When it comes to bug out bags there are a lot of things to consider. The entire premise of this website is to fuse ideas from preppers and seasoned long range hikers (often called through hikers), who place a premium on lightness of gear and the ability to travel as far as possible on just what is carried.
On the one hand, there are military type bags that are made of incredibly tough materials but are incredibly heavy. On average I would say they run about 4 pounds just for a medium sized pack. And while ultralight packs can seem a lot less rugged, I think that they are tough enough to be put through their paces for long haul trips and survival situations weighing half as much.
Very often the feeling is that in tough situations there will be a need for tough fabric. But the extra couple of pounds may not be worth it if most of what you are going to be doing is walking. If however, you plan on carrying a full arsenal of guns, ammo and associated sniper gear (which I know a lot of people will want to do) then a tougher fabric may be called for. A good ultralight backpack will more than carry a hefty rifle or shotgun with room to spare as I will explain in a minute.
So as you can probably tell I’m not a huge fan of ‘tactical’ bug out bags since I see the need to bug out will be to avoid situations where you would need that kind of firepower.
Beware of Survival Backpack Combos
There are a few of these around and they appear to be kits of some sort but often, I find they may be missing critical things or just be an excuse to sell a bunch of things together in a bag. To really have a bug out bag you like you will have to choose each item and really be excited and on fire about it because if you are not then, you just won’t use them. Collect all your own gear and get what you like of each. You will choose the best quality you can of each item and will be guaranteed the quality will be to your standards and there won’t be useless items or non existent ones as you will probably find in ready-made survival or bug out packs.
Here is an example of a survival backpack. It has a lot of food, some water, and a dust mask from what I can see but where is the tent? Where is the survival bivvy? Where is the knife? Maybe you don’t see a need for these items and obviously, a lot of people don’t judging by the sales of this item, but a bug out bag is really so much more about knowledge. You need to know what needs to be in your bag and why and that takes a bit of shopping around and research.
Get the Stuff First Then Get the Bag to Carry It
Very often the tendency is to want to buy a bag or backpack and then fill it to the rim with all your gear. But the wisest way to go about constructing a bug out bag is to collect all your gear first then find a bag capable of carrying it. Ideally, it would be no more and no less than what you require.
There are lots of sizes to choose from and considerations to be made when making a bug out bag and the first one will be how much can you reasonably carry. Do you have a lighter frame…male/female…in shape/ out of shape. In an ideal world, you would try on different sizes for a few hikes and see for yourself. But since you have to buy a backpack and then try it the best you can do is estimate, get the lightest essential gear you can and then get a bag just a little bigger than needed to carry it.
In general, you are going to need a pack that is a far larger than what most people consider to be good enough for hiking or camping for a few days. These packs tend to run anywhere from 30 to 45 liters. But you have to remember you will be carrying a bit more than you might even for an extended hike or camp out. As was mentioned you may want to carry a gun. I recommend a shotgun and that is going to take a good amount of space and weight.
You May Be Carrying Specialized Survival Gear
- Extra tarps
- cordage and nets for fishing and fishing gear
- Snowshoes and or Packraft
- A larger saw and tools needed for the area. (eg lockpicks if you are in the city)
- You may even want alarms like perimeter bear alarms
- Extra room for things you find or forage
Since I like to rearrange things a lot I like the idea of a pack that can change sizes. I know a good camping or bug out bag will always be evolving. Luckily there is a backpack like it called the ULA Epic. The name describes it all and it is my first choice for a survival backpack hands down.
Now before I go into waxing poetic about this backpack I have to say that I get no financial reward for endorsing it. This is a product I believe in. Its tried and true in the harshest environments and over the longest hauls….and it is very versatile.
Best Place to Buy: ULA Equipment
Weight: 32.5 oz
As you can see it doesn’t seem like much and in fact, t isn’t. Most ultralight packs are like that. They don’t have fancy pockets and zippers with fancy buckles all over, and that is deliberately done to save on weight.
The Epic goes a step further as you will notice it is really just a collection of sparse straps connected to some shoulder straps which all wrap around a wet bag.
This bag can be removed and replaced with smaller or larger wet bags. It is waterproof so that if it falls into the water it will literally float.
If you take the bag out completely the strap themselves are capable of carrying odd and very outsized shapes like moose antlers or beer kegs..(I’ve heard). So that for packing large game animals you could use the strap to carry much more and much more unwieldy shapes than you could in a bag that you wouldn’t want to get unduly stained or bloodied either.
The bag also has straps to carry rolls under it so that lends itself to packrafts or other large rolls of things you may need to carry.
Maximum carrying capacity is limited to the size of wet bag you can find at around 70 liters. But you can scale the pack down with smaller bags to as small as 30 liters…basically, a day pack and the cost of the bags is less than $50. So while you could have a completely equipped bug out bag ready and in the corner, you could also have fully equipped camping and/or day hike bag ready too. Just switch the bags in and out of the frame as needed for each purpose including experimenting with how far you can go with each loaded up. But for a bug out bag, I think 70 liters is just getting there.
For me, the ultimate test of this pack came when Andrew Skurka (Hiking Demi-god) took the ULA Epic on the almost 5000-mile trek he took across Alaska and the Yukon. He needed it to carry his Alpaka packraft which he used to travel over water and to pull his gear on over snow. If Andrew Skurka uses it then I figure it is about good enough for me. Here is a National Geographic of Andrew Skurka recounting the grueling experience:
As I look at this video I noticed that in a couple of the shots he appears to be carrying what looks like another really popular ULA Backpack called a Circuit or possibly one of the covers that has the same design fabric. Anyway here is the circuit:
Best Place to Buy: ULA Equipment
Weight: 41 oz
I should say that these are serious backpacks. And they carry a serious price tag too. And with some shopping around it might be possible to find something that fits alot of the requirements for a good bug out bag without the price tag.
Here is an example of something that cost about $100 less and weighs in at a fantastic 2.2 pounds. At 60 liters the granite Gear is a little small for what I want to carry for longer term survival but it will carry a lot…..the essentials for sure.
Best Place to Buy: Amazon
Weight: 35 oz