So I’m going to be up front with you.
This was a TOUGH challenge.
In fact anyone that has downloaded my checklist will be quick to point out that this bag might be missing a few items.
I had to make several VERY hard decisions on which items to cut. But the reality is when you’re making a cheap bug out bag you’re not going to be able to get everything you want.
I wanted to take on this challenge however, because I know a tight budget is one of the biggest concerns for people looking to put together their own bug out bag.
If you learn nothing else from this post I hope you see that you don’t need $1000+ to get started. $200 and a few items from around the house can be all you need to put together a great kit.
Disclaimer: This list was put together entirely for educational purposes. I did not purchase all of the items listed here. I simply wanted to prove that it is entirely possible to put together a good bug out bag using only Amazon and some common household items.
Now with that out of the way, let’s get started!
If any of you have read my ultimate guide to bug out backpacks you’d know that I am a big fan of the MOLLE system. It allows you to build and customize your bag as your gear and budget grow. I myself own an ILBE USMC Gen 1 bag but at over $100 I knew this wasn’t a feasible option for the limited budget I had.
So I do what I always do when looking for new gear and started researching. My criteria was pretty simple – under $30 and possessing the MOLLE system. Though simple, my criteria didn’t leave a lot of room for options until I came across a real gem. This Digital Camo Army Backpack from ExtremePak is a bargain at $29.49.
It has a fully MOLLE compatible system, heavy duty chest and hip buckles, that nice digital camouflage pattern, and great reviews for a pack under $30. If you don’t have a good backpack for your bug out bag I’d suggest picking one of these guys up.
Digital Army Backpack – ExtremePak – $29.49
Total so far: $29.49
I knew water was important, but I also knew that for $200 I didn’t have the budget to spend $50+ of it on a water filter. For the sake of keeping the price down we’re going to have to do without. But my recommendation is that as soon as you can afford it, buy a good Katadyn Filter. With that in mind let’s check out the items.
Because we’re on a budget the first item is something that everyone should have lying around their house – a plastic water bottle. I happened to have a Nalgene bottle but anything will do really. Grab anything plastic and fill it up!
The next item is a good water bladder. Now unlike the water bottle very few are likely to have one lying around. I’m a big fan of Platypus and managed to find this 2L bladder for sale at $13.19.
Last but not least, in place of a water filter are some good old fashioned water purification tablets for sale at $6.49.
Nalgene Bottle – $0.00 (owned)
2L Platypus Water Blader – $13.19
Water Purification Tablets – $6.49
Total so far: $49.13
Fire & Light
Next up is the Fire & Light section and we start it off with a simple BIC lighter. Available from your local gas station these don’t have to be pretty they just have to work. I was able to find a 4 pack from Amazon here at $2.34.
Matches are next, and while I recommend something waterproof I understand that not everyone has these. I myself took a small box I had lying around, took the matches out and cut off the striker with a pair of scissors. I put them all in an old film canister and voila!
When it comes to starting a fire I always stick to the rule of three. That’s having 3 separate ways to get a blaze going at any time. Using this advice my 3rd item was a magnesium fire starter and striker combo for $4.29.
Now that we have 3 ways of creating a flame we needed something to actually turn a spark into a fire. The best solution to this I have come across is cotton balls soaked in Vaseline. Both items which I am sure you have lying around the house.
Bic Lighters (4 pack) – $2.34
Matches – $0.00 (owned)
Magnesium Fire Starter – $4.29
Cotton balls and Vaseline – $0.00 (owned)
Total so far: $55.76
Now this is probably an area that both you and I can spend a lot more than $200 on, and in reality I don’t blame you. This is definitely one category that I like to spend a little extra on as these are items that are going to be essential to survival. So let’s see how I balanced quality with price:
Without a doubt a solid fixed blade survival knife + multi-tool combination is worth it’s weight in gold in the bush. For my survival knife it was a bit of a no-brainer: I went with a simple 840MG fixed blade made by Mora. at only $15.65 these guys are legends when it comes to blending affordability with quality.
My multi-tool I ended up spending a little more on. In the wild it is your solution to thousands of problems and I wanted to make sure it could stand up to the abuse. Anyone familiar with multi-tools will know the name Leatherman. They consistently make some of the most reliable (and most expensive) multi-tools on the market. Keeping on budget however I went with one of their more affordable models and chose the Leatherman Sidekick. At $24.93 it is the most expensive item purchased outside of the backpack.
Next on the list was an axe or saw. Combining both I found the Chainmate Pocket Chainsaw. At $8.99 and weighing only 1lb this guy does some serious work for an amazing price. Great for gathering firewood or cutting logs for a shelter I couldn’t pass up it’s amazing versatility and outstanding price. Check out this video to watch it in action.
Next up we have two items that I cheated on a bit and put together with items from around my house.
If you read my 4000 word article on the homepage you’ll know that I view a good fishing kit as one of the most viable means of providing yourself with food in a bug out scenario. In mine I simply included wire leaders, hooks, fishing line, sinkers and a couple of basic lures. Of course more is better but as a basic kit you don’t need much more than this!
Next up is a sewing kit in case something gets ripped or torn. Again I was able to make this with some items purged from the house sewing box. Make sure you have some needles, heavy thread and a couple of patches.
Finally we come to the whetstone. Forget this item and trust me you’ll feel it. With all the work you’ll be doing your blades are going to get dull fast. At $5.61 this one should keep them all nice and sharp.
Mora 840MG Survival Knife – $15.65
Leatherman Sidekick – $24.93
Chainmate Pocket Chainsaw – $8.99
Fishing Kit – $0.00 (owned)
Sewing Kit – $0.00 (owned)
Whetstone – $5.61
Total so far: $111.29
I really hope you like oatmeal and nuts because this bug out bag has a lot of them.
In order to avoid spending money on expensive MRE’s or Protein bars I gathered some items from the kitchen cupboards that are 1. easy to store and 2. easy to make. Remember, the more protein and calories the better so raid the cabinets and see what you can find.
Next up is a cooking kit. I was able to find a Coleman Cooking Kit for $10.97. Now admittedly it’s probably not top of the line equipment, but if used correctly it will do the trick in a pinch. My only advice is don’t place the pot or pan on a raging fire or you’ll need a new set fast. A few warm coals are all you need.
Finally we come to utensils. When your mom/wife/husband isn’t looking simply snag a metal spoon and fork and tape them together. They won’t even know they’re gone!
Food – $0.00 (scavenged from kitchen cupboards)
Coleman Cooking Kit – $10.97
Utensils – $0.00 (Straight up stolen)
Total so far: $122.26
Let’s keep this pretty simple and straight forward. In a basic go bag you need 3 items.
1. Your cell phone. Everyone carries this on them so make sure this isn’t the one time your forget it.
2. A local map. Get a nice one from your local gas station, or print one off the internet for free. Just make sure to review it and clearly mark important landmarks like major highways, sources of water and possible bug out locations.
3. Hand crank radio. It’s important to stay in touch with what is going on around you and nothing works better than a hand crank radio. No need for batteries, this little guy even has an LED light. A solid bargain at only $14.99.
Cell phone – $0.00 (owned)
Local map – $0.00 (printed from Google)
Hand crank radio – $14.99
Total so far: $137.25
Clothing & Shelter
The list of clothing and shelter items needed for a solid bug out bag can get kind of long so I’m going to move quickly through them.
My favorite item in any bug out bag is a bandana. They are so versatile I almost never leave home without one. Survival Cache has a great article listing 30 practical survival uses for a bandana here. Now lucky for me I happen to own quite a few, but if you don’t yet have one you can pick them up for $1 or less at your local Wal-Mart.
Next up is a series of items you should already have access to:
1. Spare socks (I’d pack a couple)
2. Pants (Avoid blue jeans)
3. Jacket (tailor how heavy to your expected conditions)
4. Poncho. Amazon has a 4 pack available here for $4.5o.
So now that we have the clothing part out of the way it’s time to move onto the shelter.
The first item every bag should have is at least one space blanket. These guys are excellent at holding in body heat and can save your life under certain circumstances.
Next up is a solid wool blanket. Unfortunately with a $200 budget you aren’t going to be getting a -40 degree sleeping bag so you’ll have to settle for this guy instead. It might be a little on the heavy side but at $16.35 will keep you nice and cozy even on a cold night.
Last but not least is what you’ll likely find to be your most important item when it comes to shelter and that’s a solid tarp. This is going to be your go-to item for keeping dry during a rain storm. Texsport has a solid sized 10×12 camouflaged version for $17.70.
Bandana – $0.00 (owned)
Socks – $0.00 (owned)
Pants – $0.00 (owned)
Jacket – $0.00 (owned)
Poncho – $4.50
Space Blanket – $4.05
Wool Blanket – $16.35
Waterproof Tarp – $17.70
Total so far: $179.85
And last but not least we come to the miscellaneous items. We begin with 100ft of paracord used for everything from hanging tarps to setting snares. In a pinch the individual threads can even be used as fishing line. Definitely a must for any bug out bag.
The next few items can all be found around the household. So take a few minutes now to round them up and stuff then in that bag of yours!
1. Duct tape
2. Paper and Pencil
3. Heavy duty garbage bags
4. Compass (If you’re reading this blog I’m positive you’re the type of person to have ONE lying around somewhere)
Last but not least is a good first aid kit. You’re going to get cut, bruised or infected in some way believe me. This is going to ensure you stay healthy and happy
100ft of Paracord – $7.99
Duct Tape – $0.00 (owned)
Paper & Pencil – $0.00 (owned)
Heavy Duty Garbage Bags – $0.00 (owned)
Compass – $0.00 (owned)
First Aid Kit – $10.99
Total so far: $198.83
Grand Total: $198.83
And there you have it!
A complete bug out bag with $1.17 to spare.
Now I’ll be the first to admit that I had to cheat a little by making a few assumptions about households items (If you’re the nitpicking type feel free to voice your displeasure in the comments section below).
I also may have had to leave off some things I really feel are important as well (like a camp stove or a sleeping mat).
But the point I proved was that you can assemble a great kit, backpack included, for $200 cash and a scavenge hunt around the house – and that’s pretty cool.
If you have any other ideas for budget survival items please let me know by leaving a comment below.
And the next time someone tells you they don’t have the budget to build a good bug out bag, direct them to this post!
Your survival buddy,