Bug Out Backpack - Picking and Packing The Best

Picking and Packing Your Bug Out Backpack

Disasters and danger can strike at any time, and often without warning. Before you know it, you’re deep in a situation that requires your survival gear. Whether it’s a significant power outage or you’re lost and stranded in the wilderness, it’s essential to prepare ahead of time by having a high-quality bug out backpack for just such emergencies.

Your bug out backpack is a self-contained bag meant to get you through the first 72 hours after a disaster. While you cannot control how or when disaster will strike, you can control how prepared you are to deal with one. When bugging out, your bug out backpack is your number one resource and may be the key to your survival.

Picking your Bug Out Backpack

The weight of your backpack is crucial, and as a rule of thumb, you want a light one. However, that does not mean that the lightest backpack is the best survival backpack since you’ll want a pack with an internal frame.

Below are some features to consider when making your decision around which type of bug out backpack is best for you.

Hip Belt Padding

A good hip belt is often not given serious consideration because as long as it’s working, no one notices it. But the second you start getting sore spots around your hips and your lower back starts barking, you’ll wish you’d given the hip belt a little more consideration. A good hip belt also provides stabilization and decreases the impact of your bug out backpack.

Padded Straps

The gear you’re going to pack isn’t light and will start to feel even heavier after carrying it for a while. Padded straps allow for the weight of your bug out backpack to be distributed more evenly while lowering the impact on your shoulders.


You’ll want a waterproof bag to protect your equipment and food supplies. Look for a pack that is waterproof, but also provides ventilation, so you don’t sweat.


While on the topic of waterproof packs and ventilation, find a good bug out backpack that has ventilation technology. This technology is usually a mesh panel that allows your back to stay cool and comfortable no matter what the climate.

Internal Frame

You can choose between an internal frame, external frame or frameless packs, but the best choice is going to be internal. The load-support functions to move the overall weight load to your hips. Frameless packs don’t provide the needed support, and externals are usually clunky and uncomfortable.


Capacity refers to how much gear your bug out backpack can hold. This measurement is usually in liters, and it is important because you want to have enough supplies. A reasonable estimate is 30-50 liters for three nights, 50-80 liters for five nights, and 70+ liters for extended trips or emergencies.

Rain Cover

The best survival backpacks have rain covers. While most backpacks have a waterproof coating, moisture still slips through zippers or other weak areas. The key is to get a bug out backpack with a separate, detachable rain cover for heavy rainfall or moisture.

Packing Your Bug Out Backpack

Once you have settled on the best survival backpack for you, there are several important supply categories to consider as you assemble the contents.


You need at least one liter of water a day for proper hydration. Collapsible containers reduce bulk as the water is used and are a good option if you are packing at higher volumes. A metal canteen can be used to boil water you collect from other sources, so is an excellent choice if you anticipate needing to replenish your supply. You may also consider packing a filtration system or water purification tablets as an alternative to boiling water, although they take up more room in your bug out backpack.


Survival is not about planning for three meals a day; it is about packing your bug out backpack with the essentials, saving space, and ensuring you have what you need to survive for an extended period if necessary. Canned meat and beans are good, but consider their weight before you pack too many. Dehydrated camping meals are light, but require hot water to prepare. MREs have a long shelf life and heating systems, but they are expensive. Energy bars and candy bars will get you through days of no other food because they are loaded with calories and carbs. You may also consider packing cooking supplies and utensils, but again, be aware of weight and space.


Protecting yourself from the elements is critical. A military poncho works great for emergency shelter, just make sure you know how to use it before you need it. A reflective emergency survival blanket is useful as a survival sleeping bag, a ground tarp, or a tarp/tent shelter. They are lightweight and cheap. A lightweight camping tent is nice but more expensive. Depending on weight and space, you can provide some redundancy with an extra sleeping bag or a wool blanket. Wool blankets retain 80% of their heat even when wet, so they are a great item to have in your bug out backpack.


Making fire is the ultimate survival skill. A minimum of three ways is essential. Be sure to pack lighters and matches, but also include a fire steel that can generate sparks in all weather conditions, and pack tinder to fuel the flame.

First Aid

You can build your kit, or buy a premade kit from the store, but make sure it contains a minimum of twelve 1” x 3” bandages, two 2” x 4.5” bandages, three knuckle bandages, two butterfly closure bandages, and gauze dressing. You can also add suture kits, alcohol pads, and lip balm.


If you pack no other tool in your bug out backpack, make sure you have a knife. It is handy for meal prep, carving, and self-defense. Balance size with effectiveness and make sure it’s big enough to get the job done but small enough that it’s not bulky. You may also want to consider a good multi-tool with a screwdriver, pliers, and wire cutters.


You should consider at least two sources of light for your bug out backpack. One flashlight and one smaller source of light to use when preparing meals are ideal. Some other options are glow sticks, candles, and headlamps.


This category contains several important things. A fully charged cell phone and a backup battery, or a battery pack to recharge your phone are the most important things. Also, you want to make sure you have copies of any important documents you may need for identification, as well as a map.


It’s a given that in an emergency situation, law enforcement and emergency crews will be overwhelmed, and violent crimes trend up. While the best form of self-defense will always be a gun because of its reach, intimidation factor, and stopping power, other good measures of self-defense include a knife, your cooking utensils like pots and pans, or your survival knife.

Miscellaneous Gear

This category is largely personal preference. Consider the weight of your bug out backpack before you pack anything else. Some ideas for miscellaneous items might include:

  • Cash
  • Toiletries
  • Duct tape
  • Paper and pencil
  • Bible
  • Work gloves
  • Sewing kit
  • Binoculars
  • Fishing kit
  • Sunglasses
  • Whistle
  • Insect repellent
  • Compass

The best survival backpack is one that makes you feel comfortable and prepared. Anything is better than nothing in the case of an emergency, and your bug out backpack will give you peace of mind knowing that it’s ready to go when you are. Your needs will evolve with you, and you may re-evaluate and adjust the contents of your bug out backpack once in a while. Building a bug out backpack is well worth the time and effort when you come face to face with an emergency situation, and you’ll be glad you did it.

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