The Chinese have a curse: “May you live in interesting times.”
Welcome to interesting times!
Whether it is Trump spamming executive orders and causing chaos at airports, Venezuela’s economy going from number one in South America to utter collapse or Russia voting to decriminalizing wife-beating 380–3 (seriously), reality is now threatening to put the Onion out of business.
The most popular article on Medium in 2016 was History Tells Us What Happens After Trump and Brexit. The TL;DR? We’re about to go through one of “those stupid seasons humans impose on themselves at fairly regular intervals” a.k.a. mass chaos and destruction.
So what’s an American with a little disposable income supposed to do?
Build a badass bug out bag of course!
What’s a bug-out bag you ask? It’s a backpack filled with emergency supplies. Some people call it a go bag. You stuff it with all the essentials like food, water, medical supplies, tools and anything else you might need in a crisis.
If there’s a fire, a riot, coup (trial or otherwise) that you need to escape from, this is the first and sometimes only thing you can grab besides pets and loved ones.
Perhaps, you’ve already unfollowed everyone on Facebook, started a daily meditation practice and purged your Google Now of politics, but you’re running out of options? You need something else to cope with the surge of fear, uncertainty and doubt. I can think of no better tonic than taking time to build an awesome bug out bag.
Luckily, I caught bag fever a few years ago and I’ll share my hard earned wisdom with you, my faithful readers.
Now, I have to be honest. At the time I built my bag in 2013, even I had trouble justifying it to myself as anything other than a little nutty.
“You’re never going to use this,” I kept thinking.
Today, on the other hand it’s looking like I bought gold for $1 a bar at a flea market.
To be clear, I’m not interested in prepping for total doomsday. Frankly, if the world is going out in a blaze of nuclear fire, I don’t want to survive. Have fun playing Fallout 4 for real. Not me. The universe can happily recycle my DNA and bring me back in less interesting times.
Fallout 4 available now. Just look outside your window!
But there’s a lot to be said for basic preparedness. A good emergency bag can really help with everyday disasters like a fire or earthquake or a protest that turns into a riot. Think more along the lines of the Boy Scout motto “Always be prepared” vs Doomsday Preppers canning up six years’ worth of supplies. I once saw an episode of Doomsday Preppers where a couple learned Taglog so they could coordinate better against intruders. If you want to chat with Filipinos, I encourage you to learn that beautiful language but I’m just thinking “how can I escape a riot in, say, Berkley?”
So let’s get to it!
Bug Out Bag Blueprint
First off, you’ll want a how-to guide. I bought a few, but I’ll save you some trouble:
Build the Perfect Bug Out Bag is all you’ll ever need.
Here’s the key advice from the book: Don’t buy a pre-made kit! They suck. They may be cheaper, but they’re filled with useless crap that won’t help you in a real crisis. Get the best you can afford. If you ever really need this thing, the last thing you need is for it to be a pile of junk. Hand pick each item carefully.
The second bit of advice is to keep it up to date. Check it every six months or so and replace expired food and medicine. It’s no good if that food is rancid.So take care of your bag and it will take care of you.
First Things First
Let’s start with the big pieces, like a backpack, food, medicine and tools. I’ll mix in some fun pieces too, because, well, they’re fun!
I’m going to show you all the things I bought for my kit. You can find equivalent pieces for less money if you can’t afford everything on this list. Do your homework for each part.
Don’t assume you have to spend a ton of cash to get the best of the best. But there are a few pieces you don’t want to cheap out on.
The number one piece to not to go budget special on? You guessed it: the bag. If your bag is no good, you’re in a world of hurt. It needs to be durable, hold lots of stuff and balance your weight.
I ended up getting the Gregory Mountain’s Baltoro 65 Backpack. This thing is a beast. Tons of pockets, weight distributing straps, weatherproof — you name it. It kicks ass.
Whatever bag you pick, do your research! Spend as much time as you need on this because it’s the foundation for everything else.
If you’re stumped, you can check out this guide to the most killer backpacks of 2017 for camping and hiking.
OK, I admit it, this one should not be number two on the list but man I love this thing!
Destroy all Zombies!
Whenever the wife needs me to hack some ivy on the side of the house or chop some hedges I’m ready with my trusty Ka-Bar. Trimming the hedges with an electric saw is for suckers. Go at that thing like a world-hopping adventurer of old!
Your machete skills will serve you well when it’s your turn to lead a ragtag band of survivors across the apocalyptic wasteland.
Hack through the zombies in style with your onyx black mini-sword!
And look cool doing it.
The most important tool in your bag is a knife. And not just any knife: a full tang blade. That means it’s one solid hunk of metal all through the handle. It won’t break, no matter how much punishment you throw at it.
Draw First Blood (R)!
The Ontario Black Bird K-5 sounds like the final upgrade for a video game arsenal and it’s fantastic. Feel like Rambo when you pull it out. Hell you can even get an official Rambo Bowie knife!
I also keep a little folding knife that clips to my pocket or belt. I use it all the time. I like it so much that when I took it to the airport by mistake one time, I took the option to mail it to myself rather than throw it away!
It’s good for cutting open all the freaking packages you’ll be getting from Amazon if you decide to do this thing.
You need a med kit with antibiotics, bandages, burn cream, etc. Stuff it with personal medicines, pain killers, whatever.
Don’t forget any pet medicine too!
You can also get potassium iodide tablets if you do plan on surviving the nuclear holocaust. A little aspirin goes a long way too.
And, of course, always remember the Bacitracin. A small cut can be a nightmare with no medical personnel on the way.
You read or saw The Martian right? If duct tape is good enough for a scientist trapped on Mars, it’s good enough for you.
Approved by Matt Damon
Duct tape can fix anything from torn clothes to busted antennas to a gaping wound. You can make a sling with it or even a pair of shoes in a pinch.
Nobody has invented anything better in the last 100 years.
Hydro Flask and Pure, Clean Water with the Berkey
Look, even if you never build a bug out bag, get one of these Hydro Flasks. They’re insulated and keep liquid cool or hot all day. You can fill it with cold water in the morning, leave it in your hot car in the middle of summer and still drink cool, life-giving water when you crack it open. I carry a smaller version of this with me wherever I go.
Seriously just get the Berkey because it rocks!
You’ll also want something to purify water, like these tablets. Tablet-purified water tastes pretty horrible, though. There is a much better alternative.
The absolute best water purifier on the market is the Travel Berkey. It’s a gravity filter that cleans everything from heavy metals to viruses. Nothing gets past it. We have the Big Berkey at home and use it every day. It kills the competition. Most purifiers (like the one that starts with a B that everyone had in college) don’t filter much. They even enhance some heavy metals! Get this one and taste what water was supposed to taste like before we poisoned every river on Earth.
Speaking of water: You’ll want water to stay hydrated. Water is heavy, so make sure you carry just enough. Better to carry a Travel Berkey and a Hydro Flask instead.
These 3600-calorie bars pack a lot of power into a compact space. I have to admit: they are not fun to eat. In fact, they taste a little like cinnamon-flavored cardboard. But in a pinch you need a lot of food without a lot of weight.
There are plenty of other smaller foods to bring along that taste better, so do your research. But make sure to get these high-calorie monsters.
Fire is crucial in the wilderness. If you can’t light a fire you can’t signal anyone, cauterize a wound, cook food or keep warm. Get a variety of ways to start a fire.
Storm-proof, strike anywhere matches should be your first choice. The Swedish FireSteel can light 3000 fires and it’s got a built-in whistle!
It’s Swedish so it has to be good!
Get yourself some tinder like you’re playing D&D and fire it up with Swedish fire! Just in case it’s raining, get some tinder that works when it’s wet too.
You can also grab a small magnifying glass and use it just like you did when you were a kid burning army men (or ants).
Army men vs magnifying glass
Know Where You’re Going
In an emergency you won’t have Google Maps to get you where you need to go, so grab yourself a good map.
If you have to fight your way across the wasteland of a crumbling America, Rand McNally is your new best friend to help you stay off the main roads and avoid armed militias.
A compass will help you escape packs of roving marauders and the undead. Get a good one, like this clamshell one that’s served the military for decades.
Signal When You’re Lost
If you lose your way, use this mirror to signal people that you’re still alive and need help. Glowsticks help light the way as well, and they look good at Burning Man.
A Light in the Dark
Speaking of power, you’ll want a head lamp. They’re amazing for working on projects of all kinds. I regularly use mine when working my computers or DIY projects. It’s also useful for hiking at night.
Wipe your Ass
Don’t forget tee-pee or you’ll be wiping your ass with leaves. Not fun. Apparently someone in Australia wiped his ass with the wrong leaves, aka ones coated in a potent neurotoxin. It hurt so much he offed himself. Do NOT be that guy!
Poison Ivy ( Do Not Wipe Ass with This )
Speaking of plants, maybe you’ll want to pick up this Field Guide to Edible Plants so you don’t pick the wrong ones and end up a statistic.
That brings us to books. You should already have your friend Rand McNally with you and the Field Guide to Edible Plants. You’ll also want this Field Guide to Wilderness Medicine.
And please don’t buy the Kindle version. If you run out of juice on the run you’re out of luck. Get a good old fashioned paperback. It never runs out of batteries and it has a perfect brightness setting.
Waterproof Document Bag
You’ll want to pack up a map, your passport, birth certificate, and other crucial papers in this handy little waterproof carrier. Don’t lose documents you can’t replace. Think ahead.
NOT a Boonie hat
My wife hates my Boonie hat, but I love it. It makes me feel like an extra in Tropic Thunder. I wear it everywhere, especially when walking during hot days. It’s great protection against the sun and rain.
Hand Crank Radio
This radio keeps going even when it has no batteries as long as you can crank it. If there’s an emergency you might not be able to Google, it but you’ll need to tune in to any emergency broadcasts or news. It also has a built-in LED light.
Never underestimate the need to write something down. Get a good pad or two and some pens and pencils. With no working phones, leaving someone a note might just save your life.
For my wife I got the Kelty Cosmic 20 Degree sleeping bag and the Kelty Dualist mummy bag for myself.
Mummy bag. Great for camping and eating.
You can augment these with heat sheets that help retain heat in the freezing cold. A few pillows won’t hurt either.
There are a huge variety of tents. I just need one for me and my wife and my cats. Get a bigger one if you have kids. This Luxe Tempo two-person tent did the trick. Easy to set up, sturdy and warm.
Speaking of your little buddies, don’t forget a pet carrier and a portable food and water kit. The food and water kit fold up, and so does this carrier from OxGord. It also works on planes, so you’re good to travel with it. It’s also very stylish for trucking them to the Vet.
Don’t forget me!
If you want to cook, you’ll need a number of supplies. Some pots and pans, a cup, some sporks (who doesn’t love saying that word?!?!), a stove, fuel for the stove, and something to hold those pots up.
Gas and Water Jugs
You’ll want a place to store gas and water. This is a no brainer and doesn’t require a heck of a lot of research. Just pick some plastic jugs for gas and one for water too.
It helps to have a good pair of tac-pants that won’t get soaked. Cotton is a killer in emergency conditions because it soaks up water, so get waterproof clothes with lots of pockets to carry things. Preppers call it wicking fabric.
Call of Duty flashbacks!
Some work gloves will keep your hands from getting jacked up when you’re slicing through zombies with your machete (or when hacking hedges for the wife). Some ponchos will keep you dry.
Lastly, as Lieutenant Dan reminds us in Forrest Gump, you need good support socks and hiking boots. Oh and pack some extra undies, man.
This one won’t fit in your bag, but it could go in your car or truck. It’s good to have a little power wherever you go and a gas powered genny is the answer. This little baby even has a “reverse polarity” indicator, so if you need to fix the warp drive you can just reverse the polarity!
In an emergency, solar power is key. The tech has developed rapidly over the last few years, so do your research. I picked up two different solar chargers: the Instapark Mercury 27 and the Solar Joos.
Admittedly they’re not perfect. You won’t be powering a laptop so you can finish working on your Fallout 4 Wasteland Workshop. You also won’t be rapid charging your cell phone in five minutes, but a good portable solar panel might mean the difference between getting just enough juice to call 911 and not.
This one is controversial. Do it only if you feel comfortable. I won’t link to any weapons here, other than the machete. There are no shortage of weapons sites on the web, so look around. Not everyone keeps a gun, but I go with the True Romance mantra of it’s better to have a gun and not need it rather than to need a gun and not have it. A 9-mm, a .45, a revolver are good choices.
However, if you want to go seriously sci-fi than you need a trusty sawed off shotgun. Strap it to your arm so you can swing it out. See the linked clip from the original Terminator for tips.
Do not mess with Granny. She got a scope on that rifle!
You might want to pick up some Campsuds to wash yourself and some mini towels. Get various kinds of batteries. Bugs bite, so get some bug spray.
An N95 hospital mask can keep your family from spreading germs. I wore mine every day when I was in China researching my epic sci-fi civil war saga, The Jasmine Wars, and fighting to stop coughing in the insane Beijing cyberpunk pollution.
That’s it. I know, it’s a lot of stuff. Even if you can’t afford it all at once, invest in a few key pieces and build it over time when you have some disposable income.
The key pieces to get first are:
- Med kit
- Machete (Just kidding. Sort of.)
If you can get it all at once, do it. I was lucky at the time as I had a nice bonus that helped cover it, so it wasn’t too much of a stretch, but that hasn’t always been true for me in my life.
No matter what you do, just have fun with it. Enjoy the process of researching everything. Get the good stuff and take care of it. If you take care of it, it will take care of you.
Hopefully you won’t need it.
But maybe, just maybe… it will save your family’s lives one day.
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A bit about me: I’m an author, engineer and serial entrepreneur. During the last two decades, I’ve covered a broad range of tech from Linux to virtualization and containers.
You can check out my latest novel, an epic Chinese sci-fi civil war saga where China throws off the chains of communism and becomes the world’s first direct democracy, running a highly advanced, artificially intelligent decentralized app platform with no leaders.
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