The bug out bag has become such an integral part of prepping that owning one pretty much defines one as a prepper. Yet, this icon within the prepping and survival community may not be all that it has cracked up to be. The big problem is that the stated mission of the bug out bag and its ability to accomplish that mission are not fully in alignment. Bug out bags look good, but they may not be able to accomplish everything they are supposed to.
The problem really isn't the fault of the bug out bag; it's our fault for accepting the bug out bag as it is.
The bug out bag idea goes back as far as the Korean War, predating the modern prepping movement. FEMA has since grabbed hold of that original idea and modified it into something usable by every day civilians.
FEMA's criteria became the basis for the creation of many people's bug out bag lists. This is especially true in the case of carrying three days worth of food.
However, is three days worth of food really going to be enough to get you to safety, in the event that you have to bug out from your home? If your plan is to go to a FEMA camp, it probably is. But if your plan is to bug out to the wilderness, then three days just puts off how soon you will starve to death.
FEMA's three day food supply was based upon the idea that they would be able to bring in emergency food on the fourth day. However, they recently admitted that they may not be able to make it to you in four days. So, even by their standards, the three days worth of food might not be good enough.
What Do You Really Need?
What you need in your bug out bag is going to depend on your bug out plan. Where are you going to go, how are you going to get there and how are you going to survive in your survival retreat? Assuming that you're not going to the FEMA camp, you're going to need a whole lot more in your bug out bag, than what FEMA says.
Ideally, you would have a prepared and stocked survival retreat to go to. But while many of us aspire to that level of preparedness, few people actually do it. So, it's unlikely that you are one of the few people who actually have one of those.
That means that your bug out plan is most likely to be aimed at bugging out to some wilderness area, building a shelter and living off the land. While the practicality of that is something for another article, for the moment we need to look at whether you can do that with the contents of your bug out bag.
To start with, there's no way you can build much of a long-term shelter with the tools you have in your bug out bag. Have you ever really tried to cut a tree branch with a wire saw? While you can do so once or twice, enough to make a debris shelter, you really can't do so enough to build anything more substantial.
Food is clearly a problem too. Three days worth of food may not even get you to the area you plan on using for your survival retreat, especially if you have to go on foot. If you are in an dry desert region, like most of the Southwest, you're going to run short of water as well.
Then there's the subject of clothing. Few people have extra clothing in their bug out bag. If they do, it's only one change. Rarely do you find people putting a coat and hat in their bag, assuming that they will wear them. But what if you bug out in late summer and need to stay away from home for six months? Do you have enough clothing to keep you warm through the winter?
Speaking of keeping warm; what about a sleeping bag? That's something else we tend to leave off our bug out bag list, unless we put in one of those survival sleeping bags, made of the same material as the survival blankets.
So, there's clearly a need to make some additions to the bug out bag. Those include:
- Bigger and better tools for building a shelter
- More food; lots more food
- More ammunition for hunting
- More water
- Seeds for starting a vegetable garden
- Sleeping bag
- Clothing, especially warm clothing
- A larger first-aid kit
The problem is, most people can't carry a pack that has all that weight in it.
If you manage to make it all the way to your survival retreat in your vehicle, "carrying more" is not going to be a problem. Unless your bug out vehicle is a Smart Car, you're probably going to have enough room to bring all that with you. But what if you have to abandon your car? No bug out plan is complete, without a Plan B of bugging out on foot.
In that case, you are going to need to have a way of carrying it. Something which will allow you to carry a couple of hundred pounds of extra gear and supplies over rough terrain.
Your typical shopping cart or wheelbarrow isn't going to work too well for that. But the idea of a cart is definitely the way to go. The only thing is, the cart has to be able to handle rough terrain.
A homemade, one-wheeled cart called "mule" is a great way to go if there are at least two of you. The mule is made of aluminum tubing, paracord, a bicycle tire and a hand brake. It looks like a stretcher, mounted on one wheel. The wheel is in the center, with struts that go down from it to the bicycle tire axle and hub. The hand brake will allow you to slow the descent of the mule on steep trails.
The deck of the stretcher is nothing more than a loose weave of paracord, run through holes in the frame and tied off. Since paracord is rated at 550 pounds, it should be strong enough for anything that you need to carry.
If there is only one of you, a backpacking cart works well. It also uses one wheel and functions something like a trailer for the backpacker, attached to their belt. While such a design wouldn't have the weight bearing capacity of the mule, it would greatly extend the weight capacity over what you can carry in your bug out bag.