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Bug Out Bag Checklist: 44 Essentials & Gear

When SHTF you want to be far away from the overcrowded cities:

Riots, looters or the government trying to “impose order”, it’s better to be somewhere safe with your family.

Somewhere you have supplies and don’t need to worry about people who were not smart enough to prep.

It’s a good idea to plan a retreat to a safe location out of the way and away from home, that’s called a “bug out location”.

There you can stack your supplies and don’t worry about “friends” that’ll come knock on your door once they run out of food or neighbors that want what you have.

But as your bug out location is far away from your home or the city, how do you get there?

Streets jammed with panicked people and public transport gone your only option is walking. For that you’ll need enough supplies in one bag to get to your (hopefully) secret hideout.

How To Make Your Own Bug Out Bag

There are three principles to a good bug out bag needs to adhere to:

  • Your bug out bag has to contain every essential item and survival gear to survive for at least 72 hours (that’s also the time estimate for how long it’ll take rescue organizations to respond after a major natural disaster).
  • The bag shouldn’t be too heavy. Be honest with yourself: Can you really walk for twenty miles a day, three days in a row with a 50 pound bag on your shoulders? You want to get away from danger so speed is important.
  • You don’t want to appear as a target. So keep it simple, effective and don’t bring your golden Rolex.

These principles are hard to unite.

How can you build the most effective bug out bag and what should you put inside?

First you need to choose the right tactical backpack to do the job for you.

I covered this in a separate article: Top 3 Survival, Military & Tactical Backpacks

Next you add the most important survival items to your bag.

The 44 Bug Out Bag Essentials

What’s important and what not? How do you decide?

It all depends on the type of emergency, your location and your surroundings.

To have an extra pair of socks can come in really handy when it’s cold but is pointless when you life on the beach in Mexico.

That said there are eleven basic categories of survival items that you need under any circumstance.

If you don’t pack at least one item for each category chances are good you won’t even make it trough the first night.


Survival is about covering the basics. There’s no point to drive around in a tank with flame throwers and a bazooka if you don’t have any clean drinking water.

1) Water

You will die after three days without water. Less if you engage in strenuous activity.

Since you’ll walk to your bug out location you should assume that you’ll need two to three liters per day and person.

You’ll have to bring:

  • At minimum of three liters of bottled water for the first day.
  • A LifeStraw or at least some water purification tablets so you can purify water on the way to your destination.
  • Collapsible water bottles or non lubricated condoms to store extra liquids.

2) Outdoor Clothes

Without shelter and warmth you can die within a couple of hours when it’s cold (or get a sunstroke when it’s hot).

But without the right clothes you won’t even make it that far.

Based on your location you’ll want:

  • A rain coat or wind breaker. To be wet weighs you down, makes you sick and is unpleasant to say the least.
  • Wool clothes stay warm even when wet and cool when it’s hot. Dump cotton or polyester clothes. Wool is the survival fabric king.
  • A bandana to protect you from the sun and because you can do many cool things with it.
  • Sturdy boots to brave rough terrain.

Think about the terrain you’ll face and the weather in advance.

If you live in a place with seasons you should really have two separate sets of clothing for your bug out bag.

3) Light

You’ll never know what time of the day things go down the drain and you don’t want to have to run trough the night or try to locate a temporary shelter without an adequate light source.

Have two flashlights and a couple of spare batteries ready.

4) Gear

The most important thing to add to your bug out bag is the best survival knife you can afford.

A good knife will make everything else easier. From chopping firewood, building a survival shelter to self defense, a survival knife replaces a multi tool and half a dozen other survival tools.

You should also pack:

  • A whistle in case one of your family members gets lost or incapacitated and needs to call for help.
  • Money to barter or buy items when you come upon other survivors.
  • Repair supplies like super-glue, duct tape and safety pins so you can fix broken gear on the way.
  • Survival books to consult in case you’re not sure what to do. The Amazon Kindle holds up to three thousand books and it’s battery lasts for weeks.

Read: Survival Gear: 27 Life Saving Must-Have’s

5) Shelter

You don’t want to spend a night outside in the rain so you’ll have to bring equipment to build a shelter.

In theory a good survival knife is enough to build a makeshift shelter but after a days long hike you’ll be tired and the gear below will improve how fast you can set up camp and the coziness of your shelter.

  • A tent, tarp or at least some plastic trash bags as a roof.
  • Paracord, rope or flexible cable ties to make everything hold together.
  • Space blankets or sleeping bags.
  • Another waterproof tarp to cover the ground below your shelter.
  • Thin blankets and a teddy bear for your little ones.

Don’t skimp on your shelter.

You will be exhausted after a whole day of walking and you don’t want to be sleep deprived in a situation where you need your awareness and mental capacity to stay alive.

6) Fire

Shelter and warm clothes are great but sooner or later you want to cook some food, boil water (to purify it or clean wounds) or just be a little more comfortable.

To make a fire bring a fire starting rod or a regular lighter.

Don’t bother with waterproof matches.

They only limit how many fires you can start. Both fire starters and lighters are waterproof anyway.

Next on you need tinder.

The best tinder for survival situations are Vaseline soaked cotton balls.

Make two dozens of them and seal them in a plastic bag. They’re water proof, burn even in a thunderstorm and will give you a six inch high flame that burns for up to one minute. You won’t find a better tinder than that.

Read: How To Start A Fire In 3 Easy Steps

7) Food

You probably don’t want to go three days without food.

Three great foods that are cheap, healthy, energy dense and make good bug out bag food are:

  • Peanut butter
  • Trail mix
  • Homemade energy bars

Don’t bother with hunting or fishing equipment.

Rather try to set up food supplies or a renewable food source at your bug out location and make it your goal to get there as fast as possible.

Read more here:

Build Your Own DIY Survival Kit For Less Than $80 (#6 Food) 41+ Survival Foods, Prices, Shelf Life & Checklists

It’s also a good idea to bring some aluminium foil or aluminium trays for campfire cooking.

8) Navigation

Your primary goal is to get your family out of danger and walk somewhere safe.

That might mean you’ll have to avoid busy roads, bridges or urban areas and hike trough the wilderness.

To know how to get to your destination without getting lost should to be a major concern for you.

To reach your bug out location unscathed:

  • Have a travel plan ready. Take a map, plot a course and make sure you’ve actually walked that course at least once so you know potential obstacles.
  • An area map so you can switch course when necessary.
  • A compass or GPS to determine in which direction you should go when you’re lost (happens to the best of us!).
  • Binoculars to scout the way ahead and avoid obstacles that would force you to backtrack like an impassable mountain pass or a road block.

It pays to know how to read the sun and the star for directions.

If you depend on your gear alone you put yourself in a dangerous position. Your compass might break or you may lose half of your gear when crossing a river.

The best survival gear is always the knowledge in your head.

9) First Air

Hiking on rough terrain all day has great potential for injury. You can either buy a first aid kit online or make a cheaper, lighter version yourself.

The absolute first aid essentials you need are:

  • Bandages and cloth tape to dress injuries.
  • Antiseptic wipes or rubbing alcohol to sterilize wounds.
  • Pain killers (ibuprofen, aspirin or paracetamol) and antibiotics.
  • Cold and heat compresses.
  • A safety respirator.
  • Latex gloves.

Make sure you know what you’re doing. A first aid training course is a real boon. If you do first aid wrong you risk to make any injury worse rather than better.

10) Hygiene

You might think it’s only 72 hours.

But if you throw hygiene over board you dramatically increase your risk to get sick. You can’t walk a dozen miles a day when you’re incapacitated by fever, pain and weakness.

And it’s just disgusting not to brush your teeth for three days or not to have anything to wipe you bottom after you’ve shit in the forest.

To keep a modicum of civilization bring:

  • Enough toilet paper (seriously man)
  • Female pads / napkins
  • Toothbrush, paste and floss
  • Hand sanitizer and soap
  • A small towel

11) Self Defense

Let’s get this out of the way:

The best way to survive is to stay under the radar and avoid any encounters with other humans.

You do NOT want to run out of your office with a gun in each hand shooting left and right like James Bond. That’ll just get you killed.

Avoid violence at all cost. Only consider self defense if you can’t get away any other way.

It’s much better to take a less populated route to your bug out location than to go and expect trouble.

But if you do stumble over other survivors it’s good to carry around:

  • Bear spray because it’s great to deter both animals and unarmed humans.
  • A handgun and some ammunition for when you have no other choice than to kill or be killed.

These are the most important items to put in your bug out bag. It’s up to you to add more things just keep in mind that your bug out bag shouldn’t be too heavy.