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How To Build A Bug Out Bag On A Budget


Recent flooding in the midwest required the evacuation of whole cities, and hurricanes regularly chase tens or hundreds of thousands of people from their homes.

In situations like those you might have a few hours or days to prepare.

But last fall fires in California displaced 50,000 residents, some with only minutes of warning. Are you ready to leave home in minutes and survive until you can return to normal life?

You can be if you have a bug-out bag. As explained by Wikipedia, “A bug-out bag or BOB is a portable kit that normally contains the items one would require to survive for 72 hours when evacuating from a disaster, although some kits are designed to last longer periods.”

So a BOB is a suitcase, backpack, or duffle bag that has what you need to survive and can be grabbed as you run out the door. The goal is to be ready for as many situations as possible while keeping the whole kit light and easy-to-carry.

Lists of items to include are usually from suppliers of survival items, and, of course, these kits can get expensive. Outside Magazine estimates that even their “Ultimate DIY Bug-Out Bag” costs $1,200 to put together, and that’s before you include the cash that should be in every BOB.

But what if you want to be prepared for disasters (natural and otherwise) without spending a fortune? In that case, you’ll want to read on to see how you can put together a decent bug-out bag for under $100.

Use What You Have And Buy Cheap Alternatives

One sure way to keep the expense down is to use items you already have around home. You’ll see this theme throughout the list and notes that follow.

For example, even though a backpack is probably best for housing the whole kit, because it leaves your hands free while you carry it, if you don’t have one, a duffle bag or suitcase will work as a BOB.

Just be sure everything fits in one “bag,” and keep the total weight manageable, on the assumption that you might walk with it for miles.

The other way to keep down the cost is to buy used items and/or cheap alternatives to normal survival items. You’ll also see this theme in the following list, which brings us to…

What To Put In A Basic Bug-Out Bag

Set a maximum weight for your BOB, an amount you can easily carry. Then include as many of the following as possible. After you have the essentials, you can fill additional space (up to your maximum weight) with “extras” you might like to have (a book, MP3 player, extra snacks, etc.)

Passport – Even if you don’t leave the country it’s good to have your passport as identification, and if it’s with you it won’t be lost in the fire, flood, riots, or whatever disaster you leave behind.

Money – Presumably you’ll have a credit or debit card or two in your wallet or purse, but it’s also a good idea to have currency and coins totaling at least $200 to $300.

First Aid Kit – You can put together some basic first aid supplies from what you have, or buy a simple kit for under $10 in the camping supply department at Walmart.

Painkillers – Throw a few doses of what you normally use in a plastic bag or small container, and rotate/replace them every year so they aren’t past expiration when you need them.

Other Medications – If there is any medicine that you need on a daily basis, put some of it in your BOB, and rotate it regularly so it doesn’t expire.

Shelter – Some survivalist suggest having a tent in your BOB, but a garbage bag bivy sack (tape the open ends of two big bags together and cut open at one end) is a lot lighter and is sufficient for a couple nights if you don’t have a hotel room, emergency shelter, or vehicle to sleep in.

Sleeping Bag – You can buy a bag at Walmart for under $20, or to go cheap and light, skip it in favor of a metallic survival blanket ($4 to $17 at Walmart).

Maps – It’s a good idea to have a map of your state, and possibly the country.

Information – Keep an updated list in your bug-out bag with account numbers, passwords, and phone numbers for friends, family, and credit card issuers. Also, email this list to yourself so you’ll have access to the information wherever you have an internet connection.

Water – Pack at least one bottle of water or a sports drink in the bag, and replace it regularly so it doesn’t get stale.

Water Purification – It costs about $6 for iodine tablets (Walmart camping department), or you can carry a small container of unscented bleach and use that to disinfect water (two drops per quart — learn more here).

Food – Food is heavy, but you should have at least a few ready-to-eat snacks to cover the first day or two away from home.

Comfortable Shoes – If you always wear comfortable shoes you’re all set; otherwise have some running or walking shoes packed.

Hat – A hat is a great way to stay warm, and if you live in a hot sunny climate you might want one to protect you from the sun as well.

Gloves – Basic work gloves are light and can sometimes be found at the dollar store.

Jacket – Keep it light, and if you don’t already have one for your BOB, buy something from a thrift store for a couple bucks.

Rainwear – A decent breathable rain jacket is nice, or, to keep the cost and weight down, pack a large garbage bag as a rainwear (cut holes as needed for your arms and head).

Underwear – At least one extra set, lightweight is best.

Shirt – Something with long sleeves and pockets is best, but you can pack whatever you have to keep the cost down.

Pants – If you normally wear jeans, pack lighter pants, and if you normally wear slacks, pack jeans; that way you’ll have pants for varying conditions.

Sweater – Pack whatever is in your closet that you’re no longer using.

Socks – Three pair, one of them for cold weather.

Plastic Bags – Zippered bags if you have them, as well as plain plastic grocery bags.

Matches – Store them in a plastic bag to protect from moisture.

Candle – Anything you have or can buy at the dollar store.

Lighter – In a plastic bag in case it leaks.

Radio – A cheap and small one with extra batteries works, or spend a little more to get a hand cranked radio that works without batteries or a power supply.

Flashlight – A hand-cranked one is nice, but a cheap LED headlamp with extra batteries cost less than $5 and will work fine.

Nail Clippers – Keep them small.

Tweezers – Include these if they’re not already in the first aid kit.

Feminine Supplies – Pack what you might need for a few days.

Insect Repellent – A small bottle (one or two-ounce) of something with DEET in it.

Sunblock – If you have some already just put a bit into a small container, but replace it every year or so.

Toothbrush – And maybe a small tube of toothpaste.

Soap – A small bar that you saved from your last hotel stay.

Hand Sanitizer – A small container from the dollar store.

Disposable Razors – One is probably enough.

Towel – Keep it small, maybe even just a washcloth.

Knife – A cheap foldable pocket knife is useful for a thousand tasks.

Spoon – You can eat anything with a spoon (unlike with a fork); just pack the odd looking one from your kitchen drawer.

Cup – Plastic is light and won’t break, and if it’s tough enough it can double as a bowl for soup or whatever.

Multi-Tool – It’s nice to have something with pliers and screwdrivers, and a decent multi-tool can be bought at Home Depot for about $7 or so.

Whistle – Great for making your presence known or for signaling, and a plastic one in the camping department of Walmart cost about a dollar.

Cord – It can be useful to have 50 feet or so of strong cord, so include whatever you have or buy cheap paracord for under $3 at Walmart.

Duct Tape – A whole roll is too much weight and space, so carefully wrap a few feet around some other item in your BOB.

Sewing Kit – A dollar-store kit is good, or look around your home and throw together a needle, some buttons, and thread.

Compass – They start at a dollar at Walmart.

Mirror – Pack a small one if you have it, otherwise buy a signaling mirror in the camping department of Walmart for about $3.

Toilet Paper – Include a half-roll.

Napkins – Put a few in a plastic bag (these double as toilet paper too).

Notebook – Include a small notebook or a few index cards, along with a pen and pencil.

Dust Mask – You can get better ones if you anticipate particularly toxic air, but for most purposes, cheap ones will be fine.

Bandana – These have many uses, including an arm sling, a dust mask, a water pre-filter, and more. A dollar store usually has them.

Phone Charger – Also include a charger for any other electronics you’re likely to bring.

What Else Should You Include?

If you include the items listed above you’ll be better-prepared than most people, but disasters can take many forms, so if you want to be prepared for civil unrest, sudden war, or some kind of Mad Max post-apocalyptic scenario, consider adding the following…

Silver Coins – Pre-1964 dimes or quarters (90% silver) provide a way to trade for things if the dollar loses all value, because of the silver value of the coins.

Pepper Spray – People are usually the biggest threat, and this is one of the least-deadly ways to deal with them (and it will work against animals too).

Gun – While a gun can cause as many problems as it solves (accidental discharge, not being allowed in a community emergency shelter), some people feel more comfortable with one.

Vitamin C – The most likely deficiency when eating stored foods is vitamin C.

Barter Items – If money has lost value, it helps to have other things to trade, like small bottles of liquor, cigarettes, coffee, lighters, etc.

Language Book – If you have some inkling of where you might bug out to, be prepared to speak the language.

Survival Guide – Keep it light, or just study up so you won;t need to carry a book.

Shovel – A foldable shovel costs less than $10 at Walmart.

Saw – A small foldable saw is also less than $10 at Walmart.

A BOB For Each Person?

Generally you’ll want a bug-out bag for each person in your household, but some items don’t have to be repeated. For example, one compass, radio, or multi-tool is sufficient for everyone in your group, while every bag should have food, water, and clothing.

Use your common sense to decide what to include in each person’s bag.

Final Preparations

Your BOB should be packed at all times, since you never know how much time you’ll have to evacuate in an emergency.

Have the bag in an easy-to-grab location, like the front closet of your home.

Schedule a check of the bag annually, so you can replace things that have expiration dates, like food, batteries, water purification, and painkillers or other medications.

If you mostly include items you already have, and use the frugal tips here, you should be able to put the whole kit together for under $100 (not counting any money you include).

If you have suggestions for budget bug-out bags, tell us below … and keep on frugaling!

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