Choosing an Emergency Survival Kit or Bug Out Bag

This Article Was Written by Patrick Blair, Contributor at Living Rational.

Preppers all over the world have been packing their bug-out bags for years now. Any kind of emergency supplies that can be carefully loaded into a backpack is ready to grab at a moment’s notice. No matter what you call it (Bug-Out Bag, 72-hour Kit, “Get Out Of Dodge” (GOOD) Bag, “I’m Not Coming Home” (INCH) Bag) the purpose of an emergency kit is to make sure that whether you are trying to get home or get to another safe location, you have supplies with you to ensure your survival.

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Why You Need a Survival Kit

The term “bug-out” was most likely started back during the end of World War II (which was around 1945). The term was actually coined during the Korean War (1950-1953). It is the short way of saying “pack up everything you have and move it from where you are to a safer location.” Anybody that has ever watched the television show “M*A*S*H” has heard the term used a few times, and subsequently, the entire camp is torn down and moved.

Today, preppers and survivalists use the same term to describe what they feel they may have to do if some form of SHTF disaster hits their local area. That disaster could be naturally occurring (i.e. hurricane, flood, wildfires, tornado) or it could be man-made (war, riots, potential home invasion), but either way, it creates a situation where it is unsafe for you to remain in your own home.

A moment of panic hits when some sort of emergency strikes that can almost freeze you in your tracks — whether you think you are prepared for it or not. The best possible thing you can do is to have a plan in place that will help you do what you need to do without thinking about what steps to take.

What Should Be In Your Bug Out Bag

The first step in your emergency plan should be to pack a survival kit or bug out bag. You want a lightweight bag that you can easily throw on your back and carry. It should have a variety of items inside geared toward keeping you alive, intact, and in reasonable health as you journey toward safety.

Shelter-Related Supplies

Having some form of shelter is one of the most important things to consider when you are on the move. The SHTF scenario you are in will determine how your shelter should be set up and what can be used to make it. If you always have things like survival blankets, waterproof ponchos, lightweight tents, tarps and some kind of cordage in your pack, building shelter will be much easier. When you need to build a survival shelter, you will have a good base, or you can use the items for a quick throw-together tent.

How to Build a Shelter

String the rope between two trees, throw the tent over it, use the tarp as a floor, and cover up with the emergency blankets. If it is extra cold and wet out, you can build a bushcraft shelter out of downed trees, limbs and branches in an A-frame style. Then, use the tent and ponchos to cover the A-frame, shingle branches with leaves up the sides of the structure so it provides insulation and waterproofing. You will stay dry and warm inside. Using the reflective side of your emergency blanket(s) will also reflect heat from a fire down onto you as you sleep (and will also help reflect and retain your own body heat).

Water-Related Supplies

While it has been said in the “Survival Rule of Three” that you can survive three days without water, it is definitely not the most desirable situation to be in. Lack of water leads to dehydration, which can eventually lead to death if not controlled. If you are in a survival situation and aren’t taking in water, you are probably going to dehydrate much faster than if you are just sitting around doing nothing without drinking water. You are on the move, getting to where you need to go, and water is an important thing to have.

Having Pouched Water

Keeping water packets in your emergency kit will assure you have some water while you are bugging out. Once that supply runs out, you will need to know how to locate, collect and properly purify water from other sources. Water purification tablets will help a great deal with clearing up water from a sketchy source, but I would still recommend you boil the water, too — better safe than sorry.

Food Related Supplies

When you are on the move, food is of great concern. The more calories you burn hiking, building shelter and doing whatever it takes to stay alive, the more food you will need to consume to replace those spent calories. In lieu of food, your body will actually start to consume itself. It will break down fat reserves, and even start eating away your muscles. Your bones will eventually become weak, making the possibility of breaking a limb much easier than it usually would be.

Learning to Trap and Forage for Food

Learning to trap small game, hunt, fish and forage for wild edibles will help to keep you nourished, but in times where there are no animals or even any edible plants readily available, it is wise for you to carry food bars in your pack — something to offer an instant boost of energy and replace a few calories.

First-Aid Supplies

Even small boo-boos can become major medical issues if they are not dealt with immediately and properly. Should infection set in, not only would the wound get worse, but your overall general health could very well be at risk, too.

Packing a first-aid kit will ensure you have plenty of supplies with which to deal with minor cuts, scrapes, and even severed limbs and deep wounds. A suture kit should also be added directly to the first-aid kit aside from any other sewing items — if you do have a gaping wound, you’ll want to pack that off and sew it up.

Hygiene-Related Supplies

As with lack of first-aid, poor hygiene can lead to severe infection, major sickness and even death. Items like toothbrushes, toothpaste, waste bags, and soap should be added to your bug-out checklist so you can continue to stay as clean as possible. Just imagine not having a bathroom in your home. How would you deal with those everyday tasks that get done in there? Those are the kinds of things you will encounter in a SHTF bug-out situation.

Tools and other Equipment

Tools may seem like a luxury when you are on the move, but when you start to think about building your shelter and other tasks, they go from “luxury” to “necessity”. You can make your own tools using bushcraft skills, but you should also pack a few items in your bug-out kit.

Small pry bars, knives and duct tape are perfect items to carry with you. When cutting firewood, erecting a shelter and other odd tasks, these tools will come in very handy. A good pair of work gloves will also save your hands from blisters, burrs and splinters — things you are bound to encounter while working in the wilderness. Sewing kits are also good tools to include because you never know when your Scooby Doo underwear will rip. Nobody likes ripped Scooby Doo drawers!

Other Types of Survival Kits

Maybe you need specific kits for specific purposes. It might be a good idea to pack a second bag to have ready in case your particular brand of emergency were to strike.

Vehicle Survival Kit

If you are ever stranded somewhere in your car, like on the interstate during a snow storm or even if your car breaks down on the side of the road, you may need more than just the standard “emergency” kit can provide. Always keep a vehicle survival kit in your trunk, the toolbox of your truck, or in the back of your van somewhere so you can get to it when you need it.

Fix-a-flat, tow ropes, and jumper cables may help you get going in the right direction. Reflective triangles will mark your position from a distance so on-coming cars will see you before they get to where you are — this is helpful for assistance vehicles to find you and passing traffic to keep from hitting you.

If you can’t seem to get moving again, items like wool blankets, a compact shovel tool and a portable stove will help you survive until assistance arrives. Additional items such as body warmers will make you a bit more cozy, as well.

Classroom Lockdown Kit

There have been cases where schools have had to house students overnight because the school system was too slow in calling off school and putting kids on buses. These cases were extreme, but they have happened. The bad part is, teachers and school administrators were caught unprepared for such events.

If each teacher had some sort of kit in their classroom, it would make things much better for them and for the students. Lots of food bars, water pouches and hygiene supplies will make life a little easier for the kids and the adults. Playing cards will be a good distraction for the children too. Once they are packed in for the night, the adults can play card games, as well.

Blackout Kit

In the event the power goes out and you have no light, you will need items that can help to keep you out of the dark. These are items that supplement your regular emergency kit or that may be incorporated into it.

Flashlights are important, but batteries often run down quickly (and at the most inopportune times) when you are using the light all the time. Instead, pack some rechargeable squeeze flashlights. These have tiny little generators inside the case that will provide a charge to the batteries every time you squeeze the handle. The more you squeeze, the longer the batteries will last. The longer the batteries last, of course, the longer you will have light due to your blackout kit.

If the power is out, not only will you not have light, you also will not have access to any vital mass communications through television and the internet. Packing an emergency radio in your survival kit will help you stay informed about the situation and how to best be prepared for what is coming next. While emergency radios are battery powered, they also have hand cranks on them to allow you to recharge them.

Pet Survival Kit

If you are not a pet owner, you might actually laugh at this one, but people that have cats and dogs often think of them as part of the family. They are just as important as any other member of the family, and as such, they need survival gear, too.

Your pet will need some emergency food and water as well as bowls to put them in. An extra collar and leash would be helpful in case you forget to bring the main ones with you. You might need a metal tie down spike and some nylon rope so your pet doesn’t wander off too far, too.

How to Pack Your Emergency Kit

When you are packing your bug-out bag, be sure you take into consideration the number of people that may be with you in your group. While 2-person and 4-person kits may take care of a small family, if you have a large number of people in your survival group, you may need a kit big enough for 10 people or more. In fact, you might want multiple kits. If you are planning to bug-out with a group, you could decide who carries what packs. Assign one person to carry the food, one to carry the first aid supplies, and so on.

Center of Gravity Rule

As you begin to pack your equipment into your backpack or emergency kit, be sure to put the heavy stuff closest to your back so it lines up better with your own center of gravity. This will make sure you are not causing undue strain on your muscles as you carry your gear.

Keep Important Supplies on Top

Your most frequently used equipment is best packed last so it is easier to get to when you need it. Things like your first-aid kit and water pouches will need to be near the top. You might even want to put them into separate compartments on the outside of your bag for quick access.

Other items like your tent and tarps can be rolled and tied to the bottom of the pack leaving you more room inside for the smaller stuff. Lay your tarp out flat, then lay your tent out flat on top of that. Fold the two together until the overall width is about that of your bug-out bag. Start rolling them from one end to form a tight roll. Using some 550 paracord or thin nylon rope, tie the roll to keep it from unrolling, then tie that to the bottom of your bag.

Folding Items

If you have things like ponchos and emergency blankets, be sure you keep them folded flat so they take up less space. You can package those inside of zipper bags so they don’t unfold and take up more room than they should. Be sure to squeeze the air out of the bag before you seal it, otherwise you will basically be carrying around an air pillow that takes up more space than it should.

Keep it Organized and Dry

If you have a vacuum sealer, try grouping items together and sealing them off. This will do a couple of things to help. It will put like items in the same place; like candles and matches, so you don’t have to search through the whole bag to get everything together when you need it the most. It will also waterproof the items inside.

If you’re in the rain, or your gear falls into a body of water, whatever is inside will surely get wet. If you have items stored in plastic bags or vacuum sealed, they will remain dry. If some of your items get used, be sure to pack things back into new plastic wrap and bags when things have cleared up and you are back in a safe place.