Fit, Not Fat, but Definitely Fifty: What’s in Claire’s Bug-Out Bag?
By Claire Wolfe
September 1, 2005
We’ve talked so much about bug-out bags here in Hardyville (including emergency scenarios for the not so hardy) that I think it’s time to reveal what’s in my personal bug-out bag. Before I get to the nitty gritty, some background.
The very idea of “bugging out” in an emergency is creepy. As one helpful reader recently reminded me, “[S]ome survival expert once said … ‘Never, ever, no matter what, become a refugee.’ His point is that it is infinitely better to hunker down in your own secure, stocked, familiar surroundings than to join a huge throng of displaced persons trudging who knows where only to become a ward of whatever government is still functioning.” (And these days make that an abused, disarmed, and illegally searched ward of government.)”
I live on high ground in a rural area and can imagine only a few scenarios that would force me out of my house during an emergency. Even in most of those, I’d simply move into my yurt, a shed, a tent, or a vehicle on my property. If a forest fire or other localized disaster drove me from my land, I’d bunk with friends.
Bigger, more widespread emergencies? Well, my cabin and land are probably as safe a location as any I could find. And unlike in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina was aiming her monster self at them, no emergency-management authority is likely to order me out of here.
So although I do have a bug-out bag which I could grab in a hurry, most of my preps are based on staying right here but toughing it out through a time of no power, light, or running water.
The bag is simply so that I’ll have everything handy and know where it is in an emergency without having to hunt and fret.
My next-most-likely alternate scenario would be being caught somewhere while on a road trip — my truck broken down in the middle of nowhere, for instance, and in a cellphone “dead zone” so that I couldn’t call for help. For that and similar eventualities, I do have “outdoorsy” items in my kit. But I hope I never have to use them.
What you need in a bug-out bag is partly in the mind of the beholder. Here’s a person, for instance, whose rather thought-provoking list includes a knife sharpener, camouflage paint, a radiation dosimeter, and “knife-proof gloves” but doesn’t include a ground pad or any form shelter. (Perhaps he’s prepared to improvise those.)
And here’s a whole set of lists of bug-out bag contents which gives you yet more idea of how varied peoples’ ideas are on this subject.
I can’t say what anybody else should have in their bags. I can definitely tell you that there are things I’d like to have in my bag that I don’t have because of cost. Or space. Or because I can’t see quite enough likely need to justify the purchase.
Here’s what I do have, for good or ill:
WE INTERUPT THIS COLUMN FOR A CRASS COMMERCIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: Many of the links below are to products on Amazon.com. If you buy using my links, I’ll get a small commission on your purchase (but won’t receive any personal information on you). It’s a way of helping out a Starving ArtistTM. If you aren’t in the market, I hope you’ll still find the Amazon links informative.
The bag itself. Mine is simply a duffel bag. That’s probably not what you’d want if you expect a long trek on foot to safety. (The Bobaloo Crew used military-style backpacks when they went on their wintertime Bug-Out Campout.) But I got my duffel for a buck at a garage sale — which enabled me to spend more on what’s inside. A duffel is sufficient for “bugging-in” and for tossing into the back of a truck.
A tube tent. Most of my scenarios don’t involve being stuck outdoors with zero shelter. A cheap, compact tube tent gives me that tiny extra bit of “just in case” without breaking either my budget or my back.
Columbia Frosty Trail sleeping bag. A compromise purchase. This was half-way between my previous cheap Wenger sleeping bag (which had great features, but whose zipper would never go back together after the first time I unzipped it) and something really nice and guaranteed for life like a Wiggy’s bag. The Columbia has a hood, is rated to +5 degrees and has a cotton (rather than sweaty nylon or polyester) inner liner. When not needed for bugouts or for regular old campouts, guests can use it.
Rope. A 50-foot coil. I’ll be adding paracord as the Bug-Out Campers suggested in the aftermath of their semi-successful winter camping expedition.
A ground pad. Don’t go into the wilds without it, unless you know primitive methods for keeping your body warm on bare ground. That was the #1 Learning Experience from the Bug-Out Campout.
A little money. — including a few pre-1964 silver coins, just for paranoia’s sake.
Pre-paid cellphone. Don’t leave home without it. Don’t let the battery die. And don’t let the airtime go out of date.
A handgun. And 50-round box of ammo.
A Spyderco Assist knife. These are made for rescue work like cutting seat belts or breaking glass. There are actually two models as I explain in this review. And I’m lucky to have them both, thanks to publisher Rich Lucibella of S.W.A.T. magazine. One goes with me everywhere. One — although I consider it part of my emergency kit — actually lives in the truck.
Hand-sized AM-FM flashlight with siren and flashing beacon.It would be extremely cool to have a no-battery, hand-crank model like this one. But I’m happy. Mine runs on very cheap AA batteries and I got it for $2.25 at a close-out sale. Can’t beat that.
Clip-on belt-carry flashlight with flashing red lights. Which I got for a buck at the same close-out sale.
Headlamp for hands-free work. (Another bargain purchase.)
Okay, okay. I’m a little nutty about flashlights. But in a garden-variety emergency, they always seem to be the first thing you need. And sometimes you need different types for different emergencies. And all that light-power for so little money …
And did I mention extra batteries for all those flashlights?
Next to the kit lives a GE Steelbeam lantern There are lots of lanterns in the world. But this is the handiest emergency lantern I’ve ever had my hands on. Its fluorescent bulb is rated for 8,000 hours. It runs for 16 hours on 4 D batteries. It’s tough, compact, weather resistant, and it can be either hung, set on a table, or carried by a pop-up handle.
Six full-meal MREs for lunches and dinners, six granola/energy bars because I don’t think I could face an MRE at breakfast.
Twelve tea bags and a jar of brown sugar. Three packets of hot chocolate
A Camelbak hydropack always kept clean and filled with water. Mine is pretty light duty. But also light weight. There are beaucoup high-capacity ones and ones with extra carrying pockets. But mine does the job for me. Part of the reason it does the job is that the rest of my kit isn’t designed to ride on my back, so I can easily carry my water supply there.
If your bug-out kit is backpack-borne, then you may be better off with a super-extra large canteen.
A very simple emergency stove. And another one. I also have a Campingaz Turbo 270 butane stove and spare cartridges. But that one lives full-time in my truck because it’s so easy to use and handy enough to heat tea at highway rest stops.
Yeah, maybe I’m a little nutty on emergency cookstoves, too. But they’re handy and two of my four (the fourth being a regular Coleman gas stove) were also uber-bargain store-closeout items. I also have two models of the fabulous, unmatchable Pyromid. But Pyromid is out of production, and despite several years of promises to be “back in production in two months,” these compact, portable, durable wonder-stoves are very hard to get.
Waterproof matches and tinder. Just in case all those stoves fail me or I have to build a fire for warmth. In my case, the tinder (following an idea from Hardyville’s bug-out campers) is a double-baggied wad of dryer lint.
Small pan for heating water (and, if need be, food). Mine is just an ordinary kitchen pot. I’d like to have a compact, lightweight mess kit. Problem is, even the very nice ones are usually aluminum, and I don’t believe it’s healthy to cook in aluminum. Okay, three days won’t kill you. It’s just the principle of the thing. This isn’t in my kit, but here’s copper-bottom stainless steel mess kit I wouldn’t mind acquiring someday.
Cup and utensils.
TP. Definitely don’t leave home without that.
Toothbrush and toothpaste.
Dog food. Also an Outward Hound Port-A-Bowl for water and food (sort of, but not exactly, like this one).
Medical kit. Since I’m disgustingly healthy, I probably don’t put as much emphasis on emergency medical care as I should. My kit contains aspirin, ibuprofen, antacid, Cephalexin (doggie antibiotic — which can also be used for humans), Pepto Bismol, Immodium-AD, gauze bandages, tape, Neosporin, and a small bottle of hydrogen peroxide. Sunscreen and
insect repellant, too. I admit that I am not prepared to deal with major medical emergencies on my own, just minor discomforts and small-scale infection prevention. Oh, I keep my tetanus shot current, too.
One complete change of clothes. And think layers.
Wool sox — three pairs. Nothing will save your toesies like wool, which keeps you warm even when wet. These are some of the least expensive I’ve seen and they’re just fine.
A balaklava. Yeah, yeah. I can hear the ninja jokes now. But this lightweight silk face cover adds warmth and protection against wind without making you feel strangled, and who cares how it looks when the heat and lights are out?
A waterproof poncho, which doubles as an emergency blanket. I’ve always kept a “space blanket” around, too. But it’s too easy to assume that little bit of mylar-coated plastic is a miracle device. In fact, it takes knowhow to use one and they won’t perform wonders. This is another reason I hope to “bug in,” not out. I like blanket blankets. Nice, fuzzy ones with silkie edges. To heck with roughing it. To heck with modern miracle items.
Thermal long-johns. I don’t bother with the tops. It’s so easy to layer your top half. Much harder to keep skinny legs warm.
Baby wipes — for when there’s no running water.
Several plastic bags of various sizes for trash, wet clothes, etc.
And oh yeah, the biggest, hardest item: Remembering to check all the other items periodically to ensure that batteries are still juicing, bulbs still glowing, food still edible, medicine still helpful, and that nothing has leaked, dried up, run out, or otherwise gone defunct.
I may be forgetting some item that’s lurking down in a dark pocket of the duffel bag. But basically, that’s my kit. So what’s in yours?
Experience the brand new novel by Claire Wolfe and Aaron Zelman: RebelFire: Out of the Gray Zone