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Building An Emergency Bug Out Bag

April 15, 2011

by Rob Amagna | FTMQuarterly Staff Writer

In Level One, Jerry Robinson explains the importance of being prepared. One of the steps that you will undertake in Level One is to create an emergency kit that could sustain you for the first critical 72 hours if a disaster were to strike, thus enabling you to evacuate at a moment’s notice. This is typically the amount of time that government 911 First Responders, like police, fire, medical, and utility services can reach you or start restoring services.

This emergency “kit”, or what I like to call a “Bug-out Bag” (BOB), or “Go Bag,” is basically a hand bag that contains essential gear, food, and supplies.

What should you include in your BOB?

Most disaster management organizations, like FEMA and the Red Cross, recommend a short list of the basic contents that you should include:

Water & Food – One gallon of water per person per day. At least a three-day supply of non-perishable food (preferably low salt, high water content canned goods). The idea is to minimize thirst- provoking foods that stimulate your desire to drink.

Battery-powered or hand crank multiband radio including NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both.

Flashlight and extra batteries.

Basic First Aid Kit.

Whistle to signal for help.

Dust Mask to help filter contaminated air.

Plastic sheeting and duct tape to build shelter-in-place.

Moist towelettes, small garbage bags, and plastic ties for personal sanitation.

Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities.

Can opener for food (if kit contains canned food).

Local maps for navigation.

Cell phone with charger, inverter, or solar charger.

Large garbage bags for ground covering.

Unique Family Needs such as medications, eyeglasses and infant formula.

Obviously, this list is not all-inclusive. To create the most effective BOB for you and your family, think regionally. You can add more gear to suit your regional conditions, or add gear to increase your chances of survival, such as a water filter, compact stove, and a utility knife, just  to name a few. Oklahoma, where I live, is prone to tornadoes with devastating winds, which only last a few minutes affecting a small geographic area. Conversely, hurricanes that hit Florida may have high sustained winds affecting a much larger area that may last for days, which may require more food and water to be added to the list. A disaster in Vermont during the winter time will require extra cold weather garments, whereas a disaster in South Texas in the same time period will not.

It is also important to keep the weight of your BOB to less than 20 lbs, since young and old alike should be able to manage carrying the bag over an extended period of time. Evacuating from a flood disaster area may mean walking a few blocks to a friend’s house or hoofing 20 miles across field and stream to an area with no infrastructure.

Where should I keep my BOB?

Store your BOB in a convenient location, like a closet, next to an exit door in your home. Remember, the idea is to make it easy to “grab-and-go.”

Bug-out Bag For Urban Survival vs. Wilderness Survival

There are differences between Urban Survival and Wilderness survival in both equipment and skill sets. With the Urban Survival disaster scenario, your plan would include evacuating to a friend/family home, government shelter in your area, or some place that you can find shelter from the weather. In this case, your bug-out bag can contain the basic items that FEMA and the Red Cross recommend.  Moreover, having a detailed evacuation plan, a working knowledge of your equipment, and a heavy dose of basic common sense should be sufficient to carry you through until First Responders arrive, barring any serious physical injuries.

Wilderness Survival:  If there is no available infrastructure or shelter where you can evacuate, you’ll need additional equipment and survival skill sets to rough it out in the woods; i.e., additional equipment such as a pup tent, sleeping bag, gas stove, utility knife, etc., and knowledge to operate this equipment.  Wilderness survival skills include fire making, cooking, water purification, land navigation, staying warm, or digging a latrine.

Everything you need to know about wilderness survival you can learn from the Boy Scout manual, Fieldbook: The BSA’s Manual of Advanced Skills for Outdoor Travel, Adventure, and Caring for the Land. This book teaches our Boy Scouts to live the motto “Be Prepared”, and covers organizing and planning, what to pack, how to select equipment and gear, such as boots, clothing, backpacks, pots, pans, and cook stove. It contains handy pack lists to help you pack the essentials you will need.  It explains how to plan nutritious menus, how to cook them, and practical outdoor hygiene.  There are lessons on compass, map and GPS navigation, and great information on hot and cold weather camping, including clothing selection.  It teaches emergency contingencies on how to build a shelter and water collecting, as well as preserving your food in severe climates. If you want to really get down into the weeds, you can pick up the Department Of Defense publication: U.S. Army Survival Field Manual FM 21-76. This is one of the finest single sources for self-reliance in all extreme circumstances. It is a must read for anyone who wants to learn to survive in primitive conditions. The book is plainly written and easy to understand with a lot of pictures and illustrations. Some of the survival information that this book teaches include:

  • All-climates: arctic, tropics, temperate forest, savannah or desert.
  • All-terrain survival tactics; the Will to Survive
  • Identify poisonous snakes, as well as edible and non-edible plants
  • Survival Medicine: wilderness medicine, techniques on first aid, survival in the hottest or coldest of climates
  • Survival Planning:  making polluted water potable, how to find water, ways to trap, and water collection techniques
  • Navigation and compass use: find direction using the sun and stars
  • Weapons and tools; building life-saving shelters, traps and snares
  • How to prepare wild game to be cooked; preserving food; types of fire making
  • Water Crossings, finding direction using the sun and stars
  • Physical and mental fitness; disaster preparedness and more

Additional Items to Consider Adding to an Emergency Supply Kit (from FEMA)

  • Infant formula and diapers
  • Pet food and extra water for your pet
  • Important family documents such as copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records in a waterproof, portable container
  • Cash or traveler’s checks and change
  • Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person. Consider additional bedding if you live in a cold-weather climate.
  • Complete change of clothing including a long sleeved shirt, long pants and sturdy shoes. Consider additional clothing if you live in a cold-weather climate.
  • Household chlorine bleach and medicine dropper – When diluted nine parts water to one part bleach, bleach can be used as a disinfectant.  In an emergency, you can use it to treat water by using 16 drops of regular household liquid bleach per gallon of water. Do not use scented, color safe or bleaches with added cleaners.
  • Matches in a waterproof container
  • Feminine supplies and personal hygiene items
  • Mess kits, paper cups, plates and plastic utensils, paper towels
  • Paper and pencil
  • Books, games, puzzles or other activities for children
  • Best walking shoes you can afford

The type and size capacity of the bug-out bag you choose should be carefully considered.  You should assess your own likely evacuation scenarios.  This will help determine what gear and supplies you will need to survive for the first 72 hours of a disaster. With the Wilderness Survival disaster scenario, your Bug-out Bag will contain more gear and be larger and heavier. Honestly assess your own physical capabilities and limitations when evaluating how far you can carry your BOB.

Again, your bug-out bag can be equipped either for urban survival or for the more expanded wilderness survival.

Backpack, Duffle or Rolling Suitcase?

All the basic items listed earlier should fit nicely into a school backpack with a volume capacity of about 1700 cubic inches.

The FEMA ad shows the man grabbing a duffle bag from a closet as he and his kids make it to the front door for their hasty exit. Consider the scenario if you have physical limitations or special needs and cannot carry a load. In this case, you might want to consider using a sturdy medium sized suitcase or backpack with built-in rollers so you can pull it. This roller option makes it physically easier for you and you may be able to pack more weight with an assortment of extra gear or water. Another major advantage of rolling luggage is the possibility of having to walk very long distances to safety. What would you rather be doing for 20 miles: carrying the weight of your BOB or pulling it on rollers? The downside of rolling luggage is that they need relatively smooth road surfaces to work.

My Bug-out Bag

A backpack enables you to traverse over rough and uneven wilderness terrain. If you want the flexibility of a backpack, make sure it is well fitted to your body type with comfortable padded shoulder straps and a hip belt. Ideally, the hip belt should take 80 – 90% of the pack’s weight load with the shoulder straps taking 10 – 20%. Fasten the sternum strap across your chest to minimize shifting while maneuvering in different positions.

My Gear

My bug-out bag is the Camelbak BFM backpack with a built-in 3 liter water hydration bladder. It is 2,600 cubic inches, which is enough space to hold my wilderness survival equipment. It is a very sturdy, well designed and comfortable MOLLE pack. MOLLE is an acronym for Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment.  It is the current generation of load-bearing equipment on backpacks used by the US Armed Forces, particularly the Army. I like the MOLLE system’s modularity which uses PALS webbing (rows of heavy-duty nylon stitched on the pack to allow for the attachment of extra pouches and accessories). This method of attachment has become a de facto standard for modular tactical gear, replacing the older “click and stick” system. Note: An example of the modular application is that I can simply strap my sleeping bag, pup tent, and ground tarp to the external PALS attachment points on the pack. The equipment can easily be added or removed as needed.

A side note:   When I was in my 20’s (back in the 1970’s) I was an avid backpacker. I spent 6 months on the Appalachian Trail (AT). I remember always having my Kelty frame backpack at the ready, packed with my North Face Mountaineering Tent, REI Down Sleeping Bag, and all the necessary gear and supplies needed to survive on the AT for at least 3-5 days at a time. Since I kept my pack ready, I would typically just grab it and head out alone or with friends. Backpacking in bad weather was never a consideration for me. Whether it was a winter blizzard or a torrential rain storm, I was always ready to go. In fact, the more difficult the weather conditions were, the more I enjoyed it. (Did I mention that I was in my 20’s?) There was just something about the thought of heading out in to the great wide open, being mobile, carrying everything I needed to live right on my back, pitching my tent, cooking dinner, and settling down for the night. Everything about it was thrilling to me. Backpacking was such a thrilling adventure for me that I didn’t think twice about asking my new bride, Edna, to spend our wedding night on the AT. She graciously agreed.

On the morning of our wedding, it took us longer to find a parking spot in New York City than it did for us to be married. After our brief wedding ceremony, I grabbed my Kelty backpack and “headed down the highway, looking for adventure, in whatever comes our way…”

We drove out to the Delaware Water Gap in New Jersey to get on the AT Trail. We pitched our tent on Sunrise Mountain in the dark. (Not a problem for this old pro.) But in my enthusiasm – and smitten by my abiding love for this lovely lady I had just vowed to have and to hold in sickness and in health – I burned our Epicurean wedding feast on my Optimus Svea 123 R Climber Camping Stove. (Translation: I burnt the Spam.) Yes, the groom came prepared with a can of Spam for this would-be Bacchanalian feast. Sure, we could have gone the traditional honeymoon route, but this adventure was much more memorable. At this point you can think what you want of me… Edna and I are still very happily married after 30 years.


The single most important item in your emergency bug-out bag is water and the means to filter it.   Keep a 32 oz. Nalgene bottle of water always filled in your BOB. Water weighs 8.35 lbs. per gallon and is unwieldy to transport in any larger quantities. Drinking questionable or compromised water is not recommended; therefore, pack a compact water filter. I use the Katadyn Hiker Pro pump water filter. As a backup, I also use the Frontier Pro water filter.  This military water filter, by Aquamira, is an ultra-light and compact non-pump water filter. It makes a good filtration backup at half the weight and size of a typical “pump” type water filter like the Katadyn. Its coconut shell carbon micro filter purifies down to 0.2 microns and removes 99.9% of harmful bacteria. The Frontier Pro will connect to any standard water bottle with a 28mm opening, and connect to the drink tube of your hydration system like Camelback. The simplest method is to suck in the water like a straw from any open water source. If needed, it is capable of “gravity flow” unattended filtering, leaving you free to do other things. This 2 oz. filter can purify up to 50 gallons of rain water. I would use this filter in conjunction with either the UV Steripen or chlorine to be safe.


For emergency food, I carry the Mainstay Energy Bar by Survivor Industries. Each 1200-calorie sealed package has 3 individual 400 calorie ready-to-eat square meals with a 5 year shelf life. This product is non-thirst provoking – VERY IMPORTANT. It contains no cholesterol or tropical oils. It meets the US Coast Guard standards (160.046/23/0). Its new modern packaging also meets the stringent guidelines set by the Department of Defense (SOLAS 74/83). It is vitamin and mineral enriched exceeding the US RDA requirements. Remember that this food is designed to keep you alive and does not boast a gourmet pedigree. However, it does have a pleasant lemony flavor that I like. The Energy Bar is currently being used by the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard, including the Department of Homeland Security, the Red Cross, and other emergency relief organizations.

I also use Mountain House (by Oregon Freeze Dry, Inc.) freeze dried entrees like Beef Stew, Beef Stroganoff, Chili Mac and Spaghetti with Meat Sauce.  This company got its start by providing NASA with “astronaut food” for the Apollo missions and has continued through the shuttle program. They are packaged in convenient mylar pouches and have a shelf life of 5 years. These meals are super light weight and very tasty but do require water to reconstitute. They can also be somewhat thirst-provoking due to their higher salt content. Note: I prefer not to carry military MREs (Meal Ready to Eat) in my BOB because they are heavier and bulkier.

If you want a more frugal choice of food, you can pick up some canned Beach Cliff Sardines in water for protein and Idahoan Instant Mashed Potatoes for carbs. Whatever you decide on for your meals, make sure you are consuming enough calories to match the physical needs during a stressful situation. Pay particular attention to the weight and volume of the food.

Finally, to help combat fatigue, you might want to try out Hammer Gel energy gels which are 100% pure complex carbohydrates. Ingredients include: complex carbohydrate formula, no added simple sugars, sodium, and potassium to counteract cramping and post-exercise fatigue.  Since there are no simple sugars, Hammer Gel is easy to digest.  Hammer Gel is caffeine free, except for the Espresso and Tropical flavors, but even so, the caffeine levels are equivalent to only a ½ cup of strong coffee.  You can drink it straight up or dilute it in water.      


A good fixed blade survival knife is essential in an emergency. Your knife should be capable of withstanding the harshest conditions. It should be able to chop 4” diameter branches to make a shelter, chop up a meal, dig a latrine hole, or for protection, if necessary. I prefer knives with rubberized handles for a strong grip even under wet conditions. For greater strength, get a full tang knife made of one piece of steel from the blade to the handle and one that can keep its sharp edge.  I use the Ka-Bar 7” USMC knife with a clip point blade.  It is made of 1095 carbon steel, weighing in at 1.1 lbs. I also use the Gerber LMF II Infantry Knife. It has a 4.8” partially serrated stainless steel blade. It can be used as a hammer, converts to a spear, and can be used as a plexiglass punch. Built into the sheath is an integrated knife sharpener.

If you watch the TV show “Man vs. Wild”, you might see Bear Grylls whip out a Gerber blade that looks remarkably like the LMF II. He liked it so much he put his name on it, but his version of this knife may be of questionable quality.


Leatherman Skeletool CX is a lightweight  (5 oz.) full size multi-tool. It has a stainless steel knife, bottle opener, and a screwdriver tucked away. An extra double-sided bit fits into the handle, giving you a total of four bit sizes (two flathead and two Phillips).  The Skeletool CX has light carbon-fiber handles. The features I particularly like are the two pliers (regular and needle nose), wire cutters, and the large bit screwdrivers. Unlike many heavier full size multi-tools at usually twice the weight (10 oz.), the Skeletool is compact and light enough to carry around all the time.


The Brunton Talon Canister Stove is a very compact and lightweight single burner backpacking stove. It is so tiny that you can store 2 or 3 units in your shirt pocket (without the canister of course). It has a 4-point cooking surface. It does not require any priming – you just turn on the gas, light it up and you’re ready to rock and roll. The flame is easily adjusted to low, medium or high. I like the fact that I can boil water in 3 minutes, reconstitute my freeze dried Beef Stew (4 minutes) and chow down.

Dinner in 7 minutes – what a deal!

Since weight is a serious issue with BOBs, I stick to buying the 4 oz fuel canister, but the larger 8 and 16 oz. canisters are also available.

Caveat: Because of its Lilliputian size, the stove should be set up on firm level ground for stability.  In addition, limit the size of your pot to help prevent your cooking from toppling over.


My wife bought me the powerful Surefire P6 LED compact flashlight several years ago. For its power, it is a scant 5 oz. with a length of only 5.4 in. and can be carried around all the time. It casts a high output 120 lumens beam with a two-hour continuous run time on only two 123A cells. Contrasted, its 120 lumens beam is six times the light of a big two D-cell flashlight. It is extremely sturdy and virtually indestructible, having survived several of my accidental dead drops onto concrete.  Have 2 spare 123A cells in reserve.

More of My Personal Bug-out Bag Gear


1 Gallon collapsible plastic jug

Chlorine Dioxide Tabs (water treatment)


Mess Kit

Steel Cup Stainless

Utensil set

Can Opener

Aluminum Foil  (3 ft)

Sponge (dish washing)

Oven Bag (16×17) (for boil-in-a-bag cooking)

Ziploc Bags 7” X 8, 11” X  11” (for boil-in-a-bag cooking)


Flashlight Head LED (3LED)extra bat & bulb

Candles 10 hr. w/ holders   (candles can be eaten in a pinch)

Cyalume 12 Hr Light Sticks (red light)

Fire Starter

Waterproof Matches in waterproof container

Cigarette Lighters, plastic – butane (use under normal conditions)

Communication / Navigation

Cell Phone w/ Charger


Local maps

Compass – Baseplate Protractor (1 -2 degree graduations)

Paper Pad w/ Pencil

Fluorescent Trail Marking tape (wrapped around card)

Tools, Knives & Supplies

Swiss Army Knife (pocket folding knife)

Emergency Wire Saw w/ loop handles

Pliers (small)

Pocket Pal Knife Sharpening Tool (30 degree angle in circular motion)

Work Gloves

Duct Tape 20 yards (Gorilla Brand)

Trowel  – plastic (for human waste)

Plastic Zip Cable Ties 4”, 8”, 14”, 24”

Sewing Kit with thick synthetic thread & strong needles

Safety Pins (can also be used as fish hooks or improvised compass)

Nylon Rope 1/4” (30 ft.)

Nylon Parachute Cord 35’

Carabiner (2 medium, 2 small)

Crazy Glue (small tube for repairs)

Personal Hygiene

Toilet Paper 1 camping mini roll

Garbage Bags 35 gal. w/ ties for garbage & sanitation

Shopping Bags Plastic (for trash or food collection)

Moisturizer, Toothbrush, Toothpaste, small Dental Floss (doubles as repair thread & string)

Shampoo (small)

Hairbrush, Comb

Washcloth – Micro Fiber synthetic  towels 12”x30”

Soap (in Ziploc)

Hand Sanitizer anti bacterial (bottle)

Hand Sanitizer anti bacterial (6 single packets)

Shaving Razor -Disposable Comfort 3

Lip Balm (can also be used as fuel)

Kleenex (pocket size)

Glasses -Sunglasses Polarized (soft fleece case)

Glasses – Reading 2.5 magnification (soft fleece case)

Latex Surgical Gloves

Surgical Face Mask

Prescriptions & Meds / Medical


Anti-diarrhea medicine (Imodium tabs)

Antacid (Pepto-Bismol tablets – stomach upset)

Shelter/Bedding (Strap on to the outside of BOB)

REI Down Sleeping Bag (can be Polartec)  Mummy Type

Blanket – Emergency Aluminized Polyester (pocket pack)

No Limits King’s Peak Tent -2 man 7’ x 4.5’ x 4’

Emergency Poncho

Waterproof Pouches

Pack a Holy Bible (small)

Make a Plan

I elevate personal disaster preparedness planning to a civic duty. If what follows is community preparedness on a larger scale, then it becomes a force multiplier and game changer. When the whole community is involved, it goes a long way towards mitigating personal injuries and property damage that follow a significant disaster situation.

The real value of personal and community preparedness planning is that the more you prepare, the less you will be impacted by a disaster. You are more likely to respond and recover more quickly, thereby hopefully putting less of a burden on 911 First Responders like police, fire, medical and utility services, and food handouts. Moreover, you’ll be in a better position to help your neighbors, specifically the elderly, latchkey kids and the disabled who may be injured in their homes.

Personal preparedness is synonymous with personal responsibility and self-reliance.

This self-reliance, when balanced with your desire to help others in your community, creates a golden opportunity for you to reflect Christ who lives in you.

So get a kit! Make a plan! Be informed! Today.

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