I have avoided the subject of “bugging out” in this series until now, and it was intentional. Most bugout articles are absolute garbage. I even saw one in a large format news stand magazine that compared **children’s backpacks** because in the same issue were several advertising spreads from Columbia. Bugging out is a great topic if you want clicks and magazine purchases, but few people address what it means to actually bug out, and the different scenarios that may force you to leave a secure location. Think about it. Are the roads jammed? Am I going to be on foot at some point? I can’t hide that I am carrying resources, and at some point I may have to deal with “the authorities” who are going to make sure that I am unarmed. How do I maximize the money that I can spend right now, to perhaps survive at some point out on the road to somewhere.
First lets talk about why you would bug out to begin with. Because if you have been following some of the advice in this column, most likely you already have some resources stocked up, and those resources are not going to be easily transported. For instance, in my very early article on food, I suggested #10 cans of freeze dried food from Honeyville. I just did another order with them recently (and no, we have never gotten a discount or anything free). I also suggested filling 6 gallon plastic buckets with commonly available survival supplies. These don’t travel well for anything like bugging out.
In my initial water article, we covered the individual filtration unit called the LifeStraw, which you for sure would put in a bugout bag, but we also covered a water storage system that fits in your bathtub, and even a 250 gallon water storage unit made to fit through apartment doorways. In one closet you could keep enough resources to survive several months, for less than $1,000. People will be killing each other in the streets. The best advice is to accumulate as much as you can where you are when a “situation” hits, then hunker down and avoid all human contact. Why would you bug out?
There is also the issue of being able to get out. Unless you get some kind of early warning, everyone else is going to be trying to get out too. If you are in the city and you know that no matter what you have to get out, have a plan now. In advance you should build an evacuation plan, and ideally have a place to go. I reviewed the book “Strategic Relocation” a while ago, and it gives you good escape routes off the beaten path for most major cities. Don’t think you are going to go to public government land and wing it, please. The writers who suggest that are going to die in the first wave as they rush to the same place everyone else is going, only to die fighting over the one wild hog that hasn’t been killed yet when they get there. Get a closet water container and hunker down until those idiots all kill each other.
When You Have to Leave RIGHT NOW
This is where the whole subject of bugging out gets interesting. If you are close to one of the coasts, earthquakes all over the world have been showing up in the strangest places. There are cases where you absolutely have to leave, because you will die if you stay.
Do you have to leave **right now** because a tzunami just wiped out your neighborhood, and it is either get on the rescue boat or take your chances with staying on the roof? Did your geiger counter just spike to 5 rads an hour because your local nuke plant is melting down after that pretty light from space turned out to be an EMP attack? Have you exhausted your food and water at your current location and now have to forage? Those are all very different scenarios that will require different pack essentials.
Are you in a vehicle or on foot? Are you going to try a vehicle, from which you may have to exit quickly and abandon? From the outset, I would delineate what goes in the packs and what goes in the car. From the outset I would delineate what stays and what goes. Having a plan now is going to make a huge difference if the rubber ever actually meets the road.
Obviously, the majority of your pack supplies should be food. If you have read my original article on survival food, you know that I am not a strong proponent of sole reliance on freeze dried food sold for survival purposes. Lots of regular supermarket food has a long shelf life, and with your own oxygen absorbers, you can store things like rice, beans, flour, pasta and nonfat dried milk for just as long as freeze dried food.
For your bugout bag, I don’t think it is as cut and dried, but some foods, like flour, don’t travel well, or they will require too much preparation. I think your bugout bag should have about 1/3rd or less prepared food, so if you can’t stop to cook, you have some food that you can eat on the move. This could be foil pack tuna, non-refrigerated meat products, and some canned food if your back can handle the weight. The rest should be freeze dried survival food, and/or dry beans, rice, and grains, as well as nonfat dried milk, which I consider an absolute must staple.
Ultimately it comes down weight, and whether you carry your water as food, meaning wet food, or if you carry dry food and plan to hydrate it with carried or found water. I prefer to carry water as water as much as possible, and hope that I’ll find water on the road to hydrate the food. I tell people to steer away from military MREs. They are expensive, and they are meant for a system that has “supply lines,” people dropping or delivering food, which you won’t have. If you have to carry the food, you are much better with dried food that you can, then hydrate.
Then you have to ask the question, where do I get the freeze dried food? I still suggest that you buy #10 cans from Honeyville explained in the previous article. I looked around a lot back then, and have since, and they are the source that the serious preppers use. I have noticed that since I wrote the first article the prices have come up 20-30%, but in bulk I would say that they are still the choice. Just beware that as a rule there is almost no actual meat in any of the freeze dried meat products. Read ingredients.
If you want to go with individual packages of recipe foods, what I would call the gourmet route, we recently got some review product in from Valley Food Storage, and they seem to be very high quality. When they first contacted us to review their products I compared their quantities and prices vs. other more common brands like Wise, and they seem to stack up with more actual value. I don’t suggest that you forgo the 4 pound packages of pasta and dried milk at Walmart that I suggested before, as well as large amounts of beans and rice, before you buy the gourmet food. A good backpack has about 5000 cubic inches, or 80 litres of space, which is the equivalent of more than 3 of the 5 or 6 gallon buckets. But if you have the means, and you want easy to cook, tasty meals, I think Valley is a good option. They also have a pretty cool subscription program where you get food mailed on a budget every month.
I do not, however, suggest that you buy a prepared “survival” backpack from them or anyone else. You are better to choose what goes into your pack, and use every available cubic inch, even if it means carrying empty water containers. Also keep in mind that when you are dealing with designer recipe long term storage foods, you have to store them at ideal temperatures. I have stored the Valley Food samples for a few months in a South Florida not well air conditioned side room and the “Cheesy Mac” has expanded the bag like a balloon. It may say 15-25 year shelf life, but freeze dried recipe foods are extremely sensitive to temperatures. On examination, the Cheesy Mac seemed fine, but something chemically is going on in there, so they are not long for this world. I have not experienced that with #10 cans of powdered cheese from Honeyville stored in the same room, and my guess is that Valley uses the same supplier for their cheese powders. The people who make these recipes test for taste, but they don’t have a complete understanding of what ingredients may react with others over time.
To cook your freeze dried food I would plan to bring some Mealspec heaters. I reviewed these products early in this column and they work great, but they are of course only one use each. I am testing a DIY rocket stove this week that is a bit heavy, but there are other backpack style rocket stoves that I haven’t gotten in yet to try.
Canned food may be all that you have in the house to take with you, and that’s fine if you have the backs to carry it. Hopefully you’ll find some support down the road, and the cans will get you through to the next phase of your survival journey. Take everything you can, and bring empty packs with you if you can’t fill them when you leave. You never know what the road will bring. Take a can opener or two!
Carrying Water vs. Filtering Water
As we all know, you can’t go very long without drinking clean water. And as I explained in my original article on water, you really should have a plan for long term water acquisition where you live. But what if you have to leave? I think that the LifeStraw is a good, lightweight tool that we can all carry for like $20, but I also think that you need to carry water with you. I don’t suggest that you purchase packaged water, or that you rely on supermarket water bottles. From my research, the cheapest and most efficient way for a person to carry a good deal of water is in surplus military canteens. There is a one quart that you can find on Ebay really cheap, like $4 with shipping, and there is a 2 quart that sells around $10-$15 each with shipping.
If you are a fan of water bladder systems that are built into backpacks, like the Camelbak brand, they definitely have their merits, but I have found the few I have used over the years to be leaky and prone to unscrewing. The backpacks are usually completely useless as well, because they are meant for day hikers and bicyclists. For the money, I prefer the US Military 2 quart canteen.
The major difference between the 2 quart and the older, oval shaped 1 quart, besides the obvious double size and availability of shoulder slings, is that the new canteen usually comes with a “chem cap,” which fits the drink tube of most gas masks. Any military canteen case will also have Molle clips to attach to your pack, which is a huge plus for saving space. Water is heavy and bulky.
I would also make sure that you have a good supply of empty water containers, even old water or soda bottles, to fill dead space in your pack. After your food is eaten or stored, you will need to transport water to your location, and the fewer trips out the better. Collapsible 5 gallon containers are great, but they are too bug to squeeze into small spaces to expand your pack to its biggest. Small bottles will maximize your space and weight.
I would also carry some pool shock and iodine for purifying stream and lake water. They won’t remove chemicals, but they will take out pathogens from animals dying upstream, dirty people bathing in the lake, and Giardia.
Do I Need a Gas Mask?
I am actually working on a lengthy gas mask overview right now (like literally right now in another window) and I hope to have it out within a few weeks. There is a ton of disinformation out there on the gas masks that are available in the market today. As a general rule, some mask is better than no mask. And because you have no idea what the threat you face is right now, I think that everyone should have a good “NBC” mask, which means Nuclear, Biological and Chemical, just in case. If you have a lot of people to protect and you just can’t afford even the basic Russian GP-5 civilian mask, at just under $20 each with filter, a regular N95 mask will protect you against sneezed viral infections in a mass evacuation. I think an N95 is a little too easy to grab off of your face, but they are at least a level of protection above a surgical mask. One up from there is the dual filter NIOSH masks, but if you are going to spend the money on those, just go for a full face gas mask. There are also some good and cheap options for children, which I’ll get to in the article. The Russian GP-5 and PDF masks for children saved a lot of lives after Chernobyl, and they are available now for cheap, and no, they don’t have asbestos in the filters.
I personally don’t think that biological and chemical threats are worth the weight and bulk of a gas mask, but that’s just me. A gas mask filter is only good for 6 to 8 ours under the best conditions, and they are really difficult to function in. If you are part of a large refugee group running from a biological outbreak, if you are the only one in the crowd with a full face mask, you are going to have it taken by the mob at some point.
Chemical weapons are also a lost cause when it comes to gas masks. Most inexpensive civilian masks will melt from exposure to things like Mustard Gas, and you really need a full chem suit if you expect to fight in a chemical weapons theatre. The good news is that chemical weapons have to be hand spread, or exploded in a small circumference in rockets. so they are therefore extremely localized. If you are just bugging out after an event, if you already survived the event, most likely you don’t have to worry about chemical warfare chemicals right now.
The biggest reason that you would need a gas mask is in the case of nuclear war, or a nuke plant meltdown, which masks gas masks highly conditional when it comes to your bug out pack. You either need one or you don’t. And as I explained in my most recent article on radiation detectors, if you need one, you need one. Nuclear particulates are extremely dangerous to long term health, even if they don’t kill you right away. But the good thing about both Alpha and Beta particles is that they are heavy, and they generally fall straight down once they are released from clouds. So if you are indoors, even without room filtration you probably won’t have much exposure to particles. Having to go outside, however, is a problem.
If you know that you are more than 7 -10 miles from ground zero of a radiation source and your survey meter is still showing high levels, most likely there are particles falling in the air around your location, which means you don’t want to be outside and breathing the air. If you have to move though, you have to move, and that is where an NBC gas mask is going to be a life or death item. Have one for each person on hand, preferably with a few extra filters. If the eventual collapse doesn’t involve radiation, I would leave it behind.
If you do need a mask to travel, don’t worry about long term, because of course you can’t wear a gas mask for the rest of your life. Radioactive isotopes degrade very quickly, even the ones with long half lives like Cesium-137. As a rule, unless you are near the core of a nuke plant meltdown, overall radiation degrades by 10x every 7 hours. So two days after a nuclear event, the radiation exposure danger is one hundredth times as great. So if one hour after an event the rate is 400 R/hr.
- After 7 Hours – 1/10th – 40 R/hr
- After 49 Hours – 1/100th – .4 R/hr
To me nuclear is the biggest conditional that there is, and this applies to all nuclear threats. Whether nuclear bombs are exploding or nuke plants are melting down because the grid went down, your preparation now is going to make a huge difference in your chance of survival. This also applies to your bug out bag. You may have to leave because of an evacuation, but nothing has happened yet. It will, and there is a pretty good chance that one way or the other, the future of America includes nuclear contamination. So while nuclear preparations for your pack are conditional, I would not take them lightly.
If you haven’t bought Potassium Iodide pills yet (KI), do so. They sell the pills on Ebay, Amazon, and all over the web. KI is absolutely crucial because of the way your thyroid gland works in your body. With all other radioactive isotopes, your whole body absorbs whatever you absorb, so your whole body can help itself recover over the long term, and the human body is extremely resilient. But Iodine-131, which is spewed by both bombs and core explosions, gets all grabbed up by your thyroid gland and concentrated. If you take KI just as the event occurs, your thyroid gets saturated with the iodine and won’t absorb the radioactive isotope. It cycles back to your liver, which sends it to your kidneys for excretion. Yay right! But you have to buy the KI now, and make sure that it is part of your bugout supplies. The half life of Iodine-131 is 8 days, so your two week supply of KI, for each person, will protect you through the life cycle of the isotope.
I would also add to conditionals a lot of stuff that applies to children. If you are already carrying all of your available food and all of your portable water storage, ammunition and other essentials, by all means, having a children’s backpack with books and reading material is a great idea. I personally have giant duffel bags in my children’s dressers to grab up all of their clothes quickly and get out. They cost about $35 each. Obviously if you have a baby, you are going to need diapers, but I strongly advice you to buy cloth diapers now, and make them part of your survival plan. You can get waterproof pants and cloth diapers from China really cheap right now, and they are adjustable.
The other thing I would say is highly conditional, but which you really need to buy now, is some kind of solar charger for your electronics. Just beware, I have tested the battery pack and solar charger combos on Ebay and they are junk. My newest experiment is a solar charger backpack, but they are pricey. It seems that the chargers are in the 6-7 watt range, and that they either come in backpacks with a hydration bladder or in a full sized school backpack version. Or upwards of $100, I would opt for the latter.
If you look through the back issues of this column, you will find that I found a network free GPS application with built in maps for Android, and recently a radiation detector that works off of the headphone jack. Obviously when it comes to keeping kids busy a tablet is a huge plus, so don’t discount that part of your bugout plan should be the ability to keep them charged. Apple devices are far less useful than Android, because they don’t even have removable memory. You can keep 100s of movies and 1000s of books on micro-SD cards for Android. Survival is boring.
I consider a tent of some kind in the same class as matches when it comes to a survival bag or kit. Well of course you would plan to carry some kind of portable shelter, and if possible bed rolls or sleeping bags for each person, depending on the weather.
The one suggestion I would make is that you buy a tent specifically for bugging out, ie, camo. There are camo 4 season tents on Ebay for as little as $30 for a 4 man tent. You don’t want a bright red tent when everyone is going to be clamoring for resources. It is always preferable to use the resources you have, and most of us have a tent, but in this case, I would buy a camo tent with the sole intent of using it in case of a bug out.
I’m sure the first thing that came to mind on my suggestion of a mobile charger was WTF! Do you really thing cell phones will work? No, they will not, and they could be one of the first things to come down if this is an engineered event coming as I suspect. In the week after 911 the cell phone networks went down, probably to contribute to the fear porn factor.
That doesn’t mean that communications will not be possible. As I explained in my first article on survival communications, you can get very inexpensive Baofeng hand radios on Ebay which will communicate on all of the hand held Ham radio frequencies. Technically you need a license for these radios, but in a survival situation that won’t matter. Those radios in normal use can extend their range using civilian repeaters located on cell towers, and many of those towers even have solar backups. I also broke out the basics of a Ham radio backpack that can reach all over the globe in the hands of an experienced Ham operator in a second article. Communications should be a part of your preparations, in some way that your budget can swing.
You also should absolutely have a multi-band emergency radio with its own solar panel and hand crank. If you are on a budget, you can get them these days on Ebay for under $20, up to $100, depending on how many bands they can get. Sometimes the simplest tool is the best.
GPS & Maps
If you are willing to carry some kind of way to charge it, I would strongly suggest taking a GPS of some sort, especially if you already have one in your car. They generally charge on the same 5v cord that you connect to a USB port, and most of them have a battery. An electronic GPS will get you back to the nearest road if you are lost in the woods, and point you in the right direction if you get disoriented. A hiking GPS will also give you trails and terrain.
I also strongly suggest that everyone own at least one national printed map, and one state map, or several states if you are on borders. Finding your way around obstacles will be a big part of long term survival for all of us, if we are required to move. If you don’t know your area well, and you are in a rural area, I discovered a way to have your own maps printed with topographical information, with your house as the center of the map. You really need to get your printed maps now, before the writing is on the wall and everyone is worried about surviving and the possibility of bugging out.
Plastic Weapons – Knives, Knuckles & Pepper Spray
You will note that I didn’t include a section on firearms in this article, because of course if you can carry a gun and ammunition, as a GunsAmerica subscriber, you of course will. What you carry for many people is what you can carry, and everyone has their preference. I do suggest a backup as well, something easily concealed.
But what if you get herded through a metal detector by the FEMA SS brownshirts? The gun is going to be left behind, but your backpack may be able to go with you. Non-metal hand to hand weapons in these situations will be absolutely critical, and again, buy them now.
At your local flea market you may be able to get plastic “brass knuckles” for about $10. You can also order both brass and plastic knuckles online in many places, though they were banned from Ebay and Amazon. You can also get a plastic hairbrush that comes apart into a stabbing spike, and all kinds of saps and knuckles from BudK. Pepper spray is something they may be looking for, but you can get pepper spray in a pen as well. There are also plastic “letter opener” knives and spikes on Ebay that are deadly, and that will help you protect your stuff if you are stuck in a refugee camp. Get yourself thinking about your options.
Toilet Paper, Soap, Maxi-Pads, Matches, etc.
If you are bugging out with a lot of people, you have a lot of backs to carry supplies. The most common causes of death in a survival situation are direct results of being dirty. A bar of soap and a couple rolls of toilet paper go a long way, and if you are planning for survival packs, it is really important to plan to carry these things. If you have menstruating women in your group, for sure you also need tampons or maxi-pads for at least a few months. If it isn’t happening right now, these could be easily forgotten in a rush. Also bring a couple wash cloths.
Matches, eating utensils, sewing thread, rope and other standard bug out bag essentials are not the purpose of this article. I will mention it here, because I assume you have common sense, and that if you are going to actually go build a bugout bag, you will include these things, and more as your situation dictates. If I had the choice to carry one more pound roll of that Walmart meat or a roll of rope, which do you think I’ll pick though? I guess you can tie the rope to the outside of the pack lol.
Choosing a Pack
I saved this for last because well duh, do you really need help choosing a backpack? I have thought a lot about backpacks because I don’t plan to bug out on foot, but if I have to, with children, I would prefer to carry more and go slower than carry less and go quicker. I also think that you are better buying surplus military packs than relying on camping and hiking packs, which are often much more expensive anyway. The pack I have shown here is the Molle II Large Rucksack, which is current military issue. It is 5000 cubic inches, plus it usually comes with side “sustainment pouches” for more space. A standard frame commercial pack is 80 liters, which is about the same if you do the math.
I am a strong proponent of using a current issue pack for more than one reason. If you think about it, call me silly, but wouldn’t a current issue digicam backpack make you look more military so that people will be more wary of messing with you? Also, if you end up having to be herded into camps, you might get more professional courtesy from the traitor brownshirts if they think that you used to be one of them. Who knows? But I can say that the military packs, even going back to the old Alice packs, which you can still get new with frame for under $50, are way more tolerant to abuse, regardless, so why spend more money on a commercial pack?
Right now a large MOLLE II Rucksack in ACU camo is selling from $75-$150 with shipping on Ebay, depending on the extras. I just found two of them that I put $40 offers in to the sellers and they agreed, plus $25 shipping. If you look are on a really tight budget, dig right in and find the deals. They are out there. I found a camo ALICE pack for under $30 just now, and the guy has 3 of them (though probably gone by the time you read this).
Just beware that there are commercial replica military packs on Ebay as well, from about $50 in the comparable 80 liter/5000 cubic inch size. From what I have seen, the Chinese made commercial packs don’t have the Molle attachment stitching, and I am sure they don’t have the durability. Obviously figure it out for yourself. You will want at least one big pack with a frame for each adult and older kid. The military packs can carry up to 200 lbs., not that I could lol.
The hardest thing when you bug out is going to be leaving things behind. If you have the packs and the backs to put them on, assuming you can’t carry anymore food and water, of course you would bring medical supplies, extra clothes and even cookware. Certainly if you bought some Schedule H antibiotics from India, or you got some pet antibiotics (explained in my survival medicine article), you’d want to take them along because they are light. A few compressed trauma bandages wouldn’t hurt either, because likewise, they are light. But big white buckets full of rice and beans are going to have to stay behind if you are on foot, no matter how much you hate to leave them. Figuring out in advance what you can reasonably take, both in a car and on foot in packs, is absolutely crucial. Have some extra duffel bags on hand just in case you can start your journey with a ride of some kind. A horse or a 4 wheeler can carry a lot of packs. And if you are moving just to get away from a radiation hot zone, if you don’t go too far there is good chance you can come back for more of your stuff at some point. You just never know. Survival is part guessing game and part statistics. I hope to not be a statistic. If you the packs, you have the packs. I found duffel bags on Ebay for under $40 that are 45,000 cubic inches, 50″ x 30″ x 30″. That is a lot of nonfat dried milk.
Nobody wants to think about practical survival. It is easier to just stock the pantry and figure that you have enough resources to weather most storms. But that is where most of us are falling victim to a “normalcy bias.” Normalcy bias is the name for the little voice in your head that tells you that “it can’t happen here,” and who knows, it very well may not. But if you dig into what is really going on out there, everywhere, America is in for a fall, and the longer it gets put off the harder that fall is going to be. Bugging out is the worst of the worst case scenario, but it seems like that is what everyone feels is their best option. I disagree. This article turned from a short overview into yet another convoluted discussion of options, because bugging out just isn’t that simple, and preparing for it adequately just isn’t so cheap either. The richest of the rich have built bunkers under their homes. The governments have built bunkers and stocked them for themselves. Even if you can’t build a bunker, I think all of our focus should be on staying home, and staying put. Bugging out is a fools game, for fools. I was talking to a guy in a gunshop the other day and he was dishing about how he wants the collapse to come so he can go out and finally shoot people. Do you really want to be on the road with that guy? Stay home, unless you have to leave. And if you have to leave, make sure you have the packs to take lots of supplies with you.