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44 bug out bag list must haves

The worst has happened. You and your family are no longer safe in your home, and it’s time to bug out and head to your safe place. Being ready to go at a moment’s notice is of the utmost importance. Having a bug out bag or go bag packed will get you going fast as possible.
Putting together your bag with everything you need in advance may be the difference between life and death.Although these are basics, this is not an ultimate hardcore bare bones survival kit. This bug out bag list is for the average joe and his family, with a little bit of comfort added in.

Remember that only you know what’s on your bug out bag list

Every bug out plan is individual, and every bug out bag list will be too. Your go bag in the Northeast when heading into the mountains in the winter is very different from the bug out bag checklist if you’re planning to head into the desert in the Southwest in the summer. These bug out bag contents will cover the basics and you can add to this checklist as needed.

Here’s a list of basics that should be in every bug out bag.

  • Water
  • Food
  • Clothing
  • Shelter
  • First Aid
  • Fire Starters & Tinder
  • Basic Tools
  • Navigation & Communication aids
  • Currency & Documents
  • Protection / Self Defense

When buying for your bug out bag, the first thing you think of, your backpack, is the last thing you should buy. Collect up all of the items on your bug out bag list, and then make sure your backpack is big enough to fit everything. The last thing you want is to have to keep things out of your backpack because you bought one that is too small.


Nalgene or stainless steel water bottle

There’s always a debate on whether stainless steel or Nalgene is best for water bottles. Pick the one you like and that works best for your environment. Stainless steel water bottles freeze faster, but in a pinch you can boil water in it. Nalgene is lighter but warms faster. Most bug out bags will have pockets that fit taller, thinner bottles, but there’s no reason you can’t hang a canteen off of your backpack. More often than not we only use our water bottles for reheating meals, instead relying on our hydration bladders to keep us hydrated.

Hydration bladder

Whatever you do, make sure you can carry enough water to get through the day. Staying hydrated is the single most important piece of advice for survival; the general suggestion is 3 liters of water per person if hiking. Carrying and filling 3 water bottles may work, but is cumbersome and smaller containers will freeze or heat up faster. We strongly recommend your bug out bag list has a hydration bladder that fits within your bug out backpack with a tube that attaches to the shoulder strap. This will let you stay hydrated while on the go, as you don’t have to stop to drink.


Lifestraw personal water filter survival gear for bug out bag list

Easily one of if not the most important items on your bug out bag list, Lifestraw takes virtually no space but will literally save your life. It’s a straw shaped water filter that removes effectively all (99.99%+) viruses, bacteria and protozoa from up to 1000 liters of any fresh water source without chemicals, batteries or moving parts. In addition to having one Lifestraw in each bag for my family, we have one 12 liter Lifestraw Mission that we use to refill our hydration bladders and water bottles. The Lifestraw Mission is a 12 Liter, gravity fed water filter that can filter up to 18,000 liters of water- at 3 liters a day per person, that’s nearly 5 years of clean water for a family of 4. Lifestraw is an absolute must have for your bug out bag, and at just $20, it’s too cheap to skip.


Protein / Meal replacement bars

You’re looking for compact calories here, not something that fits the latest fad diet. Easy to eat on the go, Protein bars will help fill the energy needs between meals. Protein bars should have (obviously) lots of protein to feed your muscles and plenty of carbs for energy. One of our favorites is MetRx Big 100 bars

MRE / dehydrated meals

Man, I hate MREs (except for the McRib and Chili Mac those are pretty good). MREs are great for their intended use, getting lots of calories out to soldiers in the field where they’ll be eaten fairly quickly. The short shelf life just doesn’t make them viable for emergency preparedness. At normal temps, they’re only fresh for 3 years and there have been multiple food poisonings from old MREs. Mountain House has some really good meals that have a 30 year shelf life and taste guarantee and just need hot water added to them- much better for survival and bug out. Each of our bug out bags contains the contents of one Just in Case kit, an assortment of 12 meals, enough for 3 1/2 days,  and our vehicle has 2 kits in it as well

Cooking Vessels

The last thing you want to do when the time comes to bug out is to be rummaging through the cabinets for a pot to boil water and make meals in. This isn’t the place for that 7 pound cast iron pan or the huge lobster pot- think small, compact, foldable and easily carried. This Mess Kit has 2 pots, bowls, spoons and is still light enough to hang off of your pack.

Camping Stove

You’re not going to want to be dragging a full size grill around with you when things go bad, and you won’t need anything elaborate since you’re not going to be bringing fresh food. You just need something to boil water in an emergency, warm meals and pack down small. This camping stove is perfect, allowing you to use stove fuel, pine cones, wood or paper as fuel.

Think Small, Pack Small

One of the patterns you’ll see in our bug out bag list is that packing down small is key. If your bug out bag contens collapse (and assemble quickly and securely) it’s a bonus, if your survival gear can serve more than one purpose as well as 2 separate items, that’s an even bigger bonus . The best bug out bag has the smallest possible footprint. A small footprint mean a faster hike, a faster hike means you get to your safe house faster.

Stove Fuel

Although you can reconstitute the Mountain House meals with unheated water, it’ll be much faster with hot water. Boiling water is a big plus for sterilization, desalinization or drinking water. You’ll need something to fuel your camping stove if brush or pine cones are in short supply. We carry RedFuel pucks and solid fuel pills


The best advice here is to think and dress like an alpine climber. Base layers will moderate body temperature in both hot and cold climates, wick sweat away, and minimize UV exposure, soft shell layers will add warmth when necessary, storm layers will keep you dry and warm and booster layers are needed for the coldest bug out scenarios. One of the biggest threats in the wilderness is wet clothes. They chafe, they slow you down and they bring on the real threat of hypothermia, which can occur at temperatures as high as 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Base Layer Top & Bottom-

The perfect base layer is lightweight and relatively tight to the skin. If you’re bugging out in warmer climates you will want to stay away from black as this will be your daytime walking layer and will attract the sun. Snowy climate preppers should consider a heavier option. Underarmour has a wide range of base layers for everyone’s bug out bag, regardless of climate.

Soft Shell layer

A fleece jacket adds warmth, helps cut wind and packs down easily. In cooler climates, this might be your go to layer,

Storm layer

When the weather hits hard, this layer is going to keep you dry and warm. Your storm layer should be lightweight, pack easily and be weather proof and windproof. Depending on your climate, this storm layer might be just a poncho, or it could be an alpine shell.


Wool socks. Period. Full Stop. Regardless of climate, you should have merino wool socks on your bug out bag list. Yes, they’ll keep your feet warm in the old, but they also wick sweat and help keep your feet cool in the summer. I daily wear Smartwool urban hikers in the summer and Thorlo Light Hikers in the winter.


A great pair of boots are bug out bag essentials. Your feet, shins, knees and hips will thank you. I swear by Salomon’s Quest 4d GTX boots because they fit my foot so perfectly that I barely need to break them in. Boots are incredibly personal though, what works for me might not work for you.

Head Cover

Every survival bag should have a bandana in it. Lightweight and easy to pack, bandanas have about 100 uses that make them bug out bag essentials. You should have a wide brimmed hat to keep the sun off your face and neck as well.



I’m not quite sure where they find the miniature sized people they use to measure tent capacity. A 2 person tent is definitely too small to comfortably fit 2 people. A 4 person tent is better for 2 people. A family of 4 might need an 8 person tent.

Sleeping bag

You’ll want to match your sleeping bag to the environment your bug out plan will bring you into. If you’re heading into the mountains in the winter, you’ll need a more extreme sleeping bag.  If you’re heading to an island in the Florida Keys, you might only need a Mylar blanket. As usual, only you know what bug out bag items should be on your list.


Tarps are great for ground cover beneath your tent, and can be used to quickly make a lean to that can shade you from the rain, wind or sun.

First Aid

Most premade first aid kits aren’t suited for wilderness survival, but this Fist aid kit is pretty good for the basics. You should really pack your own based on your own personal survival plan. We will update this in the future when we post our building a wilderness survival first aid kit blog post.

Personal Care


Remember those boots I told you to break in? I know, you didn’t. Nothing will slow your bug out more than blisters. Moleskin, an adhesive fabric will protect your feet, shoulders and fingers from blisters. Buy it in a roll and cut it off as needed, saving space and dollars. Put this on your bug out bag list and you’ll thank me later.


Tampons take up less space than panty liners, and have one additional life saving advantage that makes them a must on our bug out bag list. In case of a deep puncture wound, tampons can be inserted into the wound to slow blood loss. Guys, even if you’re bugging out alone, having a couple tampons in your go bag is still a good idea. At the very least tampons will be in demand from less prepared survivalists and could be used for trade.

Insect Repellant

Because bugs suck and they’re a nuisance.

Toilet paper

I’ve kind of waffled on having toilet paper in my bug out bag list, but I now keep a roll in my go bag. If needed, toilet paper can be used as tinder to light kindling or start a fire in your camping stove.


The best advice when it comes to fire starters is backups, backups, backups. We carry more fire starters in our bug out bag than any other item, that’s how important fire is. Whether cooking, drying wet clothes, warming your body, heating rocks for long term warmth or boiling water for sterilization, fire is a necessity. Our bug out bag checklist has 4 main firestarters.


Blue tip, strike anywhere matches are the only way to go. You don’t want to be worrying about wet or worn striker plates, you can even light these with your finger tip.

Zippo Lighter

Magnesium Fire Starter

When it’s too windy for matches or a lighter, a fire starter will be one of the most important items on your bug out bag list. striking the fire starter will throw sparks that you can use to

Bic camping lighter

Tinder is just as important as fire starters. Lighting larger logs and fuel sources requires a smaller fire to get them roaring

Live fire

A small altoid tin style tinder. You can start a fire with just a spark, light your fire or kindling and recap it to use again later. Live Fire is great to use on windy or wet days.

Dryer Lint

A lightweight, free, fast burning tinder, keep a ziploc bag of dryer lint in your bug out bag and you won’t be disappointed. Dryer lint is best used on dry days with no wind, allowing you to save up your Live Fire for another day.

We also use chunks of our RedFuel pucks as tinder, saving the small pieces that break off when we cut them. Learning how to make a feather stick and split logs with your survival knife will provide you even more sources of tinder.


There’s a real opportunity to overload on tools, but this is where you’ll want to show some restraint. Do you need a machete in the mountains? Do you need to carry a full set of climbing gear if you’re going to bug out in the desert? This is where knowing and planning your bug out bag list for your own individual survival plan is really important. There are some basics that we think should be in every bug out bag. When planning your survival gear, remember ounces equal pounds. pounds equal pain.

Survival Knife

survival knife for your bug out bag list

You don’t need a giant Rambo style knife. Something small enough to attach to your backpack strap, but large enough to use to split kindling from a log will do. Opt for a tanto style tip and you’ll be able to use it as a pick, pry bar or chisel. Tanto blades are among the toughest blade designs, and that makes them a perfect addition to your bug out bag list. The full tang design of this Benchmade Nimravus mean it’s nearly indestructible, and worth paying a little extra for the legendary Benchmade quality.


Paracord is like duct tape, you’ll never run out of uses for it. Here are just a few ways you can use this incredible cord.

  • Lashing down items
  • Hanging food bags from trees
  • Repairing broken equipment
  • Make a splint
  • Lower bags off a cliff to descend more easily
  • Make a tourniquet

You can also use the internal strands as fishing wire, sutures or dental floss. You’ll want to carry at least 50 feet, but 100 is better if you’re traveling with more than one in your party. We carry a short length of a very bright color that can be used to signal others if necessary.


Just like paracord, you’ll find hundreds of ways to use carabiners. You can hang gear off your bug out bag from them or pitch a makeshift tent with a tarp and some paracord. You can make a rudimentary pulley system with them, and use them with paracord to rappel in a pinch. Carabiners are great for getting your survival food kit up off the ground and away from critters. Don’t skimp out and buy the toys they sell at the home supply store, you want to buy real, climbing worthy carabiners. If you ever have to use them to lift a loved one out of a ravine or step back off a 20 foot cliff relying on one, you’ll thank me. Here’s a 5 pack of UIAA certified carabiners for less than 40 bucks that’ll be a perfect addition to your bug out bag list.

Duct Tape

Everyone knows that Duct tape and the millions of ways it can be used. Keep a roll in your bug out bag and you’ll be guaranteed to need it eventually.

Folding Shovel

This one from Gerber folds up really compact and can be used in multiple ways- something we love in all of the items on our bug out bag list. Gerber E-Tool Folding Spade, Serrated Edge

Multi Tool

Everybody’s got one, you don’t need one that does 962 different things. Pliers, knife, can opener, everything else is just fluff and wasted space.


Redundancy is key. Carry a bunch of lighting sources and you’ll never regret it. A head lamp will let you keep your hands free while you move at night, and a couple LED flashlights will help cut the dark while you’re at camp. Skip the giant 4d Mag light, today’s small LED lights throw nearly the same amount of light at a fraction of the size and weight.

Communication & Navigation

Topographical Map that covers your route


2 Way Radios

If you’re travelling with others, a set of 2 way radios can be helpful when you have to split up. If you’re filling hydration packs while your party is at camp, with 2 way radios you can reach out and alert the other party of danger. You aren’t going to get 32 miles of range out of them as advertised, but you will get a mile or 2. That should be plenty, because your party should stick together as much as possible.

AM/FM/WB Radio

This one from iRosnow is perfect iRosnow 088+ AM/FM/WB radio. Some bug out bag lists will have you packing a separate crank charger for your phone, but if things go really bad your cell phone will be useless. Giving up bag space for a dynamo based charger that barely charges (2 minutes of crank for 1 minute of talk time- terrible!) is foolish. Just buy the radio with a charger in it. If your bug out plan involves travelling in a vehicle you’ve got DC power with you, so charge as you go. That said, a small lipstick charger like this tiny one from Anker won’t take up much space and is good insurance for a full charge if you have to ditch your vehicle. One per family should be plenty.

A Hand Held Mirror

No, not to check yourself out, mirrors can be used to signal rescue vehicles and other survivors. In a pinch, you can use a mirror to gain field awareness without exposing yourself to danger.

Currency & Documents


$500 in small bills just in case. Understand that in certain scenarios cash may be nothing more than paper and ATMs may be empty, so don’t rely on paper money as a staple of your bug out bag list.

Gold / Silver

Gold and silver will always have value, regardless of whether currency hyperinflates or in the worst case is no longer accepted. You can barter with gold for the things you need to continue your survival trek. Carrying gold bullion, rounds or silver coins will be an invaluable asset if you have to bug out.

ID & Passport

Hopefully you’ll be able to return to what’s left of society once the threat that caused you to bug out passes. You’re going to want to be able to reclaim whatever advantage your identity can provide, and without your identification you may not be able to. Throw it in your bag and be safe just in case.

Self Defense

You’re definitely going to want to consider self defense when making your bug out bag list- in the worst case scenario, you’ll have to fight survivors and wild animals for your life.  Some might be comfortable carrying a rifle, others may choose a handgun while others prefer the agility that pepper spray allows them. Whatever you decide to carry, make sure you bring enough ammunition. Consider carrying bear spray if you’re heading into the wilderness as it’s the best defense against some of the biggest predators.

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