When assembling a bugout bag pay particular attention to the backpack itself. Items in the bag must be organized and fast and easy to access. A normal backpack with a few pockets is NOT the best choice. Consider using a tactical backpack, or “Tac Pack.” These packs are designed to carry climbing gear, firearms, or other tactical gear. Tac Packs normally contain LOTS of pockets, pockets within pockets, compartments, MOLLE strips to attaching modular components, etc. These compartments and pockets allow you to seriously organize the pack. Tac Packs are more expensive than a standard backpack but they should last much longer and will be much less likely to fail if abused in the field. Expect to spend between $50 and $150 for a good Tac Pack.
There are many good packs available so these are my requirements for a Bugout Bag pack:
- Sturdy: Above all the pack must be extremely sturdy and must be able to survive harsh and abusive outdoor conditions. Select a pack made from canvas or 500 denier at a minimum. Stitching should be extra strong and the zippers and closures should be of high quality. Have the tools needed to repair your pack (tape, sewing kit, etc.).
- Belt: When fully loaded the pack could get a bit heavy. A waist belt on the pack makes the load much easier to carry and stabilizes the pack on your back.
- Compartments: The pack should have lots of pockets and compartments for organizing items. You want have the pack completely organized so that you can access needed items quickly. If you use a pack with fewer compartments then organize your items into smaller, modular, mini kits. For example, I have a fire kit in a poly zip bag, patch kit, battery kit, water purification kit, first aid kit, etc. If you use a more tactical pack with lots of pockets then create a very detailed pack manifest and list the contents of each pocket. This allows you to remember where you stored items and also makes it easier for others to access your pack contents in the event that they need to render aid to you.
- External Mounts: The pack should have ways to attach external items. MOLLE strips and tie downs are very useful on the outside of the pack.
- Hydration: This is NOT a requirement but it is a very good option to have. Some packs allow you to add a hydration bladder for carrying larger amounts of water. While not a strict requirement this is a VERY feature.
- Extra Space: This is one of the most important and overlooked features of a pack. Be sure to have extra space available for extras such as clothes or extra supplies. You will probably need a pack that is between 35-70 liters.
There are many excellent tactical packs available in a variety of sizes and colors. With a Bugout Bag you want it to be as understated as possible. It should blend in to the environment. Choose a muted color such as olive drab, camo, or black. Avoid bright colors. If you need to live outdoors you do not want to draw attention to yourself.
One of the most important features of a Bugout Bag, and the most that most people miss, is having extra space. Your basic Bugout Bag contains essentials. It is designed to have the essentials needed in a grab-and-go situation. If you have a few minutes you can significantly enhance your supplies by adding some extra clothes, food, etc. The extra space in your Bugout Bag can hold some of these items. There are many good pre-built Bugout Bags available on the market. However, most of these kits have the essentials packed in a nice bag that completely fill the bag. I prefer to have a pack with about half of the space used. This leaves more room for additional items packed at the last minute.
If you are on a limited budget then start with what you can afford. If you cannot afford a good Tac Pack then visit a thrift store and start with a basic backpack. Add items as you can afford and expand your pack over time. When you can afford a good pack then purchase one that will grow with you. The key is to start NOW, get some essential supplies, and expand your kit over time.