Bug Out Bag

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Whether you call it an Emergency Kit, Zombie or Bugout Bag, Prepper Pack, or SHTF (Shit Hits the Fan), it is all the same. Everyone should plan for contingencies, and the likelihood you'll need one is far more likely that you might think. So the question isn't whether you should have one (you're being sort of irresponsible if you don't), the question is more what fits your needs or expectations, and what is best to put in it.

Not just for crazies

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness...

A tale of two cities was written over 150 years ago, about what was happening 75 years earlier, but it could have easily been written about ancient Greece or modern Syria (or Paris after a mass shooting). Details change, but from the high level, it all looks the same. History repeats itself, and those who study history have to watch the slow motion replay.

The point isn't that we're living in a state of eminent threat or despair. From a macro view, we're living in a Golden Age. One of the best times to be alive as humans, with the least despair, most liberties, least wars, famine and diseases of ever before. And in the long term, there's no reason to believe the trend won't keep getting better. But least is not none, and there's also little doubt things could get worse (at least for a while), and that there's likely more bumps in the road to nirvana (just ask Kurt Cobain). Cultures cycle, generations forget, and fortune and misfortune seems to come in waves. We've had it pretty damn good for a while, even while people are selling the gullible that we have not.

So there's many reasons to be prepared. Whether you believe it's time for pestilence to rear it's ugly head, that progressives incessant efforts to destabilize and polarize humanity will finally succeed, or just that you live on a fault-line, flood zone, or semi-dormant volcanic area and think it might be a good idea to have some supplies on hand, that little voice is trying to tell you something. Trusting government to protect you is not a plan at all -- just ask Katrina (or many more recent crisis) Survivors, or go visit your DMV. That will hint strongly at what trusting others to take care of you will get.

FEMA tells you that you should keep a few months of supplies on hand, "just in case". The Mormon religion has reserves as part of their belief system (to help themselves and others). Government built bunkers and supplies for their leadership. But if you try to stockpile enough to survive a rough winter without a trip to the grocery store and pharmacy, and you're likely to end up on a government watch list. But to be fair, if you've lived a life worth living, you're probably on that list anyways.

But I'm not talking about building a bunker. Though sometimes I have dreams of moving to a cabin in the woods. (Usually when I'm stuck in traffic, or stuck on a plane with stupid people). I'm just talking about the light beer of survival rations (homeopathic prepping) -- it is to just have a kit to get you out of town, or to help you hunker down while in a bad situation.

NOTE: While I'm not talking about becoming an isolationism prepper, those people aren't all dumb/crazy. I think some might mis-assess some risks/threats. But when it comes to preparing, they've given it a lot of thought, and there's a lot you could learn from them. So I don't exactly "buy in", but I certainly think it's worth paying some attention to what they say -- and certainly what things you could do to make yourself more prepared.

Here's was a brilliant article titled, "The Surprisingly Solid Mathematical Case of the Tin Foil Hat Gun Prepper", where they actually look at the odds of you needing something like I'm talking about. They are grim. Countries seem to last an average of 100 years or so without major violence/instability/war, I lived through the L.A. riots (twice). And catastrophe's are a lot more frequent than that. I've had to bug-out of my house a few times because they used a grove behind our house as the firebreak, as well as had to drive out of Sonoma while the big fires hit in 2017 (driving by burning trees and large patches that were burnt out). And I've been through a dozen earthquakes, though none have done major damage to our house. The point is, if you live long enough, you are more likely to experience catastrophe than not.

No matter what you call it a Prepper Pack, Crash Kit, Zombie/Bugout Bag, or more mundane “Survival/Emergency Kit”, they’re not a bad idea. I was never a boy-scout (I was a cub-scout and weblos), but I do like their motto of "Be Prepared”.

We spend a couple thousand dollars a year on insurances that are rarely going to be used and can only help you financially after-the-fact, but few people spend a couple hundred dollars (one time cost) to setup a couple bags of necessities or conveniences that will be far more helpful during a crisis. StateFarm commercials aside, nobody is going to blink in and blink you out, to help during a disaster or even accident — so once again, self reliance and preparedness, is always a good idea.

People are inherently bad at doing the math. Think about the odds of something like, “100 year flood (earthquake, fire, hurricane or tornado, etc), means if I live for 80 years, then there’s an 80% chance that I’ll experience that?” Holy shit. Worse, if you live in an area where those things can overlap, they’re cumulative. So while any year having one of those things happen is extremely low — the idea that you’re going to at least one pretty shitty crisis in your life, is actually highly likely. Throw pestilence, car accidents, or other accidents, or just breakdowns in the middle of nowhere — and it’s probably more than a couple times in your life where you’ll think, “If only I had X".

I hope I’m done — but I’ve seen a few serious car accidents that I helped with, had a couple car accidents (and been hit by a car 4 times as a pedestrian), found a couple suicides, stopped a few crimes, had a couple fires force us to evacuate our homes, lived through a couple serious earthquakes (that were far enough away that our damage was minimal), been jumped, had a building next to me struck by a very mild tornado, and was one of a few thousand people in our region to hardly notice a significant regional power-grid failure, and so on. I’m getting too old for this shit, and am becoming more the home-body. But I’m also getting smart enough to be a little prepared, just in case.

Whole Kit and kaboodle


There are of course these easy to buy kits, that have a few basics, usually at inflated prices. And they are certainly better than nothing, so I wouldn’t discount them. If you want to do the minimum, then those are a minimum. But it really matters what you’re planning for.

My idea is plan for a variety of things (including some rare ones), and figure this is the cheapest insurance you’ll buy (amortized over how long you’ll have the kit). I suspect there will be many cases where just having one of the items at the right time, will pay for the entire thing in value returned.

Of course all of these inventories are quite personal, and Murphy is itching to teach you a lesson about items you might forget to add, or think, “nah, won’t ever need that”. But still, something is better than nothing.

I like to make a kit that contains many sub-kits, for different use-cases. (Yeah, I think of it like product management: define all the use cases, then create an MVP (Minimum viable product).

There's also different ideas in mobility: things that can get you to the woods to survive, or somewhere where the zombies aren't roaming the streets. If you've ever camped for long, you know that if you have shelter, you're probably better waiting it out there. But it turns out if the gas and electricity is off a while, and you can't trust the water as-is, then camping supplies are still damn handy. And if you keep a pack in the car, and have to walk 30 miles to get home (1-2 days), that a couple supplies might be nice.

In order of likelihood, you need a few kits in one:

  • Q: What happens if you’re stuck somewhere for a few days that you weren’t expecting?
    • A: Convenience Bag - change of clothes, sewing kit, toiletries, couple days of medicines you take. If you had to overnight, what would you need? Pants, shirt, socks, undies, dry-soap (for a whores bath), etc. This turns out to be handy if you help someone who throws up on you, or you spill, or you eat the discount shellfish, and so on. Damn handy to have emergency set of clothing, or something to wear while washing the rest, or if you’re forced to overnight somewhere and would like to be able to brush your teeth and take your meds.
  • Q: what happens if you’re in an accident, or come on an accident, or someone is hurt?
    • A: Crash/Trauma kit - Emergency Medical kit, Trauma Powder, tools, backup communication. Basically, someone is stuck in a car, etc. You’re not the Fire Department, or first responder, most of the time you can wait. But sometimes you’re out a ways where it can be 15-45 minutes or more. So a few things like a pry-bar, knife/saw, and not just a band-aid but something that can staunch blood-flow. I’m not going to do a roadside tracheotomy and play medical MacGyver. And I know enough to not fuck with snake bites, or stuff like that. But if someone has a serious wound, throwing some clotting powder on it, and applying a pressure bandage while waiting for help to arrive is a $20 investment into saving someone else’s life. The basic med kids is included, but except for aspirin in case of stroke or heart attack, most of that stuff is just convenience.
  • Q: what happens if a minor disaster hits — the power goes out in your region, you breakdown in the middle of nowhere, or have a significant earthquake or weather event — basically where you have a few days before help is going to arrive?
    • A: Crisis kit — food, water, shelter (and food is optional). Basically, just get by for 3 days or so. Most of these time’s you’ll have shelter and it’s best to stay in your house, etc. More glamping than camping. Technically, they say a gallon of water per person, per day — but I’m not a camel or carrying around 6 gallons for my wife and I, everywhere I go. So I’m more of the mind, carry a gallon to hold you over if you get stuck somewhere, and some water treatment tablets (and some gatorade powder to make that unpalatable chemical tasting shit more tolerable), a water purifier/filter, and the ability to make fire and boil more. The same with food, rather than packing 18 MRE’s, I’m like a few days of energy bars, and the tools to gather more food. And just some basics for making a shelter, rather than carrying a tent.
  • Q: what happens in the zombie apocalypse or alien invasion? Or you’re riding though the desert on a horse with no name, and it fucking dies in the rain? What then?
    • A: Survival kit — OK. We’re getting into the highly implausible. I tend not to drive in blizzards, or in remote enough places where I’m going to have to do into survival mode. But what if civilization in your area goes full Venezuela on you, and you’re going to have to wait more than a couple days in the South Ward for the National Guard? Not likely, but fortunately, most things in this kit are smaller and cheaper — we’re talking a few camping accessories to help more than just the crisis kit, and things like a signal mirror, fire starting, and so on.
  • Q: what if the unexpected happens? (You never expect the Spanish inquisition).
    • A: Batman utility belt — I can’t hypothesize what could happen where these would be good, because many of them are just handy to have in any of the cases, or none of them. I’m thinking cash to buy yourself out of problems, a self defense weapon or two for those cases where you can’t buy your way out of problems (there’s some opportunistic people out there, especially in crisis), duct tape, string/rope/twine, trash bags, shovel, axe, flashlight. Things you could use to protect your body, or bury someone else’s — not because I expect to be offing anyone, but it turns out the things you’d have to dispose of someone’s body, after cutting them in pieces, turns out to be handy for all sorts of less nefarious things, like a rock breaking a window in your car, or improvising a rain-slicker.

I’ll go into details on what each of these my kit would contain below (and some of items I bought). But I tend to buy cheap, these are low likelihood use items. I found a dollar store is a brilliant way to buy a ton of cheap crap, that would be amazingly helpful if civilization ended (for a while, anyways).

Like all of these checklists, they're more a personal list of things you should keep around "just in case", thus they vary a lot because they're based on probability, comfort levels, and size considerations (how much shit you want to drag around). Most people keep layered kits. So a small one they can carry when hiking. A bigger one for the car. And another for the home. These aren't meant to be the definitive comprehensive be-all end-all list of everything. Just a few hints to get you thinking in the right direction, then you need to customize for things that will make you feel safer.

Remember the way odds work -- a 100 year flood is highly unlikely to happen any year you're alive. But if you live 75 years in the same place, it's more likely to happen than not. Risks are additive -- so you don't have to be paranoid to collect some things that will help mitigate them a little bit.


The Law of 3's

Priorities: the law of 3's - (I'm not arguing the validity, as I think some of these are a stretch -- but it's commonly quoted, so you should know it).

  • 3 minutes without air
  • 3 hours without shelter
  • 3 days without water
  • 3 weeks without food. In kind of reverse order of priority (but order of usefulness)

Starting Point

This is my list of things, yours may/should vary. If you can think about it, you might need it -- but you still have to prioritize based on location and mobility. Does this below on you at all times, in the back of your car/truck, or is this in a watertight container in your house (in case of disaster). I also have a laminated inventory sheet, so that it reminds you of what you have, and where.

  • Molle Backpack w/many compartments and many containers (some preferably aluminum to cook in)
  • Batman utility belt:
    • Gloves (work & surgical)
    • Dust masks
    • Duct Tape
    • Wire Saw
    • Knife
    • Multitool - Gerber's is lots cheaper than leatherman
    • Paracord
    • Prybar - $1.00 (dollar store)
    • Whistle/Compass - $3.00
    • Spork/Bottleopener - $2.00
    • Sharpies x2
    • Flashlight (+spare batteries)
    • Survival axe / Shovel
    • Communications: Crank Radio/Charger - spare 911 cellphone
  • Convenience Bag
    • Cash
    • Sanitation: Moist towelettes, Toilet Paper
    • Medications, including aspirin,
    • Change of clothes (w spare jacket & shoes)
    • Overnight supplies (toobrush, razor, brush)
    • Reading/safety glasses
    • Emergency contacts, copy of key information
  • Crisis kit
    • Water: 1 gallon - they say 1 gallon per person-day, but that's heavy. I store more around hours, and rely on survival water (treatment) beyond day-1
    • Food: Ration bars(3 days) = $12
    • Pack of gatorade powder (makes treated water palatable)
  • Survival kit
    • Water: Sawyer mini-lifestraw, Bleach (also hygine -- Unscented) (ratio =9:1 for disinfectant, 16 drops/gallon for drinking), Containers (collapsable water bottles)
    • Fire: Safety Matches, Tea lights & Tinder (just vaseline soaked cotton balls), Disposable Lighters x 2, Flint (comes w/survival knives)
    • Shelter: Large garbage bags (also sanitation, utility, etc), Mylar Emergency Blankets x5 = $3.00
    • Food: and emergency fishing kit, or sometimes hunting supply & defense (slingshot, gun, bow, string for snares, etc)
  • Personal Weapons
    • This gets into a whole separate issues that are hotly debated, of how much do you trust your fellow man, and so on? Lots of people carry around tools of defense. But if you live in a people's republic (like California) the State highly frowns on trusting civilians with anything that could harm their oligarchs (sticks, guns or sharp tools on their person). Only politicians and their state approved security force is allowed to carry those. Since the odds of running into trouble with the law exceeds the odds of running into a catastrophe, I tend to stay on the legally safe side of the fence. Others have the "tried by 12 is better than being carried by 6" philosophy. And if I lived in free America, or was out in the woods a lot, I tended to carry things that could protect me from no longer being the apex predator on the food chain. I don't judge, either way. I figure even in a bad situation, I can probably make it to home. But YMMV.


📚 References

Written 2016.05.07