Building a Bag
Many people discuss the contents of this or that type of bag all across the internet. The array of suggested items can go from dead on basic to totally ridiculous. If you included every item everyone lists, you would have a pack the size of a minivan. The important thing to do is to answer three questions for yourself ahead of time.
What is the bag for?
There are many types of bags that have gotten names over time. Each is aimed at a different scenario. Remember that your bag does not have to conform to one or all of these.
Get Home Bag (G.H.B.)
This type of bag is aimed at getting you from wherever you may be to home. This can be from work, the grocery store, or an abandoned vehicle. It is supposed to be a short term set of food, clothes, and tools to get you home in the safest and fastest manner. Normally this would not include things like fishing kits, tents, sleeping bags, or weeks’ worth of food.
Bug Out Bag (B.O.B.)
The bug out bag is similar to the G.H.B. in that it is aimed at getting you from one place to another. This bag is meant to get you from home or another location to a predetermined Bug Out location. This location would be a stocked and secured location for long term survival. This is expected to be a longer trip than getting home, thus more supplies are included. Depending on the distance, terrain, and time involved, there may be full camping gear and fishing items.
72 Hour Bag
This bag is less about moving and more about surviving. It is stocked with food, water, and gear to allow you to make it for 72 hours in the event of a disaster. You may indeed have to move to remain safe, but this kit ideally should have clothes, medicines, and important paperwork to allow you time for the event to pass.
I am Never Coming Home Bag (I.N.C.H.)
This bag is the one of last resort. It is about taking everything you need to survive and set back up your life. Depending how you plan, this may need to include hunting, fishing, trapping, and gathering tools. It should also be prepared with full camping gear because it is your home for the foreseeable future.
How long will it last?
Is the bag to get you to somewhere that takes a few hours or a couple of days? Remember that there may be obstacles in your way, be it downed bridges or hostile groups. The rougher the terrain, the slowed you will progress. So take a hard look at the real timeline you will be facing. This will give you a better idea of how long this bag needs to sustain you. If it is only for a quick 4 hour walk, then you are not going to be fishing or setting snares. If it is a possible 10 day walk, then you may be forced to hunt, fish, and/or gather. Carrying enough food for yourself for that long is a challenge, but if you have a group with kids or elderly, it just gets longer and harder. Gathering food may or may not be an option if you are totally in urban areas. There may be empty homes or stores to restock from, there may only be bare shelves, or there may be groups guarding the remaining food supply.
What type of areas will you be in?
As stated above, the type of area you are traveling through will dictate some of your equipment choices. Will you be traveling on roads or going overland through rural areas?
If you are purely in an urban setting, you may have little use for snares or a fishing kit. That is unless this is an INCH bag and you are unable to leave the urban setting. In that case you may need to investigate what long term options you have to hunt and gather there. Shelter can also be covered if you carefully pick abandoned buildings where you can secure yourself and lay low when resting.
If you are in a rural area, there will be options to fish and snare are you encounter drainage ponds and overgrown fields. These rougher areas will provide these options, but may dictate needing sturdier shoes or boots to traverse the terrain. You will likely not be following the roads as they may be a less direct route. You may also have more need for shelter such as a tarp or tent. Houses will be farther apart and are probably more likely to be occupied.
Shelter becomes an absolute must if you are in a wilderness area. There will be no abandoned buildings to use and caves are rarely unoccupied. Wilderness will also dictate a larger amount of “camping” style items along with the fishing and trapping items. This may include mess kits, a sturdier tent, a hatchet or ax, and hand saw. You will also need more durable clothing and footwear to move through the brush. Briars and barbed wire fences can quickly destroy unsuitable clothing.
With these questions thoughtfully contemplated, you can start to look at what you will want in your pack. A very good suggestion is to assemble the items you want in your bag before choosing a bag. This will eliminate not having enough room or falling into the trap of adding more just to fill the space. Honestly establish how much you can carry for hours on end. This may also dictate the bag choice. Also, remember the “2 is 1, and 1 is none” rule that says having only one of a vital item means you have none if that breaks or is lost. Don’t take this to the utmost extreme or you come back to a weight issue. This bag is a personal creation and should reflect your needs and the scenarios you are planning for. Remember to use the levels to prepare for the most likely disasters first.
Below is a list of basic categories that make up the major items that could be in your bag. In each categories are examples and ideas of how to fill the needs related to that category. There are also links to examples of most items.*
A bag, box, or something is needed to store and carry your items in. Sling bags, messenger bags, or backpacks are popular choices. Whatever you choose, having smaller bags to use for organization inside the main container is a big help. A decision also will need to be made as to if your pack should look tactical or not. Tactical bags will give you a slight utility boost in some areas, but may attract more attention. A standard bag may allow you to be less conspicuous, but might not have some of the utility features.
No matter what the situation, you need water. You need it now and you will keep needing it. Purifying water can be done in multiple ways and then you need a way to carry it.
Aluminum water bottle or canteen – sturdy and allows you to boil water in it.
Water purification tablets – These tablets kill most biological elements in water that will cause you to become ill. It is much faster than boiling and can be used on the go. It does not filter out larger particles so some type of initial filter may need to be used before the tablets.
Water filter – Either a LifeStraw type personal filter a larger system can be carried. A Lifestraw type filter can be used to drink straight from a water source or untreated water in your container. The larger filter systems can be used to filter larger amounts of water into containers for later use. These filter out all particles down to a certain size, but may not filter out chemical contaminates.
Silcock key – A Silcock Key is a wrench type device that is used to turn on external faucets on commercial buildings. To avoid unauthorized people using them, there is no handle. This key will allow you to fill your water containers from a municipal water source. Even if water pressure has died, there very well may still be water in the pipes that will gravity feed out.
Food is the next item that is a must. You can do without it for a time, but the stress and exertion of a survival situation will burn up a lot of calories fast. The hurdles to filling a pack with food is that it needs to have a long shelf life, require minimal preparation, and fit in the pack. You also need the items to prepare and serve it.
Protein Bars and Coast Guard SOS bars – These types of food require no preparation and can have up to a 5 year shelf life. They are also calorie dense but can get boring if you try to exist on them for a long time. They do not require time to stop and prepare, so this can be a benefit.
MREs, and Camping Meals – These items require minimal preparation. MREs normally come with a chemical based warming pack. Camp meals are freeze dried and require boiling water to prepare. This can provide variety, but also require stopping to prepare them. Depending on your situation, this may not be possible.
Hard Candy and Gum– While these items are not exactly full food sources, they can be used to relieve hunger or raise your blood sugar. These also help to relieve boredom as you trek.
Spork – This is the do-it-all utensil. While it has its shortcomings, it can save space and weight. A long handled one is preferred if you are eating out of MRE or Camp meal pouches. These can be found in plastic, steel, aluminum, and titanium. Cost and use might dictate your choice.
P-38 Can Opener – This is a very small manual opener that originated in the military. It is good to have even if your pack does not have canned goods. If you scavenge any then you can save the trouble and possible injury of opening it with your knife.
Cooking Mess Kit – This kit can be as elaborate as you want it to be. It can be a simple single walled metal mug all the way up to a cast iron skillet. Unless you are expecting a fairly long trip, a simple kit is best. A pot or mug, plate/fry pan, and a pot holder of some type might be all you need. There are mess kits sold that come with more and nest together if that is appealing.
Stove and Fuel – While a roaring campfire can be great, it is not practical unless you are staying put for a while. A small stove and fuel will help you to boil water and heat food without a lot of firewood or giving away your position. There are several types. Esbit type stoves are small and use solid fuel cubes. Alcohol stoves can burn a range of alcohols and be made from a soda can. Gas (butane and/or propane) stoves use a small pressurized tank to run. Rocket stoves are designed to burn wood (normally), but to use very little of it.
Spices – This might be somewhat of a luxury, but having some salt and other spices to use on game you take or foods you gather can help a tremendous amount. Plus they are light as long as you don’t try to pack 5 pounds of salt. Some good options besides salt would be garlic powder, cinnamon, chili powder, italian seasoning blend, and black pepper.
If your plan involves a trip that is over a day, you definitely need some type of shelter to get out of the elements. Once again this can be simple or can be full on tent city.
Tarp(s) – Tarps can be used to set up a simple shelter by themselves. In fact, if the weather is good, you can simply sleep under the spread out tarp. Paired with some cordage, you can make an even better setup
Military Poncho – Military ponchos are designed to not only be worn, but to act as improvised shelters. They often are fairly heavy duty and last a long time. These can substitute for a tarp or be in addition to one.
Paracord – Paracord has lots of uses. One of them is to allow you to rig your tarp or poncho into a viable cover. It could also be used to bind together logs to make a more permanent shelter. The internal strands can be removed to use as thread for repairs or other smaller tasks.
Mylar Blanket – These are referred to as emergency or space blankets. They are mainly intended to reflect your body heat back into you to stay warm. They are light and nice to have, but mainly a one-time use item as they are very thin. Because of that, do not depend on them as your sole shelter. If you have a long term plan in mind a 100% wool blanket would be a good addition to or replacement for this. Wool will hold heat even if wet.
Tent – Tents are most people’s go to when thinking about shelter in these cases. They do have their place. Due to weight and cost, they should probably only get included in a long term bag. A small standard dome tent can easily fill half a pack when disassembled. Smaller and lighter “backpacker” tents exist, but usually at a premium price. If you do include a tent, be very mindful of the weight, size, and how complex it is to assemble. Not only watch for too large of one, but also one that is too small to accommodate everyone you intend to use it.
Fire making tools are a very important part of your gear. Not only will fire warm you, it may be your sole means of cooking. In addition, there is a comforting feeling of protection that a fire can give you in a most uncomfortable situation.
Magnesium Rod and Striker – These rods throw off a shower of high temperature sparks when the striker is scraped down them. This can light fires in many adverse conditions. They are also light and never run out of fuel.
Disposable Lighter – These are the main way we start fires on an average day. They are cheap, dependable and fairly long lasting. There is no reason not to have one or three. A Zippo type lighter can be nice, but they tend to let the fluid evaporate over time. So they would require a backup of lighter fluid.
Weatherproof Matches – These matches have been coated to resist water so that they can be used in a wet environment. They frequently come in a water tight container with a striker on the side.
Tinder – There are lots of different commercial fire starting tinder cubes. This are fine and do the job. A simpler and cheaper option is cotton balls that have been coated in petroleum jelly. They burn well and are cheap. Be sure to store it in a leak proof container if your pack will see high heat. The petroleum jelly can melt and leak at high temperatures.
No matter how you intend to use your pack and how long it needs to last, medical supplies are a must. The depth of those supplies will be governed by your skill and plan. While some may be comfortable stitching up a wound, others may not be able to. Of course the worse level you are planning for the more elaborate supplies you may need.
First Aid Kit (FAK) – This kit is meant to represent the base supplies you need to address basic medical issues. Band-Aids, bandages, medical tape, antibiotic ointment, burn relief gel, tweezers, eye drops/wash, small scissors, and pain medication are all common items in a basic kit. This is the type of kit that you might buy pre-assembled at a big box department store. While convenient and good, the same kit can usually be assembled with more and better contents on your own.
Prescription Medications – If you take routine medication, you need to have a stock of it in your pack. Even if the emergency event is fairly low level, you may have a period where you cannot acquire more easily. Be sure to rotate it out and update it as your medications change.
Additional Items – Some additional items that can be a very big help would be allergy medication, anti-inflammatory pain medication, intestinal distress medication, chap-stick, and antacids. There are more advanced items that can be included if you deem them necessary. These would include quick clot style powder, a suturing kit, a self-administering tourniquet, and wound stapler. Again these depend on your proficiency and emergency level.
When you need to travel in the quickest manner or to avoid detection, light is necessary. Obviously, the way you use it will depend on if you need stealth. It may also be necessary to have light when you cannot have a fire at night.
Flashlight – Flashlights are probably the first item people think of in the category. This can be battery operated, crank, or rechargeable. They can also be normal hand held, body mounted, or of the headlamp variety. Size, weight, and brightness can be concerns, so compare those. If a battery operated model is packed, there should also be extra batteries. Flashlights using non-standard batteries should be avoided. If scavenging is needed AAs or AAAs are going to be found easier than CR-123 type batteries. The fact that almost any remote uses AA or AAA makes them plentiful.
Candles – Candles are a mainstay for light when power outages occur. They could also be used on your shelter to provide light if it is safe to do so. Secondarily, candles can produce a fair amount of heat in an enclosed space. Due to being light weight and inexpensive, adding some to your bag is easy.
Glow Sticks – These are also called chem lights. They produce a reaction when “cracked” that gives off a light. They have a finite lifespan once cracked but that usually is a few hours. The light can be many different colors including green, red, blue, and yellow. If possible get ones that are better than kid party favors. They will produce more light for a longer time. If traveling with a group it might be prudent to designate one of these colors to represent distress. This would allow members to signal if something is wrong.
While a full change of clothes appropriate to your area and season is a great idea to have, they may not fit in your pack. Keeping sets stashed at your home, office, or car would let you save the space in your bag, but have them readily available. The basics of this category covers things outside of that.
Gloves- A good pair of gloves will go beyond any warmth factor. You might find yourself crawling over mounts of debris, dealing with broken glass, or pushing through thick brush. All these things and more are chances to receive cuts and abrasions to your hands. In a true survival situation, these wounds may become infected or limit your dexterity until they heal. Different gloves may be in order at different times depending on how warm you need them to be.
Bandana/Scarf – Bandanas have a large variety of uses from a simple dust mask to a head cover. They can also be used as a napkin, bandage, sling, or a basic filter. Scarves are just an extension of this category, but may be more or less versatile based on their type and material. Either of these items are light and compact and are too valuable to leave out of any type of pack.
Hat – Hats cover a wide group. Boonie hats, baseball caps, knit caps, or even straw hats are a few you might see. Based on the temperature and potential for sun exposure, you may choose one or another. If in doubt a boonie hat is a good compromise. It can 360 degrees shade you from the sun, is light weight, and easily folded for packing. If cold weather is expected, you can even use a knit cap below the boonie.
Goggles – Goggles can have lots of uses from tinted ones that act as sun glasses, to simply protecting your eyes from dust and debris. There are lots of really nice sets out there with swappable lenses, but they can be very bulky. A simple pair of swim goggles can fill most of the needed tasks and are much easier to pack. They can be bought very reasonably too.
Dusk Masks – Dusk masks can find uses in a lot of cases. They can help prevent catching illnesses and also do their ordinary job to filter out smoke and dust.
It is important to pack tools that will allow you to do repairs, build shelter, and gather materials.
Knife – A good knife can be worth its weight in gold in a lot of cases. If you must pack only one, a fixed blade would be the best. It does not have to be a huge Rambo knife, just a well-constructed one. If room permits and you want other knives such as a folding lock blade to be used for other tasks.
Multi-tool: A multi-tool may have a knife blade, but it is more than that. The array of other tools ranging from pliers to screwdrivers makes this a valuable item. It is sort of a mini toolbox you can keep on your belt or in your pocket.
Hatchet – If you are traveling through an area where you will be needing firewood, a hatchet can be very useful. It can down trees to be used for wood or shelter or can process deadwood to make it easier to use for your fire. One with a hammer on the opposite side of the head can assist in shelter construction or tent stakes. It could also be a weapon in a pinch.
Compass – A compass can get you anywhere on a map that you want to go if you know how to use it. Not only carry one, but practice using it.
Machete – A machete can be used interchangeable with a hatchet in some cases. It can help to chop apart logs for firewood. It does not have the heft to be as efficient at it though. It will find its best use in clearing brush out of your way. It can also be used as a weapon if need be.
Crank Radio – A crank radio does not require batteries. It can be a good source of information as you listen to news broadcasts or emergency broadcasts. Some even have an USB charging port to charge other electronics. A headphone jack would be a good option so that you could listen in earbuds without anyone hearing you.
2 way Radios – These are often referred to as walkie talkies. They will let you talk to members of your group or potentially others on the same channel. Having a compatible one on the same channel at home may let you contact home to let anyone there know you are on your way.
Cell Phone – These seem to be a no brainer to have at this point, but they might or might not be useful depending on the scenario. A charged power bank, car charger, and wall charger will help to keep it running if it is.
Pencil and Paper – In the event electronics are not working, a pencil and paper will let you leave static notes for others that may be looking for you or returning home after you had to leave. It would be preferable to have a pen, pencil, and sharpie style marker along with an adequate supply of paper. Companies do make waterproof writing pads and pens, but the cost may or may not be worth it to you. A few ziplock bags can keep any outdoor note dry after you leave. This paper is also good for recording directions, times, names, and other important information.
When dealing with conditions that may push your body, you will find that taking care of it will keep you in the game.
Toilet Paper – Toilet paper is part luxury and part necessity. If you are moving fast you may not want to take time to scrounge leaves and such just to relieve yourself. Also, the sudden change of diet and stress can cause some intestinal issues that may make you very thankful that you packed a roll. Plus, if it is a red level event, this might be used for barter at a later date.
Soap – Soap is a requirement to keep your hands, mess kit, and any wounds clean. Something as simple as one bar may be enough for a long time. If the event is prolonged, cleaning yourself will not only help reduce the chance of illness, but be a morale boost.
Hand Sanitizer – If you are moving quickly or low on water, hand sanitizer can take the place of soap in the short term. In these cases it is still a high priority to keep yourself healthy.
Baby Wipes – This is again an item to take the place of soap and water if you are moving too fast to stop more than a few minutes. Cleaning minor cuts and abrasions you may get with these will give time to get to a safe location to properly care for them.
It is well documented that in times of turmoil some people will become a danger to themselves and others. Whether they want your supplies or are just in a fighting mood they can attack unprovoked. Having items to defend yourself will greatly improve the chance that you make it out alive.
Gun – There is lots of controversy in groups about guns. If you cannot bring yourself to carry one, that is fine, but do not expect others that you may encounter to do the same. The best bet is to have one and hope it is not needed until you decide hunting is necessary. The type of gun can vary based on where you are at and how you can store it. A handgun is often chosen because it can be stored out of sight in your bag until you strap it on. If you are looking for more power or this will also be your main hunting gun in the worst scenarios, a rifle or shotgun may be in order. There are rifles that break down and can be carried in your pack. Before getting a gun, try some out at a local dealer to see what works well for you. Be sure to pack sufficient ammo for whichever you decide on.
Chain and Padlock – This is a dual use item. This could be used to secure doors to allow you to take a breather or to prevent someone from following you. This can also be improvised into a weapon by attaching the lock at the end and swinging it.
Especially if this is a case where you may not be coming home soon, having proper information can save you lots of hassle.
USB Flash Drive – A USB Flash drive or Key can carry copies of your identification, car titles, home deed, medical records, and much more. Current pictures of your family are a must too. This can help you to be reunited if you get separated.
Paper copies – It is wise to also carry paper copies of the most important documents, id, and pictures in case something renders the USB inoperable. Store these in a water tight container such as a zip lock bag.
A few items that can be handy and may not fit into other categories.
Trash bags – These are good for emergency ponchos, bed liners to keep up off the wet ground, to gather items, and even carry water if need be. Be sure to get the thick contractor style bags so they hold up and are large enough.
Zip Ties – These have a million uses from repairing your pack straps to replacing a broken shoe lace. A few of different lengths is suggested.
Cash – In the event of any type of major disaster, even if only regional, you may not have access to your bank and credit cards may not be working. Cash can let you buy supplies while others fight with their cards. Coins are also suggested so that, if still operational, vending machines can be used for re-supply. The amount of cash is up to you, but keep it small denominations so that you can pay in as exact change as possible.
The items above are not a be all and end all list. They can be expanded on if size and weight limits allow. There may also be unique concerns for you personally or geographically. Take time to think over the items, not only what type, but exactly which ones. If this is to be an INCH bag, then your gear needs to survive forever. If it is just a GHB designed to get you home in times of a minor disturbance, you might get away with cheaper alternatives for certain items. Whatever you decide, practice with your gear now, so that when the time comes you know how to use it. A bag full of brand new gear in a bad situation may only be useful to the person that picks it up off your dead body.
*Items linked to are offered as examples and are not necessarily endorsed by LeveledSurvival.com.