Before You Go Down The Bug Out Bag Rabbit Hole
Oh, we want you in there. In fact, it’s where we live, and we just poked our heads up long enough to say hi. And to share a little knowledge.
There’s something we recommend you do before taking the plunge, and that’s get your head on right. Because once you enter the realm of the Bug Out, or Go Bag, you’ve become part of a story that reaches back to Oddyseus and forward to space bases on the moons of Jupiter. You’ve gone sci fi and Gandalf at the same time. Which is especially cool because it’s all here and now.
Because the concept of the Bug Out Bag is a philosophy, not just of preparation but freedom to roam. And the magic lands you get to roam will have their dangers, chasms to cross, wounds to mend, safe havens to find, and the constant need for sustenance. They might not have power or running water, or they might have satellite uplinks that can connect you with rescue, or help you create a safe waypoint encrypted from prying eyes. Sure, it gets out there. There’s no need to imagine some hackers on the hunt for you and your friends if that’s not your style. But that kind of imagination is part of what makes the rabbit hole so much fun.
Being prepared for the unexpected is not about the day that time comes, it’s about getting your mind right. You’ve got to go through the process before you realize it may just be that no matter how much you prepare, it’s still possible one day to end up starving, naked, and alone … even if only a metaphor for a state of mind. It’s easy to get far too materialistic amidst all the gear, and don’t get us wrong, we’re all about the gear. But prepping is in the most important ways about getting your own house in order, literally and mentally. We’d say it doesn’t matter which comes first, but the truth is they happen at the same time.
And the thing is, should that day ever come, the pretty, important metaphors all seem to go out the window. Don’t worry, they’re still there, in the decisions you make and the hope you keep. It’s gonna be all too real, and you’re going to be so unbelievably grateful for the fun you had thinking about your very first Go Bag, it’ll scare you. Because it’s so easy to just fantasize a little bit, call yourself silly, and move on with ‘real life.’
Nothing more real than wishing you had one drink of water that wouldn’t make you sick.
Starting a “Go Bag”
Here’s the thing survival experts know: most commercial Bug Out Bags are very cool and filled with great stuff, and too heavy by double. One of our favorites has a miniature emergency flashlight, an LED flashlight on one doodad, and another LED flashlight on another. It’s a two person 72-hour bag, with three flashlights. And we get it. One fails, two people, in a pinch, well it’s good to have all the lights you need. It also has a miniature emergency set of candles.
Every item on the list of contents is something we have in our emergency kits at home. We have variations on the themes in each family member’s bag. We have a Go Kit for the storage space in our vehicle, and part of that is a smaller unit we can separate from the larger kit, which is our we-gotta-ditch-the-SUV Bug Out Backpack. Why? Because this is what we do for a living, and if we didn’t, well yeah, we’d still do it.
Some of the best survivalists? You know what their version of an absolutely complete Bug Out Bag is? A good knife.
Utility Versus Mobility
Some outdoorsmen believe most backpackers live in a gear bubble, and argue if people really wanted to learn how to survive properly, they’d start at the trailhead with nothing but a loincloth. We admire that, but no thanks. In the immortal words of Sid the Sloth, “I choose life!”
Or to be accurate about it, we choose any rational, non-overly obsessive measure that increases your odds, item by item, without crossing the point of diminishing return, particularly in relation to weight carried, and mental distractions.
Remember that old show, 24, with Kiefer Sutherland? He consulted with the real deal. Special Forces and others. There was that one season he carried around a plain old messenger bag with a single flap and a wide pocket. The point was, every time he needed his automatic pistol, he could put his hand on it, fast, and draw it without snagging on a zipper, flap, pocket or loop. We’re not saying you’re going to be needing to save the President and shoot a bunch of bad guys, but simplicity over complexity in emergency situations, whenever possible. Kiefer spent the entire season with his go bag, and aside from the handgun and a few clips, he ended up with a few technological necessities that helped him along the way, and a bottle of water.
Technology: You Aren’t Too Hardcore for a Laptop
Which gets to another main consideration, technology. Let’s face it, if you ever actually need to gtfo of a place, is it going to be because the Apocalypse just hit and there’s no more power, communications, running water, or civilization? Or is it more likely to be just a need to extract from a situation, with danger either of a physical or emotional kind? For a lot of people their ability to hit the road fast, get distance from a past, go whichever way the flying goose leads, is based on having a laptop they can open up anywhere to get some work done and get paid.
We can tell you, laptops and fully functional tablets are a lot lighter than they used to be. One of these days we’ll share the true story of one of our rabbit hole denizens who actually had to employ his Go Bag to give himself an extraction, from a sour relationship he’d managed to get himself into in Atlanta. He used his old laptop, flip phone, special cable that cost $90 just to connect the phone to the laptop, backup power source in the ticket area where there weren’t any outlets, and was able to get himself a contract for a new job while still in the airport. Then he ate a granola bar. He flew outta there and hasn’t been back to Georgia since.
But for now, the point is, a true Bug Out Bag has to depend a little bit on you. We do happily recommend acquiring any one of the fine options out there for a pre-packed 72-hour, or 5-day bag, designed for individuals or groups. They’re chock full of what you need for first aid, sanitation, tools, food and water, light and even communication, like those awesome hand crank useless radios. Tuck one of those kits in the back of a closet and you get to instantaneously rest easier as you decide whether to go ahead to the real fun part.
But whether you get a pre-packed Bug Out Bag or not, the better step is what we always recommend for emergency situations. Visualize.
See yourself suddenly having to get the heck out of a place. Whether alone or with family, you’re grabbing one single solitary thing to carry: your Bug Out Bag.
And we’ve got to back up, for just one second, to say it’s possible to have two. You can have one for low tech dependence, maximum raw survival odds boosting, and one for a digital age professional who wants to be able to land halfway around the world in less than a day, and be ready for a meeting with a CEO, or safari guide. We’ve prepped ‘em and packed ‘em both. And based on years of experience, and just having fun thinking up all the possible scenarios, our conclusion is the best real-world Bug Out bag for you is one that balances survival with the bare technology essentials to keep you alive, reasonably comfortable, and effective in the modern world.
Don’t Cheap out on the Essentials
This is why we’d like to offer a different approach. If you want to be covered in case of disaster, right now like yesterday, then pick a premade kit and order it. We have a few suggestions based on our own research on our site (here). But also consider doing what a lot of us kind of do naturally, and set aside a reasonably small budget that you may spend each month on one single item to add to your overall preparedness needs.
For example, number one on our List of All Things is a single great knife. You might even have an excellent chef’s knife in your kitchen, and that would actually do, except it might be a little large, a bit too easily chipped and dulled, and doesn’t have a belt sheath. But number two on our absolutely freakin’ must have list is a Ferro Rod & Steel. We don’t know of a good premade Bug Out Bag that doesn’t already have one. Most are five-in-ones, and that’ll do, but the whole add a whistle and a paracord to every tool to call it a multi-tasker thing often just means extra size and weight you do not need, for cheap add ons.
So let’s say you give yourself $50 per month to spend on things you can use for disaster preparedness, and just camping and backpacking. A perfect little Ferro Rod & Steel is going to cost you about ten bucks. Maybe up to $25 with shipping for something a little over the top-of-the-line that you just fall in love with. Hey, we know how it is. Sometimes something just looks better than all the rest, even if the only real difference is good visual design. That still leaves you an extra $25 in your budget.
So next month spend $75 or a bit more for a perfect KA-BAR Knife, or some other tactical knife that isn’t bulky, but has a blade just big enough to skin game, clean fish, cut rope and vines, whittle fire starter shavings, and has truly high grade tempered steel that will stand up to major punishment, and perform about a million things nobody can predict. A great knife is one of humanity’s original, true multitaskers. Don’t settle for the knockoff stuff. Make sure you’re getting real quality in the steel and the handle. Maybe it costs up to $150, so you skip the next couple months. But you see where we’re going.
One piece at a time, fill out the list.
Ohhhh, you want to know what’s on the list? It’s always changing. Just like technology. But there are some fundamentals that never do.
The List of All Things? You want it? Really?
Welcome to the rabbit hole...