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Bug-out backpack recommendations, vacuum sealers

In the comments section on bug-out bag contents, several posters insisted that a backpack — not a suitcase or a rolling cart or a plastic tub — was absolutely essential equipment. While I’m not 1000 percent persuaded that absolutely everybody must have a backpack (and I don’t think anybody should allow lack of a backpack to stop them from assembling a kit), I can definitely see the point.

Commenter Adam Selene posed a question: “For those of you who advocate for backpacks, can you suggest any actual brands and models?”

I think it’s worth bringing that question up more visibly. And if you have a recommendation I’ll add: WHY would you choose that particular backpack? Price? Features? Capacity? Suitability for particular weather or terrain conditions? Suitability for use by people of different abilities or physiques? Make your best case for the backpack of your choice.

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In that same comment section, Woody noted, “My first aid kit, clothing, blanket and other items that I’d like to remain dry are vacuum packed in food storage bags, using my kitchen vacuum packer. This keeps them dry and also compresses them to save space.”

I thought that was a brilliant solution both for dryness and compression. But those vacuum sealers are expensive! I was beginning to wonder whose I might be able to borrow when a local friend who read that comment emailed to say that her husband was so taken with the idea that he was headed out to buy a sealer — and I was welcome to use it. Is that cool, or what?

My friend and her family plan to use theirs to create “homemade MREs,” also. They live seriously in the local tsunami zone — in a spot considerably more troubling than mine — and like a lot of others after the quake in Japan, they’re taking a renewed and more serious look at their preps.

14 Comments

  1. Standard Mischief
    Standard Mischief March 24, 2011 6:43 am

    I prefer external frame because it helps keep my back cool. I’ve used a dozen or so different makes that differ slightly on storage or pockets.

    I’d say the one you pick-up at a yard sale or off of someone’s curb would work great if it’s in good condition.

    My early paramilitary training (boy scouts) told me to look for solid welds, sturdy zippers and a waist belt to take the load off your shoulders.

    I know next to nothing on the newfangled internal frame thingys, except it was awfully hot wearing one in the summer.

  2. Matt
    Matt March 24, 2011 7:33 am

    My current favorite pack is the Continental Rucksack from L.L. Bean. It is a big day pack though and probably not suited for you needs. In your situation where you are not convinced you need a full back pack, and you expect to be wet if bug out is required, I’d like to make a suggestion.

    Consider a Dry-Bag like canoers and rafters use. They are simple, waterproof and generally have back pack straps for portaging. They lash down good and will take a dunking and keep stuff dry. They also come in a multitude of colors. All the outfitters carry them.

    I like the old Coleman style external frame packs. They have a nylon reienforced fram that is tough, light and relatively flexible. I bought mine at a swap meet, for three dollars a couple of years back. The fram will also lash onto a trailer of buggy and many different brands of pack bags can me modified to fit.

    I don’t care for the military ALICE pack, the empty weight with fram is kind of high, and the frame it self can dig into the back. They are also built for the “average” man and don’t seem to be as comfortable for the slightly built, or those of larger frame.

  3. Matt
    Matt March 24, 2011 7:41 am

    BTW- I also have a vaccum bag seal-a-meal machine. It can vacuum or just seal. Since it’s only vacuum ability is for seal-a-meal bags and not canisters or canning jars, it’s cost new was around $40.00. Not to cheap, but not prohibitievely expensive either. Unfortunately, Walmart, is probably the best priced place for machines and bags. I have also picked up normal, new, sealing machines, non-vacuum, for around $10 at yard sales and thrift stores. The bags for any are pricey, but are tough, reuseable, and can be boiled.

  4. JF
    JF March 24, 2011 8:52 am

    I’ve never used a vacuum sealer and don’t know much about them. They sound like a great way to compress your soft gear and keep it dry. I very well may be missing something here given my lack of experience with the sealers, but at some point you’re going to have to break the seals to access your stuff. In that case, you still have separate water-resistant storage bags (good), but in serious wet weather you still need to protect the contents. That’s where redundancy would help, esp. in the wet NW. Maybe individual vacuum-sealed (later, water-resistant after opening) bags to compartmentalize stuff, all packed in a large, tightly sealed liner for the interior of the pack (e.g., tough plastic bag for yard work). Any outdoor store also sells large waterproof covers for $15-$30 that fit over the backpack exterior for use during inclement weather (google “backpack rain cover”). Regarding compression, I like those compression stuff sacks also sold at outdoor stores for $15 or so. They do a great job mashing your sleeping bag down into a compact package for easier storage and leaving more room for other stuff. Use a smaller one for extra clothing.

  5. Woody
    Woody March 24, 2011 8:57 am

    I’m happy you found the vacuum sealer suggestion useful. They are also useful for long term storage of firearms in hostile conditions. Just be sure to wrap the firearm in a piece of blanket or canvas to keep sharp edges and corners from puncturing the bags. Since the bags come in rolls you can even do long guns.

    I have used a vacuum packer for years for storing venison, bulk dry goods, frozen produce from the garden, and clothes for camping. I can’t imagine being without one. It is probably the most used small appliance in our kitchen.

    Regarding backpacks they are often expensive but you can make your own if you have a sewing machine. My first backpack was made out of an old canvas tent using a 30 year old sewing machine. I’m _not_ an accomplished sewing machine operator so it is pretty crude but very useful as a day pack. I still have it 30 years later. If you can afford to buy one be careful to get a pack that suits your needs. Do not buy a large one. You will just keep putting stuff in it until it’s full and you can barely carry it. A pack should be only large enough to carry what you _need_. My packs don’t have frames. When I bought them I did a lot of canoeing and they were better suited to the task. There are good reasons for having a frame too. In the end it’s a matter of personal taste, kinda like the hiking boots you wear.

    Packs for your dogs, if you go that route, can be made cheaply also. They are much simpler and easier to make than packs for people.

  6. EN
    EN March 24, 2011 9:57 am

    Backpacks are personal. They need to be tried and used before a decision is made. I wouldn’t bother making a recommendation, there’s one that’s perfect for you and many that will do. I don’t mind the medium Alice, but there are aftermarket frames that work better. I use an old Becker Patrol pack. Lots of pockets but it’s uses alice clips, which isn’t common. The pocket thing is important to me so as not to spend my nights digging around for small items. I’m not going backpacking I’m leaving in a hurry and need to get by.

  7. G.W.N.S.
    G.W.N.S. March 24, 2011 2:23 pm

    Be careful with vacuum sealers, compact doesn’t reduce weight. Just because it fits in a pack, make sure you can carry it! Also can you compress it without vacuum? It’s embarrassing to break camp and not be able to repack it in field!

    All of my dogs use their own packs, helps big time. I understand about possibly not being able to put packs on all dogs in crunch time, however equipping strongest most behaved one would work initially. Then have other dog packs rolled up to redistribute load latter? Let dogs practice carrying packs on regular walks. Don’t know your types of dogs, but one of my German Shepherds could handle a cart or sled with a moderate load. Just a thought.

    Bikes can make good cart substitutes for carrying gear with you walking it, just ask the Vietnamese about it.

    When packing I normally go through three phases.

    First I gather everything I want.

    Then reduce that to everything I need.

    Finally down to everything I can transport.

  8. winston
    winston March 24, 2011 5:39 pm

    Packs: You should try going to REI, Great Outdoor Provison or whatever equivilant of that you have up there (you live in the PNW, it shouldn’t be hard to find a backpacking store.) and have them fit you with a quality pack. Theres some brands where they can measure you and right there in the store mold the frame to fit your torso properly. It’s somewhat expensive, but a well fitted pack will go a very long way towards how much you can carry comfortably.
    The colors on commerical hiking packs bug some people but just suck it up and get a subdued cover if needed.

    Word of warning though those people at REI with try to subtly convince you that you’re a professional adventurer and need to buy all sorts of their stuff promptly. They’ll even pull out national park pamplets and show you exactly where you have always wanted to go with all your cool new stuff.

  9. naturegirl
    naturegirl March 25, 2011 12:06 am

    Backpacks are definitely easier….but if someone has back, balance issues it’s not a good choice…some people are better at pushing rather than pulling, if not actually carrying it on their backs…and it’s nice to have alternate choices of pushing/pulling/carrying all at once, too, to alleviate tiring & the aching muscles….

    Vacuum sealers are great, as long as you want to seal it and not have to use the contents over and over again (as was pointed out above)….It’s a must have for food preserving!

  10. Mike
    Mike March 26, 2011 6:25 am

    I have to say that silly me, I never thought about using a vacuum sealer. I think that it is a great Idea!

    With regards to the pack I use a well worn 64 pattern Jump Ruck that the Canadian Government was good enough to issue me a long time ago. It is an external frame unit that carries loads well and can be expanded as I require.

    Oh another thing… If all you want to do is boil water for things like instant soup, tea oat meal etc. then get a Kelly Kettle http://www.kellykettle.com/ they are invaluable. I have a small one I use for backpacking and it is awesome. I plan on getting another one that is bigger for car camping.

  11. Roberta X
    Roberta X March 26, 2011 8:35 pm

    Ummm…I’m gonna hate myself for this later but, despite the annoying TV ads and website, Space Bags are another option for vacuum-sealing non-food items: https://www.spacebag.com/13/Default.aspx has an autostart ad, sorry.

    The pack advice is good but I will add a caveat: even after trying, fitting and making an informed purchase, you need to take some hikes with your pack, to make sure it works and fine-tune the adjustments. And don’t over-invest; if it doesn’t work out, sell it and buy a different one. (A good pack is a lifetime plus — my old yellow frame pack from my later-teen/early 20s outdoorsy phase was passed on to a nephew who used it Scouting and it appears it’ll end up being used by his son, too).

    Consider a walking stick or staff, especially since you start out with a hill climb. “Campfire Yarn No. 3” from Baden-Powell’s “Scouting For Boys” ends with a description of the Scout staff. (He also describes their eminently practical original uniform. Ever wonder what the neckerchief is for?) The book can be found online; one version is at thedump.scoutscan.com/s4b.html and while it’s not hugely detailed, it’s good stuff. More people get tripped up by the basics than by not having the right superduper survival-thingie.

  12. Rowaldo
    Rowaldo August 3, 2011 11:06 pm

    There are a lot of backpacks equipped with the latest technology in the market today. With comfy straps, weatherproof material, ultra light frames and more. You’ll enjoy the outdoors better if you have complete gear. Investing in a reliable backpack will do you good, just imagine the hours you’d be carrying that pack on your shoulders whenever you’re out on a hike.

    Consider bringing a durable packing tape, you’ll never know when you’re in a situation and you need to pull off a McGyver. Go to BestPack.com for all carton sealing tape needs.

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