Some things to think about: an addendum to the original concept of this thread ~Added 12-29-2011
I wrote the original entry to this post back in 2005 and while everything is still relevant, the preparedness community has grown quite a bit since then and I think some thing we all took for granted when we first started along the preparedness path however years ago need to be stated explicitly now. Not everything in the added section below was self-evident or obvious to me when I first started preparing and I think that a lot of people think about the big end of the world and go live in the woods scenario and ignore more common, shit just happened and now I need to get to grandma's house events. In my experience, many people start out thinking that they're going to bug out to the woods and then figure out later that year that December in the Northeast is an impossible 'out' scenario without a bunch of specialized cold weather gear and training and wouldn't even be needed for most of the likely events that we'd encounter and could reasonably handle up here. Most people will end up bugging-in at a man-made structure instead of actually running to the hills.
If you're bugging-in (even if part of that plan requires you to travel to your actual bug-in location), then you need guns and ammo to provide security en-route. Don't go overboard here (it's easy to do if you like guns). One handgun and 1-3 mags and one primary long arm (semi-auto rifle or shotgun - preferably a rifle) with 6-10 magazines and a way to carry them (satchel/messenger pack, bandolier, Load-Bearing Vest and so on). Carry the most important spare rifle parts (firing pin, bolt, whatever is prone to breaking in your gun).
You need a map or multiple maps depending on your potential routes and how close you are to bordering states. Street level maps of nearby cities would also be helpful.
You'll need enough fuel in your vehicle to get you there (store fuel in fuel cans and have them handy). Know your primary bug-in locations and their distances from each other and your usual haunts (work, girlfriend's house and anywhere else you spend significant time at). Know the MPG of your vehicle/s. Take 15-20% off of that and then round down to the nearest MPG to compensate for weighing the vehicle down with supplies. If your truck gets 18MPG highway, then figure it getting 14MPG (20% of 18 = 3.6, that subtracted from 18 = 14.4 and rounds down to 14). Take the longest distance between any of the points on your list (from work to bug-in location #2, for example) and divide that by your adjusted MPG and round that up to the nearest whole number. So if that distance is 200 miles, then you'll need a minimum of 15 gallons of gas (14.28 rounded up). Add 2.5 to 5 gallons for contingencies or rerouting.
You'll need water (tor drink and clean wounds, fill a vehicle radiator and so on) and basic medical supplies (gauze, bandages, ace wraps etc...). Do not buy anything you that don't know how to use like a nasopharyngeal airway tool or an IV kit. Unless you're going to be hiking to remote locations, you can skip spending a bunch of money on a top of the line pack (or upgrading the one you have lying around) like most of us would like to when starting out and take some basic first aid classes; THEN buy more medical supplies if you know how to use more than you have. Knowing how to heal is at least as important as knowing how to shoot (and likely more so). As for water, carry as much as you possibly can. I'd suggest 120oz or a gallon per person for each day you expect to travel plus an extra 120oz/gallon (again, per person). You could do with less, but if you're in a vehicle why would you? This along with the fuel requirements help to keep your plans reasonable. If your initial plan is to travel 650 miles, then you're going to need a lot of storage space for fuel and water alone and this might make you consider something a little closer and more reasonable given your means and abilities. You should have a water source/store at your bug-in location (even if this is just access to a stream and a good water filter).
Medication is a tough subject, but again, I'd suggest taking only what you know you can use or need to. Things like common pain relievers (aspirin, Aleve, Ibuprofen etc…) and any OTC maintenance medication you regularly need (acid reducers, allergy medicines, supplements for low iron etc…). For prescriptions, you have 3 or 4 options. 1 is to use an OTC as an emergency source, if possible. If you take prescription allergy medications, sometimes OTC doses can at least lessen your symptoms and will do in an emergency if you forget or lose your prescribed medicine. 2. You could tell your doctor that you need some extra of your medicine for an emergency supply (try not to sound like the survivalist stereotype and more like a Boy Scout). 3. You could order your medicines through mail-order plans that give you 90-day supplies and make sure to keep on top of it so you have a few days/weeks in your kit that you rotate out every time you get a new shipment. 4. If none of those options work for you, then you can tell your doctor that your medicine was lost in a freak boating mishap, stolen or has otherwise gone MIA. Some medicines like pain killers, depressants, muscle relaxers and Selective estrogen receptor modulators (breast cancer meds that are popular with those who use steroids for muscle gain to combat related side-effects) might be tough and require a bit of convincing, but blood pressure, cholesterol, heart or similar medicines shouldn't be much of an issue. Note that I am not a law enforcement officer, a lawyer or in a position to know for certain the legality or illegality of the latter option, employ at your own risk. Also, things like spare prescription eyeglasses fall under this category.
Food should be a small issue (you should have a source stored at you bug-in location/s). For trips that should be less than 3 days, food choice isn't a huge deal as the human body can adapt pretty easily to a poor diet for a few days. Keep enough to keep you fed. I'd suggest beef jerky, cans/pouches of tuna fish or chicken, peanut butter and nuts (almonds, walnuts, peanuts) as staple foods at the very least. All are good sources of protein and fats (both are essential). Having a comfort food (for most of us, that means carbs) is a good option here as it will help you deal with the stress of whatever event is forcing you to bug out. I have rice and dehydrated vegetables/chicken stock/potatoes and a small alcohol stove for my carbs/starches, but a 4-5 cans of Pringles or a small alcohol stove and Ramen noodles would work just as well for a few days.
You'll need a couple of good light sources and spare batteries. Keep a high powered small light for carry one your person and then at least 1 larger light that stays in your primary vehicle. Keep an extra set of batteries for each light you have (more than 1 spare set is likely overkill).
You'll need a primary cutting tool aside from your smaller EDC knife. Get a good fixed blade knife, one that can be used for combat and general utility. I like a 4.75" - 6" blade size myself, but opinions can and will vary. A multi-tool and a small vehicle tool set should also be considered.
You should have 1 WARM blanket or sleeping bag per person, plus 1 extra blanket (to lay on or cover up with in extreme cold). Wool blankets can be cheap (surplus) and warm provided you have some form of shelter along the way (you could sleep in your car if you have to). You could go with sleeping pads, tents and sleeping bags as an option as well, and this will also allow you to be more comfortable should you need to sleep off of the beaten path (vehicles parked on the side of the road or close to it may attract people that you might want to avoid).
Keep a spare credit card with a reasonable limit (enough to stay in a cheap hotel for a week or so or buy necessities) if you have the credit rating. Keep some spare cash on hand as well (amount is up to you, but I'd suggest $50-$100 for every person you think might be joining you under your responsibility (children, spouse/SO, family etc...).
Chargers or batteries for your necessity-level electronics (phone, laptop, tablet or whatever you deem to be a must-have and can-only-live-without-under-the-most-dire-of-circumstances).
This list could go on and on and there are undoubtedly some items specific to your circumstances that I haven't included or talked at length about (such as toys or games or kids to keep them occupied) that should be considered but are more situational and not really necessities per se. These are just things to keep in mind when planning your preparations, a small bag or kit with the essentials planned around the most likely and reasonable circumstances beats $250 packs with $1000 worth of super-cool specialized gear all day long (and twice come shit-hit-the-fan day)…and I say that as someone who has had and used all sorts of super-cool specialized gear through the years.
Having said all of that, bugging out is still a worthwhile scenario to plan for as in almost every case, any piece of bug-out-specific gear can be made useful for bugging in (with the added benefit of helping to facilitate your travels to more remote bug-in locations). Keep in mind that gear will never make up for a lack of knowledge, ability, determination and skill. You need all 4 of those things in order to effectively utilize most gear so don't waste your money buying and energy carrying stuff you don't know how to use or won't need unless something unthinkable happens. And even with all 4 of those qualities and the right gear, you'll still need a little luck and the occasional bout of intestinal fortitude necessary to eat bugs, worms, raw meat or poop in open spaces should the worst come to pass.Part I: Preparation H (Holy @%#$! It's Hitting the Fan!) - A Primer on Survival and Preparedness
There are a number of reasons why survival and preparedness is on the minds of many as of late. Whether it be the events in New Orleans surrounding the landfall of hurricane Katrina, fears of terrorist attacks due to the events of September 11th, 2001, the memory of the L.A. Riots after the Rodney King trial, concerns over the toll a financial meltdown in the United States would take on civilization or a general concern of civil unrest for whatever reason, the topic of survival is as much of a hot topic right now as it has ever been. Whether your concerns revolve around any of the above scenarios, mutant zombie hoards
or an alien bug invasion
; being prepared is not that difficult, provided you know what to prepare for and how to equip yourself to survive. In most cases, one can benefit from even a small amount of preparation and the knowledge that what normally “can't happen here” can and does wherever it sees fit to happen, which isn't necessarily when you're ready for it to. So what exactly are we preparing for? Well, in my mind, I break it down into 3 categories of survival events:Emergency
:: - A serious situation where you would find yourself in an immediate instance of distress or danger possibly requiring a response or action using only what you normally have with you on a day to day basis. Examples of such situations would be shopping in a store when an armed robbery takes place or being the victim of a particularly violent physical or sexual assault. These situations are often rather unpredictable and it is difficult to safeguard against them aside from never leaving your own home. And of course, sometimes, emergencies can take place inside your home (or perhaps even someone else’s home) and thus, your toolbox may include not only what you have on you, but also what you have in your home (firearms, other weapons, lights, phones etc). Such things as home invasions, prowlers, power outages, minor flooding, extreme temperatures or house or brush fires (on your property or anywhere in your immediate vicinity) could be included in this category. These situations typically last only a few minutes to a few hours and generally come with little or even no warning. Most emergencies can be mitigated, avoided or easily managed given a little thought and preparation. Things such as having smoke detectors in every room and making sure the batteries are good or having a good alarm system or a dog to guard against break-ins and home invasions, or perhaps avoiding shopping trips to areas with high crime, not walking alone at night in secluded places and trying to keep yourself out of confrontations or arguments while driving or out in public can all go a long way towards keeping you out of emergency situations. Of course, sometimes, despite your best efforts to avoid them, emergencies come to you. Even if you're not actually involved in the life-threatening event, you may still consider some specific situations as emergencies. If you see a car accident, perhaps your medical kit stashed in your car for your own personal survival may be of use if you use it in conjunction with that first aid training you took earlier in the year (of course, make sure you comply with all relevant laws when administering emergency care to others). Maybe you see a child being dragged into a car across the street, the tools you have with you, such as a phone, whistle, firearm, flashlight or anything else that can be put to use may be employed to save that child's life. There's very little that you can do to reduce the probability that someone other than you will find themselves in danger while in your presence, so even if we plan and prepare meticulously, there's no guarantee that we'll always be able to avoid danger or the need to employ our gear and skills.SHTF
:: Shit Hits The Fan
- A serious situation where you would find yourself in a short-term position of distress or danger such as a natural disaster (large-scale floods, blizzards, hurricanes, volcanoes etc…), small-scale rioting, civil unrest or small scale terrorist attacks. In some SHTF
scenarios you may either have to bunker down in your home (or someone else’s) or escape and evade the confines of society and head for the hills (i.e. bug out
). Typically, this situation would last only a short duration (3-5 days and definitely less than 30 days) but that does not preclude it from being especially dangerous on a personal level. SHTF
situations can escalate quickly, often come with little warning and can deteriorate very rapidly. TEOTWAWKI
:: The End OF The World As We Know It
– Situations with a severe and serious impact on a national or even global scale such as prolonged civil unrest, coordinated and persistent terrorist attacks, mass rioting or a state of war and moving on to nuclear destruction, climate shifts and ice ages; basically anything that has a societal or global impact and changes life and the world as we know it. This would typically be a rather long-term situation (30 days or more) forcing one from their home or into long-term distress and changing your way of life for an extended period of time.
Each of the above types of scenarios are not necessarily mutually exclusive in that what begins as or appears to be an emergency
can easily be or morph into a SHTF
scenario and then ultimately could move on to TEOTWAWKI
. For example, say you are in the DMV building downtown getting some paperwork done or perhaps standing in line for an exam when you notice a couple of men walk in together, stopping just before the metal detectors to confer with each other. Suppose that a black duffel bag is on the floor by each of their feet they are both wearing hats and sunglasses and acting a little suspicious. You take notice, but do not act on any instinct you have at the time about the situation. Suppose that without further warning, the two mysterious men pull automatic rifles from their bags and quickly begin killing people. Suppose further that they then begin to secure anyone they have not killed and take control of the area. This would be considered an emergency
situation to say the very least.
Now because you are prepared with both gear and skills, but also mindset, suppose that when the armed men are not looking in your direction, you quickly and quietly move to the exit nearest you (that you had already scoped out and made sure to stay close to when you walked in the door) to get out of the immediate area of danger. Things are about to take a turn for the worse however, because when you make it out of the building and onto the street you see that other buildings did not fare so well. Buildings are blown apart, crumbling and on fire; people are running and screaming everywhere and before you is a sea of terrified and injured citizens. Just then you hear another explosion…it’s time to head home or for the hills; otherwise known as the S
Suppose further that once you get to your home and bunker in or to your Bug out Bag
and into the hills, you encounter a group of men that look to be malnourished and dehydrated, they are carrying axes and one has a particularly large knife. You ask if you can help them and that’s when they demand that you to give them all of your water and food or they will kill you…you are now back in an emergency
situation. You manage to fend them off and while you are reloading your rifle magazines, you power up your hand held radio to find only one broadcast coming through; “The United States has suffered catastrophic terrorist attacks on sixty-seven major cities around the country, casualties are in the hundreds of thousands…the president has declared martial law and has deployed the Army and National Guard around the country…stay tuned for more updates…
”. You are now in what could very well be TEOTWAWKI
The point I am trying to illustrate is that these situations can be dynamic and may or may not escalate into another level of distress or situation. In a prepared mind, the key is to recognize when these things happen, and also when and if they escalate into something far worse than they started out as and take action and adjust your strategies accordingly.
While all three types of situations call for some of the same survival skills (avoidance, awareness and a willingness to meet force with force if necessary), there are some inherent differences.
While a SHTF
or even a TEOTWAWKI
situation emphasizes one to plan for what they will need, an emergency
situation emphasizes that one should plan to use what they may have by being aware of their surroundings both for tools and weapons or anything that can be used to avoid an attack and also for suspicious activity that might be the precursor for an emergency or dangerous situation.
You can only plan and equip yourself so well for most SHTF
situations because we can assume that we all have school, work or other social responsibilities and needs that would preclude carrying a rifle and a 3-day pack full of supplies around every time one leaves the house. For emergencies
, you plan around what you can carry; for the SHTF
, you carry what you can according to your situation, your plan and your physical capabilities.
For a general emergency
situation, you may be the intended victim of a sexual assault in the parking lot at night after work or you may be in a shopping mall looking for a gift for a friend. In each of these situations, the environment may dictate what types of tools you will have available to you. For example, you might have a license to carry a concealed firearm, but you are unable to carry your weapon while at work.
Since you cannot always dictate the environment in these instances, you may have to resort to a means of defense and survival in one instance that would not be available or even necessary to you in others. As an example, I routinely carry a firearm, I also carry a folding knife and usually a multi-tool as well as a cellular telephone pretty much everywhere I go; this is my general load-out for daily life. Now, I have rifles and a shotgun in my home in case of a home invasion, but out on the street I have to resort to using what I have at the time. In some cases we may not be able to carry a firearm, such as the example of being at work. I can still carry a knife and multi-tool, but if could not carry a gun, perhaps some OC spray would be in order, or perhaps a Taser if they were legal in the particular state I was in.
Because we can seldom carry all the proper tools with us during our daily lives, I put more emphasis on areas other than gear here. For instance, if you cannot carry a firearm at work, perhaps finding a well-lit area of the parking lot to leave your car in if you work after dark would be good preparation. Things such as being aware of your surroundings and making better choices about what situations you can be caught in are paramount here. Keep your eyes on what others are doing around you, make note of any suspicious activity, don’t go into particularly bad neighborhoods if you can avoid them and avoid confrontation whenever possible. If things look suspicious or don’t feel right, get out of there and if needed, reassess the situation from a distance.
Keeping the right mindset of awareness, avoidance, de-escalation and a willingness to respond if all other options fail are more important tools than the gun in your holster or the knife in your pocket when things go sour on you. If you follow this particular mantra, your chances of being caught in a situation of distress are greatly reduced, and if all else fails and you find yourself in a tough spot, you always have the ability to respond with what you have on you such as your knife, gun or cellular telephone, or what you can find around you such as the scissors on the counter at the convenience store or that loose brick on top of the wall next to where your dog did his business while you were out walking him. You can do this because you are aware of not only who
is around you and what they are doing, but what
is around you that you can use as a weapon or tool and how you can effectively use it.
that occur inside of your home, such as a home invasion, a house fire or a power outage in the neighborhood, you do not need to rely on what you can carry, you can use anything that you have set aside beforehand or simply happen to have at the time. Things like candles, flashlights and spare batteries, enough bottled water to last your family 3-4 weeks, a back-up generator, smoke alarms in every room with fresh batteries that are often checked, fire extinguishers, an alarm system, home defense firearms and plenty of dry and canned food can all be employed or set aside for use during or to avoid an emergency.
To further safe-guard against home invasion or robberies, keep your doors and windows locked, use an alarm system (there is a difference between simply having one and actually using it), get a dog, don’t brag about how much cash you have in the house or your firearms collection (common targets for theft by criminals), keep a firearm or two accessible at all times in order to be able to defend your life or the lives of your family and house guests if necessary, do not associate with criminals as they tend to attract more criminals and your chances of a criminal act being committed in your presence or upon you rise under those circumstances.
Now, for SHTF
and perhaps even TEOTWAWKI
preparations, I want to get a little more detailed as I find that these areas are generally not common knowledge the way keeping working smoke alarms in the home or avoiding dangerous areas (i.e. emergency planning) are.
Keep in mind, that while I often focus a lot on bug-out-bags and the like, I'm not suggesting that bugging out is the primary or only alternative. The beauty of a bug-out-bag is that it can be equally effective regardless of whether you bug in or out. If you stay home during the catastrophe, the items in your bag should still be of use, and if you bug out to a friend's or relative's home, you can take the bag with you. If you didn't have the items you deemed most necessary already packed in a bag, it would take time and consideration to decide what to pack if you had to leave, and you may not have the ability or time to undertake such a task. Bugging out into the woods is a last-ditch solution in my opinion, one that many others will share, so don't assume that you'll be alone simply because the wilderness seems so big. When a disaster big enough to force others to run to the hills occurs, that huge space can become quite cramped in short order.
The goal for a bug-out bag is not to live indefinitely in the woods or mountains, or at least it shouldn't be. That's pretty much impossible unless you have some very specialized and specific skills that most of us simply don't have. If things get bad enough to warrant that kind of primitive living, then you've got bigger problems than a bug-out bag and you can only carry so much so far anyway.
Having said that, I would like to focus a little bit on our primary concerns when bugging out during SHTF
because, again, this requires a little bit of selectively special thought and knowledge. Not only do you need to focus on planning, but there are questions of what gear to acquire and how to pack it all together. If you're bugging in, then you don't necessarily have to be focused on things such as size and weight, you can store a lot more in the nooks and crannies of your home than you can carry on your back, so there's not much of a risk in getting too much for your home preps, but carrying too much (or too much of the wrong stuff and not enough of the right things) can leave you dead in the water. When going over the following areas, keep in mind this is all general information and you will need to use some of the resources listed at the end of this primer or on this or similar websites to get all of the information you need. I will not be telling you how to build shelter or find food, I will only explain that these are important, why they are important and some general information on how to approach some solutions to these issues. The items that I will be discussing are all good things to include into your bug out bag, but keep in mind that my particular set-up is tailored to me, my climate, my abilities and my plans; yours may be radically different than mine depending on your individual circumstances. Don’t just copy my list and go out and buy what I have, actually read
the list and why
I have what I have and ask yourself, “does this apply to me?
” or “would this fit in my situation?
”. The goal is for you to make good decisions, not copy a list and go shopping.Primary Concerns For Survival:
- Medical Supplies
Water: (H2-Oh wow, it’s really that important?)
Your absolute first priority will always be water. Without proper hydration, experts say that your body can go only about three days before taking a dirt nap. However, one can easily be technically dehydrated just from fluid levels dropping a bit below normal. If you find that you are thirsty, you are under-hydrated, not necessarily “dehydrated” (neither of which are good things). Thirst occurs when your body loses a significant enough amount of fluid that the balance of sodium in your blood if offset by a small percentage (when the sodium concentration increases by about 2%). When you are thirsty, your body is telling you that things are out of balance. If you ignore this warning sign, dehydration may set in.
To stay properly hydrated, small amounts of water taken in regularly will do the trick. We are not camels, so trying to “store” water (as in drinking a gallon of water in the morning and then expecting your body to be hydrated for the day) will not work. Your body will generally push out the excess liquids within 30-45 minutes of ingestion. Drink only when thirsty, and only drink enough to keep yourself hydrated. The old adage is that the proper amount of water one needs to take in is equal to 8 (8oz) glasses of water per day, or a total of 64 ounces. This amount can vary depending on a variety of factors including your body size, the amount of sodium in your diet, the amount of physical work or exercise you do during the day and your climate (warmer climates make you feel more thirsty because you sweat more).
Symptoms of early or mild dehydration
- A flushed face
- Having extreme thirst or being unable to drink
- Dry, warm skin
- Not being able to urinate or only being able to pass small amounts of urine
- Dark or overly yellow urine
- Dizziness that increases when standing
- Cramping in the arms and legs
- Crying with little to no tears
- Being more irritable than normal
- Dry mouth or dry tongue with thick saliva
Symptoms of moderate to severe dehydration
- Low blood pressure
- Severe muscle contractions in the arms, legs, stomach, and back
- A bloated stomach
- Sunken dry eyes with few or no tears
- The skin loses its firmness and looks wrinkled or lack of elasticity of the skin (when a bit of skin lifted up stays folded and takes a long time to go back to its normal position)
- Rapid and deep breathing that is faster than normal
- A fast but weak pulse
With severe dehydration, death follows soon if rehydration is not started quickly.
You can usually reverse mild to moderate dehydration by increasing your intake of fluids, but severe cases need immediate medical treatment. The safest approach is not to become dehydrated in the first place. You can do that by monitoring your fluid loss during hot weather, illness or exercise and exertion and drinking enough liquids to replace what you lose. It also never hurts to add a slight amount of salt to your daily intake when you are out and about. Sweat contains around 2 or 3 grams of sodium chloride per liter. A few small packets of salt should last a week or two if you cannot get any sodium from food sources. Some potable water tablets, or water purification tablets or a portable water filter and reusable water containers will go a long way in being able to keep yourself hydrated in an emergency. All you need to find is a relatively uncontaminated water source, which if you prepare well enough you should already have mapped out ahead of time if you need to get the hell out of dodge. If you bug in, then your water stores are going to be dependent on the water company being able to pump water into your home. Since that can't always be counted on, you should store as much water as you can, preferably at least 2 weeks worth if not twice that unless you live very close to an alternative water source such as a river or lake. Though even in that situation, I'd still store as much water as I could afford to; if things get bad enough to need it, you won't be the only one needing it. Avoiding confrontation, such as when fighting over space or water from a pond or stream with desperate people, is a key to survival.Shelter: (The house that Murphy built.)
Depending on your climate, Shelter may be a distant second priority (in temperate or mild climates with no adverse weather or storms) or an immediate necessity (unbearably hot, humid or cold regions or areas under severe weather and storm systems). In extraordinarily hot or humid weather, being completely exposed to the elements can produce conditions such as dehydration or heat stroke; in extremely cold conditions, frostbite, hypothermia and shock are of major concern. Regardless, if you’re going to be out in the wild, you’re going to need some form of shelter at some point no matter what climate you’re in. In addition to providing a barrier against the elements, shelter provides protection against dangerous animals or other humans intent on doing you harm. A good shelter will even conceal your position so that you will not need to worry much about confrontations with two-legged predators (i.e. other humans).
Look for a securely dry spot that is sheltered from the wind on medium-high ground that is safe from the risk of flooding. It is a good idea to map out a few places such as this within 0-2 days walk from your home, place of employment and any other places you may spend a significant amount of time at. Having 2-3 areas around your usual haunts mapped out and ready gives you a couple of readily accessible places to quickly retreat to and plan your next move if need be.
As far as tents and sleeping bags, go for the lightest and smallest that you can in both that will be adequate for your temperatures (i.e. a bag rated down to only 30 degrees is no good for a Vermont winter and a bag rated down to –30 is probably useless for someone in Arizona during the summer). A good subzero bag can be had in weights of 3-5 pounds if you’re prepared to pay $200 or more, a good bag comfortable down to 20 or 30 degrees can be had for much less and still be as light. In warmer temperatures, something as simple and as light as a fleece blanket or sleeping bag and a tarp or bivvy sack will be more than adequate for both a sleeping bag and tent substitute. Keep in mind that you can save a lot of weight in your pack by learning the very simple skill of making your own shelter from materials that you can find in the woods. A simple lean-to made correctly is nearly as good as a lightweight tent in most climates, especially if you can manage to get a fire going (another very important skill to learn even if you don't plan on bugging out). The ability to make fire with a variety of improvised methods as well as with tools and objects you carry on your person or in your BoB could very well be the difference between living comfortably and dying a nasty hypothermic death. Lighters, magnesium fire starters, matches and cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly are all worthy solutions to the need for heat. I'm not going to go over the various methods to make and nurture a fire for yourself, that's a subject best left to some of the reference materials listed below or for discussion on this and other forums.
As with water, if you end up bugging in, your shelter is mostly taken care of. Most of us have spare blankets a home, and any sleeping bags we have for bugging out can be used when bugging in too. Even tents can be used inside of your home in the worst case scenarios. Fire inside the home is a more problematic issue that needs to be addressed by heaters. If your power or utilities go out, how will you keep warm? If you can answer that question, then you're way ahead of most people.Food: (Hell hath No 7-11.)
We must also not forget, that although your body can likely survive a couple of weeks without food, it is not advisable or fun to do so. Finding, identifying and gathering food is an essential skill for survival. Food sources can be plant, animal or insect. This is not a skill that I can easily prepare you for, however, at the conclusion of this primer, I will give you all the resources you need to become pretty well-versed in this and the other areas I will be discussing, provided you use those resources and have the reference materials handy when you need them. For food to supplement you until you can get to where you need to go and hunt or gather your own food, dried foods commonly found in camping and sporting goods stores, trail mix, granola, military MRE’s or just about anything that is light, compact, does not require heat or much water that can be easily stored and won’t spoil will work.
My thoughts on food selections for bugging out are:
I take something I like, but I try not to vary my meals too much. As an example, for three days I take 1-2 meal items like tuna fish and chicken in a foil pack in oil or water and I don't vary the main foods past that and one or two dry meals (dry noodle soup mixes, rice, dehydrated meals or MRE’s). I take some of my favorite granola bars, maybe some crackers for the tuna and some nuts, trail mix and beef jerky to snack on. Sometimes I also take tea bags to make tea for caffeine and some Koolaid packets to help mask the taste of the potable water tablets...plus, Koolaid and almost anything with caffeine are a comfort foods.
I am firmly against packing only foods that need water to prepare and eat based on my experiences where water just wasn't always available when it was time to eat. I have had to use the water I was carrying to drink, not to cook, but I needed food for energy to get where I needed to be. Yes, you can live without food for days, but you can't exert yourself while doing that, so you need to eat; you need energy. When you need to conserve your water, it’s something you simply cannot improvise. If all of your meals need water to cook or are so dry that they make you thirsty and thus consume more water, you’ll soon find yourself out of water, and unfortunately, maybe out of luck
Where I live, I have plenty of water around me, but doubt I'll have the time or desire to stop and gather water to cook every meal in a serious emergency; which is another reason that I prefer to take some foods that need next to zero prep (no cooking, no adding water, no needing a separate container to eat out of) and can be eaten on the go when needed. I'd eat MRE's right from the pouch before I bothered to cook them properly in most cases because, if I am on the run, stopping and having a leisurely meal is a luxury I’d probably not afford myself. Another thing to keep in mind is that both human and animal predators (at least the smart ones) hang around water sources too. They know that every land dwelling creature needs water, and so do they; so hunting around the local watering holes both satisfies their thirst and their hunger should they happen to catch their prey drinking or even the trail it left behind as it made its way from the watering hole to the next destination.
I would also suggest avoiding any diversion of the diet that is too far away from anything one normally eats because of the possibility of food allergies (you won't know you're allergic to squash if you don't eat it for 5-10 years and only keep it as an emergency ration) and a sudden and drastic change in diet can cause complications or injury to your gall bladder and other areas of your body/digestive system. There's some balance to be found there, so be careful everyone and make smart choices and above all else, test them out in practice bug outs or camping trips.Medical Supplies: (This isn't a hospital. It's an insane asylum. And it's probably your fault.)
There are two popular schools of thought on the need of medical supplies in a survival kit or BoB (Bug-out Bag). The first school is to load up on every supply you can think of, from splints to sutures to EMT shears to pain relievers and narcotics; the other school is a more minimalist approach where you only take what you might need to treat basic trauma and minor injuries. I subscribe to the second school of thought for one simple reason; out in the wild, most severe injuries will be fatal without proper medical attention by a doctor inside a medical facility. I have talked to doctors and participated in discussions with medical professionals on this subject and in the end I have found that if you cannot get access to a hospital, a critical injury will likely prove fatal no matter how well prepared you are.
As for carrying splints and specialized tools; man has survived centuries without specialized tools for medical purposes. Splints can be made from tree limbs and a sharp knife can substitute for a scalpel unless you are performing complicated surgery (which again, you wouldn’t be doing in the wild anyway). I am not trying to dissuade you from carrying any type of medical supply, if you know how to use it and you have room for it, then by all means, take it if you feel more comfortable that way. I am simply suggesting that you can be over-prepared in this area, and sustaining someone’s life for a few hours when there is no chance of getting them to a medical professional or hospital, while admirable, will be a waste of time and will likely prolong the suffering of the injured patient.
Compression bandages, gauze, a needle and some thread, pain relievers, antibiotic cream or ointment, moleskin (a godsend for blister relief), petroleum jelly (for chapped lips and skin, to put over cuts and also to use as an emergency fire-starter) are all excellent minimalist items to include in your medical kit. Be sure to also keep any specialized medical needs you have accounted for (i.e. and Epi-pen if you are allergic to bee stings, diabetes medication, heart pills etc…). Some of these items require a prescription to get an extra supply of, so talk to your doctor about your concerns if you can as he or she may be able to suggest a solution (i.e. ordering 3-month supplies through the mail so you’ll always have extra or natural alternatives that will suffice in an emergency). Even if your doctor cannot help you, if you fill your prescriptions on time at the first opportunity, you should have enough on hand at all timers to last 3-5 days, and that’s within the scope of the “bug out” concept. If the world ends as we know it, well, that’s a bridge millions of people on maintenance medications will need to cross. Clothing: (Clothes may not make the man, but they sure do make him comfortable.)
Clothing is an important part of preparation. Our skin only goes so far in protecting us from the elements and does not insulate us from the harmful effects of the sun, rain or a cold climate very well. If you have to make like a tree and leave, you will most likely have some clothes on, so for your survival preparations, clothing to supplement what you would already have on is the key.
Clothing chosen for your Bug out Bag
should be durable, versatile and cover all of the seasons and weather conditions that you might find yourself in. The common mantra is “cotton kills” when it comes to clothing for such uses because cotton does not wick moisture away from the skin and can instead hold moisture against your skin, making you feel colder because it is drawing the warmth away from you. This can lead to hypothermia (which is the condition of having an abnormally low body temperature – which is definitely not conducive to your health and well-being).
Common alternatives to cotton are; wool, silk, fleece, synthetic polypropylene, polyester or nylon and polyester/cotton or nylon/cotton blends (twill).Wool: Wool retains a great deal of its insulating properties when it gets wet but it tends to absorb moisture and this makes it very heavy in extremely moist conditions (cotton also absorbs moisture and becomes rather heavy when wet but it does not insulate if saturated). Wool can also be irritating to the skin if your skin is sensitive unless you spend the extra dough on some of the good stuff (i.e. Merino wool or similar). Wool blocks the wind well enough if it is woven tightly. Be careful when selecting wool garments as some people are allergic to it.Silk: Silk feels nice on the skin and it is very cool and lightweight, but when it gets wet, it loses the ability to insulate, so while it’s a nice for the weight reduction, it doesn’t offer much in the way of warmth if it gets wet.Fleece: Fleece is a lightweight synthetic fabric that is hydrophobic (does not retain water) which means that it will wick moisture away, dry faster than wool or cotton and most other natural fabrics. Fleece is also soft against the skin and a good insulator however, it is also flammable and it does not provide much of a barrier against the wind so you’ll need a windproof outer layer if you use a lot of fleece.Polypropylene: Polypropylene feels similar to silk in that it’s slick and soft, but not so much as silk. It is not quite as good of an insulator when dry, but it is hydrophobic (like fleece) and wicks away moisture very efficiently, keeping you warmer when the climate is wet or you sweat heavily (i.e. while carrying 30-60 pounds of gear and hiking up a trail). ‘Polypro’ is one of the more popular choices for hikers, soldiers and police officers as they tend to use it as a layer under their backpacking gear or body armor and gear to keep them cool and comfortable (or warm and comfortable depending on the situation). Polypro is ultra flammable, so keep that in mind; if you get set on fire wearing polypropylene, it will melt and make the burn much worse (of course, if you're on fire, things already haven't gone according to plan).Polyester and Nylon: Hiking or trekking pants are commonly made of nylon or polyester for their light-weight and fast drying properties. If you take a true layered approach, a pair of lightweight hiking pants in nylon or polyester are great for just about any weather condition because they're light and breathable in the heat, they shed water and dry quickly and when worn over your base layer (thermals) they can offer a great deal of warmth and comfort. A great choice in this realm would be convertible pants, where the legs of the pants can be taken off via a zipper at or around the knees, giving you a pair of lightweight shorts in extremely warm weather.Polyester/cotton and nylon/cotton blends: These blends usually have either a 65% synthetic to 35% cotton ratio or it’s 50% for each. This gives you a level of comfort and moisture resistance as well as durability. Work pants and BDU's are commonly made of these blends, while they don't offer as much to those taking a more layered approach as synthetic hiking pants would, they're generally more durable. If ultimate durability is what you're after and you don't mind the extra weight or your pants being less breathable and quick-drying, these might be a good idea.
As long as you avoid 100% cotton garments, the key is to dress in layers regardless of fabric. If you wear only a t-shirt and a huge parka rated for 30-below zero temperatures, what happens when it warms up to 35 degrees? Way too cold for just the t-shirt, way too warm for the Michelin man look (remember, sweating puts moisture onto your skin, which sucks the warmth from you and can lead to hypothermia). Layering allows you to add or subtract layers to find the optimal balance of comfort and warmth when the climate changes. The most effective system that I have seen is the common system of using three layers; an inner layer, a middle layer and an outer layer.Inner layer: Since this is the layer closest to your skin, and you’re gonna sweat, this layer should be something soft (for comfort) and something that has sweat-wicking properties if possible. Optimally, this layer would consist of a thin and lightweight polypropylene t-shirt, socks and underwear (shorts or boxers) combination (or thermal underwear for the cold). Silk will do, but beware that silk doesn’t wick moisture so sweating and moisture will be a concern.Middle layer: The upper portion of your middle layer (your coat or jacket) should be something that insulates and is lightweight. A fleece jacket or something with similar properties would work well here. Anything that insulates well, is light and will dry fast if it gets wet will do fine. For pants or shorts, something durable, lightweight and fast drying will be the best choice (poly/cotton or nylon/cotton blend work pants or BDU’s).Outer layer: your outer layer is your first line of defense against the elements, so what you choose will depend on the season and your climate. A good choice for spring and summers in wet or moderate climates is to simply use a raincoat or rain jacket as your outer layer as it will not only block out the rain, it will also keep heat in on cold nights even when it’s not raining. For wintry and colder climates, a breathable insulated coat is probably going to be your best bet; you’ll need to tailor this option according to your own climate here so the only advice that I will offer is that it should be tough and as lightweight as possible while still remaining warm enough for the coldest portions of your climate. You’ll also want to add a ski-cap or ski-mask and some gloves for the colder seasons/climates.
I personally pack one set of middle layer clothing, 2-5 sets of inner layer clothing (especially socks, dry, clean socks are a godsend in a harsh environment), and I have a separate small bag set aside for cold weather items. My thinking on the cold weather items is that I will already be wearing a cold-weather coat, hat and gloves in the winter if I have to bug out, and I certainly can’t go running for the hills in my pajamas or a t-shirt and shorts in the middle of a Northeast American winter. I have it on hand right near where I keep my BoB so that I can throw it on and go.
One last article of clothing that is oddly enough, more important than many would ever suspect: boots. Many people fail to consider these as a vital part of survival and they are making a big mistake. If you are like myself, and work in an office, you probably wear dress shoes to work. How do your feet feel after 8-10 hours of walking around the office? Imagine what they will feel like when you are navigating rough terrain, with 30-50 pounds of gear on your back for a day. A good pair of boots is essential for foot health (you cannot move if your feet are down for the count), heat, traction to navigate terrain and to prevent fatigue. Poorly made footwear, worn footwear or footwear used for one purpose and designed for another (i.e. using high heels or tennis shoes to hike up a mountain trail) will cause your body to work harder to accomplish even simple tasks such as walking only a few miles. Do yourself a favor, get yourself a good pair of boots that are comfortable and well-made and make sure they are appropriate for your climate (Gore-Tex insulated extreme temperature boots won’t do you a lot of good in Florida, and completely un-insulated boots might prove to be a problem in Pennsylvania during the winter).
You should make sure your clothing covers landscape and weather patterns that you are likely to find yourself in. If you live in an area where you have all four seasons, you will need more choices of clothing (and should swap one set of layered garments out for another just before the season changes), whereas someone that lives in a relatively stable climate (no snow or snow all the time) will be able to limit their clothing choices a little. However, this does not mean that you have to carry a wool cap in your bag during the summer; I suggest preparing 2-4 different loads (one for each season or one for spring/summer and one for fall/winter) that you swap in and out at the beginning of each season. Since I am going to recommend that you check your BoB and make sure everything is in order at least 4 times per year, doing so at the onset of each season is a good idea; this way you can swap clothing for each season in and out then as well and kill 2 birds with one stone.Tools: (Get your damn dirty paws off me, you filthy ape!)
Aside from having opposable thumbs, the use of specialized tools is what separates us from the primate. Oddly enough, primates survive just fine without them, but we’re not primates and we have special needs because we are not accustomed to living in the wild. We are a race of cubicle dwellers and creature comfort-addicts, so any tool that you can carry that will help accomplish the tasks you will need to complete is vital to comfort and survival.
Tools such as camp axes, knives, saws, flashlights, multi-tools, shovels and the like prove to be invaluable when you need to accomplish something. Anything that makes the work you’re going to do out there easier will be a life-saver. Save your energy for other things, chances are, you’ll need it.
Be careful not to go too heavily into specialized tools however as this gets heavy and bulky fast. For example, there is no need to have 4-5 knives in your BoB, pick one large knife that will stand up to hard use, one multi-tool device and something that will saw or chop wood. A good thing to include (if you can afford the weight) is a shovel, however, you can improvise digging dirt for a small trench or to bury something small using a knife or an ax if you find that your pack is already pushing the heavy side.
As far as flashlights, light is nice, but our species survived a long, long time in hard conditions without artificial light. Including 4-5 flashlights and a whole bunch of spare batteries is overkill in my opinion. First of all, that’s bulky, second of all, that gets heavy (4 flashlights and spare batteries for each can weigh anywhere for 2 pounds to 8-10 pounds) and it’s simply not efficient, nor is it truly necessary. One flashlight (and maybe one small light as a back-up) will do just fine and there may not even be a need for spare batteries. If your flashlight runs 20 hours on one set of batteries, simply getting in the habit of checking your batteries and rotating in a fresh set 4 times per year should be enough for a 3-5 day bug out. Glow sticks are a good, lightweight back-up that don’t need batteries and will give at least a little light overnight. Also, you’re going to most likely need to start a fire, and firelight is sufficient to read by while it keeps you warm or cooks your food.Intelligence: (Take me to your leader.)
An often-neglected part of survival preparation is intelligence. In order to survive, we need to have answers to some very important questions, and also be able to get answers to important questions as they come up.
- What is the current status of the disaster that forced me to bug out?
- Where am I now?
- How do I get to a certain desired place?
- What forces or barriers are acting against me and how do I overcome them?
This area is one part preparation and one part understanding how to gather make-shift intelligence reports when you are out in the wild. To prepare in regards to intelligence, you should ascertain some of the following information well in advance:
- What type of climate am I in?
- What is the logical and topographical layout of the land and terrain of my area?
- What types of disasters is my area prone to?
- Where are the safest places to go given a certain event or disaster?
Those questions are easily enough answered if you give them some thought and investigate your environment. In the middle of a disaster there is no time to try and figure out your next move. You should already know your next three moves the minute you need to mobilize. Spend the time between move one and move three planning your next three moves and you will always be ahead of the game.
The second aspect is how to gather important information. Tools that help you do this would include:
- A radio
- Binoculars or some type of magnified optical device to observe things at a distance
- A compass
When your life is on the line, you need to eliminate guess work when you can because out in the world, things have a tendency of altering your plans mid-stride and forcing you to make split decisions with incomplete or imperfect information no matter how well you prepare.Arms: (Rule number one: bring a gun.)
The importance of arms is honestly arguable. Some feel that simply avoiding and running is key to survival, and I would agree for the most part. However, given that no matter how well you navigate, or how good your evasion tactics are, chances are if you find yourself in an armed confrontation, you will need a gun; and if you need a gun, you really
need a gun.
Please understand that having a firearm does not make you Rambo
, evasion and avoidance is still your best bet no matter how well-armed you are; your firearm is a last resort when all other options have failed.
I prefer to take a layered approach with my firearms just as I do with my clothing. For different levels of crisis or emergency, I have different firearms selections. When I'm out and about doing my daily whatever, I can only use whatever I carry on my person daily, so that is a concealed handgun and a spare magazine or two. That’s about the extent of my options (though I do often keep a long gun in the car just in case, but I cannot always count on being near my vehicle and having access to it).
If I'm at home, well, then everything in my home is available to me. I have a flashlight and a handgun next to me while I sleep, and the gun is always near me in the same room when I am awake if it is not on my hip. I also keep a 12guage shotgun and a handful of rifles close by and ready to be put into action if the need arises. Keep in mind, that as new products and ammunition become available, my choice in “go to guns” does change to take advantage of any edge I can get, so what works well today might only be adequate tomorrow. And, of course, being a gun guy, things come and go, my fancy gets tickled regularly, so trying to do an in-depth section on my specific firearm thoughts and choices here would be a bit counter productive. If you choose to utilize firearms for your self defense and survival, get educated and/or trained by someone other than the guy at the gun counter. There are loads of resources online for firearms discussion and information and most of those places can help you find adequate training in your area.
Conclusion and Final Thoughts
As promised earlier, I’d like to share with you two of the better books that I could find that will aid just about anyone trying to survive a calamity that forces once to retreat from civilization. For a reference library while out in the field, the following books are invaluable resources for everything I have mentioned in this primer and more. Do yourself a favor and pick up the U.S. Army Survival Handbook by the Department of the Army
and the SAS Survival Handbook by John “Lofty” Wiseman
. Read them, learn and remember what you can, and keep them in your primary survival pack for reference when the going gets tough and your mind begins to quit on you. There are other books out there, and some of them might suit you better. We have a section on the forums for people to list the books on survival that have been of use to them, so go ahead and check out The Library
if you're looking for more choices in that department.
That’s pretty much it for the primer, in the next section I will cover some of my specific choices in gear for my Bug out Bag, and why I chose them. Hopefully all of this information will help you make your own choices or cause you to consider something you have neglected in building your own Bug out Bag. Be sure to check out what everyone else has posted about their bags and gear, no one person's solution is going to be perfect for you, the point isn't to mimic someone else's solutions, it's to build one of your own that made to fit your needs.
On a final note, I want to say something about what seems to be a prevailing notion amongst those in the survival community. There seems to be some very deep and very negative feelings towards what most of us would call, “sheep” or “sheeple”, basically, people who aren't prepared. One thing we all need to keep in mind is that regardless of your state of preparation, provided you survive the initial event which causes the excrement to hit the oscillating blades, one of the most important aspects to consider about disaster and survival is that people, just like fuel, food, water, ammunition, firearms and every other piece of gear or tool you can manage, are either assets or obstacles. You may not like people, you may be planning to avoid them, but unless the event referenced above is so catastrophic that you're literally playing the part of Mad Max in a post-apocalyptic world, it's entirely possible that you're going to have to deal with people to some extent. Now maybe in the end that amounts to nothing more than your husband or wife and 2.5 children, but you must consider the possibility that you're going to either need or be confronted by people outside of the group you normally manage or are a part of. This may not be part of your plan, and you may not like it, but you have to work with the assets you have, not the ones you want.
As I said, many of us who are into survival and preparation seem to detest or hold a great deal of contempt for the stereotypical sheeple, people unaware and unprepared for the very real possibilities that keep us fanatics slavering away at perfecting our survival plans and assets. The problem here is that those people outnumber us 1,000,000,000 to 1, so it’s safe to say that those of us that survive the initial event are going to have more of them
on our hands than we'll know what to do with. And anyone who encounters the unwashed masses and doesn’t want to work with them, well no matter how hardcore we may think we are, when we’re so grossly outnumbered, they can always just roll right over any one of us if we decide not to play nice. I don't care how much ammunition and firearm skills you have, or how sneaky you are, you can only shoot as many people at once as you have hands to hold guns, and you'd probably have a better shot hiding from the police after a bank heist than you would thousands of displaced civilians that are frantic, desperate and scared.
Now I am in no way saying that anyone should just bow down to the displaced hordes, only that in any m