Packing for the outdoors is an important task that any real survivalist must take seriously. Every year, cases are reported of people who ventured into the outdoors and required rescue or even encountered death because they were not properly equipped for the situation.
Even if you are only planning to be out for a few days in the case of an emergency or natural disaster, it is vital to be prepared for the worst-case scenario. Depending on your climate/region, your bug out bag contents will be different. You may want comfort or just the bare essentials. You may be preparing for an emergency or just going out for a weekend survival trip. While you may be packing for different scenarios, here is a general outline of the most common and essential items for every bail out bag.
The 10 Essential Systems: What to Put in a Bug Out Bag
The following list is called the 10 Essential Systems. Created by mountaineers, these 10 categories provide an outline that if followed properly, would keep outdoorsman and survivalists prepared for almost any situation. Everybody’s packing list will look different, but it is safe to say that a well-packed bag and a well-constructed bug out bag list will include things from each of these 10 categories.
Before you pack your bug out gear, you need to find a backpack that is suitable for your needs. Packs that are made for activities like hiking work best for many situations because they are easily adjustable and come in various sizes. The size of the bag will depend on what you are planning for. Bag sizes are measured in liters. For a day trip, anywhere from 5 to 40 liters is acceptable. Overnighters typically range from 40 to 70 liters. For extended travel or expeditions, bag sizes can range all the way past 100 liters. Remember that you will have to carry what you pack, and the larger the pack, the more weight you are likely to carry.
Larger packs typically have an internal frame and are lighter weight and more portable than traditional external frame packs. The frame helps to give the pack shape and will make sure that the weight is evenly distributed throughout the bag. The straps will ensure that the bag sits evenly and distributes the weight properly to your hips and shoulders. When fitted correctly, about 75 percent of the packs weight should be resting on your hips.
Now that we have discussed the backpack, there are a few accessories that should go with it. The pack cover is a stretchy waterproof nylon cover that fits over the outside of a pack but not the straps, which allows you to carry the pack and keep it protected in the rain. Stuff sacks provide a way to organize the contents of your pack. It is important to know where everything in your pack is and to be able to access it quickly. Some stuff sacks are waterproof, providing an extra level of water protection for your most important gear.
- Pack cover
- Stuff sacks
Depending on your task, navigation can play a more-or-less important role. In almost any case, it is a good idea to have a basic navigation tool. A map of the area is almost always a necessity. A GPS can be a luxury or a necessity depending on your plans. There are many different styles of electronic GPS and they can typically be loaded with maps of the areas that you plan to visit.
You can get sunburn any time of year. As a result, sun protection is essential. In the winter, snow blindness is also an issue to consider, and proper eye protection is required. For additional sun protection, you can choose clothing that covers more skin area and also offers UPF protection.
- Chap stick
Proper clothing is one of the most essential parts of planning for the outdoors. When planning a trip research the area you are going and do not rely on the weather forecast. Layering clothing is the best way to pack efficiently for any weather. Layering works by simply adding more layers for cold weather and removing layers for warm weather. It is important that these items be thin, wicking, non-cotton, and quick-drying materials. This is important because cotton dries slowly and can be dangerous, especially in cold weather. Sweating is also dangerous in cold weather and you must be able to remove additional layers as you hike to prevent excessive sweating. Here is a sample list of clothing items for your bail out bag that could be used in various temperatures.
- Wool or synthetic base layer top
- Quick-dry shirt
- Insulated jacket
- Rain jacket
- Wool or synthetic base layer bottom
- Quick-dry pants or shorts
- Rain pants
- Non-cotton socks
- Camp shoes
Illumination will allow you to find your way in the dark if you are out later than expected or if you are planning to stay out overnight. Headlamps are good for use while traveling in the backcountry because they are hands free. Many light sources that are meant for the backcountry will also have a strobe mode that can be used for signaling during emergencies. Others are solar powered and are perfect lanterns for bug out bags.
First-aid and Hygiene
In outdoor and survival situations, you need to be prepared to take care of yourself. Things like a cut or abrasion can quickly turn into a painful problem if not taken care of. You can purchase a first-aid kit that will include many important emergency items. Things to consider when purchasing a first-aid kit are the size of the group you will be traveling with and the number of days that you will be traveling for.
- First-aid kit
- Toilet paper
- Hand sanitizer
- Bug repellant
- Pack towel
- Emergency shelter
- Emergency sleeping bag
The ability to start a fire in the backcountry is an essential survival tool and an absolute requirement for every bug out bag. You may need a fire for warmth, cooking, or signaling for rescue. To be able to start a fire in any condition, you will want a few fire starting tools as well as dry tinder.
- Waterproof matches
- Waterproof case
- Dryer lint
Repair and Tools
Depending on the type of outing you are planning for, there are a multitude of different tools that will range from essential to amenity. Repair kits for things such as a sleeping pads, stoves, or water filters are important to have in case any of these items fail. You may want tools for gathering wood, personal safety, or entertainment. In the case of an emergency, tools that can signal for help will be extremely valuable.
- Repair kit
- Communication device
- Signaling device
- Bear spray
- Trekking poles
If you are planning a trek in the wilderness, you can bring shelf-stable foods or even things like cheese and eggs. You can choose to cook, just heat water, or go flameless. Many outdoor stores will carry shelf-stable options like dehydrated food as well as trail mix. Emergency food bars will be a lighter and more compact option if you are tight on space. If you choose to cook, there are a variety of stove options that work with different fuels like gas, liquid or solid fuel, some of which work better in different conditions.
- Dehydrated food
- Emergency food
- Energy bars
- Trail mix
- Drink mix
We are lucky to have clean water pumped directly into our homes, but when in the backcountry you cannot assume that clean-looking water is safe to drink. There are viruses and bacteria lurking in the water that can make you very sick. If ingested, these bacteria can give you stomach issues, which will lead to severe dehydration and even death. It is important to have a way of cleansing the water you find. You can use a filter or chemicals to purify the water. Proper storage is also important so that you are able to travel with a sufficient amount of water.
- Iodine tablets
- Water bottle
- Collapsible water storage container
If you are planning for a trip outdoors, there are many options for a shelter and you can choose the one that is best for you. There are lightweight or luxury tents, hammocks, and bivouac sacks. For warmth while you sleep, you will want a down or synthetic insulated sleeping bag as well as a sleeping pad for ground insulation. For day hikes or emergency preparation, there are ultra lightweight options for shelters and sleeping bags.
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping pad
- Inflatable pillow
Whether you are planning for a day hike or a home emergency, the ultimate bug out bag can mean the difference between life and death. The 10 Essential Systems gives a great outline for any trip and can be followed with relative ease. Everyone’s packing list will look different but this list is a great starting point for almost any situation.