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Table of Contents
The Bug Out Bag Contents Guide
What to Pack When You’re Expecting… (TEOTWAWKI)
Yeah, yeah, I know.
“Not another bug out bag checklist!”
There are a thousand other checklists out there already and here I am adding another one to the pile.
But here’s the thing: none of them are 100% right.
They can’t be.
Because no one knows exactly what they will be bugging out from.
Will it be a chemical spill? Flood? Civil unrest? Mother in law in town?
Each person has different needs, environmental advantages and disadvantages, and skills. So no one list can decisively cover all of that without ridiculous overkill.
The best we can do is tell you what you absolutely need to have and give you some options for other items so you can decide what works best for you.
I’ve split the list into Essential and Optional supplies so you can prioritize your packing. There are benefits to all of the items on this list but that doesn’t mean you have to carry it all with you.
Trust me, this list is long and there is no way all of it is fitting in anyone’s bag. When I say ultimate bug out bag checklist, I mean it. I wanted to make the most thorough guide out there.
I’ve also included a checklist PDF to make your packing easier (and keep you from having to reread all of this). You can download it here.
Finally, remember that these tools are worthless if you don’t know how to use them. There are links to useful articles on some of the items to give you ideas on different applications and why they are important.
Without any further ado, the Bug Out Bag Checklist!
Essential Bug Out Bag Supplies
Backpack – Gotta put all your fancy bug out gear somewhere, don’t you? When picking out your bug out bag, make sure to choose one that is comfortable, water resistant, durable, and has plenty of storage. Bonus points for hydration bladder compatibility. Don’t forget to check out our guide to picking the best bug out bag backpack. Or if you’re fine with not blending in and you want something durable and comfortable, check out our roundup of the best tactical backpacks available.
Water container – Plastic and metal container water bottles both have their advantages. If possible, have both in case something happens to one. If you have to choose only one, go with a lightweight metal container that is durable and allows you to boil water in it (not insulated). You can only survive for three days without water so it is very important that you are able to stock up when you find clean water.
Water purification (lifestraw/tablets/etc) – No matter where you are, you’re going to need water. And you should be careful about what you drink because no one wants to get the trots while running for their lives. Ideally you would have at least 2 different ways to purify water.
Fire starter (ferro rod/matches/lighter) – Don’t think just because it’s not cold out that you can skip this. You could be in the heart of an urban environment in the middle of summer and still need fire. Boiling water, cooking food, signaling, or toasting marshmallows, fires are important. A couple of cheap Bic lighters are fine but it’s also good to have a backup. Here is a free fire starter that you can throw in your bag.
Food – Yeah, you’re going to need this. MRE’s, protein bars, pemmican, trail mix, GORP, and jerky are all good choices. Just make sure you pay attention to the expiration dates. When in doubt, go for the ones with the most calories per gram. Basically the opposite of what you should be doing now.
Flashlight – Whether it’s finding your way back to camp at night or exploring an (hopefully) abandoned building, a reliable flashlight is essential. Having a few is a good idea. Especially when you can get a great quality one like this for less than five bucks. I’ve already bought 3. Seriously. Or here’s a free one.
Knife – Cutting, prying, stabbing, chopping, or just waving around menacingly, knives are invaluable in everyday life and even more so in survival situations. It is a good idea to have multiple knives in your bag, just in case. Here’s a free one you that you can keep in your wallet. Ideally you’d have one for heavy duty tasks like batoning and one for more delicate tasks like skinning.
Paracord – Cordage can be used for anything from building a shelter to catching game to making weapons. And the hands down most versatile type of cordage is paracord. If you’re a DIY-er, there are plenty of tutorials that teach you how to braid your own paracord bracelet so you can always have some close at hand. Or you can just grab this free one (with built in fire starter).
Check out our post about why paracord is so great and what paracord projects you can do with it.
Trash bags – From using it as a poncho to keeping things dry to carrying water, trash bags have a million and one uses. And they take up very little space. I would suggest the 3mil contractor type for added durability.
Multi-tool – For… multi-ple things. You never know when you’re going to need to cut a wire, descale a fish, or put together an Ikea bookcase. This and your knife are going to be your go to tools for quite a while.
Depending on what you need it to do, these can be fairly inexpensive or clean out your beer money fund. Either way, pick one that can take some abuse. I’ve had a small swiss army knife on my keychain for ten years and I still use it constantly. And if you need a backup, you can grab this free one.
Bandana – Use as a dust mask, carry your belongings like a hobo, keep the sun off your neck, or soak up water from a puddle. Another addition to your pack that takes up little space and more than makes up for its weight. You could also use a neck gaiter but you won’t get quite as many uses out of it.
First aid kit – For when you hurt yourself. Duh. It’s a disaster. Someone is bound to be hurt. And one of you needs to be prepared. Premade kits like this are fine but you may want to beef them up with any prescriptions you take, antibiotics, hydrocortisone, sunscreen, hand sanitizer, and activated charcoal.
Change of clothes – Besides the hygiene issue, having an extra change of clothes – specifically ones built for long term hiking – can make a huge difference. You may not have time to change when SHTF so this way you’re always prepared. Hypothermia, visibility, blisters, sunburn, and chafing are all dangers when wearing the wrong clothing. Definitely at least a hat, pair of socks, and change of underwear.
Comfortable shoes should be kept near your bug out bag so you don’t go running for your life in heels. That’s not how children should remember their father.
Duct tape – I think you already know how versatile duct tape is so this should go without explanation. Wrap some around items already in your bag like lighters, pencils, or flashlights to save space. Bonus tip – Add a needle, razor blade, or other small tool when wrapping for even more functionality.
Superglue – Another small item that makes a big difference. It’s not just for piecing back your mother’s figurines, it also makes a good bandage for small cuts, repairs leaks in your tarp, and, you know, fixes stuff.
eReader – You know how I keep referencing all of the uses that these items have? Bet you don’t know them all. And you probably don’t know which mushrooms are edible and which are poisonous. Or at least you wouldn’t stake your life on it. So it’s important to have all of that information on hand.
Signal whistle – For signaling or whistlin’ Dixie. Louder than my ex will ever be and won’t go hoarse. Use for communication or for getting found. Pretty small and if you buy a “survival” knife/caribiner/water filter/anything really, they like to throw these on. There’s even one on my bug out bag‘s chest strap! Tweet tweet!
Radio – Communication is important when all hell breaks loose. Get this one so you can listen in to broadcasts as well as talk with other fun preppers about how you totally saw this coming.
Tinfoil – Continuing on this trend of small items with a myriad of uses, tinfoil can be used to cook, signal, cover, and make hats out of.
Mylar blanket – Not one of those cheap ones though. Use it for shelter, bedding, keeping warm, or signaling.
Map of the surrounding area – Navigate without Siri or TomTom. Find alternate routes. Play an intense game of hide and seek.
USB drive – Encrypted (like this one), of course. Put copies of all your important documents on here in case the world returns to normal and you need to prove your identity or that you won the 5th grade spelling bee.
Watch – You should already have one of these but if you’ve got a special “tactical watch” that you don’t wear every day, be sure to strap it to your bug out bag so you don’t have to go looking for it when you need to bail. And even if your watch doesn’t have all the fancy features and whistles, it’s still very useful. Knowing what time it is allows you to coordinate plans, know how much time you have before it gets dark, and calculate distance. You can also use an analog watch as a compass.
Optional Bug Out Bag Contents
Packing cubes – You could easily get by without packing cubes but when you need to get something out of the bottom of your bag, these are great for getting to it without dumping out your whole pack. I wholly recommend them to anyone going backpacking or on long trips.
Pencil sharpener – Make fire starter shavings, arrow, fishing spear, etc. Very useful little tool.
Playing cards – For passing the time. Get these for added benefit.
Knife sharpener/whet stone – Keeping your blade sharp keeps you safe.
Bleach – Purify water or clean your toilet. NOT at the same time. Keep a bit in a small container. If you can figure out how to get it in one of those Clear Eyes droppers, that’d be perfect.
Zip ties – Secure things, including people. Lot of different applications and don’t take up much space.
Fishing line and hooks – For…fishing. Maybe stealing food from a lovable bear?
N95 dust mask – Not as good as a gas mask but less bulky and much cheaper. These can filter out smoke, fumes, particle debris, and many airborne contaminants.
Collapsible bowl – Where are you going to put your delicious pine straw soup? A hollowed out coconut? Pfft as if! You’re gonna need a bowl. And a collapsible one like this will save valuable space.
Spork – To eat those delicious MREs. I’ve got this one and it’s great. Plus, it can do other things than just feed you. Like feed someone else.
Camp shovel – Dig latrines, level campground, dig for grubs. Can also be used to chop.
Pepper spray – Self defense and seasoning (for the bold).
Ziploc bag(s) – Keep things dry and airtight. They take up almost no space too.
Remember that next time you go kayaking and put your phone in a bag with no air and your stupid friend, Bill, knocks it out of the boat and now it’s sunk on the bottom of the lake and you can’t find it because it’s stuck in the mud and all you want to do is thwack your former friend in the head with your paddle but you can’t because your son is right there and he already has behavior issues and DAMNIT BILL JUST WATCH WHAT YOU’RE DOING NEXT TIME!
Gloves – You might have to maneuver fallen structures, navigate dense brush, or dig people out of rubble. And that is going to do hell on your manicure. Also a good choice when contamination is an issue.These provide a lot of grip as well as protection but regular mechanic’s gloves will work well too.
Backpacking stove – Small, light, runs on alcohol, butane, wood, etc. Some even include a cook set.
Cook set – Pick one that is light, durable, and allows you to easily cook over a fire or camp stove.
Camp mug – Drink stuff, cook stuff, carry stuff.
Floss – Fishing line, cordage, cut soft cheese, and even cleans your teeth!
Pocket notebook – Gotta write on something, right? Get the waterproof paper for extra usability.
Soap – Cleanliness is next to godliness. And some other stuff.
Toothpaste – I don’t know about you but I start to hate everything when I don’t brush my teeth. Also cures acne, defogs mirrors, and a bunch of other helpful things.
Toothbrush – Clean your teeth, shoes, etc.
Wire – Good for cordage, traps, snares, etc.
Chainsaw chain/wire saw – Save your knife and cut branches for shelter or firewood.
Tent – Shelter. An ultralight one like this one would be your best bet if you can afford it.
Sleeping bag – AKA the human burrito to bears. Pay attention to the temperature rating in regards to your environment.
Gold Bond powder – Put this in your med kit to prevent blisters and chafing. Jungle rot is the worst.
Toilet paper – Don’t run the risk of using the wrong leaf at the latrine.
Chalk – Mark your path, leave messages, draw crude images on buildings.
Cash – Buy stuff. Odds are that money will still have some value after SHTF.
Tarp – Number of uses including shelter, rain collection, transporting large objects, etc.
Camp axe – Chop firewood, build shelters, level campgrounds, fight zombies…
Hand sanitizer wipes – Great for every backpack. Sometimes this is the closest you’ll get to a shower.
Binoculars – See stuff that’s far away. Use the lens to start fires as well.
Slingshot – With practice, this can be a great way to hunt. Ammo is plentiful and it operates silently.
Mirror – For signaling, fire starting, applying makeup.
Phone charger cable – We all seem to focus on TEOTWAWKI situations but after Hurricane Sandy, people went to great lengths to be able to charge their phones. And if shit really hits the fan, you can always use it as extra cordage or something.
Hand crank generator – For those overcast days, it’s always good to have another source of energy like this.
Battery charger – For AA or AAA batteries. Ideally one that can plug into the solar charger.
Batteries – Keep a few extra for radios and flashlights.
Gum – If you don’t know how to start a fire with a battery and a gum wrapper, it’s a neat trick that could save your life. Plus chewing gum decreases your appetite so you don’t go through your rations as fast.
Solar panel – To charge your Kindle, radios, etc. No need to rely on the “grid”.
Headlamp – Keep your hands free while seeing stuff.
Carabiners – Can be used to attach things to your pack that won’t fit inside. Can also be used to build shelter, rappel, and plenty of other things. Some even come with a compass or multi-tool like this one.
Split ring – Similar uses to the carabiner. These are so small, it wouldn’t hurt to have a few.
Pantyhose – Add this to our growing list of everyday household items with a laundry list of uses.
Rubber tube – Handy for siphoning gas out of a car, making a slingshot, or using it as a tourniquet, among other things.
Condom – Condoms are pretty useful in the field as well as in the bedroom.
Tampons – Laugh all you like but these things are damn useful, even for those of us with a Y chromosome.
Vaseline – Use it to prevent chapped skin or as a fire starter (not at the same time though). There are a number of uses for Vaseline
Cotton balls – Similar uses to the tampons but also extremely good for fire starter when coated in Vaseline
Iodine – Use for first aid or to disinfect water.
Toiletries – Shaving cream, razor, mouthwash, comb, etc. Morale is a big part of survival so if feeling a little cleaner is important to you, you might want to make room for these.
GPS – As long as the grid stays up, this is a much more efficient way of navigating and you can get a good base model for less than 100 bucks.
Tweezers – Hopefully your multitool came with a set but if not, they can be helpful for removing splinters, thorns, bee stings, etc.
Pocket warmers – Depending on where you live. These are small, cheap, and can make a big difference.
Light sticks – Cheap, long lasting light. Get them in different colors to identify members of your party in the dark or use them for signaling.
Sewing kit – I was taught how to sew at a young age and have used that skill more times than I can count. When you’re on the move through rough terrain, expect things to tear and break down. You’ll need it.
Ammo – If you choose to bring a gun, don’t forget plenty of ammo/extra magazines. Pretty useless without those. The same goes for slingshot ammo but that can be improvised.
Tomahawk – Why not? Personally I’d rather have a hatchet/small axe but if you like throwing away your weapons, a tomahawk might be for you. Can be used for breaching, chopping wood, and intimidating would-be attackers.
Can opener – Don’t be that guy stabbing your can of beans open with a bowie knife.
Crowbar – For getting into locked rooms and also a weapon.
Folding bolt cutters – For getting through padlocks and chain link fences.
Walkie talkies – As I mentioned before, communication is important. Stay in touch with your party with these.
Electrical tape – Like duct tape but more waterproof and weather resistant.
Eyeglass repair kit – Your vision is one of your most important tools. If you wear glasses, packing a kit might be a good idea.
Gun cleaning kit – If you decided to bring a sidearm or rifle, keeping it clean is important. A clean gun can prevent malfunctions when you need it most.
Ranger bands – These are rubber bands on steroids. These bad boys have a long list of uses and are pretty easy to add to your pack without sacrificing weight or space.
Faraday cage/bag – Protect your electronics from EMP damage. These don’t take up too much space and help keep your gear organized.
Ultimate Bug Out Bag Checklist PDF
And don’t forget to download the Bug Out Bag Checklist PDF here.