Bug Out Bags: Build your own or buy ready-made?

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Over on Facebook, I was faced with the question of bug out bags. Carrie asked, “I have started shopping for a bug out bag, and I have no idea what to look for. Any suggestions or tips?”

Well, of course I have plenty of each!

  • Usually a backpack is the best choice because it leaves both hands free. This is especially important if you have kids. In an emergency, you don’t want to be distracted by a shoulder bag falling off your shoulder, weighing too much, etc.
  • Look for sturdy fabric, quality stitching, inner pouches and pockets to help keep your supplies organized.
  • A hard-sided suitcase with heavy-duty wheels may be a good choice. It will protect the contents of your kit and be easy to pull, as long as the wheels hold out.
  • Before committing to a specific bag, assemble all your supplies together and assess what size of bag you need. You don’t want to stuff the bag so full that you can’t find what you need, when you need it. On the other hand, something that is too large will end up being inconvenient and bulky.
  • If you plan on having more than one bag, or emergency kit, use different types of containers. For example, an ice chest on wheels is handy as a container for emergency meals, eating utensils, and a small cook stove, and when emptied, it can double as a baby bathtub, a basin for washing dishes, even as a wheeled tote for carrying firewood. Spend some time looking around at Target or Walmart and checking out the variety of containers for more ideas.
  • Building your own is ideal when you have someone with special needs or perhaps just someone with physical limitations who can’t carry the weight of a fully outfitted bag.
  • This list will help you pull together the items that are most necessary for your bag. https://thesurvivalmom.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/The-Everyday-Emergency-Kit.pdf
  • I recommend putting your own bag together rather than buying one that is ready-made. I’ve seen quite a few of those close up and many contain items that are not high quality. If someday life may depend on a tool or supply, I want it to be the best quality I can afford. Other disadvantages of a ready-made kit?
    • The bag itself may be of inferior quality. In the event that you ever really do have to, “bug out,” that bag is going to take quite a beating. This isn’t the time to scrimp.
    • A ready-made kit may lull you into a sense of complacency, and you may not ever really check out the contents of the bag or learn how to utilize them until you’re in the middle of a crisis.
    • These kits are put together by committees, people who don’t know you, your family, or your circumstances. What they think is a necessity may end up taking space for something that youreally need.
  • When is a ready-made kit the best choice? When you know that you will never actually put together your own customized kit! Hey, I’m famous for saying, “I could make that!”, but then I never do. If a ready-made kit is all you can manage right now, then it’s better than nothing. Just do yourself a favor and get to know the contents, and use my checklist (above) to add additional items you know your family will need.

15 thoughts on “Bug Out Bags: Build your own or buy ready-made?”

  1. After looking over what was available premade, I decided to make our bags with sturdy backpacks. I know my family members best, both strength and weaknesses. I know I have a bad back and need to carry the light stuff. I know I need to include a few non-essential toiletries to keep my daughter’s spirits up. I know who needs what meds. Plus, I’ve never seen a BOB geared toward vegetarians out there and we have 2 of those in the family. I also feel more comfortable with more than a 3 day supply of food, so that had to be taken into account. As SM says, the bottom line is getting it done, whether you buy premade or make your own.

  2. I quickly decided on making my own when I realized that 4 person pre-made kits are made for 4 ADULTS. Adult sized masks and work gloves are useless for my 2 and 3 year old. So I would end up having to add to it anyway and would be paying for stuff that I don’t need.

  3. Peops should definitely make their own — backpack is far and away the smart choice — and then try walking for five miles with it. Then spend some money on good hiking boots. Then try an 8 mile hike, then 10. Then try actually living out of your BOB for a weekend on a camping trip.

    Then do what I have – get a bicycle and bike trailer. And padded bike underwear. And try riding the bike-trailer for fun before you ever need it in an emergency.

    Anyone preparing to bug out should at least go car camping a few times. And get to work on physical conditioning. Take a hundred average Americans and put a 30-lb backpack on them and make them hike 10 miles and some percentage of them are going to drop dead of a heart attack.

  4. I’m really glad that you included buying a pre made bag for those who won’t put together one. I have a friend who has talked about it for two years. I think I’ll find some premade ones and recommend she buy them.

    I know with kids and food you have to make them specific to the individual. And clothing, etc. I was just thinking it’s time to pull mine out and go through them.

  5. A bug out bag would make a great gift for your friend for Christmas or birthday or whatever. I don’t know how close she is or if it is in your budget, but you could start out with building a homemade one with the basics and add modules for different holiday gifts. For example, a really complete first aid kit or a mess kit or a tent could be added at a later time. Just add more complex stuff in smaller cases at each gift giving time. After a couple of years she would have a really great BOB. When I think how hard it is to think of gifts for people and how much useless junk gets purchased and thrown in a drawer unused. This is a much better gift. And there are so many lists with what people need, you don’t even have to think that much. Also, if you assemble it slowly, you can wait for things to go on sale to get the best deal. Lots of free shipping and discounts around the holidays. And if you order online, look for discount codes for a particular store. It will usually give you a percentage off or free shipping.

  6. ALWAYS make your own. 1) Cheaper. 2) You know exactly what’s in it and when you put it there. 3) You know WHERE everything is. 4) You can tailor to your life, strengths, weaknesses and possible emergencies in your area.

  7. Figure out first why you need the bag — Is it to get home from work, evacuate from home, or keep you safe and sane if you’re stuck somewhere in the car?

    Follow the suggestion above of organizing everything you want to place in the bag, and then find something suitable that will hold everything.

    We have a variety. I have intermittent mobility issues and can’t carry much. I have a small Alice-type backpack to hold essentials, but my teenagers have full-sized backpacks. If we’re leaving from home, we also have a utility wagon that’s sturdy enough to hold an injured or disabled adult. Our car has plastic storage containers holding supplies. I have a second Alice-type bag in the car for getting home from work.

    Most importantly, just be prepared. Something is better than nothing, so if necessary stuff your supplies in an old gym bag or a cardboard box (for the car) until you find the “perfect” bug-out bag.

  8. Just a suggestion: Line your bug out bag with a sturdy lawn trash bag of the size size that works best for your bag, then fill with your stuff and fasten the trash bag with a twist tie before closing your bug out bag. Now you have a bag that can be carried in a down pour or accidently dunked in a stream and the contents will stay dry.

    1. I have to admit I never thought of that, but I do pack related items in Ziploc freezer bags. I have them in every size available at Wal-Mart, so they’re even big enough to hold spare jeans. They also saved everything else when a bottle of sticky medication leaked.

      1. One thing I picked up in the military when we went to the field: pack a set of undergarments in a ziploc bag, sit on it to push out the air, and while seated close it. Now when you are ready to change into a new set of undies you have a complete set that are dry and ready to go. No searching here and there for socks, boxers, etc.

        1. If you have a Food Saver, you can put anything in the seal-able bags & suck out the air to make an airtight package to stay dry. This would help condense items for your bag.

          1. They also have larger bags that use with a vacuum cleaner so that you can remove the air from the bag to reduce the size. They are great for clothes, jackets, sleeping bags, pillows and such .

  9. The same goes for first aid kits. I’ve found that most first aid kits out there contain cheap ingredients suitable only for minor cuts and scrapes. The band-aids will fall off in minutes and the scissors and plastic tweezers are useless.

    I prefer to assemble my own first aid kits with high quality band-aids and bandages, sharp, sturdy scissors, and precision stainless steel tweezers. I also add things that are not found in most first aid kits like moleskin, trauma pads and Quikclot. when assembled, I know what my kit contains, where everything is, and what it does. I know everything is of the highest quality and is customized for my personal needs and abilities.

  10. Pingback: Bug out Bag Essentials: 5 Reasons to Buy That Ready Made Bugout Bag Now! | A Bug Out Bag List

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