Jul 30 2014

EMERGENCY! Bug-out bag

This post originally appeared on Living on the Cheap

I am not sure if it is the ubiquity of news or the actuality of climate change, but it seems you cannot turn around today without hearing of a disaster striking. Hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, even the upcoming zombie apocalypse are all calling for a single thing.

Be prepared.

I hate to go all Eagle Scout on you, but a little bit of planning on the front end will save you a lot of pain and angst should disaster loom in your life. So be prepared. Here are couple of necessities that you should gather.

Bug-out bag

Silly name, I know, but the concept is solid. One of the most challenging things about a sudden disaster is the loss of power and trying to put together the things that you need in the dark at two o’clock in the morning. Approaching preparation this way is a guarantee that you will neither forget nor misplace the things you need.

Put all of your necessities together in the calm light of day, before the pressure is on. Gather everything in a single bag so that all your items are together.

I prefer a medium backpack, somewhere in the range of 25 liters of capacity. This keeps your hands free in case you are walking and makes carrying the weight more comfortable. You are best with something water-resistant and hydration-bladder capable. A pack like the Kelty Redstart is a great, affordable choice.

Let there be light and water … please

The two services most likely to be compromised in an emergency are water and electricity. Since you can only live for about 24 hours without water or about an hour without checking in on your social networks, you may want to prioritize these.

Water is fairly simple. Even if it continues to flow at your home, it may not be safe to drink. A good personal solution is something like the Lifestraw. This filter-based tube allows you to drink water, removing bacteria and contaminants. It will not filter out viruses but is more than 99 percent effective at removing other contaminants. You can literally use it to drink from puddles on the ground.

A small bottle of basic bleach is also a necessity. Sixteen drops in a gallon of water will kill most parasites and bacteria and make contaminated water drinkable. Keep in mind that a gallon a day of water per person is a good rule of thumb to keep on hand for drinking and sanitation in an emergency. Do not use scented, color-safe or bleaches with added cleaners.

Communications are critical during an emergency and keeping in contact when the power is down can be difficult. An emergency radio that can be kept going via solar power or crank will help you keep up with important announcements. I really like the one from Secur because it is small, at about six by three inches, and also features a light and a charging port for your cellphone. A decent antenna on these units can make the difference between picking up static or valuable information.

A smartphone is a wonderful thing but it is only a paperweight if the battery is dead.Keeping your cellphone running allows you to stay in contact with loved ones during an emergency. Keeping it charged without power means some gyrations but it can be done.

Battery chargers come in lots of forms and can typically hold a charge for around six months, so keeping a couple of charged ones in your bug-out bag is a good idea. Keep in mind that you lose some efficiencies while charging from a battery. An average smartphone has around a 2,000-mah battery, but charging it from another battery means you lose about 25% of that power. This means a 4,000-mah battery will probably recharge your phone one and a half times.

How do you get more power into these batteries once you have emptied them? Solar power is a good option, even if you don’t have direct sunlight. Keep in mind that solar cells need more area to be efficient so a solar cell the size of your phone will take about 8-10 hours to charge your phone up to full again. A bigger one generates more power, so it will power up your phone faster.

A folding panel like the Kikr from Enerplex allows you to stow a pretty big panel in a small space. When unfolded it outputs enough power to charge up an iPhone 5 in about an hour and a half. A combined unit like the Waka Waka, packs a solar panel, a flashlight and a 2,200-mah battery into a package just a bit bigger than your phone. The solar panel will charge an iPhone or its internal battery from the onboard solar panel in about ten hours.

Odds and ends

You’ll want some other basic survival items in your bug-out bag. A space blanket, a rain poncho and a small package of diaper wipes are well worth their minimal weight and you will be happy if you need any of them.

A package of non-safety matches in a zip-lock baggie for water protection can come in handy. Actually, having several zip-lock baggies will come in very handy in your kit. If you want to double up on the water proofing on the matches, dip the business side of the matches in some hot candle wax. The wax will scrape off when you strike the matches but keep them dry if water does get into the bag.

A Leatherman or similar multi-tool can get you out of a lot of binds. Make sure that you choose one of the tools that has pliers, a knife and a serrated, saw-style blade for maximum utility.

So, pack your kit up and place it where you can find it quickly. I hope you don’t ever need it, but if you’ll do, you will be glad it is there!


  1. Dave M

    Great post Jeff! Most people don’t think about stuff like this until it’s too late. I have a couple bug-out bags standing by, but I didn’t think of some of the items you mentioned here. Thanks!

  2. Jeff Mac

    Thanks Dave! Hopefully you won’t ever need this stuff, but if you do…

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