Guest post by J.E.
Sometimes a single-user bug-out bag (BOB) is neither practical nor possible. Yet, most videos and articles are geared toward just that, one person, the Lone Wolf. Here’s another way of thinking about packing a bug-out bag.
My Prepping Background
I’m a lifelong camper/backpacker, hunter/fisherman, and was also a U.S. Army foot soldier. I’ve spent MORE than my fair share of time in the field. Today I’m a traveling consultant and spend months away from home.
In addition, my wife and I lived aboard boats twice in our lives. We’ve also full-time RV’ed with a 5th-wheel in the past. Needless to say, we know a thing or two about packing, prepping, water conservation, etc., Yet, I’m always interested in what other people suggest packing, especially for their emergency kits.
I’ve watched many YouTube videos and double-checked countless “packing lists” for bug-out bags, get-home bags, 72-hour kits, ditch bags, and vehicle kits. Most of them are pretty darned close in their contents.
However, I also feel that all of them are, at the same time, way off base!
The Problem with a Single-User Bug-Out Bag
The issue I have with almost every video and article on the topic of emergency kits is that they all have a single-user mentality, a solo BOB, if you will. Sure, each person should have and maintain their own bug-out bag, but there are situations where this isn’t practical or possible.
For us, my wife’s back injuries and surgery would prohibit her from carrying her full load. I’ve always considered myself a natural-born leader and tried to have some excess gear in my pack to help others. But, this realization about my wife’s physical limitations changed my ENTIRE approach to BOBs.
Perhaps for you, it’s children who cannot carry everything they might need, or some other situation entirely. A traditional solo BOB isn’t going to work. I would even argue a single person should reconsider the Lone Wolf mentality.
Instead, you need to think outside the box. Here’s what my wife and I did.
How I’m Working with My Spouse’s Physical Limitations
- Double the volume/capacity of my bug-out bag. My first bag was a 30-liter (72-hour) backpack. Now, I want to replace it with something in the 40-60 liter capacity.
- I wanted to halve the weight of all my “personal” gear. I can carry a pretty HUGE pack, as long as it’s not too heavy.
- Halve the volume of personal gear. My wife is one of those “more is MORE” kinds of gals. (I’m surprised I don’t have to include a pair of her favorite pumps in my BOB, too!) The smaller each item can be, the more items (gear) I should be able to carry, which increases versatility.
TIP: Urban survival may require you to take TSA baggage requirements into consideration.
Starting with the Backpack
All of the typical rules apply. I recommend something not too “tactical” to draw unwanted attention in the city and something not too bright to attract unwanted attention in the country.
As I mentioned, my goal was weight-saving volume. Therefore, I opted for a frameless pack. (I miss all those pockets of an external-frame pack, however. (When will someone invent a frameless pack with plenty of external pockets?)
There are TONS of backpacks out there to choose from. I searched for months to find the “perfect” pack. However, in my opinion, it doesn’t exist yet.
The closest thing I found was made by a company named ARC’TERYX. Specifically, their Axious 50 backpack. These folks specialize in mountaineering and climbing packs. This pack is the SAME WEIGHT as my previous 30-liter pack, yet offers essentially twice the volume/capacity!
Note: I didn’t opt to EXACTLY double my capacity. I figure many of the items in my current pack are already multi-user (fire starters, mess kits, etc.) So, I only needed to double up on a few items, not everything. Also, I believe most of us will continue packing until our packs are chock full o’ crap. (Remember those high-heeled pumps I’m trying to avoid rucking…)
It’s also a weight issue. ALL of our packs should be under 50lbs of weight so we can carry the darned things, AND so we don’t have to pay extra fees to the airlines when we travel with our packs.
Adding Sleeping Bags to the Mix
My next improvement was to lighten our sleeping bags. Again, I researched this pretty heavily. I researched military sleeping bags, cowboy sleep systems for “real” high-country working men, arctic bags, and more.
My research finally ended when I discovered the Marmont Plasma 30 900-fill down sleeping bag. Each bag weighs only slightly more than one pound (1lb, 6oz to be exact.) Plus, they compress to about the size of a small coffee can. So, I can now carry two bags in less space and weight than most traditional sleeping bags. (These are expensive bags; you need to do your own research to find the most suitable bag for you at the right price point.)
Ditto for our ground pads. Instead of using military-style roll-up pads, or some sort of homemade pad via a reflective windshield sunscreen, we purchased a pair of Thermarest pads. Again, light-weight, and they roll up to about the size of a water bottle, thus occupying much less space than a military pad or windshield sunscreen.
Here’s a tip: Many of my “lessons learned” actually came from the videos and blogs of Appalachian Trail “through-hikers.” These people spend weeks/months hiking at various altitudes, through all weather conditions and seasons – with just the gear on their backs.
Finding a Tent that Meets My Goals
A new tent suitable for two was my next purchase.
When I had a solo mentality, I planned a more primitive shelter, such as a poncho/tarp set up as a lean-to. This would be minimally acceptable for the two of us.
Considering that my plans go beyond just myself, I have purchased a Big Agnes Fly Creek UL4 for my BOB. This tent is rated as a 4-person tent, but everyone who knows tent ratings will tell you to subtract one person from the rating. A 4-person tent is REALLY only suitable for three people.
Our only child is grown and away from home. So, technically speaking, we only need a tent suitable for two people, but I like keeping our gear in the tent. Thus, my desire for the extra space. At 4.5 pounds, with a ground square footage of roughly 50 square feet, this tent weighs less than most 2-person tents on the market and offers nearly twice the square footage! Plus, it has a roll size of only 6”x20”.
My main point about weight/capacity is that today’s high-tech products allow all of us to shave pounds and volume off our loads, cutting most of these measurements/weights in HALF from a decade ago!
Sure, we could reduce our packs respectively, but just as importantly, I would encourage preppers to increase their multi-user functionality.
It doesn’t take much to include items for additional people.
In addition to our lightweight sleeping bags, I still carry a pair of emergency Mylar safety blankets, too. Thus, I could support two more people, too.
And while I have rain jackets/pants packed for the two of us, I also have two old-school ponchos. If nothing else, this extra gear serves as backups to our primary gear.
Sure, single people might argue that they only need to prep for themselves. But, I would argue that this is pretty short-sighted, and they will respectively die alone. However, the next time I see a YouTube video by a married man/father that is “solo”-focused, I think I’m going to scream, “WHERE is the gear to support your spouse/kids?!”
What’s your situation? Does a single-user bug-out bag work for you?
Originally published July 12, 2012; updated by The Survival Mom editors.