10 Overlooked Bugout Bag Essentials


If your property is directly assaulted by a cataclysmic disaster or by an overwhelming force of people looking to do harm, you may need to leave. It’s not to say that you go away and never come back but you may need to bugout to keep yourself and your family safe. This is going to require some bugout bag essentials.

The bugout is, by far, one of the most underestimated aspects of prepping. Many people assume that once they have a bag and idea of where to go that this bugout thing is sewn up.

With hours spent behind the mic and keyboard, I have an overactive apocalyptic imagination. It is not uncommon for me to wake up a few times a month to an unfamiliar sound and assume it’s all coming to an end.

At the very least I hear something that makes me wonder if something local is going wrong and what the next steps are.

No matter how prepared you are the idea of leaving your home in the middle of the night with kids and dogs is not something you look forward to.

If you are talking about getting around on foot, well, things are even direr.

Having the right gear on hand can make the bugout much easier. As a father of 8 (2 boys, 3 dogs, 3 hermit crabs) I have a lot to consider when it comes to leaving our home. Everyone has a bag but whats inside is very important.

The hermit crabs aren’t coming…

A Bugout is not a Bugout is not a Bugout

The problem with the typical bugout checklist is that every bugout is different. My situation is going to be much different than your situation. It’s hard to really understand the full scope of how different these things can be.

Some of the most peril can be had with things like food and water. Are you carrying enough water for your bugout?

Your bugout route might cross two creeks and a pass by a pond. With proper gear for water filtration and sanitization, you may not need to carry more than a bottle of water.

For someone else, water might be the largest priority they have. It’s good to understand the bugout basics and know which gear other people are using, however, only study that in the periphery.

Don’t forget the bugout bag is not your only means for gathering resources. Certain foods can be foraged depending on the time of year and survival caches can be buried along your routes, as well.

So, let us look at one example just to really drive home how different a bugout scenario can be from home to home. You know my situation and the challenges associated with it. What if I were elderly and suffered from a serious illness or long term injury? The bugout is very different.

Be sure your bag has these bugout bag essentials.

Not the Essentials You’d Expect

There are a lot of great bugout checklists and bugout guides on the internet. If you are coming from square one, they will get you outfitted with a bunch of gear. They will spend a bunch of your money, too!

I guess that is just the nature of the beast when you are bugout bag building. The angle I thought we should take is one that veers away from water filters and survival knives.

The more I learn about survival and disaster readiness, the more I understand that everything is about prioritization. We are limited by things like time, money, space and support but we still have to make it work! That is the beauty of prioritization.

These 10 items will not be as cool as a survival knife or a flint and steel. However, in the game of prioritization, I think these are the unexpected essentials that every bugout bag should be stuffed with.

10 Overlooked Bugout Bag Essentials

1. Good Shoes and Good Socks

I used to wear clogs to work. It was a dream of mine to wear the long bistro apron and those black clogs in the back of the house at some swanky restaurant. I lived that dream for a while. Almost a decade.

My next profession put me in a warehouse, in boots. It was there I learned how important it was to break boots in and wear proper socks.

Hot spots are real, blisters and raw skin. This stuff would happen to me in a matter of hours if I chose to use the wrong socks. To add context here, I was no soft-footed person. As a chef I spent as much as 14 hours a day on my feet. On the weekends I put on waders and went fly fishing for hours.

Still, dry land booting requires some preparation. It would be a sin for you to find that out on the second mile of your 30-mile bugout route. While the boots might not be stored in your bag, I would pack a few good thick pairs of wool socks.

2. Environmental Preps

Some of the cheapest preps to get your hands on but some of the lamest things to talk about! You can’t start a prepping blog on suntan lotion and bug spray. However, these two things can make a world of a difference in austere situations.

“The float is like 4 hours long when the river is running like this.”

8 hours later I arrived onshore after floating the James River with some friends and family. I was a different shade of red than I had ever saw a man become. Nothing hurt yet but I was in for a life-changing experience.

I applied suntan lotion but only once in 8 hours.

That night I was in the most agony of my entire life. I couldn’t even lay in bed because my skin was so raw. I just remember laying in the back room of my home doing deep yogic breathing in order to clear my mind and fall asleep.

This went on for three days and when Monday rolled around I had to call out of work because I couldn’t even put a shirt on!

Now, I am a pale Irish boy but I have never been sunburnt quite like this. That is what waits for you out there if you get caught without protection from the environment.

3. Maps

What on earth do you do with a map that is not on your phone? How do you zoom in and where are all the Starbucks?

Before we had maps we mapped the stars but once we could navigate using a map and compass things became very interesting. That was a skill that helped us explore this great continent of North America. Unfortunately, that skill is all but lost thanks to GPS.

Maps are very important for preppers. We need to have maps at our disposal and particularly of our area. Be sure you have a map of your bugout location and that area, as well.

If you are traversing on foot you will really want a good map. This map will help you if you get off track or if you just don’t know the way on foot. When your bugout plan is based off Google Maps it will look very different if you have never walked it.

A good map and compass can get you back on track if you have to go around a marsh or some new environmental hazard.

One very important thing about land navigation, its a skill that decays like all others. If you are going to get good at it, its not so much about getting out and doing it once. It has to be built into your life on a regular basis.

4. Short Range Comms

The sun is setting and your family was separated because of an unforeseen situation during the bugout. This could happen for a number of reasons but if you don’t have a plan to rally at a predetermined location you are going to be in big trouble.

Unless, of course, you have short-range communications. Two-way radios seem like toys until you need them. You might have a set sitting on a shelf somewhere. Your kids likely have some that are shaped like superhero heads or something to that effect.

One of the best ways to familiarize your family with these two way radios is to bring them on your next camping trip. As you travel around the campsite you can call back to home base and get used to staying in touch with this method.

These two-way radios are short-range communications and that is all you should expect from them. While the package might say they reach 21 miles, take my word for it, count on them for a mile or less.

5. Head Cover

Something so simple yet often overlooked.

No matter where we went fishing or how long we’d be out, my Dad was always sure I had a hat. It was vital to cover the head and protect yourself from the sun. Dad would later get a little ear cancer and this would be his greatest lesson.

It was cut off and he survived but he drove the point home ad nauseam.

If you are not a hat person an essential for your bugout is going to be the Shemagh. The Shemagh is a powerhouse with several survival applications. It also offers up a number of ways to wear the large handkerchief.

One of the best uses for a Shemagh is as a face and head cover or a Keffiyeh. While the average American will look at this use of the Shemagh and think ‘Taliban’ its actually very effective. If you don’t have sunblock or bug spray the Shemagh offers as much protection as you could ever want for the head and neck.

6. Rain Gear

This one is pretty straightforward. If you are cold and wet it is about the quickest route to hypothermia aside from floating in the cold lake itself.

What most people get wrong about rain gear is that you need to invest big money on an Acrtyrex rain coat with a hood.

The reality about rain gear is that it can be very, very cheap to outfit your entire family. How cheap?

Well, you can spend a few bucks a person on ponchos. Ponchos, while not designer pieces of prepper or survival gear are incredibly effective rain gear. They will keep you dry and baseball fans depend on them every spring!

Don’t have the money for rain gear?

Those trash bags will provide you with plenty of protection from the rain if you just cut a space for your face. if you pack trash bags you can also quickly wrap your bugout bag, as well.

7. USB Power

Power is essential in this modern age. Hate it or love it, your cellphone is on of the most powerful survival tools you have. Its comms, maps, intel and much more.

I like to download an offline survival manual on my phone. This gives me access to great information even without service.

Outside of your phone, there are lots of items that can be powered via USB. If you pack a simple foldout solar array that can power these items, you have a lot of options for power generation.

Here is a simple list of items that can be charged using USB power.

  • Flashlights
  • Lights
  • Rechargeable Batteries
  • Drones
  • Stun Guns
  • Kids Toys

While all of these items might not be in your bugout bag, if something like a drone is part of your bugout plan it will need power. USB Solar power is renewable and makes for a perfect example of essential bugout gear

8. Cash

Less than 50% of Americans have $500 dollars saved. The American public is laden with debt just like the government!

Setting up an emergency fund is a very effective way for us thwart disasters ranging from the cataclysmic economic collapse to just being out of work for a few weeks.

This is easily the hardest of the bugout bag essentials to commit to. It’s not easy to throw $500 in cash into a safe or a cache and leave it there. Life is tough! Things come up that your bugout cash could really help.

In desperate situations, and the bugout is despair, cash can solve problems that many things cannot. You can get the things you need if you have the cash to on hand. This could be information or something else.

Even in today’s society cash still has a certain swagger to it. It can make things happen that shouldn’t or it can smooth out rough situations.

Maybe building an emergency fund to float your living costs for 3 months is just out of the picture. If so, put a few hundred away so you can grab it if the bugout ever becomes a reality.

One more thing! Don’t take three Ben Franklin’s out into the world and expect people to make change for you in a disaster. Be sure your cash is broken up into smaller bills ahead of time.

9. PACE Plans

The PACE concept is often left to things like communications and security. However, it fits snug into bugout planning.

For the uninitiated PACE is an acronym.

  • Primary
  • Alternate
  • Contingency
  • Emergency

The reason this is such an important bugout bag essential is because the bugout should not be as simple as a point A to point B gameplan. You know, there is a good chance that your one bugout location could be compromised in one sense or another.

That means that you are now without a bugout location or plan!

When you develop a PACE plan for bugging out you can create a few different locations or checkpoints where you can set up a shelter or wait things out for your primary location to be accessible.

The most important part about these PACE plans is that they should be hard copy and stored in your bugout bag. Maps of the locations are vital and maybe some notations.

You need a reference if things get messy. There is a good chance that your bugout meets resistance in a disaster.

Hard copy PACE plans are undoubtedly one of the bugout bag essentials.

10. Sleeps Systems

The variety of sleep systems on the market that deserve consideration. While it might seem like you need a family-sized tent to bugout properly, that may not be the case.

How you sleep has so much to do with your success. You heal, you rest, you recover and you process the stress of the prior day. Sleep is one of the most overlooked survival “skills” that exists.

Craig Avery, a survival school owner and creator of the Hunters Hammock, changed my outlook on survival sleep systems. I was not well versed in the world of hammock sleeping. I was a tent guy!

After playing with the hammock, adding a tarp and bug net, I realized that each family member could be outfitted with a hammock and we could sleep off the ground and spread out the weight of carrying sleep systems.

Someone has to carry a tent or two. Its a big deal and it takes up a lot of room and weight. What I like about hammocks is that they can be carried by everyone.

My 4-year-old can carry a backpack with a hammock, tarp, and stakes in it! He can manage his own sleep system on the bugout. Of course, he will need help setting it up but this is just an example of sleep systems outside of tents.

This section is not about converting you from a tent sleep system to a hammock family. It’s about emphasizing your sleep system. Spend some time considering the pros and cons of what’s out there.

Sleep is essential.

Conclusion on Bugout Bag Essentials

We didn’t say a word about things like water, fire, and a survival knife. That is because there are lots of bugout bag checklists, bugout bag loadouts and bugout bag articles listing the many items that you need in your bag.

We even have our own!

This list of bugout bag essentials was created to not only to offer up some items to put in the bag but to also spur thoughts on what is truly ESSENTIAL for a successful bug out.

The bugout is a worst-case scenario. If you are leaving your home for another location, it cannot get much worse.

The bug out is not a vacation.

It is also not a fantasy.

If you are planning on truly bugging out with family, you all should at least go through the motions once. You should drive to the location and set up, or you should walk there and set up for the night.

Don’t assume it will all work out because you have the bag and you have the location marked on a map.


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