When putting together a bug out bag, it can be difficult to keep yourself from packing up the entire house in the name of preparedness.
But loading up a bag with 100 different survival items is a surefire way to wind up with a bag that’s too heavy to carry—or at least, too heavy to carry at a decent pace without exhausting yourself.
Preserving energy during an evacuation is of the utmost importance, so you the last thing you want is to be lugging around a 50-pound bag that’s packed so full that you can’t find anything you need easily. This is why you need to pack smart and pack light, and it’s why we’ve come up with this comprehensive list of all the essentials.
In today’s world, you never know when a catastrophe can occur. We face a constant threat of natural and man-made disasters and in order to protect yourself and those you care about, you must not be ill-prepared.
Use this list of 30 must-have essentials to create the ultimate bug out bag and ensure your safety in the event of a catastrophe.
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These are items that should come to mind first when planning a bug out bag. They’re the most fundamental necessities for survival during a disaster.
Bring at least two different forms of ID for yourself, as well as one for each dependent person you’re traveling with (if you’re evacuating with your family).
To be safe, bring your driver’s license, passport, and social security card. You need identification to access bank accounts or claim any assets, and of course, to be identified by anyone trying to help you.
Pack at least $300 in small bills (and don’t forget some coinage). This is a rule of thumb when you’re traveling for leisure, and it applies when you’re evacuating just the same.
Money in your bank account may be inaccessible for a number of reasons, so pack some cash to stay on the safe side.
3. A Small Weapon
In the event that your food supply runs out, you’re going to need to hunt. Additionally, self defense is a top priority—so pack a small handgun with ammunition (but not more than a few rounds) or a fixed-blade knife that’ll be effective without taking up too much space.
4. Fire Starters
You should pack at least three different methods of sparking a flame. Make sure that they’re small, reliable, and easy to use (and that you’re well-versed in doing so). Read a full list of different fire-starting essentials here.
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5. First Aid Kit
Whether it’s homemade or store bought, make sure that your first aid kit is compact and contains all the essentials, and none of the non-essentials. Read a list of bug out bag first aid kit necessities here.
Whether you’re signaling for help, you’ve lost track of the people you’re traveling with, or you’ve come across an unwelcome four-legged guest, a whistle is a small, effortless way to make a lot of loud noise when necessary.
7. Duct Tape
This one’s a no-brainer. Duct tape is a strong, sturdy, and sticky essential that you’ll use for everything.
The majority of the items you put in your bug out bag should serve more than one purpose, but these items are specifically meant to perform several different operations.
8. A Multi-Tool
A couple of popular examples are a Leatherman or a Swiss army knife. They’re called multi-tools for a reason, and you’ll find that they come in handy constantly. These all-in-one pocket tool kits are utterly essential.
Buy on Amazon: Victorinox Swiss Army Folding Camping Knives
A box of 100 paperclips is only about 3”x2”x1”, and there are dozens of survival uses for them. They’re small, light, and malleable, and they can definitely fit in your bug out bag. Here’s a list of 28 survival uses for paperclips.
Bandanas are small and thin, and you only need to pack a couple. You can use them as a wash cloth, a tourniquet, a water filter, a sling, or a handful of other things.
Buy on Amazon: Paisley One Dozen Cowboy Bandanas
11. Glow Sticks
They don’t need batteries or electricity, and they last for hours. You can use them to mark things, as a light source, or even as a signal for help.
Buy on Amazon: Lumistick Glowsticks
12. Paracord Bracelet
Otherwise known as Paracord or 550 Cord, this is a strong and practical item that has a ton of uses. And the best part is that you can tie or clip it to the outside of your bag or even wear it as a bracelet. Here’s a list of 25 fantastic uses of Paracord for prepping and survival.
13. Zip Ties
Another small, light item with multiple uses, zip ties can save the day in many different ways—even if you only pack a few. Read a list of 15 survival uses for zip ties here.
Food, water, shelter, and clothing are basic needs, but it can be tricky to pack the right things while keeping size, weight, and shelf life in mind. Here are our top recommendations.
14. High-Calorie Food
Evacuation is exhausting and space is limited, so packing small, nutrient-dense items is a must. Dried meats and fruits, nuts, and freeze-dried items are smart because they’re lightweight, yet high in protein and fiber to keep you full and energized.
15. Water Purification Tablets
It’s best to purify your water by boiling it, so as to avoid wasting resources, but if you can’t start a fire for some reason or you don’t have the time to spend on that process, these tablets will be a life saver.
Buy on Amazon: Portable Aqua Water Purification Tablets
16. Skivvy Roll
Avoid wasting space and weight by packing heavy or unnecessary clothing items, and opt for a skivvy roll instead. It’s compact and lightweight with just the essentials.
17. Thermal Blankets
It’s thin, easy to compress, and it’ll keep you warm and dry. It’s like having a sleeping bag with a fraction of the size and weight.
Buy on Amazon: Mylar Men’s Emergency Thermal Blankets
This item is pretty self-explanatory; most of them combine a spoon, a fork, and a knife in one small, durable utensil.
Buy on Amazon: Light My Fire Titanium Spork
19. Collapsible Bowls
Another item that speaks for itself. A collapsible bowl takes up very little space and you can use it to eat and drink from, to cook in, and to collect things to eat.
Buy on Amazon: Collapsible Silicone Bowl for Camping
20. Baby Wipes
Hygiene is essential in avoiding illness and infection, both of which can drain your energy and escalate quickly. Packing baby wipes is a simple, convenient way to stay relatively clean while evacuating.
Buy on Amazon: Amazon Elements Baby Wipes
21. Camp Soap
Especially if you’re traveling with other people or staying in a compact space, personal hygiene matters. When baby wipes aren’t doing the trick and you’ve got the resources to bathe, having a bar of camp soap on hand will be useful and this way, you won’t waste space packing individual toiletries.
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Or another variation of durable, waterproof material. You can use a tarp to build a shelter, make a trap, collect and drag large or heavy items, or do a variety of other tasks.
Buy on Amazon: Super Heavy Duty Brown Tarp
This category is debated among campers, backpackers, and preppers alike. Do your research on which electronics suit your needs best, but keep these in mind as the bare necessities.
23. Solar-Powered or Hand-Crank AM/FM Radio
Staying connected to the rest of the world, particularly during a disaster, is important. These types of radios are small and don’t need batteries or electricity, so you can stay updated on what’s going on around you and potentially seek help or detect threats.
Buy on Amazon: Epica Emergency Solar Hand Crank AM/FM/NOAA Digital Radio
These devices are small, lightweight, and they operate on extremely low energy, so their batteries last for days or even weeks. Load your eReader up with survival books and helpful pamphlets so that you can refer to them for tips and tricks when necessary.
Buy on Amazon: Kindle Paperwhite E-reader
25. Universal USB Solar Charger
No matter which electronics you decide to pack, you’ll need an electricity-free way to charge them. Whether it’s a phone, a GPS, and eReader, or something else, this small item will come in handy.
Buy on Amazon: Solar Charger for Emergency
WHAT NOT TO PACK
We know it can be tough not to pack every single thing that may seem remotely useful during an evacuation, but resisting the temptation is worthwhile. Leave these items out of your bug out bag and use our suggested alternatives instead.
They can expire quickly, and unless you’ve packed or updated your bug out bag recently, they won’t be effective. Additionally, unforeseen contact with moisture will ruin them.
Instead, educate yourself on natural remedies and pack the necessary supplies—but only if they have a long shelf life.
27. Portable Stove
They take up a lot of space and they only operate on fuel or tablets that you’ll run out of. Moreover, most of the food that you pack shouldn’t require cooking. Just brush up on your fire-building skills and pack small, multipurpose items that you can use as kindling in the absence of wood or leaves.
28. A Paper Map
Let’s be honest—a map is only useful if you also have a compass and are an expert in actually using them.
And even then, there’s no guarantee that you’ll stay within the area of your map when evacuating, unless you have a map of the entire continent, which defeats the purpose anyway. If you’re worried about navigation, pack a handheld GPS instead.
29. Canned Food
Many preppers pack canned food because it has a long shelf life, but that’s really the only perk. Canned items are heavy, difficult to open without a can opener (which is a single-function item that takes up additional space), and in most cases, they’re full of salt which will dehydrate you.
Opt for lighter, smarter options for nonperishable food items.
30. A Tent
Shelter is a necessity, but a tent isn’t the only way to cover yourself. Use your tarp and Paracord to build a shelter that’s quicker and easier to assemble and disassemble, and save yourself the space and weight of packing a full-sized tent.
Now That You’ve Built The Ultimate Bug Out Bag, Now What?
Now that you know what to include (and what not to include) in your bug out bag, it’s time to get packing—but that can be a whole new endeavor in itself. Before you start cramming items into a hiking backpack, read this article with 14 brilliant bug out bag packing tips and watch this two-part YouTube video for further insight. Remember to pack smart and strategically!
Don’t want to build your own bug out bag and want one that is already made? Then check this one out!