The 6 best emergency survival backpacks
The Bug Out Bag began in the military, was then also adopted by law enforcement, and is now also a huge part of the survivalist and preppers culture.
What is a bug out bag
Usually, it is a backpack that you keep at home stocked with kit, containing items which would help you survive for a minimum of 72 hours.
The bug out bag isn’t about long-term survival; it is about having to evacuate your home or local area in case of an emergency and surviving for a short period of time before you can find help.
When would you need a bug out bag
It is a bag of kit to help you when evacuation is needed. In instances like natural disasters, pandemics, or breakdown of governments.
Your bug out bag will be filled with emergency survival kit and will be determined by the area you live in. Whilst it will be similar to other peoples, and there will be a lot of common items, there is a need for some diversification.
For example, someone who is lives in a Tornado belt will need slightly different kit from someone who thinks it will be likely they may get stuck in a blizzard or avalanche.
We have seen a lot of wildfires over the recent years, imagine you were in that situation and how stressed you would be for you and your family.
A bug out bag would have given you one less thing to worry about, as you would know you could look after yourself and your family for at least 72 hours.
But do bear in mind each member of your family should have an individual bug out bag.
Whilst a bug out bag could conceivably be packed and left somewhere safe for years, a bug out bag for children is a little harder because they are always growing and changing so clothing made need to be updated regularly.
What is in a bug out bag
Like I said there are no hard and fast rules, but there are some common categories that most backpacks will include. Such as:
- Food and Water: Enough food for 72 hours, water purification equipment, and a cooking system like a gas or alcohol stove.
- First Aid: Basic first aid kit with medicine, and things to clean and treat injuries.
- Clothing: A range of warm and waterproof clothing usually.
- Shelter: Things like an emergency bivvy, foil blanket, tarp, or lightweight tent.
- Planning: Maps, compass, and a disaster plan of meeting places, escape routes and emergency centres. Also copies of identification so you can prove who you are.
- Tools: Such as cord, knife, multi-tool, folding saw, and tactical shovel.
Bug out bag styles
There are basically two main types of backpacks you can buy to be your bug out bag.
- A tactical backpack
- Hiking backpack
A tactical backpack is more likely to be robust and will have the features you need, and it would be the type of bag I would choose if I were escaping into the wilderness.
However, the hiking backpack is less conspicuous and will draw less attention. This could be a benefit if you live in a built-up populated emergency.
As a tactical pack might make you stand out as someone who knows what you are doing, or you are a person of authority like military personal or law enforcement.
You do not want to be slowed down like this in an actual emergency.
How big should a bug out bag be
Personally, my current bug out bag is 55 litres. However, I have seen people with ones as small as 12 and 24 litres.
A lot of people tend to use a standard hiking backpack size of around 60 to 70 litres, with the thought process of the bigger the bag the better which is obviously not the case.
There are no hard and fast rules here, but you do have to consider your capabilities. There is no point having a bug out bag of 70 litres, filled with 40kg of kit, if you can only walk 100 yards with 40kgs on your back.
The bug out bag should be the size, and it should contain kit that weighs, what you can carry around on your back for most of the day.
The 6 Best Bug Out Bags
I will give you a range of sizes and styles, so you can have a think about what will best suit you.
The Winner – 5.11 Tactical RUSH72 Military Backpack
I love this backpack, and it has everything I am looking for in a bug out bag.
It is a great size, it is big enough so I can take everything I think I will need for 72 hours of surviving, but it doesn’t feel too big where I have just filled a big bag with items, I am unlikely to need.
It has a large main compartment which is great for your clothing and shelter items. But it has 29 other individual smaller compartments.
I like to have everything as much as possible to be one zip away from me, there is nothing worse than having to pull everything out of your bag because you have packed your compass and map at the bottom of the bag.
These individual compartments allow me to keep everything within easy access. For this to work, you do need to spend more time thinking and planning where everything should go.
It took me a lot of tinkering to get it to how I like it. Also, it is important you are familiar with where everything is, and you stay familiar with it. I like to do a run through and check, every couple of weeks.
There is no point packing everything up, then when you are in an emergency situation you have forgot where everything is. As scrambling through 30 compartments is a terrible idea.
If you do not think about or want to stay familiar with your pack, then you would be best going for one that has just one big compartment.
I have never seen a bag of this size, well any bag, that has as many MOLLE attachments. You could literally attach hundreds of things to this bag.
Of course, that probably isn’t needed, and you may be tempted to take too much stuff.
However, I like a bug out bag that gives me options as I am always thinking about and tweaking my kit. The last thing I want, is to have to buy a new bag each time.
This bag has great options for hydration, it has a bladder compartment with ports for 2 drinking tubes, and 2 large side pockets which can hold water bottles.
This is a vital feature of the bag for me, as most of my escape routes will not have a supply of running water.
- Water repellant: Whilst you should still use dry bags inside, the bag will help keep things dry.
- Fleeced-lined top pocket: Excellent for keeping electricals and batteries in, when in cold conditions.
- Compression straps: Ensures you get an excellent fit, and the bag doesn’t sway.
- Weight: On the heavier side at 2.5kg, this means you do have to be careful of the overall weight when fully packed.
- To many options: This bag is for people with an interest in the survival and prepping, not for beginners.
- Tactical look: this clearly looks like a tactical bag, so it might draw attention to you in an emergency situation, as people may recognise that you are prepared and will have food and equipment on you.
This is only the winner because it is the bag I now use and is what fits my needs the best. There are a huge range of excellent bags that are great for bugging out. I have listed some more below, I have owned or tested all these out, so I am happy to recommend them as a guide for you.
Goruck GR3 Ruckpack
Goruck are a well-respected brand, and if you only every owned Goruck packs then no one would be able to judge you.
This is a beast of a bag, with a large range of compression and expansion features. Meaning you can really tailor it to your specific needs.
It is made form premium materials and feels high end but has a relatively modest price tag considering.
This bag would probably last you decades as an everyday bag, so it can definitely be trusted to not fail you in an emergency survival situation.
Plus, it just looks cool ha-ha.
Harzard 4 Air Support
If you live in an urban environment then this could be an excellent bug out bag and it would be ideal for the elderly or children who are unable to carry a lot of weigh on their backs, as the wheels mean you can pull it.
It would be useful if you envision the possibility that you may need to board a plane in an emergency situation as it will fit into overhead luggage compartments.
It has compartments designed for more modern-day activities, like a laptop sleeve. So, even if you don’t like it as your main bug out bag, it might fall nicely in between a bug out bag and an everyday carry.
The more options you have the better in my opinion.
Maxpedition Vulture-ll Backpack
This bag is 37L so depending on your specific circumstances is a pretty decent bug out bag size.
What I really like about this bag is that to me it has all the features of a military tactical bag, but to the untrain eye it could just be a regular day hiking backpack or an urban laptop bag.
This means you are unlikely to be spotted and bothered by people who are not prepared, and you are likely to be only spotted by someone who is prepared themselves so are unlikely to bother you.
This is probably the most water-resistant bag I have owned, I have had it out in some pretty wet conditions, and it performed admirably.
The Teflon coating allows the water to slide off, rather than soaking in and adding to the pack weight.
Mountainsmith Day Lumbar Pack
For those who like to travel really light in an emergency situation, or if you want your children to have the basics whilst you carry most of the stuff.
Even though it is only 13L it is well designed with multiple compartments, so that you can pack it well without everything rattling around.
The webbing on the outside is limited but it does allow you to attach things, to increase the capacity. For example, you could easily hang your multi-tools or torch on the outside.
I found this pack to be extremely comfy, it just seems to nestle in the curve of your spine perfectly.
Osprey Stratos 34
A great choice if your escape route leads into the mountains or rough terrain. The pack is light, feels nimble, and sits perfectly on your back.
They are a specialist backpack maker, meaning they will have all the features you need.
But they are a recognisable brand to most people, so if someone saw you with an Osprey backpack, they wouldn’t necessarily think that you have food and ammo.
They will probably just think you have some clothing in it that you have stuffed into your camping or walking backpack.
The internal frame means it maintains its shape no matter what you take with you, which means packing is a whole lot easier as you don’t have to be worry about what items are sitting where on your back.
Choosing the right bug out bag is very important, but not as important as the items that you are going to put into your bug out bag.
In my opinion you should do a lot of thinking and researching into what you are going to take, and then buy those items.
Once you have everything, then buy a bug out bag that suits what you intend to pack it with.
But don’t get carried away, remember the items are intended to help you SURVIVE for a period of 72 hours. It is not what you would take on a thru-hike on the PCT!
If you are a beginner with all of this, then there are companies that can help you.
They will supply you with a bag and all the emergency items in a bundle. These can be useful, but I think eventually you are always better off designing your own.