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Home » The Essential Guide for How to Pack a Bug Out Bag

The Essential Guide for How to Pack a Bug Out Bag

  • by GovX
Photo credit: VertX

There are a number of scenarios in which you might need to leave your home in a hurry with your bug out bag. Extreme weather is often a real concern, especially considering the string of violent hurricanes and wildfires spanning the country over the last several years.

In the case of fire, flood, hurricane, tornado, blizzard, earthquake, or another natural disaster, you might need to bug out quickly.

You could also be evacuated due to concerns like terrorism, riots, or active shooters in your area. You may have to leave your home in the event of an extended power outage. A serious gas leak could force you out of your home for months (remember the Aliso Canyon debacle of 2015?).

When this happens, you need to have your bug out bag packed and ready to go. This starts with understanding what a go bag is and knowing what essentials to pack. When you’ve got a plan in place, it’s time to find the best bug out bag for your needs.

Once you have the rugged, weather-resistant, lightweight, spacious, compartmentalized pack that will hold all your stuff, all that remains is to prep for speedy departure.

Here are the essentials to get you on track for success when you’re planning your bug out bag checklist.

What is a Bug Out Bag?

When an emergency arises that causes you to leave your home, like an unplanned evacuation, you need to be ready to go in a hurry. This may leave you little time to pack up essentials to take with you.

If you want to be sure you’re ready to “bug out” at a moment’s notice, it helps to prepare by packing up a bag for the occasion well in advance.

A bug out bag is a pre-packed backpack you can grab and go when time is of the essence. You aren’t going to want heavy, cumbersome, rolling luggage – that might be great for the airport, but it’s not ideal when you’re fleeing a fire, for example. If you’re interested in even more storage, you could choose a larger duffel-style bag. Even a regular gym bag would do just fine. But typically speaking, most people prefer using backpacks as bug out bags, because it allows the wearer better mobility and full use of their hands.

Your bug out bag should be crafted from durable, lightweight, weatherproof material. You’ll want to choose something with enough room for all your bug out bag essentials, as well as a number of distinct compartments to keep everything organized.

Padded straps will be a godsend if you have to walk very far, while a roll-top not only helps to keep contents dry, but also allows for expansion.

Food and Water

When it comes to assembling your bug out bag essentials, food and water are pretty much at the top of the list. You can go a while without food if you have to, but it won’t be very comfortable. Without water, you’ll only survive for about three days, so this is the first thing you’ll want to consider as you’re packing your bug out bag.

The problem, of course, is size and weight. While you’re probably planning on bugging out in a vehicle, if possible, you may have to hoof it, so you want to make sure you can easily bring everything that’s necessary.

Bottled Water

Water can get heavy fast. A gallon of water, for example, weighs just over 8 pounds. You should probably plan to carry about a three-day water supply, which works out to roughly 1.5 gallons per person.

Carrying approximately 12 pounds of water doesn’t sound terrible until you add it to all the other gear in your bag. Still, this is probably the single most important item you’ll need, so you don’t want to skimp here.

Water Collection and Purification

When a natural disaster occurs, you may not have access to clean drinking water for days. You can’t necessarily count on speedy disaster relief to provide it. When you run out of bottled water, what will you do?

With a water collection/storage container, such as a reusable bottle or bladder, you can carry water, but it may need to be purified, depending on the source. This can sometimes be accomplished with iodine water purification tablets, but a water filtration system is also a handy piece of survival gear to have on hand.


When it comes to portable food for your bug out bag, you need to choose items that are small, lightweight, non-perishable, and stored in sealed packets. Rations such as MREs are ideal—precooked meals in pouches that require no additional preparation or ingredients—but most of you reading this likely already knew that. A trusted name in prepper food available in the GovX catalog is Readywise, known for a huge variety of recipes.

While you can also find freeze-dried or dehydrated food packets, they require water to reconstitute, which can cut into your precious drinking water supply.

You might also want to include items like energy or protein meal replacement bars in your go bag.

First Aid

When disaster strikes, there’s a good chance you or someone you know will need medical attention for minor injuries. A compact, yet complete first aid kit should include a number of critical items, including:

  • Bandages
  • Gauze
  • Medical tape
  • Scissors
  • Antiseptic and antibacterial wipes
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Non-latex surgical gloves
  • Aspirin, ibuprofen, and/or other painkillers
  • Burn gel
  • Sling
  • Tourniquet
  • First aid guidebook

You may choose to add other items, but these are the basic bug out bag essentials for rendering first aid.

The American Red Cross First Aid Fast Reference Guide is a great resource for CPR and other common first aid scenarios. Best of all? It’s printed on tear-proof, spill-proof paper.


You may be more concerned with food, water, and first aid supplies when you’re making your bug out bag checklist, but at some point, you might be glad you took the time to consider adding key items of clothing.

A simple change of clothes is a good place to start. What if your clothes are damaged or contaminated in the process of evacuation? You’re going to need something to wear.

Of course, it’s also important to bring along protective clothing that accounts for weather conditions. This could mean changing out the gear in your bug out bag seasonally or perhaps packing up a summer and a winter go bag – whatever works for you.

Warm Weather Gear

When the heat is high, you’ll need clothing that provides coverage and cooling. Loose, lightweight shirts and pants that protect you from UV exposure are ideal. Tactical clothing with plenty of pockets might not be a bad idea, either. You’ll also want hat that offers sun protection.

If you’re in a climate that suffers from heavy seasonal rains, consider packing a rain jacket, as well. Rain might not hurt you, per se, but walking around soaked can certainly be uncomfortable, ultimately leading to a range of health concerns.

Cold Weather Gear

Protecting your body from exposure to cold can help you to avoid potentially harmful and deadly conditions like frostbite and hypothermia. Hats, gloves, and protective footwear are vital. Consider also packing wool items that will keep you warm even if they get wet.


If you’re bugging out on foot, you’re not going to want to hike long in sandals or street shoes. Comfortable, robust, utilitarian shoes like trainers or hiking boots will take you far, especially if you take the time to break them in beforehand.


In the event of an emergency scenario that puts you or your loved ones in danger, having the right defensive tools for your bug out bag is especially important. Most people prepared for such situations would likely be carrying certain tools on their person as opposed to in the bag itself, but these items are worth including on this list.

You’ll want a reliable knife at your disposal. A particularly reliable choice is the Benchmade Infidel, an out-the-front automatic dagger purely designed for personal defense.

Of course, many of you reading this article will likely prefer using your legal firearm over a knife. In that case, make sure your bug out bag is stocked with spare magazines, ammunition, and if there’s room, a reliable gun-cleaning kit.

Other Essentials

Now that you’ve covered survival gear basics, it’s time to consider any other items you might need from your bug out bag checklist if catastrophic events occur.

It’s always a good idea to include a flashlight or headlamp in your pack, in case a disaster occurs after dark and the power gets knocked out. For this reason, you should also include batteries.

It’s not a bad idea to have a small, portable AM/FM radio (battery operated or hand cranked) to stay up-to-date with the latest news, warnings, and disaster information for your area, just in case cell coverage is unavailable.

Consider also adding whistles to stay in contact with your group or serve as a warning of danger.

By now, most people have face masks galore. You’ll want to include some protective masks and/or respirators, in case of air pollution, as well as goggles to protect your eyes.

Don’t forget to include some cash, at least enough for a few nights’ stay at a hotel, in addition to coverage for food and fuel costs. Pack a back-up supply of any necessary medication, as well, and rotate it out periodically to maintain efficacy.

Finally, you’ll want to make copies of essential documents for your bug out bag. This could include identification, such as a birth certificate, Social Security card, driver’s license, and/or passport. You might also want copies of titles, deeds, and/or contracts.

Originals can be stored in a fire safe or a safe deposit box, although you’ll probably want your actual passport with you, if possible. Don’t forget to include a copy of your current contact list, in case you get separated from family and friends.

Pet Supplies

When you’re putting together your bug out bag checklist, don’t forget to add needed items to sustain your furry friends. In an emergency situation, the people in your home may be your first priority, but chances are that you’re not planning to leave dogs, cats, or other family pets behind.

This means you need to account for their needs when you’re away from home. You’ll want to pack food, at the very least, but if your pet needs medication, keep a supply on hand in their bug out bag and rotate it just as you do your own medication.

Collars, leashes, muzzles, or other restraints should be included, along with comfort items like a favorite toy or blanket, if there’s room.

Additional Supplies

Realistically, most bug out situations will only call for survival essentials. Since you want your bug out bag to be relatively portable, including only the things you’ll need for a few days away from home is wise.

With that being said, it’s not a bad idea to pack a second bug out bag for the rare situations in which you might also need to shelter outdoors or protect yourself in the wild.

This bag could include survival gear like:

  • Shelter: Perhaps a tent and/or sleeping bag
  • Protection from the Elements: Sunscreen, bug spray, etc.
  • Survival Tools: Multi-tools, knives, camp shovel, hatchet, paracord bracelet
  • Heat: Hand warmer packets, matches stored in a dry box
  • Visibility Items: Flares or chem lights to signal for help
  • Navigation Tools: GPS device, paper maps, compass
  • Communications Equipment: Satellite phone or walkie talkies
  • Defensive Weapons: Pepper spray, bear spray, legal firearms

These items aren’t necessarily bug out bag essentials for common disaster scenarios, but they may be necessary in certain situations where you’re stuck fending for yourself with no access to shelter for a time.

With the right gear in your go bag, you have the best chances to survive evacuation and make it to safety.

Get started by finding the best bug out bag for your needs at GovX, where we proudly offer savings for those who serve.