What is a Bug Out Bag?
Some people call them “72-hour kits” or even “96-hour kits.” They get a lot of attention from time to time, as well they should!
You may have thought about putting one together…someday. Maybe you started to put one together for yourself, but, you got overwhelmed with all of the lists of potential stuff to include, to say nothing of L-I-F-E, so, finally, out of frustration (because it sounded like a great idea but you just didn’t have it “together” enough to do your own) you just bought one off the shelf at your local camping or emergency preparedness store. But what is a Bugout Bag (B.O.B.)? And, more importantly, what is it for?
The purpose of a B.O.B. is to sustain you while you travel from Point A (less safe) to Point B (more safe – you hope) in the event of an evacuation. It is that simple! However, a B.O.B. can also be a handy place that you know you can go straight to in the event of a disaster to find potentially life saving supplies.
One serious caution here though, there is more to a B.O.B. than just gear, and the survival items in it should be a very personal choice. You cannot just buy one off the shelf and think that you are covered.
Don’t believe me? Go ahead and open one up. You will find loads of cheap, useless junk that will fail you just when you need it most, if you use it at all. Honestly, since you didn’t bother to put it together yourself, the chances are very good that 1) you have no clue what’s in that bag, and, 2) you have little or no clue as to how to use it – even if it was good quality.
How do I know this? Once upon a time, I bought several of these pre-made 72-hour kits in backpacks for myself and a couple of my older children. We then put them to the test by taking them camping for two days. TWO DAYS!!!!! Not the three days they were advertised as being good for. Let’s just say the results were not pretty. We came home and I quickly made the time to assemble our own kits, from scratch, with items that were good enough quality to last for at least a couple of weeks worth of use.
Before you get started on your B.O.B, pick a couple of different destinations in different directions (you don’t know what disaster will strike nor what areas will be affected). Now plan out at least a primary and secondary route from your house (and work) to each of your destinations. Make sure your B.O.B. has small copies of topo maps to these locations, protected in plastic. It’s also a good idea to let family members who live in other areas know your plans ahead of time. Communicate! But, that’s a topic for another handout.
Assume that you will get no help from FEMA, the Red Cross, the LDS Church, a CERT team, or anyone else (sure, you might, but if you plan for the worst case, you’ll be much better off than if you plan for the best and don’t get it). Once you leave your house, you will have become a refugee. Not a fun thought!
It’s not to difficult to figure out that you will want to be in that situation for as short a time as possible.
Assume a maximum time of 72 hours (3 days) and assume that you will be traveling on foot (yes, it COULD be longer than that, but longer gets exponentially more difficult to plan for and heavier to carry).
If you’re lucky, you may start out in a car, but then have to abandon it. It might be worth considering a secondary mode of transportation. Could you use bicycles? What if your selected destinations are unavailable? What if your primary and secondary routes are blocked? Do you have another “Plan B?”
Contemplate these questions for a while and let your mind wander into contemplating the worst-case scenarios such as a flood, or an earthquake that opens un-crossable fissures and destroys roads. Just for fun, assume at least temporary total anarchy, no electricity, and cell phone towers have been knocked out. How, and where, will you re-unite with your family members? Do you have pets? What will become of them? These are very real questions and challenges that hit disaster survivors in the face without mercy.
Prior proper planning prevents pathetically poor performance, to modify a well-known maxim.
After you have selected your destinations and routes, check everything out on Google Earth. Now check them out by car, then on foot, and if bicycles or other alternative transportation is part of your plan, check them out that way.
Your objective is to get to your destination as quickly and efficiently as possible while keeping delays and potential conflicts to a minimum. As you are checking out your potential routes, be alert to places that may be potential ambush areas.
All of the pre-planning is essential to assembling a B.O.B. that will be effective for YOU in YOUR circumstances.
The next rule to remember is simply this, do not put anything in your B.0.B. that you are not familiar with and have not practiced using enough times that you don’t need instructions. The time to figure out how that fire starting stuff works is NOT when it’s cold, windy, rainy or snowing, and you need a fire NOW for warmth and safety. Oh, for what it’s worth, that fire you are planning to build has the potential to attract predators of the two-legged variety. Best to keep it small and short-lived, if used at all. This is definitely NOT the time to build a big bonfire.
When you start to buying equipment for your B.O.B., remember that you have to carry all of it on your back. If you are out of shape and/or cannot hike more than a mile, and/or do not know anything about first aid in the field, then you have a couple of additional “first steps.” 1) Get yourself in shape by starting today to walk and/or bike, and, 2) buy a “Boy Scout Field Book” and read it. It contains a wealth of very good information. 3) Now that you’ve read it, start practicing the skills it teaches.
Here are some other general rules:
1. PACK LIGHT. If you have more than about 20 pounds of stuff (excluding food & water), you are carrying too much stuff! Do NOT assume that you can carry a heavy pack long distances for three days. Try it for just one day and see how you do.
2. DO NOT BUY JUNK! Some of the stuff out there is really, really poor quality. The poster children for this are the cheap Chinese knock-offs of the wonderful but expensive Victorinox Swiss Army Knife and the Leatherman multi-tools. Most of these cheap knock-offs are not worth the money you pay for them – especially if your life may depend on them. The blades will not hold an edge. The knives and other tools will literally disintegrate in your hand if put under any serious torque. Good stuff always costs more initially, but consider it life insurance. I cannot stress enough the importance of running everything you buy through the wringer of field testing. I have had an occasional $4 or $5 knife hold up, but they are the exception rather than the rule.
3. Don’t assume that your emergency will be a tactical exercise or the Zombie Apocalypse. If you dress in camo and load yourself down with a pistol, rifle, and a big hunting knife, remember that there are those out there who, during a temporary state of anarchy, will assume that you are a threat. They may very well shoot first and ask questions later. Remember, most normal people will be afraid of you if you dress like that, but you may draw the attention of others who just might be more interested in stealing your stuff than if you were less obvious in your preparations. If you carry a weapon, carry concealed, and know the safety rules backwards and forwards. Do yourself and your family a favor by not freaking everybody out and not making your prized rifle a target for robbers who are willing to kill for more weapons.
4. Carry a good light-weight water filter – nobody can carry enough water for 72 hours, especially if you are carrying ultra-light freeze-dried meals or dehydrated foods. They will sap water from your system. Be prepared to replenish it. Remember, as a general rule, a human being can go two weeks without food but only three days without water.