any bug out bag. The average human can last only 3 days without water so making sure we have access to a replenishing source should be priority #1 for anyone planning on spending a reasonable amount of time in the bush.
In order to ensure a replenishing supply you should carry 3 items in this category:
The best way to ensure you have clean water to drink is to simply bring some. Since water is heavy it’s a balancing act between lugging as much as you can without weighing yourself down too much. I would suggest bringing somewhere in the 3-4L category which will last you 3-4 days if consumed responsibly.
Now how you choose to carry this water is another debate entirely, depending on how much you want to spend. If you were to buy one thing however I would suggest a reliable, metal canteen. I love the brand “Klean Kanteen” and really like the size and wide mouth on this one. It’s easy to refill and can be used to boil water right inside the canteen.
In addition to a canteen, collapsible water bladders are also a good purchase as they can be compacted down to take up little space once they are empty.
If you’re on a budget and simply looking to make due, there is nothing wrong with the plastic bottles available at your local grocery store.
Water Purification Tablets
The second step to having a replenish-able source of water is to carry along some water purification tablets (usually iodine). They are quick and easy and life savers if you need some clean water in a pinch.
Water Purification Filter
The final step to ensuring a steady supply of clean water is having a good portable water filter to turn any lake, stream or pond into your own personal tap. Talk to anyone in the know and there is one company that towers above the rest when it comes to quality: Katadyn.
They have numerous models ranging from heavy duty filters meant to support an entire camp, to smaller units meant to sustain individuals. I personally enjoy the Katadyn Hiker Pro – it’s the most widely sold micro filter in the U.S. and weighs a mere 310 grams.
This little guy is rugged, reliable and able to handle most reasonable water filtering requirements (think slightly brown stream, lake or pond). If there is one thing you should absolutely invest some money in it is a portable water filter. If shit ever really does hit the fan clean water is going to become the most valuable asset on earth.
Fire & Light
Now that water is taken care we’ll move on to our second category: fire and light. Whether you’re using it for warmth, protection or preparing food fire is essential to bush craft survival.
When it comes to starting a fire the rule of three prevails: have 3 different ways to start a fire at any point in time. A solid lighter or three is always my first option so make sure you have several in your pack (Don’t worry about quality, a few BIC lighters from your local gas station will do the trick).
Matches are option number two on the list, and I can’t say it enough; make sure they are waterproof and kept in a sealed container of some sort (I know I don’t have to remind you to bring a striker to actually light the thing).
Flint & Steel
As a last resort nothing really beats the ageless combination of flint and steel. It might be slow but it is battle tested and reliable. Make sure to have a set in your bag.
Cotton Balls (soaked in petroleum jelly)
Now that you have a means to make a flame, you’re going to need something for it to catch on. The best (and most lightweight) method I’ve found is by taking a plastic Ziploc bag and filling it with petroleum jelly soaked cotton balls. If you have any doubts about this method just do a quick youtube search. They light every time (even when wet) and can burn up to 2 ½ minutes long.
If you are out in the wilderness, the last thing you want to be doing is stumbling around blindly in the dark. Depending on your needs a small Maglite might be all you want. If you don’t mind the extra weight however feel free to carry something a little heavier duty.
While some might argue it’s a waste carrying both a headlamp and traditional flashlight, I frankly have to disagree. Having both hands free can be essential in survival scenarios – just try holding a map, chopping wood or god forbid firing a weapon with a flashlight in your hand. Be smart and use your head (literally).
Not just cool accessories for frat parties and raves, glow sticks have realistic value in a bug out situation. It’s a light source that doesn’t use batteries, can be used in all-weather situations, can mark dangers or flag someone to your location. You might not need these all the time but you’ll be happy you have them.
So now that we’ve got the essentials out of the way it’s time to move on to the fun stuff. What’s that saying about a man and his tools?
I don’t need to lay out the thousand different uses for a solid blade to you, you already know it’s important. A knife is one of the most personal items in a bug out bag and I encourage you to figure out what you plan to use it for and then do some research on the best ones. I can’t tell you the best survival knife out there for your needs but I have created a pretty comprehensive list to help you make a decision.
Right on par with the survival knife for importance is a solid multi-tool. And while I suggest going with a Leatherman Charge TTi I get that not everyone has that kind of money to spend on a knife. Some other solid brands include SOG, Gerber and Victorinox. If you’re in a rush and on a tight budget however a $12 knife from your local hardware store is still better than nothing.
My ___ is bigger than yours. “Doesn’t matter” you respond, “It’s how you use it”. We’re talking about axes here (get your mind out of the gutter), and the recommended size is entirely personal. I myself prefer a slightly larger model (not just because I’m overcompensating), but because I want to be able to split a log or fell a tree if necessary. If you do go big however know what you’re getting yourself into as these guys can get heavy after trucking them around on your back for a few days.
In terms of recommendations, my personal favourite is the X-series by Fiskars which offers 3 models ranging in length from 14 to 36 inches and weighing between 1.5 and 6 lbs. I myself carry the 7857 X15 model at 23.5 inches and a shade over 3lbs as a compromise between weight and length. (I should also add that they have an 8 inch version, but let’s be honest – while 8 inches might be an impressive length for some things *wink wink* a survival axe isn’t one of them).
Now that I’ve filled my quota of dirty jokes for the article, let’s get serious for a second. While many have dreams of bringing down deer with a rifle or catching rabbit with homemade snares, a solid fishing kit is likely to be your most reliable source of food when out in the wild.
When looking at it strictly from a calorie perspective, fishing requires much less effort than hunting and thus offers the best ROI on your energy. Assemble a solid kit and find some good open water and I guarantee you won’t go hungry.
Even though I joked at those with grandeur dreams of snagging a rabbit with a snare, having a small snare set and the know how to use it is a great addition to any bug out bag. I’m a big fan of having passive ways to gather food, so the ability to set a simple snare then leave it to do other chores is incredibly valuable. I would never rely on snaring as your sole source of food but it can provide a great supplemental food source if done correctly.
If you’re planning on bushwhacking at all something is going to get ripped. Make sure to have some needle and thread to keep those holes patched up.
While I would like for my axe to be able to fell a tree if necessary, it often takes significantly less energy to bring one down with a saw. These take up miniscule amounts of room and weigh next to nothing. In short, you have no excuse not be including one of these in your bag.
Whether it’s your survival knife, axe or multi-tool you sure have a lot of blades on this bug out bag list. Do yourself a favour and get yourself a good whetstone to keep them all sharp.
Shovel digs holes. Holes are good. Is that enough of an explanation?
While I’m certainly no expert when it comes to food, I do know the basics to putting together a decent survival meal: calories and protein.
With this in mind think items like beef jerky and protein bars. Both items have lots of punch for a small space and keep forever.
MRE’s are another option but tend to be pretty expensive if you’re on a bit of a budget. Things like oatmeal and nuts are also good additions to any bug out bag list.
If you’re interested in the topic of survival food my buddy Rob from Off Grid Survival wrote an awesome article covering the best food items to purchase for an emergency along with their estimated shelf life.
A final (often overlooked) piece of a good kit is multi-vitamins. If you ever begin having to survive on oatmeal and fish having something to replace all of your missing vitamins and minerals is going to be essential in keeping you healthy and active.
If you’re looking for more information about the science behind proper nutrition be sure to visit my good buddy JP over at his blog bugoutnutrition.com.
Whether just out camping or in a true bug out situation a camp or backpack cooking kit is going to be essential for eating and preparing food. Make sure your kit has all the essentials including a metal pot, pan, cups, utensils, etc.
If you plan on doing any soup cookin’ or water boilin’ during your bug out adventures I highly recommend this little gem. At a mere 3.9 ounces and for under $8 I find it difficult to find a better bargain on the internet.
This guy works with all screw top butane/propane canisters available at pretty much any sporting goods store and is powerful enough to bring water to a boil in as little as a minute. It comes with a PIEZO ignition, adjustable flame and its own protective case. What else do I have to do to convince you? Get one!
I’ve been going through the items individually in each of the previous categories but am going to avoid doing that for the sake of “cleaning” this section up a little…
All puns aside good hygiene is something that can be severely underrated out in the bush. Make sure you have the following items in a waterproof toiletry kit:
- Toilet Paper
- Hand Sanitizer
- Moist Wipes
- Toothbrush and Toothpaste
Ok here’s the deal, if it’s the end of the world will you really care about having a cell phone? Probably not. But in 95% of realistic scenarios having a means of communication is going to be very important. Whether it’s a spare “pay as you go” type phone or your everyday phone it’s important to have something.
*small tip – if you do go with an extra phone make sure to program a list of important numbers into it or pack a piece of paper with that information. Nothing worse than having a phone but not knowing the number of the person you’re trying to reach.
Hand crank radio
While a cell phone might be controversial, it’s hard to argue with having a good hand crank radio. In any scenario it’s important to be well informed – even if it’s simply to decide you’re never going home.
Solar Charging Unit
If you’re the type that has plenty of gizmos and gadgets make sure to pick up a solar charging unit that can keep these things going when you’re out of power. While one may argue the practicality of bringing your iPod or iPad along there is no better option for storing large amounts of information like survival manuals and local maps.
Speaking of maps, it’s important to know the layout of your area. Having a hard copy of the local geography is going to give you a major advantage over someone moving blind. Be sure to identify all sources of fresh water and possible campsites.
Clothing & Shelter
If you’re going to be out in the bush for an extended period of time, you’ll need a change of clothes and a way to keep warm. Below I’ll cover all of the essentials for keeping yourself bone dry and toasty warm.
Probably my favourite addition to any bug out bag, the uses for these guys are endless. (Well actually it’s around 30 but who’s counting?)
Whether you have sensitive hands or not you’re going to be doing a lot of work with them and you need to keep them protected. They take up no room, weigh next to nothing and are likely laying around your house. Do me favour and toss a pair into your bag please?
One of those nice to have, not essential type items that could be very useful if any sort of chemical or radiation type scenarios happens to occur. Can also be used to filter water in a pinch.
Your eyes will thank you…until you steal them from your bag and promptly lose them on your first trip to the beach. Please tell me that’s not just me?
Another of my favourite items, a warm pair of socks are critical for staying comfortable and keeping moving. I probably don’t have to tell you the effect a damp set of feet can have on your morale or health.
I know this is another perfect opportunity for a pun but really it’s too easy – I’d almost feel crappy doing it.
As much as you, me and everyone else might hate it pants are still a necessity, even in TEOTWAWKI situations. Make sure you get something waterproof.
Similar to the pants the only real criteria here is that the jacket should be waterproof. Depending on your climate and the time of year you expect to be out I’ll leave it up to your best judgement as to how heavy of coat you want. Word to the wise though – I’d rather be stuck with a heavier jacket when it’s hot out than a light jacket when it’s cold.
If you get one with rivets it can work double time as a tarp.
It’s lightweight, under $15 and can save your life in the right circumstances. Pick one up off Amazon, at your local Wal-Mart or at any other sporting goods store.
If a bandana is my favourite bug out bag item than the sleeping bag is definitely my most hated. Let’s face it – it’s bulky, heavy and takes up a lot of room. Good ones are also incredible expensive. Unfortunately however they are an essential part of every bug out bag list. I’ve yet to really find one I’ve fallen in love with. If anyone reading this has some suggestions I’d love to hear them!
My only tip would be to pick up a compression sack as well. These can be had for under $20 and can make a huge difference if you’re trying to save space.
Optional item if you’re young and spry, essential item if you have a bad back – a sleeping mat is something I never leave home without. For anyone doubting the inclusion of this try spending a few nights on hard ground and seeing how you feel the morning of about the 3rd day.
Finally we come to the tarp – the most essential part of any clothing or shelter kit. While its primary use is going to be keeping you dry while sleeping at night, it has so many other uses that I would probably pack a couple of them. I prefer something in the 6×10 or 8×10 range as a big enough size without being bulky.
If you want my opinion (and you’re reading this now so I’m taking a swing and saying you do), there is no better option for a quick and easy sleeping arrangement than a hammock strung between two trees with a tarp overhead. I’m a big fan of Eagles Nest Outfitters (ENO) and their Singlenest Series can be bought for under $60 and weighs just over a pound. So it’s cheaper, easier to set up, more comfortable (my opinion) and lighter than a tent…makes my choice pretty easy.
When SHTF people are going to panic – it’s that simple. And if you’re reading this right now you’re likely better prepared than 99% of people. The reality is having all of the supplies in the world won’t do you much good if you can’t protect them. This section is about picking the right tool for the job.
I am Canadian. I wanted to get that out there because while I might be a great hockey player and a lover of Tim Horton’s, an expert on guns I am not. I do read the occasional article on the topic however and found a gem my friend M.D. over at TheSurvivalistBlog.net published. If you’re serious about picking the right weapon for yourself be sure to read this article along with comments as there is some great advice from experienced people.
For those looking for an alternative to a gun, a good take-down bow is a great option. It’s quiet, easier to carry than a gun and has reusable ammunition if you’re a decent shot. Like all weapons however be sure to practice and familiarize yourself with it before the situation occurs where you’ll need it.
Another alternative to a gun, the crossbow is a lot slower than the bow but also more accurate and easy to use out of the box for beginners.
One of the reasons why I personally recommend a .22 calibre rifle is because of the ammunition. You can cart a lot of .22 calibre ammo around without noticing the weight too much. Ammunition also applies to arrows for your bows or marbles for your slingshot.
After 3000 words we’re finally at the last category – miscellaneous. The misfits I couldn’t stuff into any other category have been collected here for your reading pleasure. This section could literally be 100 items long so I tried to keep it to the bare minimum.
Like I always say if it’s good enough for the air force it’s good enough for me. I actually never say that, but the point still stands that paracord is one of the most flexible items in any bug out bag. Use it to hang tarps, tie up dogs, secure items to your pack and more.
In addition to the 100ft in your pack, I also like to wear a couple of paracord bracelets in order to always have them on me in the case of emergency. Here’s a great tutorial on how to make your own, or if you’re time crunched like me and just want to buy one you can get them off Amazon for under $12. This one is particularly cool as it has firesteel built right into it.
For all my Canadian readers who grew up watching The Red Green Show it’s really no surprise that Duct Tape makes the list. It was even important enough to be mentioned by my buddy Pat at The Prepper Journal in this article as the one item no good bug out bag can do without.
Paper and Pencil
Ever have that moment when you need to write something down but don’t have a paper and pencil ready? Well that also happens when you’re in the middle of nowhere.
Essential for things like head lamps and flashlights, a spare set of batteries can be a lot more useful than you might think. Plus, worse comes to worse you can always steal them when your TV remote runs out (I’ve tried to resist this urge but I’m only a simple man…just try to make sure you replace them).
Heavy Duty Garbage Bags
Why do I have garbage bags on my bug out bag list? Because they are just so damn versatile. Use them as a makeshift poncho, a means of collecting water, a waterproof bag or one of a thousand other uses.
Not JUST useful for spying on your neighbours!
Essential for letting anyone within a mile of you know your exact location. I’ll let you decide the times when that is useful and the times it isn’t.
I’m not sure what it’s like down south but in parts of Northern Ontario the bugs will kill you before anything else does.
Your amazing celestial navigation skills don’t work during the day. Better pack one of these.
First Aid Kit
Cuts, nicks, bruises, fevers, you name it and it’ll happen in the wild. Having a good first aid kit is going to be worth its weight in gold. If you’re confident you know what a good one entails build it yourself. If not there are plenty of good pre-built kits that come with everything needed. Do a little Google research and you’ll be fine.
And that’s it!
If you got through all of that congrats, you’re a trooper. You’re also well on your way to preparing a bag that could save yourself and your family’s life in an emergency situation.
Want a recap? Download our free bug out bag checklist here
Looking to see how I assembled my own bug out bag for under $200 you’re going to want to check this article out.
Now remember, this bug out bag list is only a guideline and should be modified to fit your own personal needs. No list is ever truly complete, and I’ll openly admit that I’ve probably overlooked a few items! If you find something major you think should be included please let me know and I’ll add it. You can get a hold of me at mybugoutbaglist [at] gmail [dot]com
I’m here to help you get prepared, not pretend I know everything so you won’t hurt my feelings by suggesting an item I promise (unless you use bad words OR ALL CAPITALS).
Thanks again for reading My Bug Out Bag List. Your support means the world to me and I hope I am able to help a few of you out.
Your survival buddy,