What should be in a bug out bag

Here’s What To Put in a Bug Out Bag (Must-Have Checklist)

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We definitely live in perilous times and emergencies can strike literally any moment. That’s why you have to be prepared to increase your and your family’s chances to survive. And that’s where a quality bug out bag comes into play. But what should be in a bug out bag?

Above all else, your survival bag should contain the 5 most crucial aspects of survival:

  • Water
  • Food
  • Shelter
  • Fire starter
  • First aid

These are thebug out bag essentials that you SHOULD carry with you at all costs as your life and well-being directly depend on each of them.

And although these items are only the basics, by adding them to your 72-hour bag you’ll still have a much greater chance to survive than say 90% of the general population.

What is a Bug Out Bag?

A bug out bag or BOB is a special backpack (or a sack) with a large enough capacity to hold all the essential items you might need to survive for at least 3 days (72 hours).

The name “bug out bag” stems from the survival term “bugging out” which means to abandon your home when disaster strikes, be it natural or human-caused.

Subsequently, this type of backpacks is directly related to the prepping lifestyle as it’s perhaps the most important aspect of preparation when SHTF.

And as a result, you rely on this very BOB to contain various essential items such as water, food, shelter, fire-starting tools and other things that your life depends on.

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How to Choose the Right Bug Out Bag for You?

The most important aspect when choosing a bug out bag is how much it weighs.

Sure, carrying a larger capacity backpack is always great since you can take more things with you.

Studies show that a pack weight of 20% of your body weight (or 30 lbs max) is ideal for optimal performance, while also lowering the chance of injury (1).

But all the added weight can catch up on you, especially since you’ll probably be hiking for miles and miles on end.

And as a general rule of thumb, here’s how much your BOB should weight:

  • For highly-trained active individuals – 60 lbs max or up to 30% of your body weight (whichever figure is less)
  • For non-trained or not very active individuals – 45 lbs max or 20% of your body weight (whichever figure is less)

Regardless, do a few test hikes with a loaded backpack on your bag just to get a feel of what it’s like to hike with a heavy load on your back for hours.

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The Complete Essential Bug Out Bag Checklist!

Bug out bags are typically designed with the intention to help you survive for up to 3 days hence why they’re also called 72-hour bags.

So you’ll need to include enough essential items to last you 3 days, but you should also prepare for the worse so you’ll have to include a few extra things as well.

And to help you decide which stuff to take, we’ve made this bug out bag checklist consisting of X of only the most crucial and vital things you’ll need.

Remember – taking anything extra will take up precious space inside your bag and it’ll also make it heavier, which is far from optimal in case of TEOTWAWKI!

What should be in a bug out bag, water


1. Water

God has made our bodies to be about 60% water and without consuming any water we can last only 3 days so it’s easy to see why you’ll absolutely need to bring some water with you.

Here’s what you should focus on adding to your survival bag to ensure you have access to drinkable water:

Now, how much water you put in your backpack is quite subjective as some people might be used to drinking more water and thus need more than others.

As a general rule of thumb, store least 1 bigger bottle with a total capacity of around 2 liters (67 oz).

That’s because according to studies, the sufficient fluid intake for men is 3.7 liters (15.5 cups) per day and 2.7 liters (11.5 cups) daily for women (2).

So at the very least, you’ll have enough water until you find a suitable place for shelter and/or until you find a stream or creek from which you can get and filter some fresh water.

What to avoid:

  • Drinking untreated water from lakes, streams, rivers etc.
  • Storing your water in fragile/flimsy pouches and containers

What should be in a bug out bag, food

2. Food

After water, it’s a no-brainer that food is the second most important thing that you need to include in your bug out bag.

However, you shouldn’t include just any food that you can think of or your favorite snacks.

You need to carry quality nutrition that’s simple to prepare and ready for consumption i.e. MREs – meals ready to eat.

Here’s which factors to consider when adding foods to your emergency bag:

  • Solid and durable foods with long shelf life (e.g. canned foods)
  • Compact, lightweight and calorie-dense nutrition (e.g. energy bars)
  • Simple and easy to prepare food that requires boiling at most

In fact, it’s quite important to carry plenty of high-calorie nutrition with you because you’ll be burning lots of calories you’re bugging out.

And since you’ll most likely burn thousands of calories each day, try to pack your bag with plenty of jerky, peanut butter packets, protein/energy bars, peanuts etc.

What to avoid:

  • Continuing to follow a diet plan even after an SHTF situation
  • Any foods that are hard to prepare i.e. anything more complex than boiling water
  • Sauces and dips as they only take up space and make your backpack heavier (this is not the time to be picky with your food)

What should be in a bug out bag, shelter - tent

3. Shelter

Okay, having drinkable, filtered water and enough nutrition is great but you’ll need some sort of a shelter to survive.

A good shelter will ensure that you’re protected from the elements as well as from various animals and nasty insects.

To carry your shelter essentials you’ll need to get:

Here’s what you have to take into account when you prepare your bug out shelter:

  • It has to be portable and lightweight
  • It should be compact enough to not be a PITA to carry
  • It needs to be durable since you’ll rely on your shelter for protection from outside factors for at least 72 hours

It’s safe to say that your shelter better be all those things if you want to stay alive for as long as possible.

You’ll be in an incredibly tricky situation if you don’t carry a tent and a sleeping bag with you when SHTF, especially if you live in colder/harsher climate.

What to avoid:

  • Inflatable sleeping bags or pads since it can get punctured and go flat in the blink of an eye
  • Opt for a larger (and heavier) tent only if you have small children and/or your family is bigger

What should be in a bug out bag, fire starter

4. Fire Starter

Fire has and always will be a vital part of anything even remotely related to survival.

Being able to start a fire while you’re somewhere in the wilderness is a total lifesaver as it has a plethora of benefits such as:

  • Keeping you warm
  • Helping you to cook food
  • Providing light
  • Keeping animals at bay
  • Purifies water (only when boiled)

Here are a few fire starter options that you can get your hands on to carry inside your bug out bag:

Although you can typically start a fire with a simple match or a lighter, sometimes the weather conditions can prove to be a huge stumbling block.

That’s why you’ll need dedicated tinder (like in a fire starter kit) when everything around you is wet and when catching a spark is a real challenge.

What to avoid:

  • Gas lighters because rechargeable USB lighters are superior in every way
  • Regular matches and lighters that aren’t weatherproof

What should be in a bug out bag, first aid

5. First Aid

Maintaining your health and well-being isn’t restricted to just living in times of peace and comfort.

What good will all the water, food and shelter be if you’re down with fever and diarrhea?

That’s why first and foremost you’ll have to take some general-purpose medications such as:

  • Ibuprofen (brand name: Advil) – for pain, fever and inflammation
  • Loperamide (brand name: Imodium) – for diarrhea
  • Cetirizine (brand name: Zyrtec) – for allergies

Now, these are the most basic medicines that you should take, but by all means, add anything else that you’re usually using such as drugs for specific diseases or conditions.

And when it comes to first aid, here are the most vital items to put in your emergency bag:

  • Anti-bacterial wipes
  • Band-aids or bandages
  • Gauze pads
  • Medical Gloves
  • Burn gel
  • Tourniquet

In essence, you should carry enough items in your first aid kit so that you’ll be able to clean any potential wounds and to halt the blood flow in case of a more severe injury.

What to avoid:

  • Vanity products such as deodorants, colognes, perfumes etc.
  • Mouthwash as it will simply take up space and make your bag heavier (no one will care if your breath smells like roses in emergency scenarios)

What should be in a bug out bag, clothing

6. Clothing

Clearly, you’ll already be wearing appropriate clothes (a Weatherproof jacket  is a must) for survival and emergency situations when you leave your home.

But it’s always worth to add a complete set of climate-appropriate clothes to your survival bag.

This is where spending extra for authentic tactical or survival apparel can be totally worth as such clothes are both more durable and lightweight than their standard counterparts.

So when choosing your survival gear, make sure that it meets the following criteria:

  • Able to retain heat
  • Sturdy and lightweight
  • Easy to wash
  • Dries out fast
  • Won’t restrict your movement

With this in mind, here’s what clothes to put in your bug out bag:

We’d also like to add mention that wearing long sleeve shirts and pants is a good idea even if you live in a hot climate.

They can provide precious protection for your arms and legs against scratches and all kinds of bugs and insects.

What to avoid:

  • Vibrams, sandals and crocs because in a life or death scenario you’d need adequate i.e. robust and sturdy shoes
  • Clothes made of cotton, denim or khaki

What should be in a bug out bag, lighting

7. Lighting

Your smartphone most definitely has a built-in torch, but you’ll need to preserve your battery for more important things.

That’s why you need another source of light, especially if you plan (or are forced) to travel during the darker hours of the day.

Here’s what kind of light sources you should include in your BOB:

Now, keep in mind that a lantern doesn’t necessarily mean that your bag will be heavier and more packed.

Note that you can still carry candles if you want to – but they better be one of those bug repellent candles to kill two birds with one stone.

The modern collapsible models tend to be quite lightweight and compact, while the added illumination over flashlights and headlamps is totally worth it.

What to avoid:

  • Crank-powered lamps as they’re sort of obsolete theses days
  • Glow sticks since our recommended light sources are simply better in every aspect

What should be in a bug out bag, navigation

8. Navigation

For starters, you should at least have a general understanding of the area that you live in, including primary roads, government buildings, landmarks etc.

Important – download an larger offline map of your area on your phone!

Knowing where you are and what your position is vital, especially if certain roads are closed and/or there are more potentially dangerous areas around you.

Here are the navigation tools that you’ll totally have to add to your backpack: 

  • 1 compass
  • 1 map of your local area

Now, certain accessories like binoculars or ranger beads are definitely not mandatory and more often than not you won’t probably need them.

What to avoid:

  • Anything other than a compass and a map of your area
    Note: A GPS tracker is optional

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9. Self-Defence

Carrying some sort of a weapon or a self-defense tool should NEVER be neglected when it comes to prepping and survival

What happens if you encounter a bear or a pack of wild wolves or even worse far-from-friendly people i.e. looters and marauders?

Even if you’re a seasoned mixed martial arts specialist, you’ll still require adequate self-defense gear to protect yourself and your close ones.

Here’s what kind of self-defense items to bring with you when disaster strikes:

  • 1 knife with a safety sheat
  • 1 pepper spray (foam is better than spray)

Now, you can also add firearms to the list, although anything larger than a pistol would be an overkill.

However, guns are heavy, take up space and they require ammo (extra weight and space) so they’re hardly ideal.

What to avoid:

  • Lots of ammunition (if you do decide to carry a gun)
  • Any rifles as they’re too bulky and heavy for an SHTF situation

What should be in a bug out bag, documents

10. Documents

This part of often overlooked by most since when emergency strikes we tend to think about the things that we literally can’t live without such as water and food.

However, you might run into a lot of trouble if you don’t carry vital documentation with you because that way you can’t prove your identity to government officials.

You should store your documents (like your ID) both in physical and digital formats e.g. in a USB flash drive and in laminated papers!

And here are the most crucial documents to carry (either the originals or copies of them):

  • Personal ID
  • Passport
  • Birth certificate
  • Credit/debit card numbers
  • SSN card
  • Insurance policy numbers with contact info
  • Medical history (list of current medications, allergies etc.)
  • A detailed list of contact info of important people

And don’t forget to store all your documents in waterproof containers since both USB flash drives and papers can become damaged when exposed to water.

What to avoid:

  • Carrying every possible document you can think of (only bring the most essential ones)
  • Full-sized paper documents because you can just reduce the size of the printout copy to save space

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11. Power

Since you’ll be carrying some battery-powered items like your precious smartphone, having a reliable power supply is invaluable.

Thus, your best bet would be to bring some additional batteries and chargers with you, because there’s a slim to none chance to fall a wall socket in the wilderness.

Here’s what kind of power sources to consider adding to your bag:

  • Portable charger a.k.a. power box (check our best portable charger recommendations)
  • Battery charger for AA, AAA etc.
  • Portable solar panel (only if your bug out bag is big enough!)

However, it’s worth pointing out that a portable charger is perhaps your best bet because all the other power supply items will make your BOB more cramped and heavier.

What to avoid:

  • Non-standard battery types (AA or AAA is what you really need)
  • Power generators, be it water, crank or wind-powered ones

What should be in a bug out bag, miscellaneous

12. Miscellaneous

And since we already covered the most vital and essential items to include in your BOB, we’ve decided to mention a few additional things that are still worth mentioning.

So, here are some miscellaneous items to carry with you (some are optional):

  • Currency i.e. cash
  • Dental floss
  • Multi-tool
  • Paracord
  • Duct tape
  • Mini-shovel (optional)
  • Gas mask (optional)
  • Condoms (optional)
  • Deck of cards (optional)

There are probably other misc items that you can add to this list, but these are arguably the most crucial ones and you always want to stay within reason since your backpack space is limited.

What to avoid:

  • Anything not directly related to your survival i.e. fancy novels or board games


Even though we live in uncertain times as there are wars and rumors of wars, you should feel more comfortable knowing that you are prepared to survive for at least 72 hours.

Now you know what the absolute most essential items to put in your BOB are – you know, the things that will help you survive when SHTF.

So – have you already packed your emergency bag?

Or are you still going through our checklist, making sure you don’t miss any crucial items?

Drop your answer in the comments below!


What is a bug out bag and why do I need one?

A bug out bag is a portable kit filled with essential items and supplies that you may need in an emergency situation, such as a natural disaster or civil unrest, where you need to quickly evacuate your home.

It is designed to sustain you for at least 72 hours until you can find a safe location or additional resources.

Having a bug out bag ensures that you are prepared for unexpected emergencies and increases your chances of survival.

What should I include in a bug out bag?

While the contents of a bug out bag may vary based on personal needs and geographical location, some essential items to include are:

  • Water and water purification methods
  • Non-perishable food items
  • First aid kit
  • Emergency shelter (tent or tarp)
  • Clothing suitable for various weather conditions
  • Multipurpose tools (knife, flashlight, etc.)
  • Communication devices (radio, whistle, signaling mirror)
  • Personal hygiene items
  • Important documents and cash
  • Maps and a compass

How heavy should my bug out bag be?

It is generally recommended to keep your bug out bag as lightweight as possible while still including all the necessary items.

The weight of your bag will depend on factors such as your physical strength and endurance.

However, a good guideline is to aim for a maximum weight of 20% to 25% of your body weight.

Regularly assess and update your bag’s contents to ensure it remains manageable and doesn’t become a burden to carry.

How often should I update the items in my bug out bag?

It is crucial to review and update the items in your bug out bag periodically.

Aim to do this at least once a year, or more frequently if needed.

Check expiration dates on food, medications, and batteries, and replace them as necessary.

Evaluate the seasonally appropriate clothing and adjust accordingly.

Also, consider any changes in your personal needs or circumstances that may require modifications to the bag’s contents.

Where should I store my bug out bag?

It is essential to store your bug out bag in a location that is easily accessible and known to all members of your household.

Ideally, keep it near an exit, such as by the front door or in the trunk of your vehicle.

Additionally, consider having multiple bug out bags, so you can keep one at home, one at work, and one in your vehicle.

Remember to regularly check and maintain the items in your bug out bag to ensure they remain functional and ready for use.

Evelyn - atlantic survival gear
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Evelyn Claire, a young and adventurous spirit fueled by her unwavering passion for the outdoors and survival. From an early age, she was captivated by nature's beauty, and her thirst for exploration knows no bounds.

Evelyn's love for the wilderness extends beyond admiration. She has dedicated herself to mastering survival skills, from building shelters to foraging for food. Fearless and determined, she embarks on thrilling expeditions, conquering rugged terrains and embracing the challenges that come her way.

As an advocate for environmental stewardship, Evelyn strives to protect and preserve the landscapes she cherishes. Through her inspiring journeys and responsible outdoor practices, she encourages others to connect with nature and discover their own inner strength.

Evelyn Claire stands as a beacon of inspiration for young women seeking adventure and a deeper connection with the natural world. Join her on an unforgettable journey of discovery, self-reliance, and the boundless beauty that awaits in the great outdoors.

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