Bug Out Bag Essentials

photo of man bugging out with a well prepared bag

Watch the news for 15 minutes or check your favorite news app’s headlines and the world can seem like a dark and dangerous place to be. Wars, natural disasters, violence, weather events – it is constant, and it is happening all around us. We don’t want to sound all doomsday here, but as wisemen say, it is better to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Should the time come when the you know what hits the proverbial fan, you want to make sure you are ready to meet the challenge for both you and your family. 

What is a Bug Out Bag?

A bug out bag contains essential survival items that you will need if you are in a situation that requires you to quickly flee your home or current location. It is used to help you survive for the mid-term in case of a natural disaster or other emergency. 

How Does a Bug Out Bag Differ From a Go Bag?

Both go bags and bug out bags are for emergency situations when you need to quickly grab a supply bag and go. The main difference between a bug out bag and a go bag is the amount of time each is designed to last. A go bag is usually a smaller style of bag that contains essential items like food and water that you can keep in your car or place of work so that you can grab it and go. It is designed as more of a short-term kit.

A bug out bag (BOB) is larger, like a backpack, and should contain supplies to last up to 72 hours (3 days). Often it is heavier as it is equipped with more supplies. 

photo of a tactical bug out bag in the wilderness.  photo of a great backpack designed for bugging out.

Bug Out Bag Essential Items to Pack

The items you choose to include in your bug out bag will depend on the possible situations and events you may encounter where you live. Think about what types of natural disasters are likely to occur in your area. If the likelihood of experiencing an earthquake is extremely small, then there is no reason to include that situation in your plan. Conversely, if wildfires are a common occurrence, then you will want to include items in your bug out bag that will help you deal with that type of event.

Remember that you are preparing a bug out bag for emergencies, not a camping trip. To save on space and weight, you want to focus on including items that are necessary for survival. Unfortunately, creature comforts must take a backseat in these situations.

Before making the investment to outfit your bug out bag, take some time to consider the scenarios you are most likely to encounter and gear your bag with those in mind.

This bug out bag list contains essential items that all bags should have, as well as other items that may prove useful to you depending on your needs.

Food and Water

Your bug out bag should include a three-day’s supply of food and water for each person in your group. Foods that are high in protein and carbohydrates and that can offer the fuel and energy you need are preferable. Non-perishable foods to consider include boxed, ready-to-eat meals, canned goods, energy bars, jerky, nuts, and MREs. Don’t forget to add a can opener which is included on most multi-tools, another bug out bag essential.

Other food and water items to consider include:

  • Portable water filtration system
  • Collapsible water bladder
  • Portable stove
  • Fire starter and waterproof matches
  • Multi-utensil like a spork
  • Stainless steel water bottles and bowls for eating and drinking

First Aid and Toiletries

It behooves you to invest in a comprehensive first aid kit that includes a variety of bandages, gauze, ointment, tweezers, antibiotic spray, splints, and a tourniquet. It is also important to remember to pack any prescription medications you or a loved one relies on.

Other first aid and toiletry items to consider include:

  • Sunscreen
  • N95 face masks
  • Antibacterial wipes, ointment, and hand sanitizer
  • Condensed soap
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Spare glasses
  • Biodegradable toilet paper/wet wipes
  • Feminine hygiene products


Keeping warm and dry are critical to your survival. Consider packing a lightweight tent, sleeping bag, and ground pad for sleeping. You should also pack a tarp which will provide much-appreciated shelter and protection from the elements. Gloves, extra hiking shoes or boots, and a rain poncho are musts.

Make sure your bug out bag has at least one extra pair of wool hiking socks which will help keep your feet warm and dry. For cold-weather situations, a balaclava head covering is a prudent choice. It can be used to cover your head, neck, and your entire face to help protect you from the cold, wind, or sun.

Other shelter and warmth items to consider include:

  • Hat
  • Scarf
  • Hand and foot warmers
  • Emergency waterproof blanket
  • Fleece layer
  • Parachute cord

Communication and Safety

Depending on the situation, communication may prove extremely difficult. Cell towers could be down making mobile phone communication impossible. You still want to be able to communicate with others in your group, as well as learn news and information about what is going on. A hand-cranked radio can provide that all-important connection to the outside world.

A two-way walkie-talkie allows you to stay in contact with nearby members of your group should you get split up. Being able to see in the dark or in smoky or foggy situations is crucial, so be sure to pack a headlamp, flashlight with extra batteries (or a hand-cranked flashlight), and a solar-powered lantern. Glow sticks are another useful item.

Other communication and safety items to consider include:

  • Whistle
  • Basic, feature phone
  • Portable solar chargers
  • Pepper spray
  • Watch
  • Compass

Other Bug Out Bag Essentials

  • Duct tape
  • Zip ties
  • Safety pins
  • Sewing kit
  • Superglue
  • Fishing kit
  • Signal mirror

Important Documents

Place important documents, or copies of documents, in a waterproof bag to ensure their safety. These include documents such as passports, medical records, insurance policies, bank records, a small amount of cash, an emergency contact list, and irreplaceable family photos. 

Tips for Assembling Your Bug Out Bag

One of the first things you want to consider when assembling a bug out bag is its weight. Remember that you will likely be carrying this bag on your back, as you may not be able to rely on a vehicle for transportation. The bag must be something that you can feasibly carry, otherwise it does you no good to have to leave it behind. Fully-stocked bug out bags are usually in the range of 10-40 pounds.

Make sure the bag you use is waterproof so that your essentials stay dry and usable. Organization is vital in an emergency. When outfitting your bug out bag, pack it in a way that ensures it is easy to carry and that you have quick access to the most important items you may need in a hurry. Place heavier items at the bottom, as well as similar items together. 

Best Bags for Bugging Out

When you are ready to outfit your bug out bag, our RUSH Collection of backpacks and bags make the ideal choice. Each is constructed of heavy-duty materials for the ultimate in durability, strength, and longevity. Each is also water resistant so your bug out bag essentials stay dry and ready to use.

The RUSH24™ 2.0 Backpack 37L is one of our top sellers. It offers generous MOLLE attachment points so you can customize the bag with purpose-built pouches that fit your needs. It is built of high-strength, water-repellant 1000D nylon and features a rear hydration compartment, dual external side-zippered pockets, and a hidden CCW compartment. The RUSH24™ 2.0 makes it easy to pack, organize, and store your bug out bag essentials so you are ready when the time comes. 

Once you have outfitted your bug out bag, remember to periodically check it to make sure your items are in working order. Also, check that items haven’t expired – this is especially important in terms of food, your first aid kit, and batteries.

Have a plan in place in case of an emergency and ensure everyone in your home knows the plan. In fact, you should conduct a practice run ahead of time to evaluate your gear and know how your equipment works. For example, if possible, spend a night in your backyard or at a nearby campground and build a fire, cook a meal, construct your shelter, and find out what works and what areas you need to improve on to be successful.

For all your bug out bag essentials, clothing, gear, equipment, and tools, shop 5.11 Tactical so you can Always Be Ready®


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