What Bug Out Bag Gear do I Need to Enjoy (and survive) the Outdoors? Any outing into the woods requires a backpack and enough gear to get you through your adventure. But that same pack should cover at least one day of survival in the process. And no before you even think of it, it’s not a prepper kind of thing nor is a forest something to fear. This is simple prudence to have and be confident in your gear and ability to take off yourself should something go wrong. What serenity provides is solitutde but that works both ways. It means you’re on your own out there.
By survival for one day, it also means setting up camp for one night. Why? Because it’s safer and easier to move in the daytime. Especially if you are exhausted, injured or stranded in any way and unable to self-rescue. Ideally, we should aim for a 2-3 day situation in our backpack gear load out for the those serious SHTF moments when everything just goes wrong. I suppose for the prepper minded out there, we are technically also putting together our “bug out bag” or “get home bag” in this process. But that’s more a perk here than purpose.
Weather Complicates Things
Rain can be misery but cold weather SERIOUSLY complicates matters with immediate urgency! A cold night means gathering wood and making a fire to stay warm, dry clothes, make safe drinking water and so on. In a bad situation we have to ask ourselves: do we TRY to leave or stay and setup camp? The truth is that it’s one or the other as it takes a long time to gather a night’s worth of wood. But these are the kinds of decisions we have to make in a bad situation. Decisions that will be made for your if you’re not prepared, even if that may be the wrong choice. The better prepared you are, the more comfortable that night will be.
In this post, we’ll look at a full gear list as we address why we need these items and how they all work together. Even if you are completely new to the outdoors and have not the slightest clue where to start, that would be right here!
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- Weather Complicates Things
- A Personal Lesson
- The Bug Out Backpack
- Cutting Tools for Your Bug Out Bag
- Fire Making
- Bug Out Bag Water Procurement and Treatment
- Bug Out Bag Food Items
- Shelter for Your Bug Out Bag
- Signal Kit
- Medical is Another Bug Out Bag Must!
- Fishing Kit
- Miscellaneous Bug Out Bag Gear Items
- Bug Out Bag – Final Thoughts
A Personal Lesson
Before we begin, I’ll share a brief story as to what inspired this pack. Skip this section if you want straight to the meat and potatoes.
I bought my first side by side in September of 2019. Packed up the family and hit the trails hard with VERY little gear in eagerness to play with the new toy. At least 15 kilometres into the bush, a tree came down and blocked the trail to our only way out. Staring down a wet, muddy trail, a setting sun and the cold chill of fall rolling in, I have to admit I was more than a little scared. Add a wife and two little kids staring at me and that turns to desperation. By some miracle, a troop of ATVs came through on a generally very quiet trail and one them was a lot more prepared than I was as they had a chainsaw.
While we managed to avert a bad situation, we weren’t smart at all that day. We simply had some luck on our side that won’t always be there. Lesson learned. Since then I’ve had multiple complications in the woods but my bug out bag ALWAYS got me through with ease. I can’t promise something like this won’t happen to you, but I can show you how to get through it so stay with me on this post.
The Bug Out Backpack
Let’s start with the pack as we need something to carry our gear.
The 5.11 Rush 24 2.0 is a fantastic pack. It comes in at 37 litres which is not too big, not too small for most activities. It has the most amazing pockets to store gear in an organized fashion and with tons of MOLLE webbing, it’s super easy to expand the pack by bolting on just about anything.
The Rush 24 is designed for “24 hours” but in the right hands, it will cover 48-72 hours with careful planing. It also takes an absolute beating without showing any signs of wear. If there is any complaint it comes in the form of weight but that’s the price to pay for durability.
If you are looking for pack but not liking the tactical look of the 5.11 that’s fine as you have plenty of options. Osprey, North Face, Arcteryx, Marmot, Kelty and so on make excellent commercially available packs purpose built for the outdoors. Nylon is a more durable product than polyester and YKK zippers are a sign of quality in your search. Most importantly, if you intend to actually carry the pack, it’s imperative that it fits you well! That also means good padding in the shoulder straps and back not to mention well positioned sternum and/or hip straps.
Cutting Tools for Your Bug Out Bag
If you ask any outdoorsman: if you could only have one item in the bush, what would it be? The answer is always a knife. It’s such a pivotal piece of gear you should even carry a backup knife. Why? A good knife that has a full tang will allow you to process wood by batoning where your knife doubles as an axe. You can use your knife to make tinder by feather sticking. And then there’s a whole world of bushcraft that opens the doors to making everything from tent stakes and utensils to an entire shelter out of wood and natural materials. Last but not least, you can cut food, clean game and even hunt with it if you are creative enough.
Tip: Carry your knife on your belt, not in your bug out bag! It’s not something you want to lose if you are ever separated from your pack. It’s also good practice to keep a backup knife in your pack.
The Morakniv Garberg Carbon is the gold standard for bushcraft and my personal favorite. The blade is just right in length. With its carbon steel construction and 90 degree spine, it will easily throw a hot shower of sparks from a ferro rod to get a fire going and its scandi grind makes for easy sharpening at home or in the woods. This is all in addition to being a full tang, batoning capable blade.
Remember that tree that came down? Other than the side by side or ATV, it’s obviously not feasible to hike the woods with a chainsaw. That means there’s no replacement for the Silky Big Boy 2000. And no, get your head out of the gutter. Silky is the company and Big Boy is named accordingly as it’s one of their larger saws. This monster has a 14″ blade and thanks to how it folds up, it’s always in the pack!
The Silky Big Boy 2000 will process wood with ease. In fact, it’s literally saved my ass more than once when clearing fallen trees off the road. And yes, there really is a recurring theme here with trees. It happens more than you know in rural areas. That’s why the bigger saw is preferred over the typical backpack gear setups out there with smaller saws like the Pocket Boy.
When it comes to utility, a saw is handier than an axe as it processes firewood faster. Couple that with the full tang Morakniv knife which can further baton the pieces of wood and there’s simply no need to haul an axe. Not to mention the Silky Big Boy only weighs 1 lb.
A multi-tool of some form is another common item to carry into the woods. This one simple step provides us with pliers, screwdrivers, a can/bottle opener, scissors, files, and so on. Of course it is a cutting tool as well providing a spare knife and saw which is excellent for smaller tasks. The preference here is the Leatherman Charge + TTi which is Leatherman’s flagship model made of premium materials.
Just like your knife, you should carry this on your belt. It’s so small and of such great utility it’s worth having on your personal layer of gear versus pack layer. I don’t leave home without mine and it’s so handy it’s part of my EDC.
The sheath has a slot for extra screwdriver bits that comes with the tool. The big tip here is to sneak a mid sized ferro rod into one of the two available side loops of the sheath. By wrapping the top of the rod with some gorilla tape it stays secure and won’t slide through the loop. If you get where I am going with this, you’ll have your knife, multi-tool, fire-tool and thanks to the tape, some tinder, gear repair and even medical options on your person at all times.
Fire is a very important skill in the woods. From providing warmth, drying clothes, sterilizing water, cooking food, fire is must skill. If you don’t already know it, practice and learn it now! You can even make fire in the snow.
Once you master different ways to start a fire, follow this one simple rule: make fire the most efficient way possible. For that you can’t beat a lighter and Bic is yet another gold standard. It’s also cheap as dirt. Carry one in your pocket and one in the fire kit in your bug out bag.
What Fire Kit?
Your pack is best organized with kits by using pouches, stuff sacks, etc. Then group your kits by use such as fire, cooking, medical and so on. It makes it easy for quick and organized retrieval of gear. For example, my fire kit is a soft leather pouch from a local native reserve.
Fire Kit Contents
- Bic lighter wrapped with gorilla tape. The tape makes good tinder and doubles as a resource to repair clothing and gear
- UCO waterproof matches in a sealed container
- Ferro rod with striker
- Vaseline soaked cotton balls in a zip lock or tin. The vaseline / cotton ball mixture easily lights from a ferro rod and burns for a long time
- Some dry tinder in a ziplock
- Stainless steel straw. It makes a worldly difference when blowing air into a fire to help it along
The general rule of thumb is to always carry at least 3 sources of ignition! It’s an absolute must for any backpack gear load out.
In the colder months a large ferro rod is far superior to the smaller ones. When you are frozen and in a real survival situation, you are looking to use gross motor skills and that larger rod may save your life. Imagine falling into an icy lake or river in the winter and then trying to spark a mini ferro rod with frozen fingers.
The Ferro Rod is the fire making workhorse of the woods and it NEVER fails.
Bic Lighter Myths
As to the Bic lighter, it can get a bad wrap but that’s really a myth. The first being they don’t work in the cold. All you have to do is carry it in an inside pocket so your body keeps the gas warm. It’s that simple. The second myth is that your won’t work if Bic it’s submersed in water. While that’s true, it’s not a difficult problem to solve. Blowing on it intensely for a minute or two will get it going again. Especially if you remove the child safety tab providing more access.
Bug Out Bag Water Procurement and Treatment
The Priorities of Survival
Water is very important but we’ve been saying that on other items as we go so let’s address the priorities of survival. Medical always comes first and you need to deal with life threats before anything else. It doesn’t matter how much water you have if you are bleeding out. Then comes fire in a cold climate to keep you warm and let’s couple that with shelter so you are warm and dry! Next is water as you’ll only survive for up three days without it.
Drink contaminated water and you are in for a different world of hurt. Water first needs filtration and a cotton bandana draped over a container does wonders with this task. Water then needs to be sterilized which means chemical or boiling.
The All Important Metal Container
A military surplus plastic canteen is great for carrying clean water. It nests into an open top stainless container for storage. The stainless container is used to collect water which then goes into the fire for sterilization. It doubles as a pot for cooking food and you can find these easily in surplus stores on the cheap.
The Pathfinder nesting bottle/cup set is the same general thing except both containers are stainless steel which allows for more water volume when boiling. It’s a little more sophisticated, backpack friendly and of course costs some more money. But it’s well worth it.
Following the pattern, a metal pot of some form is a MUST and it absolutely has to be of single wall construction. Ie. Not insulated and not a thermos. Insulated or “double wall” containers will not allow you to boil water.
Both the military and the Pathfinder pots mentioned above have fold out handles that facilitate putting them into an open fire. Let’s cap that thought with a tip: use your pliers from your multi-tool or very carefully use a piece of cloth whenever you’re stuck with a pot that lacks handles.
All in One Water Filter
Nowadays, a good water filter will filter and sterilize in one step. Not to mention provide an extra container to store and transport water. I’ll either carry the Katadyn BeFree or the Grayl Geopress and they are both excellent.
If you are remotely serious about spending time in the great outdoors, you need a filter as a part of your backpack gear. The Geopress is bigger and faster but the BeFree is lighter and takes a lot less space.
There is one caveat. The water filter is fantastic in warmer months when our hydration desires increase and water is flowing everywhere. We say desires as it’s a response to thirst. You typically NEED just as much in the winter. However, in the dead of winter we are more interested in melting snow. If you haven’t you guessed it, that means back to a metal pot! Taking the filter out in winter also provides a little extra room for the bulkier winter items like extra thick socks, gloves and so on.
Bug Out Bag Food Items
There’s always an MRE or two tucked away in my pack. It is a “survival pack” after all and that MRE provides a nice baseline for anything else we add in the food department. With a long shelf life you need not worry about it going bad.
The Sustainment Pouch
Once we get into an outing, it’s nice to pack an extra day’s worth of food just in case anything goes wrong. If space is an issue, we are dealing with a MOLLE pack. That means bolting on a smaller food bag is a non-issue. For that I personally use one or two, 7 litre military sustainment pouches.
These are simple 1 pocket pouches that attach via MOLLE straps. That also means they separate easily to facilitate hanging them in a tree for bear safety during the warmer months. It’s easily done with simple paracord.
Snacks or Short Trips
There are times we are not looking to cook meals. Maybe it’s just a day hike or an outing to the hunt camp. In these cases, calorie dense items are great. Some favourites here are a stick of salami, any type of jerky, canned tuna, individually wrapped oatmeal cookies, nuts and any of the million iterations of bars out there. Admittedly, there’s always a Mr. Noodles as well. For some strange reason, it’s soothing to consume it out there.
Between snacks and MRE’s, it’s easy to pull off a day or two in a fairly light manner. Even without refrigeration.
Food and Survival
For the record, food is NOT an immediate survival priority! You can go anywhere from 1 – 3 months without food! It does however help immensely with mental well being, general comfort, stamina and the big one here being thermal regulation. Being fed really does help you stay warm in those colder months.
In an effort to cover all our bases, I just pack food and never worry about being lost for a day or broken down. For a survival pack, it’s cheap insurance. If kids are involved in your life, I don’t see this as optional.
Other Food Related Items
There’s just a few items here with the big one being a long handle spoon. Since MRE’s are consumed out of the bag, the long handle keeps your hands out of the bag and clean.
We also have an Opinel fillet knife dedicated for food preparation. Not to mention in a survival situation, we can procure fish and will want to preserve every ounce of it we can by using a proper knife.
Lastly, we have a tiny salt/pepper/oregano shaker. Technically, a useless survival item but if it’s potentially my last supper, it better be a good one:)
Shelter for Your Bug Out Bag
Your clothing is your first layer of shelter and it’s amazing how often that’s overlooked. Dress appropriately for the weather and in the sake of time we’ll leave that to common sense for the most part. It is very wise to carry one spare pair of dry socks in cold weather. One pair can dry by a fire while you wear the other.
One item worth of mention here are Fjallraven Keb pants. It’s what I wear anytime I go in the bush and they happen to be bug free and purpose built for the outdoors. With a base layer, they’ll even suffice on many a cold day, just not the harsh ones that call for dedicated winter gear.
In warmer months when not regularly wearing gloves, I’ll pack a light pair of leather gloves. You’ll be amazed at how easy it is to trash your hands when processing dry or rough wood. When you are in the bush, the last thing you want are problems with your hands or feet and that’s coming from someone who can’t stand PPE in general.
Something to Sleep Under
For “shelter” as most people think of, I like the military poncho. The poncho is protection from rain while on the move and it will keep your pack dry as well which is vitally important. If bunkering down or spending a night in an emergency situation, it doubles as a tarp. Sometimes I’ll sub in an actual tarp but truth be told, the poncho is the general go to. With it goes a rapid deploy ridge line and some tent stakes meaning we can have cover from the elements within minutes. And no, we don’t need a tent to survive a night in a forest!
On this topic, let’s not forget cordage. Always carry some hanks of 550 paracord. It’s yet another vital piece of gear that has a million uses.
Now, we also need something to sleep on. To save space and weight, you can carry a large garbage bag and you have yourself a sleeping pad. Fill the garbage bag with leaves or cedar bows making what we call a browse bed. It will get you out a bind and off the ground which is where most of the cold will come from. It weighs next to nothing and hardly takes any room. When actually camping and toting a bigger bag, this obviously get’s subbed out for a real sleeping pad.
In warmer times, the pack has the trusty military poncho liner for something to sleep in. In other words, a light blanket. Unfortunately, the winter sleeping bag is huge and doesn’t fit here. So we carry that separately when mechanized and deeper into the woods.
The Emergency Blanket
I have a love hate relationship with these. If people relied on them for warmth, there’s a good chance they’ll die in the process. What can you possibly expect from a paper thin piece of plastic? A real blanket is a blanket for a reason and there’s no way around insulation having a certain size and weight.
Wrap yourself really tight in the emergency blanket and you’ll trap some heat thanks to its reflective properties – but you’ll also trap a lot of moisture from your body just like a bad rain coat. You’ll find yourself cold and wet which is actually deadly. There is a way to use these properly and we’ll do a full post on it, you just won’t like the outcome as it’s not pretty.
The emergency blanket is issued by the military, even in the heat of the desert. Why? With enough loss of blood, it’s hard to maintain core body temperature. These blankets definitely have their time and place and I carry one as I found a very good one. Not to mention it hardly takes space or weight and mine is strong enough to double as a tarp or makeshift stretcher. I’m just not naive enough to think I’ll wrap myself in it and survive a cold winter’s night.
My land navigation kit consists of a map of the local area and a compass. When buying a compass, you know you have a good one when it locks on north quickly and is stable.
I used to carry the Suunto A-30. Suunto makes excellent compasses and they lock onto north with ease. The A-30 has luminescent markings for low light, is made in Finland and comes with a lifetime warranty. As an update, I just bought the Suunto MC-2 which is a big upgrade. It comes with a mirror for signalling and a v notch for sighting. More importantly, it has adjustable declination and is well worth the extra money. The A-30 will find a new home in the hunting possibles pouch for those times when want to be minimalist – and it’s a great option for someone starting out on a budget.
Both products have an NSN number which means Nato Stock Number. In other words, it’s in use by the military and built to strict standards. Don’t fall for all the “mil-spec” trash on the market. The real deal always has an NSN number and has earned the right to be genuine issue.
Lastly, we have a Garmin Oregon 750t GPS and a charging cable to go with it.
A Fox 40 whistle is always attached to one of my pack’s shoulder straps. This way its always at the ready as I go through the bush. If hunting, obviously the gun doubles as a sound signalling device. The distance the sound can travel varies on many factors but up to 2 miles is a real possibility.
Signal mirrors have worked as far as 160 km (100 miles). While that’s not expected under normal circumstances, it’s a pretty impressive figure for such a simple device. Not to mention it doubles as a tool to see your face or other non-visible body parts in case you need any medical attention.
Carrying a bright orange cloth or fabric that can be used as a flag is a great addition to the signal kit. Failing that, the foil side of the emergency blanket works as well. Similarly some flagging tape can come in handy to mark anything from a special spot to an entire trail.
For an improvised visual signal, your best method is a smokey signal fire. Just keep a big batch of green leafy branches ready to toss onto your fire and you’ll be ready to send a smoke signal at all times. This of course is when a plane is looking for you as part of a rescue.
Medical is Another Bug Out Bag Must!
There are endless pre-packaged first aid kits available on the market. Not something we’ll go into details on other than carry one. A better kit comes in a waterproof container which helps protect its contents. Check yours from time to time for expired or damaged items and know what you have on you at all times. I tucked a few extras into mine such as a small tube of sunscreen and lip balm.
The latest addition for me is a tourniquet in blaze orange. When you need a tourniquet, let’s just say you need it immediately and having it stand out in the pack is not a bad idea! We have an entire post dedicated to the emergency medical kit. By emergency medical, we aren’t referring to the cute and cuddly band-aid packs mentioned above. Now we are looking at serious injuries and trauma which requires items like a tourniquet. We’ll leave it at that with a reminder: if your carry a tourniquet, be sure to carry a sharpie! You need to mark the time of application for when you receive proper medical care.
It’s not fun being in the bush on a pitch black night without light. You know the nights I mean where you can’t even see your hands! That’s especially true when you are not there by choice.
The number one item you want here is a headlamp as it keeps your hands free as you repair gear, prepare food or do chores around camp. I like the Petzl Swift RL. At up to 900 lumens, it provides plenty of light. It’s rechargeable via micro USB and you don’t have to fiddle with batteries. I have to admit, it’s also fun showing off its automatic brightness mode with my gear head buddies…
I also LOVE my BioLite PowerLite. It’s basically a small lantern. It lights up a decent area and lasts up to 75 hours on low. On high, it fills a room with light. It also doubles as a torch for when distance is the issue. Finally, at 4400 mAh it provides a battery bank to charge other devices such as a phone. I believe it’s discontinued which is too bad as it’s literally one of my favourite pieces of gear.
Here we have a re-purposed Sucrets style tin. This one so happens to be Barkleys but that’s besides the point. In here we have fishing line, various lures, sinkers, etc. This is a very, very basic kit for survival purposes and by no means do we need a rod and reel to fish. There is also some very thin metal wire to set snare wire traps.
This emergency fishing tin is my homemade creation and you can make your own. The idea here is simply to have a means to procure food from a small kit. You won’t notice it in your pack and its well worth carrying!
Miscellaneous Bug Out Bag Gear Items
My maps are in a zip lock to protect them. That same zip lock also has a folded section of tin foil which has a million uses and a small piece of leather simply for a little work surface in the bush. A separate zip lock houses some folded toilet paper. Unless you like wiping with leaves, don’t forget the TP!
Next we have a Rite in the Rain Notepad, pencil and tactical pen. The notepad and pencil should be in any backpack gear load out and not be overlooked. For taking notes, directions, leaving messages and so on. It’s a far more useful piece of backpack gear than we realize.
Then we have a high capacity ABFOCE battery bank and charging cables for all electronic devices. That’s easily covered with an Apple Lighting, micro USB and USB C cable.
In the side pocket we have that cotton bandana we mentioned in the water section for filtration. This doubles for washing dishing, ourselves, a makeshift sling, making char cloth and whatever else we can think of. We also have here a full roll of 1″ Gorilla tape. Before I forget, there’s a cotton shemagh in the main pouch which does everything the bandana does but bigger and better. We can wrap our head to stay out of the sun, wrap our neck for warmth or even use it as camouflage.
In warmer months, we sneak in some bug deterrent and a very small bottle of dish soap.
Don’t Forget the Candle
Finally, I often carry a UCO candle lantern. While the lantern can be omitted, the candle is a flame extender and last complement to the fire kit. This comes in really handy to start a fire with wet wood and it doubles as lighting. When the electronics break or the batteries die, I’m going old school!
Bug Out Bag – Final Thoughts
Don’t forget, gear is only as good as its user. I’m sharing what I use and why. While your bug out bag may not look like mine, get to know your gear and practice. Something such a ferro rod can be really challenging so don’t wait for that moment when you are wet, cold and hungry to learn. Practice, practice, practice! I can’t stress that enough. When you really need these items, you won’t panic because you’ll be ready for whatever challenges come your way!
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