The Bug Out Bag: Your 72-Hour Emergency Survival Kit

The bug out bag, sometimes referred to as a Grab Bag or Go Bag, typically contains 72-hours worth of essential items, and is considered to be vital in the eyes of preppers, survivalists, and many outdoor enthusiasts alike. The bug out bag is – by design – a life-saving necessity, and I am fully on board with the idea, always having a bug out bag prepped and good to go. So what exactly are survivalists afraid of, and what should your bug our bag comprise of, best preparing you for the unknown?

Survivalists prepare for sudden but unforeseen emergencies, from getting lost on a hike, to natural disasters such as an earthquake or severe drought, and the most concerning of all – civil unrest. The 72-hour bug out bag is most often custom-made in order to provide a higher chance of survival should one or more of these unfortunate scenarios take place. The kit contains items that attend to the basic survival needs of human beings; water, food, shelter (including warmth), health and personal protection.

It is easy for newbies and less-experienced but eager individuals to overcompensate for their potential needs when creating or assembling a bug out bag, often leading to rapid fatigue during training exercises and real-world scenarios. I have witnessed this firsthand on a number of occasions (under the training environment), whereby users have overestimated their physical ability and overcompensated for their needs. For this reason, it is also considered essential to only pack what you can carry.

What Items Should You Carry In Your Bug Out Bag?

As we have already mentioned, your bug out bag should consist of items that attend to the basic needs of human survival. These are:

  • Water
  • Food
  • Shelter (Including Warmth)
  • Health
  • and Protection (or Self-defence)

Don’t assume your group/family will always be together, so don’t spread critical gear across bags. For example, it’s a bad idea to have water gear in one bag and food in another. Every person over 10 years old should have their own essentials in case they get separated.

I have created a list that can be used as a guide when creating your bug out bag. The PDF can be downloaded below.

Survival Items for Procuring Safe Drinking Water

We all know that the human body needs water in order to survive, but it is paramount to consider not only the presence of water, but the quality and purity as well. Your grab bag should always contain water that is readily available and safe to drink. You’ll require a container for storing water anyway, so always ensure that it is topped up to the brim with fresh drinking water.

Storage Tip: use a high-quality reusable water container or hydration bladder to store water in your bug out bag. Ensure that the water is clean and fresh, keeping it topped to the brim, and make sure that the lid is properly sealed before storage to prevent air from entering the container. Do not sip from your water before storage, as bacteria from your mouth will contaminate the surface and the water will not stay fresh. Lastly, make sure that you empty, clean and refill your container every few months and store it in a shaded environment.

You will require equipment to 1) filter and 2) purify water so that you can refill your drinking container as it depletes. Filtering water will remove unwanted debris and particles, while purifying it will kill bacteria and other harmful organisms that may be present. You can filter water by draining it through a clean t-shirt, sock or shemagh a few times, until all visible debris has been removed. Then purify the water before drinking.

I use the following 4 methods to purify water, and all the necessary equipment is kept in my bug out bag.

Purification Tablets
Household Bleach
  • Boiling: boiling your water will purify it, making it safe to drink. You may be wondering how long to boil it for? Well, ummm… until it boils

  • Purification Tables: these should be carried in your survival tin and in you bug out bag. The packaging will tell you how much water each tablet will purify

  • LifeStraw: I have been using a life straw for over a decade. It filters and purifies water, and will provide up to 4000 L (or 1000 gallons) of drinkable water

  • Household Bleach: mine is carried in a small toiletry-sized squeezy-tube. 2-drops of bleach goes into 1 litre of water, or 8-drops per gallon

Survival Hack: plastic bottles can be used to boil water. While there are some safety concerns over drinking this water (releasing toxins in the plastic), it is far safer than drinking water from an impure source. However, this should only be practiced under real survival conditions.

72-Hours Worth of Non-Perishable Food: Fuelling Your Body

If you want your body to survive and thrive, it is crucial that you are fuelling your body with healthy foods that are packed full of vitamins and nutrients. Avoid excessive sugars, and focus on foods that contain protein and fats.

The key here is to carefully select non-perishable food items that can be cooked or heated using survival methods; no frozen meats or fillet steaks. Ready-to-eat meals are a great option, and only require heating under cold conditions.

My current grab bag’s food contents, providing 24-hours worth of comfy eating or 72-hours worth of rationed sustenance

Non-Perishable Food Ideas:

  • Canned (or Pouched) Meat & Fish
  • Dried Fruits
  • Cereals and Single-Serving Meal Replacement Shakes
  • Granola, Cereal, Protein, Energy and Power Bars
  • Canned Vegetables & Baked Beans
  • Fruit Cake
  • Nuts & Trail Mixes
  • Peanut Butter & Honey Sachets
  • Multivitamins
  • Sports Drinks

Include a few electrolyte-rich drink sachets. These drinks contain minerals found in your blood that help regulate and control the balance of fluids in the body. They play a role in regulating blood pressure, muscle contraction, and keep your system functioning properly.

Your Shelter & Appropriate Warmth

Retaining the ability to remain warm and dry can be the difference between life and death. This means carrying essential gear that will keep you warm, protected from the elements, and provide the ability to create fire.

Hypothermia is a very real medical emergency that occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce it, causing a dangerously low body temperature, which often leads to death.

It is therefore vital that you consider your local environment when building your bug out bag, preparing for a worst case scenario based on your coldest and most unforgiving regional climate.

Tropical Climates: living in hot & humid regions where temperatures rarely fall below 18°C are easiest to prepare for. A simple tarp, bivouac, or even a large plastic sheet will provide all the shelter that you need in an emergency, keeping you dry and protected from the elements (including excessive heat and wind) when needed. Consider adding a lightweight waterproof jacket which will keep you dry when you are on the move.

Temperate & Continental Climates: where wilder temperature ranges are experienced; hot summers and freezing winters, it is best to prepare for the worst and select gear that will keep you both warm and dry when the environment is working against you. You bag will be bulkier, and should contain an appropriate sleeping system, additional warm clothing, and weather-resistant overhead protection. This includes additional hot meals and drinks, with the ability to make a fire in wet conditions.

Polar Climates: this is the bulkiest gear by far. You’ll require all the necessary items to keep you alive in arctic conditions. Hot meals, warm drinks and fire-making ability is essential.

In additional to the items mentioned above, always ensure that you pack additional socks and underwear, and keep all pack contents internally waterproofed at all times.

Self Defence: A Survival Priority Which Must Not Be Overlooked

The rape alarm (or rape whistle) is the ideal self-defence tool for anyone – fully grown men in particular – who need a defensive capability but do not believe in guns. Okay… that was a JOKE.

During an evacuation emergency or period of civil unrest, you can almost certainly guarantee that there will be chaos and disorder. Events of this magnitude inevitably overwhelm normal police and public safety measures, and you will need to take personal safety into your own hands. If your preparation leans towards a lost procedure, whereby you become lost on a hike or similar scenario, you still may find yourself crossing paths with a violent gang or man-eating beast.

Firearms, edged weapons and other ranged weapons are therefore vital, preparing you to defend yourself and your loved ones against the unknown; you are packing a kit that prepares you for a worst case scenario. Also, don’t forget that these defensive weapons double up as hunting tools, which contribute towards food procurement beyond your 72-hour survivability.

  • Edged Weapons: a large survival knife, machete or axe is on every survival list; there are endless uses for knives and edged tools when stranded. Full Tang blades are the number one choice, meaning that the blade extends the entire length of the knife or machete; from the tip to the very end of the handle. This is essential in providing the strength you’ll need in many survival situations.
  • Survival Rifles: the .22LR is the caliber that comes to mind when speaking of a “survival rifle”. Ammo is cheap, lightweight, and easily capable of hunting small game and varmints for food. Defending your pride against small-scale violent attacks is possible with proper shot placement, but bear in mind that full-sized mobs and large & dangerous game will require something with more punching power. Recommended read: The Importance of Shot Placement in Self Defence.
  • Defensive Rifles: the caliber required to adequately defend yourself and your loved ones will depend on which threats lurk about in your area. The .223 Remington/5.56mm NATO cartridge is ideal against human threats and also small to medium sized game. The cartridge is also considered to be small enough to carry in abundance, but not adequate in stopping large and dangerous game.
The .22LR allows the user to carry over 300% more ammunition than .223 Remington; a huge saving in both weight and capacity, but a large sacrifice in stopping power and terminal performance.

Note: the law in many states or countries requires ammunition and firearms to be stored in a secured and lockable firearms safe. When your bug out bag is stored at home, consider setting it alongside your safe where you can easily and rapidly transfer documents and defensive weapons into your bag prior to your bug out.

Important Family Documents & Survival Resources

It is a good idea to include recent photos of each family member in the event someone is lost during the chaos and you need the photo for a search.

You should also carry all passports, ID documents and birth certificates, some cash in small bills, a notepad and pencil, and a topographical map and compass large enough to cover your entire area and any FRV’s (Final Rendezvous Points) that you may have predesignated. These documents can remain in a lockable safe, but group them together and place them in a small waterproof grab-bag should you need them in a hurry.

Find a reputable survival guide or book, and keep it stored in your bug out bag at all times. If you choose to use a mobile app, make sure that you have a charging capability (solar charger and phone cable), and stick to hard copies where possible.

First Aid: What Do You Need in a Survival Scenario?

The first aid kit has the ability to ease pain and prevent infection (or further infection), which could otherwise render you inoperable. The following items should be carried as a bare minimum:

  • Adhesive Bandages & Band-aids – for small lacerations and blisters
  • Butterfly Bandages – stitches closed deeper cuts
  • Gauze Dressing – placed over or inside of a wound to stop bleeding while keeping it clean and ventilated, preventing infection
  • Aspirin & Paracetamol – everyday painkillers for aches and pains, which can also be used to treat colds and “flu-like” symptoms, and to bring down a high temperature
  • Ibuprofen – an everyday painkiller and anti-inflammatory
  • Imodium – used to treat sudden diarrhoea
  • Tweezers – for removing thorns and splinters that are too small to be handled with the fingers
  • Antiseptic Cream – helps cleanse and protect minor wounds from infection
  • Zinc Oxide Tape (or Duck Tape) – for treating and preventing blisters

If you are preparing to combat potential attackers or severe trauma, which let’s face it – you should be, then you should add an IFAK – Individual First Aid Kit – to your list. The following article describes exactly what should be carried in an IFAK, and how to use it: Contents of an Individual First Aid Kit: What Do You Really Need In Your IFAK?

So How Much Should My Bug Out Bag Weigh?

My straightforward answer is this: as much as you can comfortably carry over long distances, on foot. You need to prioritise your list, only packing as much as your physical limits allow.

Left: Eberlestock Gunslinger II Pack, Right: Warrior Assault Systems Pegasus Pack

Also bear in mind that many preppers these days include plate carriers, helmets, gun belts (or battle belts), and firearms as part of their bug out gear. This weight must be considered when building your bug out bag, and a test and adjust phase must be completed before finalising your setup.

The Test & Adjust Phase: Don’t Neglect Your Training!

Testing and adjusting your bug out contents (and the bag itself) is achieved through proper training. Your equipment is testing under real-world conditions, and then adjusted or replaced where necessary. It’s no good testing the weight and quality of your kit – along with your ability to use it – in your garage at home. It needs to be tested in real-world environments and over reasonable distances on foot.


Question: if I create and test my bug out bag in my mom’s basement (where I live and spend most of my time), will it work?

Answer: NO!  😂

Putting both yourself and your gear through a structured training phase provides the feedback that you need in order to feel content. The following results can be derived through meticulous survival training:

  1. Are you fit enough, or correctly conditioned to carry the weight which you have chosen, over the distances which you may have to cover?
  2. Is your gear robust and of a high-quality, or will it fail you when used outdoors under arduous conditions?
  3. Is your shelter and warm gear appropriate for your annual climate?
  4. Is your setup secure and correctly affixed to your person?
  5. Have you accounted for all essential items, or has something been overlooked?
  6. Are your physical skills up to scratch, and is your knowledge current and wealthy?

Tip: plan and participate in at least one 24-hour training simulation every 3-months. This allows you to test your bug out bag through all seasonal conditions, while keeping skill-fade to a minimum. Invite friends and family members along who have similar interests, and for Pete’s sake – don’t postpone your training due to rain. Remember this: if it’s not raining, it’s not training 😉

Communications & Why It’s So Important

The ability to communicate during an emergency could literally save your life. Whether you are stranded on the side of the road, trapped after an earthquake, or trying to safely evacuate from a wildfire, your ability to send and receive timely information might make all the difference.

But which forms of communication are best? Well, we all have mobile phones, so use them. Store any and all emergency phone numbers that you may need on your device, and make sure that you can find them when needed. Also include a portable charging pack as part of your gear, along with relevant charging cables. Power (or battery) banks with solar regeneration are something to consider, and must always be topped up when stored.

Now most preppers will agree that during a disaster or time of civil unrest, cellular phone service will most likely disappear into the abyss, rendering the device useless as a method of communicating. This is where the two-way HAM radio comes into play. Every prepper should have a two-way radio with emergency broadcasting channels programmed into the device for quick reference when needed. Also select channel frequencies to use amongst your group, and develop your own radio procedures for when sh*t hits the fan. Don’t just store frequencies in the radio itself, but write them down in your notepad as well, and include a spare battery as part of your kit.

The Baofeng model UV-5R is unquestionably the most popular and economical dual-band UHF/VHF amateur radio


The survival scenarios that one may face are endless, and active preparations should be made and maintained by regularly checking and cycling food stores, ammunition, and other supplies. Challenge yourself to continuously advance your outdoor skills and knowledge, learning valuable medical and survival skills in a progressive manner. This is the only way to ensure that workable measures are in places to get loved ones to safety should an unfortunate catastrophe take place, and if you enjoy the great outdoors, then this can provide hours of endless fun at the same time.

If you enjoyed reading this post and found it useful, don’t keep it to yourself; help us spread the word – select a social share button below. And should you wish to share your thoughts or ask a question, scroll down and leave us a comment 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *