If you do a Google search for “bug out bag” you get over 4.1 million responses. If you add “list” (bug out bag list) you still get over 2.87 million. I’ve scanned my fair share of articles about Bug Out Bags (BOBs) and have discovered a few things. First, if the article is from a company that manufactures bags, they are doing everything they can to explain why their bag is the best and it’s the only one you’ll ever need – unless you need two from them. Second, if the article is from a “survival expert” you’ll quite often find his (or her) name on the product they are pushing. Third, if neither of those apply, most often the article breaks down into two parts: get this kind of bag (1) and put this stuff in it (2). To avoid fitting into any of those three categories I’d like to discuss designing and customizing your pack to suit your individually perceived emergency preparedness needs.
Now, to write any article (except straight journalist reporting) you need to have a presumptive base of information. My presumptive base for the sake of this article is as follows: You need to acquire, configure and fill a BOB to suit your individual needs should you have to evacuate your residence on relatively short notice. The needs, because these are fairly universal, include shelter, food, water and first-aid. At a bare minimum, every BOB should address those four needs. With that in mind, allow for a little “wiggle room” in discussion, for the sake of the article, of items you might carry. It is tempting, I know, to begin a debate over whether there are more or less needs than those four, which grows into a debate about what product from which company is the best. Set all that aside. Rest your brain from such. Assume you need a BOB and you need to stuff it as necessary to tend those four needs.
Determine what you’re going to pack: Yes, I know there are plenty of experts who feel you have to select the bag first. I disagree. The size and type of the bag you select should be predetermined by the list of items and their weight that you are planning to carry.
Select a bag: This is easier said than done and I know several experts who adamantly state no perfect Bug Out Bag exists. Truth be told, only YOU can decide what your ideal, perfect or acceptable BOB will be. Some demand a backpack; some think a sling bag is good; others like a satchel for whatever reason. Some claim no bag is what’s best; simply put everything on your vest or in your pockets. Only YOU can select what’s best for you. From this point forward I’m going to assume the use of a backpack or sling bag.
Here’s the new (?) twist I’m going to throw at you – Determine what items you are carrying that you want to access quickly and/or be able to easily separate from your BOB for whatever reason. Determine what items, if any, you want to be able to access without having open your BOB. Determine what items, if any, you want others with you to be able to access without you having to take off your BOB (in the example of a backpack type).
When I was in the Light Infantry, virtually every soldier I served with carried their poncho in the outside center pocket of their ALICE pack. Why? So it was easily accessible if it started to rain. Your buddy could open one flap, yank out your poncho and hand it to you; and then you returned the favor. Our medics (the company had two) carried their most used items in the other two outer pockets on their ALICE packs. They packed their ALICE packs identically so if they needed something to treat or hand to a soldier, they knew right where to reach into the other medic’s pack on the move.
This kind of logic applies to BOBs in general. Some things you need to access easier or more quickly. First-aid, specifically trauma care supplies, you need to get to quick and easy. A rain poncho is something you might want to get to pretty quickly. A shovel and toilet paper might be things you want to be able to get to without having to open your pack. A machete or hatchet might be something you’d prefer to mount on the outside of your pack rather than having to dig into your pack to get to.
So, here’s what you need to do. After you’ve made your list of items that you feel you need to include in your BOB, rate each one with a number or letter to indicate how quick and easy you want to be able to get to it. Then pack your back accordingly or customize your bag with add-on pouches to carry the quick-access items.
There are a few operational examples I’ll share to demonstrate what I’m trying to describe.
I know a Search & Rescue team member who is part of a Ground Team for the Civil Air Patrol. His unit has been called out several times to conduct ground searches for pilots from downed small airplanes. On the outside of his pack he has mounted a hatchet and his large camp knife. Both have sheaths that are MOLLE mountable and his preferred pack has MOLLE webbing on both sides as well as the outer face. He can access the hatchet or that knife without having to open the pack, and both of them can be accessed by his team mates without him having to take the pack off if circumstances warrant it.
I know a park ranger who patrols on foot and on an ATV quite a bit. He has a folding shovel (a surplus entrenching tool) in a MOLLE mount pouch attached to one side of his pack. On the other side, to balance it out, he carries a one quart nalgene canteen, also in a MOLLE mount pouch. The canteen pouch has two pockets meant for bottles of purification tablets, but he puts toilet paper in ziplock bags in those pockets. The shovel, canteen and toilet paper comprises his “latrine kit” and he likes to be able to access those items without having to open his pack.
The third example I’ll give you is a gentleman I know who performs security work in some wilderness areas. He is part of a team and every member of the team selects and fills their own pack. The one mandate that exists is that every team member’s pack will have mounted on the outside of it a red first-aid pouch on a hook-and-loop platform. The platform MOLLE mounts to the pack and the pouch adheres to the platform. The pouch can be pulled off and taken where it’s needed without having to take the whole pack. Any member of the team can pull the first-aid pouch off of any pack within reach to access and use the supplies therein.
Those three examples demonstrate the point I’m trying to make about thinking about and customizing your pack before you fill it. Don’t simply purchase the biggest pack you can and fill it with as much as you can carry. Plan what you’ll pack, purchase the pack you need, and pack according to how fast or how often you’ll need to access the various supplies.
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