After enough trips around the sun, we humans begin to realize just how unpredictable a day on earth can be. Maybe that’s why older guys carry handkerchiefs and umbrellas, or why our grandparents seemed to better understand the importance of a healthy rainy-day fund. It’s probably also why the oldest person in the room tends to be the calmest. They’re not surprised by an emergent crisis because they’ve seen it all before, and they’re prepared to handle whatever comes next.
The term “bug out bag” means different things to different people. For some, it’s the greatest defense against the kind of attack we saw in the classic film, Red Dawn. We can imagine ourselves outrunning tanks in an old pickup with outdoor gear bouncing out of the bed. For that sort of guy, bug out bags can be a heavy burden both literally and figuratively, since they’re expected to play such an important role. We’ll never criticize over-preparedness, but it’s our belief that preparing for a post-apocalyptic world makes little sense if you’re not prepared for the pitfalls that we’re extremely likely to face in any given week. While some bug out bag guides offer an exhaustive and burdensome packing list, this one is aimed at survival, portability, and day-in/day-out readiness.
Truth be told, we prefer the term SHTF bag since, invariably, the s* has a way of hitting the fan in so many different ways. Whether it's a late afternoon headache, a hard rain despite the weatherman’s supreme confidence, an unexpected overnight stay, or a coffee spill on your shirt at the worst possible time, there are clear and present dangers to your peace of mind. You can prepare for them all, as well as some of the end-of-the-world scenarios the other guys are worried about. DiamondBack’s own preparedness geeks offered these tips for conquering life’s small and big calamities, along with item-by-item checklists. Tailor this advice to your own lifestyle and environment.
Start With A Bag You'll Want To Carry
The best tools are the tools you’ve got on you, so while some guys stuff a 65-liter pack and leave it in their truck, we think there’s a better way. Of course, you can always do both, but we recommend prioritizing a bag that you’re able to keep by your side. Aim for something in the 25-30 liter range, and with a look that you’d be comfortable carrying in a downtown or office environment. The North Face Recon is a heavier bag than similarly sized bags, but that weight comes with a lot of compartments and extra features. Don’t just pack it up and forget about it. Instead, view this bag as an extension of yourself. If you change vehicles, so does your bag. And if you remove something from the kit, replace it as soon as you’re able.
Bags Within Your Bag
Add further compartmentalization to your bug out bag by employing waterproof sil bags to store small items. Organize your kit by placing fire starting items in an orange sil bag, water purification in a blue one, etc.
The Ten Essentials
Your bag should be loaded with the ten essentials, but you’ll also need room for more commonly needed items. This isn’t a day-hike bag, or a backpacking loadout. This is a swiss army knife. Use good gear that you can rely on and, aside from fire starting tools, light sources, and hydration, avoid redundancies. The following is a list that covers the basics, as well as items for those who are less budget conscious. Where we believe it makes sense, we list the specific items we know and love.
- Navigation - Suunto A-10 compass / Topographic map of your area / Garmin InReach Explorer
- Headlamp/Flashlight - Black DiamondBack Spot / Streamlight ProTac 1L-1AA + extra batteries
- Sun Protection - Sunglasses / Brimmed hat / Buff Lightweight Merino Gaiter / Sunscreen
- First-aid - Supplemented backpacking first-aid kit
- Multi-tool and Gear Repair Kit - Leatherman Signal / Travel sewing Kit / Duct tape / Gear patch Kit
- Fire - Soto Pocket Torch XT / Light My Fire ferro rod / Bic lighter / Lightning Nugget firestarters
- Emergency Shelter - SOL emergency blanket / Plastic Sheet or tarp / Paracord
- Food - Jerky / Granola / Energy Bars / Peanut butter / G.O.R.P
- Water - CamelBak bladder (full) / Klean Kanteen 27oz Single-walled SS bottle / LifeStraw
- Clothing - Merino socks / ExOfficio boxer briefs / REI Lightweight Merino baselayer / Quick-dry t-shirt / Running or swim shorts / Prana Zion Stretch Pants / Rain shell / Gloves / Emergency poncho
The Other Essentials
The Ten Essentials are focused on keeping you alive in the outdoors, but we’re setting the bar a bit higher than survival. With the ten essentials out of the way, consider all of the things you use each day, and those things that you’re never able to locate in make or break situations. The following is a list of items that are sure to come in handy, in no particular order.
- $250+ cash
- USB block and phone charger
- Pen and pad
- Zip ties
- Safety pin
- Nite Ize gear tie assortment
- 3 liquid IV packets
- 3 instant coffee packets
- Sea To Summit 3-piece cutlery set
In addition to keeping you healthy in the wilderness, a pared-down dopp kit will be what you’re reaching into your bag for on most days. A little goes a long way here, so keep it simple.
- MSR Packtowl (medium)
- UST StarFlash Micro Mirror
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Trident White chewing gum
- Coghlan's Camp Soap
- No-rinse bathing wipes
- Downy Wrinkle Release (travel size)
This is the one category that, in all honesty, is likely to go unused. At least we hope so. It’s also the one with the greatest stakes. Even if you’re not crazy about the idea of carrying a handgun, consider how you may feel about the issue with civil unrest on your doorstep, or with limited food sources and an opportunity to harvest your dinner. Things change, and the best time to prepare for those changes is right now. Take a firearm safety course, visit a range, and as soon as possible, apply for a carry permit. Be safe, be responsible, be legal, and be ready. If you’re convinced that a firearm isn’t for you, at the very least consider a non-lethal alternative.
- Springfield Hellcat 9mm
- 25 rounds of Hornady Critical Defense ammo
- Pepper/bear spray
Leave Yourself Some Room
A 30 liter pack will allow you to carry all the essentials, with a little room left over to make locating things a bit easier. You may be tempted to use up every square inch. Don’t. There are few things more frustrating than a frantic search for a piece of gear you need right now. Your bug out bag should be neatly organized and understuffed to make finding those items easier.
Weigh Your Bag
The North Face Recon packed with this list of items will weigh in 25-30 pounds. That’s a good range to target. If you’re smaller or larger than average, adjust accordingly.
Make It Your Own
As mentioned before, this is not intended to be an exhaustive list, or a one size fits all solution. Know the contents of your bag and add or subtract based on your own lifestyle and environment, and enjoy the peace of mind that comes with knowing you’re ready for anything.