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Bug Out Bag Checklist: 25 Survival, Food, Gear Essentials

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So, you want the ultimate bug out bag checklist. Speaking as an expert in the industry, the 100+ lists do too much for too little.

Frankly, you get lost in those lengthy lists. Likewise, if you were to pack all 100 items, you’d be better off packing them in a car.

Each Bug Out Bag (“BOB”) is as unique as the prepper carrying it. We have optimized this bug out bag checklist with the most essential gear for your survival.

Let’s get you started with the best bug out bag checklist.

Bug Out Bag Checklist Basics

For our beginner prepper readers, a BOB gets you out of trouble and to safety.

Primarily designed for serious emergencies, your BOB has the tools to cover your needs for 24-72 hours as you get “off the X.”

To do this, your bug out bag essentials include necessities for survival. To organize your bag checklist, you need to organize your survival priorities. I base my favorite priorities on the “Survival Rule of Three”.

Your life is in jeopardy in:

  • Three minutes without oxygen
  • Three hours without maintaining body temperature
  • Three days without water
  • Three weeks without food
  • Three months without human contact

While these are not hard-and-fast rules, they are a significant starting point for your BOB.

Don’t worry if you don’t get it perfect the first time around. In fact, if you have found something that needs to change, that’s great! That means you are using it.

Most importantly, view your bag as a work in progress. This article provides a firm foundation for your survival gear. However, we need to emphasize that only you know the perfect set of gear for your expected survival situations.

Let’s first look at the why, and then we’ll dig in.

What is a Bug Out Bag?

To reiterate the basics, a bug-out bag is a collection of tools to sustain you during an evacuation.

In the prepper world, a bug out is the process of getting away from danger. Ultimately, you want to get to a place of absolute safety.

In order to sustain yourself during this evacuation, you need the basics of survival, which include food, water, the means to make fire, and other well-selected gear.

The prepper’s key is a bug out bag. Most preppers have several variations on this theme. Each has a specific use.

This may include a small bag to get you home from work or errands (Get Home Bag or “GHB”). In contrast, it may be an extensive pack for an extended trip (I’m Never Coming Home or “INCH” bag).

Regardless of its name, your BOB gets you from point A to point B in one piece.

Why Should I Pack a Bug Out Bag?

This is the key question to filling out any bug out bag checklist.

Life changes often, with little or no notice. When it shifts radically, you need to have the knowledge and tools to adapt and overcome it.

We strive to give you the best of both worlds. Knowledge and tools will get you through a disaster. 

We can’t include everything for a bug out in our everyday carry (“EDC”); there just isn’t enough room on your person. Your BOB augments your EDC and tips the odds in your favor on a bug out.

You carry a bug out bag for insurance. Can you guarantee that your life won’t be severely interrupted?

A bug out bag isn’t just for when the world ends. It also gives you freedom.

If a loved one has to go to the hospital now, your bag gives you the freedom to go. A voice of experience is here. It’s better to have food and clothes for three days if the only place for you is in a hospital bed, praying.

Air Filtration

As the Rule of Three states, we can only survive three minutes without air.

Ok, you’re not going to pack oxygen in your BOB. However, your survival kit should contain a few masks or materials to improvise one. As we saw on 9/11, covering your nose and mouth is a must for urban preppers.

Bandanas and Face Masks

Vamqor Cotton Bandanas
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When space and weight are at a premium, always use redundant tools. A bandana, shemagh, or face mask is a perfect example.

Use the bandana as a particulate filter. The bigger, the better. Two wraps around the face will be even more effective.

You won’t be able to duplicate an N95 mask with a bandana. If your threat matrix includes airborne pathogens, then add an N95 or R95 mask (if available) to your kit.


The second bug out bag checklist item keeps our body temperature stable. At three hours without maintaining body temperature, this is by far the largest category.

A quick review of the headlines shows that the number of hikers and campers that die from exposure far outweighs those that starve.

Combating exposure includes, from the inside out, weather-appropriate clothing, outerwear, shelter, and the ability to make a fire (we’ll cover fire separately below).


Your BOB needs to contain at least one change of clothes and three changes of socks.

Prepare for wet weather. Mr. Murphy will dictate that your bugout will be at the worst of times. Nothing saps heat and morale like wet clothes.

Pack your clothes in a Ziploc or space-saving bag. By evacuating the air, you can reduce the required storage space.

Thermal Blanket

Arcturus Heavy Duty Survival Blanket
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Arcturus Heavy Duty Survival Blanket
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Thermal/space blankets take up minimal room and are another multi-use item. Wrap yourself to keep warm or wrap someone else if they are going into shock.

Maintaining body heat is critical in a survival situation. Unless you expect freezing weather, you can leave the sleeping bag and pack a space blanket.

A quality space blanket’s usefulness doesn’t end there. Line a shelter with it to reflect heat back to you. You can even use it as a shelter with a few lengths of paracord.

Don’t buy the early generation’s thin mylar. They will only be a vehicle for your frustration. Get a modern version that is more akin to rip-stop nylon. They will last longer and won’t fail at a critical moment.


You can’t neglect the outer layers in your bug out bag. While you can pack a separate raincoat, a poncho goes a step further.

Ponchos are a one-size-fits-all approach to rain gear. You can even wear your pack under it and keep your gear dry.

A military-style poncho is designed not only as foul-weather gear but also as a shelter. Used alone or attached together can free you up from needing a tent. Better yet, your poncho becomes a backup if your tent fails.

Tent, Hammock, or Tarp

Amazon Basics Dome Tent
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When your environment warrants it, you will need a dedicated shelter. A camping tent or a tarp, with the proper knowledge, will go a long way in keeping you out of the elements.

While on a short trip, you may not want to risk an overnight stay, however, the weather may force you to take a pause. It is better to do it in a proper shelter than out in the elements.

Your top options are a tent, hammock, or tarp. They each have their pros and cons. Do your research and determine which is best for you.

Drum Liners

When funds or space do not allow for a tent, a drum liner will do.

These oversized garbage bags will improvise a poncho and provide a waterproof layer to the debris shelter. You can even stuff one with leaves to form an insulating ground pad.

Don’t disregard the multiple uses of a bag when things go south.


Avoiding the threat of exposure makes mastering the ability to make a fire a critical survival trait. Additionally, it must be done despite inclement weather or other adverse conditions. Mother Nature makes no exceptions.

Regardless if you are facing a natural disaster or a manmade one, your survival skills have to include managing exposure to the elements.

Fire Kit

WEYLAND Fire Starting Kit
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If you can’t maintain your body heat, then it’s time to start a fire. This is another place for redundancy. From your EDC to your bug out bag, you should have multiple means for starting a fire.

This includes an ignition source, tinder (or accelerants), and fuel. Your bug out bag needs the first two while you gather fuel.


Ignition sources can be as simple as a Bic lighter, a waterproof lighter, or a ferro rod.

If you are skilled at a bow drill or hand drill, pack your cup, spindle, and fireboard. This knowledge is great; however, in a survival situation, break out your ferro rod kit.

It’s a good idea to include a magnifying lens firestarter. It’s ultra-compact and never runs out of fuel. On the other hand, you can’t use it at night, so diversify your options and include multiple ignition sources.


Your bug out bag should also include tinder or accelerants.

Cotton balls with Vaseline (you may have both in your first aid kit), jute twine soaked in paraffin, or commercial firestarters are much easier than foraged tinder.

Pack a small amount, as when you need a fire, you need it now.


The next bug out bag checklist item keeps us hydrated. We can survive for about three days without water. This is one of the strongest variables in the survival rules.

Your survival without water heavily depends on the environment. That is, you can die in as little as 24 hours in some hot and arid places.

Also, keep in mind that dehydration can take you out of the fight, both physically and mentally. In as little as a few hours, your mental capacity can diminish, making your decisions suspect.

Water Filter and Treatment

LifeStraw Personal Water Filter
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Water is heavy at 8 pounds per gallon. We need about a gallon per day. That adds up quickly for a three-day survival situation.

The better option is to carry water filtration and treatment options. A water filter can create thousands of gallons of drinkable water and weigh only a few ounces.

Water treatment drops or tablets can satisfy your needs in a small bottle. Make sure you are familiar with their use.

Water Storage

You will need to store your water somewhere. A plastic or Nalgene water bottle is fine; however, think multi-use.

You will need the means to boil water. A single walled stainless steel water bottle will also provide a means to boil water.

Do not use an insulated bottle, as it may explode if you try to boil it.


While not as important as water and shelter, food must be included on your bug out bag checklist. The average person can go three weeks without food. However, most of us missed about two meals during a real meltdown.

The food in your bug out bag should comprise dense calories that fend off hunger and boost morale, rather than keep you alive for a long time.

Meal Bars and MREs

MRE Emergency Food Rations
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MRE Emergency Food Rations
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On the go, you need quick and filling. The easiest option is a few meal bars, protein bars, or granola bars. If you want to get a little more filling, then pack an MRE or two.

Don’t go crazy. You will have a limited bug out. Cover just enough calories to get you through. If you wish to pack some comfort food, that is okay. A bar of chocolate or a few dry packs of soup can lift your spirits and add a few calories.

Compact Portable Cooking Set

Simple comforts can help even the shortest bug out. A hot pot of soup. A hot cup of tea. Even the essentials can use a pot. If there is a place to right-size and watch ounces,.

A compact, portable cooking set, enough for a packet of Lipton dry soup or tea. This pot will be redundant with your stainless-steel water bottle.

Esbit Stove

Esbit Ultralight Folding Pocket Stove
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Esbit Ultralight Folding Pocket Stove
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An Esbit stove is a simple stove that takes fuel tablets. It is much easier than finding dry wood and smaller than a propane or white gas stove.

On your bug out, you won’t cook any seven-course meals. You just need to boil water and make a mug of tea.

It’ll be way easier to light an Esbit tablet than gathering tinder, clearing a fire ring, and starting a fire large enough to cook with.

First Aid

Accidents happen. When they do, it’s difficult to improvise what you need. Especially when what you need is a sterile dressing or a chest seal.

Each of your emergency kits needs to have the tools to manage injuries, big and small.

Trauma Kit

An arterial bleed can render a person incapacitated in as little as 60 seconds. Your trauma kit is the first line of defense for severe injuries.

It should contain two tourniquets, a hemostatic dressing, and a chest seal. You won’t fix any severe injuries with it, but you can stabilize a person long enough to get them professional help.

First Aid Kit

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Trauma aside, your first aid kit manages all of life’s other cuts and scrapes. Prepare your own or purchase a well-stocked kit and augment it where it falls short.

Be sure it includes an excellent selection of band-aids, dressings, antiseptic wipes, over-the-counter (OTC) medications, moleskin, and at least one flexible splint.

Your first aid kit provides comfort. You can still walk with blistered feet and a split nose. You’ll manage the situation better with the right treatment.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

If it’s wet or sticky and not yours, don’t touch it. Personal protective equipment keeps others gooping off of you.

Your PPE bundle should include several pairs of Nitrile gloves and goggles.


While not in the rule of threes, personal defense falls into the “hurry up and wait” category. When you need it, you need it now! When you don’t, it takes up time, space, and weight.

Here are several defense options for your bug out bag checklist.


KA-BAR Knife
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KA-BAR Knife
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Often referred to as the ultimate survival tool, your bug out bag needs a knife.

Many bushcraft experts put themselves to the test by heading off to the wilderness with little more than a knife. All bug out bags should have a place for a quality blade.

There are too many videos and blogs to count that cover the detailed aspects of proper knife selection. Spend an afternoon and form your list of the preferred list of attributes.

Also, while you can, you do not need to break the bank. A simple KA-BAR USMC knife will satisfy 99% of your survival needs for a knife.


The selection of a defensive item is very personal. I won’t recommend a gun if you’ve never fired one or don’t have the time to keep up on your skills. Nor will I recommend a knife if you don’t have the physical acumen to use one.

You need to defend yourself and your family. That is undeniable. The means are up to you. Select the best method based on your skills, time, and money. Then invest wisely and train.

Pepper Spray

SABRE Pepper Spray
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If you carry pepper spray, many police departments, and private groups provide instruction.

Pepper spray is cheap and effective. Pick some up and get training.


We all have our limitations. As we get older, one of the first things to go is our eyesight, especially our night vision. In non-emergency situations, this is a minor annoyance.

In times of need, light can be a matter of life and death.


BengMxj Tactical Flashlight
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You should already have several flashlights in your home and a compact tactical flashlight in your EDC.

If you have room in your bag, a solar tactical flashlight may be advantageous.


GearLight LED Headlamp
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GearLight LED Headlamp
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If you already have a compact flashlight as part of your EDC, I recommend a headlamp.

Headlamps are a little bulky to add to your on-body EDC. They can, however, operate with a convenience that a normal flashlight cannot.


Your bug out requires a plan, and your bug out bag checklist requires navigation tools. Your plan needs primary, secondary, and other backup routes. Even then, the best plans rarely survive reality.

Under stress, navigational tools ensure you are taking the correct route. They also support you when you have to divert from your planned route.


When a GPS breaks, it’s a brick. When a map breaks, it’s still a map.

Pack several maps for both your bug out areas and normal routes of travel. Maps are small and light, and most bags include a small map pocket.

Pack 1:24,000 scale maps, common street maps (local and state), and a few Google Maps printouts. You can either waterproof the maps or seal them in a Ziploc bag.


This will be a catch-all topic. Several critical items don’t land in any of the other categories.


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Tools come in all shapes and sizes, and several belong on your bug out bag checklist. While you can’t carry a toolbox on your back, you can carry the next best thing.

Multi-tools come in all shapes and sizes these days. Grab one that has the basics of pliers, screwdrivers, awls, can openers, and a knife. Then add tools that best fit your needs.


Paracord ranks with duct tape in its ability to solve the problems of the world. Use it for shelter making, fishing, first aid, and general repair.

Store 50’ or more of 550 lb. or higher paracord.

Duct Tape

Duct tape ranks with paracord in its ability to solve the problems of the world (see what I did there). In reality, these two tools can solve most of your short-term problems.

Wrap some around a water bottle or a credit card and store it in your wallet. Add some to your first-aid kit. Keep it handy!

Cell Phone

FosPower Emergency Weather Radio
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Cell phones are great communication tools. They are even better as computing resources.

Load it not only with contact numbers but also with apps and tools. Offline maps, documents, and a million other tools can find their way into a bug out plan.

In a real emergency, cell and data service may be spotty or nonexistent. Cover your bases by getting a solar hand-crank NOAA weather radio. They are a bit bulky but can act as a power bank as well.


A bug out bag is designed to sustain you for up to three days, so consider your basic hygiene necessities.

Bring a toothbrush and toothpaste at a minimum. Toilet paper is something you won’t think about until you need it, so bring a small amount.


Not all bug outs result from the end of all things. Many are normal disasters. Floods, tornadoes, and wildfires happen every month.

They can equally displace you from your home. When getting back to normal, you will have to function within modern society. This requires paperwork.

Put together a document package of copies of all your important papers. This should include IDs, birth certificates, bank statements (or secured list of account numbers), deed, rental agreements, etc.


Cash is king. A few problems cannot be solved with the application of a crisp $100 bill. On the bug out trail, many that you encounter will be desperate and may be swayed by cash.

Likewise, if the disaster takes down the grid, this cash will allow you to purchase before others scrape up the cash for their needs.

Bonus: Faith and Mindset

Ok, the first of the rule of threes is faith and mindset. If you don’t have faith or a survival mindset, then you won’t last three seconds.

Your body may last; however, your heart and mind have already given up. You must have something that drives you.


Pack a token of inspiration in your pack. This may be a bible, or it may be a family photograph.

Even if it’s a list of favorite quotes,. Add it to your pack. This little bit of inspiration may be the one thing that solidifies your resolve to survive.

Choosing a Bug Out Bag

Selecting the contents of your bug out bag is only half the story. Your bug out gear has to be carried with you to be effective.

A bug out bag will be as personal as your gear. Choose an ill-fitting bag, and you’ll never wear it.

Purchase one that is too large, and you’ll be tempted to fill it. A bug out bag over 15%–20% of your body weight will be too heavy to carry far.

Qualities to Look For

3V Gear Paratus 3-Day Operator's Tactical Backpack
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3V Gear Paratus 3-Day Operator's Tactical Backpack
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The three fundamental qualities of a bug out bag are ruggedness, size, and style. Ruggedness, or build quality, should fit your lifestyle and bugout.

Do some research into the reviews of your selected bag and make sure it is built with the best manufacturing possible. You don’t want the bag to fall apart halfway down the trail.

Next is size. You need to find the Goldilocks zone. Too small, and it forces you to leave something home. Too big, and you’ll stuff it, and it’ll break your back.

Finally, consider style. Look to your environment and see what is best to blend in. Is a brightly colored day pack fitting, or can you use a military-style bag?

Also, consider the impression you wish to project. A military bag on a fit and confident person projects a different impression than the same bag on someone who is dramatically out of shape.

Should I Buy a Bug Out Bag Kit?

The survival market is filled with pre-made bags for every contingency. Is one for you? 

Although the convenience of a bug out bag kit can’t be matched, there are a few things to consider.

First, kits are generally more expensive than if you purchase and assemble the bag yourself. Make an honest assessment of the value of the contents.

Second, the contents can be misleading if you are not fully aware of them. Just like that 100-piece first aid kit, they count each individual band-aid and q-tip as one piece. Just make sure you get everything you need.

Finally, the bags can be of minimal quality. One of the cost-cutting measures is to purchase a good-looking but cheaply made bag to contain the contents. Their zippers fail, and their straps fall apart.

These statements by no means represent all bags in the prepping market. Do your research, and if you go this route, select a well-made bag sold by a well-known vendor.

Bug Out Bag Checklist Overview

For easy reference, here are our top 25 items to put in your bug out bag checklist. Each was discussed above in more detail with additional or substitute items.

  1. R95 face mask
  2. Change of clothes
  3. 3 pairs of socks
  4. Vacuum storage bags
  5. Survival blanket
  6. Waterproof rain poncho
  7. Camping tent or tarp
  8. Ferro rod kit
  9. Water filter
  10. Water treatment drops
  11. Single walled stainless steel water bottle
  12. Meal bars
  13. Compact, portable cooking set
  14. Esbit stove with smoke-free fuel tablets
  15. First aid kit
  16. Tactical knife
  17. Pepper spray
  18. Compact tactical flashlight
  19. Hard copy maps
  20. Multi-tool
  21. Paracord
  22. Duct tape
  23. Cell Phone
  24. Important personal documents
  25. Cash

Beyond the Bag: Go Deeper

Bug out bags are one of the foundational items for personal preparation. In line with beans, bullets, and bandages, BOBs are central to getting you away from trouble and to a position of improved safety.

That being said, a well-equipped bug out bag is just the first step on a prepper’s path. Hit the web stores and check off the complete bug out bag checklist.

Once you have done that, congratulations! Now it’s time to work on your long-term preparation strategy. We are honored to accompany you on your journey!

bug out bag checklist

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