The types of bags typically employed as Bug Out Bags are:
- Backpack – A Bug Out Backpack can be anything from a schoolbook bag to a tactical assault type bag. This category has the widest options and is the most frequently used as it has a good balance of size and variety. This is optimal for 1-2 people or if you are bugging out with a party of adults whom can each carry their own survival supplies.
- Duffel Bag – These generally are a greater volume than a backpack but lack the ease of carrying. This is a good option if you are planning on bugging out in a vehicle and have a destination in mind such as a second home or designated camp. You would not want to have to carry this type of bag for an extended period over uneven ground.
- Hiking Pack – This combines the best characteristics of a backpack and duffel bag being that it will have a large volume and ergonomic carrying options. You will be able to carry much more survival gear in one of these than in a backpack which is important if you are evacuating with a family.
No matter what type of bag you decide on the most important factors to consider are:
1. Comfort and Fit – You may be humping your Bug Out Bag for days on end. You need something that you can wear comfortably and that will limit your movement by causing you discomfort. Pay attention to the following features when looking at a candidate bag:
- Does the bag have hip straps and hip padding – This is the single most important thing when looking at a bag for comfort and fit, which is something that is not understood by someone who has not humped a heavy bag over long distances. Hip support straps snug the pack tightly to your hips allowing the weight to be hauled by the strong muscles in your thighs and hips rather than balancing the load on your shoulders. This improves balance by lowering the center of gravity and saves your back and shoulders from bearing the weight. It is a great deal easier to carry a heavy load in this way,
- Width of straps – Are the straps made of narrow webbing that is going to dig into your shoulders and hips or is it wide with a lot of padding to cushion the attachment to your body? I reiterate: you have the potential to carry everything you need to survive over long distances, if you are hobbled by discomfort you will not be able to travel as fast or far.
- Does it have a sternum clip – This allows you to secure the shoulder straps to a comfortable position and uses the bony part of your chest as a counterbalance to the backward leaning force of the bag.
- Does the bag allow for airflow on my back or does it sit flush – Walking all day with a sweaty back can lead to discomfort and chafing. Most quality bags come with channels or webbing in the part of the pack that faces your back. These allow for air flow to minimize this.
- Are there any hard elements within the bag that may rub or poke into you – Some bags have rigid frames or hard plastic bits to help them retain their shape or to allow you to strap things to them. They do not need to be avoided as a whole but they are a factor to consider when choosing one. I once ignored this when choosing a hiking pack that had a metal frame right at the height of the back of my head. This caused me to have to lean slightly forward or bang my head… for miles. Please do not make the same mistake.
- Is the bag designed for a particular gender – Many bags come in male and female options. These have the straps cut and shaped in particular ways that make them better fitting for their designated gender’s body types.
- Are the straps and clips adjustable – Most better packs include many customization options so that you can get your pack sitting juuuuust right. This leads to greater comfort and economy of movement when carrying the bag which translates to you being able to move as far and fast as possible. In a bug out situation this equals greater probability of survival.
- Volume and Mass – How much space do you want in your Bug Out Backpack? This is determined by:
- How many people are you carrying survival supplies for? Will you be bugging out by yourself or with a family in tow?
- Do you plan on packing your Bug Out Bag with everything and the kitchen sink or bare essentials?
- The more you pack, the larger volume bag you will need and the more weight you will have to carry on your back. It is one of the most important trade offs you will have to consider.
- I prefer sticking to Bug Out Bag Essentials rather than bringing everything under the sun and then scavenging and improvising on the way. Multi function items are a godsend in getting the most from your gear in this regard.
3. Accessibility – So now know that you want the perfect fitting bag that carries the right amount of survival supplies, great job! Let’s take into consideration the options for how we will be compartmentalizing the gear and accessing it.
If you have a decent sized list of bug out equipment you will have a wide variety of sizes, shapes and utility. Putting this all in one large compartment is a formula for inefficiency and frustration. Imagine you have slipped and cut yourself and now need to dig through all your clothes, tools, and rations to get to your medkit. Not good.
What we want for an efficient bag is one large compartment to store general items and several separate, smaller compartments for storing smaller sub groups of items. Most modern bags have multiple compartments and options to attach small satellite bags. This is ideal. Prior to packing you will want to organize your gear with these compartments in mind. It is best to put larger items in the main compartment and smaller ones in the secondary pouches, organized by item type. This will make finding things in a hurry much easier and your Bug Out Bag more useful overall.
4. Useful Features – So you have your Bug Out Backpack that meets your basic needs, what are the best advanced features you should be looking for that will increase your chances of survival while bugging out?
- Hydration Bladder Compatibility – Integration of a hydration system such as a Camelbak is a huge bonus to any bag. This makes it far easier to carry large amounts of water over long distances. As you will be exerting yourself keeping properly hydrated is crucial to keep you moving as fast and as far as possible.
- Rain Hood – Many bags come with a rain cover integrated within. This is usually tucked away into a velcro compartment and then pulled out and over the bag when needed. This will keep your gear dry and preserve it optimally for when you need it.
- MOLLE compatibility – MOLLE (pronounced “molly”) is an acronym for Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment. It is used to define the current generation of load-bearing equipment and packs utilized by a variety of armed forces. This widespread use means that there are a HUGE number of compatible options for adding accessories to a MOLLE compatible bag. Items that use MOLLE include tool sheaths, pouches, hydration bladders, and medkits.
There are a large number of packs that meet the requirements laid out above. Hopefully you have taken away from this discussion the elements that you need to look for in finding a Bug Out Bag that is most suitable for you. This is an important step in your disaster preparedness journey and getting it right make a huge improvement in your ability to bug out when the unforeseen strikes.