How to Make a Bug Out Bag for Emergencies

Stay prepared for emergencies with a bug out bag. Learn how to assemble the perfect survival kit to ensure your safety and well-being.
bug out bag
bug out bag

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Creating a bug out bag isn’t just about being ready. It’s about staying one step ahead of emergencies. In this article, you’ll learn how to piece together a kit that could quite literally save your life. From picking the right backpack to knowing which essentials can make or break your survival chances, we’ve got you covered.

We’re also exploring how to tailor your survival kit for specific requirements and keep it primed year-round, adjusting as the seasons change. Moreover, we’ll provide guidance on vital abilities that enhance your equipment’s effectiveness, guaranteeing you’re ready in both concept and application.

What is the Purpose of a Bug Out Bag?

A bug out bag is a portable kit that contains the items one would require to survive for 72 hours when evacuating from a disaster. The purpose of a bug out bag is to allow for a quick departure from a home or workplace during emergencies, such as natural disasters, terrorist attacks, or any situation where immediate evacuation is necessary.

Why 72 hours? The 72 hours after an emergency are pivotal. This is the typical gap between the disaster and the arrival of help or your arrival at a safer location. Preparing for this interval keeps you safe before you can find proper help.

bug out bag example
Source: Earthworn/Flickr (cc)

The contents of a bug out bag vary based on individual needs, but they typically include essentials such as water, food, first aid supplies, clothing, shelter, communication tools, and other survival gear. The goal is to be self-sufficient for a short period until you can reach a safer location or until emergency services restore order.

Bug out bags are an important component of personal and family preparedness plans. They help you stay prepared during unpredictable situations. 

How to Choose a Bug Out Bag

Picking the perfect bag for your bug out kit is like choosing a trusty sidekick in an adventure movie. Your bag should be a dependable companion, robust and cozy enough to stick by your side through all sorts of trials. Here are some tips to guide you in selecting the perfect bug out bag

1. Size and capacity

Select a bag that offers enough space to carry your essential gear without being overly cumbersome. The ideal size should accommodate your survival essentials for at least 72 hours. Consider the volume of the bag in liters and ensure it has ample compartments and pockets for organized storage. A bag that’s too large can be cumbersome, while one that’s too small may not hold all your necessities.

2. Comfort and fit

The bag should have adjustable straps, a comfortable back panel, and a design that distributes weight evenly. It’s essential to choose a bag that fits your body type to avoid strain or injury during prolonged use. Look for padded shoulder straps, a padded waist belt, and a design that aligns with your torso length. Comfort is crucial, as you may need to carry the bag for extended periods during an emergency.

3. Durability and material

Opt for a bag made from high-quality, durable materials like nylon or polyester with a high denier count. The fabric should be water-resistant or waterproof to protect your gear in various weather conditions. Check the bag’s construction, focusing on reinforced stitching and robust zippers. A durable bag ensures your gear remains secure and intact in harsh environments.

4. Accessibility and organization

Choose a bag with multiple compartments and pockets that allow for easy organization and quick access to items. Look for designs that offer separate sections for different types of gear, as well as external pockets for items you need to access rapidly. Good organization helps in efficiently locating items, saving precious time in emergency situations.

5. Modularity and expandability

A bag with a modular design or MOLLE (Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment) system allows for customization and expansion. This feature lets you attach additional pouches or gear, tailoring the bag to your specific needs. Modularity enhances the bag’s versatility, enabling you to adapt to various scenarios or change your loadout based on the situation.

6. Visibility and stealth

Consider the color and design of your bag based on your intended use. Bright colors can be beneficial for visibility in rescue situations, while more subdued colors are better for blending into the environment. Decide based on your primary needs—whether you want to be seen or maintain a low profile.

7. Weight and portability

Evaluate the bag’s empty weight to ensure it won’t add unnecessary burden. The lighter the bag, the more gear you can carry without exceeding a manageable weight. However, don’t sacrifice durability for lightness. Balance is key in choosing a bag that’s both portable and resilient.

8. Brand reputation and reviews

Research brands and read user reviews to gauge the quality and reliability of the bag. Brands with a good reputation in the outdoor or tactical gear industry are often a safe bet. User experiences can provide insights into the bag’s performance in real-world scenarios, helping you make an informed decision.

Top Bug Out Bag Options

Looking to purchase your own bug out bag? Here are some of our favorite options:


5.11 Tactical Military RUSH100 60L Backpack


The 5.11 Tactical RUSH100 60L Backpack offers exceptional durability, ample storage, and an adjustable harness system. It's ideal for rigorous military use or outdoor adventures, ensuring gear security and accessibility in any environment.

Buy on Amazon
03/18/2024 05:44 pm GMT

The 5.11 Tactical Rush 100 is a highly robust and versatile backpack. Engineered with durable 1050D nylon, this backpack is built to withstand challenging conditions while offering ample storage space. 

It features a spacious main compartment, multiple integrated organization pockets, and a hydration compartment. The pack’s MOLLE webbing allows for customizable attachments, and its ergonomic design ensures comfort during prolonged wear.


TETON 55L Scout Internal Frame Backpack


The TETON 55L Scout Internal Frame Backpack is designed for both novice and seasoned hikers, offering a comfortable fit, ample storage, and durability. Its adjustable harness and padded straps enhance comfort, making it ideal for extended treks and outdoor adventures.

Buy on Amazon
03/18/2024 05:44 pm GMT

The TETON Sports Scout 3400 55L Pack is an ideal backpack for emergency preparedness, due to its blend of spaciousness, comfort, and durability. With a 55-liter capacity, it provides ample room to store essential survival gear, clothing, and food supplies for several days. 

The pack features a rugged build to withstand tough conditions, with various compartments for organized storage. Its adjustable torso length, padded shoulder straps, and waist belt distribute weight evenly. Additionally, the hydration bladder compartment is a vital feature for staying hydrated in emergencies. 


Fox Outdoor Products Advanced Mountaineering Pack

$134.94 $127.83

Ths a rugged, high-capacity backpack is designed for serious mountaineers. It features multiple compartments, durable construction, and adjustable straps, ensuring comfort and efficiency on challenging climbs and extended outdoor expeditions.

Buy on Amazon
03/18/2024 05:44 pm GMT

The Fox Outdoor Mountaineering offers exceptional durability and functionality, featuring a spacious main compartment and multiple specialized pockets and pouches. Its design includes reinforced construction and weather-resistant materials. 

For enhanced comfort during extended wear, the pack is equipped with padded shoulder straps, a waist belt, and a ventilated back panel, which are crucial for load distribution and reducing fatigue. MOLLE webbing adds to its adaptability.

What to Put in Your Bug Out Bag

What to Put in Your Bug Out Bag
Source: Grace Pipe/Flickr (cc)

So what goes in a bug out bag? It’s hard to give you a definitive list because all emergencies are different. If you live in an area that floods, waterproof gear is important. But if you expect wildfires, you’ll need masks. So we’ll do our best to cover everything. You can decide what makes sense in your situation. 

Critical Items for a Bug Out Bag

The most critical items for a bug out bag are those that address the core survival needs: water, food, shelter, warmth, and safety. Here are the essential items:

1. Water

Essential for survival, water maintains hydration, regulates body temperature, and supports vital organ functions. In a crisis, access to clean water can be limited, so it’s crucial to have a means to secure and purify water to prevent dehydration and maintain health.

2. Water Container

A durable container is necessary to store and transport water so you have access to hydration wherever you go. It allows you to carry clean water obtained from a reliable source or hold water treated from natural sources.

3. Food

Energy-rich, non-perishable food sustains your strength and health. You need essential nutrients and calories needed to maintain physical activity and mental alertness during stressful situations.

4. Shelter

Protection from the elements is crucial for survival. A shelter defends against extreme weather conditions, maintains body heat, and provides a safe space to rest and recuperate, reducing the risk of hypothermia or heatstroke.

5. Clothing

Appropriate clothing is vital for temperature regulation and protection from environmental hazards. Layered, durable, and weather-appropriate attire helps prevent hypothermia, heatstroke, and injuries, ensuring mobility and comfort.

6. Fire

A fire source is essential for warmth, cooking, purifying water, and signaling for help. It can prevent hypothermia, deter wildlife, and provide psychological comfort, making it a multifaceted survival tool.

7. First Aid Kit

Immediate medical care is crucial for treating injuries, preventing infections, and managing health conditions. A well-stocked first aid kit allows you to address medical issues promptly, reducing the risk of complications.

8. Multi-tool

Versatile and compact, a multi-tool facilitates various tasks, from repairs and modifications to self-defense and first aid. It’s an indispensable item for problem-solving and maintaining gear.

9. Flashlight or Headlamp

Light sources are critical for visibility at night, allowing you to navigate, signal for help, and perform tasks safely in darkness, reducing the risk of injury and increasing security.

10. Navigation Tools

Reliable navigation tools, such as a map and compass or GPS, are essential for orienting yourself in unfamiliar territories, planning routes, and reaching destinations or meeting points, especially when conventional landmarks may not be available.

Additional Items for a Bug Out Bag

Once you have those 10 items, you’ll have to fill your bag with items that suit your specific needs. Here are some options: 

  • Water filter or purification tablets
  • Portable water container
  • Extra batteries
  • Emergency blanket
  • Paracord or rope
  • Duct tape
  • Rain gear (poncho or rain jacket)
  • Sturdy footwear
  • Sleeping bag or bivvy sack
  • Personal hygiene items (toothbrush, toothpaste, soap)
  • Signal mirror or whistle
  • Cash and important documents (ID, insurance cards)
  • Portable radio (hand-crank or battery-powered)
  • Sun protection (hat, sunglasses, sunscreen)
  • Insect repellent
  • Spare prescription medications
  • Knife or survival blade
  • Notepad and pencil
  • Sewing kit
  • Fishing kit
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Gloves (work or tactical)
  • Tarp or emergency shelter
  • Portable stove or cooking device
  • Fuel for stove
  • Lightweight cookware (pot, pan)
  • Eating utensils (spork, knife)
  • Water bottle with built-in filter
  • Energy bars or meal replacement shakes
  • Thermal underwear
  • Windproof/waterproof matches
  • Compass with sighting mirror
  • Two-way radios
  • Binoculars
  • Quick-dry towel
  • N95 or similar protective masks
  • Wet wipes
  • Personal defense item (depending on local laws)
  • Portable solar charger or power bank
  • Glow sticks
  • Notebook or journal
  • Pencil or all-weather pen
  • Hatchet or saw for cutting wood
  • Waterproof document holder
  • Hand and foot warmers
  • Waterproof bags or containers
  • Safety goggles or eye protection
  • Hammock for off-ground sleeping
  • Collapsible water bucket
  • Signal flare or emergency beacon
  • Heavy-duty garbage bags (multiple uses)

Where to Store Your Bug Out Bag

Storing your bug out bag in a strategic location is crucial for ensuring you can access it quickly in an emergency. The ideal spot is somewhere in your home that’s easily accessible and on the way out, such as near your main exit, in a hallway closet, or in the garage. It should be a place that everyone in your household knows about and can reach without obstacles. 

Avoid basements or attics, as they can be hard to access quickly, especially in situations like fires or floods. The storage area should be cool, dry, and away from direct sunlight to prevent damage to the bag and its contents. If you live in a multi-story building, consider keeping it on the first floor to grab it on the way out. 

Additionally, if you have a vehicle and are often on the move, keeping a smaller, secondary bug out bag in your car can be a wise choice, ensuring you’re prepared even when away from home.

Maintaining Your Bug Out Bag

Your bug out bag is a lifeline. It’s one of the most important things you own. This 

Regular Checks

Periodically inspect your bag’s contents, checking for expired items, wear and tear, and functionality of tools and equipment. This ensures everything is in working order when you need it.

Climate Control

Keep your bag in a cool, dry place to prevent damage from moisture or extreme temperatures. Items like food, water, and batteries are particularly sensitive to environmental conditions.

Rotation of Perishables

Regularly rotate perishable items such as food, water, and medications to ensure they remain fresh and effective. Mark expiration dates visibly to facilitate this process.

Weight Management

Ensure your bag is not overly heavy. Regularly reassess the items to maintain a manageable weight, allowing for quick and efficient mobility.

Sealable Bags

Use zip-lock or vacuum-seal bags to protect sensitive items from moisture and pests. This is especially important for food, clothing, and important documents.


Familiarize yourself with all the items in your bag. Knowing how to use each item effectively can make a significant difference in an emergency.

Protection from Pests

Store your bag in a location safe from pests like rodents or insects, which can damage your supplies. Consider using containers or closets that are secure and pest-proof.

Update Your Kit

As your needs or circumstances change, update the contents of your bug out bag. Add items that become necessary and remove those that are no longer relevant.

Maintenance of Tools

Regularly check and maintain tools and equipment to ensure they are in good working condition. Sharpen knives, check batteries, and repair any damaged gear.

Document Storage

Keep copies of important documents in waterproof containers or bags to prevent damage. This includes identification, medical records, and emergency contact information.

Container Integrity

Ensure the bag itself is in good condition, checking for tears, broken zippers, or compromised seams. The integrity of the bag is crucial to protect its contents.

Review and Practice

Regularly review your emergency plan and how your bug out bag fits into it. Practice evacuating with your bag to ensure you can carry it comfortably over distances.

Community Feedback

Engage with preparedness communities online or locally to get feedback on your bug out bag. Sharing experiences and tips can provide insights and help you refine your kit.

Practical Skills to Complement Your Bug Out Bag

So, you’ve got your bug out bag packed and ready. But what about the skills to survive once you’re out there? Here’s where we beef up your survival smarts.

First aid fundamentals

Bleeding wounds or a sprained ankle can become big problems fast if not handled right. Mastering first aid is crucial for any emergency situation. Courses from organizations like the Red Cross are gold mines for this essential knowledge.

Apart from professional courses, practice makes perfect. Regularly refresh your skills because, in a pinch, hesitating could cost valuable seconds.

Navigating without GPS

In today’s world of smartphones and GPS, getting lost seems unlikely—until it isn’t. When electronics fail or batteries die, navigating by old-school methods becomes invaluable.

To get started, familiarize yourself with reading maps and using a compass—the real ones made of paper and magnetic needle. Exploring resources such as the navigation essentials tutorial on REI’s website can serve as a solid foundation for acquiring these indispensable abilities.

Starting a fire

A fire provides warmth, light, protection from wildlife and means to cook food. Mastering its creation is non-negotiable for survivalists at any level. While matches or lighters seem obvious choices, they might not always be available or functional in wet conditions.

Thus learning traditional fire-starting techniques such as flint striking or bow drills pays off immensely. Learn more in our guide on starting a fire

Water purification

Knowing how to locate, collect, and purify water is vital for survival. This includes understanding various purification methods like boiling, chemical treatment, and filtration, as well as identifying safe water sources and recognizing potentially contaminated ones.

Shelter building

The ability to construct a temporary shelter can protect you from harsh weather conditions and improve your chances of survival. Skills include choosing a safe location, utilizing natural materials or man-made items, and creating insulation and waterproofing.

Knot tying

Knowing how to tie various knots can be invaluable for building shelters, securing gear, first aid, and rescue operations. Learning different knots and their applications can significantly enhance your effectiveness in survival situations.

Signaling for help

Being able to signal for help, using methods like fires, mirrors, lights, flags, or whistles, can make the difference between being found and staying lost. Understanding how to create visible or audible signals can attract the attention of rescuers.

Basic self-defense

 In some emergency situations, being able to defend yourself or others can be crucial. Basic self-defense skills can provide protection from threats or aggressors, ensuring your safety until help arrives.

Stress management

Maintaining composure and thinking clearly during high-stress situations can significantly impact survival. Skills include using breathing techniques, maintaining a positive mindset, and making informed decisions under pressure.


Identifying edible plants, insects, and other natural food sources can be a lifesaver, especially when conventional food supplies are unavailable. Knowledge of local flora and fauna, as well as understanding what is safe to consume, is vital for sustenance in the wild.

Build Your Bug Out Bag Today

Getting ready for emergencies starts with knowing how to make a bug out bag. We’ve walked through selecting the right pack, filling it with essentials, and customizing it for personal needs.

take these lessons to heart and stay one step ahead of the unexpected. It could save your life.

Featured image: Flicker/Pig Monkey (CC)

Bug out bag essentials
Dennis Hammer
Dennis has been a part of EDC since he was young - before he even knew what it was! As an artist, he loves beautifully designed products that function well. He also likes to be ready for any situation, which makes EDC perfect for his lifestyle.