bug out bag checklist

The First 23 Things I Put In My Survival “Go Bag”

In Emergency Preparedness by M.D. Creekmore17 Comments

bug out bag checklist

Some people might consider a bug-out bag and a 72-hour kit as essentially the same thing. For the purposes of this article, we will consider them as two separate kits. The 72-hour kit is more of a “stay at home and ride out the short-term disaster” kit, while the bug-out bag described below is more of a “grab and go” kit.

The very idea of leaving the security of your home to “bug out” to the woods has never set well with me.

In nearly every instance, it is better to hunker down or “bug in” than to bug out. Why leave the safety and familiar surroundings of your home for the open and unforgiving wilderness? For many people, fleeing is their first line of preparation against disaster.

Unfortunately, most will end up joining the multitude of other refugees freezing in a cave; dying from exposure, starvation, or violence at the hands of the mob; or becoming wards of whatever government entity is still functioning.

I live in a fairly safe area and have prepared to survive at home. I can conceive of only a few scenarios that would force me to leave. Even then, I would go to the house of an out-of-state relative with whom I have an agreement: if need be, he can come to my place or I can go to his after a disaster.

I know what you’re thinking: what about an “end of the world as we know it” type of event? Well, if such an event does take place, there will be no 100 percent safe place for most of us anyway, and do you really think you would be better off trying to hide in the open wilderness than hunkering down at home?

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying you should never bug out; you should keep all options open because you never know what you’re going to have to do to survive untill the time comes to make that decision.

What I am saying is that there are better ways to survive most disasters than heading into the bush. You need to weigh the risks of bugging out vs. hunkering down and make your final decision based on logic and type of threat.

That’s the way decisions should be made. Unfortunately, when making survival decisions, many people rely on emotion (to run and hide) rather than more tried-and-true logic. Relying on emotion instead of logic can make for some interesting adventures.

However, without sound planning, those adventures are likely to be short-lived. For example, I recently asked a fellow in his late 30s what he would do if disaster struck his area. He thought for a moment and said he would gather his family and all the food, guns, and ammunition he could find and head for the mountains that lie some 75 miles north of his home.

Depending on the type of disaster, his “plan” might work short-term for a lone survivor or a small group of individuals in good physical condition and equipped with proper gear and mindset. But he is the father of a newborn, and his wife thinks missing an appointment at the nail salon is the end of the world as she knows it.

Making matters worse, the young father has no outdoor survival training or skills other than watching reruns of Les Stroud’s Survivorman television show and camping at a
national park campground with all the utilities and hookups provided.

Why he thinks he can survive in the wilderness while dragging his young family along, I don’t know. He isn’t thinking logically, and if he ever has to put his plan to the test during a real emergency, his family will likely suffer or possibly even die.

Unfortunately, this “Batman in the boondocks” mentality will continue to be the chosen survival plan for many who haven’t thought survival through logically and come up with a realistic plan.

When making survival plans for your family, you have to honestly weigh the risks of your decision based on logic. In almost every disaster scenario, it is better to stay put (bugging in) or head to a prearranged safe place at an out-of-town relative’s or friend’s house than it is to head to the woods to eat twigs and pine bark.

Therefore, for most people, an evacuation bag is a better choice than a bug-out bag. An evacuation bag should contain the gear necessary to get you from point A to point B, whereas a bug-out bag (in most cases) is geared more toward wilderness survival. I have both, but admittedly my bug-out bag is an option of last resort. Knowing when to go is much more important than the contents of your survival pack or even where you will go.

You don’t want to jump and run before you need to, but if you wait too long you may never reach your destination. If you wait for the authorities to give the order to evacuate, it may already be too late.

The roads leading to safety could be blocked or impassable by motor vehicle, and walking to your destination may be impossible or too dangerous to attempt. On the other hand, if you jump and run in response to every potential disaster, you’ll soon deplete your resources and the patience of your family, school, and employers.

For example, say you live in an area prone to tornadoes, like Texas, and you evacuate to Arkansas (which has also suffered its share of killer tornados over the years) every time the clouds turn dark or the wind shakes the leaves.

You would be on the road nonstop during tornado season—which seems to be most of the time in Texas. But waiting until the twister is at your door will also put you at an unnecessary risk. There are no easy answers.

All you can do is weigh the dangers of bugging out vs. hunkering down logically based on the situation at hand. You have to consider the nature of the threat and ask yourself which option gives you the better chance of surviving the type of disaster you are facing.

Of course, there are times when evacuation is a no-brainer. Say, for example, you live on the Florida coast and a category 5 hurricane has been predicted to hit your area within 72 hours.

In that case, you would be foolish not to go as soon as possible, even if you have no prearranged bug-out location. On the other hand, let’s say there is a snowstorm heading your way and you have food, water, heat, and a way to cook even if the power goes out for an extended time.

Then you are probably better off to hunker down where you are. In my opinion, the bugging out vs. hunkering down debate is moot because it all comes down to the type of threat you face, your personal situation, and your preparedness level. In the end, you’ll have to decide what to do on a case-by-case basis.

Bug Out Bag Checklist

Please note that the following list is intended only as a suggestion. Your bug-out bag should be customized to suit your
individual needs, plans, and location.

  • ❏ Antibacterial hand wipes
  • ❏ Cash—$100 in ones, fives, and tens
  • ❏ Cell phone and charger
  • ❏ Change of clothes
  • ❏ First aid tactical trauma kit
  • ❏ Fishing kit
  • Fixed-blade knife (the linked to knife is the best survival knife available in my opinion)
  • ❏ GPS navigator (handheld)
  • ❏ Handgun and 200+ rounds of ammunition
  • ❏ LED flashlight (small) with extra batteries, as well as a crank-type flashlight that doesn’t require batteries
  • ❏ Lighters – two
  • ❏ Map of area and compass
  • Multitool (the one linked to is the best multi-tool available in my opinion)
  • ❏ OC spray
  • ❏ Paracord, 25 feet
  • ❏ Prepaid calling card
  • ❏ Prescription medications, as needed
  • ❏ Sewing kit (small)
  • ❏ Space blanket
    Sterno folding stove (less than $15 on Amazon)
  • ❏ Trail mix, a box of energy bars (15), and electrolyte packets
  • ❏ Wooden matches in a waterproof container
  • ❏ Water filter or bottle

Note: If forced to bug out by car, load both your 72-hour kit and bug-out bags…

Special Considerations For Children

In stressful situations, it is important for you to appear relaxed, confident, and in control—even if you are a trembling bag of nerves on the inside. The last thing children need is extra stress brought on by a panicked parent. Another consideration concerning children is familiarity.

During a bug-out situation, you will be away from home, and this can be extremely stressful for children. It is important to eliminate as much of the stress as possible. One way to do this is by bringing along items that are familiar to them. If they have a favorite blanket, pillow, stuffed toy, or other objects that comfort them, be sure to pack it before heading out the door.

This is very important. Children tend to bore easily, so adding items to forestall or extinguish their boredom will make the time away from home much easier for all of you. You may want to put together a pack just for them consisting of toys, books, cards, writing/drawing materials, and games.

Don’t forget extra batteries for those games and toys that need them. Of course, children aren’t the only ones who get bored; include things that will keep your boredom in check as well.


  1. I think we’ll agree to disagree about the best knife for a SHTF situation. The Mora is a fine knife, I own one and use it frequently. But’s it’s not built to handle all the chores needed such a batoning wood for a fire. I use my Mora for cooking and light camp chores while leaving the heavy stuff to my K-Bar marine combat knife. As for the best multitool, there’s nothing wrong with your choice of the Leatherman, but I’ve had my Gerber for over 20 years and it’s never failed me yet. I’m also not a fan of the Sterno stove, I prefer using the Esbit folding stove and fuel it with twigs and small branches. The Sterno will do the same, but in a larger overall package. I’d also suggest that you carry more than 25 ft. of paracord. It has so many uses, weighs very little and with the spool tool takes up little space in your bag. BTW, I have no intention of “bugging out” if/when SHTF. All my supplies are with my home and my family will congregate here at that time. The only time I’d consider leaving and then only for a short time is if a forest fire was rapidly approaching or there was a chemical spill releasing toxic fumes. Otherwise I’ll cast my lot at my home, with my family and all my supplies.

    1. Author


      Do you own a Mora Bushcraft Survival knife? I’m not going to be “batoning wood” with my knife that’s what a hatchet is for and can be added to the list.

      1. Great article.
        I would recommend adding bank-line (not from Walmart) along with more paracord.
        I did not see a hatchet or folding saw on your list.
        I prefer the saw to a hatchet personally. I have no objection to batoning wood with knife and I also prefer to have two or more knifes. I have a Bahco folding saw, a Bahco knife, a Buck Knifes 102 Woodsman, and a larger knife for heavier task.

        1. I love my Mora knives and agree with MD in that I use a hand axe for wood or my khukri- all knives are really single purpose tools that can occasionally be multi purposed. The whole “batoning” thing is new anyhow. It has been “used” in some ways for centuries but the current modern craze is new. Thanks to idiots on scripted TV “reality” shows.

          Anyhow, absolutely I will add bankline all day I love bank line!

  2. On our recent camping trip to the Smokies, we did some driving and hiking through the mountains. I was amazed at the people who had nothing with them. We planned ahead and ‘tailgated’ our noon meals at picnic areas and brought a small propane grill, food and drinks in a cooler, and other foods to complete the meal. We got a lot of looks and comments. One woman was downright rude, thinking we owed her a meal since she was hungry and there wasn’t anywhere for her to buy lunch. I guess she expected a McDonald’s on top of old Smoky. I told her we had extra drinks, but she wanted a burger. Too bad. If someone had been in distress (diabetes situation), we would have gladly shared anything we had. Some people didn’t even have water on long hikes. We saw a couple of people with minor injuries on one hike. I offered first aid help, but it was declined. These camping and hiking trips are good practice, and show us what we’re doing right and what we need to change. Thanks for these reminders.

  3. Good info. I agree with you on bugging out vs. bugging in. Thanks.

  4. As one with a very, VERY bad back, I have one of those heavy duty, big wheel 1960’s/70’s aluminum Bag Boy golf caddys to haul my BOB around on. Had to modify it a tad to hold the USMC ILBE- but it works. The handle is long enough that I can rig it up to the seat post of my bike if need be. If I have to I can carry roughly 150 lbs of gear as well. It folds up and fits into the vehicle nicely. If I go on a long trip, the 72 hour/BOB (ILBE) goes in, otherwise it’s the smaller ‘day trip’ bag.
    I’ll definately look over your list to see if I’ve forgotten anything. Good article!

    1. Author


      I’m sorry to hear about your bad back. My brother has already had one back surgery and most likely will need another soon. It’s life-changing for sure. As for hauling a bug out bag these https://amzn.to/2LrxurR would also work very well.

  5. At last someone talking sense, the idea of long term bugging out for most people is just a dream, reality is you are better returning to the safety of the place you know. Very few people know enough to live a life in the wilds, especially as most of the population would be running that way as well.

    Nicely written article, many thanks for the advice from a certified novice.

    1. Author


      Thank you. I think far too many “preppers” live in bug out bag fantasy land to be honest.

    2. Author


      Thank you. I think far too many “preppers” live in bug out bag fantasy land, to be honest.

  6. MD/ALL:
    Very nice article…. My GHBs & BOBs are essentially the same, the BOBs somewhat larger/similar gear.
    I do need to transport, for that I intend to use my mountain bike. Regular rides are necessary, for overdoing it (if chased- I’d need to pedal faster longer) may well prove my undoing.
    Thanks again.

  7. BTW, one knife won’t cut it, as it were. A folding serrated bladed saw & a good machete will cover most needs, in addition to the campknife.
    I am a big fan of the Woodsman’s Pal. Developed for military use @ the end of WWII, they are well built & will double as a defensive weapon nicely.
    I’d add something to hone all edges, for nothing will cut me as bad as a dull knife….
    As rain & snow may hamper our attempts, I also recommend military grade ponchos. Keep me dryer when afoot & easily multitasked into a teepee (or other ) configuration for over nite rest periods.
    Happy prepping!

  8. Very good information. After years of mountain camping, hunting trips by backpacking, and living in the outdoors, I totally agree that few people can handle wilderness living. I think even relocation to a civilized area that is strange to us is a risk. Stay with your resources until all has failed. But, if children are involved, the detriment always outways the benefit, even in normal situations. I remember the first survivalist genre material I ever read was by an individual named Ragnor Benson. His one mantra was ” never make yourself a refugee “. I’ve never forgotten it, but I still keep a good bag ready and a place to go of my own choosing.

  9. After hearing from people who had to evacuate from Redding, CA this week, it is advisable to bug-out with a lot more than just a 72 hr kit. On average, it will take at least two weeks for civil authorities to give the OK to return(?) or even view their property in the emergency declaration area.

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