We love our bug out bags. Putting one together is a lot of fun and gives us some peace of mind knowing that we’ve got a plan just in case the SHTF. From choosing the bag itself to the contents we fill it with, it’s a very fun project that the whole family can invest in.
Because of this, we can tend to go a little overboard with what we decide to put in our bug out bags and stuff it full of things we don’t really need, make it too heavy, or even both.
Below is a list of the top 10 bug out bag mistakes (including bad bug out decisions), some that I’m sure you’ve already committed. I know that I have. We can learn from these lessons and reevaluate our bags and adapt them to what we need. There is no “one size fits all” bug out bag, each needs to be tailored according to our personal needs. If you have committed one or more of these mistakes, don’t worry, because it’s only a mistake if you don’t fix it.
Maybe this is the time that you have ever made a bug out bag. Great! You can learn from the mistakes of others now instead of wasting money and time doing it the wrong way. You are already ahead of many of us. For those of you who are reevaluating your current bug out bag to make it better, then this article will prove especially important for you.
The goal of every bug out bag is this – to contain the items you would need to survive for 72 hours (3 days) when evacuating from a disaster. This automatically erases any conversation for vanity and/or personal hygiene items. Sure, having some deodorant or toothpaste would be nice after 2 days in the woods, but you don’t need them to survive and they’re taking up space that could be used for something much more essential.
Having a longer-term bug out bag solution is something you should also have, but this list focuses on the standard, 72-hour bug out bag. Now let’s get into it.
1. Buying the bag first
This one is first up on the list since its usually the first mistake people make. Buying your bag before your bug out gear is not the wisest of decisions for a couple reasons. First, you have no idea how much gear, or how little gear, you will actually be needing to hump. Buying an extra large military MOLLE bag looks great and tactical, but you don’t want to stuff it with pointless items that will weigh you down. You will be needing to stay light and be moving quickly in a bug out situation. Secondly, you have no clue how that bag will “fit” on you. Maybe the straps are uncomfortable and ride to low/high on your chest and waist. These are things that you need to take into consideration. Any discomfort like that will make bugging out a real pain (or even cause injuries) and you don’t need any more trouble than what you’re already in. Go to some local military surplus stores or big-chain sporting goods stores and try different bags out to see which fits you the best. If you are compelled to order one online, make sure you check out the reviews (especially the lower-stars reviews to see what people did NOT like about that specific bag). Gather the bug out gear that you need to keep you alive, see how much you have and how much it weighs, and buy the appropriate bug out bag for your needs.
2. Standing out in a crowd
You have no idea what the situation will be that will force you to bug out. More likely than not, it will be some form of natural disaster that will cause you, and those in your area, to leave their homes suddenly. If you are dressed in full on military gear with a “tacticool” military backpack and your AR15 at the ready, you will most likely get yourself in some trouble. The important thing is to be able to blend in. Ever notice how Delta Force or Navy SEALs look like when they don’t want to be noticed? They don’t stand out in a crowd and they don’t draw attention to themselves. Breaking that rule could land you in a heap of trouble when all you need to do is survive. Sure, if you get lost in the woods then a bright orange backpack would be preferable, but in a bug out situation you’ll want to look like everyone else. In extreme circumstances, like a government takeover (foreign or domestic), the last thing you want is for your backpack with that pistol grip shotgun holster on the side and your Glock 19 on your hip to be visible. Get a bug out bag that looks like a normal hiking bag, or if you do go with a military-style MOLLE bag, don’t attach shiny gadgets on the outside – let it blend in.
3. Not having a plan
So you’ve got a good bug out bag filled with all the essentials. Now what? If you’re asking yourself this question as you’re grabbing your bag in an actual emergency… then you have failed. Not having a strategy or plan when the SHTF is a huge, huge mistake that dead people will make. What’s your bug out destination? What’s the route you will take to get there? What’s route B in case route A is jeopardized? Route C? What if your destination is destroyed, already occupied, or otherwise unavailable? These are all questions you need to be asking yourself right now, even as you build your bug out bag. Go over this plan with your family/group and practice-practice-practice it. What if your destination is solid and you’re route perfect, but during your first dry-run of the plan you realize that at about the halfway mark your bag is too heavy and your energy drained to zero. Poor planning leads to poor outcomes. Answer these important questions before bug out day occurs, and keep a map of that area in your bag.
4. You’re not in shape
According to the Food Research and Action Center, more than 2/3 of American adults are overweight or obese. That’s millions of people, and many of them are preppers. Americans, as a whole, have a weakness for drive-thrus, soda, and sugary snacks. If you are serious about prepping and survival, you need to know this one thing – if you are overweight, your chances of survival are low. This isn’t to be mean, but if your feelings are now hurt then that sentence is applying to you! Some Americans have medical disabilities that prevent them from working out and getting in shape, and that’s something that they will have to compensate for as best they can, but for you – the average overweight American – you have no excuse. I don’t know how you expect to survive in a bug out situation if your cardio is garbage and you need 3x the amount of food per day than a normal person. If I sound heartless it’s because I want you to be in the best shape you can be when the SHTF, I want you to survive! You’re like me, a prepper who knows that the luxuries of this world probably won’t last and that those who aren’t prepared will suffer for it. I want you to be ready for when that comes, and grabbing that McDonald’s $1 menu item (or two or four items) is directly effecting your chances of surviving. If your excuses are somewhere along the lines of “I work too much” or “I don’t have time throughout the day” or “I don’t have money for the gym”, then you are not dedicated to caring enough about prepping. All it takes is busting out a max set of pushups and sit-ups during commercials and right before your shower, cutting out sugar, and going for a jog in your neighborhood to start you on the right path. From there you can pick things up. You don’t need an expensive gym membership to get in shape. Look up “body weight exercises” on Google and start from there. It’s easy, the only hard part is fine-tuning your willpower. You can do it. Get in shape.
5. Having a “loner” mentality
You may be able to simply survive some time by yourself, but in order to thrive you’ll need help. In a large-scale natural disaster you probably won’t be the last man standing. There will be others in your position, other preppers and other lucky individuals. You will need to be able to work together and help either rebuild or continue bugging out. Maybe you have an amazing rifle, with bug out gear for days, and the perfect camping spot a few miles away. That won’t help you in a serious SHTF situation when other people are forming groups and gaining in number. You’ll need to make friends and work with other like-minding people in order to help keep yourself alive. You will each benefit from having more than one person in the group, and who knows – maybe that guy is a doctor, or a mechanic, or a pilot.
6. Not having anything to repair your bag with
You slip on a loose rock and fall a few feet down a sharp slope. No biggie right? Except now your bug out bag is torn open and your contents are spilling out. The bug out bag that you spent weeks assembling and getting just right is now useless. Why spend all that time on a life-saving piece of equipment and not have the means to repair it? Keep a separate kit in your bug out bag specifically for it’s maintenance. Even if you don’t slip and fall, the wear and tear of an unexpected lengthened bug out will take it’s toll on the material. Keep extra straps and spare buckles, heavy-duty patching material and even some safety pins for broken zippers in that kit. Pretty simple.
7. Not having any medicine for your digestive system
In a bug out situation where you are surviving in the woods or mountains, one of the biggest factors that you’ll have to face is your stomach. Not just in terms of keeping yourself fed, but how your digestive system will react to the sudden change of diet combined with the stress of bugging out. Every prepper keeps a first aid kit of sorts in their bug out bag, usually containing items like tourniquets and gauze strips for anything from broken bones to helping prevent infection and even gunshot wounds. What people tend to forget is having the proper medicine for your stomach’s health. Without it, you’ll be trying to stay alive and healthy while puking up everything you eat and having diarrhea every other night. Make sure you have what you need to keep your body strong, even when you don’t directly injure it.
8. Having no (or very little) money
In a complete TEOTWAWKI situation, a $100 dollar bill may be about as useful as used toilet paper, and the value of a single bottle of aspirin could be evenly traded for a 50-round box of ammunition. However, during a natural disaster, when you need to bug out of your home under a few minutes you won’t have the time to gather any valuables or spare money. You’ll need money to buy items and a credit card might not work if the power is completely out. Maybe you’re trying to stay off the grid during your bug out and buy things (like food and a bus ticket) only in cash. Whatever the reason, having some spare cash in your bug out bag can save your life. You should have at least between $400 – $500 in your bug out bag. Uses for this money include last minute shopping for emergency items, vending machines you may happen along (though in certain situations you could simply smash the glass), getting gas, paying someone for a specific skilled labor job (like fixing your car), and during those total emergency situations where you know that money has lost it’s value, you can pay those people who haven’t caught on yet in cash for whatever you need (these are called “sheeple”). This ties in to mistake #9.
9. Not having any personal information
You won’t need any bank records if society has begun to break down, but in a normal bug out situation where your house will be destroyed by an oncoming Category 5 hurricane, some important documents you’ll want to have with you include copies of insurance policies, bank account records, marriage certificates, titles to your cars, contact lists for family and friends, passports, social security cards, and other identification papers – all in a waterproof container. Anything that you would need in order to start getting your life back together should be included in this container. If your house catches on fire or there’s widespread flooding in your area, or any other disaster, you won’t want to have to start digging around for these extremely important documents.
10. Packing too much for 72 hours
The final mistake on this list is something that we all to to resist the temptation of – packing too much gear. Remember, this is supposed to be a 72-hour bug out bag, not a 2-month bag. You should definitely have a longer-term solution in your bug out vehicle ready at all times, with much more food, water, and other essential gear. However, for your quick go bag, you need to exercise control when it comes to packing it. Only put what you need to survive for that amount of time in the bag. Like I mentioned near the beginning of this article, you do not want to pack deodorant or a razor blade for your beard (grow that manly thing out anyway) in your bug out bag. They’ll take up space that could be used for an improved first aid kit or a spare MRE. Pay close attention to the area where you live when assembling your bug out bag. Is it mountainous? Does it have plenty of rivers? Does it get snowy in the winters? Ask yourself these questions so you can pack according to your surroundings. Items like spare climbing rope, spare survival fishing supplies, and a spare thermal bivvy would help you much much more than a brand new toothbrush and a bottle shampoo. Do you want to smell nice in the woods, or stay alive?
There you have it – the top 10 list of bug out bag mistakes. Some of it included what to and not to pack, and some of it dealt with decisions you should or should not make during your bug out. All of it pertains to bugging out and the best way to stay alive and to thrive.
If you’ve read this post and are starting your first bug out bag, avoid these common mistakes and you’ll have yourself a great survival tool. If you already own a bug out bag and have committed on or more of these mistakes, consider reevaluating what you have and strip your bug out bag of the “fat” it doesn’t need. Stay safe, stay alive.