Assembling Your Survival Kit.

By: Instructor Michael Lake

There are a number of different names for them: "bug out" bags, "72-hour" bags, "get home" bags, etc... They all refer to a duffle-bag full of stuff that may mean the difference between life and death, or at least between marginal comfort and severe discomfort during an emergency situation.

There is also no shortage of opinionated articles written about what these kits should contain, and for the most part, the advice out there is OK. Face it, survival is what we do, it doesn't take a PhD to figure out what things might provide a survival advantage during a societal breakdown.

Fortunately for us, total societal collapse is probably the least likely scenario we need to prepare for. Oh, I'm not saying that it can't happen or that it eventually won't happen, but my bet is that it won't happen the way most people envision, it won't happen overnight, and that we will find ourselves facing other problematic situations along the way that we might not have thought of or prepared for.

I would propose that one should tailor their survival equipment and strategy around three main situations:

  1. Safety/Security incident: This refers to some unusual or emergency situation in the immediate vicinity that doesn't necessarily require getting out of town. This is by far the most common situation that people face. Situations of this type may refer to fires that require the evacuation of a building, vehicle collisions, being stranded somewhere due to weather conditions, and any associated minor to serious injuries that need first aid or other stabilization until professional help can arrive.
  2. Local Disturbance: This refers to some event affecting a larger community and requiring at least temporary evacuation of a larger area, up to a few miles maybe, such as a chemical release, localized natural disaster, extended power outage, social unrest, or riot.
  3. Regional Disaster: This is an event that affects multiple communities or perhaps even large portions of the country. Events of this type could include wide-spread natural disasters like catastrophic earthquakes and tropical storms, foreign invasion or insurrection, EMP, disease pandemics, and the SHTF/TEOTWAWKI fantasies that make for entertaining evening television.

Of course, there are plenty of possibilities in between, but I think of these sort of like trail markers.

Along with these key situations, there are several different types of kits that could be assembled depending on the anticipated needs. This will vary depending on prevailing environmental and societal conditions where the user spends most of their time. It doesn't make a lot of sense to carry tropical jungle gear in a temperate northern region, for example; or to carry a lot of backwoods survival gear if you live and work in a large urban or metropolitan area located miles from the nearest patch of woods. The mission always drives the gear. You could assemble a big “do it all” kit, but carrying all of that stuff around everywhere you go is just going to slow you down and increase the chances of an injury if you have to hike across rough terrain with it. What's more, a big kit like that stuffed full of goodies is an attractive target for thieves. The best kits are going to be small and specific: basic first aid kits, office evacuation kits, vehicle emergency kits, etc…

Since most of us actually base our preparations around “bugging in,” our home is where most of us hope to be able to weather any temporary emergencies. Getting home can be the issue, especially if you travel a lot. So, the Get Home Bag is what you keep with you in your vehicle or office. Generally this kit will have about 72- hours worth of stuff, mainly the kind of stuff that is going to facilitate travel across any type of terrain and in any type of weather or societal conditions.

The “Bug Out” bag is what you prepare for when you have to temporarily leave home. Typically this is going to include medications, a change of clothing, basic toiletries and other supplies that might make living in a gymnasium or evac shelter a little easier. Just remember that 28,000 people were trapped for 6 days inside the superdome in New Orleans in 2005 during Hurricane Katrina, so being able to go a bit longer than 72 hours wouldn’t be a bad thing.

A word about bug-out locations. I would personally try to avoid any areas that are likely to draw large crowds of people like refugee camps, the superdome, anywhere you have to rely on government employees for your food, protection and security. Frankly, that’s for people who have no other choice because they haven’t prepared. We do this kind of thing so we have other options.

The idea behind a "kit" is that it is designed around temporary situations with the assumption that society hasn’t completely jumped the rails, even though it might have in the immediate vicinity, such as during the LA riots. At some point however, "order" is going to be restored, though what it will look like is anyone's guess. The items we carry should facilitate this, and help stabilize the situation in our immediate vicinity and hopefully help society get back on track, which will be better for everyone in the long run. A lot of folks advise including food gathering equipment like fishing, trapping or hunting supplies in their kits, but frankly most folks don't have the Davy Crockett skills to justify these items, so my recommendation is to focus on items that will help us respond to those emergencies that are the most likely to occur. These items would include:

  • Cash (small bills, about $200 or so)
  • Permanent marker,
  • Bandana,
  • Hat,
  • Hand sanitizer,
  • Insect repellant,
  • Weatherproof butane lighter, ferro rod and striker,
  • Whistle,
  • Flashlight (preferably a headlamp),
  • Charging cables and adapters,
  • Batteries,
  • Gorilla/duct tape,
  • Bushcraft-style knife
  • Multitool,
  • Paracord (2X20' lengths, 2X10' lengths, a few assorted loops from 1' to 3' in length),
  • Spoon/fork, (such as: )
  • Folding saw,
  • Compass,
  • Poncho (Such as: )
  • poncho liner,
  • Mylar blanket,
  • 2 industrial sized trash bags,
  • Hand/foot warmer packets,
  • Aluminum foil,
  • Stainless steel mug (non-insulated)
  • Micropore filter pump or Lifestraw
  • Basic Medical kit (Seri strips, Self-adhesive Bandages, Gauze Wrap, 1 pint Everclear, 1 small bottle Campho Phenique, Advil, Pseudoephedrine (30mg X 24), Benadryl, Pepto Bismol Chewable Tabs, Afrin, Eye Drops, Antifungal Ointment, Folding Splint, Moleskin, antiseptic ointment)
  • Blowout kit (such as:
  • Chamois Towel
  • Dr. Bronner's Liquid Soap
  • Disinfectant
  • Toilet paper (in zip-lock bag)
  • Wet wipes
  • Toothbrush/paste & small bottle mouthwash
  • Solid deodorant
  • Plastic toothpicks or dental floss
  • Disposable respirator (N 95 or N100)
  • Safety glasses/sunglasses
  • Earplugs
  • CLP (firearm cleaner/lubricant/preservative such as break-free or gunzilla)
  • Monocular/binoculars
  • Pepper spray/Clearout
  • Extra ammunition for EDC handgun

Now that list is just like any other bugout bag gear list that you can find anywhere on the internet, and what this article lacks, just like most of the others out there, is advice on how to use these items efficiently and correctly. Firearms instructors have a truism: "possession doesn't equate to competence." This is equally true with medical or other survival equipment. Having the equipment is great, but learning how to use it involves training and practice on your part. A great deal of this can be gained by trial and error in outdoor activities such as backpacking or wilderness camping, but that's not for everyone, though it's one of the best ways to wring out your technique and gear.

If you want more information on preparedness kits, and some basic education on how to use them, check out our Survival Kit Basics class: