bug out bag mistakes

5 Dangerous Bug Out Bag Mistakes [Are You Making These?]

If you’re new to this site, a bug out bag (BOB for short) is one of the most important tools in the survivalist toolbox. In its simplest form, it is an assortment of survival gear and supplies that will allow the user to mitigate whatever life tosses their way. Each BOB is different and unique and the contents are dependent upon the user’s skill sets, experience, and area of operation.

While every BOB is different, there are a few bug out bag mistakes that are incredibly common and dangerous if left unchecked….

Most of these mistakes happen because the user is merely following instructions they found online without giving much thought as to the practical, real world applications. I’ve reviewed hundreds of lists of suggested BOB contents and I see these same mistakes repeated over and over.

Fortunately, they all have easy remedies.

So let’s dive right in…

Bug Out Bag Mistake #1 – Forgetting Water

If you want to ensure a quick death in a bug out scenario, forgetting water will quickly bring it to pass. The human body can survive, on average, for only about 3 days without water. There are several factors that come into play with determining that time frame, of course, such as climate, exertion levels, and the overall fitness of the person. But what it boils down to is you will most certainly die without sufficient and proper hydration.

That said, having access to clean, drinkable water, or carrying it in your bug out bag can be problematic. It’s very heavy and cannot be shrunk down in size. It is what it is. Keep in mind, 1 gallon of water weighs 8.34 pounds. While 1 or even 2 gallons is doable for many people to carry on their backs, beyond that is asking a lot, especially over longer distances.

The Solution

A good solution is a compromise between storing some water in your bug out bag and ensuring you have the means to filter or disinfect additional water you get from wild sources like streams and ponds.

I suggest carrying 2 containers, each 1L in size. Single wall stainless steel like the one made by Klean Cateen is best as you can boil water right in the container if need be. You’ll want 2 containers so you can carry untreated water in one and treated water in the other and thus always have H2O ready to drink and also avoid cross contamination.

Next, you need some means of filtration or disinfection. Sawyer brand products are great as they are relatively inexpensive and work amazingly well. Water purification tablets aren’t a bad addition to the kit but you need to watch the expiration dates. I recommend carrying a pre-filter, too, such as a simple coffee filter. Run the water through that first to remove sediment and debris. Doing this will help your filtration gear last longer.


Bug Out Bag Mistake #2 – Buying The Bug Out Bag Pack First

This is how it works for many people building their first bug out bag. They surf Amazon and other sites for a bit, then plunk their money down on a large pack that has some great reviews.

So far, so good, right?

The box arrives and “Joe Prepper” unpacks their new BOB. Ooh, ahh. He straps it on and adjusts all the buckles until it fits perfect. Then, he starts cramming in all of his assorted gear that he’s gathered from around the house.

When he’s done, he looks inside and, what do you know? There’s a bunch of empty space in there. Well, that just won’t do! So, he goes out and buys a bunch more stuff to fill the BOB. He finally gets it packed to the gills, then realizes he can hardly lift the darn thing, let alone carry it for any distance.

The Solution

The solution is to gather all of your BOB gear first, then shop for a pack or bag that will contain it all, with perhaps a little room to spare. Buying the bag first leads to a supposed need to fill it, usually with supplies that aren’t worth the weight they add to the equation.


Bug Out Bag Mistake #3 – Not Testing Your Bug Out Bag Gear

Smack dab in the middle of a disaster is the worst time to find out that the cool looking stove you bought last year needs to be assembled and the box appears to be missing a couple of pieces. Or that you’re missing the instruction sheet and have no clue how the water filter works.

That said, you should become very familiar with each and every item you put into your bug out bag.

The Solution

Some folks will buy duplicates of certain things, like water filters or knives. The first they will keep at home with their regular gear and the second will go into the BOB. The idea behind that is that the one in the BOB will be in perfect condition should an emergency arise. Not a bad plan, if you can afford it. Either way, make sure to take your gear out of the packages and play with it.

Actually use it and make sure it does what you want it to do.

You need to know how each item works and what the capabilities and limitations are. Know how to maintain the gear, too, including cleaning inside and out as required.


Bug Out Bag Mistake #4 – Too Much Gear in Your Bug Out Bag

Ounces add up to pounds and those lead to backaches. The lighter your bug out bag is, the easier you’ll find it to carry for long distances. Start with just the absolute bare essentials and work up from there. Do you really need 87 different knives? Probably not. If you end up truly needing 1,800 rounds of ammo for your 12 different handguns packed in the BOB, you likely have bigger problems than we can address here.

As the saying goes, “the more you know the less you need to carry.”

While true, there are some things that knowledge isn’t going to replace, such as an emergency blanket to ward off hypothermia. While it is certainly possible to make cordage from natural materials, doing so takes time. Typically, when I need cordage, I need it immediately, not an hour from now. Thankfully, paracord and bank line both weigh nearly nothing yet serve multiple purposes.

The Solution

The point here is to think long and hard before adding an item to your bug out bag.

Ask yourself, “Is it truly a necessity? Will it truly help me survive?”

[Read more about organizing your bug out bag here.]


Bug Out Bag Mistake #5 – Ignoring Your Feet

Even if you have a bug out vehicle that would make every 1980s action star drool, you should still plan to make your journey on foot. Prepare for the worst case scenario, right? One never knows what could happen during a bug out scenario, such as a vehicle breakdown or simply running out of fuel. Far better to plan to complete the journey using shank’s mare and be pleasantly surprised when you end up able to drive the entire route.

We tend to take our feet for granted.

After all, for most of us they have been reliably getting us from Point A to Point B ever since we took our first tottering steps across the living room floor. We only notice our feet when they give us trouble. As many have found, though, if you take care of your feet, they will take care of you.

The Solution

Include in your bug out bag at least a couple spare pairs of socks. They should be thick and cushioning. When traveling long distances on foot, change your socks at least daily, more often if they get wet. Rinse out the dirty pair, if possible, and hang them from your pack to dry as you travel.

In a pinch, a small piece of duct tape can be put over spots on the foot where blisters are forming, though moleskin can be a bit more comfortable. At the end of the day, take the time to clean and dry your feet.

Any footwear you plan to use during a bug out situation should be comfortable and not brand new. What I and others have done is periodically rotate the footwear as we buy new boots or hiking shoes. The new pairs goes on our feet, the old pair goes with the bug out bag. This way, the boots or shoes we wear bugging out will be worn in and likely won’t give us needless trouble.



Take the time to revisit your bug out bag and ensure you haven’t fallen victim to one or more of these common mistakes. Be glad and take advantage of the fact that you aren’t at present moment staring disaster in the face. Take the opportunity to correct and adjust your bug out bag, gear and plans accordingly. There are some great resources on this site that can help. So take a look around and learn something new. You’ll be glad you did.

Did we forget anything? What mistakes do you see new “preppers” often making when just getting started?

If you enjoyed this article and want more like it, let us know by sharing, liking, and commenting on this post. Have questions you need answered or have an idea of what we should cover next? Let us know in the comments below!

Need to get started but don’t know where to begin? Check out our really popular (and FREE!) bug out bag PDF checklist here.


About the Author

We are pleased and excited to welcome the highly esteemed Jim Cobb to Bug Out Bag Academy ranks. Jim is the owner and lead trainer for DisasterPrepConsultants.com. His seasoned experience and witty, well articulated articles on preparedness have been published in national magazines such as OFFGRID, American Survival Guide, Survivor’s Edge, and Boy’s Life. You can find him online at SurvivalWeekly.com.

His growing stack of accomplished books on emergency preparedness include Prepper’s Home Defense, Prepper’s Financial Guide, and Prepper’s Long-Term Survival Guide, among others. Jim lives in the Upper Midwest with his beautiful wife and their three adolescent weapons of mass destruction.

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  • Brian says:

    One small & light addition for your first aid kit or BOB for comfort is the little gadget they call a Mosquito Click, Mossie Zap or similar name.

    They are just a little plastic device with a piezo in it like the piezo gas ignitors. If you have a bite – mosquito, midge, fly, leach … or some type of itch including dermatitus or skin problem from some disease you just click the device on & around the area.

    It does a small zap through two electrodes on the bottom & it takes away the itch & reduces swelling. You may need to do several on & around the area & sometimes you may need to repeat it a few times.

    It really does work. My wife used to scratch herself raw but now this saves her.

    They are small & light, last just about forever & are only a couple of dollars on eBay.

    We are in a tropical area with enough mosquitos to carry you away, sand flies (midges), & then horse flies in summer so it isn’t just a “comfort” item for us. We gave one to our doctor when she went to New Guinea to do the Kokoda Trail & she found that it worked well on leaches too.

  • Donny says:

    Maybe a dumb question, if you had a choice to pick where (location) to go too now and live where would you go to ?
    Just a general area I.e. Vermont …Up state NY Just curious ..

  • seminolerick says:

    I have (3) bags… a ‘get home’ bag, always in vehicle for short trip emergencies, a (3) day pack , and a “never coming home”pack. Ea uniquely packed, with a few overlaps. The (2) largest are next to my front door. I also have a folding (2) wheel dolly in case I want all (3) bags w/ me. Make a bag contents list to aid you.

  • Dani Lee says:

    Would you recommend buying a ready made BOB? I have found several sites that offer Pre-made BOBs.

    • Andrew says:

      Hi, Dani. There are some good pre-made BOBs out there to choose from, but we recommend if you’re going this route to use them as a starting off point and then supplement gear or supplies as necessary based on your individual needs and potential emergency scenarios.

  • Back Woods says:

    Head net or mosquitos and black flies may just make you surrender to the invading aliens.

  • George Allen says:

    Good article. I’ve got a reasonably sized bag with enough for my wife and I to get by comfortably for a few days and longer if necessary. I’ve included a larger Suisse Army knife that includes some tools, a small but high quality EDC knife and a Gerber LM2 for hard work like chopping, batoning, etc. Don’t forget a small high quality sharpening stone. Additionally, a complete but small first aid kit that includes pain relief medicine, allergy medicine and, whatever you need daily. I include a suture kit and latex gloves also. Dryer lint mixed with Vaseline makes an unbelievable fire starter. Finally, I include some fish hooks, line and small sinker, needle and thread and, razor blades. Don’t forget drug store reading glasses if you need them.

  • Vic says:

    I am sorry I wanted to say something about Water Filters..

    Straw type filters are very popular.. they are small , light and cheap..

    The problem.. They are small light and cheap..and they only offer water when your near a source.

    You drink prodigious amounts of water when you are really pounding out the miles . On foot I have gone thru 3 gals in less than 24 hours. Actually 5 on other occasions but I wasn’t on foot at the time….

    Yeah I carried that 24 some pounds on my back along with my regular junk.,

    You need a quality Ceramic pump style water filtration system to produce that much water…

    You do not want contaminated water in any of your water containers. Tired, Dark whatever

    Mistakes happen you will wind up killing yourself.

    You do not want to get your mouth anywhere near a potentially contaminated water source. Hence my condemnation of the Water Straw Idea..

    Dysentery from any source is a bitch and if your alone perhaps even if your not and your not near a source of near unlimited cool clean water and some effective treatment… Dysentery will very likely kill you deader than a hammer.

  • Vic says:

    Attach your boots to your BOB… so they are not separated when you need them.

    At min keep 3 pair of well used wool blend (grey or green) socks (Never Cotton or those white Sports Tube Socks Cotton blend is near worthless in this situation)

    Vacuum packed and in your ruck… So you really wind up with 4 (The ones your wearing when things start)

    For the 3…One on your feet, one in your ruck and one pair drying on the back of your ruck (Except during monsoon season)..

    40+ years ago I learned to add a pair of VC Tennis Shoes .. simple flat bottomed canvas shoes. Today you can get elastic swimming shoes (They will stop “Elasticizing”? in a year sitting unused in a warm place), Water sandals with adjustable straps…there are many options.

    (Just keep em light)

    You can in a pinch keep moving depending upon terrain.. I prefer sandals today for the benefit of drying my feet especially around camp..

    Your call

    BTW related to this issue nothing feels so good after a long days slog than taking off your boots and putting on a pair of sandals with or without your socks on.. And you can still move around.

    Lots of Lucks

    • Debita says:

      Crocs at the day’s end are also a comfy light option.

  • Dusty says:

    Solid advice and certainly well written. Totally forgot the feet, stupid mistake. Thanks for the reminder!

    • Andrew says:

      Thanks, Dusty. It’s surprisingly easy to do (forgetting the feet), and you’re very welcome!

  • Michael dalessandro says:

    Excellent article! Very informative and direct!! This should be required reading!

    • Andrew says:

      Thanks, Michael! So glad you liked it. We’re hoping Jim will become more of a regular around here… Feel free to share with everyone you know.

  • Brandon says:

    Oops I. Bought the BOB first based on the reviews. I’m a beginner. I am using the checklist from you guys so it is filling up nicely. Trying to keep things in it that I absolutely need.

    • Andrew says:

      It’s all good, Brandon. Which bag did you get? Just knowing overfilling the bag is a real possibility and something to avoid will keep you in check. Heck, the fact you even have a bag to fill puts you ahead of 99.9% of the population, so don’t get down on yourself. 🙂 Glad to hear the list is working well for you! Thanks for letting us know!

  • PF Flyer says:

    Remember the Air Force posters bragging about what each plane could carry? It would be a shot from a crane and have all the ordnance that plane could carry. Yet hardly ever did they say the plane couldn’t carry all of it at one time. That’s what I get from all these BOB scenarios. By the time I pack everything that every expert tells me to pack, it would take a full size pick up to carry it all. Yet interesting none the less. Keep pitchin.

    • Andrew says:

      Ha! Thanks for commenting. Did you skim the article by chance? We try to encourage people to do exactly the opposite of what you’re saying here! And I know Jim is a strong proponent of “less is more” as well. 🙂