Yes, you can have a bug out bag (or get home bag) on a budget! Yes, it’s a review so you can also buy one right now without having to worry about what gear you need to put in it! And before you even think it, no it’s not a bunch of offshore trinkets tossed together. We are going to review a very well thought out kit that factors in size, weight and function, not just cost. It pleasantly even has quite a bit of American and European made products.
A bug out bag can get you out of a very bad situation, get you home to safety or maybe even save a life or two. So let’s dive right in and see what it’s all about.
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- What is A Bug Out Bag?
- What is A Get Home Bag?
- Who Needs a Budget Bug Out Bag?
- The Pack
- Budget Bug Out Bag Contents
- Food and Water
- Fire Making
- Improvised Heat Source
- Budget Bug Out Bag Verdict
- Available Add Ons for the Budget Bug Out Bag
- Budget Bug Out Bag Disclosure
- Purchase the Items in This Post
What is A Bug Out Bag?
A tornado is coming and I chose that carefully as I just dodged one the other day… Technically, it was a derecho but I don’t think the hoards of down trees, flattened barns or lack of power for a week would care to differentiate. Or perhaps an incident or accident occurs and everyone is fleeing the city. I think you understand where this is going, now consider where YOU are heading.
A bug out basically means your location is no longer secure because of something that happened or is about to happen and you need to leave or “bug out”. Now you need to relocate to somewhere safe and you need to do it fast with enough gear to survive the next 24-48 hours.
Most people run away from populated areas during the bad times. Rural zones offer more cover, more resources and far less people fighting over those very resources. When bad people do bad things, they want to inflict maximum damage. Ie. You don’t see anyone blowing up a field in the countryside. Perhaps a rural route is the only way to evacuate from whatever it is you are running away from. What I’m getting to is a bug out bag should be suitable to wherever you are heading – yet be ready for ALL environments (urban, sub-urban and rural) as you may not know where you’ll end up.
What is A Get Home Bag?
This is generally the opposite of a bug out bag. If above doesn’t sound like something you worry about, suit yourself but there are some things that you should always be mindful of. If something bad happens: car breaks down, freak snow storm, civil unrest, lockdowns, whatever… now you need to get home and several obstacles are in your way. Again, you are looking to survive the next 24-48 hours and will need all the basic gear to help you get home safely. In the context of this post, the get home bag will be pretty much be the same as the bug out bag so let’s keep that in mind throughout the review.
Preparation is Key
Thanks to that derecho that came, good luck buying a chainsaw or a generator in hard hit areas. They are all sold out! Freak snow storm and the highway’s closed, there may well be 50 people ahead of you waiting for the same help you are. It could be hours until they get to you and if it’s bad enough, it may be days. Here is the hard truth:
It’s a blessing as a wealthier nation to have luxuries like 911 where you call for help and people magically show up. But we take it for granted and assume it will always be there. If a major blackout or catastrophe came right now, I’m not sure if our phones would even work. The ONLY thing YOU can ALWAYS count on are your own skills and the gear you have on your possession right here, right now!
Who Needs a Budget Bug Out Bag?
EVERYONE!! One of the very first posts on this blog is Backpack Gear Load Out. Frankly, that post is about my bug out bag and it goes with me everywhere I go. Especially when I am in the woods or away from civilization where help isn’t exactly around the corner. The problem with mine is that it costs in the thousands and I am afraid to check if that number starts with a 2 or a 3.
The gentlemen over at S & J Hardware in Belleville each have their own bug out bags. They are also smart enough to recognize that not everyone is as prepared minded as us. More eloquently said, most people aren’t as enthusiastic about survival, the outdoors or the combination of those two. They have painstakingly put together a budget bug out bag that is affordable to everyone without sacrificing function.
The pack itself is a basic backpack. At just under 12 litres, this one would fall into the smaller sized category which isn’t a bad thing. It means the pack doesn’t take up a lot of space, it can go anywhere and is lighter in general. The pack has one main zippered compartment, a front and side zippered compartment and a side mesh pocket. At 600 denier, strength shouldn’t be an issue here either. It also has padding on the back which helps immensely in the comfort department.
There is still a little bit of space left after all the included items are in. This leaves room for some personalization such as spare clothes, blanket, medication, glasses, phone, extra food or whatever you may want to add. Don’t get me started on weight, a 5 year old can handle this pack with all its contents and it won’t slow you down one bit. I’m jealous on weight as my bug out bag weighs a ton!
One upside with pack selection here is the bright blaze orange colour with reflective tape. While to many, this may seem like an odd choice, it’s actually quite smart. A bug out bag is not a fashion statement, it’s all about survival and function. It’s very hard to lose an orange pack! The colour also ensures the pack doubles as a signalling device. If you don’t think that’s important, many outdoors or prepping enthusiasts (who carry the expensive but muted packs) may also carry a piece of orange cloth just for signalling.
Tip: We all may need a rescue at some point and that can only happen if someone can find us!
Budget Bug Out Bag Contents
It’s the items inside the pack that counts! All the pack has to do is be strong enough to hold its contents and provide for basic comfort when carrying. Let’s dive into each item included in this kit.
The knife is none other than a Morakniv Companion. For those that don’t know Morakniv, these knives are made in Sweden and they are generally outstanding. Here you’ll find European steel and quality with a Chinese price tag. I took one for the team and shaved a patch of hair off my arm – I may look funny but can tell you it comes razor sharp right out of the box.
If you ask anyone if they could only have one tool in the bush, the universal answer is always a knife! From processing wood for a bushcraft shelter, getting a fire going even in snow, processing food, repairing gear, emergency medical, self defence and on and on. A knife’s utility is limitless and it’s the first thing I look at in any kit. I’m beyond pleased to find a Morakniv here as it immediately instills some confidence in the gear.
Before we move on, the knife comes in a bright orange sheath and you already know why. It’s also conveniently located in the side mesh pocket of the pack. This is a matter of preference but I like the fact that the pack provides easy access to the knife. If entering the woods, I suggesting putting it on your belt. This way you won’t lose it if you get separated from your pack.
First Aid Kit
A first aid kit should be in any bug out bag, period. The first priority of any survival or bug out situation is medical or life threats. This bag comes with the Ultralight / Watertight Medical Kit 5 from Adventure Medical Kits. I happen to use the same brand in my fancy multi-thousand dollar bug out bag setup and it’s yet another sign we are headed in the right direction. In Here You Will Find:
- Butterfly Closure Fabric Adhesive Banage
- Tape 1/2″, 10 Yards
- Easy Adhesive Bandages, 1″x3″ Fabric
- Easy Adhesive Bandages, Knuckle Fabric
- Conforming Gauze Bandage, 2″
- Sterile Gauze Dressing, 3″x3″ Pkg 2
- Sterile Gauze Dressing, 2″x2″ Pkg 2
- Sterile Non-Adherent Dressing 3″x4″
Cleaning & Topicals:
- Skin Tac Topical Adhesive Wipe
- Antiseptic Wipe
- After Bite & Sting Relief Wipe
- MoleSkin, Pre-Cut & Shaped, 14 pcs
- Splinter Picker / Tick Remover
- Safety Pin
S & J Hardware also added 2 Loris Antiseptic Alcohol Pads to top off this pre-made first aid kit. If I could make my own suggestion here, take a small ziplock and add a small amount of your go to medicine for headache / fever. Just mark the expiry date and check your pack from time to time to replenish or replace meds as needed. This is not something you’ll usually find in a pre-made kit, probably for liability reasons. By covering headache and fever, we can remove some of the more basic medical issues that can slow you down.
This is that standard reflective emergency blanket that seems to be in any kit. I have a love hate relationship with these yet I always carry one. It’s hard not to, they hardly take up any space or weight. My inspiration to carry them also stems from the military who issue these blankets to their troops. It’s to maintain warmth even in the heat of the dessert. Why? With enough loss of blood, these blankets help maintain core body temperature. They come in handy for many a situation and the reflective side doubles as a giant signalling device.
The hate aspect of my take on these stems from the fact that most of these blankets can be very cheap or flimsy. It won’t be very useful when it tears and many of them will not re-pack either. S & J Hardware took that into consideration and included a second blanket.
Let’s address this second blanket which is made by Lifeheat. This blanket is a very heavy grade: 3 ply, 2.5 mil to be exact. It is strong enough that two people can carry out a third using it as a makeshift stretcher! That also means the potential to double as a tarp shelter for cover from the elements. It would provide 72″ x 48″ as a tarp. The weight on this item, 140 grams! You just can’t beat that and it makes for an outstanding piece of kit to carry.
Food and Water
Don’t panic folks. We can survive for about 3 days without water and 1-3 months without food! Nonetheless, we can prevent all kinds of short term discomfort both mentally and physically by covering these bases. The budget bug out bag comes well stocked in this department.
First and foremost, the kit comes with a 1 litre Nalgene water bottle. These are quality, dishwasher safe and BPA free bottles. Hopefully you have enough time to fill up before heading out. If not, the included GSI stainless cup (591 ml) with fold out handles is the perfect vessel to boil water for safe consumption. Can’t get a fire going, no problem! The kit also comes with 10 water purification tablets – each tablet treating 1 litre of water.
Let’s put 2 and 2 together: A 1 Litre bottle with a tablet that treats 1 Litre of water is about as easy as it gets when its time to make safe drinking water from an unknown source. In other words, the kit is pretty self explanatory. If you want to dive into water in more detail, my post Safe Drinking Water covers it in great detail.
Note: All the carefully required thinking is already done with this kit. Even the Nalgene bottle is sized accordingly to fit inside the GSI cup. This is called nesting and it saves space inside the pack.
It’s too hard to decide between food or water on this one so it gets its own category:) Included are 2 pouches of Gatorade in Fruit Punch flavour. Powder form. Needless to say, we have our electrolytes covered and it helps if we are on the move, are dehydrated or perspiring.
It’s obviously consumed with water. What’s not so obvious is it also helps with taste which is notoriously bad when using purification tablets. The sugars and/or calories in the packets double as a food source not to mention a fast acting source of energy.
Food. Yes, the Budget Bug Out Bag Even Comes With Food!
Yes, the kit even comes with food. You’ll find this is always in the form of an MRE (Meals Ready to Eat). Generally, MREs mean add hot water right into the MRE’s own container, close it back up and wait a set amount of time. Dinner is served.
This one in particular is from MRE Star. A brand that supplies all branches of the US government. These meals are of high quality and nutrition, fully cooked food, no preservatives and all done to military specs. The one in my pack is Menu 7, Pasta with Marinara Sauce and Veggie Crumble.
Each Individual Meal Kit Includes:
- Main Entrée
- Starch (2 Military Crackers or 2 Flour Tortillas or Other)
- Snack (Corn Nuts or Nut and Raisin Mix or Dry Fruit Mix or Other)
- Dessert (4 Sugar Cookies or 4 Oatmeal Cookies or Other)
- Drink Mix (Fruit Flavored from 5 varieties)
- Wet Nap
- Non-Dairy Creamer
- Hot Sauce
Unlike the typical store bought MREs, this one is a complete kit. The typical MRE is simply 1 dish and nothing else. This meal kit format simplifies everything to a well rounded meal. Even the very utensils with which to eat.
Tip: Although the included MRE is a kit, it’s technically meant for 1 person. You can essentially “spread” the consumption out over time and make it last. If your situation involves children, you’ll obviously feed them first. While you can go for a while without food, your children are different. Keep them fed and comfortable and they’ll keep up with you when you are on the move.
3 Sources of Ignition
I keep screaming about this throughout my blog! Always carry 3 sources of ignition and S & J Hardware knows this all to well so they provided it. First up is the gold standard, a bic lighter. If that runs out of gas or freezes, then you turn to the supplied matches which in this case is another gold standard and made by UCO. These matches are waterproof and come in a box of 40. If that fails, they’ve brilliantly included a magnesium bar.
Any bushcrafter or bushman will know the ferro rod. You strike it with a sharp edge, it throws super hot sparks and you can get dry tinder going in no time. My post How to Use A Ferro Rod explains that in detail. A mag bar is very similar where you shave off some magnesium chunks and toss a spark into it which will set it off into a wild inferno. It’s a lot easier than a ferro rod and I am glad for the context of this kit that it’s a mag bar instead of a ferro rod. Mag bars works in ALL temperatures and ALL weather conditions and it’s no wonder it’s used by the military.
There are 6 tinder sticks secured nice and dry in a heavy duty ziplock bag. This should make any fire making situation a breeze. In fact, there should be enough tinder here to get some damp wood going as well.
The lighter is wrapped in duct tape and so are the included candles. Duct tape burns very well and for a fairly long time! Just like the included tinder it will aid in getting a stubborn fire started.
Tip: Tape doubles as gear repair (which technically includes the clothing you are wearing). It also serves a purpose in emergency medical.
The included 4 tea candles are no different. Lighting the candle and using it to get a fire going converts it to a “flame extender”. You are basically saving resources for future fire. By resources, I mean matches or the gas in your Bic lighter.
I’m liking this kit more and more as I personally carry a saw as well. Why? Because it’s a lot lighter than an axe. It also processes firewood much faster. If you’ve been out camping or in the bush, you’ll know it’s a lot of work to gather enough wood to last a night. The saw is your best friend in this department.
There’s another major advantage to a saw. More than once I’ve been well into a hunt camp road or ATV trail where a tree came down behind me. This was blocking access to leave and unfortunately at times, it was also the only way out… My trusty saw has never failed in cutting these trees enough to be able to pull them off to the side of the road. Granted it’s a lot of work, it beats the alternative of hiking out.
The included saw is a Stansport, folding saw with 7″ blade. It too has an orange handle:) But that’s a good thing. I can’t speak to its longevity but I took it island camping and also cleaned up my property with it. I find that it cuts very well. After a full week of hard use and abuse, it survives to cut another day and gets the thumbs up.
Improvised Heat Source
We’ve covered fire making above. It’s an important skill to learn not only for warmth but for drying clothes, cooking, boiling water and so on. So here’s a technique for a cold environment where a fire is simply not feasible. Each tea candle can be burned one by one and it provides not only light, but more heat than you might imagine. For safety, the candles can be placed inside the metal cup which keeps the flames a bit more contained. Then you stash that close to your body (usually a seated position) and wrap yourself in the reflective blanket. Obviously, you must be EXTREMELY careful when doing this but it does work.
The budget bug out bag comes with a very generous amount of 550 paracord. If you don’t know what that is, it’s thin rope that can hold, well, 550 lbs. Like a knife, there’s a million uses for cordage. That heavy duty emergency blanket we covered can double as a tarp to keep you out of the elements. In its most basic form, stringing paracord across 2 trees gives you a ridge line to hang your tarp in an upside-down v shape. Since we don’t have tent stakes in the kit to hold the bottoms out, the simple solution is to make your own from branches using the supplied knife.
Pleasantly surprised here as well. The fact that S & J Hardware went with a headlamp for a light source is a no brainer. Headlamps leave your hands free to work! It’s also a no brainer that a bug out bag needs a light source. If “bugging out”, we don’t get to choose when we do certain chores which includes night. The pleasant part is the included headlamp by Princeton Tec is made in the USA. That helps the quality side tremendously. With an IPX4 water resistance rating and included 3 batteries, you are ready to go even in the rain.
In terms of run time, the headlamp is dimmable. On high it will run for 5 hours at 250 lumens and 42 hours on low at 35 lumens. This is a great option as we don’t always need the extra light. My suggestion here is add a few more AAA batteries to the kit, just in case.
As a backup to the headlamp, don’t forget the true purpose of candles which is light. With the 4 included tea candles, we technically have 2 light sources in the budget bug out bag.
This is not a subject to be overlooked whether it’s bugging out, getting home, stranded or whatever situation you are in. Signalling to rescue services, friends or family is an important piece of the puzzle. We already know we have an orange pack and a headlamp at our disposal but there’s a third item in the kit.
The budget bug out bag comes with a military chemical light that is good for 8 hours once activated. To dramatically increase it’s visible range, simply tie a hank of paracord to it and swing it around in a circular motion just like a fan. Now that little stick just gave you a giant visible signal at night. I did say military and this product which is made by Cyalum has an NSN number. An NSN is a Nato Stock Number, in other words genuine military issue! I have an obsession with military gear, they have really good gear that always works. It also means domestic production and quality automatically goes up.
With 3 visual signalling options, I think that department is well covered. As to sound, also included is a Fox 40 Micro Pealess whistle. This little guy comes in orange with a lanyard – meaning hard to lose and it pumps out a shattering 110 decibels. Again, the Fox 40 is an industry gold standard and yet another pleasant surprise in this kit.
Budget Bug Out Bag Verdict
At $199, the budget bug out bag, in my mind, is above and beyond fair for the price point. My backpack alone costs more than that. It’s a perfect pack for anyone getting started in any form of prepping and/or any ventures into the outdoors. As time goes on and you realize your needs grow, it’s very easy to upgrade any individual components.
I also believe everyone should be looking at one. Even for a prepared minded person or avid outdoorsman who already has a professional setup. We all have friends or family who don’t share those same interests. This pack is an easy and affordable piece to toss into a significant other’s vehicle, or perhaps introducing safety to our children who are headed out for a road trip or taking up the outdoors.
Some people think it’s ok to head deep into the woods with nothing but a can of coke or worse a beer. If you make it easy for them they may well carry something like this. The beauty of this kit is that everything in it is self-explanatory and easy to use – in fact the folks at S & J Hardware purposely chose the contents accordingly. They thoughtfully factored in that not everyone has the skills to deploy a bug out bag and price was only one piece of a much bigger puzzle.
The budget bug out bag can be purchased at S & J Hardware in person or online.
Available Add Ons for the Budget Bug Out Bag
I would like to make a few suggestions for anyone looking to beef up this bag a little more. Particularly since my blog is about the woods, we should look at a couple extras for the kit.
The budget bug out bag is designed for even those that don’t know much about this topic. And a compass can add a whole new level of knowledge requirements such as factoring for declination and requiring maps of the area you are in… But I still strongly recommend tossing in a compass as it never hurts to have a sense of direction!
North is north, period. After lining that up on any compass, you now have north, south, east, west. Even a beginner can get a basic idea of where they’re heading. Ie. It keeps you going in one direction versus going around the woods in circles. And yes, when lost we tend to go around in circles which gets you nowhere but panicked!
The good news is many of us already have a compass and for those that don’t, S & J Hardware sells the Brunton True Arc 3 for $14.99. That certainly stays inline on budget.
Protection and Signalling
Firearms aren’t for everyone and it can be a lengthy process for those starting off. It’s also comforting to at least have a knife in the budget bug out bag. However, there are some bigger, badder animals out there to consider such as bear, wolf and all those not so cute members of the cat family. The likeliness is very slim to run into them let alone have a problem. While it’s very rare and not something I generally fear too much, every year there are some incidents where people get mauled.
For this we turn to the pen type launcher kit made by Tru Flare Launchers. In it’s basic form, it’s just like a pen but instead it takes replaceable attachments. These attachments launch with the click of a button. The 2 included orange attachments are bear bangers and it makes a super loud sound that will rattle a bear’s ancestors.
This is a very neat tool as it also comes with 3 other attachments: a red, green and white flare. If you haven’t guessed it already, you basically get 3 visual and 2 audible signalling divices.
Budget Bug Out Bag Disclosure
Neither myself nor BushLife got paid for this post. I did receive one budget bug out bag with its contents for free in order to do my review and these contents were put into real world use and tested for efficacy. There are no affiliate commissions from any traffic we send to S & J Hardware. In other words, it doesn’t matter to BushLife whether you buy this product or not! It’s a smart kit for the price and if its for you, great. If not, that’s fine as well but perhaps it’s time you start thinking about one.