I like to keep my bug-out bag light, but have enough equipment in it that I don’t suffer if I’m forced to spend a night out.
Remember, gear is important, but it can’t beat knowledge and experience. Get out in the woods and build a fire, go on a long hike with your BOB, get your hands dirty building a fire pit. It’s great practice for the real thing and you just might have fun at the same time.
A Short List of Crucial Equipment for a Bug Out Bag
1. Poncho – A military grade poncho is a piece of equipment that has many different uses – exactly what you need when preparing a bug-out bag. I say military grade because in my experience I’ve never been let down by one of these sturdy ponchos. If you buy something from Walmart don’t forget the old adage, “You get what you pay for.” I used a Walmart poncho once and that was enough. It tore while I was trying to set it up as a shelter and by the time I was done with it I might as well have used confetti to make a shelter.
I’ve slept under military grade ponchos many times as a shelter and they can even be used to camouflage your location. I’ve wrapped up in them at night with a poncho liner (see the next item), and I’ve even used it to stay dry when it rained out!
They can be used as ground cloths, to channel water into your canteen when it rains, to protect against sun as well as rain, it can converted to help carry heavy loads, and on and on. You’re only limited by your imagination.
2. Wool Blanket – A poncho liner can be tied to your poncho to make a good blanket and if you roll up in it it will almost act like a bivy. One of the good things about the poncho liner is that it’s pretty lightweight and compresses down pretty good for storage.
The wool blanket is an old military standby and I have one in my bag. It’s warm and even when wet can still provide some insulation against the cold. Put it on over your shoulders and put it up over your head to create a hooded robe for when you’re under-dressed. Another option in place of the poncho liner is a space blanket, but the type I’ve seen can only be used a few times before they’re no good.
3. Stove and Fuel – It’s good to cook over an open fire when you can, but it’s not always practical. I’ve used many different types of stoves and during different seasons I’ll carry different types. Butane and propane work well in the warmer months whereas if you want a good stove for the winter a white gas stove is probably your best bet.
4. Pot – A steel cookpot for your water is a crucial piece of gear to have in your bug-out bag. I’ve used all kinds from the military canteen cup to a titanium pot used for high altitude cooking. There are different types and what you buy depends on your financial situation and your needs.
5. Ferro Rod – I like a ferro rod because it will throw a spark no matter what. A lighter is great, but I’ve found that when it gets wet or in cold weather it’s hit or miss whether or not it will work well. You can pull a ferro rod out of the water, dry it on your coat and it will throw a spark immediately. There’s no guessing with one of these bad boys, but you have to know how to build a fire in order to use it. Don’t throw one in your pack and expect it to save your life if you haven’t used it a bunch of times. Practice practice practice!
6. Knife – A good survival knife is probably the most important tool you can have with you in the woods. If I had the choice of just one item to take with me in a survival situation it would be my beloved K-Bar Becker BK 2 Campanion knife.
7. Water container – You can make your own water container in the woods using birch bark, or by burning a hole in a large piece of wood, but nothing beats a steel water bottle or a canteen. The good thing about a steel water bottle is that you can boil water in it thus getting rid of the need for a water filter and a steel pot.
8. Water purifier – I have an older model water purifier than the one pictured here, but Katadyn is the go-to-company for filters. They’re lightweight and I’ve never got sick drinking water through one of these filters and I’ve used it on different sections of the Appalachian Trail many times. (To be absolutely sure you might want to boil it after filtering if you have the time.)
9. Headlamp – A headlamp is a critical piece of equipment for obvious reasons. Once the lights go and the sun goes down it’s your only way to see at night. I’ve used Petzl brand headlamps in the winter in some of the harshest conditions in Maine and they have always held up superbly. Yes, there are ways make your own lamps out of materials found in the forest, but when you need to move at night nothing beats a good head lamp.
10. 550 Paracord – Cordage is extremely handy in the field. You can make your own if you know how, but it’s labor intensive and takes a long time. If you have 100 feet of paracord on-hand it will make things a lot easier when it comes time to fast or fix something.
There are many other items you can pack of course, but this is the basic kit I like to pack in my environment here in Maine. What do you put in your bug-out bag?