Survival in a Bag: Assembling Your Bug Out Bag

Bug out bags go by different names: 72-hour bag, Go Kit, Bail Bag, Go Bag — but they all mean the same thing: a survival kit that will help you endure 72 hours in the wild or after evacuating your home from an emergency or a natural disaster.

Bug out bags are meant to be deployed ASAP, so prepare them ahead of time. They are, however, only meant for short-term survival, so they should be lightweight and small enough to be carried in a backpack.

Although it’s tempting to put everything in your bag (e.g. all the flashlights in the house or your favorite bagoong from Barrio Fiesta), your bug out bag should not replace everything in your home. Plan these bags as if you are a surprise house-guest of a friend rather than an outlaw in the woods.

These kits, however, should have several back-up plans, so in case things don’t go according to plan, you can still cook, purify water, and stay comfortable in the wilderness.

Bug out bags come in different shapes and sizes and contain a variety of essentials. The contents of the bag depend on what you need.

What Kind of Bag Should I Use?

As mentioned, bug out bags are backpacks or knapsacks — any bag that you can carry and should at least have a capacity of 50 pounds. Apart from the bag, invest in accessories that will protect your kit. For example, buy a rainproof shell to cover your bag in case of severe storms.

Hip support is also important so choose a bag with a hip strap. The more durable your hip strap is, the longer you can carry heavier loads.

What Should I Include in My Bug Out Bag?

You can consider different supply categories when assembling the contents of your bag. These essentials are for food, shelter, hygiene and protection, the latter coming in handy when you’re faced with threats, such as violent crimes or animals in the wild (e.g. large wolf).

  • Category 1: Water. You need three liters of water per day to survive — preferably more, considering individual physiology and climate. Since bug out bags must sustain you for 72 hours, you should have 9 liters of fresh drinking water, which you can store in two to three durable containers. One of the containers should be collapsible to reduce the bulk of your bag. A metal canteen is also a good addition since you can boil water you collect along the way.
  • Category 2: Food. It’s possible to live without food for 72 hours, but it’s not pleasant. Strengthen yourself by packing simple and easy-to-prepare meals. Canned goods, bean, and stews or soups are great options. If you’re worried about the weight of your bag, go for dehydrated camping meals. These meals, however, require hot water to prepare.

You’ll also need simple cooking kits. A small metal pot, a metal cup, a spork and a metal plate should be enough.


  • Category 3: Shelter/Clothing. Regardless of the climate, pack the following (you can wear some of these items when you leave):
    • Two changes of underwear
    • Two extra shirts (one short-sleeved, one long-sleeved)
    • Two pairs of wool hiking socks
    • One warm rain jacket
    • A mid-weight fleece
    • One pair of waterproof hiking boots

In terms of shelter, a military poncho can protect you from the elements. These ponchos come with grommets in the corner, which you can use as a makeshift tent. A reflective emergency survival blanket can also double as a shelter.

  • Category 4: Fire. Since you are preparing this bug out bag in advance, toss in a few easy fire-starter options such as waterproof matches and lighters. Fire steel can also generate sparks in any weather condition.
  • Category 5: First Aid. Whether you bought a premade kit or want to build your own, your first aid kit should have the following items: adhesive bandages, butterfly closure bandages, antiseptic, gauze dressing, and alcohol pads.
  • Category 6: Tools. A knife is an absolute survival essential. A full-tang, fixed-blade knife is a good survival knife that you can use for splitting, chopping, and self-defense. Fixed-blade knives are also helpful for small camp tasks such as food preparation, carving, and feather sticks.
  • Category 7: Communication. A fully-charged phone is a must-have for communication, even if cellphone services are unavailable. You’ll need to make a text or call once the signal returns. Always bring a fully-charged phone and an extra battery plus charger.

There is no perfect bug out bag. The changes in your bag will evolve with your needs. But an imperfect bag is better than nothing during a survival scenario. The peace of mind knowing that there’s a bag you can grab is enough to convince you to take the time and effort to build it.