Beyond Bug-Out Bags


If you’ve found your way to this magazine, you undoubtedly are familiar with the concept of bug-out and get-home bags. Having the foresight to prepackage and preposition supplies and tools to help you through disaster is a prudent thing to do. Bug-out bags are typically packed to keep a single person supplied for up to three days with food, medical supplies, tools, and other essentials. They are stopgap measures, stored in places where they can be reached at a moment’s notice, wherever you may be when an emergency arises. If you’ve already prepared a bug-out-type bag, congratulations, you’re already ahead of the curve — but you shouldn’t stop there.

Disaster Strikes

What if you’re at home when a disaster strikes? What do you do when you make it home right after a disaster occurs? Depending on the situation, you might shelter in place or decide to evacuate. If an emergency takes place when you’re at home, consider yourself lucky. You have access to all the provisions and equipment that you’ve been storing for just such an occasion. If you decide that staying at your place is untenable and it’s time to leave your fortress to head for a safer location, it’s a good idea to bring more than just your bug-out bag with you. For that, you will need larger bags — and a plan.

The Plan

If you have the time and opportunity to escape your home with more than just the clothes on your back, you will want to make the most of it. Sometimes we are lucky enough to know that a disaster is coming so we can prepare for it, such as an oncoming tropical storm, and sometimes disasters happen without warning, such as an earthquake. With this in mind, building an escape plan according to your particular needs and environment is critical. Do you live by yourself or do you have a family? Is your region prone to tornadoes? Floods? Earthquakes? Do you or someone in your family require special medications? All these factors should be taken into consideration as you develop specific contingency plans.

Contingency Loads

How much time you have to evacuate, distance to your objective, and mode of transportation are determining factors of what you can and should bring with you. Because oftentimes emergencies happen when we least expect them, the time you have to grab what you need varies — you might have only seconds or several days, but you won’t know until it happens. Having the use of a vehicle or heading out on foot also determines what you can bring with you. Because of this, weight is a big factor, along with who will be carrying it. A way to balance all of these needs is to break the bags up into layers of contingency loads.

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By packing disaster-specific bags, you can choose which bags are a must in a split second. For example, if an earthquake hits your area, you can grab your “basics” and “earthquake” bag and leave your “NBC” (nuclear/biological/chemical) bag behind if time and space are limited.

Special Needs: If you or someone in your family or group requires special medications or equipment, a bag should be prepared or made ready for packing with this in mind. Insulated, cold storage bags are available for items that need to stay cold such as insulin. According to the FDA, “Insulin products contained in vials or cartridges supplied by the manufacturers (opened or unopened) may be left unrefrigerated at a temperature between 59°F and 86°F for up to 28 days and continue to work. However, an insulin product that has been altered for the purpose of dilution or by removal from the manufacturer’s original vial should be discarded within two weeks.” Having a cold storage bag with an ice substitute can help buy you a few extra days or more.

Grab-and-Go Bags

Bug-out bags are typically built around medium to large backpacks, usually called “three-day” packs, which commonly have capacities in the 30-liter range. For the purposes outlined in this article, we need more space. In this guide, we look at duffle bags that are large enough to fit more gear, but are still somewhat easy to handle. We find that bags in the 40- to 70-liter range work pretty well for us, but this will vary depending on what you need to fit in your bags.

Some things to keep in mind: bags that feature more than one way of carrying them are a plus. For example, if you have to abandon your vehicle, a duffle that can be converted into a backpack or that can be wheeled can come in handy. Put some thought into who will be carrying the bag as well, and be mindful not to overload your bags. Some people with petite spouses or children prefer wheeled bags in the event that they will be depended on to help haul a load heavier than they would otherwise carry. However, consider the terrain in your area too — wheeled bags work better on pavement than dirt and rocks.

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Durable, high-quality bags that can take the abuse and rigors of unforeseen circumstances are recommended for use as your grab-and-go bags. After all, the last thing you need is for your bag to self-destruct as you’re trying to escape the river of lava spewing from the volcano that just erupted. Because quality bags often come at a high cost, having several contingency loads packed and ready to go can mean a lot of money spent on just the bags themselves, never mind the gear that’s in them.

A way around this is to invest in a couple of heavy-duty bags and to load your contingency loads into less expensive, temporary, light-duty bags. When it hits the fan, grab your nice bags and the contingency loads you need and go. Be sure the temporary bags you choose are sturdy enough to hold your gear for a moderate amount of time and wear. When time and opportunity permits, transfer your loads into the heavy-duty bags.


Having all your contingency loads clearly marked and easily accessible makes them quicker to grab. We like having them on a shelf in the garage for quick loading. Remember to check them periodically for items that should be rotated out before they expire. For more on that, see “For a Limited Time Only” elsewhere in this issue.

So give some thought to your requirements and what sort of go-bags you need to prepare. Then browse the following pages and weigh your options before breaking out the plastic. Because there are more bags on the market than pages in this magazine, this guide only covers a few types of bags and points out some great features to look for when you are searching for your perfect bag.

Basic Load

Start with a bag for basics that you will need regardless of emergency. Things such as clothing, a first-aid kit, food, water, toilet paper, and other personal hygiene items are necessities in any kind of disaster, so it’s a good idea to pack a bag for these basic needs. It’s not necessary to spend a lot of money on this. Pack some clothing that has rotated out of your daily wear selection, you’ll be glad you have fresh clothes even if they are out of date.

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Disaster / Climate Specific

Depending on the type of disaster, you’ll probably need specialized items. It’s a good idea to pack separate bags for distinctly different disasters and climates so that you’re not lugging around unneeded items. For example, if you live in an area that can get clobbered with snow during the winter, but is dry as a bone during the summer, you might want to create separate hot and cold weather bags with weather-specific clothing and supplies. That way, if an emergency happens during the summer and you need to travel light, you know you can leave the winter bag behind to reduce your burden.

Ice Alternatives

Igloo Maxcold Natural Ice

Make & Model – Igloo Maxcold Natural Ice Notable Features –

  • Made of pure water
  • Sealed in durable reinforced plastic
  • Sheets remain flexible when frozen

Quantity Per Pack – 2 x 4 sheets of 8 cubes sheets Outer Dimensions – 12 in L x 11.5 in W x 10 in H Weight – 6.4 oz MSRP – $1 URL – Notes – Keep these ice cube sheets frozen in your freezer for any kind of disaster or emergency. The sheets of water-filled plastic ice cubes are flexible and can also be cut to fit any shape or size that you need.

Igloo Maxcold Small Block Ice

Make & Model – Igloo Maxcold Small Block Ice Notable Features –

  • No mess ice
  • Reusable
  • Non-toxic

Quantity Per Pack – 1 Outer Dimensions – 4.25 in L x 5 in W x 0.74 in D Weight – 6.9 oz MSRP – $2 URL – Notes – The block shape and gel material of this ice alternative helps keep it colder for longer than the ice cube sheets. Throw them into an insulated bag, and you have an instant icebox to help keep things cold for longer. Block Ice is available in different sizes.

NOTE: All measurements are approximate. Items shown in bags are for demonstration purposes only and are not included.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>