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Time to revisit the bug-out bag

How time flies when you’re having fun trying to keep your house from collapsing into the mud.

Sometime earlier this year, I shoved my bug-out bag onto the screen porch to get it out of the way of construction, and yesterday was the day for lugging it back into the house, checking and updating it.

I’d have sworn I did a check-and-update sometime last year. But that was also the year of the Great Foundation Project and I now see I let things slide. If the Sharpie-marked packets of snacks in the bug-out bag are telling the truth, my last go-through of the kit was February 2016. Oopsie.

I think I need to set an annual alarm or something. Bi-annual would be better. Nearly three years is neglect

Truth is, I also haven’t been terribly worried about a bug-out because my most likely scenarios involve bugging in. But those catastrophic California fires reminded me that bugging out is a possibility for anybody. So yesterday was the day for tearing the kit apart and evaluating everything.

Things weren’t too bad. I’d say 90 percent of the kit was fine and could have sat there another five years without a problem. But at some point a tiny bit of moisture had gotten loose in there. Maybe temperature variations on the porch caused condensation or the water jug tipped and dribbled when I moved the kit from the house. In any case, I lucked out and caught the problems just in time.

The cardboard on a box of ammo was damp, but the cartridges themselves seem okay. (I’ll take them out and test them and also put a fresh box into the kit). Ditto with the box for the emergency stove; stove was fine, box not so much.

Age had begun to affect a few items; bandaids were okay but their wrappings had turned fragile. A bottle of painkiller was intact but too old to be relied on, especially if I’m going to forget to check the kit again.

Since various categories of items were in their own waterproof bags, everything else, from fire-making gear to water filtration to flashlight and pocketknives, was in good shape. Even batteries were still full of power, though of course I’m going to be changing them out.

The ickiest problem was minor and didn’t come from water or age. In a small bag of toiletries, I’d put a travel-sized bottle of shampoo. Reminder to self: Never put a pop-top item of liquid into a kit; always use screw caps and make sure they’re securely fastened.

The shampoo bottle was empty, its flip-top flipped, and it turns out shampoo can be at least as corrosive as water (which, of course, it mostly is).

But as I say, I lucked out. I was able to replace most outdated or spoiled items from stocks on hand. Five items, mostly medical, I decided to buy new.

And those snacks have to go. There are lots of foods I’ll eat long past their sell-by dates, but I keep nuts and trail mix in the bag, and they go rancid way too quickly. The bag also has “real” emergency food like Datrex 3600 bars (high-calorie coconut flavored compressed sawdust cookies with a theoretical five-year life, but packaged to last forever).

Thank heaven for the dollar store and the new (and apparently thriving) liquidation mart in the next town over.

BUT. Don’t do as I did, guys! Do as I say, instead. Keep those go-kits and other emergency gear up to date.

Any of you care to share any notable successes or oopsies from your own bug-out bag experiences?


  1. Wally
    Wally November 27, 2018 4:48 am

    Very mixed success with chem lights. Some fail after a years and others are good after 5 years. All stored in a bedroom. I haven’t run controlled tests, but subjective observation reveals no pattern.

  2. Claire
    Claire November 27, 2018 5:07 am

    Hm. I never even thought about light sticks going bad. Thank you for the heads-up, Wally.

  3. maDDtraPPer
    maDDtraPPer November 27, 2018 6:52 am

    I used to build kits for aircraft and used Mainstay rations. For shits and giggles when replacing expired packs I went on a diet of strictly Mainstay and water. It wasn’t the worst food I have ever eaten, but I did lose weight and my digestion system went on strike for a while. I quit it after 2 weeks but it was a worthy experiment. Need to have something else to eat at least once a day or every second day for 1 meal otherwise it gets a bit depressing and the last thing you need is low spirits in the even that you actually HAVE to eat that stuff. It is also quite dehydrating so you need ample water to go with it. I have never heard of Datrex and will have to research it. I don’t have a bug out bag except when moving by road and living temporarily in another location. My house is my bug out bag. If something goes wrong that’s where I am headed.

  4. jed
    jed November 27, 2018 7:28 am

    For BOB usage, I think the Energizer Ultimate Lithium batteries are the way to go, for AA and AAA (or other sizes they come in, where applicable). Granted, alkaline batteries have gotten much better in re. leakage, but in any application where I’m likely (in my case, very likely) to forget about checking and rotation, the former are my choice. Ultimate Lithium AA 12-pack

  5. Claire
    Claire November 27, 2018 7:47 am

    Re ration bars, here are some reviews/comparisons:

    Mainstay vs Datrex:

    Mainstay, Datrex, SOS, and ER Bar:

    Bottom line is that none of them are very good and as MaDDtraPPer says, they’d drive you and your digestive system nuts in short order. They’re not made for energy or nutrition, just calories to keep you alive in a lifeboat or a bunker. I go with Datrex because I prefer the coconut flavor (if the word flavor even applies here) and the double packaging. But heaven knows how you managed to keep on for two weeks, MaDDtraPPer.

    Another option might be to buy some good-quality protein bars and vacuum seal them.

  6. Claire
    Claire November 27, 2018 7:52 am

    “Energizer Ultimate Lithium batteries are the way to go, for AA and AAA”

    Good idea. I’ve had no problem with leaking or corrosion, but I can see how lithium batteries would give extra security. (Thanks for the Amazon link, too.)

    I worry more about the CR123s (for flashlights), which have an iffy reputation. Mine all checked out okay, but I hear stories about them going bad without warning. I see they’re available in lithiums, too:

  7. david
    david November 27, 2018 7:53 am

    So far my issue is merely getting all my supplies in a pile and actually, finally, putting them INTO the bag. I’m a dead man walking if things go south.

  8. Claire
    Claire November 27, 2018 7:56 am

    Good article on bug-out choices, Shel. I recall as a little kid visiting a family whose house had burned down. They were living in the former daylight basement and the ONLY thing they’d managed to save from the fire (other than their own lives and the clothing they wore) was the TV set.

    Back in that day, I gather grabbing the TV was a common choice. Now no doubt it would be something else, but in the literal heat of the moment, our choices might not be rational.

  9. Claire
    Claire November 27, 2018 8:00 am

    Oh lord, I hear ya there, david. I suspect so do a lot of others. It is HARD to keep up on preps, and I think organizing a good BoB and keeping it up to date is one of the trickiest aspects.

  10. Comrade X
    Comrade X November 27, 2018 8:42 am

    On my recent foray into the hinterlands I noticed my get home bag had gotten very heavy.

    In double checking I found three loaded AR 30 rd mag’s that somehow I have stashed in it on a previous foray, now they have been transferred to my ammo grab bag opening up some new room in the get home bag. I am looking at adding a few freeze dry meals (already have the cardboard food blocks), small camp cook stove and a cooking utensil. As you might guess my bags are set up for either vehicle or bike cart, they could be carried but the load would have to be lighten after a short hike, in addition to a get home bag, I also travel with a med kit in a grab bag and a ammo grab bag along with weapons.

    One thing I find handy is hand warmers but in the get home bag they seem to get activated before I need them.

  11. david
    david November 27, 2018 8:45 am

    Claire – part of the problem is ‘scoping’. Do I need a ‘get home from work’ bag, or a 3-day bag, a 2-week bag, or a ‘start a new life in the woods’ bag (more likely cache or crates that fit the truck bed).

    I have multi-level first aid kits, but not complete bags. And no, my ‘start life over’ med kit isn’t complete, and I don’t have a ‘battle bag’ med kit put together either.

  12. Claire
    Claire November 27, 2018 10:09 am

    david — FWIW, I don’t think many of us are prepared to treat sucking chest wounds. Many are so prepped will probably never have to perform such a deed — and may be so focused on dramatic survivalist/battle preps that they might have forgotten to prep for treating a splinter or the runs.

    You’re already ahead of me in the first-aid department.

    The whole scoping or scaling issue is definitely a dilemma. OTOH, there are ways to keep it from causing “prep paralysis.” Think like a sea critter building a twisty shell. Start with a get-home bag; advance to a three-days-probably-in-a-shelter bag; expand to a two-weeks-in-a-shelter bag; diversify to a two-weeks-on-my-own bag … by which time, it’s no longer a bag, but a career. So go only as far as you want or need to get.

    My own bag is a bit schizoid. It’s a four-or-five day bag, but some of it assumes I’ll be on my own in the woods, while parts of it are more suited to a stay in a shelter. I’m assuming I won’t be in a shelter because I’m not going anywhere if I have to leave Ava behind, and the one area agency designated to handle dogs is in a flood/tsunami zone and is in every other way unequal to the task. But shelter-level preps were easy to add, so I did.

  13. Claire
    Claire November 27, 2018 10:11 am

    “In double checking I found three loaded AR 30 rd mag’s that somehow I have stashed in it on a previous foray”

    At least you stash useful stuff. But yeah, I can see how those would get a bit noticeable. 🙂

    Note to self: Replace BoB hand warmers …

  14. Claire
    Claire November 27, 2018 10:11 am

    … and find the plastic ammo boxes …

  15. ~Qjay
    ~Qjay November 27, 2018 10:16 am

    Add desiccant packets to anything sealed in a Ziplock baggie; you’ll be glad you did. Just little ones are fine.

  16. david
    david November 27, 2018 11:27 am

    @Qjay et al – if you work in retail or know someone who does, things often arrive at the store or distribution center with silica gel desiccant packs in the cartons, and you can take them home for free usually. I have about four 5-gallon buckets worth of half pound and full pound tubes bags of the stuff, but it’s often available in smaller packages, too.

  17. kentmcmanigal
    kentmcmanigal November 27, 2018 1:00 pm

    My BOB contains lots more than is necessary, but my idea has always been to ditch stuff it is obvious I won’t need in any particular bug out scenario. Yes, I run the risk of regretting it later if I ditch (or preferably, stash) something I don’t think I’ll need, but it turns out I do. That’s my compromise, anyway.

  18. just waiting
    just waiting November 27, 2018 9:43 pm

    Comrade, could have lightened your load emptying those mags at the range down the street Hope you guys had a good holiday!

  19. Cletus Woodener
    Cletus Woodener November 28, 2018 4:05 am

    Bug Out Bag Notes:
    Review the bag 2X/yr – fall (pre-winter); late spring (pre-summer), emphasis on outdoor gear requirements dictated by season.
    Lithium batteries: +1. Alkaline batteries: -3. Replace batteries annually no matter what.
    Amazon carries nifty plastic battery holders, usually 4 or 8 batts. Very handy.
    Vacuum seal bags for EVERYTHING (See: Food Saver). Bag items individually, items not susceptible to “co-corrosion” if stored together can be grouped. The bags are not perfectly air tight over long term, but nearly so, and serve to protect their contents and the contents of adjacent items from weather and water. A bag section can also be used as a sucking chest wound seal when coupled with duct tape. Write purchase AND storage dates on a piece of 3X5 card INSIDE the bag.
    Pro Tip: Include several bag opening tools, eg., buy a 5-pack of “First Aid IFAK Folding Utility Survival Knife (5-Pack) – Black ” – $11/Amazon – and place in several easily reached places in/on the pack.
    Hobby Lobby (and others) sell 5 lb bags of dessicant (silica gel). Make dessicant bags of closely woven cheesecloth (mine are 5″X5″, cheap sewing machine is a +1), bake on rack in 200F oven for 4-6 hours (if drying ONLY the silica gel, place in very shallow layer in metal or glass pan in 275F oven for 1.5-2 hrs. per 4 lbs; 3/4 or full cookie sheets work very well if your oven is big enough for them).
    50 cal ammo cans are airtight, have handles and are highly portable, make useful “adjunct containers” for bug out supplies, especially if the first BO stage involves a vehicle. Do not put anything in them that you won’t put in the BO pack when you begin foot travel (Tip: ammo can is a handy place for that “last reasonable civilized meal before the woods begin”), and use no more than 2 cans (pack on back, can in each hand, walk to vehicle, leave). Inspect contents quarterly (tip: good place to keep your 4 loaded AR mags).
    Law Tactical folding stock adapter for the AR-15 is extremely useful to make an AR more portable and “more generically containerable” to make it less obvious. Suggestion: 4X loaded mags in the 50 cal can, 2X in the “discrete AR container” but NOT in the rifle. Pro Tip: Vickers Two-Point Sling is excellent, use heavy rubber bands to keep it tightly folded, 2nd band to keep it against the receiver (prevents snagging in storage/while handling, allows rapid deployment when necessary). Pro Tip: if an AR-15 is a bug out component, put 2X loaded 20 round magazines (vac sealed, of course) in an exterior pack pocket, and whatever container is used to discretely transport the AR, keep an EMPTY 20 round mag in the AR. They aren’t much good without magazines. Pro Tip: scuffed and well-used tennis racket bag from the 2nd hand store, with cardboard panels to prevent “printing” makes a decent discrete container.
    Pack multiple light sources, bonus points if they all use the same size batteries. Bare minimum is 1X hand held light, 1X headlamp. Stick with field-proven brand name gear because excessive dark is a known enemy.
    There’s the usual – multiple methods for fire starting, something to provide shelter, map(s), compass, etc. but that should already be known.

  20. maddtrapper
    maddtrapper November 28, 2018 5:21 am

    sooooo…. walked into an army surplus store I stumbled upon and there it was staring me in the face. The perfect BOB. They sell it to ambulance crews. So bought it. Now I will build it. Karma.

  21. Bob G.
    Bob G. November 28, 2018 8:55 am

    Congratulations on what looks like a thorough BoB, Claire. And thank you for reminding me to check my own.

    Re: chemlights, I’ve given up on them an gone over to LED light sticks, which have a much longer shelf life. Each has a diaper pin on it, which gives me many hanging options. I try to keep at least one with the medkit to “mark” a casualty so they won’t be overlooked for medevac when possible. Just safety pin the light to them and turn it on as you go to help someone else.

  22. larryarnold
    larryarnold November 28, 2018 10:15 am

    “schizoid” = “flexible”

    I’ve worked shelters, and it’s an interesting environment. Besides pets, they also prohibit firearms.
    Last time we were the evacuation area, during Harvey, the county set up a pet shelter. They took dogs and cats, and several reptiles and birds, and horses. But people were sheltered elsewhere, it was a leave-your-pet-and-visit situation.
    Several local hotels relaxed their pet policies during the emergency, and didn’t ban guns. As long as I could afford it, that seems a better option.

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