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The Ultimate Bug Out Bag Content List

The Ultimate Bug Out Bag Content List

The Ultimate Bug Out Bag Content List

Congratulations!  You’ve decided with all of the things going on in the world that it just might be best to be prepared..for something.  The bug out bag is a popular first step for people new to emergency preparedness, and for good reason.  A bug out bag is your life support system for the first 72 hours of an emergency, a survival kit which you can bring with you wherever you go.  While this is really not intended to be a bug out bag content list as the article’s title suggests, more so an education on the stuff I have found to work, how it works, and why it makes sense for other folks with an interest in emergency preparedness.

Everyone should be ready for a minimal emergency, be it a power outage, earthquake, storm, or terrorist event.  Even if you don’t go hog wild into emergency preparedness, know this, help is not on the way…at least for the first 72 hours.  While you might have faith that someone is going to take care of you in an emergency, the truth is, it takes time.  Time to mobilize, time for relief to arrive.  What are you going to do in the mean time?  If you are smart, you will be prepared.

For most, the term bug out bag conjures up images of apocalyptic zombies, with survivors aimlessly trudging from nowhere to God knows where.  This isn’t the point.  While some disasters you might face can require you to be mobile, in reality, the bug out bag is a convenient place to keep all of the things you need at the ready.  Still, you must consider having everything you need to survive in a convenient package you can carry on your back (or hips as you will find out).

I too was once new to emergency preparedness and hence bug out bags.  I’ve probably made every mistake possible, bought tons of gear that  doesn’t work, as well as gear that failed easily.  For this reason I’ve decided to help out others new to emergency preparedness to not make these same mistakes.  I am also going to assume that most of you are not minimalists, i.e. folks who sleep on the bare ground and strangle wild animals for dinner.  In short, if found in a survival situation, your bag will not only keep you alive but help you to deal with some of the psychological shock that will come from a life altering event.

Folks can spend thousands of dollars on a personal bug out bag.  That sounds crazy, doesn’t it?  If you started this search on your own you might go through many iterations of the same piece of gear to perform the same function, with each new piece of gear being smaller, lighter, and have the ability to be packed smaller to take up less room in your bug out bag.  The purpose of this article is to guide you to the gear that is inexpensive but can still function.  Here in there we might throw in a “cool” version that might do the job better, but for much more money.

Where do we begin?

Not The Bag!?

Nope, the first thing that you are NOT going to buy is the latest high speed, low drag, tacticool wonder sack.  That would be like Goldie Locks choosing which bed to sleep in before knowing the size of the bed.  The very first thing you need to understand is what you need to survive a 72 hour emergency.  Once you’ve learned what is needed and why, then you can choose a bag in which to keep your gear for quick accessibility.

columbiarainWith very limited exceptions the number one cause of death in survival situations is not starvation or even dehydration, but exposure.  Think about it, if you suddenly found yourself in your PJ’s in the middle of Antarctica, would you first starve to death or freeze?  Sure, not all disasters are going to drive you from your home, but if it happens and conditions are less than favorable, you are going to need a way to keep the elements from affecting your body.  On a cold, wet, and windy night a person can succumb to exposure in just three hours.  Your first task in putting together a bug out bag is combating the elements.

We like to categorize methods of isolating your body from the elements as “shelter”.  When you hear the term shelter your mind might be drawing pictures of a tent, tarp, or impromptu abode, but it is more than that.  Shelter must provide minimal protection whether you are bedding down for the night or walking out of a disaster area in inclement weather.

An essential key is keeping your body dry and therein you will learn one of the first perils of the bug out bag.  Think about all of the methods you might consider to stay out of rain in a leisurely stroll in a summer drizzle.  Maybe an umbrella?  A rain coat?  You will quickly learn that things you might normally consider for daily use are too heavy or bulky when you have to carry a complete life support system with you.

In all but the hottest climates, forget cotton clothing.  It loses ALL insulating properties when wet.  There is a reason why it is called “Killer Cotton”. Check out: Cotton- 5 Deadly Reasons To Avoid It

Keeping your body dry is of utmost importance if you find yourself in inclement weather.  Options range from a 4 pack of plastic rain ponchos for four bucks to something like a Columbia PFG packable rain jacket for over $60.  I’ve found that Frogg Toggs Ultra Lite Rain Suit to be the best combination of cost (less than $20), durability, weight, and packability.

Give Me Shelter!

Having a method to get out of the cold rain or wet snow is the first step to getting you out of the weather completely.  If you should find yourself in a situation where there is appreciable precipitation and the temperature isn’t favorable, you should focus on finding shelter.  As we said earlier, if you are new to emergency preparedness, the thought of sleeping on a pine bough under a makeshift shelter is probably not up your alley.  The good news is the camping industry has given us two items that will help achieve the desired results, the tent and the sleeping bag.

The tent you have laying around or the ones found at the local Wal-Mart are probably not going to fit the bill.  Instead of tearing them apart, instead I will list the things you look for in a good tent:

  • Size- Not the size of the living space, but the size to which it can pack.  Most store bought tents are way too large to pack away and carry.  A good tent will pack down to a modest size.
  • Rainfly- You need a tent with a method to keep out the rain.  Again, most store bought tents either don’t include a rain fly or the one included is an inadequate toy.  The rainfly should extend to near the ground.  The rainfly also aids in air circulation as it allows the top of the tent to be made completely of mesh.  This will help avoid condensation from forming on the walls/ceiling of the tent and prevent the moisture from dripping back down on the occupants
This tent from Teton is a great example of a tent whose rainfly extends to the ground.

This tent from Teton is a great example of a tent whose rainfly extends to the ground.

  • Tub- The bottom of the tent needs to have a water proof tub that extends part way up the sides to help repel water from your sleeping area.
Notice how the tub (brown portion) extends well up the sides of the tent

Notice how the tub (brown portion) on this Alps Mountaineering tent extends well up the sides.

  • Poles- While not necessary, a good tent will have aluminum poles versus fiberglass.  They are lighter and more easily repaired if broken.
  • Weight-  Another problem with store bought tents is weight.  They are never meant to be carried any great distance.  Like packable size, weight is very important when you are lugging the thing around.  Hiking tents should range from two pounds up to about seven, the maximum I’d consider for a person carrying a large family hiking tent.

Two tent companies I’ve had luck with are Teton Sports and Alps Mountaineering.  While the aforementioned links are to the tents I own, picking a personal tent has to do with your situation.  You can’t go wrong with either company if you pick one of their tents that meet the criteria.

stansportA decent tent is going to set you back a hundred bucks or more but there is one truly budget alternative.  The Stansport Scout will empty your wallet for a mere twenty five bucks.  At first glance you might say it doesn’t fit my criteria, and you would be correct, well, not exactly.

The Scout departs from the modern design of the dome tent and hearkens back to tent designs of yesteryear.  It will keep you isolated from the weather but at the cost of interior volume and circulation.  This design has kept many a boy scout and soldier out of the weather and is tried and proven.  While you may have some condensation issues, it is way better than nothing.  If you have a large family it might better to purchase two, three, or four of these guys and still have money left over for other gear.  Besides, you can then share the load in carrying your shelter.

Lastly, for those that want the most comfortable night sleep possible and don’t mind spending a decent amount of money to do so, consider the Hennessy Hammock.  Especially if you are responsible for only yourself, this is the way to sleep outdoors.  Besides being comfortable, the hammock opens opportunities to sleep in places impossible with a tent.  I won’t say anymore, but if you would like to explore the Hennessy further, I’ve done a video, click here.

Once you are in your tent you are going to have to retain your body heat and to a lesser degree, need comfort.  This is where the sleeping bag comes into play.  Again, the stuff sold in most stores are toys.  They won’t keep you warm on anything but a summer night, they are heavy, and don’t pack down.

The first choice in picking a sleeping bag is generally the temperature rating.  If you can, pick one that has an EN Rating as at least you will know it was tested to some sort of standard.  Beyond that, pick one for the lowest expected temperatures for your area.  A good 20 degree bag is going to work for most of the country.  The Kelty Cosmic Down 20, Teton Sports Tracker +5, and the Northface Cat’s Meow are all bags in which I’ve spent winter nights.

reactorTwo of the aforementioned bags are down, with the Teton being made of synthetic materials.  Down is going to provide the most warmth and pack the smallest but loses some insulating properties when wet.  It is also more expensive.  Because of this, the Teton qualifies as the least expensive “real” sleeping bag at around $80.

For those of you that might experience zero, or even sub zero weather, consider this; in addition to a sleeping bag like mentioned above, you can add a second, smaller bag like the Sea To Summit Reactor.  These are great as they add considerable warmth to an already warm bag, yet occupy minimal space, about the size of a grapefruit.  They have an added bonus of serving as your primary bag if the weather is warm as well.

Another method of insulating your body heat from the ground, as well as making a night’s sleep more comfortable is the sleeping pad.  This is achieved by a cushion of air.  Since air conducts less heat that direct contact with the ground, the sleeping pad adds to the “R” value of your sleep system.  I’ve found the perfect combination of size, weight, pack size, cost and performance to be the SMALL Therm-A-Rest Trail Scout. It only insulates your torso and head, but it performs well enough to overcome the compromise.

Combating exposure is the main focus in a bug out bag simply because exposure is most likely to kill you first when out in the elements.  First and foremost is a method to keep your clothing dry.  If the weather gets too rough, you must get out, and a tent or hammock tent should suffice.  Lastly, you need a method to retain your heat.



Getting Thirsty

Water, or lack of it, can be the second killer in a 72 hour emergency.  A human, in general, cannot survive for more than three days without it.  While lack of water can kill you, that is not the whole story.  Bad water can take you out.  Imagine that you just experienced some sort of devastating disaster, you weren’t prepared, and drank from a river to quench your thirst.  The water was untreated and shortly afterwards you begin to experience diarrhea.  How uncomfortable would that be, not to mention potentially deadly?

First and foremost, water is heavy and bulky.  A gallon of water tips the scales at a little over eight and a quarter pounds.  The average person needs a half a gallon of water per day, and that is not really counting a stressful situation on the move.  Twelve pounds of water per person may not sound like much, but trust me, just like the bulk and weight of a tent, it all adds up.

As mentioned before, it is always best to shelter in place.  Storing drinking water in your own home is a must for anyone wishing to be prepared and that is easy enough.  A nice option that holds seven gallons, is stackable, and designed for long term water storage are these water containers from Reliance.  You can store water in larger containers, but the seven gallon container is still portable via vehicle.  As you move along in your journey you may find yourself with multiple redundancies, but initially focus on the first 72 hours.  In a pinch, here is where nearly anyone can find roughly 80 man/days of water in their home.

The Renovo filters not only bacteria and protozoa, but also chemical contaminents

The Renovo filters not only bacteria and protozoa, but also chemical contaminants

Once you have a bit of water stored in your home you must shift focus to water on the run.  A good prepper will know the water sources along a planned bug out route, but even then, you don’t know what might happen to the water in a disaster.  You must assume that all water is unfit to drink without treatment.  This will require you to have a method to treat your water.  We’ve written here extensively about water filtration, but if I had to pick one water filter for your bug out bag, it would be the Renovo.  If you have been hanging around the prepping community for some time you might be familiar with the Sawyer filter and the Lifestraw.  These are great filters..if you know your water.  If you didn’t check out our link about water filters, you need to know this; There are two basic types of filters out there, ones that filter bacteria and protozoa, and ones that filter the aforementioned plus viruses and chemicals.  If you don’t know your water or have to assume the worst, you need a filter that does both.

The Renovo is basically two filters in one.  It’s very small and light and will treat water that might be contaminated with agriculture or industrial run off in addition to bacteria and protozoa.  If you are leaving a major city in a disaster, chances are that any water source has one or both of the chemical contaminants.  The Lifestraw and Sawyer are just not up to the task when filtering out chemicals, they can’t do it nor do they claim to.  Be forewarned, DO NOT fall into the capacity trap.  The listed capacity of the Renovo is 250 gallons, the Sawyer, a million.  Although the Renovo has a minuscule capacity compared to the Sawyer, it is precisely because of the second filter that removes chemical contaminants.  Besides, a 250 gallon capacity is 500 man days of water, far beyond any need in a 72 hour bag!  Again, there is nothing wrong with the Sawyer or the Lifestraw, but if you don’t know your water you need to be prepared to properly filter it.

In addition to the Renovo, you are going to need a method to store water.  I’d recommend two, a bladder, like the Camelbak Omega, and an unpainted stainless steel bottle.  The Renovo can connect inline with the bladder, allowing you to fill the bladder with unfiltered water, allowing for hydration on the go.  The stainless bottle is recommended for two reasons.  The bladder can be punctured, the bottle is less likely to fail.  Second, as a backup to filtration, in an emergency, you can boil water directly in the bottle.  It will not remove contamination, but boiling will kill any living organisms.

I’m Getting Hungry

Food is one of the last things your body needs in a 72 hour emergency.  Technically, you can go without it.  I’m not suggesting you do, without food your metabolism will begin to slow to a crawl, your mental state will deteriorate, and your body may not generate as much heat as it normally would.  There are many divergent paths when considering what food to pack.  You could pack something as simple as the 3600 ER Emergency Ration Bars or MRE’s (Meals Ready To Eat).  Both of these choices can be prepared and eaten “on the run” and are pretty much self contained.  Or you can get a little more elaborate with some of the freeze dried options.  Some of the freeze dried options taste really good and can be a morale boost.  My personal favorite, hands down, is Mountain House.  If you choose the freeze dried option, you will also add more complexity to your bug out bag.  While a bare bones bag with the emergency rations doesn’t require a method to cook, the freeze dried option does.  You must boil a quantity of water and add it to the freeze dried food pouch.


For bug out bag cooking, I have two recommendations.  The first is something like the Solo Stove.  The Solo Stove can be fired with anything that is combustible, meaning you will almost always have fuel available.  The second is a little gem that I’ve been recommending on Amazon for some time, the “Ultralight Backpacking Stove”.  Often found for less than $6, this stove has proved reliable and high performance.  It will boil water much quicker than the Solo, but you have to carry two or three canisters of fuel to effectively cook for 72 hours.  You might also notice that we are building some redundancies into the bug out bag.  If you choose the ultralight backpack stove, you have a redundant method to start a fire because it has a piezo ignition (push a button and it starts on fire).  More on fire redundancies later..

Beyond a method to heat the water for cooking, you will also need a pot to heat it in.  I recommend this pot set from Optimus for a few reasons, first and foremost, it marks the capacity in ounces on the side of the pot.  This sounds stupid, but wait till you find yourself in the dark, on the run, and needing to measure 16 ounces of water for your Mountain House Beef Stroganov (mmmm).  It also has a nice heat exchanger built into the bottom that will boil the water 20% faster, plus a standard 8 ounce gas canister will fit inside (along with the stove).  If you are on a budget, this cookset will save you a few bucks, but you will have to mark the capacity yourself.

From Experience

IFAKHey, I write and shoot videos on Emergency Preparedness, I’d lose credibility if I didn’t practice what I preached.  Beyond general hiking and camping, last spring I embarked on a “Budget Bug Out Bag Challenge”a three day, 60 mile simulated bug out.  While I embarked on the journey to test budget gear, I quickly found out I was testing myself.  This brings me to the medical portion of the bug out bag.  My guess is that most of you reading do not run marathons for a living.  Strapping a pack to your back after getting off the couch is going to be a rough go.  While I recommend having a basic Trauma Kit in your bag, I will add there are two things that are often overlooked in most bug out bags.

Even if you are relatively fit, I doubt you often walk with a heavy pack for eight or ten hours a day.  From experience, I quickly found after a couple of hours I began to get sore, really sore.  Since I only allowed myself to utilize the gear on my back I was dismayed to find a single Ibuprofen in the medical kit I packed.  I took it the first day, and for a few hours I was able to continue pain free.  The next two days were hell.  My advice, add an ample amount of Ibuprofen to your pack or other pain reliever.

Second is sunscreen.  Some might be thinking sunscreen is for wimps.  I am not recommending sunscreen to avoid a future occurrence of skin cancer.  We don’t realize just how sheltered our lives have become.  Ten unprotected hours in the sun can lead to debilitating sun burn.  I rarely see people mention sunscreen for bug out bags.  I used it, my cameraman refused..the first day.  He got sunburned.

Essential Tools

At this point, you might survive quite happily for three days with the gear mentioned to this point, if nothing goes wrong.  To combat contingencies it is probably wise to carry a few tools with you. Tools are important, because they can help with improvisation when you run into a situation you didn’t or couldn’t prepare for.  Such as, marauders take your tent and you have to fashion a shelfter.

First on the list is a decent knife.  You might have to ask a lot from your knife, so choose a sturdy knife that can not only cut, but chop, baton, and help start fires.  For this task my personal favorite is the Schrade SCHF9.  This bad boy is relatively inexpensive, a brute, and will get the job done.  Check out our review to learn more:

If you find the SCHF9 a little big for your tastes, it has a little brother, the SCHF 26.  It has most of the same qualities as the 9, but in a smaller package.

Second on the list of tools is a decent light.  I have an uncountable number of flashlights, but there are three that stand out.  Two are no namers on Amazon.  The “Outdoor Waterproof LED Headlamp” is one and the “Rechargeable LED Flashlight” is the other.  Both are rechargeable, come with batteries and charger, and just plain work.  The best part is both are less than fifteen bucks.  The downside?  You are probably not going to be recharging them in the field, so carry extra charged batteries.

The other light I like is the Goal Zero Bolt Focus.  This flashlight can be charged via the Goal Zero solar panels and both the flashlight and the panel are offered in this package.  The light itself offers adjustable beam brightness and a creamy focus from spot to beam, allowing you to put light where you need it.  They are a bit more expensive than the two no name flashlights, but this combo can pull double duty to charge your cell phone in an emergency.

No bag would be complete without a method to start a fire, actually three methods.  If you noticed, we’ve already built redundancy into our water plan, we need to do the same with fire.  Start with a few BIC Lighters.  We don’t need to make it more complicated than it needs to be.  If you need a fire you want to start it fast.  Also pack some kindling in a watertight container, be it cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly, pine needles, or dryer lint.    Next, get a fresnel lens, this can be neatly placed behind your water bladder in your bug out bag.  A fresnel lens is a surefire way to get a blaze going..if the sun is out.  It does so by focusing the energy of the sun into a pin point, much like when you used to fry bugs with a magnifying glass (yes, a magnifying glass is also an option).   Lastly, get a good magnesium firestarter, like the Purefire Tactical Folder.  I’ve put mine through some extreme challenges and it is by far the best.  Check it out:


Last on the necessities in the tools category is 550 Paracord.  Paracord is short for parachute cord.  In essence, it is several strands of tough, thin, and strong nylon rope in an outer casing.  You may never need the paracord, but when things start breaking down you will be glad you have it.  The uses for paracord are pretty much endless, from fixing tents, making improvised shelter, trapping, to repairing your bag.  From experience, you might also consider the Paracord Spool Tool.  There is nothing worse than needing a section of paracord only to find a tangled mess, the spool tool ingeniously solves that problem.

A knife, flashlight, firestarter, and paracord round out the basic tools.  You can get most jobs done with them, but tools designed for specific purposes can help get jobs done faster and easier.  They also add cost, weight, and take up space.  Case in point, if you watched the Schrade video, you notice that I can hack off a tree limb or even split wood via batoning.  I’d venture to say with enough effort I could even fell a small tree, but there are better tools for each job.  For chopping, a hatchet such as the SCAXE2 would do the job faster and easier, but it would take up space and weight (and cost money).  A pocket chain saw can cut through a tree in just a few minutes.  Word of caution, when considering a pocket chainsaw, forget the wire ones, they are cheap and don’t work as well as the one in the video below.  Plus, they cost about the same as the real deal.  It is your choice as to whether or not you want to spend the money and afford the added weight, but check out how much easier extra tools perform their tasks:

Odds and Ends

At this point you can survive most disasters that throw you into a survival situation.  Yet I’d venture to say that most experienced preppers bags’s have many more items.  Most of these items focus on comfort, hygiene, extra clothing, and even communications.  These items can vary from person to person but I have one recommendation for these separate kits, individual stuff sacks of different colors so you can recognize them in a crowded bug out bag.  You may wish to choose dry sacks as an alternative, depending on the bug out bag you choose (more on that later).  While the contents you choose for these categories are a personal choice, they are somewhat optional (with the exception of spare clothing).  Consider this:

Hygiene Sack

  • Diaper wipes (OK, I just changed my mind, you need these)
  • Toilet Paper
  • Hand Sanitizer (can double as tinder)
  • Soap
  • Tooth Brush and Toothpaste
  • Floss
  • Butt Butter (Hey, trust me on this one)
  • Deodorant
  • Feminine Products ( can double as wound dressings)

Clothing Sack

Clothing adds a tough dynamic, especially for folks who experience the extremes of all four seasons.  Cold weather gear can be bulky and shouldn’t be packed in your bug out bag.  Instead, keep colder weather gear next to your bug out bag.  Place your hiking boots with your bag as well.  If their sole purpose is for bugging out, tie them to the outside of the bag.

I mentioned communications, any fan of the Tin Hat Ranch will know that for this purpose, I recommend the Baofeng UV-5R. Not only will this radio outperform ANY “walkie talkie”, it can receive FM radio broadcasts and introduce you to the wonder world of HAM Radio.

You Still With Me?

This is NOT a good choice for a bug out bag.

This is NOT a good choice for a bug out bag.

Finally..the bag.  Now that you know what things you need and why, we can move onto the bag in which to put them.  While there are many debatable individual preferences when choosing a bag, there are a few musts.  I guarantee the very first mistake a person new to prepping makes is with the bag they choose.   There are tons of bags like this one that are marketed to preppers, all of which are marginal at best.  Yes, it is a bag, but also a mistake.  Whether you take heed here or discover your mistake in an actual disaster is up to you.  I know the bag I linked to is a mistake because I personally made the mistake years ago.  I can’t remember if it was that exact brand, but it is the same design.  First of all, they are not big enough to contain what I consider the necessities for a semi-comfortable three day emergency.  Second, they can’t handle the weight and the straps will quickly fail, as they did in my case.  There is nothing worse than being in the middle of nowhere, under stress, and having a shoulder strap break.

Rather than continue to rail on the wrong bags, I would rather tell you what to look for in a proper bug out bag.  Namely, there are three things:



  • Hip Belts- Everyone else in the world knows this, so I can’t figure out why manufacturers of “bug out bags” can’t figure it out.  If you have the possibility of carrying all of this gear over a long distance, hip belts are a MUST.  Your upper body is not designed to handle that much weight for that long, neither are the straps of the bag designed to hold that much weight.  Carrying the weight on your hips will allow you to not only travel farther, but do so in relative comfort.
  • Internal Frame-  Just like the hip belts, the internal frame is designed to handle and distribute the load.  There are many different designs of internal frames, ranging from simple aluminum stays to complex systems, but all work to do the same job.  There are still some external frames on the market, like the good old fashioned Alice Pack, while they do the same job, they are bulky, generally heavier, and can snag when walking through cover.
  • Adjustable Shoulder Straps- To save the middle of your back from aches and pains, adjustable shoulder straps round out the list of must haves.  These allow you to correctly balance the weight over your hips and leave the straps lightly putting backwards pressure on your shoulders.  Almost no weight is suspended on your shoulders, rather, the shoulder straps direct the weight to your hips.

Size- If you put together a basic load out from this article you are going to be roughly in the neighborhood of a 60-70L pack.  If you go out and research (and buy) the lightest and smallest gear, you might get that down to 50L or slightly less.  If you are the family Sherpa and are required to take on your load as well as some of the families’, you might be looking at 80L or more.

Grayman versus Camo- This is a psychological personal preference.  Some feel that the first people to be “picked off” in a disaster are the guys running around in full camo with full camouflage backpacks.  Others feel you should blend in using a solid colored hiking pack.  The rest don’t want to give up their positions traipsing through the woods and will settle for nothing less than full camouflage.  The jury is out, the choice is yours.

If you find a bag in the right size, that meets all the criteria, in a color suitable to your tastes you win.  There are hundreds of bags to choose from, but I own four different bags that I can recommend, all of them different.

outfitterFor those on a budget, I searched far and wide to find the least expensive pack that would meet all of the criteria..and I found it.  The bag is the Teton Sports Outfitter 4600.  This is the bag I took on the challenge I mentioned earlier.  While it isn’t the highest quality bag amongst the ones I own, it is built more than well enough to get you through a bug out and beyond.  The bag is well thought out with just enough pouches and pockets to pack your gear and includes both a rain fly and separate sleeping bag compartment, features often not found on bags that are twice the cost.  While most bags are water resistant, the rain fly nearly ensures that the contents of the bag are going to stay dry.  On the last day of the budget bug out bag challenge I walked all day in the rain.  When I setup camp that night, the contents were bone dry.    The major downside to the bag, in my opinion, it’s not available in anything other than bright blue.  While my jury is out on the grayman subject, I would hope to at least get a bag in a subdued brown or olive.  All in all, at around a hundred bucks, this is the best new bag for the money.  Check out our video review:

trentonIf you fall into the military bag camp, our friends over at Trenton Tactical sent us this surplus Dutch Woodland Camouflaged Pack.  At $79 the pack is a bargain and is sturdy and well made.  Being used military surplus you already know the bag has been through hell and survived, begging for more.  Check it out:

keltyIf you are the family Sherpa and looking for a good quality 80L or larger pack that won’t break the bank, I recommend the Kelty Coyote 80.  This is the bag that I will have to carry on a family bug out.  I get to carry the four man tent, food for the kids, and extra water.  It is a rather large bag and the build quality is excellent.  I’ve taken a look at a few of the other Kelty’s and I have confidence anything in the larger Kelty lineup would serve well, any Coyote or Red Cloud will get the job done.




gregoryLast in my list of bags is the Gregory Baltoro.  I happened across this bag in a local fire sale and got mine for about a sixth of the listed cost today.  The thing is, I’d buy it today at full price.  The extra loot that goes into this bag does wonders for comfort and durability, all while keeping weight down.  The extra touches in the suspension system ease the load while keeping air circulation up across your back.  When I am going hiking and don’t have to carry the whole families’ gear, this is the bag that I choose.




Beyond the bags that I own, there are tons of other bags out there from trusted manufacturers that will fit the bill, here are a number of other considerations in no particular order:

Although this is a rather long article, it condenses a great percentage of the things you need to know when putting together a bug out bag.  Bug out bags are a personal choice, but every human body has certain needs.  The items I’ve linked to above I have personally tested (except where noted) and have confidence will well perform in a 72 hour bug out.  Once you’ve assembled your bug out bag you can begin to enjoy its true purpose, getting into the great outdoors!  Sure, we know its ultimate use would be to help us survive a disaster, but why else would you buy all these toys and not play with them?!


Check back shortly for a PDF version of this article.  If you are new to the Tin Hat Ranch, consider giving us a “like” on our Facebook page and subscribing to our Youtube channel for all sorts of emergency preparedness tips and information.

Comments are open!

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  1. El Rastreador

    Great article and sound advice, just ordered the Renovo because of it. The last thing one wants to be is debilitated by bad water.

    A suggestion for a bag from someone who has traveled with one extensively is an Osprey Sojourn, which is a rolling backpack with an excellent harness system. While the wheels add weight, most of us would also journey on a bit of road or smooth dry trail. Not always carrying that load on our bodies saves a lot of energy. Besides that, the bag itself is built bullet proof and can really swallow a load, plus has handy attachment points on the outside.

  2. admin

    Great suggestion! I don’t personally own an Osprey but did recommend one at the end of the article. I know a few people who do own them and are very happy. The suggestions at the bottom were to make it look like I wasn’t picking favorites. All those companies make excellent products and I have first hand knowledge from people who own them. I will have to check out the Sojourn, thank you!

  3. JamesD

    I’ve been backpacking for over 30 years and here are some comments.

    Cutting weight on the “Big 3” (pack, tent and sleep system) provides the most weight savings off your back for the least effort and cost per pound. Lighter gear will probably cost more but you will be able to move faster and your body will thank you.
    I suggest keeping under 15 lbs total for this gear. I think my setup is under 13 lbs and I require long, large or extra large size gear.

    Stick to name brands that are known to make quality gear, especially with packs. If your pack fails, your trip is over.
    The best advice I can give for buying better gear at a decent price is to buy on the big sale weekends, Labor Day and Memorial Day. Also look for closeouts in the fall. I saved over $150 replacing most of my big 3 by being patient and that’s vs Amazon or ebay pricing, not retail.
    Sierra Trading post has some good deals but wait until you can combine multiple discounts off their newsletters.

    2 man tents are cramped for 2 so I purchase 3 man tents. There is a little more weight and bulk but you are splitting it between two people so it’s not such a big deal. For solo I use a bivy but some 2 person tents are even light enough to use these days. Eureka and Kelty make nice tents for the money without sacrificing quality, just watch that you pick one with aluminum poles as you suggest.. EMS, Big Agnes, Mountainsmith, The North Face, REI, Sierra Designs, etc… all make good tents.

    I *prefer* down sleeping bags. None of the synthetic bags I have owned lasted as long no matter how expensive they were or which synthetic fill they used. Down is also lighter and compresses better. I suggest the bags with water repellent down but you can wash in some water repellancy yourself. Expect at least 2-3 years of decent loft out of a synthetic bag kept packed in a stuff sack ready to go. Loft drops off after that. I have a down bag that is still going strong after 10+ years. If you go with down, get a dry sack to carry it in or you can use a trash bag around the factory stuff sack.

    Don’t skimp on your ground pad. Sleep is difficult enough in an unfamiliar environment and under stress without being uncomfortable on top of everything else.
    Closed Cell pads will keep you warm and provide some cushion but not a lot. I switched to self inflating pads long ago.
    I currently use a Therm-a-rest 40th anniversary model I purchased as a closeout but the Trail Scout you mention is certainly an excellent choice.
    You can occasionally find new military Therm-a-rest pads for under $25 if you look around. A major sporting goods chain had them last year for their labor day sale, I forget which one. They are a little heavier but due the job and you can’t beat the price.

    Your choice of stoves is fine. Noting is simpler than the propane/iso-butane cartridges and they never spill, but good luck finding fuel if you run out so make sure you won’t run out if you are delayed due to a sprained ankle.
    Gasoline is readily available and nothing comes close at high altitude or in the cold. I bring a siphon hose if I use a gas stove. I can always buy or beg some gas if I run out.
    I like solid fuel stoves as a backup. and the fuel is a good fire starter.
    Whatever stove you choose, buy a pot with a heat exchanger on the bottom, water will boil faster and your fuel will last longer.

    I like the greyman approach to packs. You fit into urban and suburban environments better than camo and camo is pretty specific to the environment and season anyway. Even with the perfect camo, movement will still give you away so it’s not some amazing invisibility cloak. You can always buy a camo rain fly to go on your pack if you really want it.

    You made some good pack recommendations but I would never buy a Teton. Too many reviews that talk about blown zippers or split seams on the first outing. Lack of reviews in backpacking magazines is another warning sign.

    In addition to packs you mention, Deuter makes excellent packs that are highly rated.
    The ACT Lite 65 + 10 is a solid, light pack with very adjustable suspension and it’s one of the most comfortable packs out there.
    The Kelty Lakota 65 is also an excellent choice and Backpacker rated the smaller sized version a killer deal.
    IMHO, the most comfortable packs out there in this class are Gregory, Deuter and Osprey. Reviews tend to back that up.
    I would not hesitate to purchase any of these brands or Arc’Teryx.
    I purchased an ACT Lite to shave off some pounds vs my old Dana Designs I bought 20+ years ago and it’s a great pack. I even bought one for my brother.

    If you need a big load hauler pack that will outlast you and weight/cost is no concern, Mystery Ranch makes the best packs there are. Their Terraplane is their most popular. The Terraplane weighs over 7lbs and it will set you back almost $500 but 65+lbs is no problem for this pack. As Backpacker said, it makes 75 lbs as comfortable as 75 lbs can feel.
    FWIW, Mystery Ranch is owned by the founder of Dana Designs and after owning one of those I wouldn’t chose any other pack for a big load.

  4. admin

    I agree with all that you say, thanks for the comment as long as the review BTW. I will say this about the Teton, 48 pounds over 60 miles with no issues. I use it quite often for here and there things as well. So far no problems. YES, it is made with less quality than my Kelty, Gregory, and even the surplus pack, BUT it has worked and been comfortable. I guess I’d have to add that folks should break them in to make sure they will work? Maybe I got lucky, I don’t know. I have a tent from them as well as the sleeping bag mentioned. The sleeping bag is a bit heavy at 4lbs, but it is as warm as my down bag. As I mentioned, I tried them out in my “budget bug out challenge”. If you are talking about the “big 3” from Teton, the 2 man tent, the pack, and the sleeping bag, they come in at 14.6lbs. More importantly for those who are just scraping by, the cost comes in at around $330. Thanks again for the well thought out reply!

  5. JamesD

    Maybe I’m too harsh on the Teton. If you get a good one you will probably be ok but I’m not a gambler, I’ve seen “budget” packs fail. I suppose it may be that the Teton is too close to the price of a better pack to overlook the potential problems.
    If I had bought the Keystone synthetic sleeping bag that was on sale at SAM’s Club last year and substituted it for my down bag my big 3 total would have been $11 cheaper than your budget combo. The deals I got might be difficult to match though.
    The Kelty Lakota 65 was on sale at Amazon for a few hours last year at the rock bottom price of $109 though most sellers listed $120 and on multiple occasions. If you have to return a defective Teton it will probably cost you over $15 shipping. Then how does the price compare to the Kelty?

    There are clones of the Kelty Coyote 80 for under $50 on ebay. If those are good, the risk of having to exchange a bad one might be worth it at that price.
    There is also a clone of my Deuter on ebay under the name TOFINE 65 for $120. That’s only $10 less than I paid for mine but that’s regular price, not a closeout. The Deuter adjusts to fit the broadest range of sizes of any pack I’ve looked at. If the TOFINE does the same it might be a good option for a growing teen if it’s well constructed.
    If anyone buys either one of these I’d love to hear about it. I’d like to make a loaner pack without spending a lot.

    Thanks for the great site and videos btw.

  6. Doug Reisinger

    My two cents for what it’s worth. I have a rechargeable flashlight that you crank to charge. It has an LED bulb. You crank it for a few minutes and the charge stays for days or weeks if not used. It’s made by LightGear

  7. Tracey

    Love the ideas, but was wondering what do you suggest to get two teen boys home from school in case of an earthquake, their school is between 30-45 miles from home, some of the things they obviously can’t have at school but was thinking along the lines of a cache close to the school they can access just in case. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated, you’ve given me quite a few good ideas thank you

  8. JamesD

    I didn’t find insect repellent on the list.
    BTW, Sierra Trading post has a bunch of packs on sale right now if you get their emails.

  9. JamesD

    Tracy, he will probably need to know where you are located, what are their skill levels (Never been camping or Eagle Scout?). At the very least the distance indicates an overnight stay. Water, food and protection from exposure.

  10. JamesD

    This is what I consider a budget pack.
    Jansport Klamath 65 on sale for $79.95 and it was a Backpacker Nov 2014 Gear Guide “BARGAIN PACK”.
    They also have other Jansport packs even cheaper.


    The review in BACKPACKER magazine:

  11. Penrod

    Hi Tracey, For teenagers -or pretty much anyone for that matter- who need to get home 30-45 miles after an earthquake, I’d seriously emphasize certain things: For each of them: Footwear is critical for that long a hike. Well broken in, but certainly not decrepit, walking/hiking boots which will let them go over rubble without twisting ankles. At least a couple pair of inner liner socks to help prevent blisters, and a couple pair of heavy wool over socks. Plenty of moleskin in the first aid kit, including small scissors to cut it. Rounded tip if this even might be stored at school.

    Enough duct tape to repair boots at least a couple times if a sole decides it wants to come off anyway. Of course it shouldn’t, but it happens. That is a good reason to keep their normal street shoes with them even if they put on the boots: Spares.

    Broad brimmed hat- not a baseball cap: ears and sides of head need shade. Sunscreen. Long sleeved shirt. Comfortable walking pants, maybe ideally with zip off legs.

    Since we are talking about an earthquake, a first aid kit designed for treating earthquake injuries. I’d expect cuts from glass, serious scrapes, possible broken bones. Of course some injuries would immobilize a person -broken leg for example, but a broken finger could be OK with a finger splint and tape, painkillers. You would have to figure out what kind of pain killers would be acceptable at school: Maybe none. A couple of Ace bandages or the self adhering ones. Triple anti-biotic ointment if allowed in school. Lotion/’butt butter’ for lubricating thighs, between toes, etc to prevent/treat rashes- they can be very seriously debilitating. Abrasion/damp rashes are nothing to pooh pooh on a long ‘must do’ hike. A QuickClot bandage and Israeli Battle dressing bandage. A sling or triangular bandage big enough to make one. Butterfly bandages. Disinfectant.

    Communications: If (!) they have cell phones they need batteries: The Rayovac 7-Hour Power Back Up for iPhones are good. They take 4 AA batteries, so some extra batteries.

    Water: More important than food over that distance. Hard to believe they can’t keep commercially bottled water in their lockers. They can drink as much as possible before leaving, and take more with them.

    Food: I’d consider ‘lifeboat rations’. They are cookie-like, packed for 5 year shelf life in heat and cold. Amazon carries several brands. One pack should be adequate for one person for two days, but should check. Here is one kind you can get on Amazon: ER Emergency Ration 3600+ Calorie, 5-Year Emergency Food Bar.

    Some cash in small bills: they might be able to buy water and food along the way, and possibly other supplies.

    Some things which rarely make the lists but worth considering in your kids situation: heavy leather gloves for moving rubble or climbing over rubble and fences. Heavy wire cutters might be useful, but probably not worth the weight. A light walking stick can help a lot in going over rubble from collapsed buildings.

    One thought: keep what they can at school, and only stash elsewhere what they can’t keep at school: meds, knives, pepper spray, whatever. Check local laws for how big a sheath knife a teenager can carry legally when away from school, and stay within the law.

    Conditions allowing, they might want to keep what they can at school, and a complete set elsewhere, because if they can’t get to their lockers, they may be able to get to their caches, or vice versa.

    Neither set of gear needs to be complete right away: get the most important stuff like water, footgear, hat, some first aid items, and then gradually add to them.

  12. ken

    based on my research Mchale has THE best packs IMO. the best hip belts for any load vs all other brands and all mchale packs are custom fitted. they are very expensive but ultra high quality. you would most likely pass them on to your children….

    you even get choice of fabrics.

    my only caution from my own research, is that their top durability fabric option: “spectra” / dyneema has been found to be not so good for health long term. (the fibers have a compound that is a known endocrine disruptor) but most synthetic material out there is not going to be super healthy long term anyway, especially these new fabrics.

    i would opt for a cordura fabric mchale pack. if you really want to go natural get hemp fabric and send it to them to make your custom pack. hemp is amazing but usually is best when mixed with other fibers, which can be purchased that way.

    i plan to save for a mchale pack

  13. uglykidmoe

    great article, glad i found your site! for my money an ALPS OutdoorZ Commander Freighter Frame Plus Pack Bag, 5250 Cubic Inches by ALPS Mountaineering is a much better deal than any on your list, cost is a hair over $100, larger capacity, will hold more weight, pull off the pack bag and it doubles as a freighter frame. with regards to the water filter, i’d stick with the sawyer mini and just pick up a couple of inline charcoal filters. otherwise, impressed!

  14. Kate

    All great advise. However, only one person above mentioned two critical items EVERY bug out bag should have. Moleskin and duck tape. You aren’t going to travel very far or fast if you can’t walk due to blisters. AND duck tape can sure come in handy for repairs of any kind. Also, for perspiration in private areas of the body, to keep from getting a rash, either a roll on deodorant or a tube of chafing relief powder gel can prevent sores and rashes that can be very painful and hard to get rid of. Think of a lot of walking and sweating. Also, one thing I didn’t see, was medicines. If you require daily medicines of any kind, store up to at least a weeks supply and preferable a month and put in a container that is water proof. Make sure you have them in your bug out bag ready to go. You can rotate them as you get new prescriptions.

  15. Francisco

    What about the NAR North America rescue Bags?

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