Bugging Out Basics: Choosing the Right Bag For You
A Bug Out Bag (also known as a bug out backpack), is meant to hold all of the items you need to survive in a situation where “bugging out,” or leaving your home for an undetermined period of time is the only option.
While we all have the tendency to hoard survival items that load our BOB down, this is not the point. A Bug Out Bag that’s too heavy is a liability and could impede your ability to survive. It could cause injury (think of all that weight on your back) and slow you down. Not good if, for example, you’re heading for higher ground in the event of a flood.
BUG OUT BAGS COMPARED TO OTHER SURVIVAL BAGS
A Bug Out Bag is often mentioned in the same breath as a “Get Home Bag” or a “72-hour bag.” There are, however, a few key differences worth noting. A Get Home Bag is intended to be used to get home if there’s a disaster while you’re away from home. A 72-hour bag will help you survive up to three days away from home. These three kinds of bags serve different purposes and, although some of the essential items will be the same (water or water purifier, military-grade flashlight, first aid kit, multi-purpose tool, 550 paracord, etc.), many will be different depending on your unique situation.
Meanwhile, “Go Bags,” also called “Grab and Go Bags,” typically serve as an extension of the kit you’re carrying on your body (perhaps in a tactical vest). These bags are for those times you need to get out quickly (for example, during a fire), but they won’t do much for you in terms of longer term survival or when bugging out for an extended period of time.
Then there’s your Everyday Carry, which may not require a bag at all. At a minimum, an EDC can be as simple as “phone, cash, keys, pocket knife and a lighter.”
You can use the information in this post as a guideline for choosing just about any survival bag. The two deciding factors are what the bag will carry and how far you might need to travel on foot.
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HOW TO CHOOSE A BAG FOR BUGGING OUT
The two main options for a Bug Out Bag are a tactical backpack and a hiking backpack. While a tactical backpack may be more practical, a hiking backpack is less conspicuous when bugging out. If you live in a heavily populated area during an emergency and you look like you know what you’re doing, you may be targeted by others who are
under… unprepared. Carrying a tactical backpack could be a visual clue that you’d rather not provide.
Style-wise, Go Bags tend to be sling packs or messenger bags that can fit easily under the seat or in the nooks of your vehicle. Everyone should have a Go Bag in the event of storms, house fires, or other similar events. The important thing to focus on with these is ease of mobility.
EDC kits, depending on your personal needs, are sometimes small enough to fit in your pockets (although there are some great EDC packs out there). If you decide on using a bag for your EDC, optimize for compactness and weight.
There are several considerations to keep in mind while shopping for any of these bags. The first step is deciding what you’re going to pack before buying the bag. That, of course, depends on the role it will fill. Thinking about the contents beforehand will help you evaluate the size and number of compartments you need. (Organization is crucial when bugging out. See our post on how to organize your bug out bag.)
BUG OUT BAG FIT
Especially for BOBs, an important thing to consider is the fit of the bag. If your bag is too big (or too small) for your body, you will be uncomfortable and could end up injuring yourself. In finding the right size pack, you should measure your body from your neck to your hipbone.
If you are unsure about sizing, one tip that often is overlooked is to simply call the manufacturer for advice. They are usually willing to help you figure out what would work best for your body type and fitness level. EDC bags should be especially convenient and comfortable as they’ll be with you at all times and not just when bugging out (remember, it does you no good if you leave it at home).
BUG OUT BAG WEIGHT
Take a look at this size/weight chart to determine what your bug out bag should weigh (the chart is about halfway down the page). That said, you should take the empty weight of the bag into account. Although a bag may only weigh a couple of pounds, that adds up when you consider all the supplies you’ll be carrying. Look for a bag made of light, but strong if possible, fire retardant material.
Naturally, a BOB, Get Home Bag, or 72-Hour Bag is going to weigh a lot more than a simple Go Bag. Again, think about what you are going to be carrying when bugging out. The items you might want to keep in your Go Bag include cash, important documents, and the like. Anything larger and heavier than a messenger bag is probably overkill. An EDC pack should be light enough so that it doesn’t interfere with your everyday activities.
BUG OUT BAG FEATURES
Any Bug Out Bag you choose needs to be durable and made of strong material. You don’t want it to tear when you’re faced with bugging out in an emergency. In a true-to-life emergency situation, the last thing you want to worry about is your gear failing you. Zippers need to remain functional and seams need to hold fast. Check for at least double-bar stitching to ensure quality. It should also be intelligently-designed so you can access your gear quickly and easily.
There are also a few other features you should look for, such as:
- Compression straps so your load doesn’t shift
- Hydration tube and water bladder
- Top lid for protection from the rain
- MOLLE system (Modular Light-Weight Load-carrying Equipment) for hooking smaller pouches onto the outside of the pack
- Hip belt pockets
- Water bottle pocket
- Dedicated sleeping bag compartment
When shopping for your BOB, consider the padding on the shoulder straps. This is where the brunt of the bag’s weight will rest. You’ll want the back part of your bag to be padded as well. Foam padding can wear out, but many of the new gel padding products are great. Also, look for a hip strap (so the pack doesn’t shift while you’re walking or hiking) and a chest or sternum strap for additional stability.
Go Bags and EDC packs should be well-constructed, but chances are you won’t be taking them into the wilderness when bugging out. Optimize for organization and speed of access. A great Go Bag will have enough compartments to keep the contents tidy, but not so many that they’ll be a hindrance if you need to get to them quickly.
One other feature you might look for in an EDC pack is space to store a personal defense weapon or spare mags/ammo. Ensure the design of the bag is such that these items are well concealed but yet within easy reach.
COLORS FOR BUGGING OUT
For BOBs, the name of the game here is “inconspicuous.” You do not want to draw attention to yourself when bugging out if at all possible. If you live in a rural area, consider camouflage, khaki, olive, or brown. If you live in an urban area, you want your pack to look like everyone else’s, preferably like an ordinary backpack.
Color isn’t usually as much of an issue for go bags, but with EDCs, it’s always a good idea to stay under the radar by sticking to black, dark green, or brown. As mentioned elsewhere on this site, if you wish to downplay your tactical looking BOB, you may also look to add a plain, neutral colored rain cover to conceal what you’re packing underneath.
OTHER CONSIDERATIONS WHEN BUGGING OUT
Another thing you should consider when shopping for a bug out bag is whether the material is breathable. It can get awfully hot having a heavy pack on your back. Also, make sure that any bag you buy is waterproof to prevent rain or snow from damaging the contents inside.
If you need a bag that will hold enough supplies to keep you alive for days in an emergency, a well thought out Bug Out Bag can’t be beat. However, there are times when just need to get out of the house in a hurry, in which case you’ll be glad to have a simpler Go Bag ready. For EDC packs, strike a balance between comfort and utility. Ideally, you’ll have a different bag for each of these situations.
Whatever style of bag you choose, make sure to take it on test runs on a regular basis. Yes, practice bugging out when you can. An emergency is not the time to realize that your Bug Out Bag, which could help save your life, is too heavy or uncomfortable for you to carry!
Need helping choosing the bag that’s right for you? Check out some of our recommended bags below:
The preceding article was a guest post collaboration courtesy of Angelica Garcia. Angelica is passionate about educating herself and others in the area of emergency preparedness in her spare time when she is not attending university.
If you enjoyed this article, please let us know in the comments below and give Angelica some love for taking the time to share what she has learned with us.
Image credit via Flicker Creative Commons: Bureau of Land Management