How to choose the right bug out bag

How to Choose the Best Bug Out Bag for You

The best bug out bag there is, is one that is accessible and lightweight and tailored to suit your individual needs. Many people automatically assume that if a crisis ensues, they’ll be able to get far away from the scene easily by car.

In a true “bug out” situation though, you can’t rely on roads to get you where you need to go. That’s where everyone else will be, causing all sorts of traffic jams and mayhem.

Simply recall the news clips portraying miles and miles of backlogged cars at the gas stations and on the highways around the time of Hurricane Katrina.

We have done the searching so you don’t have to. Click to see the best bug out bags we know of.


Hoofing It To Safety

Your legs are the most reliable form of transportation you have in a time of crisis. Because of this, it is important to choose the best bug out bag – one that is comfortable and lightweight.

Soldiers are conditioned to carry as much as 70 pounds on their back for 10+ miles. I know I couldn’t do that, and I’m guessing you can’t either. If you can, then more power to you! But for us normal folk, the weight of our bug out bags is critical to surviving a life-threatening scenario.


Give Your Bag Some Personality

I’ve mentioned before that in order for your bug out bag to be the best, it should be very personalized according to your life situation. Your bug out bag will very likely have several items that another person’s might not. For this reason, it is crucial you get a bag that “fits” your specific needs.

Most people build a bug out bag starting with a backpack like this. There are dozens of types to choose from that come in various sizes. A good test to determine the right size for you is to determine the weight you will be carrying. If you can carry it while hiking for an hour or more, you should be okay. Most likely this test alone will have you re-evaluating what are necessities versus what we call “like to haves.”

We’ve included our best bug out bag list below which have all been reviewed and approved by a survival expert. Again, these are just guidelines, but any of these will do great for a custom bug out bag. Find the one that works for you.

As you can see from the backpacks below, we have selected ones that have plenty of padding along the straps and belt-line. We have also tried to take into consideration people of different sizes and build as well. Again, we stress, you will want to make sure your bug out bag is as comfortable to wear for long periods of time as possible. This might mean a little more money, but trust us, it’s worth it.


Get A Bag With Space

You can almost never have enough places to store your gear. The more pockets, zippers, loops and straps you have on your bug out bag, the more organized you’ll be. In a severe emergency, organization can mean the difference between life and death.

Aside from comfort and fit, the most important consideration when choosing the best bug out bag is the space provided and the number of compartments. You can almost never have enough places to store your gear. The more pockets, zippers, loops and straps you have on your bug out bag, the more organized you’ll be. In a severe emergency, organization can mean the difference between life and death. At a moment’s notice, you want to be able to access the gear you need when you need it. We’ll go into this in more depth later on.

Avoid Drawing Attention

The last consideration you’ll want to factor into choosing your best bug out bag is the appearance and color.

If you are planning for the most common of emergencies this might not matter much in the grander scheme, however, if you’re planning for a SHTF scenario, appearance and color could matter indeed.

At first, you may be tempted to choose a military-style backpack because you can get one from the surplus store for relatively cheap and it would most likely have everything you need in regards to space and compartments, etc. However, in extreme scenarios, one of the keys to a successful bug out bag is…that it doesn’t look like one.

Confusing, right?

But it makes sense if you think about it. In an *extreme* bug out scenario, you don’t want to look like you’re bugging out! Otherwise, other people may take notice and want what you have. There’s no telling what people will do in times of desperation. For this reason, you may want to blend in with your surroundings the best you can and choose your bug out bag accordingly.

Keeping a low profile could be a critical key to survival post-disaster, so think about how you can best blend in to your particular surroundings if the situation calls for it.

Consider using a concealed tactical vest to hold the most critical items. This way if you should ever be separated from your bug out bag for whatever reason, you still have the most important items on you.

There are angler’s vests that work great for this, or if you need something a little more heavy duty, you may want a tactical-type vest like those used by law enforcement and military personnel. For those of you who are especially concerned for your safety, there are vests that are made of Kevlar. You know, just in case.

Again, blending in could be important should things go from bad to worse. So while a vest is handy, make sure you have an extra layer to throw on to conceal what you’re packing.

So what should you do if you already have a bag that “sticks out” in your particular environment?

Consider getting a rain cover for your bag!

As we’ll be utilizing all of the bag, including the exterior, where we’ll be hanging and strapping gear, the rain cover can be a cost effective way to conceal what’s underneath (and keep your belongings dry at the same time).

But Also, Don’t Overthink It…

All that said, personally I don’t get too hung up on extreme scenarios.

I instead prefer to spend time planning for the most likely of events such as short-term power outages, natural disasters, etc.

Even though I addressed those more extreme concerns above, I’m not too worried about what my bug out bag looks like. Maybe that’s foolish of me, but the molle webbing that comes attached to “tactical” looking bags are still my go to for convenience and versatility.

If you prefer to stay “grey man” and blend in, that’s awesome too. Do what you think is best for you.

The Right Bag Could Make All the Difference

With that, below you’ll find some of our favorite bags for bugging out. Each of them have their own unique characteristics that make them very versatile in a bug out scenario. Take a look around and see if one is a good fit for you.
CLICK HERE to see these bags compared

Spec-Ops Brand T.H.E. PackSandpiper of California Long Range Bugout BackpackRebel Tactical Assault 3 Day Pack - Tactical Military MOLLE Backpack, RucksackMaxpedition Vulture-II BackpackCondor 3 Day Assault Pack5.11 Rush 24 Back Pack


So what do you think?

Building the best bug out bag for you is a very personal endeavor. Chances are yours and ours might look quite different from each other on the inside and out and that’s okay.

The bag we choose is one of the many ways we can inject our personality into it and have a little fun at the same time.

So if you already have a bag, which one do you use and why? If not, do any of these appeal to you more than the others?

We’d love to hear your thoughts! If you enjoyed this post, please share us with your friends. We’re trying to build a great community of like-minded individuals and we can’t do it without awesome people like yourself. We’ll see you in the comments below!

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  • John says:

    We can only carry so much and the older I get the less I can carry. So I got my pack and a collapsible wagon. Solve my problem.

  • ITCS says:

    Military surplus are heavy and clunky. Their best is the USMC Filbe assault pack, but even that is heavy. Ultralight stuff is fragile and expensive. Ideal is from 25 to 40 litres loaded to 25 lbs or less. Mine comes from Hill People Gear.

    • Andrew says:

      HPG makes great gear!

  • […] How to Choose the Best Bug Out Bag for You […]

  • Horse says:

    I like the Traverse bags, around $50+ used off ebay.
    REI Traverse Rising Star
    Medium duty packs that hold a lot.
    I think paying $100 plus excessive is stupid but it’s your money.

  • […] How to Choose the Best Bug Out Bag for You […]

    • Clifford says:

      The best bug out pack to get would be a military bag. Army and Marines use 3-day packs when they go out on missions. So you know they’re going to choose the best bags for themselves, why not everyone else, RIGHT!!!

  • […] How to Choose the Best Bug Out Bag for You […]

  • Louise Rushton says:

    So, are you all saying to stay away from people as much as possible when the SHTF?

  • Felesha says:

    One thing I like to add about my bags is the ability to “customize” or add on as needed. Notice how all the bags they pictured had webbing or molle to add on different pouches or what not. To me, (at least from a military perspective) this is a MUST have for me bag. If I find myself able to carry more weight or want to be more organized than my bag originally allows for, I can add those utility pouches or a canteen holder or ammo pouches (the list goes on and on and on) without having to worry about buying a new bag or taking up space in the bag, or lastly, taking items out or choosing what is most important.
    Adding pouches should be carefully considered though. Always an option… but carefully considered. If you can’t carry the weight, don’t. Getting somewhere safe and fast is usually the purpose of a bugout bag. It’s not a permanent thing.

    But this is just my opinion. Molle webbing is mandatory for all my bags.

    • Andrew says:

      Great advice, Felesha! Thank you for sharing.

  • […] How to Choose the Best Bug Out Bag for You […]

  • Don Sturgill says:

    Good stuff, John. Thank you.

  • Skippy Zippy says:

    Thanks for the tactical vest idea. I have a SWAT vest that will carry a lot of essentials. My carry piece will be inside the waist band and I have a double mag holster I can wear inconspicuously on my belt. I could put a small 25 round box in the vest but leave it open for more essentials.

  • brentfaulk says:

    Did A LOT of research. I wanted a large duffel that could also serve as a backpack and fit on a plane as a legal carry on… My purchase: ArcEnCiel 50L Large Capacity Outdoor Camouflage Multifunctional Luggage Bag Military Tactical Backpack Travel Rucksack with Rain Cover for $60.

  • J. Smith says:

    I see one HUGE problem with all your types of bug out bag “recommendations” you make for people to purchase on this article. The problem is that in a SHTF scenario, if I saw ANYONE with the “tacti-cool” army type pack you are recommending for sale on this site I will automatically assume they are toting helpful gear and if I need the gear more than they do I would be more inclined to relieve them of their items. On this site the authors talk about blending in and not standing out with a bug out bag that screams “HEY I GOT LOTS OF USEFUL SHIT IN HERE, COME GET IT FROM ME.” If you want someone to blend in best they can I think it would be wise to do research and invest in EVERYDAY looking backpacks like you see people toting around on school campuses. You want drab boring off color simple type backpacks, one that says “hey I have no idea how to survive and have nothing of worth in my pack.” That way you will have an easier time slipping past potential predators, you to have a pack that say a “gray-man theory type person” would be carrying around. Just my two sense into the bug out bag discussion.

    • Dave says:

      That is very good advice! Avoid the “shoot me first” gear.

    • Jay B says:

      I used to think the same way, but the more I work in a major metro area, the more I see the whole military style bags being a thing with homeless people, and the kids on the block. It’s popular enough that you’d be able to blend in if you wore non-military garbs. But if SHTF, I think anyone with any bags is a target no matter what style they are. Also an important thing is if you’re carrying a bag, to also carry yourself as someone that doesn’t make an easy target. Unless they are carrying, they won’t be so inclined to mess with you. People who carry themselves as weak or a victim mentality are more inclined to get attacked.

  • John Kennedy says:

    I have 1 UM21 & 2 CFP-90 elite military expedition rucksacks, which were designed in cooperation with DARPA for the Navy SEAL teams and Army have used Special Forces teams (Green Berets). I used both designs extensively in various climates and weather: extreme cold dry, hot with 90% humidity, cold and wet, dry desert day-time heat. I have used them with full loads and light loads, and whether you are an ultra light freak or a kitchen sink inclusive survivalist, these rucksacks will endure it all. Sure they are expensive, and to the trained eye, also look expensive, but I don’t think that this would increase your chances of being victimized by a robber. Visit a prisoner with a record of strong-armed robbery and ask him whether, in a survival situation, he would avoid attempting to rob a lone person the in wilderness (providing he thought he could get away successfully and uninjured) just because the potential victim carried a cheap looking bag. If you are out there alone in a survival situation, his assumption is that you may have something that he can use, and that makes you his potential “mark”. Think about it! I have trekked the entire Pacific Crest trail starting from the border with Mexico. I always wear camouflage or subdued clothing with my rucksack. If I am alone, I stay out of sight of solitary people or groups of two or three men in the wilderness. I will only approach mixed sex groups of more than three on the trail. When I camp, I move off the trail and choose a concealed location whenever possible, or I will set up camp with a large group of backpackers. In a survival situation you will be grateful that you chose a camouflage rucksack. I also suggest that you buy a very light-weight ghillie suit (for total concealment when you want to observe without being seen)– the kind that has very life-like leaves, and avoid the heavier suits that have burlap strips. And never be without binoculars or a monocular. I got my first wilderness experience with my dad in the back country of Yosemite in 1945. I went through Survival, Escape, and Evasion (jungle warfare school) at Camp Sherman in the Panama Canal Zone (before Carter gave away that strategic piece of real estate). I Also attended the Air Force Survival course out of Stead Air Force Base near Reno NV (now also closed). During nearly 72 years of backpacking and wilderness experience of various kinds, I have used a great many different civilian and military packs, pack-boards, and other load bearing equipment. Until the 1990s, it is my opinion that the military greatly lagged behind the civilian technology when it came to rucksacks and some other load bearing gear (transferring load from the back to the padded waist-belt for example). But with the CFP-90 that changed, and the UM21 is even better. They are both more versatile and durable than present civilian backpacking rucksacks. Yes they are expensive, but how much is your life and the lives of your loved ones worth? These rucksacks are not just versatile, they will endure years of abuse in the wilderness. For those of you who may wonder how recent and up to date my wilderness knowledge is — I am still very active at age 80. I hold a commercial pilot certificate with an instrument rating and pass my FAA airman’s medical exam every year, and I can probably do more push-ups than 90% of today’s college students. Last Summer, I took a class of college students on a field trip through Montgomery Woods Redwood Park in Mendocino County CA. I had to repeatedly stop and wait for most of the class to catch up so that they could hear my lecture on the geological history of the surroundings and unique features of the area.
    I still ride trails on my Montague Military Technology, Paratrooper mountain bike. Check out their website. The bike folds up into a package of about 30″X30″X12″ and will fit into the back seat of your car or Cessna 182. It is a great bug-out vehicle (Also developed by DARPA for special operations forces. It is also quieter than walking for those interested in stealth on the trail. I have surprised many types of wildlife while riding.

    • Michael Mohr says:

      Do you have any for sale?

    • Marti Ross says:

      GREAT information, John. I learned so much from this one post. Would love to hear more from you, and pick your brain. Thanks again.

  • Philip Palmer says:

    You can use a rain cover over a tactical bag that you already have or really want to make it look less conspicuous. If you haven’t bought a bag, look for one that does look like you could have a lot of money or good stuff inside that someone would want to relieve you of. Think “grayman” not Rambo.

    • Philip Palmer says:

      Sorry, *doesn’t* look like…

    • Ross says:

      I’ll rob you if you’re not even wearing a bag. You may be carrying something valuable close to you or maybe you have clothing that looks like it’ll fit me. In a survival situation the only way to not be robbed is to remain unseen or make people think they’ll be killed instantly whilst trying

  • RobertATL says:

    Kelty Redwing 50…. Great brag without looking tactical

  • Rick says:

    I saw a bag called the National Geographic capetown back pack. very durable, simple, looks like a college bag, low profile. I just want the bare essentials, small med kit, mre food for a few days, gun, string maybe a black heavy duty trash bag for protection from elements. it will easly hold all this and them some. and be light weight, OH! a life straw for water and so on you get on the military bags, you nailed it! if someone sees this they will nock you over the head and take it.great article, thank you

    • Ross says:

      I’d knock you over the head and take your bare essentials. Back pack or military bag or not. If you are spotted by other people it won’t matter what type of bag you have maybe they’ll just want your shoes for example. You can’t rely on looking like you’ve not prepared. Itll be dog eat dog.

  • Thadd says:

    I personally use a old Alice pack large with a metal frame works great may be a little conspicuous but it holds what I need it too

    • Kenn says:

      One of the greatest; medium A.L.I.C.E. as well. A close 2nd: USMC ILBE, altho they now have a newer design. Military grade may not be as comfortable as the civvie stuff available, but it’s designed for rough use & won’t fail when most needed.