When the time comes to get out of the house and hit the road for a few days to reach a safe place, what do you take with you? What if you lived in Washington D.C. and need to get to your cousin's house in Charleston, West Virginia, among the throngs of frightened masses choking the roadways and buying up all the supplies during a natural disaster? A simple answer is a bug out bag.
Bug out bags are just what the name implies — bags you and your family can grab at a moment's notice and bug out of the area. A bug out bag can get you through a few days by itself, but it's a temporary means to an end. The water and food will eventually run out so you have to pack one in a methodical manner that meets your expectations and criteria. When prepping bags, it's important to keep in mind a few things:
What is the threat? What are you running from? Where are you running to?
What is the environment? A bug out bag for a family living in the Everglades is not going to look much like a bug out bag for a family living in Anchorage. Determine what it is you need the most of — water, heat, food, etc?
How much can you and your family carry? If you're a big guy and can carry a lot, then by all means find a large rucksack and maximize it. But if you have kids (who should all be carrying their own bags), take their capabilities into account and pack accordingly.
Be redundant. That old cliché "don't put all your eggs in one basket" is very true of bug out bags. Let's say you and your family are crossing a stream and one bag gets lost down river. If that bag had the only Epi Pen for your allergic son, you've just made your situation worse.
I have three kids and packed each of them a bag according to how much they can carry and what they would need to survive in the Northern Virginia area for 5 days with no assistance. Our area has a lot of natural water sources, so I'm not overly concerned with finding water. All three bags have the following basics:
The human body cannot survive without water! Keep this primary directive in mind. Water packets are great for the short term, but you will need to find a water source as soon as possible. My bags all have 5 purified water packets, a folding water bottle, and water purification tablets so I can fill a bottle, disinfect it, and drink fairly quickly. I also have a Life Straw in each bag so we can drink from any source on the go.
2. Five days of meals
Everyone has a different definition of "one day's worth of meals." In a bug out situation, you won't want to carry 15 MRE's (3 per day for 5 days) because it would take up all the room. Freeze dried foods take up less space, but they also require preparation (boiling water) which means stopping and finding a place to eat and a water source. Not everyone wants to take that risk, so balance out your meals between MREs, freeze dried packs, and survival rations.
For food preparation, I have included a small folding stove, a canteen cup, and 2 cans of camp fuel or heat tabs is great for boiling water for freeze dried meals.
One set of steel utensils or a multi-use eating tool is a must.
3. Fire making materials
Redundancy is key here. It's easy to carry several forms of fire making materials without overloading the pack. Wise Fire Starter, fire sticks, butane lighters, and flint are all fairly lightweight.
4. Items to keep you warm and dry
Everyone needs to stay warm and dry. Chemically activated hand and body warmers, gloves, a ski cap, an emergency blanket, and a folding poncho are easy to find and relatively small.
Have a mix of direct light (flashlights, head lamps) and marking lights (chem lights). A powerful handheld flashlight can also act as a blinder for animals and humans. Pack an extra set of batteries for whatever light you choose. Several companies make flashlights that don't need batteries.
6. First aid kit
Each bag has a small, basic first aid kit with bandages, alcohol wipes, gauze, and other basic items. I also put one trauma pack and a snake bite kit in each bag.
Make sure you include basic meds and specific meds for each particular person. Each bag has a travel container of Neosporin, Advil, Tylenol, Benadryl, Orajel, Blistex, Dayquil, Nyquil, Gold Bond, insect wipes, sun block, and a protective mask. One of my sons requires an inhaler and an Epi Pen, as well.
Hygiene is more important than you think. Besides fighting off bacteria and infections, a basic cleaning can raise your morale. Each bag should have a small travel pack of toothpaste, toothbrush, body wash, baby wipes, tissues, a cloth, and hand sanitizer. Add other items as needed.
7. Tools and Weapons
A Gerber or other multi tool is a must as is a good pocket knife. I like to pack a small shovel, a tree saw, a fishing kit, and a Mace gun with extra cartridges. I also have a multi-use bracelet on the outside of the bag with a compass, cord and flint.
A few more miscellaneous things:
Toss in a whistle with a compass, a deck of cards, a notepad, a signal mirror, a signal flag, a NIOSH approved face mask, and a watch that doesn't need a battery. A small survival manual is a good idea if you can find one.
Include three pairs of underwear and socks per person. If you can fit a change of clothes, do so.
As for basic communications, everyone has a cell phone nowadays, which is good and bad. They provide immediate communications, but the networks they rely on can be knocked out easily. Backup comms are a must. A simple battery operated radio with a limited range in each bag provides short range comms and most importantly, can help avoid family members getting separated.
I keep an IFAK (Individual First Aid Kit) on the outside of my ruck so it can be accessed easily. If I'm injured, I want my kids to be able to get to it and treat me without having to dig through the ruck. I also keep my ammo on the outside for easy access.
I carry a small tent and, just to be safe, I put an extra set of my son's prescription meds in my ruck. I keep my ruck in the car because I'd rather have it with me at work and on vacations than sitting in my basement where it doesn't do anyone any good. Also, if I find myself in a survival situation (snowstorm, car failure, zombie apocalypse, etc) I'm ready.
There are a lot of companies that sell pre-packed bug out bags that are a great start, but I encourage you to customize them to your situation and environment. I highly recommend my friend Tim Kennedy's Sheepdog Response website.