Why Your Bug Out Bag Sucks (And How You Can Fix It)

March 19, 2015 by | 4 Comments

Before everyone gets their panties in a bunch, this does not apply to everyone.

Some of you have great bug out bags. Perfect, in fact. Especially you—yours weighs just three pounds, yet has everything you need for a trip to Guatemala and back. It blends in perfectly in every environment, carries enough ammo to start a revolution, and can magically breeze past the handsy TSA inspectors without a second glance. If that wasn’t enough, you carry it literally 24/7 so you’re ready to go at a moment’s notice.

There is no room for improvement. You, sir, are OAF. You make the Delta Force Ranger Team 6 jealous.

This article is not for you—it is for everyone else, so please share it with them so they can be just as awesome!

For everyone else, here is why your bug out bag sucks, and how you can fix it.

You picked the wrong backpack

You need to consider the environment you’ll travel through before picking a backpack. It’s tough to beat the durability or capacity of an ALICE pack, but if your bug out route takes you through heavily populated areas, you’ll draw unwanted attention. Especially under a martial law scenario like we saw following hurricane Katrina.

No matter what you were told, size does matter. Pick a pack that’s too small and you’ll either try to cram gear and supplies in, tearing the seams and causing premature wear, or you’ll just omit essential in the first place. Pick one that’s too large and you’ll be tempted to pack more shit than you need, leading us to our next point…

You packed too much shit

I tend to pack less these days because my time in the Marine Corps put quite a beating on my body and I’m not the spry 19-year old I once was, but I still pack more than I need.

Your bug out bag should contain only the essentials you need to get from point A to point B. That means leave the camp stove at home and cook over a campfire, opt for freeze-dried food instead of MREs, and dump the solar panel—if the grid is down, your iPhone won’t work anyway.

Lay out all of your gear for a complete inventory. Get rid of anything that isn’t essential to survival, then determine is any items can serve multiple purposes. For example, why carry a pocket knife, a fixed-blade knife, and a muti-tool?

Some people have the opposite problem…

You don’t pack enough

It’s great that you practice primitive skills, but planning to bug out with nothing more than a knife is just stupid.

Yes, some people actually think that’s a good idea.

I wrote an article a while back about building a fire starting kit and one commenter started complaining that it’s stupid to carry a fire starting kit because you might lose it. OK, so? Your pants might rip, so should we run around naked too?

As someone who has spent my share of time in inhospitable environments around the world, I know the value of having the right gear.

Sure, I can start a fire with a bow drill, but why do that if I don’t have to?

Pack what you need. You don’t have to prove how tough you are.

You haven’t tested your gear

If you haven’t taken your bug out bag on at least a three-day excursion, you have no idea how well it will work. Take the time to learn and use every piece of gear in your bag. Use your fire starter to actually start a fire. Cook a meal you packed. Apply your tourniquet.

Knowing how to do something and being able to do something are two very different things. That’s why we used to train so much.

During infantry training, we spent about a week in a classroom learning navigation techniques followed by practical exercises in the parking lot. We were all so excited to get out in the field and show our instructors how awesome we were, but we were quickly disappointed because we all sucked.

Following an azimuth was easy without obstacles and underbrush, but it’s an entirely different story when you can only see 15 feet in front of you and had to fight through the vines and brush every step of the way.

Every skill is perishable, and gear breaks down over time (and sometimes suddenly) so practice frequently and check your gear regularly.

Melanie Swick (a.k.a. Survival Chick) grew up wanting to be a rocket scientist, but when she realized she that required way too much math, she took to her second dream—spending time in the wilderness. Today, when she's not hiking, camping, or hunting, she's blogging about it. You can connect with Melanie on Facebook.

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  • Lou says:

    Some thoughts,….
    OK Article I guess,….
    The real issue is, will a bugout bag intended for wilderness survival be or much, or any real use in a crisis evacuation, and in our largely urban environment?
    So, there you are, walking down the road, heading for some perceived safer place, say, fifty miles away, surrounded by hundreds of other refugees. So, what? You’re going to stop by the side of the road, put up camp? Build a camp fire, start cooking food? While everyone around you is starving, and their kids are dying of thirst, and hunger?…. Really, really bad idea!!!
    Or, you’re going to try and find some “wilderness spot” where you can camp out,…… And, for how long? Just how long do you think that you can squat in the woods, like some giant squirrel?
    Here’s some news for you. Just about everyone who takes their BOB out for a couple days testing in the woods is back in their SUV cruising for home, and their warm bed by the next morning, complaining that they need to make some “adjustments” to their equipment and supply choices.
    If you still think that what everyone has jumped onto the “what a BOB should be” bandwagon, the thing to do is to seek out information from those who actually have to spend multiple days in harsh conditions in the wilderness. I’m speaking of those brave individuals who do wilderness rescue. Check out what they pack, and copy it. You won’t go far wrong. But keep in mind that even those Guys expect to have base camp support, with better shelters and food, that they can be pulled back to. for rest, after two, or three days in the woods, or mountains. You got and Base Camps?
    In the end, it’s not what you pack, and hall along on your back that becomes very important to you, it’s what you failed to pack, and really wished you had with you.

    • Jeremy Knauff says:

      Lou, this article covers just a few details. If you had spent a few minutes reading more of the content on the site, you would have realize that. There is a wealth of content on bug out bags alone.

      And as for your statement “the thing to do is to seek out information from those who actually have to spend multiple days in harsh conditions in the wilderness”

      well, given my background as a Marine Corp infantry veteran, I’m pretty sure I qualify as “one of those people who actually spent multiple days in harsh conditions in the wilderness.”

  • Those are wise words and make a ton of sense, but now since I have the wrong bug out bag I obviously dont have the needed info to correct the matter. How about another article on how to build the 3 pound BOB that works, undertanding that everyones will be slightly different considering age, physical condition, geographic location, etc, there in fact must be similarities, yes?

  • Hmmm….. do I have mud on my face????? I just found this site and took my second step and found the answer to my question, looking forward to reading how to do it now, thanks!

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