How to Test Your Bug out Bag on Your Next Hike

Preppers love Bugout Bags (BOBs)! We get to buy gear! We get to buy tactical looking backpacks! We get to buy more gear! Once we have one, we get a second. Because… MORE GEAR!!

Then we have 2 or 3 or more, and they sit gathering dust. A bag that no longer needs gear is honestly less exciting.

bug out bag with contents spread out
Knife, portable stove, and fire starter next to my bug out bag.

That is bad on several levels. A stagnant bag has stagnant contents. Old food, expired medical supplies that have lost effectiveness. Tools that we forget how to use. Honestly, it’s a travesty. We do ourselves a disservice by not using and testing our BOB.

The even worse part is that they are so easy to use. Much easier than a trip to the range to work on the latest technique, or grid down weekend. Second, you don’t need a lot of time. Believe me, it doesn’t take much to prove an issue with your BOB.

With this in mind, let’s look at how you can put your bag, and yourself, to the test!

The Travesty of a Stagnant BOB

Preppers put a lot of time, energy, and effort into their BOBs. Some preppers obsess over bag selection, gear selection, and gear placement. Not that obsession is a bad thing.

Lord knows I have a few OCD triggers in my life. The issue is how we treat our BOBs. They get filled and forgotten. There are several genuine problems with this behavior.

Others neglect common, and throw a pile of “survival” stuff into their bag and go. This is equally worse. If you haven’t thought about your gear, how will you know it’s appropriate?

The problem is most preppers stop at the bag. They complete the checklist item. Step one, have a BOB. Yup, got it. What’s next. Nothing, that’s the problem.

Get out and use your BOB. Only bad things can come from a BOB at rest.

Expiration Dates Matter

If we neglect a little, we neglect a lot. Put your BOB in a corner for a month, and that turns into a year. All the food, medical supplies, and liquid fuel that are in your BOB have expiration dates.

Food goes bad. Alcohol wipes dry out. Medications expire. White gas for your cook stove loses its oomf.

You need to make opportunities to review the contents and update them. Establish the habit of checking our bags with each season. Review the contents for expiration dates, and quality. Replace anything within three months of expiration.

Inadequate Gear

Ever start a fire in the rain? Ever have to start fires several days in a row? Or how about ever have to treat a gaping wound? Each of these events has a habit of humbling even our best efforts.

We all have a habit of practicing when it is convenient. That includes hiking, and otherwise getting a little dirt time. The thing is, we do it on our schedule. Blue sky. 70 degrees, and not a hint of wind.

Mr. Murphy is sure to guarantee that our personal disaster will involve rain, snow, and be uphill both ways. This is the weather that requires a metric ton of tinder and kindling to make a fire.

The short of this is, you probably don’t have enough supplies for some scenarios. Don’t underestimate how quickly you will go through fire supplies, medical supplies, water, and food.

Inappropriate Gear

Worse than having insufficient gear is having the wrong gear. This can include summer clothes in your BOB during winter, or water capacity for only 32 ounces during the heat of summer.

Just because you have the gear doesn’t make it the right gear. Not having the right gear for your needs can be fatal.

BOB Tests

Ok, enough doom and gloom. Let’s solve this problem of BOB testing.

Solo Testing

You don’t need an elaborate plan to test out your BOB. The best way to test your BOB is to get out and use it. It’s that easy. Take a few hours and go for a walk. Mow the lawn. Even a few miles walking downtown is a test.

Is it comfortable to wear for an extended time? Can you go 6 hours while on asphalt or concrete? Where are the spots that rub?

If your planned route takes you through the woods, then spend a few mornings on the trail. Log the miles and see what’s comfortable and what’s not.

My bugout friend and I used to hit the trail every Saturday at 6 am. We would do 3 hours and I’d be home when the rest of the family was just getting ready to start the day. It was a fantastic way to build in a routine without significantly affecting the rest of my life.

I then highly recommend setting a reoccurring date, and NOT changing it. Hike every other Saturday morning. If you don’t change, it will eventually run into challenging conditions. Fog, cold, rain, snow, sleet, cats, and dogs.

By working for the schedule and not letting it work for you, you will get exposed to the negative side of bugouts. Ever wonder if your bad is waterproof? Log 3 miles during a downpour. That will let you know.

As you progress through your BOB testing, test the individual components in your pack. I drink a fair amount of tea. I never developed a liking for coffee, so tea is my thing. If I can make a cup of tea on the trail, then I’m a happy prepper.

Making tea requires fire, water, and time. Fire is self-explanatory. For water, I need to find a source of it, and purify about 8 ounces of water. Sometimes this can be difficult. Unless I have to, I don’t use my canteen.

This simple act exercises your BOB in several ways that will be critical on the trail. There are other tests, but let’s make them more interesting with a little help.

Cold, Wet, and Hungry

I enjoy hiking when it’s 70 and sunny. I hate the rain. I spent too many weekends in my youth on wet campouts with sub-par gear. That being said, the experience builds character. Therefore, I should have enough character for 10 grown men by now.

That’s not quite how it works, however, we still need to log time in the cold and the wet. The key is to do it in a controlled way. You don’t want the cold and wet to turn into something more serious.

Schedule this endurance test with some flexibility. Make plans with a friend to do a hike under adverse weather, then wait. Plan your route and when it rains or snows, pull the trigger.

Only one of you should push the limits. For example, if you want to test your wet weather performance, they get the poncho and you don’t.

Practice your skills during the pour without a raincoat or other protection. Make a fire, set up your shelter, dry your clothes and gear. All while they watch, laugh, and generally be dry.

Also, push your limits while hungry. Fast for a day or two then head out. How does your endurance change? How do your emotions change? Are you able to log as many miles and perform as before?

Hunger affects us each differently, and as long as we are healthy, we can all go several days without a meal. There’s no reason not to add this to your tests.

Challenging Friends

Friends are fun! Especially devious ones. You know the one. We all have one. I call him the Chief A-Hole In Charge (CAIC).

Hike with your friends. On this hike, the CAIC channels their inner demons and challenges the others.

As you walk with your BOB, they layout a challenge. It may be to make a fire with one match. It may be to improvise a splint. Whatever the challenge is, it must exercise the contents of your BOB.

One of my favorites is the 2-liter severed artery. Everyone must carry a 2-liter bottle of plain seltzer. In the hike, you pull out your bottles and shake them for a full minute. The CAIC pokes a slice in the bottle (always on the side facing you).

You have 30 seconds to stop the bleed, while it sprays you in the face. Want to make the stakes a little higher. Use Coke or Pepsi. Not the diet stuff, but the good sugary stuff. Yup, do it in July on an afternoon hike. Nice and sticky.

A pressurized 2-liter bottle like this, when cut, sprays out the seltzer in about the same pressure as an arterial bleed. Voice of experience here, it’s rather exciting the first time around.

It becomes a race to pull out the contents of your trauma kit, and find something that will contain the spray. Whoever has the least seltzer left at the end of the exercise buys the next round of drinks.

The challenges don’t have to be as elaborate. Walking the powerlines? CAIC dictates that you all walk through the swampy section. Afterward, you need to change into dry clothes. Oh, your BOB doesn’t have a set? I guess you are hiking wet. And you are buying a round.

The real benefit of working with friends is not finding out how evil they can be, it’s about removing the decision from your sphere of influence.

When we set up personal goals, especially short-term ones, it’s easy to say “Nah, I’ll do that next time.” Next time turns into the time after that and eventually never.

When the challenge is external, we feel obligated to push harder. We don’t want to let our friends down. We don’t want to be the ones buying round after round of drinks. Friends bring out the best in us.

Phone a Friend

Ok, you’re a little more reserved and don’t have a group of like-minded friends willing to traipse through the woods at 6 am. We will focus on that in a later article. For now, that’s fine. A confidant can still take part in absentia. This may be an older friend who’s hiking days are in the past, or a spouse that is on kid duty that day.

You still take your hikes. They just issue their challenges from afar. Have them review your route with you (they should do that anyway), then independently come up with a BOB test.

If you have cell coverage, have them call you or send a text with a challenge. If not, they can seal it in an envelope. Your job is to hike for an hour, then open the envelop. After the challenge, you give them a full report.

Again, the tests can be as simple or as complex as you mutually agree upon. The goal is for it to be a surprise and for you to have some skin in the game. Fail to complete the test, and you’re buying dinner for your spouse. A little risk/reward makes the completion of the test even better.

lean-to tarp shelter
I spread out my tarp to make a test lean-to shelter.

BOB Tests

There are hundreds of tests that you can perform when exercising your BOB. You are limited only by your imagination. This is only a sampling. Improvise! Cover all aspects of your bag.

Find inspiration in the rule of threes (water, fire, shelter, food, communication). Get an idea from prepper fiction. Whatever stimulates your creative juices… Use it!

A few ideas:

  • Find and treat/filter 1 gallon of water
  • Make a fire using no tinder or kindling from your BOB only use an ignition source (e.g. fire steel)
  • Make a fire that can burn a string 12” above the ground in less than 1 minute after striking your first match using only materials from your BOB
  • Make a pot of tea or soup
  • Set up shelter in under 15 minutes
  • Set up shelter at night (no flashlight)
  • Camouflage your shelter
  • Build an improvised shelter
  • Eat lunch (you’d be amazed at the number of BOBs with no food)
  • Forage 500 calories of food
  • Catch or trap a fish
  • Parallel your planned route 100 yards into the woods
  • Turn off your trail by 90 degrees and walk ¼ mile then come back to the same spot using only a compass and pace counting beads (check your accuracy with a GPS)
  • Turn on your radio and make one contact
  • Make hourly contacts with your support team
  • Make an HF contact outside of your state
  • Make an HF contact inside your state (NVIS)
  • Give a team member an alternate route to the same destination, they can only use a map, compass, and pace count beads
  • Hike your usual route at night
  • Improvise a splint
  • Walk with a splinted leg 1 mile
  • On a previously arranged signal apply a tourniquet, must be accomplished in under 45 seconds
  • Simulate an arterial bleed with a 2-liter bottle of seltzer
  • Treat a “wound”
  • Improvise a litter and carry a team member 1 mile
  • Splint an arm then build a shelter
  • Splint an arm then build a fire

Test Results: Personal Critique and Improvement

Testing without a little self-reflection is a bit of a waste. There is great accomplishment with enduring and succeeding at a test, however, improvement comes with failure. Embrace your failures as they are how you move forward.

After each BOB test, perform an honest self-critique. What worked? Where did things break down?

First, assess your pace and successes. Record how long, in time and distance, your test was. Account for any “downtime” such as making a fire, tending a wound, or processing water. Then, mark down any areas of difficulty with steep inclines or rock scrambles.

Your log should have a complete picture of the route. After a few treks, you can build up evidence of your pace over each terrain type. Update your bugout plan with this information.

For each failure, you must embrace that word, memorialize what exactly failed. Was it your knowledge, body, or gear? The good news is that you can correct all three.

For gaps in knowledge, surf the web, and find resources to fill the gaps. YouTube is your friend here. Once you have done your book-learnin’ get out and practice in a controlled environment. Then get back out on the trail and re-test for real.

When your body fails, it’s time to focus. Few physical skills can be corrected quickly. Harden your resolution to fix what failed you. Dexterity, strength, and endurance all take time. Set improvement plans. Be patient. Be persistent.

Gear is the easiest to adjust. If it’s a quality issue. Buy better gear. If it’s a use issue, then put in the hours mastering the tool.

Finally, if it’s the applicability of your gear, then go back to the drawing board. Identify the shortfall and research a better solution. Then augment your BOB and test it again.

Failure is only bad when we refuse to learn from it. Testing your BOB should be filled with failures. That is the only way that we get better. Push yourself and your gear to the point it lets you down, then improve and move on.

Wrapping Up BOB Testing

Muscles that go unused atrophy. Skills that go unused deteriorate from mastery to novice. The same happens to your BOB. Left in the corner, you forget what’s in it. You forget how to use its tools. Food goes bad. Medicines expire. It’s the natural order of decay.

You can fight this decay by exercising your prepper muscles. Prove to yourself and others that you can use the tools. Prove to yourself and others that you can thrive under stress and within adverse environments.

You go to the range, and take part in shooting competitions to exercise your firearm skills. You go hiking and camping to stress your muscles on a long walk. Why wouldn’t you do these things with your bug out bag? Especially when it is so easy.

Grab a friend, and challenge each other. Have your spouse put “Love Notes” in your BOB to be opened and followed. Add some controlled stressors to your hike.

Better to do that now when you can go home, and review and adjust. For now, you can improve and overcome any failings of your BOB. Tomorrow you may not have the chance.

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