11.5 Bug Out Bag Mistakes That Are Not Mistakes

About the only tangible aspect we have for a real bug out is the bug out bag.  Sure you might have a BOVehicle or BOLocation, but Best Bug Out BagBOBag is often the beginning and the end for most lightweight survivalists and preppers.  The problem is that unlike taking a cruise to Alaska, or a family trip to Disney World, pretty much nobody you know has bugged out in the pure sense of the verb.  Now while I would actually like to keep it that way, the point of this blog, and your reading of it no less, is to cover the bug out contingency the best you can.  Unfortunately, most of the words about bugging out and bug out bags in particular are recycled from questionable sources or where someone played connect-the-dots using military-grade playbooks.

By Doc Montana, a contributing author of SHTFBlog & Survival Cache

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Over the years I’ve read many of the same recycled advice columns about setting up a bug out bag.  And I’ve listened to podcasts from information purveyors whose bug out plans were gleaned from a Boy Scout camp out in fifth grade.  As I consumed the advice I’d pick and choose what I wanted to believe based on my past experiences, and what made logical and practical sense. But I could only take so much non-information or bad ideas before I stopped listening or reading.  Not that I have anything against recycling because I’m actually greener than most (many of us who dabble in off-grid solutions are), but that it seems nobody else will step up and risk being labeled as a heretic only to be chained to the proverbial internet post and flamed by the those who own recycled advice has just been challenged.

Above the Belt

Before reading further, here are my ground rules: First, this is about bug out bags or BOBs, not Get Home bags, not 72-hour bags, Survivaland not any of the other short-term carryovers or disaster-specific bag variations.  Second, obviously rules can be broken, but you need logical reasons to break them. Skill and experience will make up for some lack of equipment, but so too can good equipment make up for lack of skill. To a degree anyway.

And third, this article was written with the intent to shake some popular beliefs that are repeated ad nauseum across the internet whether or not the parrot has ever tested their own advice. Everything I address here is based upon my real-world experience. Of course you are free to do and say what you want, but when the fat lady sings you better have chosen wisely.

1. Do have a very big bug out bag

So-called bug out experts seem to fixate on backpack size because of noble but misguided intentions. The inaccurate but common belief is that a big bug out bag will be overpacked and impossible to carry. In reality, that logic just enforces my belief that the one giving the “smallest possible bag” advice has never done anything big outdoors. There are five main reasons you want a big bug out bag.

1) You can pack more (but see topic #2 below for more on this).

2) Big packs carry heavy loads much better than smaller packs. They hug the body and distribute weight so a 30 pound small pack is a pain, but a 30 pound large pack is almost invisible (but see topic #4 below to get it right).

3) You can use a large pack as a sleeping bag or bivy sack.

4) You can always carry air. Nobody is going to make you fill all available space in your pack.

And 5) If you leave home with a stuffed small pack, you cannot add to your load as you go. So unless you are bugging out on a commercial airline flight, you can forget about carry-on size limitations and do this right.

2. Do pack everything you think you might need

For some reason many bug out bags are packed with more good ideas than real-world supplies.  There is a prevalent fear that “too most common bug out bag mistakesmuch” is bad.  Well, I like to say that you cannot dump out what you don’t have.  Imagine an EMP caused you to hit the “go button” on your bug out plan. A month before, however, you cut down the size of your bug out bag assuming that the 30 mile jaunt to your bug out location (BOL) would be easier with a minimalist carry.

Related: The Best Food for your Bug Out Bag

But just as you head out the door, your neighbor fires up his EMP-proof truck and offers you a ride in the right direction.  No time to pack more, so guess what, you just made a colossal mistake in packing and you haven’t even left yet!  If you neighbor happens to drive a Chevy Luv packed to the gills, then you can dump out that case of Dinty Moore Beef Stew in order to wedge your bug out bag onto your lap.  Or better yet, keep it loaded and duct tape it to the hood of the truck.

3. Ignore the weight of your bug out bag

Similar to #2 above, weight can be a false prophet.  Consider why you are concerned with weight.  Is it to make your pack lighter just because? Well, does it really need to be lighter?  Or what will you be able to do with a lighter pack that you cannot do with a heavier pack? And how light is light? Or how heavy is heavy?  I hear supposedly informed preppers toss around numbers like 25-35 pounds. Well unless you are running to your BOL, the weight of your bug out bag is just one of many variables that can be adjusted on the fly. How you ask?  By dumping out what you don’t need or can no longer carry.

But if you are constantly mumbling something about pounds being pain, then you will have to make big decisions without waiting for all the information you could gather. Instead of cutting corners ahead of time, prepare to ditch weight as needed.  Water is a great ballast choice and can easily be substituted with air (see point #1 above). By the way, that old adage about three days without water and three weeks without food is nonsense in a bug out. You might survive those numbers adrift in a raft then rushed to a hospital, but certainly not walking around and doing survival work.

4. Do buy the very best you can of everything

Any internet list of “best” equipment that often further qualified by being under a certain price.  And that has failure built-in from Survivalthe start. Buy your tools and equipment based on need, quality and performance instead of price.  I’ve read lists of the best xyz under $50 or $99 with full knowledge that a massively better option is just a couple bucks more than the artificial cost ceiling that was chosen by the author for little more than dramatic effect. If you really need to pinch pennies, go with used equipment.

Since a real bug out has little margin for error, the fewer points of failure you you bring with you the better.  The problem is that most folks have not pushed equipment to the point of failure so they don’t know just how dangerous a cascade of failures can be in a survival situation.  Every year people die in the backcountry as one failure or injury multiplies into many.

Related: Jarhead’s Bug Out Bag

Someone gets disoriented snowshoeing.  They take a tumble in the powder filling their coat with snow that melts dampening their cotton clothes just as sun begins to set.  Numb hands cannot start a fire so they continue on.  A turn left at the big tree and they would have found their previous tracks and the way home.  But instead they went right and tomorrow morning their frozen corpse will be discovered by the rescue dogs on scene.  Then the spokesman for the S&R folks will again share the news cycle in an impromptu press conference highlighting the list of user errors for the umpteenth time.

5. Do skip all the military/tactical/police advice

Well, maybe not skip the advice, but certainly put it in perspective. Some of the big differences between the bug out and M/T/P INCH Bag Mistakesperspective is that a bug out is a deliberate run and hide while the M/T/P response is to engage or start the fight.  Consider what M/T/P life is like compared to the reality of a bug out. Sure a select fire weapon is effective, but unlike M/T/P you won’t have a supply chain feeding your machine gun, or an ambulance parked just behind the yellow tape. Instead, take the advice of those whose activities are closer to the bug out.

My models are mountaineering, rock climbing, canyoneering, deep mountain four-wheeling, extended backpacking and camping, winter camping, backcountry skiing, adventure racing, long-distance bicycling,mountain biking, sailing, river rafting, ultra-marathon trail running, big game hunting, forest fire fighting, and off-grid life in general. To transfer the knowledge to the bug out bag, you can first start with the equipment.  If you want quality outdoor equipment, then you have to pony-up for the tools that the serious outdoors folks count on for serious outdoor adventures. So perhaps a trip to the local REI will be more helpful bug out-wise than wandering the aisles of the big box gun store yet again.

5.5 Don’t skip all the military/tactical/police advice

In fact, embrace all the tactical aspects you can even if you look like a mall ninja’s mall ninja.  Just like the overstuffed bug out bag, the tactical look can come and go as needed, but will never be available unless with you at the start.   A common mistake that is batted back and forth by students of the bug out is whether or not to look tactical, especially in the departments of clothing, pack and loadout.  But the funny thing is that most discussions end there.

Also Read: 10 Must Haves For Your Bug Out Bag

In reality, you have plenty of options that straddle the lines of both worlds. I have a highly tactical-looking bug out bag in the form of a Eberlestock G4 Operator.  It’s a bohethomith in any language, and plays an operator in real life and on TV. Nobody would mistake the G4 for a family camping rig especially with a rifle sticking out of the top like a high frequency whip antenna on a Humvee. But in less than a minute, I can completely house the pack within a rain cover of my color choice whether light green, olive green, tan, or FDE. And the smooth fabric hides all the MOLLE, webbing ladders, 5.11 side pockets and ammo pouches. The rain cover does nothing for the size, or the rifle antenna, but it does totally neutralize the overtly aggressiveness of a tactical backpack.

For smaller daypacks, the same game can be played by simply tying or pinning fabric onto the pack, or even making the pack wear a sweatshirt.  Since the daypack is much like a human’s upper torso (which it’s designed to hug), you can dress it up in human clothes to your heart’s content.  The same is true for your tactical clothing.  Wear your operator threads under loose-fitting street clothes, and when needed just jump into the nearest phone booth and morph back into Superman.

6. One is plenty

The funny thing about redundancy is that it is usually practiced on the easiest and funnest targets like knives, fire starter, and back up iron sightsguns.  While I don’t discount the importance of those three areas for backup, I think some future bug outers are hiding low quality behind claims of redundancy.  I’ll take one good knife, one good flashlight, and one good gun over two or more lesser of any of the above. If you are worried about losing your tool and needing another one, then I suggest being more careful. Save the redundancy for those things that likely will break and create a catastrophic disadvantage. If you want to start a list of redundancies, begin with footwear. Yea, I know. Where’s the fun in that?

7. Don’t plan on bartering

I often read recycled “intel” that stresses the inclusion of barter items in the bug out bag. The problem with this type of thinking is that it wastes valuable space and weight on something for someone you haven’t yet met and who will likely not need it.  Focus on you and your plan, not that of some imaginary future person . And worse, many of the commonly suggested barter items are purely superficial.  Gold?  Silver?  Ammo?

Related: A Real Emergency Fund

Would you trade your food for a box of .303 British cartridges?  How about some pre-1964 quarters for your fish antibiotics?  Or some small yellow fragments that may or may not be gold for your extra warm clothes?  Not this guy.  I’ll engage in barter as needed with what I have at that time.  Most likely it will be for skills over objects, and especially not for those things that require intrinsic and agreed upon value like gold dust.

8. Carry cash in large denominations.

Everywhere I’ve traveled around the world, good old American greenbacks have value. The exchange rate might not be in my favor, Get Out of Dodge Bagbut bills with dead US presidents are always accepted.  Traditional prepper lore is to carry small bills such as fives, tens and twenties.  But the flaw in this wisdom is three-fold.  First, it assumes that reasonable prices will remain active during the bug out.  I sincerely doubt that bottled water will be a buck a pint or a box of 9mm for a single Hamilton will be the norm.

Related: How to Choose an Urban Survival Bag

Instead I’m betting that everything will be $100, or if not my $100 bill will beat your pair of twenties when fighting over that last case of canned soup at the gas station. Expect price gouging by packing enough financial firepower to overcome the competition and also the hesitation of the sellers.  Let the zeros do the talking.

9. Don’t rely on Paracord for much of anything

Handy yes. But only one solution of many you will need.  Paracord is by far the most popular prepper noun that doesn’t involve nitrocellulose or carbon steel. But as far as cordage goes, it’s main benefits are that it’s cheap and colorful.  Paracord was pretty much an afterthought on my outdoor adventure checklist during the first three-fourths of my life. Instead I chose specialized cordage for particular duties.  Thread, string, twine, fishing line, kevlar cord, dynamic rope, static line, one-inch tubular webbing, and so on. In fact about the only thing I use paracord for is to attach tents to anchors, and hanging food bags in trees.  Paracord is the duct tape of rope.  A catch-all solution with no specific job. But today it seems that paracord is the prepper’s dream material and is used with reckless abandon as if its presence alone will ensure survival. Learn your cordage and knots. Then use the proper rope for the job.

10. Do eat jerky

The bug out is an endurance sport so why would you take advice from someone who rarely pushes themselves to any physical limit. Mistakes for bug out bag One piece of faux-wisdom I hear often is to skip certain foods during the bug out, and beef jerky seems to be singled out more often than not.  The folksy wisdom seems to have your best interest at heart, but in reality it misses the point.  Yes, jerky is salty so you will need to drink water.  But you need to drink water anyway and at a level commensurate with the endurance sport you are now playing.  If you avoid jerky because you are delinquent in your hydration needs, the problem is with you, not the jerky.

Also Read: Have You Tested Your Bug Out Bag?

The only way to learn about the demands stressful endurance activity will place on your body is to play around with endurance. So take your nutrition advice from those folks who routinely push themselves in directions that parallel the bug out and pack your bug out bag with those nutritionally dense foods that power our super athletes whether world class bowhunter or marathon runner, Tour de France rider or ocean swimmer. Coffee and donuts might be the preferred pre-mission breakfast of SWAT teams, but don’t count on lasting long in the real world on that diet.

11. Do rely on technology

Of course technology can fail. I’m not stupid. But technology can also give you a massive strategic advantage in terms of speed and Survivalprecision. A compass and a GPS are two completely different items that have a slight bit of overlap. Yet I know plenty of folks who swear the GPS is a disaster waiting to happen while the compass they carry but don’t know how to use will save their life. All a compass does is point north. The rest is knowledge, skill, and geometry. Cell phones are magical when they work and I fully intend on using mine until it stops just as I plan on extracting all possible benefits out of every other electronic device, cable and charger I own. Half of all bug outs will happen at night, and using a compass in the dark is hardly forward thinking.

It might keep you walking in a straight line, but navigationally speaking, you’re screwed unless you have the terrain memorized in which case you don’t really need the compass. Bic lighters are technology as are gas stoves, binoculars, red dot sights, laser rangefinders, night vision, and semi-automatic pistols. And I intend to use all of them to their fullest potential. Sure a failure of my lighter and gun could have me rubbing two sticks together and whittling an atlatl, but, as I like to say, I’ll burn that bridge when I come to it.

Blame Game

So there you have it, my eleven and a half bug out mistakes that are not mistakes. I’m not sure this list will make a dent in the information recycling efforts of the average prepper, but it is my survivalist intent to provide a place you can point to when you want to question the popular advice, experience or even motives of the classic prepper.  So steer them towards this article and they can blame me, not you.


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16 comments… add one
  • Tom Jackson July 8, 2016, 11:05 am

    Good post. The more you know, the less you need to carry. My BOB is a CFP-90 filled with, essentially backpacking gear, food and water. Tactical and 72 hour kit fit in the patrol pack., so I can dump (or cache) what I don’t need. True survival gear is distributed on my person in the form of EDC and I do mean E(single)DC. On your way you will find useful stuff and a large pack partially filled with space and strap-on capability goes a very long way. With this setup, I can go for a very long time sans firefight, but then that’s not the goal. Getting from Point A to Point B is the goal.

  • Ty Mathews July 8, 2016, 3:13 pm

    Excellent post, thanks for sharing thinking with an open mind outside the box is always good, options, options, options ……..never put yourself in a position where there are none by all means necessary!!!!!

  • Donald Oberloh July 8, 2016, 10:02 pm

    I do agree with the ideas here, however if you end up losing your gear to bandits (i know you are a bad ass shot with both hands) because you have kids to consider, then consider leaving a couple cache with the same gear you started with, between you and any location. That way you wont be stupid enough to draw down on four armed assholes ala the outlaw Josey Wales.

  • TPSnodgrass July 8, 2016, 10:14 pm

    Good article, made me laugh, too!
    David, love your post! I don’t have nor will have the screenwriters Josey Wales had, I try to avoid “trouble” all the time anyway.
    I’m not ambidextrous, but I can shoot with both hands, either one IF, the bad guy/girl is within bad breath distance. If they are that close, I’ve already had bestial relations with several pooches from a tactical standpoint already.

  • budgetsurvivalist July 9, 2016, 12:50 am

    Good stuff, although I think weight is very important. You are bugging out for a reason, diplomacy has failed and you are running from the coming horde/herd. If you are a conditioned person weight will be less of an issue, for most people, who are less than ready, weight can get you killed. Get out there and hike with that load before you bet your life on it, or be prepared to be eaten. Do you know what you will dump in the next 30 seconds to stay alive?

  • Kilo Sierra July 9, 2016, 5:40 am

    Your first point is probably the most important and IMO the one that is overlooked in the whole BOB debate. I find that most sites post the 25-35 lb. weight as the gospel, and choose their bags around carrying that weight/size (usually a smaller bag). The thing that I’ve learned in doing so is that smaller bags don’t carry that weight as effectively as the larger bag. Usually the waist strap is simply a nylon strap that doesn’t sit well to distribute the weight off your shoulders. It’s why that as I slimmed down my weight of the contents, I went back to my larger bag to distribute the weight better. It also allows an easier time in switching between summer/winter loads. Hell, if you leave the winter gear in the pack anyways, you’re not losing anything if you have to grab it in the warmer days. As stated, you can always dump it if it’s in the way.
    In choosing any potential Backpack, I pay close attention to the waist strap as I feel that is just important as all the other bells and whistles it might have. I’ve weeded out some of the more popular choices simply based on that. If there isn’t a lot of support or enough of it, then the more weight you do add is going to penalize you more than with a more supportive pack.
    I’ve also worked to distribute some gear to different locations on my body to help my center of gravity and will stay with me in the case I have to temporarily dump the pack. I keep some survival gear/necessary core gear in a small front pack and/or in pockets so that if I lose the bag I still have something.
    I tend to stay modular and use the 25-35 pound rule as a guideline when it comes to core gear (not including water weight), and then add/remove gear based upon what I feel will work and make me comfortable. Some times I get cheaper gear as a base and then replace it with better gear as budget allows.
    I also do agree that integrating technology is just as important as knowing the basics. Work smarter, not harder. I’d rather curse and “dump” than curse and “wish I had”.

  • irishdutchuncle July 10, 2016, 5:02 am

    packing for that “Alaska Cruise” really isn’t such a bad idea…(IMHO)
    I don’t have a backpack right now. I’ll get one, after we get our passports. if it becomes necessary to leave, it may be necessary to flee the country. (my first choice would be Appalachia, (i.e.),the Poconos, however)
    I keep a duffel packed for a “short notice vacation”, an outgrowth from my original “spontaneous weekend getaway” bag. I keep a toothbrush, and a change of clothing in the car, along with a “picnic” kit. I think it’s a good idea to choose your words first, then to focus on implementation.

  • Taxdn2poverty July 10, 2016, 4:19 pm

    Please keep in mind that this comment is centered on STDs (South Texas Damnation). We have three types of weather down here, Hot and Dry, Hot and Parched, Hot and Dead. And that is a no kidder. Not a year goes by in the local area without a few people dying from the heat while mowing the lawn, bicycling, jogging, working, or whatever. That is why in my bob there is some ammo, a few high energy candy bars, a life straw, and as much water as I can possibly carry. The remainder of my stuff is already buried along the route. If you live in Northern climates then your situation might be different, but down here water is life. Great article and thanks.

  • mike rollins July 11, 2016, 9:45 pm

    I would take four inexpensive, quality water filters (sawyer mini) over one expensive option. I think they would be worth much more one MSR miniworks filter. Sometimes two is one is a valid way to go, especially for critical needs.

    • Doc Montana July 12, 2016, 12:46 am

      Interesting you mention the Miniworks. I have four of them in addition to Lifestraws and Sawyers. I watch the store sales and discovered that for just a little more than the replacement cost of the Miniworks ceramic filter, you can buy a whole new Miniworks filter with pump.

      What most folks forget is that the Lifestraw and its similar brethren require water on one end and a human mouth on the other. Not always possible. I’ve been on several trips where the only option was to lower the Miniworks tube several feet into rock cavities and pump the water out. Also did the same chipping through ice to get to liquid water.

      Further, imagine cooking with Lifestraw water. Your buddy sucks water out of his straw and spits into the community pot to boil the pasta. Also, kids have trouble sucking enough through them so you have to play the mommy bird and spit water into their cup. Lifestraws are great on the run where you can plant your face six inches from the water source, but don’t be fooled into substituting them for a real pump filter.

  • Roger July 16, 2016, 8:19 pm

    Hey Doc, please check out the Sawyer Mini again, it includes a 16oz squeeze bag that directly attaches to the filter so you don’t have to suck on it. If you have a facial or dental injury, then you might not be able to suck thru a filter at all! Most of the info in this article is good IMHO, but please note that water is not a ‘great ballast choice’, it will always be necessary! The size and weight of your BOB is going to be a personal choice for everyone. Of my personal group of three, I’m the only one capable of carrying 25% (or more) (45lbs. +) of my body weight; if we are forced to flee on foot they might be able to carry 5-10%! I can and will (if necessary) carry an extra 10lbs. (probably water) and suck up the pain; my experience as an ex-Marine and outdoors lover (and my ego) will push me along! If something is not necessary in your BOB, DON’T carry it, why use the effort and calories carrying something that may be just ballast! Barter items (if any) should be something you can use yourself, small and light-weight; like candles, lighters, etc.; a disposable lighter weighs .6 oz and a tea light candle weighs .5 oz, with a half-dozen in a air-tight pill bottle only 4.2 oz, I can manage that! I still believe that (for the most part) 2 is 1 and 1 is none, but I certainly won’t throw away any single items just because. A lost $300 knife is just as valuable as a lost $50 knife except that I can afford to carry a second $50 knife that will do everything that I’m likely to need it to do, no problem! Extra socks are more important than an extra pair of boots and a lot lighter and less bulky. I’m sorry, but IMHO whipping out a stack or hundred-dollar bills is just begging to mugged and probably post-SHTF murdered, yea, you’re carrying a tacticool AR-15, but so is he and probably his buddies too! Predators take advantage of opportunities, it’s in their nature, DON’T make yourself a target! It’s far better to look like a poverty-stricken bum just trying to get by than a plump, juicy fruit ripe for the picking! Paracord may be the “duct tape of rope” but between it, bank line, and (yes) duct tape, I’ve never suffered from lack of cordage for any use (now or in the future). Yes, 0ne-inch hemp rope may be perfect for some usages, but a 100 foot length is heavy and bulky and my BOB isn’t that big. Jerky, be it beef, chicken, turkey, even fish is GOOD, period! Just like with freeze-dried foods, water is needed, but the food doesn’t need water, your body does, plenty of it! These people with only a 1-quart/liter bottle of water (in their BOB) must live next to a water treatment plant. I consider my BOB to be the same as a 72-hour bag and 32 oz for 3 days of hiking with a heavy pack on won’t even begin to cut it; you’ll be dehydrated by the start of day 2 at best. I carry 5 quarts in 3 canteens because where I live is semi-arid (next step is desert) and natural sources of drinking water are somewhat rare. Also, people will tend to congregate near fresh water sources and I would prefer to avoid most human contact in a SHTF situation; as I stated the predators will be out (in force), all too ready to fleece the sheeple! IMHO, a BOB is a short-term system, good for maybe 72 hours without resupply; you won’t be crossing the country with just what you can carry on your back, so pre-positioned caches are an absolute must! Sorry for the length of this reply but you do touch on a lot of different related subjects here! GLAHP! (Good Luck and Happy Prepping!)

  • Jac July 29, 2016, 2:45 pm

    Thank you for all of the tips. I have been needing to get a survival pack. I liked the fact that you said you need a big bag for it. I need a big pack for all of the survival gear that I need. My brother’s is huge! I am going to share this with him. Thanks again!

  • Marty D. August 2, 2016, 10:33 pm

    One of the best written and most common sense shtf articles I have encountered. Bravo!

  • Young Prepper October 16, 2016, 8:17 pm

    Great article, though the rule of three’s is not wrong, just misunderstood. You cannot go STRONG for three days without water. Dehydration will set in on the first day, even in the first hour. Other than that the article is very insightful and informative.

  • FPM March 15, 2019, 7:58 pm

    I used to be a homeless rodeo clown but now I am a world class magician!


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