Jarhead’s Bug-Out Bag

I’m often asked what I use for a bug-out bag, what I have in it, and how I pack it.  Today I’m going to answer some of these questions.

The Pack

The configuration changes from season to season and bag to bag; however, about six months ago I bought a MARPAT Assault Pack and I haven’t looked back.  Check out the review I did then here.  These small packs can hold a surprising amount of gear and are very tough.  When you attach it to the Main Pack you have one big whompin’ load you’re carrying around.


When it’s in this configuration I’ve heard the smaller assault pack called the, “Go to Hell” pack because if you get in trouble you can detach the smaller pack and boogie with the lighter load and most important equipment.  What that is you’ll have to decide for yourself.


As mentioned in my earlier post the bag has two compartments.  The  main compartment and a smaller area where you can put maps, food, gear, or whatever it is you need to get to in a hurry.  The shoulder straps have excellent padding and the waist straps are thin webbing, but comfortable.  The top of the pack sports holes for radio cables or what not to pass through and there’s a sturdy carrying handle up there as well.

One of the things I like about this pack is it’s MOLLE compatible.  MOLLE (pronounced Molly) stands for Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment and is a simple and effective way to attach gear to your pack.


Here’s a basic list of equipment I put in my bag.

Below is a picture of a canteen, cup and case I bought awhile back from Dave Canterbury’s site.  Follow that link if you’re interested in the specifics of that setup.  I’ll do another post about it soon and how it’s worked for me in the field and some of the mods I’ve made to it.


It’s set up as a MOLLE attachment, so I decided to attach it to the outside of the pack.  This means that the canteen and cup are easy to get to, and the stove ring that I purchased for it later is wrapped around the canteen.  In order to boil water the only thing I need inside my pack is a lighter.



Look at the picture above at the MOLLE attachment on the pack.  Below is the MOLLE attachment on the canteen.


Slide the canteen attachment through the loops on the pack, snap it tight, and it’s now attached to the pack.  I don’t know if many of you out there remember the clips they used in the military back in the ’80s, but this MOLLE stuff is five times easier to work with!


Below you can see the canteen carrier attached to the pack.


The next big piece of gear is the military poncho and poncho liner.  I like a wool blanket for cooler temperatures, but in the summer I take the poncho liner and tie it to the poncho, snap the poncho so that it’s folded in on itself and I have an easy makeshift sleeping bag.  I wouldn’t sleep in this in temps much lower than 50 degrees without a fire, but it’s a good way to improvise a sleeping bag out of gear that has other uses.


In the picture below I’ve started to assemble the basic gear I’ll want in the bag.  This list includes maps and compass, LifeStraw, alcohol stove and alcohol, knife, lighter and/or firesteel, one of my home made MREs, stove ring, canteen and cup, and a waterproof gear bag.  Not pictured are a flashlight, fork and spoon, paracord, rain/wind jacket (very lightweight), large trash bag (multiple uses), and a shemagh scarf.



 Packing the Gear

When I pack the gear I tend to put the heavier/bulkier stuff towards the bottom of the pack.  The first thing that goes in is the poncho and liner.  I have a little trick I learned in boot camp on how to roll something like this up so that it’s neat and stays in place.


First, I line it up with the pack so I’ll know how wide I need to fold it.  Once I’ve done that I roll it as tight as I can until I get near the end, then I stop.


Fold the non-rolled end towards the rolled end and open it up enough to stuff the rolled part into the end.  It’s kind of hard to explain, but look at the picture above and you’ll see how I’m holding the end open.

Below I’ve rolled it into the end and stuffed it in as tight as I can, so it’s a nice tidy package.  Then I take that and put it in the bottom of the pack.


Next I take the small gear and put it in the water proof bag and put that on top of the poncho and sleeping bag.


The rain coat and any other clothing will go next to the WP bag.  I strap the knife to the outside of the pack and if I decide to put a saw in there it will run along the back close to where it will on my back.  There’s a thick pad between the pack and my back, but make sure there’s nothing sharp poking through or it’ll be a long hike!



In this post I covered the pack I use, the gear that I put in the pack, and how I pack it.  Is this the way you have to do it too?  Of course not.  What I suggest doing is figuring out what it is you want to do during a bug-out.  Are you planning on hitting the woods for a few days or a week until the trouble passes?  If so you’ll want a tent, sleeping bag, food, and other big items that will require a larger pack.

Or, like me, do you just want to get home?  In that case you might want a configuration similar to what I have. Next you need to figure out what gear you’ll want to put in your pack.  I’m comfortable in the woods and don’t really need a lot of equipmentto be happy.  Others may require a few more pieces of gear.

I like the assault pack because it’s rugged as hell and small enough that it’s very easy and comfortable to wear.  Some people don’t like camouflage packs, but I don’t worry about it.  When I’m in the woods I still tend to wear dark colors and camo gear simply because it’s the way I was trained.  When I’m out there I don’t want people to see me! Another thing to keep in mind is that I use this pack all the time for hiking and doing stuff when I’m in the woods.  It’s the perfect size for a 72 hour pack if you’re a minimalist like myself.

I’ll stop here because this article has grown larger than I expected, but I wanted to put as much info in as possible for those of you who are interested in how other people do things. Maybe some of you other outdoorsy types would like to chip in on how you have your packs configured.

Questions?  Comments?

Sound off below!

-Jarhead Survivor

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25 comments… add one
  • j.r. guerra in s. tx. June 10, 2013, 9:02 am

    One of Canterbury’s recommended 10 items is a sail needle. Many sources are pretty expensive, especially the shipping. One place on ebay has them priced 25 for $5 (!) with $2 shipping – awesome buy. I just received them this weekend and am very happy with them – English made John James and Son – high quality manufacturing. I bought 3 packs of these, just in case! :^)

    Google SAIL NEEDLES EBAY ENGLAND and its right there.

    Thought I’d pass this onto your readers – hope it helps someone.

    • irishdutchuncle June 10, 2013, 9:50 pm

      …and if not sail needles, a “sewing awl”.

      • Ray June 11, 2013, 2:33 pm

        I use the same needles to make moccasins, can’t beat em. Just BE CARFULL they are SHARP. I can’t tell y’all the amount of blood I’v lost to them.

  • Charles,,,, June 10, 2013, 10:02 am

    BOB’s, an ever expanding topic involving time & distance, terrain & climate, cause & cuasent’s, is that a word, causent’s, those who cause, maybe… being persued, on foot, motor, land, sea, so many variables. And yes I have one, geared to the southern region.
    I’d like to see and learn about something I’ve heard army guys from the VN era, they talk of a ready to fight vest, where it’s all connected down to a web belt being connected to it with canteen’s etc., it seem’s the magazines they needed, knife, grenades, flares, whatever had all been pre-positioned on this “vest”, hooked to a web belt, and it was a matter of putting your hands through the armholes, zipping up and buckling, is this viable, is there such a rig? Just one man’s ponderings…..

    • Ray June 10, 2013, 11:14 am

      EVERYBODY has tried a version of the “vest rig” over the last 30+ years. The surplus stores have plenty of them. They all “work” to some extent, and they all have the same drawbacks. They are HOT as HELL in the summer, They are heavy , You CANNOT lay down in the prone with one on. You cannot crawl with one on, and they provide less carrying Cap. than a warbelt + rucksack. And Charles; If you carry Hand grenades, Magazines, Flares, combat knives, ECT. its not really a BOB anymore-it’s a combat rig.

  • irishdutchuncle June 10, 2013, 10:34 am

    I keep a change of undies, and a pair of wool socks in the WP bag.
    (I may add a camp towel, and some long johns) it would be embarassing to be found frozen to death, and nekid besides…

    I need to pickup some more wool blankets too. I like a GI helmet liner, but a fleece hat, or a watch cap is OK for this time of year. mosquito head net, leather palm work gloves, fixed blade knife.
    hand ax. (and first-aid kit, to fix boo-boos from knife and ax)

    • irishdutchuncle June 10, 2013, 9:31 pm

      sven saw, garden trowel, baby wipes, and magnesium block.

      I have a spray can of bug repellant. I usually have a hat and long sleeves, instead of sun-screen.

  • Ray June 10, 2013, 11:02 am

    Jarhead , My USMC molly that craped out was one of the first GEN. molly packs that the Corp ordered DX’s because they were all defect. Collemans Military Surplus is selling the same pack you have for 89.95+shipping NOS. They sell the large pack that go’s with the assault pack for 79.95 used. I still like my old LC-1 pack. I guess when you carry anything for 37 years you get used to it’s evil ways.

  • Charles,,,, June 10, 2013, 12:00 pm

    Thank’s Ray, an education in word’s saves expense and pain in the doing….I was looking to have more at the ready then so much in the bag to dig out when on the move, so I’m re-rigging with the use of carabiner’s and a web belt to outfit once under way with the content’s therein,,,,, my trek (from work) isn’t a long one but there is a stretch through indean country that’s a concern. TY !!!!!

  • Sgt. Survivor June 10, 2013, 12:03 pm

    Just a gee whiz thing here…and maybe it’s just because we are/were in different branches (I’m AF) but when I use MOLLE stuff, I attach it in two ways. If I want to be able to remove it easily, I attach it the way you showed. But if its something like a mag pouch or something that isn’t gonna need to come off in a hurry, or something I want to make extra secure, I attach it different. Instead of running the strap on the pouch straight down through the MOLLE loops on the pouch, I go through the first loop of the bag, then the first loop of the pouch, then bag, then pouch…. In the end it’s secure enough that even if the snaps come undone, you still can’t rip the pouch off of the bag. It takes a lot more time and frustration but if you don’t plan on needing it removed quickly or want less movement, it’s the way to go. Great post BTW. I am always refining my BOB.

    • Jarhead Survivor June 10, 2013, 3:02 pm

      I’ll have to give that a try, Sarge. I haven’t used MOLLE that much so it’s not something I forgot – it’s something I never knew, but it makes sense in helping to keep your gear secure.

  • Waterboy June 10, 2013, 12:59 pm

    I may have missed it, but I’m sure there is a first aid kit in there, right?

    • Jarhead Survivor June 10, 2013, 1:49 pm

      It’s not in the picture, but it’s attached to the BOB in real life. Yes, you definitely need some kind of first aid kit.

  • sparrow June 10, 2013, 1:07 pm

    No cordage? 550 cord or something similar would be invaluable. Same for some zip ties and duct tape…

    • Jarhead Survivor June 10, 2013, 1:50 pm

      Yep, I have 100′ of paracord too, again, not in the picture. As handy as duct tape is I don’t often carry it. Not sure why either, just one of those things that seems to get forgotten.

  • Lou June 10, 2013, 4:40 pm

    Well,…. Very high points for thoughtfullness and organization. But wait,…. Have you assembled just the right kit to be really uncomfortable, even miserable?
    Ah,… There’s the rub. Huge packs are conspicuous, and can draw danger. They wear you down, and tire you out. Too small of packs only hold the bare minimum, even, not enough to make it through.
    Your system has little or any food? Well, I’ve done without food for more than a day. It stinks!. You carry very little shelter? How cold will you be? I’ve slept on the ground (or tried to), that really sucks too! Ever been really, really thursty?
    Sure, you’ve assembled a Get Home Kit. Perhaps figuring that you may be feeling a bit rough when you make it, but at least, you’ll be home.
    What if going home is not an option? What if you’ll be out for weeks, even for months before you find permanent shelter?
    Sure, the best survival kit is knowledge. Everthing else is for creature comfort. But, don’t underestimate the value of those comforts. Nature, survival, wears you down. It wears you down much quicker that most imagine.
    Choose things that will really make you more comfortable, like a hygene kit that allows you to wash, shave, brush your teeth, and wash your cloths. Sometimes just feeling human, makes a huge differance.
    You’ll need at least 1,500 calories a day, and half a gallion of clean water minimun. Mother nature ain’t going to reach out and hand that to you. Mother Nature is a foul bitch, that’ll try to kill you any way she can, quick or slow. If you haven’t got nessessities with you, and you can’t bet them from Nature, that means you’ll be pressed to get them from People, by hook, or by crook.
    When the real Daniel Boone set off on a trip, he was riding a horse, and leading a couple of pack horses loaded down with supplies. No dummy, Daniel boone!
    What I’m saying, is assemble your kit as thought you intend to hike the Appilation trail this summer. within that context, make it a lite as possible, and minimize as much as reasonable, but don’t skimp on being at least somewhat compfortable.

    • Jarhead Survivor June 10, 2013, 8:02 pm

      You make some excellent points, Lou. I really like the advice in your last paragraph.

      I’m not sure if you were asking me questions throughout your post or just being rhetorical; however, I’ll answer as if we were having a conversation.

      Comfort and hygiene are certainly important in the field. I find that after the big items are gone you tend to appreciate the smaller items all the more. One year we were in Norway and ran out of MREs. We went a couple of days without food until I found a pack of K-Rats in the back of my jeep. These things were like super hard cereal bars, but nothing ever tasted so good!

      If you don’t have a big knife that small knife in your pocket suddenly becomes all the more valuable. If your lighter dies and your matches get wet your firesteel becomes a luxury.

      You’re right about the weight vs comfort tradeoff and I talk about it in the post. I live 3o miles from where I work with family in between. I choose a light pack for several different reasons. I’m comfortable with minimal gear while in the field, I can resupply on the way if necessary, and hopefully I can get home in one day.

      If I find that I’m forced into a field situation for many days or weeks then I’ll have to improvise and do the best I can with what I have. It would suck for sure, but I think I’ve got a better chance than most when it comes to surviving in that kind of situation.

      Thanks for your thought provoking post.


  • Sgt. Survivor June 10, 2013, 10:41 pm

    My two cents on the bag…I have several stages of bags…”kits” if you will. I carry some VERY basic stuff on me all the time…a medium size gerber folder, bit of small diameter steel wire, compass with a small magnifying glass that will start a fire, waterproof matches and my CCW. That “kit” is with me always. The next step up is a small pack that stays in the vehicle with socks, underwear, light rain gear, first aid kit,canteen and cup, two MRE’s that have been stripped to the basics, small trauma kit, extra ammo and mags an a few odds and ends. Then my pack that stays at the house that has more creature comfort things. The point is, I always have the bare bones basics. Then I have a few more comforts in the car and much more at the house. I think this is the best configuration for me. A stepped approach. In the worst situation, I can barely manage with what I have on me, if I have a bit more time, I make it to the vehicle and am a little more equipped. In about 30 minutes I can make it home and be really well off.

    • Sgt. Survivor June 10, 2013, 10:44 pm

      BTW, most of the security forces guys at the gate are “like minded” and don’t ask why I have a bug out bag. That helps.

      • irishdutchuncle June 10, 2013, 11:32 pm

        in case anyone asks, I’d tell them it’s my “day-hike bag”.
        (so I can go out and commune with nature)

  • Pineslayer June 11, 2013, 12:10 am

    I could talk gear all day. What does your pack weigh? They are really nice little packs. Rated at 40lb cap. , but 20 is the mark I think. At least that is my goal. Being as strong as they are, it still seems to be lightweight.

    • Jarhead Survivor June 11, 2013, 6:17 am

      I actually have two of these packs, Pineslayer. One of them I consider my “main” BOB and it weighs about 23 lbs. The other has less and lighter gear and probably goes around 15 to 17 lbs.

      The main one is kept in the minivan and goes everywhere with me and the other I keep in my truck. I could one or the other and be happy for a few days in the woods.

  • T.R. June 11, 2013, 7:02 pm

    You a Molle addict yet ?

  • Hujonwi June 25, 2013, 2:22 am

    Great info, thanks from a former squid. A thought on the duck tape. I picked up a couple of the lifegear flashlights, the small and medium. Know that they are not really tough but they have storage in the handle and are light and have a long battery life. In the small one I have a mini bic lighter, not much else will fit. In the medium I have a mini bic, took a some elec tape and wrapped around the bottom and a 3/4″ strip of duck tape, camo of course, around the top. It fit’s in there with a mini multi-tool, el chepo wal-mart fishing section and a P-51. There is almost 2″ of space extra.

  • Field Miner August 11, 2015, 5:03 pm

    Great Article, but a few things I would add to a bag… lightweight of course, but recommended none the less. If things were to go bad while homeward bound, water purification such as it is- a life straw as you recommended, or if unable to get your face down to ground level and need to fill from streams/rivers- the Sawyer Mini filter system. Easier to fill that nalgene bottle with and follow this up with a UV light to kill off more bacteria than the filters can handle. (This recommendation comes for long term comfort- but can be utilized for short term (2-3 day excursions) less trips to the field expedient toilet :).
    A saw blade such as a collapsible sawsall blade made by Milwaukee or DeWalt. Carry a couple of different blades like a metal blade, demolition blade, wood blade. These can come in handy if you need to cut into (or get out of) some place to get more supplies, cut wood down without an axe- lightweight and practical.
    Someone mentioned 550 cord, suggest also kevlar cord as well. 200lb strength in a 1/16″ strand… can be used to cut through various materials, and is lightweight. Use as trip wire (along with a body/door/window alarm for perimeter security) or sewing, snares, etc… also suggest a couple of mouse/rat traps accompanied by some glow sticks- warning lights for perimeter or what have you- traps for possible meat later down the road as needed?
    A shortwave or HAM radio capable of scanning multiple frequencies. Gives the ability to hear what’s going on in the area, region, world. Have a back up power source such as batteries or solar for this. I use a Yeasu VX8DR and have the option of battery backup as well as solar charging via a Goal Zero solar panel. I can listen to SW, HF, and radio FM.
    Binoculars… ok- monocular? When you get to an area needing recon and need to know if it’s safe to approach… you’ll be glad to have had that monocular!
    Small fishing kit with lures/soft baits in a tin. Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime!
    Last but not least, a multitool… with can opener (P38 -remember those, or did I just age myself?)
    I’m sure I’ve forgotten more than I remember right now, but you guys have a pretty good start!


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