Emergency Preparedness and Bug Out Bags: 17 FAQs from Atlas Obscura

Recently we were approached by the lovely Lauren Young, a writer at popular online travel blog, Atlas Obscura. She wanted to know if we’d be willing to “talk shop” and do an interview for her readers on the importance of bug out bags and emergency preparedness for the common person…

Of course we said yes.

And while our answers to her probing questions far exceeded the space, and time permitted for her article (you can read her condensed writeup here), we thought you’d like to see the unabridged version. So we’ve posted it below for your complete enjoyment.

Hopefully you’ll learn something new and find it a good use of your time, and perhaps have a few chuckles in the process.

So without further adieu. Let’s get into it…


What is your background in emergency preparedness?

We started Bug Out Bag Academy out of what we felt was a sense of duty to the emergency preparedness community.

We saw that there was a LOT of information online about emergency preparedness, and quite frankly some of it was dangerously misinformed. A lot of the information was also based around a “doom and gloom” mentality that the world was coming to an end (like, tomorrow) and it was only a matter of time before a zombie apocalypse (or something like it) was going to threaten our way of life as we know it.

While I’m certain people can make strong cases for either scenario, we like to approach emergency preparedness from more of a calm and level-headed awareness that yes, disasters happen, both natural and man-made. But there are also things we can do to position ourselves and the ones we love to have the best chance of coming out alive on the other side when the dust has settled.


Just so our readers our clear, bug out bags are not survival kits for the zombie apocalypse, but rather packs for a natural disaster correct? Can you give some situations a bug out bag would come in handy.

(Laughs) Yeah, all conspiracy theories aside, traditionally bug out bags are intended to be a 72 hour survival kit of sorts that you can take with you when you are escaping danger or waiting for rescue crews to arrive.

Whether the disaster be natural or man-made, we firmly believe that it’s only prudent for everyone to have a well equipped bug out bag just in case. During a disaster scenario, every minute of every hour counts. Since the contents of a well thought out and planned bug out bag are intended to help keep you alive for at least 72 hours (generally speaking, the human body can only survive without water for 72 hours), having one of these on hand could mean the difference between thriving versus barely surviving.


What are the origins of the “bug out bag?” Historically, do you know what some of the first bug out bags contained?

If my memory serves me correct, the origin of the “bug out bag” comes from what is known as a “bail-out-bag” used by aviators in the military. This kit held several items critical to survival in the event they were shot down or experienced engine failure. One of the items that harkens back to this time period that we still recommend to carry in your BOB is silver or gold bullion. It was common in WWII for pilots to carry some of this universal currency in their bail out bag and as far as I know, military aviators still carry them to this day.


With advances in technology, how have contents in bug out bags changed since say, Y2K?

The contents of bug out bags haven’t changed that much over the years as there are a few crucial items or staples, if you will, needed for short term survival. If anything, technology has just made these items better. The good news is, items that once were heavier and perhaps single-purpose are now being made out of lighter, more durable materials and serve multiple purposes. This improves the carrying capacity of your bug out bag as well as reduces the overall weight.


How much of a bug out bag should be pre-packed before an emergency?

In a true emergency scenario where a bug out bag would be necessary, it is of utmost importance to be able to just grab the bag and go. Every minute counts, so it is ideal to have everything ready before disaster strikes.

A common practice, and one we recommend as well, is to do a review of your bug out bag at least every six months to rotate out perishables such as food and water stores, as well as make sure your clothing is season appropriate for the coming months.


What kind of research/reviews/education do you do before making recommendations for bug out bags on your site?

We believe in strength in numbers here at Bug Out Bag Academy and that as an “industry” we’re all in this together. There are a great number of seasoned experts that specialize in survival and emergency preparedness related training and resources that give freely of their knowledge and expertise.

That said, like many of these experts, we also do our own field tests for quality, reliability and durability and then check to make sure that our observations are consistent with other experts and that we haven’t overlooked anything.


I read over your list which was very helpful. What was BOBA’s “philosophy” or approach when designing this list?

Thanks, we try to be a reliable resource for anyone regardless of whether they’re an experienced “prepper” or just starting out and dipping their big toe in the water to test the temperature.

A popular mantra that is commonly heard when in emergency preparedness and survival communities online is, “Prepare for the worst. Hope for the best.” We have adopted that as our own philosophy as well.

It’s our mission to help people prepare both physically and mentally for if and when disaster strikes. Our list, while not entirely exhaustive of all possible needs or scenarios, tries to serve as a guide and highlight the most common items that one may find themselves needing in an emergency.


In the comment section, some people mentioned that as they continued to add items, the bag got very heavy. What would you say are absolutely mandatory items people should have in their bags?

Yeah, we get that a lot… Perhaps we should shorten up our articles so people don’t skim past the important stuff! (Laughs)

In all seriousness though, it’s important to reiterate, which we try to mention on our site when we can, that the list is to serve as a “guide” and not the “end all, be all” list for your every potential need.

Putting together a bug out bag that is suitable to your needs and emergency preparedness situations that could arise are going to vary depending on your own skills, knowledge, geographic location, whether you are in an urban or rural setting, etc.

Unfortunately, compiling a bug out bag isn’t as easy as pushing a button and “poof,” there it is. We wish it was, but that’s just not practical given all the unique variables to an individual’s situation.

If someone is just getting started, it can be very overwhelming when looking at various sites and recommendations online. In these cases, our list of bug out bag essentials should serve as a good starting point.


There was also some interesting comments about having “non-lubricated condoms,” and multiple uses of them. Can you provide some examples?

Ah yes…the non-lubricated condoms. You wouldn’t believe some of the comments we didn’t approve for viewing by the general public! Let’s go ahead and clear up some confusion that I can already foresee from someone reading this.

There are a number of practical uses for non lubricated condoms since they are so durable, such as: a muzzle cover for your firearm to prevent debris from getting in the barrel, can keep fire tinder dry, can double as a water container, repurpose as twine…the list goes on and on.

As mentioned earlier, items like this that can serve multiple purposes in your bug out bag are great to help reduce weight and bulk.


It’s also noted in the list that self-defense is a controversial topic among survivalism bug out guides. Why is that?

There are several schools of thought on self-defense when it comes to whether one should carry a gun for protection. While we think a critical element to any bug out bag is the personal ability to defend yourself and hunt for food if need be, we leave that up to the individual to decide.

We say this because not everyone is sufficiently trained to properly handle and use a firearm, nor defend themselves. In these cases, a deadly weapon intended for self defense may actually be used against them instead.

The reality is that in bad times of desperation people do wicked things. Suddenly your preparations will be highly coveted by others who don’t have what you have.

Knowing how to defend yourself and having the means to do so will only help your chances. Just like a bug out bag, a weapon will not protect you, unless you know how to properly use it.


What are some other controversial or high debatable items/components of bug out bags among survivalist blogs/groups?

You mean, other than the non-lubricated condoms? (Laughs) If you dig deep enough, you’d probably find an expert, self-proclaimed or otherwise, that could disagree with any aspect. That’s just the nature of the beast.

Everyone’s situation is unique and their viewpoints are often skewed toward what they experience and already know. Some people have strong opinions about whether it’s best to bug in or bug out, how best to bug out as a family, others about the importance of fitness, etc.


Are there different philosophies and rivalries among survivalist groups and blogs? Can you describe why some of these disagreements have emerged?

I think a key distinction I’d like to highlight here is that there are good, quality products that will serve their purpose well in your time of need and then there are cheaply made products that break easily and are scarily unreliable.

Sadly, there’s a lot of junk out there being pushed by people looking to make a quick buck. But thankfully, there are many individuals that truly care about the health, safety and welfare of their followers and seek to equip them as best as possible with tried and tested equipment and knowledge that won’t fail them when they need it most.


Do you have guides or lists for women as well? If not could you point out a resource for women who want to prepare a bag?

For the most part, all of the items we recommend in our list are entirely relevant to both genders, although we know that there are some obvious missing pieces pertaining to women in particular. We’ve considered providing a similar resource for women, but this certainly isn’t our area of strength and it would be a grave error for us to try and pretend we know women’s needs as well as they do. That said, we’d be glad to partner up with an expert in this area to help fill in the blanks for our female readers.


What are the biggest misconceptions about bug out bags?

The biggest misconception about bug out bags has to be that the bag and it’s contents will, in and of themselves, keep you alive. Nothing could be further from the truth. We stress that it’s extremely important to practice hauling your pack and using its contents on a regular basis so that you get comfortable with your gear and know how to use it. It’s important to note that in a highly stressful situation such as a natural disaster, your wits are going to be in short supply, especially if you are inexperienced or unprepared.


There is a lot of information online about creating bug out bags. What is the best thing people should keep in mind as they navigate discussions and sources?

Nothing beats hands-on experience and knowledge to overcome the odds. Find a trustworthy group of fellow enthusiasts, whether it be local or online and learn from those that have put in the time and effort to prepare themselves and are willing to teach others how to do the same.


Why is it important for people to know how to create a bug out bag and emergency preparedness?

I would say to someone, if you don’t see why knowing about emergency preparedness is a good idea, just turn on the TV and watch the nightly news. The reality is, disaster can strike at anytime and knowing what to do and how to respond in that time of emergency could mean the difference between life and death. I wish that didn’t sound so gloomy, but the flip-side of that coin is having preparations like bug out bags can give us much needed hope and assurance in a time of chaos. Level heads prevail in times of calamity.


Any other last tips or comments you’d like to add?

If this article has helped you understand the importance of being prepared for worst, but in the meantime, hoping for the best, don’t buy into the current hype and those that try to use your fear to get to your wallet.

If you’d like to learn more, check us out at Bug Out Bag Academy where you can read all about how to choose a bug out bag, what to put in it, how to organize it, and more. We even have a free bug out bag checklist you can download to help you get started.

Thanks, Lauren for taking the time to make your readers aware of the importance of emergency preparedness. We really appreciate it.

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  • Paula Johnson says:

    Hello in my car and truck I keep a very bright table cloth (Dollar
    tree). in winter if stranded throw over top of car and heli and planes and see. and good for laying on ground so you don’t get dirty. Always carry BRIGHT COLORS.

  • Steve says:

    I already have an Osprey backpack and Northface, but just want to buy a pre packaged kit for family of 5 without bag? Where can I purchase just the contents?

  • PF Flyer says:

    Great article. Some I’ve done and some not. One item I’ve discarded is the condom. Try all the hacks they say to use a condom for and you’ll be like me and seek other alternatives. The worst is for water. Try it.