As I began to seriously build our bug out bags (gathering a few supplies does not constitute a BOB), I was overwhelmed by the lists and lists I found on many websites (see Resources below).
I was well aware that this kit/bag needed to contain enough basics to survive for a minimum of 72 hours. I also understood that all of it had to be at least a little bit organized, then squeezed into some kind of portable container small enough to carry (depending on how many pounds each person can carry) but not so small that it wouldn't hold all we needed.
First, I laid out our meager supplies on the floor.
Then I began gathering lists from various places to give me some ideas for items we might need. To help me customize the lists for our needs, I made a list of possible scenarios or disasters that "could" happen in our particular area that would force us to leave home with bags in tow.
There are many situations where we might need a bug out bag (not just during a disaster). For instance, what if we were out in the middle of no where and the car broke down. Or what if we're out for a day of hiking and a child falls and needs first aid. I would want a BOB in my car for times like that.
I read that we shouldn't wait until we have the perfect container to start the BOB, but to begin by assembling the items and then find a container to hold everything.
Then I read that we should find a container (backpack, suitcase, tub with wheels), that we are able to carry or pull. This would be based on our size and weight, strength, back issues or not, and age.
Another really good way to get started is to purchase a basic emergency kit online from a preparedness store. They have inexpensive ones with just the basics, all the way up to everything you might need, if you just want to cut through to "done".
Which ever way you choose to start is up to you — just do start! I chose to gather a few supplies and then when I discovered that the backpacks we already had were not going to hold everything, I went shopping for a better one to suit our needs.
My first criteria for a container is that it must be portable. Waterproof would be good also.
I looked at many back packs, and considering the long lists of things to put in the BOBs, I looked for packs with lots of pockets to help me be more organized.
Having many pockets helps to separate items by categories or usage. For instance, one pocket could hold all the cooking supplies, one could hold ponchos and space blankets for shelter. (You get the idea.)
I needed to be able to find items and my mind remembers better if there's a bit of organization.
Next, I wanted one with M.O.L.L.E. (Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment) capabilities to attach additional pouches if necessary.
Other features that appealed to me were the water bladder pocket, a mesh pocket, 3 handles, 2 back straps that can be hidden inside, and M.O.L.L.E straps in the front and at the bottom.
When planning the contents of your 72-hour kit, remember that this is only for three days max, so don't over pack.
You can buy basic, inexpensive pre-filled kits for each family member that has most of what is needed to sustain one person for 72 hours, including items for warmth and shelter, heat and light, food and water, personal hygiene, a first aid kit, and even a nylon tote bag to neatly contain everything.
You can also purchase more extensive kits that include just about everything except a change of personal clothing (which you could add).
Calories are the fuel that gives us energy which keeps our bodies functioning. We can go a couple of weeks without food but it sure wouldn't be fun.
There are plenty of options but it's best to choose foods that need no preparation - no cooking, no mixing, not even dishes or utensils. Try to aim for 2,000 calories per person (adults) per day and approximately 1,200 for small children.
Freeze dried foods are easy - just mix some warm water (or cold works too) to rehydrate and then eat it. However, I opted not to use the individual pouches as they take up too much room in the pack. Plus, if there isn't time to heat water or I don't have a spoon or fork, I want something I can just open and eat. But they are still a good option and can easily be rehydrated.
It's best to eat as healthy as possible. Whole grains, nuts, etc. will keep energy level and provide the necessary fats, proteins, and nutrients needed during stressful times.
More than any other part of the B.O.B., the food needs to be rotated. Check your pack and rotate as necessary at least every 6 months.
Here's a sampling of possible foods for a three-day supply, per person, when no refrigeration or cooking is available.
Water can be quite heavy so how much should we put into our packs? A minimum would be about 16 ounces per day, per person depending on the weight of your pack. A quart canteen is also a good item to have (and can attach to a M.O.L.L.E. pack). This is barely enough water for drinking so you will need a way to purify extra water.
Since we can't carry as much water as we may need, the next best thing is to have a way to purify water that may be in a pond, river, lake or other source close by.
There are several ways to purify water, the most basic being to boil it, which requires building a fire or having some kind of stove.
Some options that will save having to make a fire:
There are a variety of water filters and sizes to choose from.
When talking about shelter and warmth, keep in mind that the items are only for a temporary emergency situation, must fit in your pack, and can't be too heavy or bulky.
The supplies needed for shelter and warmth should be geared to the area where you live or will evacuate to. For instance, I live in Utah where we have four seasons; therefore, I need to pack my kit with all four seasons in mind.
That means we need a lightweight tent, a large poncho or space blanket, and some kind of lightweight sleeping bag. Also pack a change of clothing - flannel shirt, sweatshirt, hat, and gloves if you live in a 4-season area.
Because we're trying to make our packs as lightweight as possible, it may be necessary to buy some new items even if you already own tents and sleeping bags.
A lightweight tent (often called a tube tent) from an emergency supply store is inexpensive - runs about $6-$8. They are extremely lightweight and not sturdy enough to use more than a couple of times unless you're very careful with them. But they will work just fine in an emergency. They're about 8 feet long and are reported to sleep two. I would say they will sleep two small people or one big and one small (mother and child, dad and child).
The same applies to sleeping bags - heavy ones are not for a bug-out-bag. Some sleeping bags meant for backpackers are pretty lightweight and would work if you feel they don't add too much weight to your pack. Otherwise, buy an inexpensive survival sleeping bag (about $7-$14), then pack a lightweight fleece blanket for more warmth.
It's also good to have several space blankets. They really do keep you warm even though they seem really thin. There are also some that are lined with a polyester film to help retain body warmth. These cost about $3-$5.
There are many places to find these inexpensive items, such as Walmart, any preparedness store, and sporting/camping stores. If there is an Army-Navy surplus store in your area, they have lots of great supplies, usually at reasonable prices.
Suggestions for each B.O.B.:
You may not need everything on this list. Decide what works for your area and the weight of your bag.
Remember this IS a bug-out-bag, so don't over pack. The items listed below are only suggestions so pack only what you think you will need and only as much as each person can carry.
There are many options for small stoves to heat water for a freeze-dried meal, a warm cup of coffee or chocolate, or an MRE.
For a 72-hour kit, a stove needs to be lightweight and as small as possible. The simple stove that folds flat would be perfect.
The versatility of a stove like this is that you can use the fuel disks (even pieces of them), wood sticks, or charcoal briquettes. Use it as shown for larger pans, turn it over for smaller pans, or close the top for grilling.
Don't forget some kind of pan or metal cup to use for heating foods or water.
Most of these items are pretty common and can be purchased at a sporting and camping store, Army/Navy Surplus store, and even Walmart.
When gathering tools and equipment, keep in mind that the items are only for a temporary emergency situation, that they must fit in your pack, and can't be too heavy or bulky. Look for small versions of items when appropriate.
Some of these tools will not be necessary in the kits of every family member. For instance: you would not need a hatchet in a child's kit, nor probably any super glue.
Most of tools and equipment on this list should go into Mom and Dad's packs, with certain small items in a child's pack, such as a survival whistle.
These tools and equipment items could possibly be the most expensive items in your 72-hour kits, unless you already happen to have many of them already.
For a more extensive list: Download a Tools & Equipment Supplies Checklist
When choosing what personal supplies to incorporate into your B.O.B., use small sizes, and only what you think you will need in a 72-hour period. Otherwise, the bag will get too heavy and too full.
A first aid kit is the most important personal item. Try to find one that comes in a soft-sided container with at least 60 different items. Or you can buy items one at a time, however, I believe it's less expensive to just buy a kit.
The other personal items are . . . well, they're personal. And since they are personal, pack what fits your area and lifestyle. You probably have most of these items around your house or can be purchased at the grocery store, Walmart, camping store, Army/Navy store, or emergency preparedness store.
Download a Personal Supplies Checklist
Personal documents for your 72-hour kit can be a challenge, depending on how many documents you might need. Hopefully, you have already assembled a family planner and gathered all important documents into a binder of some kind. That will make this part easier.
Download: The Complete Family Emergency Planner (eBook)
Take your now completed 72-hour kit for a test drive. Take it camping and use it, or create a test run for the whole family. Make sure everyone knows how to use each item and that each item works as it should.
If you actually take it on a short camping trip, not taking any other camping equipment besides your bug-out-bag, you will know for sure that you have what you need and that everything works.
Personalize this 72 hour kit list for your family. Add or subtract according to likes, dislikes, and needs of each person.
The Red Cross: redcross.org/prepare/location/home-family/get-kit