If you are building a bug out bag one of the first questions you have to have is what bag are you going to choose?
There are tons of articles out there that will tell you what to keep in the bug out bag, but there seems to be an absence of good articles on choosing the actual bag.
Today we are going to point out what makes a good bug out bag, and why choosing the right bag is critical.
What's a Bug Out Bag?
Now, if you already a little confused let's slow it down and talk about what a bug out bag is. I think it's important we define the idea before we dive in and start talking about what makes a good one.
A Bug Out Bag is a bag designed for emergency situations.
A Bug Out Bag is a bag designed to hold at least three days worth of necessities a for survival. A Bug Out Bag is something you build in preparation for an extreme event. If you don't have a bug out bag packed right now you already behind the curve.
You may not have time to pack a bag when disaster is on the way. You need it on hand and ready for these situations. A bug out bag is one of those items that should be ready at all times.
A bug out bag isn’t just something in use by crazy survivalists. A bug out bag is a bag designed for everyone, and even the United States Government advises you to have at least three days worth of food and water on hand at all times. Having a bug out bag is just smart preparation.
So a bug out bag is a bag big enough to hold three days worth of water, food, and general survival supplies. It needs to be a tough bag and designed for being comfortably carried on foot over miles and miles of terrain. So let’s dive into what makes a good bug out bag.
Military Surplus Alice Pack
15 x 5 x 18 in
12.5 x 3 x 20.5 in
18.9 x 16.6 x 3.6 in
Eberlestock Halftrack Pack
6 x 14 x 22 in
USMC Gen II ILBE
18 x 12 x 6 in
Tactical Tailor Assault Pack
18 x 14 x 8 in
Condor 3 Day Assault Pack
11 x 17 x 22 in
The Different Sizes and Types of Bug Out Bags
There are two general sizes for a bug out bag. The backpack and the hiking pack. Depending on what you plan to pack and the terrain you are taking you may want to choose one or another. Let's take a look at both.
Backpack size doesn’t mean your kid's school bag. A serious outdoors backpack is a tough and rugged piece of gear. A backpack typically lacks a wide variety of features you'd find on a hiking pack.
Backpacks are smaller than hiking packs, but when packed properly they can contain a ton of necessary gear. Backpacks are smaller and therefore lighter as well. They are more maneuverable for use inside vehicles and in urban terrain.
Since backpacks stick out less from the body they are easier to move in and out of doors, hallways, windows and more. Backpacks are certainly better suited for urban environments, or if you know, you will be moving in and out of cars.
Hiking Packs are the best go-to for rural environments. They are built for this kind of work. In most cases, they also offer significantly more room than most backpacks.
Hiking packs can range from somewhat small and convenient, to absolutely massive packs that can hold a week's worth of goods. Hiking packs are often designed for long walks over rough terrain.
Hiking packs are outfitted with a wide variety of features that make it more comfortable to carry a heavy load for a long haul.
It’s substantially easier to carry three days worth of food, water, clothing, medical gear, and even shelter tools. This kind of pack is harder to use in and out of a vehicle and does take up a significant amount of room. From my experience hiking packs are difficult to use inside of buildings, especially if you are climbing through small hallways and doorways.
Sling bags are a third option I am tossing up on this list, even though they often cannot carry three days of food, water, and other necessities. Sling bags often fit the category of “Get Home” bag.
A Get Home bag is a subset of the bug out bag. Since you can’t haul a Bug Out bag with you everywhere, you go you have a Get Home Bag. A Get Home Bag is a mini bug out bag designed to get you to your main bug out bag, which is likely at home.
A Get Home bag has the necessary supplies to get you from work to home, or from out and about to home, in the event of an emergency. A Sling bag is a small, compact bag that fits anywhere and is easy to use in and out of vehicles.
1 Days worth of supplies is easy to carry in something as small as a sling bag. Technically it's a bug out bag because you are bugging out to your main bag, family, and departure point.
As someone who has hiked a lot, and I mean a lot, I will say that comfort is incredibly important. You could be carrying this bag on your back for days on end and if it's not comfortable you’ll be in pain very quickly. There are a number of features you should look for when it comes to comfort.
Wide Shoulder Straps
The wider the shoulder straps, the more comfortable they’ll be. Wider straps help distribute the weight more evenly. This creates less shoulder pain and generally makes carrying a pack way more comfortable.
Wide padded straps are a must-have for long-term hiking, and of course, long-term bugging out. Wide shoulder straps will make life good.
Three days worth of survival supplies can get heavy quickly, especially if you are also packing a tent, cooking gear, and extra tools and equipment. Placing all that weight on your shoulders will become uncomfortable very quickly.
A hip strap helps take the weight off your shoulders and back and places the weight on your hips and thighs. This distribution will make life so much easier for you. My life changed the day I learned how to use hip straps properly.
Hip straps are often padded to prevent chafing, or made from wide webbing. This combination of features is almost always found in hiking packs but is slightly rarer in backpacks. Some military issue backpacks will have these hip straps and can be had cheaply on the surplus market.
A chest clip is a nice little feature to have. A chest clip and strap attaches to both shoulder straps and clips in the middle. This keeps the shoulder straps in proper position and keeps the pack straps from sliding and moving. It really helps to counterbalance a heavy load.
The majority of people will love it, but for wide shouldered guys like me, they rarely fit. If you are a big guy with broad shoulders, you may need to find a chest or sternum clip extensions, which are easy to find and quite common.
Padded Backing and Frame
A padded backing is a great feature to have for carrying a heavy load for a number of reasons. First off padding is just comfortable to feel on your back. Second, padding often creates channels that allow air to flow between your back and pack that allows for a cooler, chafe-free carry.
Padded backing is also great for keeping hard and pointy items in your pack from being driven into your back. This decreases discomfort from coming from the pack.
A frame is something you are more likely to find in a hiking packing. Frames can be external or internal. These frames help support the pack and make carrying heavy loads easier for longer periods of time.
External frames are often stronger and put airspace between your back and the pack. However, external frame packs are often heavier overall. Internal frames are lighter but don't provide the same degree of support that an external frame will.
Adjustment and Lots of It
The ability to adjust everything is a great feature to have. You want to be able to adjust the shoulder straps, the chest strap, the hip straps and more. This level of adjustment makes life much easier.
The more you can adjust your pack the better it will fit you and the better it will be for long-term use.
Modularity is a great way to enhance the ability of your pack. The most common modular platform will be through MOLLE webbing. MOLLE webbing allows you to attach accessories, pouches, and more to your pack.
This modular interface makes it easy to add accessory pouches for greater accessibility. A wide variety of packs now incorporate MOLLE and its incredibly common in the tactical pack world.
Hydration Bladder Pocket
Camelbak changed the world with the advent of the backpack mounted hydration bladders.
These days this is a common feature in many backpacks and hiking packs. On modern packs, you’ll find specialize pockets for hydration bladders with drinking tubes coming out of the bag for easy access to fluid while hiking.
Internal Organizational Ability
The inside of the bag is just as important as the outside. Several bags may come with internal hook and loop attachments for the attachment of pouches for great organizational ability.
The ability to organize a bag is very important and makes it easy to get to those important goods faster and easier.
Rear Stretch Pocket
A Rear stretch pocket is a simple pocket that is separate from the internal bag. This pocket is commonly used to store things like wet clothing, ponchos, rain catches, and other items you wouldn't want to expose the inside of the bag too.
Picks for Best Bug Out Bags
1. U.S. G.I. Military Surplus Alice Pack
Hello old friend. In my time in the Marines, we adopted a modern modular pack only to toss it to the wayside when it came time to deploy. We replaced our new packs with the well proven and roomy Alice pack.
The Alice Pack is an OD green monstrosity that lacks some of the finer features of new packs. However, after years and years of use, the Alice pack is a proven design.
Its large internal pouch makes it easy to carry three days of food, sleeping supplies, and plenty of water. The Alice packs have three large external pockets for packing quick access gear, and the top pouch has a smaller pocket for the necessary maps and other admin gear.
2. A.L.I.C.E. BackPack Frame
To get the most out of the Alice pack you need to combine it with a metal frame. With a good metal frame, you’ll have rock-solid support and an excellent means to carry a heavy load a long way. The Alice pack is far from sexy but its built to last, and it will last forever.
It was a sad day when I turned mine in after five years and two deployments around the world.
3. 5.11 Rush 72 Tactical Pack
If we do a 180 from the Alice pack, we arrive at the 5.11 Ruch 72 Tactical pack. This ultra modern design incorporates some of the more specific features we talked a lot about above.
The Rush 72 is covered in MOLLE webbing that allows you to attach whatever you want to the pack, which allows you to expand the bag or add the accessories you want quick access to.
The Rush 72 sports wide and heavily padded shoulder straps as well as a chest strap and hip strap.
The bag is well designed and sports external back padding for comfort and to create airways. The bag is massive, and 72 stands for 72 hours. It's designed to give users a modern, but very large pack for bugging out for at least 72 hours.
The Rush 72 sports a modern internal layout that's very easy to organize and makes getting gear in and out of the pack very easy. The pack is compatible with hydration packs and has hydration routing holes to make accessing a hydration source easy.
The Rush 72 even has a rear stretch pocket, well not exactly a stretch pocket but a shove it pocket. The entire layout of the pack is intuitive and brilliantly designed. You really can't beat it when it comes to a modern, tactical bug out bag.
4. Halftrack Backpack
Eberlestock isn't a name known to the world like 5.11, but they produce some modern and professional tactical packs that often find themselves in use by Special Operators around the world. The Halftrack pack is their Modular 3 Daypack that happens to be an outstanding choice for a bug out bag.
This professional grade bag is designed to last in the harshest environments in the world. It’s a large pack too and will accommodate the gear you need to get out of any disaster scenario. The pack is designed by what I'd describe as a genius. The main pack is accessed by a large panel that zips fully down.
This gives you access to everything in the pack at the same time. The inside of this main pouch has dividers to keep your gear separated and internal MOLLE to accommodate internal pouch use. Two smaller pouches exist on the side of the pack, and there is one additional pouch on the top of the pack.
The outside is covered in MOLLE so you can attach whatever you need on the outside. The straps are brilliantly designed, and very thick and wide for additional support. The hip straps are also very comfortable and provide some serious support.
This is a bag made by professionals for professionals, what could go wrong? It's roomy, well designed, and modern.
5. USMC Gen 2 Assault Pack
So if we can go back to my Marine Corps days, we can talk about one of my favorite backpacks of all time. The USMC Gen 2 Assault Pack was an issued item to every Marine and served as the lightweight alternative to our larger, mission sustainment packs.
The Gen 2 Assault pack features a variety of features that can be hard to find in a standard backpack. This includes a waist straps, albeit an unpadded and thin one, a chest strap, and plenty of external straps. These external straps make it easy to lash on extra gear, like tarps, ponchos, and cold weather gear.
The Assault Pack is a big backpack with 1,500 cubic inches of space and a 40-pound capacity. It’s tough to fit three days worth of supplies into a backpack, but it's a little less tough with the USMC Assault pack.
The external MOLLE makes covering the bag with extra pouches easy, therefore expanding its space.
In the rear of the assault pack is a plastic shell that helps provide support and keeps the things inside the pack from poking you. This pack is extremely strong and again an item I used extensively overseas. Mine served as a boom bag, meaning it carried all the extra items we needed to make things go boom.
Throughout my deployments and training, the Assault pack was always there and always ready for the long haul.
6. Tactical Tailor 3 Day Plus Assault Pack
Tactical Tailor is a massive tactical company that makes premier grade goods for professionals around the world. The Tactical Tailor 3 Day Plus Assault Pack is a big beast and one designed for a kinetic, and often non-permissive environment. This is a big backpack with lots and lots of room.
Even with three days worth of supplies, you have enough room for just a bit more. It really walks the line between pack and backpack, but we’ll consider it a backpack for a number of reasons. It does have a nice hip strap but lacks a frame.
It does have some wide and well-padded shoulder straps and a sternum strap for extra support. Surprisingly there isn't any MOLLE, so you aren't able to add any additional pouches. However, it's unlikely you’ll need to.
The main portion of the pack is very spacious, and there is plenty of room to add the necessary gear for surviving on the road. To help with storage space and accessibility, there are four somewhat large external pouches.
These pouches are perfect for separating your goods and helping to balance the pack. The items in these external pouches are also quicker to access and easier to get to. The Tactical Tailor pack is extremely well made and built to last.
7. Condor 3 Day Assault Pack
Bugging out on a budget isn't hard, and there are lots of potential bags out there designed to be durable and strong for the budget minded.
The Condor, 3 Day Assault Pack, is one such bag. This big bag is great for a 3-day load and is just the right size for bugging out.
The outside is covered with MOLLE webbing so if it’s not large enough you know there is plenty of room to attach additional pouches. However, the bag has a huge main pouch with plenty of room. In fact, it offers a massive 3038 cubic inches of space.
Although it’s a more affordable bag, there are still tons of features you wouldn’t expect to find. This includes a padded hip strap, a sternum strap, wide and padded shoulder straps, and even padding where the bag meets the body.
This padding creates airways and allows for a nice and comfortable pack for long-range movements. The pack includes a hydration pocket that's compatible with a 2 or 3-liter bladder. There is also two side external pouches and internal straps to help pack a variety of gear.
Choosing a Bug Out bag is never a decision you should take lightly. You really need to evaluate your needs, your supplies, and your environment. Three days of supplies mean different things to different people and different environments.
Make sure you really take the time to evaluate what you need. Then take the advice and suggestions we’ve given above and found yourself the best bug out bag possible. When it comes time to bug out, you’ll need the best bag possible.