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5 Things a Bug-Out Bag Packing List Must Include

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Items you must have in a bug-out bag packing list fall into these categories: water, shelter, fire, food and tools.

The bug-out bag; lots of people are talking about it. But what do you really need on that bug-out bag packing list?

I’ll start this off by saying without hesitation that I can’t answer that question for you. Any survival kit is a personal thing for your individual circumstances. If I were to rattle off a list of must-haves on my bug-out bag packing list here in central Wisconsin, it would likely contain items you don’t need where you live.

So, without dictating an exhaustive bug-out bag packing list, I can at least make recommendations to cover the basics: water, food, shelter, fire and tools. Start building your bag-out bag packing list with those elements in mind. When disaster strikes you should be able to hang on until help arrives.

It is important to note that the bug-out bag packing list in this article is not being set up for long-term survival. This is a bag that should provide a good three or four days off the grid, such as following a storm or other natural disaster. Something like this would be your “stay put and wait for help” bag.

First You Need a Bag

Before you can even start on a bug-out bag packing list, you need the bag. The new Alpha Ops Pack from Fieldline Tactical is sturdy and versatile, with plenty of room for all the stuff mentioned in this bug-out bag packing list and more. The Alpha Ops pack is also covered with MOLLE straps to help you organize even more stuff if you want to.

Two features of the bag are really helpful: it is hydration compatible and there is an area between the two main pocket to stuff items you want to get at or put away quickly. The pack did not come with a hydration bladder, but will accept most any bladder on the market. Get a bladder and insert it. You can fill it with clean water if you have time or you can fill it on the trail.

Bug-Out Bag Packing List Item #1: Water

Talking about the hydration bladder leads us right to the water component of the bug-out bag packing list. The Katadyn Vario filter will clean up to 500 gallons of water at about 2 liters per minute. It has a “longer life” mode to extend cartridge life in dirty or challenging water conditions. A carbon core also helps keep water fresh.

This will give you plenty of safe drinking water. Read the instructions. Get clean water. The filter costs about $95, but it’s money well spent. Water purification tablets might make water safe, but it still tastes bad. I prefer the filter.

Bug-Out Bag Packing List Item #2: Food

This is really personal. I look for things that are high-energy, easy to store and tasty. So, I go with trail mix, dehydrated fruit and chewy granola bars for a couple reasons: they are light, portable and provide adequate nutrition and valuable calories for survival.

If you want to throw in a military MRE, fine. The pack is big enough to hold it. Other stuff has pros and cons. Ramen noodles are light, but you need a cook pot. Canned food is easy, but heavy. You make the call. The belly you are satisfying is your own.

Remember to include all the utensils you will need to prepare your meal including can openers and cookware. For me, I can live for three days on granola and dried fruit and I don’t have to cook anything.

Bug-Out Bag Packing List Item #3: Shelter

Most people don’t think of this, but clothing is shelter. Adjust your bug-out bag packing list to climate and expected needs.

There is one cheap, readily available item that will really help in a pinch: an army-surplus rain poncho. I found mine for $5 at a gun show. Typical prices range from $15 to $25 depending on where you buy.

This item is a raincoat, ground cloth, makeshift sleeping bag, or if you get two of them and snap them together you can create a makeshift tent. Get the military-surplus version with the grommets, snaps and interior tie-downs. Civilian models likely cut corners and won’t hold up to abuse. The poncho rolls up very small and weighs very little.

Bug-Out Bag Packing List Item #4: Fire

If you are trying to stay hidden, get a bunch of the big chemical hand warmers for warmth with no flame. If you are trying to stay alive and be found, build a fire.

My bug-out bag packing list contains military surplus trioxane fuel bars, a pocket fire starter, matches in a waterproof container and the world’s greatest tinder: dryer lint. Fire building is a skill that requires practice. The trioxane will help, but you also need to know how to gather dry fuel and arrange it properly to get your fire started.

Bug-Out Bag Packing List Item #5: Tools

Those are the basics, but you may also need some tools for survival. That usually includes some sort of knife.

In this case, I grabbed two knives. The Uzi Field Commander Tactical Fixed Blade Knife (Model ZF0036B) is big, but light. The knife is 12 inches long with a 6 ¾-inch blade and the handle is wrapped with parachute cord, in case you need extra. This knife is big enough to cut, chop and dig and the pouch on the sheath can hold a sharpening stone or more parachute cord.

For a folding knife I grabbed the Ontario XM-15. This is a solid, heavy-duty knife. It almost feels a little think in the hand, but it works and is tough as nails.

I’m also looking for a multi-tool, but again, that is a personal decision. What components you want for your multi-tool is up to you.

Further Bug-Out Bag Packing List Considerations

I’ve rounded out my bug-out bag packing list with a first-aid kit and some Fresh Bath wipes, and a P-38 can opener. But I guess the entire bag is stocked, just in case.


This exercise is simply a means to get you thinking about a bug-out bag packing list. The contents will change if you live in south Florida or the Pacific Northwest, but if you start with the basics of water, food, shelter, fire and tools you should make it.

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