The Basics of Bug out Bags and Bugging Out

If you are just coming around to making personal preparedness a routine part of your lifestyle, or are just tooling around on this site, you are bound to see the same terms pop up repeatedly. Like any other group, skill or lifestyle, preppers use their own lingo and nomenclature to easily and quickly relate common ideas and concepts among like-minded people.

By far one of the most commonly used terms you’ll see is “bugging out” and the companion term “bug-out bag” usually abbreviated BOB. Bugging out simply means evacuate to a safer, typically pre-prepared location or area in response to a major threat stimulus or immediately after a threat has passed. Bugging-out can entail movement by foot or vehicle, or a combination of both.

A bug-out bag is a piece of luggage, usually a backpack, pre-packed to hold items that will help you survive a crisis or disaster. Common contents will be tools and equipment to provide warmth, shelter, medical care, light, protection and of course food and water, or the ability to obtain them. BOB’s may be large or small, but all are designed to sustain you during your travels when bugging out.

Poke around on any forum or website and you’ll see plenty of debate over which methods, bags and loads are “best.” Don’t get too caught up in that because each bug out plan, including what you should pack and bring with you, is unique to the user and their anticipated needs.

The good news is that every BOB will contain a similar core of survival items that are useful in nearly any situation, so much of the decision on that front will be made for you.

bob items on a table

Today on The Survivalist Blog, this article will get you up to speed on the intricacies of bugging out and packing a dependable bug-out bag even if you are a brand-new initiate to prepping.

When and Why Should You Bug Out?

Bugging out as a concept is a catchall term. Broadly it means an individual has decided that staying in place where you are, be it at home, the office, or elsewhere is too risky or no longer sustainable in light of a looming threat, often one with long-term or far reaching consequences to society.

Note that bugging out is not the first response for all preppers, and may not be your first or best response. Staying at home and sitting tight (bugging in) with a house full of carefully laid supplies, food and equipment with possible support from neighbors, so-called “homefield advantage” is attractive and should definitely be considered if the situation permits.

The “when” of bugging out is determined by individual assessment and analysis of the threat. Some users may have a hard “line,” or set of criteria that, when identified, will set them bugging out. Some grab their BOB, spouse and dog and head for the hills at the first whiff of trouble. Others may flee only once things are well and truly unrecoverable, resigned to the fact that there is no turning back.

Some crises, like major civil unrest, will simmer for sometime before boiling over, giving ample reaction time. Others, like many potentially regional disasters will give little or any warning, and you’ll be bugging out in the aftermath of such an event. Attempting to leave to early or too late may see you overtaken by the event, and that is not good as your safety will be severely jeopardized. Knowing when to push off is vital to ensuring you make it in time.

The “why” of bugging out is simpler; assuming one lives in a population center of any size, a major crisis that results in cessation of utility services, food shipments, law enforcement and other civil niceties will see more than a few people turn unpredictable or violent in behavior. Lack of basic necessities will turn many people increasingly frenzied in their quest to provide for themselves and their loved ones. This is understandable, but not something you should want to subject yourself or family to.

The other consideration in the “why” is that the event itself can range in severity anywhere from hazardous to your health to positively lethal, and will necessitate your evacuation should you hope to survive. Think things like city-wide rioting, wildfires, serious flooding, or the aftermath of a nuclear detonation. Leaving the affected area for safer ground is of prime importance.

Bugging out is not the best choice, or even possible for some individuals. The very old, infirm or disabled will need to consider how difficult evacuation can be, even if doing so by vehicle. Living in improvised or austere conditions after bugging out is fatiguing and will demand more energy to prevail, all things that the above categories of individuals will have little of to spare.

This is not advice to resign your fate to chance! Even if you must weather a situation in place you should still be preparing for that day! There is much you can do to improve your chances of surviving most disasters even if you never plan on leaving home. Similarly, you should not count on being able to bug out at all; make sure you have a  good stash of needed supplies in case you must stay bolted up at home. Preparedness is about flexibility, not dogged adherence to one plan.

Where Are You Going?

Typically when you hear preppers refer to bugging out, they will say as much with a set destination or selection of destinations in mind. This could be another home, smaller cabin or retreat, a relative’s or friend’s house or simply somewhere in the wilderness. The ideal is an area that is away from danger and possible follow-on threats or harm in the wake of an event.

Many preppers will, if possible, pre-stock this bug-out location (BOL) with additional supplies to aid them for more travel or a significant stockpile to enable them to exist there on a more or less permanent basis. There is a thorough article on bug-out locations here on The Survivalist Blog. Your financial means will determine how much provision and equipment you are able to lay in at your chosen location, and any skills you may possess will determine how much you are able to get and make from the surrounding land, flora and fauna.

The rule is the greater your skill the less you need, but do not underestimate the efficiency granted by modern tools and equipment. The ability to head into the woods with a knife and perhaps an axe and surviving completely self-sufficient is priceless, but it is much, much harder than doing the same with at least some modern gear.

Ultimately, you must weigh your safety requirements and probable threat against your skills and funds when choosing your bug-out location. Choosing to flee to your brother-in-law’s the next city over is fine if you are worried about escaping a flood or wildfire, but a regional-scale disaster or major societal breakdown will likely mean his town is in for the same sorry ride as yours. Hightailing it to your 5 acre plot in the middle of nowhere may be a different kind of death sentence if you have no equipment or skills for surviving in austere conditions for prolonged periods.

Choosing to move to your bug-out location does not mean the trip will be easy or safe no matter how well you have prepared or hidden it. Something as mundane as a vehicle breakdown while moving through a remote area could spell disaster, and will be made more so by the fact that you will likely traveling in a time of chaos and communications disruption. With no one to call for help, your basic survival skills will be put to the test.

Below are a few contingencies to prepare for when bugging out:

  • Vehicle crash or breakdown.
  • Overtaken by severe weather.
  • Carjacking, especially when travelling through areas experiencing severe unrest or lawlessness.
  • Strains, sprains and other “mobility-kill” injuries if traveling on foot.
  • Exposure- any time you risk getting stranded out of doors.

My intent is not to scare you away from planning to bug out, only to make you aware that it is definitely not a camping trip! Keep in mind you have decided to flee for a reason; plenty of other people will have done the same. Tensions will be high and stress skyrocketing, and when people freak out they usually leave problems in their wake when they are unprepared (not like you, that’s why you are here!), so be ready to deal with other, hopefully smaller problems while you make your way to safety.

survival backpack

The Bug-Out Bag

The BOB is a prepper mainstay, the equivalent of a disaster parachute (unless the disaster is falling out of an airplane, then only a genuine parachute will suffice). A good BOB is a piece of readiness gear, like a fire extinguisher or a pistol: it is intended to be kept ready to use at a moment’s notice. A BOB you have to pack when a crisis is looming is no BOB at all! You are now just a dude with a backpack frantically running around trying to get out of town while the getting is good.

To prevent you from being the hapless person in the above example, load your BOB and set it somewhere handy, accessing it only to inspect the contents for function, rotating perishable supplies or switch out seasonally appropriate gear. You should not raid it for beef jerky, batteries or anything else you have packed in it. Many preppers standard procedure is to take their BOB with them wherever they go, often keeping it in their personal vehicle. This way, no matter where you are when “the balloon goes up” you will have a selection of vital supplies with you.

Selecting a Bag

The type of pack as mentioned earlier is a topic of ceaseless inquiry and argument. What brand, size and make of pack. Framed, or frameless? Brightly colored for visibility or muted or camo’d for concealment? It never ends. Without getting too far off track for the purposes of this article, your primary consideration when choosing a pack must be durability and fit on your body.

For our purposes, a BOB must meet a couple of specific criteria. First, it must be carried on your back, not rolled, hand-carried or slung over a single shoulder like a gym bag. You must assume there will come a point where you will be forced to move on foot, and your pack must enable you to do that efficiently. If it can’t, choose a new pack. Larger duffel or loadout bags may work fine for loading or moving supplementary equipment and provisions, but you should not trust your essential kit, your BOB, to any pack that cannot be securely attached to you and suitable for long movement by foot.

The other major factor is durability. Even a lightly-loaded pack must endure rough handling and considerable strain when carrying a load. In addition to that it will endure general abuse from scrape, tears, rubs and more, all of which will degrade fabric and stitching. Whatever pack you choose, make sure it is up to the task of carrying a heavy load or well within its weight limits when loaded. Omit this crucial check, and you’ll end up with spilled contents or a useless sack when the chips are down and the sun is getting low.

Fit on your body is highly subjective, but any pack can feel comfortable enough empty. Once heavily laden and you are marching with it for a long period of time, any deficiencies in fit or design will surface as hotspots, chafing and sore muscles.

The other important consideration is capacity. This is tricky for newcomers, and a classic chicken-or-the-egg problem. If you get all the items you need first, you might not know just how much you can pack them down without the bag. If you buy a bag first, you run the risk of it being either too large or too small, and if too large the temptation to cram every last cubic centimeter full of “necessary” and “important” gear is powerful. Weight will be your constant companion and nemesis with all but the lightest bags and kits.

If in doubt, assemble the contents of your bag first, paying attention to a few of the maxims in the next section. Once you’ve done so, assemble the items into a tight cluster and you should have some idea of the size of bag you’ll require. Truly, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, though most common BOB’s will fit into a “large” class like a multi-day hiking pack, military rucksack or similar, and if I were to guesstimate I would say your average BOB weighs between 35 and 50 lbs. Buy accordingly.

All your other factors for selection, like pack material, framed or frameless, strap and belt configurations, etc. have been covered in detail on this site and others, and if you want to bone up on those considerations before committing to a pack you should do so; research and investigate what type of pack is best for your needs, and the merits of various designs.

more bug out bag items

BOB Contents

Your BOB should contain a variety of items intended to support life in an emergency. These items are mostly generalist in nature with a few specialized items included depending on your likely threats and prevailing climate conditions. You’ll notice that all of them regardless of purpose cover one of the fundamental human needs- shelter, water, food and security. Gear selection and loadouts for BOBs are covered in detail here on TSB and elsewhere, but I have included a brief overview of those items below. Those categories of items you should include are:

  • Shelter and Insulation (Clothing, tent or tarp)
  • Lighting (Flashlights, headlamps, chemlights)
  • Rations (Sealed, stable, high-calorie food)
  • Water and Water Purification (Water bottles and filtration/sterilization devices)
  • Fire Starting (Lighters, matches and ferro rods)
  • Navigation (GPS, Maps, Compass)
  • Weapons (Guns, knives, pepper spray)
  • Medical Kit (Trauma supplies, medicines, bandages)
  • Hygiene Kit (Soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, floss)

The above categories are a basic guide, but form the typical core groups of equipment for most any BOB. You may add or remove items depending on your wants, needs and anticipated risks. Be sure to check out additional content here on The Survivalist Blog for detailed guides on determining what your base needs will be as well as BOB kits adapted to deal with specific scenarios or special threats. Don’t worry over the nitty-gritty specifics right now starting out.

Getting Comfortable With Your BOB

Sure, it might not matter too much what kind of bag you have, or how you have packed it if all you need to do is toss it in the back of the truck and carry it inside your cozy hideout and wait for trouble to blow over. But you can’t count on your day being that easy when you need to jump ship. Assume you’ll need to carry your BOB at least part of the way to your destination. Why does not matter so much right now, simply concern yourself that movement by foot is a possibility, even likely.

First, when packing you BOB keep in mind two concerns: one is weight, as every pound you add will require an expenditure of more energy to move, and the second is the load order, basically what you choose to bury in the pack and what you choose to keep accessible.

Weight is a huge limiting factor for both bag and man. Too much weight will strain or tear packs that are not designed to handle it, possibly compromising your pack or spilling the load entirely. Weight will also exact a terrible toll on those people that are not used to moving it, especially on their backs, across uneven terrain, under terrible physical and mental stresses. By limiting your supplies to only what you must have and selecting lightweight, multipurpose items you can keep the weight of your BOB to a minimum, increasing your speed, endurance and comfort.

When loading your bag, place items you need infrequently or only when halting near the bottom or back of the bag. Items you need frequently or perhaps need in a hurry should be carried in external pouches or near the outside of the pack. Take care to keep weight centered in the bag and closest to the side against your body. This will improve your center of gravity and lessen strain.

Lastly, it is time to do a “dry-run” with your BOB. No, this does not have to be an actual forced march to the next town, but you must start working out with a load on your back if you hope to avoid a breakdown in a real event. At the beginning, keep the weight low and distance short. You’ll be working out muscles that likely have not been subjected to this kind of abuse unless you are prior military, law enforcement, fire department or serious hiker.

Pay attention to how your pack carries. Adjust the straps, belt (if applicable) and load to improve comfort. As your stamina improves, increase the weight in the bag and distance traveled. You’ll be ready for a long walk with a packed BOB in no time.


Bugging out is not a tough concept to grasp, but is a tricky one to consider in totality. The decisions you make now will be put to a severe test when disaster strikes for real. Through careful study, analysis and intelligent selection of needed gear and provisions you will have done much to ensure you do not wind up a casualty in a dangerous situation.

Now that you have some understanding of the basics it is a good time to browse or search for more on this topic right here on The Survivalist Blog. Before long you will have a BOB packed ready to see you through any eventuality.

3 thoughts on “The Basics of Bug out Bags and Bugging Out”

  1. Over the past year I have done some significant hiking, both urban and back woos stuff, while packing BOB a side arm, extra ammo, and a portable VHF/UHF radio (HAM). The hikes typically involved 8-14 miles on a combination of paved roads, rail road tracks, and through the woods. My pack weighed 40-45 lbs and contained all the items I thought I would need for 3-5 days. Originally, it was packed to get me home from work (125 miles by foot) is ever the situation occurred. While attempting to stay relatively healthy and capable, I was able to survive relatively comfortable for 3-5 days. The wife thought I had lost my marbles when I told her I was going to “Practice” my plans to get hoe.

    Now that I’m retired, I still have BOB, but am rethinking the purpose. I have no doubt I will encounter many obstacles along the way, but I am confident I can survive for 3+ days IF I have to head for the hills. That said, surviving alone will be a challenge an will require all sorts of effort that are hard to emulate.

    First off, I have a disabled wife with Parkinson’s, so any thought of “Bugging out” will ultimately be because she is enjoying the afterlife. In the interim, My plan will be to hunker down ( if we haven’t got out of dodge in time) and protect the home front, rally some capable neighbors, and set up some sort of defensive operation. Until we actually move to the homestead (Final resting place) far out in the country, we will just have to make do with what we have and hope for the best!

  2. Good article; but, I think I’ll add my $0.02 worth, one point at a time.
    When and Why Should You Bug Out?
    In our case it’s simple. There is an immediate short term threat like a truck carrying noxious chemicals upwind from us, and we need to leave while the noxious cloud passes by. In our 34 years at this rural location however, this has never once occurred, so we generally keep a bag packed for the weather conditions in one of the vehicles. We’re just in process of repacking from our summer to our winter load.
    Our primary plan is ”Bugging In” or Sheltering In Place and we have skills and resources to maintain this location for a year or more without much change in lifestyle. We have several neighbors who are part of our MAG (Mutual Assistance Group) who know they are welcome, and bring skills and resources here with them.
    As I stated, the hard decision to bug out would likely be an overwhelming short term outside threat, like a noxious gas cloud blowing our way. We are in tornado country and saw one once a few miles away; but, we otherwise are out of the large scale threats others may have, like wild fires, hurricanes, and floods, so staying put makes the most sense for us.
    Civil unrest is unlikely to make its way here without a lot of warning, and our rural, mostly agricultural neighborhood is well armed with most everyone who are hunters at some time in the year, practicing regularly in our back yards with a variety of firearms.
    Where Are You Going?
    In the unlikely event of a bug out, we have friends and neighbors where we could land for a while, or even spend a night or two in a hotel or motel. Having good credit and no maxed out cards and keeping a bit of cash on hand can help in that situation.

    The ability to head into the woods with a knife and perhaps an axe and surviving completely self-sufficient is priceless, but it is much, much harder than doing the same with at least some modern gear.

    Amen to that!!!! I’ve both done and taught that same thing many times to test and hone my skills; but, that was 30-40 years ago in my 20’s & 30’s and now in my late 60’s I could do it if forced; but, planning otherwise is a much more prudent choice.
    The contingencies you list to prepare for when bugging out are a good list; but, we decided to avoid them by living rural, far from major cities when we settled in 36 years ago. While our location and situation is not bomb proof, it offers a good life with a lot of safety; however, living rural does require some constant planning, since you don’t just walk down to the corner store when you run out of milk or TP.
    The Bug-Out Bag
    Your comments on this hit the mark; but, I would add that the contents can easily be seasonal, at least here in Ohio, so repacking for the upcoming season should be SOP (Standard Operating Procedure). We are in process of converting from a summer to a winter bag, that contains a few more items, like a #10 can candle heater for the vehicle.

    Many preppers standard procedure is to take their BOB with them wherever they go, often keeping it in their personal vehicle. This way, no matter where you are when “the balloon goes up” you will have a selection of vital supplies with you.

    That’s what we do; but, one should also not forget to include the contents of their EDC (Every Day Carry), which in my case means communications gear, some first aid items, fire starting material, a space blanket (or two), and spare magazines for my firearm, that I carry nearly everywhere, including as I type this. If you get separated from your BOB, your EDC contents might be the safety net that keeps you going until you can get to it.
    Selecting a Bag
    I have two of the UTG Ranger Field Bags, one in Black and one in digital Camo. This is a great bag; but, is used mostly in the vehicle in our case. It has handles on the end caps and a strap for field shoulder carry that works well. It also has pack straps, to allow carrying as a comfortable backpack; but, it’s so large (long) that at my 5’ 6” height, it hits me in the backs of the knees; however, for someone taller, I would highly recommend this bag. It has both Velcro & zippered pockets and is rather waterproof.
    BOB Contents
    My suggestions:
    Shelter and Insulation (Clothing, tent or tarp)
    I carry & recommend the “Grabber – The Original Space Brand Sportsman’s Hooded Blanket/Poncho.” When wrapped around you with the hood it provides a lot of protection from wind, rain, and cold, and the corners contain grommets, so along with a bit of cordage, you can quickly make a field expedient shelter. I also carry a few of the original aluminized Mylar space blankets; but, be aware, that once you unpack one, they never get small enough to put back into the same space.
    Lighting (Flashlights, headlamps, chemlights)
    There are so many great quality, inexpensive LED lights available now, that I’ll leave the choices up to the user, with one exception. The best headlamp I’ve found in many years of buying and trying is a 60 Lumen LED version from Rural King. It costs only $5.00 and includes batteries. I have several on hand.
    Rations (Sealed, stable, high-calorie food)
    MRE’s may be standard; but, I keep cheese/peanut butter crackers, jerky, hard candy, and the little packages of chicken salad or tuna salad with crackers on hand for an easy on the go meal that I get at the Dollar Tree for $1.00 each. Datrex bars also keep well, since they are Coast Guard approved and made for lifeboat service.
    Water and Water Purification (Water bottles and filtration/sterilization devices)
    We keep cans and bottles of water along with some of the 125 ml (4.227 oz.) Datrex water packets as well as several Seychelle Water Filtration Bottles, with this description:
    This advanced water filtration bottle removes up to 99.99 percent of pollutants and contaminants found in drinking water & produces up to 100 gallons of filtered water.

    I found the best place to get this great filter is from the LDS online store where the 28-ounce water bottle includes one filter, an insulator sleeve, and clip. It’s $16.50 and I think still has free shipping:

    Fire Starting (Lighters, matches and ferro rods)
    This is a good list; but, I would include the newest Plasma lighters. I have several versions that recharge via USB like a phone or tablet, and produce a plasma arc reaching 1,100° C or 2,012 ° F. Once charged, they can produce many arcs capable of lighting many flames for starting fires.
    Navigation (GPS, Maps, Compass)
    GPS units are now inexpensive or available as standalone smart phone apps; but, knowing your area, having a compass and knowing how to use it to walk a straight line using waypoints, is pretty fail safe and requires neither batteries nor a functional GPS satellite system.
    Weapons (Guns, knives, pepper spray)
    I carry all of the listed items, some in duplicate.
    Medical Kit (Trauma supplies, medicines, bandages)
    I have those in my BOB / GO Bag / vehicle kit and carry some small items in my EDC.
    Hygiene Kit (Soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, floss)
    These are a necessity, and carrying extra unwaxed dental floss can be dual purpose, since it is strong enough to use as good makeshift cordage.
    Getting Comfortable With Your BOB
    Other ways of getting comfortable for short people like me, could be a golf cart of the type you push, with large enough wheels to easily travel over rough terrain, or an off road bicycle, for both riding, and carrying your load. As an example of the real world use of bicycles for emergency travel, during the Vietnam War (Nov 1, 1955 to Apr 30, 1975), the Vietnamese used the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a nest of jungle-choked paths and roads through the mountains, to ferry supplies during the war, and they largely did it with bicycles. This is kind of the ultimate real world Bug Out test.


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