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Bug-Out Bag: Homemade Survival Kits

When confronted with a disaster, a go-bag can make high-speed evacuations go much smoother.


Some call it a bug-out bag, others a go-bag, but it’s the same thing regardless of terminology—a pre-packed survival kit in case you have to leave home in a hurry. A go-bag should include everything you and your family might need to sustain yourselves for a short time.

Before getting to the nuts and granola bars, let’s put the go-bag into perspective and understand what it is—and what it isn’t. A go-bag is not an apocalyptic bomb shelter with months of freeze-dried food, a chemical toilet and enough equipment to survive a long period of time. The purpose of a bug-out bag is to tide you over during a disaster that requires you to evacuate your home.

Hurricanes Katrina in New Orleans and Andrew in Florida are good examples of natural disasters that require short-term evacuation. The Mount St. Helens eruption is another example, just like the Yellowstone fires, Texas tornadoes, Mississippi floods and San Francisco earthquakes.

In addition to acts of God, there are also man-made disasters that rear their ugly heads. Rioters in Los Angeles, looters in New Orleans, anarchists in Seattle and other incidents of total societal break-down are frighteningly closer to the surface than many of us would like to admit.

Because catastrophes are regional in nature, your go-bag should be specific to your area’s propensities for trouble. It makes no sense for residents of rustic towns in the Midwest to prepare for mobs of looters over basketball games. However, it might be appropriate for you to prepare for civil unrest if you live in a large metropolitan area with a diverse population.

Similarly, natural disasters are geographic in nature. It’s unlikely that it will flood in Phoenix, and there won’t be a forest fire in Las Vegas. If you live in tornado alley, you already know what to expect. If you reside near the Missouri or Mississippi rivers, you already have sandbags. I won’t belabor the obvious.

Stay Or Go?
I’m not sure how many readers might get a reference to The Clash’s “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?” but it’s perfectly apropos here. The key question in a calamity is whether to bug-out or ride it out.

That decision is predicated on so many factors that it’s impossible to answer here, but I can tell you that if you do elect to evacuate, you have three choices. You can simply go, meaning you have no pre-existing plan and you’re simply bugging out. Option two is that you have a pre-determined destination—possibly a relative’s house or a favorite camping site. The third choice is that you have a pre-arranged rallying point where you and several close friends have agreed to meet and where you’ve pre-positioned additional supplies. In a chaotic break-down of law and order, strength definitely improves with numbers, so having a plan with some similarly disposed friends is highly recommended.

If you decide to stay, you still need provisions to last for several days and up to two weeks. I can’t think of any natural disaster, in which it would be possible to stay home, that’s gone two weeks before basic services were restored.

Don’t forget pets. You’ll need dog or cat food, as well as diapers for young children. You’ll obviously think of food and water, but don’t forget the “what goes in must come out” scenario either. A bag of chlorinated lime should be kept on hand to use in a latrine (at least two feet deep). Think about other issues of garbage disposal too. A good stock of heavy-duty trash bags should tide you over.

Go-Bag Contents
So now we come to the go-bag itself and what it should contain. As much as I would really like my go-bag to be ready for “Red Dawn” when I take to the hills to wage guerilla war against Spetsnaz invaders, the truth is that guns and ammunition comprise a small portion of a well-equipped go-bag.

Communication tools should be a top priority. A crank-powered radio to hear emergency news, a cell phone and even a satellite phone are all good ideas. A set of walkie-talkies is a good idea as well.

Medical needs must be addressed. You’ll need a “boo-boo kit” for small cuts and nicks, and a properly put together trauma kit with a tourniquet and combat bandages.

Food should be dried or canned. Include multi-vitamin packs and high-energy bars. OK, go ahead and throw in an MRE or two to make you feel more Red Dawnish.

When it comes to firearms, I keep an AR with a Trijicon 4X ACOG ready to go with eight spare magazines carried in an Eagle plate carrier. I also keep a Springfield Armory 1911 customized by Larry Vickers at the ready, so that little jewel along with six spare mags is definitely going with me. In my go-bag is a Glock 9 mm with three spare mags (even though I’m not a “Glock guy,” it’s a good general-purpose pistol if I have to loan someone a gun). My wife is a revolver person, so I’ve also packed a copy of her favorite snubby, an S&W Model 60 with Crimson Trace LaserGrips.

Nighttime is most dangerous, so I have set of BNVDs (binocular night vision devices) with the latest pinnacle tubes (the best I-squared tubes available). My AR has an ATPIAL infrared laser, which is hot ticket for shooting at night while wearing the BNVDs.

For white light, I have a SureFire LX2, the variable output LED that’s the size of MiniMag Light, but about 18,000 times brighter.

I live in the gun-friendly state of Nevada so my go-bag includes a 17 ounce SureFire suppressor for my AR. On my wish-list is an integrally suppressed Ruger 10/22 from Gemtech.

A Leatherman Wave, Glock shovel and Strider BT combat knife round out my tools, and I keep a compass and GPS in a side pouch and a CamelBak hydration bladder is clean and ready to be filled.

My go-bag itself is from SoTech and is called, appropriately enough, the Go Bag. I also have a small bag with nothing but magazines for my guns and a backpack with several changes of socks and underwear, lightweight wind shells and my wife’s clothes.

My bug-out destination is a rally point in the desert east of Henderson, Nev. If you’ve not planned for yours, now’s a good time to start.

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33 Responses to Bug-Out Bag: Homemade Survival Kits

lwalsh wrote:
March 09, 2013

My 2 minimum firearms.....ar7..the henry..with 5 spare mags 400 rounds....smith n wesson .44 mag..7.5 inch....u can get brass rounds which van stop a moose..or a car..3 speed loaders..40 rounds total....also nobody mentioned sil tarps or 1 set of lite weight silk top n bottoms ! Very lite n keep u warm n weigh ounces ! N 1 small folding saw...for shelter...fire etc

Bob wrote:
November 17, 2012

I didn't see mentioned the Henry 22 Survival Rifle. It's compact, collapses into it's stock and sealed.

Bryan wrote:
November 05, 2012

Good for you, weight of all those guns & ammo and no water what about food. Keep the AR with a max of 100 of 120 rounds, one hand gun 2 or 3 mags,for your wife, drop the rest. Shelter / sleeping bag is critical, Nevada can get cold at night. Water purification? Folding saw, hatchet, tarp, fuctional tool idea to build / fix.

DBL wrote:
June 18, 2012

Just had a good laugh at the AR w-ACOG, plate carrier and custom Vickers 1911,...even a serious prepper like myself sometimes gets a laugh at the tacticool joes of this world.

oran antrim wrote:
November 03, 2011

Unfortunately, in the gun friendly state of Nevada, the Marlin Papoose, or any long gun for that matter, is illegal to carry concealed in a back pack without a concealed carry permit, which they won't give. Maybe have to move to california where they are not so strict. Not funny, but true.

ntrudr_800 wrote:
May 23, 2011

If not a .223 or .308 caliber gun, if not a 9mm or .45 pistol, at least keep an honest .22lr rifle handy! Marlin has the Papoose which is like the Model 795 autoloader but breaks in half for easy storage and transportation. You can pick up a Marlin 795 or Marlin 60 autoloader for around US $160 I believe. These rifles go a while before needing to be cleaned (try 300+ rds!)Also check out the Savage Mark II (Bolt Action) .22lr rifle. Marlin has a similar rifle to the Savage called the XT-22. The Ruger 22/45 and the Sig Mosquito (Desert Camo!)are some very nice .22lr pistols. I hear the Browning Buck Mark .22lr has a nice trigger. You can carry A LOT of .22lr cartridges--they're tiny! Perfect for hunting birds and small game. .22lr is rather quiet for a firearm. With the right suppressor it is as quiet as a pellet gun. Zombie Rifle? I have a Bolt Action .308 Ruger Gunsite Scout Carbine. It's beautiful. It has iron sights standard, is simple, easy to clean, has 10rd mag, & has a fluffy shoulder pad. I can load 1 rd at a time if I somehow lose the magazine. If I could have any weapon for a Zombie Apocalypse I'd go with a Steyr TMP or a Mini Uzi. Even if it's not the most practical, I'd die lmao while shooting zombies <3

September 29, 2010

Everyones contributions are very interesting. Some well made points. I am fortunate in having over 2 decades service, Training in CQB and survival, former law enf plus living in Idaho. Also that I have been "acquiring" for many years. I am a bit heavy on firearms including 2 egistered GEMTECH suppressors, a .22 Outback and a .30 cal HVT. 3 threaded .22's and 2 quick mount .30s, with a whole lot of ammo. I carry Glock 10mms (M29 and M20 use same mags) My spouse prefers her S&W but is practiced on subguns. Traveling arms are a couple 9mm subguns. Registered & Legal in Idaho of course; which I have had for a couple decades. A 150lb Barret crossbow with 10 boxes bolts. For Light: maglight & a couple 65 lumin surfires. For blades, gerber machette & MKII knives. Equiptment includes CBR shelter manager kit, gas & dust masks. Water purification tabs, & months worth of canned & dry goods. Fire starter sticks but I do need yet to pick up a few minor items from NRA catalog, such as shovel & hatchet. For light readng, Anarchists cookbook, The edible wild (now out of print since 1971) + a couple army survival manuals. I readilly admit that it is all more than fits in a didi bag, but my wheel chair & crutches wont fit in a bag either so I rely on my AWD to carry me & mine to a preselected not distant mountain location. Part of my plan is training my grandchildren as it is unlikely that crap will hit the fan in my remaining lifetime ... but we never know. I wish each and every one of you & yours a safe and secure future; dispite the present administration.

Rick_SiG wrote:
September 27, 2010

Some good advice here, but not everything will work for everyone in every situation. Murphy's Law of Combat says "no plan survives first contact with the enemy". I had a "dry run" several years ago with that massive east coast power failure. We sill had water pressure, due to the pumping plants having their own power systems. But due to the danger of low pressure and backflow, everything was under a "boil water" alert for a couple days after power was restored. It was summer, and hot, and boiling water to drink wasn't very appealing. But since I had a refrigerator full of bottled water, I could have a "cold one" whenever I wanted. Bottled water is trashed as expensive and environmentally unfriendly, but in an emergency situation it's dirt cheap, and the first need for survival. Long-term water needs require storage and purification, but short-term bottled water is a cheap way of assuring something to drink. Buy a case once a month, and nobody will report you to the government for "hoarding". The next general concept is to abandon the "survival backpacks" I was building, and switch to the "go bag" concept. The idea is to load each bag with something unique, plus a few redundant items that are always handy to have. The bags have either winter gear, food, medical supplies, or ammo in them. They're tagged, and stacked on a rack in the basement. I can easily take two bags at a time, and pack them into my vehicle. The last items to be loaded will be a 5.56mm short(er) scoped rifle, a go bag with about 800 rounds of ammo, and a few spare magazines. I don't foresee the need for 7.62mm, but I have a folding-stock M1A SOCOM and a go-bag of ammo, just in case I have a few extra minutes to load some "luxuries". While all this is going on, I'll have grabbed one of my "messenger bags" that has the bare minimum of a handgun, ammo, snacks, and flashlight. If I can't grab anything else, at least I won't be totally disarmed.

mike wrote:
September 27, 2010

Some great ideas in there but if you are having to survive, there are more important things than lots of ammo. Ponchos, space blankets, etc are crucial. Water-purification and dried food, a good leatherman, that crank radio w/ built in light- great for morale and updates, bring a headlamp. Great to know what local plants you can eat- a small book on what you can forage for and safely eat will keep you fed long after tht rifle runs out of bullets. put your 1st aid kit, compass and map in a nalgene bottle- it will protect it and keep you w/ another way to carry water beside your camelbak, in your go-bag. Quality footware and sox are key. weight does matter.I don't call myself an expert but I've lived in the woods for months, the author's go-bag seems better fit for zombie invasion and looking cool than actual survival.

Scotty wrote:
September 26, 2010

This is not a complete article by any means, just a primer and a reminder. As far as flashlights are concerned, I like the Olight I10/15 series beacuse of the variable light output (6-220 lumens), w/Strobe, S.O.S. With a simple battery tube change you are able to use a single CR123A or AA. Battery life of 1-50 hours all contained in a flahlight the the length of your finger!

finsII wrote:
September 26, 2010

I have a small bugout bag ready for my car. i am setting up a secure area right at my farm where I live. I have purchased extra ammo, put foodstocks in, have seeds and a secure water source.I have also purchase supplies to secure my home and barns. My next purchase is a generater that works on natural gas for emergency power. good luck to us all.

Dadrock33 wrote:
September 25, 2010

Ok, I've been around a while and, not being an expert in any one area, what's the total price tag of your equipment? I'm telling you right now, I can't afford it. Need to prune your list quite a bit for those of us "working stiffs".

george wrote:
September 25, 2010

Your bag is HEAVY on guns and ammo. That's to be expected from a writer for a gun magazine. What are you going to eat? In two weeks, you'll starve to death and be just as dead as if you were shot. Where I live, the danger of social tension is just as bad, but it gets Cold in the winter. MRE's don't require any prep time or a fire. You don't have any prepositioned water but rely on filling a container as you exit. If you don't have water pressure, you're going to get thirsty before you ever need to defend yourself. I hope you're not thinking of looting all the stuff you need for real survival, which includes filling your belly as well as your magazines.

Jack wrote:
September 25, 2010

I totally understand the philosophy behind having a “go-bag”. But keep in mined that if your destination is a government provided “safe area” or you have to cross “check points”, most likely your going to be questioned and possibly searched. And while the Fourth Amendment “guarantees” one being safe in their possessions, most likely you be under “Marshall Law” and therefore most of you Constitutional rights will be suspended.

ctd wrote:
September 25, 2010

"the truth is that guns and ammunition comprise a small portion of a well-equipped go-bag" ...then list an arsenal better than most peoples' collections? ACOG & suppressor & lasers & night vision, vs a cursory reference to dried/canned foods etc. to last days or weeks? Start with prepping for 3 days impromptu camping, add a hard-use pistol & rifle, review a survival book like Les Stroud's "Survive!", adapt to circumstances and weather.

Gunslinger454 wrote:
September 25, 2010

To Mr. Unprepared, that's exactly why no one in my neighborhood knows where my supplies are kept!!! Oh, and aren't IR lasers restricted to law enforcement and military only?

John wrote:
September 24, 2010

Personally, I don't like bright flashlights for nighttime. I'm sure the sure fire is great, but a really bright light is a giant beacon as to your position. A few other things I keep in my go bag are: camp suds, a bandanna (can be used as a towel, or as reusable toilet paper if washed correctly,) and water purification tablets. Salt is also very good to have because it'll replace some electrolytes in your system if added to water, and actually helps your body absorb more of the water that you drink. Paracord is great. Enough said. Another thing to keep in mind is that in choosing your primary firearm, choose a very common caliber so that you have the potential to find/ barter for more. Stay away from .303 british and other fairly uncommon cartridges. I live in NY, and do not own any handguns, so my secondary is a Henry U.S. Survival rifle. ~$250, .22LR, 2.5 pounds, and it breaks down and can be stuffed in your pack in about 30 seconds. Another great feature is that it's much quieter to fire than a full sized rifle, or a handgun. With hollow point .22LR, you can take animals up to deer size if the bullet hits the right spot.

Gary wrote:
September 24, 2010

Lots of firepower equals lots of weight. In my drop and run kit I actually have a selection to choose from. I can pick up what is appropriate. An earthquake in Seattle means loss of services and food shortages at the market and possibly pitching a tent in my back yard. I can then dig out any firearm and ammunition. Having food and water on hand is the deal. If a riot keeps me isolated at home; still not a problem. If I have to leave; a rifle that serves as defence and a game getter works. In a civil emergency a pistol works well for immediate self defence but I know I'll have to eventually account for using it if I'm forced to; best to just put distance between the trouble and me. If the trouble follows me I'll stick with my rifle. Again, depending on the breakdown: Food, water, shelter and defence; pretty much in that order. Remember, when you have to drop the large load and run, weight is everything.

John Bourbon Jr wrote:
September 24, 2010

This is a very timely article as I have been preparing 2 Bug Out Bags, one to keep in my truck and one to have at home. My thoughts on what to pack centered around what will I need to survive 2 nights outdoors, (in the case of a natural catastropy) and what do I need to survive a civil disturbance on the off chance that I get caught in one far from my Vt home. My bags aren't nearly as big as the one pictured, but they are quick to carry and if need be, my wife could easily shoulder the weight if for some reason I can't.

Mike wrote:
September 24, 2010

I guess with that aresnal what you forget you can take. Remember medications and cash.

John L. wrote:
September 24, 2010

Nevada, "gun friendly"? I just waited 5 weeks to get my CCW, which called for me to REGISTER my handguns and I can only carry specific guns!

tailfeathers wrote:
September 24, 2010

Unbelievably out of touch. Put aside for the moment the legality of suppressed weapons in most of the country, in this economy who has this kind of money to throw around on a 'what if...". Sure Larry makes a wonderful weapon, but how many shooters have the skill level to justify the expenditure. Your list appeals more toward Gun Shop Commandos than any of the ex-forces operators I know.

Ken Chiatello wrote:
September 24, 2010

This is one of the disadvantages of living where I do - road travel to a 'safe' location is all but impossible due to traffic congestion. Best we can do is seek out a location relatively close-by and plan our bug-out kit accordingly. Living in California makes firearm storage and transport "iffy" at best. Probably better to plan on traveling concealed but accessible.

John wrote:
September 24, 2010

Always remember the Rule of Three's for survival in a "bug-out" or hostile situation. On average you can survive for 3 minutes without oxyger (air), three days without water and 3 weeks without food. I notice that the concern for water was prominently absent in this article.

Frank Hendersom wrote:
September 24, 2010

My wife and I are with health problems, so we have concentrated on more home survival. Senior citizens can't aford the equipment that you descried. One thing we have done for about 10 years is to have a car survival bag. Water, food, flashlight, radio, batteries, etc, enough to last a couple days if longer. I've stocked up on 45, 38, shotgun, and 22 ammo every chance I get, and I can use them very well. I've placed guns throughout the house so there's one I can get to quickly. There hidden of course. One tip you may not agree but never put a NRA sticker on your car. Having that parked out front of your house is asking for trouble. Most of my neighbors don't know I go to the range with my briefcase. Never talk to them about my guns either.

FoolKiller wrote:
September 24, 2010

Cody - I see your point, but it really doesn't matter if protesters are protesting for or against what you believe in. It's not disrespecting your cause to not want to be caught in the crossfire. Friendly fire can be just as deadly. As the saying goes, lead, follow, or get out of the way. This excellent article is about geting out of the way. Safely.

MtnDave wrote:
September 24, 2010

Joe Sixpack would never afford all the high-level goodies listed here. Cheaper options? Wish he hadn't even hinted where the rally point was. Like having a handgun carry permit, the less said, the better. I'm looking for a follow-up article covering a 'serious business' scenario. It could get ugly when the unprepared neighbors start clawing at your well-defended door.

Well? wrote:
September 24, 2010

Most all my firearms of any seriousness ARe too heavy for any packing. So I'll grab the .22 cricket. A brick of ammo. And my family.

Turtlewmc wrote:
September 24, 2010

I have kept a Go Bag packed for years. Mine contains many of the same items as Cody's but also many different items. I use a large day pack plus a Duluth Pack,over the shoulder, shell bag for items like ammo, canteen and snacks that I may need without stopping and taking off the backpack. Fire starting items are necessary. Firearms are M-94 Trapper model, A take- down Ruger 10-22 with 4X scope, also Glock 23 and 2 spare mags. Also a folding saw, lightweight nylon tark and lightweight sleeping bag. The whole rig weights around 40 pounds and can be carried all day without excess fatigue.

Colorado Carl wrote:
September 24, 2010

I know how much weight I carried in the Corp I can't carry that now for long distances. Your list weights to much. No you won't be able to drive, Prior planing is great.You probably can repair every part on your weapons BUT have you recently taken a Wilderness First Responder course? or better yet a WildernessALS? One years supply of food in place? can you do a root canal and stop major bleeds? know how to remove a tourniquet?

Teuthis wrote:
September 24, 2010

You seem a little heavy on the firearms. I think a .22 is probably the best thing to have in the kit. You can carry a lot of rounds with it. I also have some water in my kit.

Cody wrote:
September 22, 2010

All good and pertenant advice butstop and think about what your talking about in reguards to people. I live in Yakima Wa and extreme right wing conservative area where i fit in quite well. The so called "anarchists" in Seattle were protesting globaslization at the expense of national soverenty and the creation of the North American Union, and other forms of global government such as the WTO. These are conservative goals very much in line with convervatism and national pride.

unprepared wrote:
September 22, 2010

So where in Henderson are we going exactly? I'll bring the marshmallows. I'm not good with directions tho, it might be easier if I just follow you.