How to Build a Bug Out Bag

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When and if a disaster were to happen and all you can do is grab one bag and go would you feel confident in your choice and the items inside it? The general answer is no and in this article will give you the insight in how to properly select and  how to build a bug out bag with the essential items. It will give you peace of mind and confidence when you have to take your pack and get moving.

Build a Bug out Bag: Selecting a Bug Out Bag

First of all to build a bug out bag you need to decide on a quality bag to house your entire bug out item list. There are a myriad of materials to look at and choose from for the best bug out bag material. This is an incredibly important consideration as some materials are inherently more advantageous in the aspects of water repelling and strength against abrasion to tearing. Other qualities to look at and consider are the zippers and polymers used so that they are functional and dependable. I will give the breakdowns of the recommended materials to look for in your bug out bag selection. In these cases all my recommendations will be nylon material as they exhibit the best cost/performance ratio as well as having time to be tested. Nylon and polyester size and strength is measured in a term called denier. The higher the number the tougher the material and thicker it is. The downside to that is the higher the weight of the pack. Polyester is also used in some packs but with nylon being stronger usually is not heard about much in backpack circles but does have an advantage in lower weight and tends to repel water very well.

Cordura Nylon

One of the most common materials that has a durable track record is Cordura nylon. It is used in a lot of military style packs due to its ability to withstand abrasion and it is relatively lightweight. It has good water repellency making it a great option and allows water proofing to be applied easily. My personal bag is 1000 denier Cordura and has held up great even being snagged on barbed wire fences. The downside is that it is heavier but in my mind the tougher material through thickets and around potential snagging material the thicker material is worth it in the long run for durability when you build a bug out bag.

Ripstop Nylon

Ripstop nylon got its name for its ability to keep a rip, tear, or puncture from spreading and damaging surrounding nylon due to its thicker weave in sections allowing sections to somewhat quarantine damage. It is extremely beneficial in bug out bags so that you have a reliable material that is more worry free and is easier to repair as the damage stays in sections. It tends to be kept in lighter material weights which can be a bonus but is easier to puncture

Pack Cloth Nylon

This nylon is very common and has good traits such as puncture resistance and a slick surface that waterproofs easily. The downside is to achieve some of the benefits it is a heavier material which can add weight to your overall load out. The newer aforementioned types of nylon have made this material less common but is still an adequate material for a bug out bag if you can justify the extra weight for the benefits.


Polyester is great for UV resistance and water repelling and is resistant to stretching and shrinking. It is abrasion resistant but not quite to the degree of some of the other nylons. Once again it will come down to the thickness of the material to determine the overall strength of the pack. The benefit here is that thicker polyester weighs less than nylon of the same thickness. The trade off is of course some strength of the threads and not quite as abrasion resistant.

Size of Bug Out Bag

Once you have selected the material that will fit your bug out needs it is time to select a bag that meets your dimensional needs. When most people build a bug out bag they think that bigger is going to be better yet this is probably without giving thought to the weight of the pack. You must keep your mind geared to something that is man portable for a considerable distance without extreme amounts of fatigue. The best way to keep this in check is selecting a bug out bag with anywhere from 2000 to 3500 cubic inches of space. Most bags in this range come with good straps and sometimes a solid framework to make the pack more stable and easier to carry. Keeping in these size constraints will allow you to pack the essentials as well as some things that will make survival easier and bartering items. It can also be beneficial to have some extra room for your pack in case you happen upon something worth salvaging. Larger external pockets are very handy for keeping the most utilized items in an easy to reach place without having to dig through everything else in your bug out bag.

Weight of Your Bug Out Bag

Leading straight from the size of the bag the weight was somewhat addressed and here it will go in more depth on how to manage the weight. Most people do not stop to consider how large of a factor weight actually is in a bug out situation because if you build a bug out bag that is very heavy you will suffer for it. If you do not have any means to travel except walking on your own feet then you cannot go crazy and expect to carry a 100 pound rucksack for long distances or over rough terrain. As a general guideline I would shoot for a pack less than 45 pounds just to keep things reasonable. Lighter would be better if you do not end up sacrificing items that are important to maintaining survival.

Next are some ideas in how to keep your pack light. First of all look at different materials as mentioned earlier. To build a bug out bag selecting a strong fabric that does not have to be thick will make for a very light yet strong bag. The next will be painful for some but it will be cutting out non-essentials in a pack. This can be if you have multiples of some items that are not needed. Other options besides cutting down on the quantity is looking for lower weight options that will serve the same function. An example would be choosing something made of durable aluminum instead of steel. As we go through the items that are important for your bag you will be able to see some examples of this.

Now that you have an understanding of what to look for in the materials and size of your bug out bag I’ll show you some recommendations to look at and see as viable options for your choice.

This is the bag I have selected for my bug out bag and have gone hiking many miles and camped with it for four years now. It has held up great and been in all types of inclement weather including rain and snow. It is made with 1000 Denier Cordura nylon so it has great abrasions resistance. As I mentioned before even barbed wire did not cause the nylon to unravel and tree limbs and brush have done no damage to the pack. As the name implies it is Molle compatible making it very handy for attaching things to the outside of your pack. This bag also features an external frame underneath to help hold the pack higher and further back so you do not have to learn forward while walking and helps you to use more of your hips to support the weight. Unlike aluminum frames this framework is made of ITW Fastex GhillieTex Infrared Reduction polymer that is very strong but does not become super brittle in cold weather or if left in UV light. All of the other polymers on the back such as buckles are also made of this material. Another cool feature this bag is the inside of the top flap is a 16”x16” clear Velcro sealed pocket for maps and can be very handing if you print off maps of your potential bug out routes beforehand. With main compartment storage of 3000 cubic inches it’s a great bug out bag and I highly recommend it and probably a much better recommendation is the United States Military that has issued it to soldiers being deployed. It is a great pack to build a bug out bag around. 

5.11 Rush 72

Now we come to the 5.11 Rush72 Backpack. This is a great option for a bug out bag because of the size and quality put into it. It has a carrying capacity of 3342 cubic inches and is made of high strength 1000 denier nylon. 5.11 is well known for its quality in gear and clothing and this backpack follows that trend. It has a simple set up for its pockets with one large main compartment, a front compartment, a fleece lined sunglass pocket (great for shooting glasses or regular sunglasses),and two large side pockets making it easy to get to items without fumbling through pockets inside of pockets. This system helps you to organize each pocket efficiently instead of having one large pocket and everything stuffed inside on top of each other. It also is molle compatible making it more versatile for attaching items on the pack. One benefit it has over the first option is the fact it comes in eight different colors to let you decide which best fits your needs.

Everest Hiking Backpack

This pack is one for the cost conscious yet does not sacrifice quality or use. It has a carrying capacity of 2930 cubic inches and is made of 600 denier polyester. It has three compartments which adds simplicity but will require more organization inside the main compartment. The big bonus is that it is a good strong pack at a very light weight. It has a nice cover over the main compartment to help repel water which the polyester material will do a great job of. It is available in different colors so you can pick the ideal color or pattern for your needs. It is a good middle of the road size pack and at an affordable price will be more than adequate for bug out needs.

Paratus 3 Day Operator's Pack

The last pack up for discussion is the Paratus 3 Day Operator’s Pack. It is made of 600 denier nylon and has a size of 2890 cubic inches. This is a very adequate size and is made of strong material that will ensure great carrying capability and abrasion resistance. It is Molle compatible to add items to your pack without using the interior of it. This pack has one main compartment, a front compartment, and two large side pouches. A cool feature is that the side pouches are attached with Molle attachments. It comes with a very nice padded waist belt to take the pressure off of the shoulders and place more load on the hips and legs. It is quality made and is hydration pack capable and will fulfill your entire bug out bag needs. Also it comes in different color options to let you pick which will serve you best.

Build a Bug Out Bag: Bug Out Bag Essentials

Now that we have covered the bag itself it is time to fill the bag with essentials you will need. We will go over items that will be crucial to being self sufficient.  These items will ensure you are equipped and ready and able to build a bug out bag to keep you alive and prepared.

bug out bag essentials infographic

Bug Out Bag First Aid Kit

first aid kit

Let’s address one major issue first in how to build a bug out bag; your first aid kit. A first aid kit is vital because if you are trying to survive out of your bag and are traveling a cut or puncture could have dire consequences. The ability to have a set up designed to clean and cover a wound is vital. A great set up can be found in a few already built first aid kits that are lightweight and have a good case and good variety of the essentials. Otherwise you are open to the idea of putting together your own bug out bag first aid kit. Let’s go over each and the pro’s and con’s.

Retail First Aid Kits

Ultra-Light & Small 100 Piece First Aid Kit

Ultra-Light 100 Piece First Aid Kit from Always Prepared

This is the type of kit that you walk into a store grab off the shelf and go. The biggest pro to this setup is that it is already put together comes in a case and is organized piece by piece into sections and sometimes little bags. They can have a lot of useful items in an organized fashion for a large variety all in one kit that can be made of a multitude of materials. Getting a kit made of a lightweight waterproof or at least water resistant is ideal. Some of the downsides can be most kits do not address a heavy bleeding wound, a broken bone, other types of trauma. They also tend to have a lot of things that may not be needed. The best example I have is all the small odd bandages that I have never found a true use for. An important thing to consider that the first aid kit that there should be some extra room in the kit so you can add to the kit.

DIY First Aid Kit

First Aid Kit Supplies

First Aid Kit Supplies

DIY (do it yourself) first aid kits are great because you can customize them to your exact needs and specifications. We are honing in on bug out bag versions but keep in mind you could and probably should look to other reasons you might need one whether it’s in your day pack or vehicle. Being able to make it exactly what you need including some of the items typical first aid kits often leave out. For a bug out bag first aid kit you should have access to ways to treat trauma and heavy blood loss and fractures. Knowing the dangers and the easiest portable treatments will help to fill your kit with true bug out bag essentials.

Build a Bug out Bag: Knife Selection

Bug Out Bag Knife

The next thing you need to build a bug out bag is a good knife. The knife is paramount to your bag because of the utilitarian purposes it can fit. So what kind of knife should you select? You will need a durable knife and I would suggest stainless steel or a carbon steel blade that has a good rust resistant coating because you may not have optimal conditions for ideal knife care. There are a lot of good steels that are affordable and very capable. Carrying a pocket knife is also recommended but we will just address a fixed blade in this article but choosing a pocket knife is also an important issue check out this article in choosing your everyday carry knife.

The bug out bag knife should be at least 4” but preferably longer if possible. A thicker blade would be a good feature to get so you can do chopping or batoning and will hold up better. With this being said thinner knives such as the quality made and affordably priced Morakniv knives are great options. A full tang would be ideal because of the added strength it gives the entire blade. Knives are very integral to survival and being that important makes taking some time and consideration to consider your bug out bag knife. Here are a couple more great options to take a look at:

Sog Knife N-Force

Sog N-Force

Schrade Extreme Survival Knife

Schrade Extreme Survival Knife 1095 HC Steel

Build a Bug Out Bag: Fire Starting

fire starting

The next essential item needed to build a bug out bag is a means to start fire. Depending on your conditions and stealth you are trying to maintain fire could be very critical. It will allow you to stay warm, cook food, disinfect water, and offer protection from most wild animals. The first option should be a simple lighter. They are cheap and simple and are an easy way to get a fire started. They are disposable and light so you can carry a couple of them and have a simple means of fire. Another important means of fire is waterproof matches. They are also cheap and light and come in decent quantities. They often come in a waterproof case that keeps them together and dry to ensure easy lighting. With the light weight and affordability matches are easy to care plenty of in your pack. Putting them in a zip loc bag is an easy way to help keep them from moisture.

Another common way to start a fire is a ferro rod. Most of these are affordable and if struck correctly will produce a large amount of very hot sparks to help ignite your tinder. There are a wide variety of these rods available and some often work much better than others. The ferro rod is great for a bug out bag because it is a long term fire starting device especially as you become more practiced with it. The thing to remember when using a ferro rod is that they can break if you strike them too aggressively which is why it is better to drag your blade or other striker against the rod and hold it stationary. You can use a ferro rod over and over with great reliability.

The last means of fire I would suggest to keep in your bug out bag is a fire piston. A fire piston uses the principle of friction to raise the heat inside a small hollow chamber high enough to ignite a piece of char cloth. This is a great option for your bug out bag because of its small size and low weight. The downside of this mechanism is that the gasket on half of the device can wear out and need replaced. They are usually simple o rings so finding replacements to take along is recommended. It is a very effective and low energy way to produce fire. If you're looking for a very comprehensive guide to starting fire check out for a great read.

Build a Bug Out Bag: Rope and Cordage

titan paracord great for bug out bags

Titan Paracord is a great options for cordage

Another essential to needed to build a bug out bag is rope or cordage. Rope/cordage is extremely important because you can use it for a variety of things such as tying up a shelter, making traps, fishing line, and if the rope is strong enough even climbing. Rope/cordage comes in different styles and materials but the most prevalent in the prepping community is paracord, specifically 550 lb paracord. It is highly recommended and has been proven in the military as well as commercial settings. It is light, thin, strong, affordable, and very capable. Paracord is easy to work with making it extremely versatile and a strong. It is flexible and makes great cordage to tie and lash things together with.

Build a Bug Out Bag: Portable Shelter

Bug Out Shelter

A portable bug out shelter is very important and can save you a lot of energy in building an immaculate shelter every night on the move as you bug out. Now you are probably wondering what you can actually pack into your bag that will suffice as a shelter? Surprisingly the survival community has come out with quite a few options that will be great options. An emergency blanket and emergency bivvy are both options that stay way under a pound and can be a life saver if you run out time and need to hunker down quickly. Traditional mylar survival blankets are efficient at reflecting heat and come at a very reasonable price so you should pack at least two or more of those. (most retail first aid kits come equipped with one also). There are however downsides to mylar. Those are the fact that it is very noisy and has a crackling sound as you move and that they do not hold up to repeated use after use. The company SOL makes a great alternative to mylar that has the same great features but also remedies the downsides of the traditional emergency blanket. They also make a survival bivvy that is a great bug out shelter and even comes in an OD green to help eliminate being seen as easily. Sleeping bags are also great options if you pick a bag that has a good means to strap it to it. The only downside to a sleeping bag is that some can add a lot of weight.

Build a Bug Out Bag: Water Purification


Great reviews on Amazon and sells for a great prices.

If you are on the go there is a good chance you will not have the luxury of taking enough water to sustain you for days on end. The good news is that most of the recommended packs have a spot for a water bladder so you can take some water with you to give you a head start while bugging out. But once that supply runs out you will need to address the need for drinkable water. The good news is there are some good lightweight options to help you build a bug out bag. The first being purification tablets. Simply drop one of each tablet into the canteen or water bottle (its’ a good idea to select one that can withstand to heat to boil water also) and walk so in thirty minutes you will have drinkable water. The walking movements will help to dissolve the tablets and waiting will allow the chemicals to kill any unwanted organisms. Another great option is the survival Lifestraw. They come in the traditional plastic constructions and a model also comes in a stainless steel construction. Either way be sure to carry a well built water container so you can have a way to store water to take with you.

Build a Bug Out Bag: Food

72 hour food supply

72 hour food supply weighing under 3 lbs.

If you are bugging out you will need calories to fuel your trip. Quality calories are important so you do not feel sluggish and can maintain good energy as you travel. Some simple lightweight on the go foods you can take with you are mixed nuts, dehydrated fruits, jerky, and granola bars. All of these are lightweight, have good nutritional value, and a decent shelf life. When buying these foods make sure to check the expiration dates and see if it will hold up in your bag for the foreseeable future. It is important to check these items to keep a fresh supply in your bag. There are also dehydrated foods that are good options and come in light packaging. Some are made with better quality as others and also have longer shelf lives that is a great benefit.

Other Essentials to Build a Bug Out Bag

To build a bug out bag there are a lot of items that are up for further consideration and the next part will breakdown these items and offer examples (simply click the links) as to which additional items are essential for your bug out bag.

Multitool- A multitool is a great addition because of the fact you get pliers, ability to cut wire, screwdrivers and other odds and ends that will be necessary. They are light and compact and usually come in a sheath type case that will fit on your belt.

Flashlight- A flashlight is very important in case you need to check out buildings or need to orient yourself at night. There are a lot of very good brands of flashlights that will be adequate. A couple features to look for would be led, preferably a Cree led flashlight, and one that has a longer run time. Several “tactical” flashlights have a very short run time which seems to be fairly inefficient because carrying a large amount of batteries is not feasible while bugging out. A headlamp is also advantageous so you can have light in a hands free role. This could be important if you need both hands to perform a task. Make sure to bring extra batteries with you so you can have replacements.

Mess Kit- A small portable lightweight pan that will allow you to cook food and some type of cutlery such as a spork or combo set is very handy especially if you hunt for food and need to cook it or have a dehydrated meal or mre.

Emergency Radio- An emergency radio can be a great tool because most are hand crank powered or solar to ensure charging without electricity available. You can use it to learn valuable information as you bug out. It will keep you in the loop as you travel and is a great option because of the charging methods they use.

Optics- A small pair of binoculars or monocular is a great way to give you an advantage of surveying a situation from afar. It could help you decide travel routes as well as potential dangers without having to waste energy before making the appropriate action. Good quality glass is readily available for reasonable pricing making this an essential item.

Compass/map- Having a compass is paramount to your bug out bag. Regardless of the situation you will want to know which direction you are heading especially if you know a certain direction is more dangerous. It will help keep you oriented and on a path to your predetermined bug out location if you have the foresight to choose one. A map is extremely helpful as well because you can mark your route and use your compass to help you navigate to make the most of your energy as you bug out. It is also worth noting that marking false routes on the map is important should the map fall into the wrong hands you do not want to be tracked by them.

Now that you have an understanding on how to build a bug out bag and the direction to take the key is to take the plunge and actually do it. Everyone’s motivation to build a bug out bag is not the same. Some think preparing for the end of the world is insane yet being prepared for emergency weather or accident makes sense to them. Either way a bug out bag is a useful tool. Our goal is to motivate people to actually do it regardless of motivation. You’ll never feel dumb for being prepared. So I encourage you to take heed on these essential items for a bug out bag as well as a quality bag itself. Thanks for reading and please check back for more content.

  • Michael

    Storage bags that can have the air forced out for separating clothes, food etc and give you a reusable waterproof container that can be used to haul water of needed are very useful.

    • They definitely can be. Dry boxes are also great and affordable.