When thinking about putting together a bug out bag, it’s easy to over pack. One item leads to another, and before you know it you’re carrying 80 pounds on your back, at a time when you need to be moving swiftly, and easily. Start with the basics: water, shelter, and food. Regardless of how far you have to walk, or what the kind of SHTF event has occurred, your bug out bag must contain items that address each of these three basics. You could carry more with you, but these are the bare minimum items that you SHOULD carry with you; the bug out bag essentials.


When you plan your bug out bag you have to think about storing water and cleaning water. Adding a couple of 1 quart or 2 quart canteens on the outside of your bag is probably a good idea. Additionally, a Platypus 2 liter water bag inside your bag will mean that you have to think about water less often. But remember, water is heavy and it is something that your body needs more than it needs food. Planning the storage is important.

Rothco 3 Piece 1 Quart Canteen Kit With Cover & Aluminum Cup
Military Issue 2 Quart Water Canteen with New Issue Insulated Carrier and Shoulder Sling
Platypus Platy Bottle 2-Litre

As far as cleaning water there are several options available. It all depends on how large an item you want to carry and how fast you want to process the water. The LifeStraw is a popular product and is very small. But it only filters water as fast as you can suck it through the straw. The MSR Sweetwater Purifier System is a great product if you are bugging out with a group. It is a larger product to carry, but it has a built in pump that will purify water quickly. Which will allow you to fill up the water containers for your whole group in a short period of time. I think the best single person product is the Sawyer Mini Water Filter. Extremely versatile device that allows you to filter in many ways and even act as an inline filter. Each filter will process over 100,000 gallons of water and the actual product has a small form factor.

LifeStraw Personal Water Filter
Sawyer Products SP128 Mini Water Filtration System - Bug Out Bag Essentials
MSR SweetWater Microfilter



As far as shelter goes, there really isn’t much you can carry on your back except a tent or a tarp. Tent seems like a better choice, at first. But tents are not really safe. You have to zip yourself inside one for it to be wind proof and (sometimes) waterproof. But then you lose the ability to have a fire beside you. You lose the ability to see what is outside and react to it. Have you ever seen Blair Witch Project? Were those kids “safe” inside their tents? I don’t think so! For me I would rather have a tarp that is really waterproof, a rope, and an axe to make my own shelter. A 10′ x 10′ tarp is a good size for a single person. Having a larger one opens up more options, but also takes up more room in your bag. Go ahead and spend a little extra on a tarp that is made of a rip-stop material. Get a camo or a green color tarp. A pink tarp is not a good idea for a bug out bag.

Next, get a good rope. I prefer a 550 style cord over a thicker rope. It is easier to work with and super strong. Titan recently came out with a cool product called SurviverCord. It is basically the same construction as 550 cord, but has 3 extra strands inside. One is a 25lbs monofiliment fishing line. The second is a copper strand that is electrically conductive and could also be used for making small game snares. The third is a jute waxed strand, that can be used while making fires. I honestly haven’t used it yet, but it may become a bug out bag essential soon. BasisGear.com has a good paracord resource that you should check out.

So with a tarp and rope you can make a large variety of shelters even make a tent with a tarp. RollingFox.com and Prepperswill.com have nice articles with different tarp shelter designs. If you have a hatchet or nice felling axe, you can make larger and stronger shelters. This is a must if you plan to be in one place for a longer period of time. Strap the axe on the side of your bag so that it is easy to get to.

WINGONEER Waterproof Lightweight RipStop Tarp for Camping Hiking 10×10ft Compact Versatile Durable Backpacking Tarpaulin – Green
TITAN SurvivorCord, Bronze, 100 Feet – Patent-pending design integrates Fishing Line, Waxed Jute, and Copper Wire into our #1-Rated Military 550 Paracord. Includes 2 FREE Paracord Project eBooks


Ideally you should have three days worth of food in your bag. There are hundreds of companies that will see you high calorie packaged food. But honestly, since I am a veteran, the military’s MREs are the way to go for me. You can save more room by taking apart your MRE pouches. Each pouch has cardboard and extra items that can be discarded, or used as a fire starter. Plus depending on where you are bugging out (woods, urban or coast) you can always supplement your daily food with foraged items, and meat that has been caught through fishing, hunting or snares. The MREs have a heating process built in. But having a small camping cookware mess kit allows for easier fireside cooking. It is probably not a Bug Out Bag Essentials, but certainly nice to have. These are light and do not take up too much room. If you opted for the 1 quart canteen described above, it has a nice aluminum canteen cup that can be used to cook most things.

MREs (Meals Ready-to-Eat) Box A, Genuine U.S. Military Surplus, Menus 1-12
Camping Cookware Mess Kit Backpacking Gear & Hiking Outdoors Bug Out Bag Cooking Equipment 10 Piece Cookset | Lightweight, Compact, & Durable Pot Pan Bowls – Free Folding Spork, Nylon Bag, & Ebook

Additional Bug Out Bag Essentials

You need to be able to start a fire in order to cook food or to warm your shelter. Find a nice ferro rod so you can always make fire.
Light My Fire Swedish FireSteel 2.0 Army 12,000 Strike Fire Starter with Emergency Whistle – Orange

Very rarely will you get your shelter complete before the sun goes down. Have a nice LED flashlight in your bag.
J5 Tactical V1-Pro Flashlight – The Original 300 Lumen Ultra Bright, LED 3 Mode Flashlight

A good survival knife should certainly be considered a bug out bag essentials! Check out the four that we recently reviewed. I like to keep my knife strapped to the bottom of my bug out bag, so that I can reach behind my back and have easy access to it while walking, and it will be beside my head at night when I use my bag as a pillow.

Even if you don’t know how to use a compass, please carry one. An inexperienced hiker can walk around in circles for weeks in the woods. But with a simple compass you can walk in a strait line in the direction that you are supposed to be going. The (product name) even has a small magnifying glass so that you could make fire during the daylight hours.
Suunto A-30L Compass

Anyone who has been in the Army was issued a Poncho Liner. If I have room in my Bug Out Bag I will always carry one of these. It is a light blanket during the summer and in the winter if you wrap yourself in another blanket or even a Mylar emergency blanket, it will keep you nice and warm.
Genuine US Military All Weather Poncho Liner Blanket - Bug Out Bag Essentials

Hunting Mark put together a nice extended list of items for your bug out bag.