You’re at home one night and the power goes out. Hackers have taken down the grid and you need to bug-out to your sister’s house a hundred and twenty miles away. Traffic is gridlocked and no one is driving anywhere anytime soon. You decide to bug-out on foot with your pack. Six miles down the road, you’re dying from the weight of the pack. It feels like you’re carrying a Volkswagon on your back because you’ve got so much stuff in it. There’s a lot to be said for sticking to the basics when you build your bug-out bag.
By Jarhead Survivor, a Contributing Author of SurvivalCache and SHTFBlog
Back in the dark ages (early 1980’s) when I was in the Marine Corps, a full pack for a basic infantry man ran about sixty pounds. That was the canvas shelter half, poles and stakes, sleeping bag, food, mess kit, clothes, etc. Lord help you if you were the machine gunner or radio man because that added a lot more weight to what you had to carry.
Stick to Basics
I remember going on forced marches for ten or fifteen miles and suffering because of the weight. You eventually get used to it, but I wouldn’t say I ever came to enjoy it. I soon learned what was important and what wasn’t and ditched the excess stuff. Apparently this has been a familiar theme through the ages because during the Civil War soldiers started out with haversacks weighing forty to fifty pounds, but soon learned to drop the excess weight and only get by with the essentials. I’d be willing to bet the same has held true for soldiers going back to the Roman legions where they were sometimes estimated to carry up to eighty pounds – a ridiculous amount of weight. But then again, they were professional warriors and when they signed up it was for a much longer tour than four years like the average tour today. Roman soldiers underwent conditioning marches that were brutally hard. Vegetius wrote in De Re Militari:
To accustom soldiers to carry burdens is also an essential part of
discipline. Recruits in particular should be obliged frequently to carry
a weight of not less than sixty pounds (exclusive of their arms), and
to march with it in the ranks. This is because on difficult expeditions
they often find themselves under the necessity of carrying their
provisions as well as their arms. Nor will they find this troublesome
when inured to it by custom, which makes everything easy.
Our troops in ancient times were a proof of this, and Virgil has remarked it in the following lines:
The Roman soldiers, bred in war’s alarms,
Bending with unjust loads and heavy arms,
Cheerful their toilsome marches undergo,
And pitch their sudden camp before the foe.
Lighten Your Pack
As you probably surmised from the title, this post isn’t about soldiers and their pack weight. It’s about you carrying less weight so that you can bug-out effectively if it ever comes down to it. Unless you spend every day hiking a sixty pound pack fifteen or twenty miles, the likelihood of being able to do so when the SHTF are slim to none. From the section above I reiterate:
Nor will they find this troublesome when inured to it by custom, which makes everything easy.
Chances are good that you’d be stopping along the way and ditching gear, thus you really need to focus on packing just the essentials. I’ve seen packs on Youtube and in blog posts that a Clydesdale couldn’t carry. They’ve got everything in there from three changes of clothing to enough ammo to fight off the zombie apocalypse all by themselves. And the kicker is that quite a few of those people are about fifty pounds overweight and the act of actually carrying it more than five miles would probably kill them.
So what exactly are the essentials? This depends on you: your skill level in the woods, your fitness level, your bug-out plans, your destination, and your mission plan.
The worst case scenario is a full scale bug-out, meaning that you’re taking off and you need to live out of your bag for a minimum of three days, but probably longer. If you’re careful, you can probably get away with forty to forty-five pounds. This includes a tent, sleeping bag, freeze dried food, a quart of water with water filter, spork, small cook pot and stove, fuel (unless you’re carrying a small woodstove like a Solo Stove), lightweight poncho, and other essential gear. If you buy the lightest gear (usually the most expensive too), you should be able to have a good kit that weighs in the forty pound area. I hiked a piece of the 100 Mile Wilderness in Maine and my pack weighed forty-four pounds when I started. I spent a lot of time getting that pack weight down, but it was worth it. I also spent weeks leading up to that hike walking the road with the same boots I’d be wearing and carrying the pack to get used to the weight.
Read Also: Get Outdoors!
Rather than run through all the scenarios, I’ll list out some of the things I carry in my everyday woodsman kit and why I carry it. I’ve managed to pare the weight down to about twenty to twenty-five pounds (depending on how much water I carry) and I’ve found this to be an acceptable weight as I’ve gotten older.
Then again, I also have a lot of experience in the woods and feel comfortable entering the forest with what some might consider minimal gear. I consider my kit to be a GHB or Get Home Bag, meaning I’ll only carry it about 30 miles in a worst case scenario, which for me is walking home from work. I like to move fast and light and not be seen if at all possible. So rather than carry weapons I choose to leave that weight behind and avoid confrontation. I suppose the worst thing is someone steals my bag from me, which means I’ll be that much lighter on the way home.
Let me say up front that many of you won’t agree with my philosophy on firearms and that’s fine. I live in Maine and in the area I’ll be walking through, people are unlikely to cause me problems. If you live in the city and carrying a big pack loaded with shelter, water, and food makes you a fat target, then you’ll probably want to consider carrying a gun as protection. Again, this all comes back to your situation and threat assessment. But keep in mind that guns and ammo are heavy, so choose wisely.
To survive a night or two in the wild here’s what I carry for the basics:
- Military Grade Poncho
- Survival Knife
- Firesteel and Lighter
- Three Freeze Dried Meals (minimum)
- Small Flashlight
- 1 Quart Steel Water Bottle and Filter
- Pot Set with Homemade Alcohol Stove and Four Oz of Fuel or Small Woodstove
- Small Plastic Cup and Five Coffee Packets
- Map and Compass
- Titanium Spork
- Gloves and Hat in Cold Weather
- Sleeping bag/Wool Blanket
- Notebook and Pen
This pack weighs between 20 and 23 pounds depending on the extras I put in. If you’re going to rely on the above kit as your guide, other things you’ll need to add to the list:
- Experience in the wilderness/bushcraft skills
- Much time spent evaluating and using each piece of equipment
- Overall physically fit (weights and aerobics four to five times a week)
- Skill with map and compass
Wilderness Survival Skills
The more you know about wilderness survival the less gear you have to carry; however, the longer it will take you when you have to set up camp. It’s a trade off and you need to be able to judge yourself and the situation in order to make the best decisions. A few days ago I took the following kit into the woods and made a shelter using no tools whatsoever. I used two trees to break sticks to length and used fir boughs for insulation. I used a lighter to get the fire going, but that was the only man made item I used.
Related: 15 Ways to Start a Fire
It’s important that you tally up your knowledge, experience, and skills in addition to the gear you’ll carry. All of these things are important when trying to figure out the best way for you to bug-out. It’s also important to weigh your weaknesses. For example: if you’re overweight or otherwise not able to carry a pack for a long distance, you’ll need to make alternate plans. Bugging in might be your best option, so instead of preparing to leave, you plan for an extended stay in your home or apartment. But I digress.
In order to get your pack weight down you need to focus on the essentials. My advice is to lay out everything you could want, put it in your pack (if it will fit) then take it for a walk. If you can do three to five miles with that weight without much trouble, congratulations! You’re probably going to be ok.
If you find yourself struggling after a mile or two, take your pack home and start going through your gear and eliminate stuff you don’t need. Got a big flashlight that holds four D cell batteries? Get rid of it and get a small halogen light that uses a couple of Triple A’s. If you’re walking alone and have a three man tent, ditch it for an ultralight single man tent. That will save you five or ten pounds right there. That’s the kind of mindset you need to bring to your gear.
Visualize what a camp out will look like and keep that thought in your head as you go through your stuff. Always challenge a piece of gear. Some of it will pass the test, but some of it won’t. Don’t be afraid to cut back. I believe that speed in getting out of an area will be vital and it’s hard to do if you’re chained to a sixty pound pack. After all, we’re not Roman soldiers!
Do you think a pack should have everything and the kitchen sink, or do you think a minimalist mindset is best? Let me know in the comments below. Questions? Comments? Sound off below!
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