Build a Bug Out Bag

Building a Bug Out Bag, and then perfecting it to suit your particular environment and plan, requires research and testing. One method that meets one of the survival needs may be relevant in a particular region or climate, but completely inappropriate in another. Some places are cold, and snow is common; hypothermia may be a very real risk. Other places are sweltering hot, and rain is rare; heat exhaustion could be a serious danger. In one region you may be lucky enough to have a river to follow, a source of direction and hydration, whereas in another you may need to bring a compass and water with you, wherever you go. Taking your current environment into account, as well as the environment you may plan to Bug Out to and through, is an incredibly important consideration.

Meet your Survival Needs

When building your Bug Out Bag, meeting The Three Basic Needs of Survival should be your first priority. Learn what skills and resources may be required to meet each need in your current region, your Bug Out Location, and the distance in between. After you are confident you can provide yourself with adequate Shelter, Water and Food, then focus on meeting the Medical/Hygiene, Navigation and Communication needs.

The internet is the simplest way to begin your research. Adding +survival when you search for a Basic or Supplementary need is sufficient to get you started.


The following sections provide information, along with questions which suggest a thought process you should go through while considering your options for meeting the needs of survival. At the end of each section a small list of items that can help to meet the related need is provided - remember you can search for and add your own items on the Bug Out Bag page.

Shelter – Protect yourself from the elements.

Varying temperatures and environmental conditions create the need for shelter. Shelter has a variety of forms, from more complex (and heavy) structures such as tents, to more basic items such as a tarpaulin or fly. Shelter, in Survive Z-Day terminology, also includes subcategories such as clothing, sleeping comforts (sleeping mat, sleeping bag) and fire, which in some cases may completely meet the shelter need, depending on your location; e.g., on a snowy mountain, it’s safe to say you’ll need a jacket or two, but in a desert you may be able to do without. In theory, the Shelter requirement takes first priority out of the three basic needs, because in more extreme weather conditions, you will die sooner from lack of shelter before lack of another basic need. In all situations however, the Shelter need is closely followed in priority, and often surpassed, by the need for Water.

What shelter will you need...

  1. your current region?
  2. ...across the region/s you’re Bugging Out through?
  3. ...upon reaching your Bug Out Location?

What resources will you need...

  1. act as a shelter?
  2. build a shelter with?

What are your alternatives, should your primary method of meeting the need for Shelter in each region fail?

Shelter possibilities

  • Tent
  • Tarpaulin/fly
  • Ground sheet
  • Sleeping bag

Water – Keep your fluids up.

Dehydration is a very serious risk; without adequate water intake, you begin to feel the negative effects within hours, which significantly decreases your mental and physical ability. As the hours progress, you begin the make errors in judgment, and you become physically weaker, and unable to complete the necessary steps to survive. Even when the weather is mild, and movement is at a minimum, the longest anyone can hope to survive without water is a few days. In order to function normally in most conditions, water should be sought after above anything else.

How much on-hand water will you need...

  1. your current region?
  2. ...across the region/s you’re Bugging Out through?
  3. ...upon reaching your Bug Out Location?

How will you store water...

  1. your current region?
  2. ...while Bugging Out?
  3. ...upon reaching your Bug Out Location?
    1. What will you do if your primary method of water storage fails?

Where can you find water...

  1. your current location?
  2. ...across the region/s you’re Bugging Out through?
  3. the vicinity of your Bug Out Location?
    1. What will you do if you can no longer use these sources of water?

How will you purify the water you find?

  1. What are your alternatives, should your primary method of water purification fails?

Water possibilities

  • Water bottle
  • Water purification tablets
  • Water filter

Food – Energy allows movement.

A consistent supply of energy from food is needed for the body to function optimally. Without food, your mental and physical ability diminishes, decreasing the likelihood of your survival. Food is the third priority of The Three Basic Needs of Survival because one can last longer without it, than without another basic need being met. Food however is the final and arguably most difficult need to meet in order to survive. Factors including expiration dates, energy value, and weight are all very important to consider, not to mention more pressing issues regarding your ability to acquire more food in the future, should initial supplies run low.

How much on-hand food will you need...

  1. your current region?
  2. ...while Bugging Out?
  3. ...upon reaching your Bug Out Location?

Will the food you have while Bugging In differ to that which you have while Bugging Out?

  1. How much does the food you plan to Bug Out with weigh?
  2. How much room in your Bug Out Bag does your food take up?
  3. Will the food in your Bug Out Bag go bad after a period of time?
  4. Does your food need to be cooked?

Where can you find food...

  1. your current region?
  2. ...across the regions you’re Bugging Out through?
  3. the vicinity of your Bug Out Location?
    1. Are these sources of food reliable?
    2. Do these sources of food need to be cooked?
    3. What will you do if you can no longer use these sources of food?

What is a long-term food solution?

Food possibilities

  • Snack food
  • MREs
  • Canned food

Once your basic needs have been addressed, you can begin to consider meeting The Three Supplementary Needs of Survival.

Medical/Hygiene – Maintain your health.

Keeping yourself healthy is as important during a disaster situation as it is while living normally. If you’re on medication, have enough to last you through the worst of a disaster and as long as possible, but plan for life without. Research into the ingredients of your medication, what the medication literally does to aid you, can help you discover possible alternatives that may be more practical in a disaster scenario. Have an adequate supply of soap or antibacterial cleaning products to help prevent the spread of germs.

  1. Do you have a first-aid kit?
  2. Do you know how to properly use all of its contents?
  3. How long will its contents last; could you stock up on more of its frequently used components?

Can you expand your first aid kit so that it is useful for other or more serious injuries?

  1. Is there room to add commonly useful medical products including antibacterial cream and pain relief medicine?
  2. There are cuts that require a simple adhesive bandage, burns that require submersion in cool water; should these injuries be more serious, can you carry the products required to treat them?
  3. Think about past injuries you, your family, and your friends have sustained; is it possible to include medical supplies to treat these sorts of injuries if you need to?
    1. What are alternative treatments for common ailments, should the supplies in your first aid kit run out?

Do you need to take medication regularly?

  1. How much are you able to keep in storage?
  2. How long will it take for it to become less effective, or ineffective?
  3. What are your alternatives, should your medication run out?

How will your keep yourself and the tools you use clean and germ-free?

  1. Water is a very limited resource; perhaps hand sanitiser could replace soap?
  2. The tools you use need to be cleaned and maintained; what alternative methods could be utilised, should conventional cleaning products run out?

Medical/Hygiene possibilities

  • First aid kit
  • Personal medicine/medical supplies
  • Soap/Hand sanitiser

Navigation – Know where you are going.

Knowing where you are and in what direction to travel makes the supplementary need of navigation particularly important when Bugging Out. Even so much as knowing what direction North is can allow you to make your way to important locations, such as large bodies of water, or safe zones. Incidentally, you can be informed of these through meeting the following Communication need.

How will you know in what direction to travel, to reach your destination?

  1. What will you do if your primary method of navigation fails?
  2. What will you do if you cannot travel along the route you originally intended to take?

Where are water and food sources...

  1. ...near your current location?
  2. ...across the region/s you’re Bugging Out through?
  3. the vicinity of your Bug Out Location?
    1. Are you relying on these sources; what will you do if they are no longer useable?

Navigation possibilities

  • Map
  • GPS
  • Compass

Communication – Know where to be.

In the midst of a disaster, knowing what’s happening locally and/or nationally can make all the difference to your survival. A radio can receive broadcasts detailing what areas are safe and what areas are not. A mobile phone can keep you in contact with the people you care about. Overall, knowing where the safest areas are without having to physically move yourself to find out can be a great asset. Also, should you be in a remote location, a particular method of communication may be necessary in order to know whether danger has passed.

What methods of communication will you use...

  1. receive important information?
  2. communicate with other people?
  3. advertise your position, should you need help?

What are your alternatives, if your primary methods of communication can no longer be utilised?

  1. Could a better, more long-term plan with other people allow you to ensure contact remains, should conventional communication methods fail?
  2. Are there nearby vantage points to survey the surrounding land, in order to become aware of possible developments during a disaster?

Communication possibilities

  • Radio
  • Mobile phone
  • Signalling mirror

Universal Items

When preparing for disaster situations, your Bug Out bag can be significantly improved by containing a particular set of “universal” items that have the ability to meet a number of basic and supplementary needs. There are two types of Universal Items: A knife, and a fire lighting tool – matches, lighter, flint. These Universal Items are of the utmost importance in the more extreme scenarios because they are the most transportable, adaptable and widely applicable tools available to you. Basically, a Universal Item is a tool which is able to meet several survival needs, and cannot be easily replaced by anything different. A good knife can greatly aid you in constructing a shelter, gutting and skinning animals for food and clothing, carving useful tools, and more. With a fire lighting tool you can keep yourself warm, cook food, purify water, signal for help, and more.


There are many types of knives, some more practical than others in a survival situation, but all are essentially sharpened pieces of metal. Possibly the most ancient of all tools, the knife serves as a cutting device, and can be used for many different tasks including, but not limited to, shelter construction, food preparation, and fire lighting. A knife makes many tasks easier to accomplish and can be used to dig, pry and chop. When resources are limited, and when you’re Bugging Out (particularly through bushland or countryside), the usefulness of a good knife is soon realised.

“You wouldn’t use a butter knife to carve a leg of ham; the knife you use during a disaster should be tailored for a disaster scenario.”

There are many types of knives, for many different purposes. The purpose your knife will serve is to keep you alive. It should be strong enough to withstand the tough conditions of a disaster; to remain reasonably sharp through use, and to not bend, chip, or break under stress. There are many variations, but only one type of knife can handle stress more than another: The fixed-blade, full-tang knife. As opposed to a folding knife, a fixed-blade, full-tang knife’s blade extends into the handle, right to the base. This makes the knife much stronger when performing tasks that put strain on the blade, such as chopping, prying and digging; succeeding, where other knives fail.

The major variations of knives include the length, shape and specific metal composition of the blade, and the shape and composition of the handle. Commonly discussed questions include the overall size of the knife, and whether or not serrations on a blade is a good or bad quality. A larger knife is generally accepted to be more practical, for it can accomplish a larger array of tasks than a smaller blade. The usefulness of serrations on a blade is purely situational; in some circumstances, serrations could be incredibly useful, for sawing through something that a regular edge would have trouble cutting through, however in other circumstances, serrations can get in the way, because they take up a significant portion of the blade. It is however up to you to determine which knife suits you best. Search online through product reviews to get a good idea of the quality of a knife. People who own and use the knives you’re considering are your best sources of information.

Fire lighting tools

Fire itself is something that can meet several survival needs; it can provide warmth, purify water, cook food, sterilise tools, and create smoke, should you wish to alert others to your position.

There are three common, conventional methods of lighting a fire, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. It is recommended that you carry at least one of each fire lighting tool, to account for differing conditions, and possible failure.

Fortunately each fire lighting tool is quite compact and weighs little, so carrying at least one of each tool is very manageable.


  • No mechanical parts that can break
  • Lights larger, less fine tinder, as opposed to the flint
  • Difficult to use when windy or raining
  • Bulky in large numbers


  • Easy to use
  • Lights larger, less fine tinder, as opposed to the flint
  • Very compact
  • Difficult to use when windy or raining
  • Components can break


  • Can be used in wet and windy conditions
  • Very compact
  • Takes practice to use effectively
  • Requires very fine tinder to create a flame

Bug Out Bag Considerations

Always be wary of the weight and general manoeuvrability of your Bug Out Bag. Remember the distance you have to travel with your Bug Out Bag, and that it will be strapped to your back for the journey. If it’s too light, you may have insufficient supplies, but if it’s too heavy, you may not be able to make the distance; find a good median that meets the survival needs adequately, and allows you to move relatively freely, with little discomfort.

Considering the dangers you may encounter while Bugging Out can provide insight into your Bug Out Bag’s practicality, in regard to manoeuvrability. There may come a time where you have to sneak, hide, run or fight, with your Bug Out Bag strapped to your back. If your supplies move around in your Bug Out Bag and make a considerable amount of noise, hiding and sneaking may be quite difficult. If your Bug Out Bag is too heavy and cumbersome, you may have difficulty running or fighting.

The less your Bug Out Bag weighs, the better your ability to travel and act appropriately during a disaster. Significantly decreasing the weight of your Bug Out Bag can only be done through gaining knowledge. Initially, you may not be aware of water or food sources in your current vicinity, your Bug Out Location, or the distance in between, so you carry all the food and water you’ll need with you. Over time you can learn the various survival skills that enable you to change your Bug Out route, now moving in between water and food sources, allowing you to decrease the weight of your Bug Out Bag, and be better equipped to sneak, hide, run and fight.


Through the entire preparation phase, it is very important to consider what can go wrong. Have a “Plan B” for every plan you make. Conditions change; your equipment may fail, your health or another’s could deteriorate, and your path may be blocked.

The following scenarios provide examples of problems you may encounter during various stages of a disaster. It is impossible to account for every potential problem, however the intended purpose of these scenarios is to get you thinking about what could go wrong. The Scout Motto holds particular relevance during this stage of forming your plan: “Be Prepared”.

Problem Scenario 1

You plan to use your water bottle to carry water. You drop your full water bottle onto the ground, and it splits open; it is now completely unusable. Are there other things around you that you can use to carry water instead? If this is your only water, where can you get more? Perhaps simply having a backup water bottle can be the answer.

Problem Scenario 2

You’re planning to follow a river and light a fire to boil water from it. Unfortunately it has been raining for days now, and any tinder you find is absolutely drenched. Are you sure you can light a fire in these conditions? Do you have another method you can use to purify water instead? Perhaps a mini stove could be a handy backup option, or as it is currently raining, a method of collecting the falling droplets could provide you with water that’s already pure.

Problem Scenario 3

You’ve planned to carry a lightweight fly to keep any rain and dew off you when you want to sleep at night. Unfortunately, a wayward spark has floated away from your cooking fire, landed on your fly and burnt a large hole before you can do anything about it. Rainclouds have formed, soon it will be pouring, and soon you will be very damp. Perhaps learning about shelter construction can be the answer to this dilemma.

Problem Scenario 4

Disaster has struck. The first thing you do is whip your mobile phone out to call your family. Unfortunately you don’t have a signal, but luckily you’ve planned for this; in this scenario, your family knows that you’ll meet them at their house. You throw your Bug Out Bag on your back and take off at a brisk pace down the road. You reach your family’s house in half an hour, but no one is home, which is strange. You’re not sure where they could be, so you wait in their backyard for them to return. Minutes slowly turn to hours as the disaster worsens around you, and soon it is dark. The hours roll by, soon it will be morning. How long will you wait for? Maybe having a more detailed plan, including the length of time to wait at several predetermined locations, could ensure reuniting with your group.

Problem Scenario 5
You arrive at your Bug Out Location and someone else is already there.