Recently I’ve received a few emails asking me why a standard camping backpack, stocked and ready to go for a weekend outing, couldn’t serve as a “bugout bag.” My answer is this: there’s no reason why it can’t IF you indeed have it packed and prepared for that weekend away – that you leave for without any notice. The biggest differences are intent of use and notification lead time. With that in mind, and since it’s about that time to update information about my bugout bag, I felt this would be a worthwhile article to write.
The intended purpose of the pack and its contents has to be considered when you’re preparing it, and while a recreational backpack load can be set up in an hour or two immediately prior to the planned outing, a bugout bag has to be 90-95% complete all the time with just a few items thrown or added in as you’re bailing out of an ugly situation. Both packs have to support your basic needs for a given period of time, but the recreational pack only has to support you for the planned length of your outing, while the bugout bag has to support you for however long it will take you to get to a non-emergency environment.
There are two problems with that planning outlook:
1) Many a recreational backpacking trip has lasted longer than expected due to unexpected circumstances, and
2) You really have no way of knowing how long an emergency situation will last.
It is also a possibility to experience emergency circumstances within the time frame you are planning. Let me give you an example:
A buddy of mine (who I know will read this and laugh at my using this example) went camping one weekend a few years back. We were planning on being out two nights, within five miles of a park ranger’s headquarters, and the weather was supposed to be pleasant: no below the mid-forties and no precipitation. Well, it’s amazing what changes with about 1,500 feet of elevation. That first night got down into the thirties, snowed about eight inches and left us with absolutely no fire fuel. We were not prepared and the cold did present an emergency situation. Hiking five miles out might not seem hard to do, but doing so in the dark in snow might not have been a good idea. We made it through the night and were quite happy to see the sun come up the next day.
So, here are some recommendations for equipment you should make sure is in your pack no matter what – in my humble opinion. I’ve included a picture below from my old bugout bag (just haven’t taken photos of the new load out yet)…
Starting from the lower left corner and working clockwise…
The first item is food. I used to pack MREs (shown here), but decided they take up too much space as a food source. If I’m packing for a fun weekend, I’m NOT going to be taking MREs. I’ll get dehydrated food from the local outdoor shop. If I’m packing a bugout bag then HOO-AH Bars are just as good and take up a lot less space.
The next items are clothing and an emergency blanket. Both relate to warmth. For a weekend backpacking trip you should take a proper change of clothing and always (always always) extra socks. I tend to always pack a “boonie” hat – and it’s treated to be water proof. The bill goes all the way around to keep sun and rain off my neck and out of my eyes. The emergency blanket is handy even on reguarl weekends just because you never know what will happen.
Skipping over the pack, the next item is a fixed blade knife. For a recreational backpacking trip the fixed knife is mostly going to serve as a utility blade for cutting everything from lengths of cord to small sections of wood. It should be between five and seven inches long (blade length) and I like to have a serrated section. For a fixed blade knife that you’re going to keep with or attached to your bugout bag I’d recommend a blade length of at least six inches and some holes in the grip design for lashing it to a pole. Yes, I know it sounds hokey, but I’ve seen people spear fish in rivers and it’s hard to do that without the spear. Additionally, if you try chopping wood of any size with a five inch blade you’re doing a lot of work. Every little bit of added blade weight helps.
Next items are all other versions of a utility cutting tool: folding lockblade knife, multi-tool and a knife sharpener. Yes, I believe in backups. Even if you’re just going on a recreational outing, you need to be able to cut. Some chores don’t require that fixed blade and the folder will do. Some folks attach their fixed blade to their pack and don’t have that available when they need to cut something. Many times you need the tools available in the multi-tool but you certainly don’t want to carry around the tool kit. Versatility is key. All blades have to be maintained. The diamond dust sharpener from BlackHawk has always done a good job for me.
Next items are radios and a compass. As popular as GPS is today it depends on radios and satellites. Anything electronic can break. Learn to use a regular old compass and have the maps you need to go with it. Radios like those shown are great for basic communication with your camping partner during weekend outings. If you’re going to use them as part of your bugout bag you need to realize how many other people are as well. Not all of those people listening in will be friendly. Keep that in mind… and the fact that you’ll have to carry spare batteries – for all electronics you depend on. That’s what is in those round things under the radios.
Matches and a flint & steel fire starter are shown. I like strike anywhere matches but they are getting harder to come by. IF you can find some, dip the heads in melted wax and let them dry hard before you put them down. This seals the match-head and makes it waterproof. When you go to strike it the wax gets rubbed away and the match will light. The ability to make fire for heat and cooking not to mention boiling water for purifying is mandatory whether you’re on a weekend camping trip or an emergency bugout. NEVER think that running water is safe to drink no matter how clear it looks. I know a gentlemen who suffered quite a bit after drinking water he was sure was clean… but it wasn’t.Under the matches is a pack of tissue. Think you don’t need it? Try that wiping your backside with a dry leaf maneuver. Trust me on this one… pack the tissues. To the right of the tissues are two flashlights. In today’s contemporary light market LEDs provide the most rugged lamp assembly with the longest performance on a set of batteries. Get two. If my buddy and I had decent flashlights with us that extra cold snowy night in the mountains, we’d have probably walked out long before sunrise. It wasn’t an option for us. Again, make sure you have spare batteries. Flashlights are a necessity whether you’re out for fun or running from an emergency. 80% of the information we take in to make decisions on comes in through our eyes – but not in the dark. Incandescent lights are good, but they burn up batteries faster than LEDs and the light isn’t as “clean”. I’ve come to appreciate the LEDs and how much abuse they can take (watched one get dropped on the range early Sunday and no one flinched).
Below and right of the lights is a small first aid kit. SMALL is the operative word here. If you try to pack everything you could possibly need for every potential first aid emergency you need another pack. You can make splints out of sticks you find in the woods. Your spare socks can be used as ties. Make sure you have some simple items in your first aid kit: Motrin, band-aids, moleskin (if you’re backpacking), a pressure dressing and a tourniquet. Here’s the kicker: go out and get the proper training to use them. Learn how to apply a tourniquet and when to release it.
To the left of the first aid kit are two pistol magazines. Now I know not everyone carries a handgun with them on a weekend backpacking trip. I do because I’m a police officer (yes even in the federal parks if I get permission from the local park ranger). “911″ is my gun when I’m in the backwoods of anywhere. If you can’t legally carry, then I recommend you not. If you can then I recommend you do so on every trip. Handguns are for self-defense; not usually for hunting. Get a caliber that will stop people and rabid animals, not one you can hunt squirrels and rabbits with. The Government Model .45ACP shown right is a good weapon but is awfully heavy for a weekend outing. Perhaps a polymer framed handgun such as a Glock or S&W M&P would be better suited to the weekend backpacker.
To the left of the magazines is a pair of gloves. Again, this is something I’d have enjoyed having that cold night those many years ago. Having available protection for your hands is always a good thing.
To the left of the gloves is a military surplus poncho. Next to the poncho are a few aluminum tent stakes and above the poncho is some 550 or paracord. Using these three items you have the means to create an emergency shelter – a “hooch”. It won’t be tall and it wont’ be spacious but it will keep you dry from rain or dewfall. The only other thing left in the photo is the rope. Unless you’re a climber I don’t see that as necessary for your weekend backpack load out. For a bugout bag I view it as absolutely mandatory and include the locking D-ring carabiners shown attached to the pack.
Now, before someone freaks out and sends me an email telling me how stupid I am, I didn’t forget hydration. In this case the 100 oz bladder is built into the pack (a Force 5 from BlackHawk). HOW you choose to carry your water isn’t really important to me. THAT you choose to carry water is important. The general guideline is one gallon per person per day. Each gallon of fresh water weighs about seven pounds, so think about the weight you’re going to carry when you start determining how much water you’ll travel with. Most places you go backpacking – especially in developed parks – will have fresh water sources available. If this is your bugout bag, make sure you fill the bladder with fresh as the last thing you do on your way out the door and make sure you have a current filtration system built into the hydration system.
Other items I’ve been told I should pack include duct tape, sugar, coffee, etc. In a weekend pack you can include whatever you’re willing to carry. After all, you’ll be unpacking it in just a few days. In a bugout bag don’t pack anything you have to check on every week. You never will and that will be the first item you need once the emergency hits.
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