Written by Sierra Bullets Ballistic Technician Philip Mahin
It was asked of me what I kept in my ‘Grab Bag’ but there are different thoughts on what is appropriate, so we can discuss a few in this post. There are a lot of different books on this subject and even more on the proper technique to pack a backpack so I highly recommend exploring those for a new perspective. The purpose of a ‘Bug-Out-Bag’ (BOB) or ‘Grab-N-Go’ can be specific to the user but the results should always be the same. It should give the user the ability to survive for a length of time away and it should be handy to carry so an ideal bag is a backpack. There are three things that you cannot go without and they are water, food, and shelter. Depending on how long you are remaining away will determine how big a bag to use and how much you need in it. The general conscience is to make preparations for at least 72 hours. This much gear will not fit in my eXtreme Performance Series (XPS) (pictured above left) day pack that I use for hunting but may in something like my All-Purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment (ALICE) (pictured left) military pack. The one you see here is the medium size version and it could come like mine did with a heavy aluminum external frame that is great to lash items onto that may not fit in the bag itself. There is also a large version that will attach to the same external frame as mine does and may be a better option. I’ve read the volume is 2,400 cubic inches for the medium and 3,800 cubic inches for the large.
My Outdoor Products Saturn (pictured left) pack runs about 4,800 cubic inches so it will hold everything and then some but it may be too bulky for this type of use. Remember, we are looking for something that will hold gear but won’t be too cumbersome if we need to do any ducking and dodging.
Water is the main item you cannot go without and there needs to be enough of it to last several days. With my hunting trips, there is usually an outside hydrant I can refill my canteens from but what if there is nothing like that available or the water you do find is questionable? You will need to carry your own water or have a way to purify the water you find. Purification can come from different methods and there are no shortages of companies that can sell you a tool but fire is another option. Pick a method that is appropriate for you and practice with it on a regular basis. That includes being strong enough to carry the weight of a few gallons of water for a couple of days if necessary.
Food is a personal subject. There are a lot of ideas in the books I mentioned earlier as well as online videos on how to preserve food for long term storage but remember weight is an issue. Plastic containers (and even Ziploc bags) are great to work with because they are generally air tight and light. I keep a lot of flavored oatmeal packages handy as well as MRE’s (Meal Ready Eat) because they last for years if kept cool. Just remember to change the food out every so often so you’re not grabbing a lot of outdated or spoiled food when you need it most. I would also recommend that, every so often, you eat what you pack so it won’t be such a culture shock to your system when you do need to.
Shelter is another personal subject. You can get by with just a minimum of it in the right environment but when the rain or snow comes, you better have enough to keep you warm and dry. A minimum to me is a set of warm clothes in a water tight bag but a rain suit is not a bad investment. A wool blanket is good idea as well. There have been plenty of hunting trips that I’ve been on that I’ve curled up under a wool blanket just to find out it snowed on me while I was asleep and never knew it. It has kept me warm even when wet but it gets heavy sometimes. A sleeping bag can be a great investment but it takes up a lot of room. Sometimes that isn’t a bad thing though because it holds everything in place as space filler. Another minimum would be some kind of tarp or at least painter’s plastic to keep moisture off from out of the air or through the ground or both. A couple of 20’ lengths of 3/8” utility rope are great items to keep in it as well. I wouldn’t recommend it as a life saving device, but it comes in handy when you want to hoist a whitetail up a tree. Eight or ten pieces of ¼”x10’ are good to hold down a tarp for shelter as well. If you have an external frame pack, you can lash a tent to it easily if you don’t mind the extra weight that comes with it.
Other items a person should keep in the bag are up to the individual. If a firearm is desired, make sure you carry spare ammunition. Another thing to keep in mind is how the backpack parts could interfere with your holster if you carry concealed. Some kind of first-aid kit is a necessity as well and that is a personal opinion item also. A compass is a good investment as well as a map of the surrounding area if you’re not familiar with it already. I keep a knife and utility tool set that I received from my mother and father in law for a Christmas present one year along with a flashlight or headband light of some kind with spare batteries. Some kind of fire starter (lighter, matches, flint & steel) is a good idea and tender to get a larger fire going. My tender in the photo below is a paper type egg carton filled with dryer lint and covered over with melted wax from the remains of an old candle. It will burn for about 6-10 minutes but if you put in too much wax, it will spill out and go to waste when the cup burns away. Another method I’ve used a lot is sawdust doused with lamp oil kept in a sealed container. A spoonful goes a long way but a plastic spoon, I guess because of the type of plastic it is, will become brittle and break over time if kept in the container with it. Any lightweight cooking container that can at least be used to boil water is handy and the piece de resistance is toilet paper. Don’t ever get caught out anywhere without at least one roll of toilet paper. Your socks cannot survive the abuse.