A long while ago (almost two years now!) I wrote an article on SHTFblog.com asking people for advice and thoughts on keeping weapons in your Bug Out Bag (BOB). At the time, I had kind of an entry-level setup, with a Home Depot Husky tool bag loaded up with ammo, pistol, magazines, and redundant gear that was already in my BOB. (you know, in case I couldn’t grab my BOB in time…) The separate weapon bag weighed a ridiculous amount, and I thought I needed it all.
By Drew, a contributing author
My Bug Out Pistol Bag
I got tired of transferring a 30-lb BOB AND my 21-lb gun bag between vehicles and sites I went to…and I ultimately came to the realization that the theory was sound, but pack mules don’t exactly go with me everywhere I go. That setup also happened to be a stuffed-full bright red bag that stood out everywhere; if you brought it into an office building for a doctor’s appointment, say, it just wouldn’t fit in. Stuck out like a sore thumb. I eventually shelved the idea because it was just…clunky. Obtuse. Instead, I compromised and simply just carried an extra mag for my small every day concealed carry gun, and made sure I always had a small flashlight, a clip knife, and a lighter with me…worked well enough.
However, my weapon bag idea came rushing back to me one day when I went over my father’s house a while ago. There was a small, tan, innocuous looking nylon case on his kitchen table. “Hey, that’s cool.” I said. “Where’d you get the FDE laptop case?” A glimmer in his eye. “Open it up!” I did, and to my delight I saw that it was a pistol case, with a simple strap-type Velcro-secured holster incorporated, along with several mag pouches and a couple universal-use pouches that were removable and able to be re-arranged inside the case. I would have sworn till I was blue in the face that it was a small notebook/laptop case or a large padded tablet case. Gears started grinding. Wheels turning. Ideas flowing. Had to get one. I wanted a slick, incognito pistol bag that wouldn’t set off alarms, yet leave me able to arm myself with the pull of a zipper. I sat down to figure it out.
And what I figured out was that, first and foremost: I had a 14-month old baby and a new mortgage, with winter’s accompanying heating bills…in other words, I was operating on a budget. I did a quick mental inventory on what I could sell or trade, so as not to pull from the household dime, and I set myself a hard figure of $500. Five hundred smackers for everything that I would need in a firearms-related light-travel grab ‘n’ go bag. Also, I wanted to keep it inconspicuous looking so I could bring it into the office, or to the mall, or a coffee shop, and nobody would be the wiser. Off to the internet!
I liked the old man’s bag, so I got one identical, just black. It is the model 149 soft pistol case, made by Condor Tactical…in China. Yeah, I know…I can hear you all groaning now. There ARE other USA made options, but I bit the bullet on this one because I really liked the look and layout…and as a bonus, cheap. Like $26.56 with free shipping from Amazon cheap. It came in a few days after I ordered it, and I was just as pleased with mine as I was with my father’s. It’s actually pretty well-made, sturdy, padded. A removable foam-filled divider goes between the two halves so that your magazines and other goodies won’t scratch up the gun. The holster and three other pouches reside on a full Velcro panel, and they are all removable, to customize the arrangement to your heart’s desire. One of the pouches is perfectly sized for a medium-sized flashlight or pepper spray dispenser, one is suitably sized for a single box of ammo, and one is more of a band that you can fit items with clips to – knives, cellphones, flashlights, what have you. You can even order more of these Velcro components on Amazon. Want to have two handguns in there? Order another holster up and go for it. But all in all, it satisfied me as well laid-out for the purposes I had in mind.
One of the key features of this bag is the zipper setup. The twin opposing direction zippers interlock with each other, and employ loops that line up to allow you to run a small padlock and secure the zippers together, locking the bag. The advantages of this are many, security being the major point. However, it also means that the bag qualifies as a de facto “locked container” so the firearm may travel (laws allowing – check up on them for your area.) inside your car or truck unloaded (no magazine in the gun), even state to state, as long as your starting point and destination allow you to legally have the pistol. For example, where I live in Maine, it’s fine if I have the gun in the case to travel to and stop in New Hampshire – but if I go to Massachusetts, it’s a definite no-go. So be sure to do your research if you plan to utilize a setup similar to this. I use small Master Lock set-your-own combination locks so I don’t have to worry about whether or not my key made it with me in an emergency situation.
The bag also sports carrying handles and incorporated loops for a non-included over-the-shoulder strap. In a pinch, I could see a clip-on rifle sling like the Magpul MS3 being used, no problem. I’ve been using this setup for a few months now, and while the bag collects dust (see the pictures – my house is having sheet rock work done and the black case picked up dust when it was set on a horizontal surface), it’s relatively easy to clean with a wet cloth. I haven’t had any problems with stitching pull out, zippers breaking, or anything inside the case getting damaged, even if it just gets unceremoniously tossed onto the floor of my truck, or dropped when carrying in lots of groceries. It’s actually holding up much better than I thought it would for the price. I’m actually (begrudgingly) pretty impressed here. I’d say it’d hold up quite well for rough duty for some time.
Contents: The Pistol
Of course, the bag you carry everything in is great and all, but what about the real reason for the bag…the stuff that goes in it? Well, keeping with my $500.00 self-implied limit, I was able to successfully assemble a good starter security kit that I can add to later as the need arises or my needs evolve. The basic contents comprise of a pistol, three magazines with ammunition, a flashlight, a compass, a fire-starting tool, and a small pocket clip knife. Later on, budget and space permitting, I can add a Aquamira Emergency Straw or similar water filter, a couple Clif bars or something similar, and maybe a burner pre-paid cellphone…or anything else I may perceive I need.
Let’s start with the biggie, the handgun. If you already have one, you can toss this expense right out the window. My every day carry gun is a Smith &Wesson M&P40C, and it’s on my person pretty much all the time. But for the situations where I needed to leave it home but could take the bag, I wanted something similar that I was already familiar with. But since the gun didn’t need to be small to be hidden, I could go with a full-sized gun. I decided to try to look for a full-sized M&P in .40 S&W, to maximize accessory and magazine compatibility with my carry gun. Also, since I was already familiar with the platform, there wouldn’t be any transition training time. Since I knew I was looking on the cheap, the police department trade-in scene seemed like a good place to start. Luckily, the M&P is a very common police carry gun, so I didn’t think it would be too hard.
Also Read: Smith & Wesson M&P .40C Review
And it wasn’t. A quick search of a couple sites turned up blow-out PD guns through CDNN Sports, an on-line surplus retailer. CDNN had .40 S&W PD trade-ins with some wear – this didn’t concern me much, as PD guns generally go through a very strict maintenance regime – and they were scooting them out the door for $299 apiece with one magazine on an end-of-the-year sale. Score! CDNN has a list of local FFL dealers, and after some communication with a recognized FFL and the departure of some greenbacks from my wallet, I soon had in my hot little hands a previously enjoyed full sized M&P40. Price: $339 with tax, shipping, and transfer.
Of course, you don’t have to run an M&P. A quick perusal of CDNN’s site as I write this (April 30, 2015) comes up with many low-cost options, some of them new guns, some used trade-ins. For example, a Taurus PT111 G2 9mm is going for $239.99 right now. Ruger MKIII 22/45s in .22LR are going for $259.00. Walther PPXs in 9mm or .40 S&W can find new homes right now for $279.88. Ruger SR45s in .45ACP can be had for $369.99. And this is just CDNN; there are myriad online retailers and auction sites that are out there for your perusal. A few hours spent searching and drooling will likely net you a good gun at a budget price. End-of-year sales are always great at sites like these, just as a heads up.
One magazine is just a bummer – I prefer to have a minimum of 6 per handgun platform to use and rotate as needed. I personally consider three magazines a bare minimum for this personal carrying-around setup. New guns generally come with 2-3 magazines; alas, my PD trade-in gun had but one. So, a couple more magazines were needed. CDNN came to the rescue again – used factory mags in excellent shape were $16.99 apiece, so I ordered two up. With their flat rate shipping, I had them at my door for $43.97. Considering new magazines are $35-40 new at the local gun shops, this was something of a bargain, even if I had to order up replacement magazine springs. The magazines function just fine, but I’m keeping an eye on them as I shoot them for signs of magazine spring fatigue. $409.53 so far.
I don’t go anywhere anymore without a flashlight. You never realize how often you’ll use one until you actually have one on your person all the time. I have a Streamlight Microstream with an extra battery taped to it that I keep in my pocket every day. It’s a great little flashlight, but it is small. If we have the luxury of a bag to contain larger items like a full-sized pistol, why not have a full-sized flashlight in there as well? I bought a Streamlight Polytac 88850 polymer flashlight from Amazon for $38.22.
Also Read: Compact Flashlight Comparison
It comes with two CR123 lithium batteries that have a 5+ year shelf life, so I don’t need to worry about updating the batteries all the time like my little AAA-powered MicroStream. It has three settings: standard 130 lumen light, strobe, and low-power 14-lumen setting for longer run time. It has a small pocket clip on it, though it’s a bit bulky, in my opinion, for every day carry on my person. I own a couple of these lights and they are just awesome – a fantastic bang for the buck that is just about indestructible and very reliable. Keep a couple extra batteries with the light and you’ll be set for illumination.
I don’t need a huge knife in my kit; something that’s enough to do basic utilitarian knife duty is fine. But that doesn’t mean we have to spend a ton to get a good, rugged knife. One of the daily carry knives I have is a Gerber EVO with a 3.4” titanium nitride coated blade. I think I bought it for $19.99 a few years ago, and it’s been a rugged little beast. I’ve used it to chisel out hinge locations on doors in my old house, whittle wood for marshmallow sticks, cut cardboard, and I even gutted the deer I bagged last year with it.
I sharpen it with a belt sander on occasion, or a coffee mug bottom, or a whetstone. It takes an edge easily and holds it well. It’s a little worn, but it looks way more “operator” that way. (Yes, that was a joke.) They’re on Amazon right now for $20.78, and for the price, you can’t go wrong. I put my used one in my bag and pocketed the new one.
A good compass is a must, and I try never to cheap out on my direction-finding. Luckily, excellent compasses by Suunto can be had for very low prices. The Sunnto Clipper is a tiny clip-on compass that has an adjustable bezel that you can snap on your watch, rifle sling, pocket, lapel, backpack strap…anywhere it fits. It’s a bit more rudimentary than standard baseplate compasses, but it’s only a tad bigger than one inch in diameter. And as they only cost $15.64, they fit the budget nicely. If you prefer a base plate style compass, the Suunto A-10 entry level compass costs even less at $20. Cheap insurance indeed, no latter your environment.
This is an easy one: I grabbed a Bic lighter at the local convenience store for $0.99. I keep it in a zip-lock bag so it doesn’t get wet. Throw some stormproof matches and a few homemade pieces of tinder in with it just in case. We’re now up to just shy of $485.00. Depending on deals you find or shipping costs or what you already own, you could be in this for far less. But I had $15 for extraneous items, like a freeze-dried food packet, or maybe some energy bars and a small whetstone. Maybe you want to grab a ferrocerium rod and a P-38 can opener in there, or buy extra batteries for the flashlight. Stuff a collapsible water container or a cheap nylon holster for your belt in the bag. Maybe a nice little first aid kit? Options are endless, and you can really tailor a small carry-around bag for your personal situation easily, and on a reasonable budget.
In the prepper community, many of us idolize the gear…but there’s a reason for it. We gotta have item “X” in case “Y” happens as we get to location “Z” and if “AA” happens we have item “BB” to back up “X”. that’s just the way we think. We keep our minds open to any situation that may arise, and we try to have the proper items to see us safely through. However, having a firearm being an integral part of a get-home or bug-out plan is a big decision to make, especially where technicalities, legalities, and practicalities come into play. Schlepping the extra 5-10 pounds of gear, to me, is an easy decision to make, because it means that in the worst of the worse-case scenarios, I can provide immediate close-range security for myself and my family if things so awry. I’m not Rambo, I don’t carry the pistol to get into long, dramatic firefights – and I hope I never have to use it. But with a nice, lightweight, easy-to-grab little setup like this I know that I have the equipment needed to provide a little extra peace of mind when the chips are down, even when I don’t have a fully stocked BOB/GHB present. And to me, that’s worth every penny of the $500 budget. What are your thoughts? What would you put in your $500 pistol grab-n-go bag?
Sound off in the comments below!