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Urban Survival Bug Out Bags

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Urban-Specific Survival Bags

The 1% are becoming concerned about societal breakdown due to economic decline or collapse. In a recent article at Marotta Wealth Management, David Marotta advises his wealthy clients to be like a survivalist and get a bug out bag. The recommendation is a good one, as far as it goes, but several urban-specific issues must be addressed to get you metro-dwellers on the right track for your survival plans. The bug out bag is important, but your priority is to assemble a “get home bag.”

I had already delivered the next several episodes of Survival Tips to World Net Daily, but I wanted to bring you this information as quickly as possible. Props to WND for their flexibility in revising the show schedule — they know how important this is.

First, let’s define some terms.

  • Bug Out Bag (Bugout Bag, BOB, Get Out Of Dodge Bag, Ready Bag, Go Bag, etc.). By my definition, this is a kit in which you have food, water, shelter, and other tools for a 3-day trip from your metro-area home to your grandparents’ farmhouse or your hunting cabin (your “safe retreat,” aka “bugout location”).
  • Get Home Bag (Everyday Carry Bag, or “EDC” Bag). This bag stays with you at all times, so of course it is smaller than a BOB and has less stuff in it.

Each of these bags is a kind of survival kit, but they serve different purposes and so they must be outfitted differently.

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The Urban Bugout Bag

The BOB is what you’ll need if you decide to leave the house and head for safety in the hills. This could happen if you need to evacuate for a storm, a flood, or sudden social breakdown and rioting. It stays close to your front door, where you can grab it quickly and put it in the car. I have tons of information about bugout bags elsewhere on the blog (Survival Plan 2 – Bugout Bag and 7 Must-Have Items in a Bugout Bag), but let’s list a few key things you need to consider:

  • Tactical or not? Tactical packs have more pockets, more attachment points, and they’re more durable. However, they’re heavier, and they look “tactical.” In some (not all) urban environments, that will make you stand out as a wacko anarchist, so if you work at Starbuck’s or Merle Norman, maybe you want something that looks more like a hiking backpack or a diaper bag instead.
  • Officially, you need 3 gallons of water (1 gallon per day). In practice, that’s a challenge if you’re bugging out on foot, but if you plan to throw the bag in your car and drive away, you should be fine. In that case, you need a filter bottle like this one. See video.
  • It’s OK to overstock, you can always ditch stuff later. If your bag weighs 100 lbs but it’s in the trunk of the car, no problem. Then, if you need to abandon the vehicle and hoof it, you can trim the pack down to whatever you can carry.

The Urban Get Home Bag

You’ve got a lot of flexibility in deciding what and how much stuff to build into your BOB, because it pretty much stays by the front door or in your vehicle until bugout time. However, the Get Home Bag (or everyday carry bag) is different because you keep it with you all the time. My EDC is always close by. In the restaurant, the movie theater, the coffee shop, I’ve got my stuff. Even when I’m grocery shopping I’ll often have it on me; at the very least it’s in the vehicle in the parking lot.

Because it’s always with you, it needs to be designed so it’s easy and convenient to carry all the time, otherwise you’ll find yourself leaving it behind. Therefore, we’ll be more choosy, more selective about the items that go into the kit. Also, because its purpose is primarily to get you home traveling through populated areas, we’ll omit a lot of items that you would include if you were hiking the Appalachian Trail, like a signal mirror or fishing gear.

This kit will easily fit into a laptop backpack or even a diaper bag. In fact, almost the whole kit will fit into a 1 gallon plastic storage bag, with the exception of a filter bottle and a couple of clothing items.

Essential Items for Your Urban Get Home Bag

  • Filter water bottle. In my opinion, this is the most critical item of all. You never know if your flight will be in the heat, so you must assume it will be. Certainly, if you’re capable of carrying a gallon of water, do it, but if that weight and bulk tempts you to leave the Get Home Bag behind, then just carry a filter bottle full of water, which you can refill on the way home. In my opinion, the best bottle is the Berkey Sport Bottle with the basic carbon filter, because it filters most pathogens and improves the taste of the water. The Sawyer bottle is another good option (and is guaranteed for a million gallons), but it doesn’t filter out bad flavors like chlorine or “pond” flavor. With its high filtration capacity, it’s far more cost effective in the long run (the Berkey filters have to be replaced periodically), so take your pick.
  • Handgun and extra ammo. No matter where you live, in a disaster some people will revert to savagery. You need a gun, and you need to know how to operate it safely. Because this is a small, take-it-everywhere-you-go kit, you might want a very small gun like the Ruger LCP or my favorite small gun, the Sig-Sauer P238. The Sig comes in 21 different models, so you’re sure to find one you like. Both are .380 caliber, which is basically a short 9 mm round. That’s not a tremendous amount of firepower, but it’s better than fighting bare-handed. If you want a bigger gun, go for it. Just make sure you don’t wind up leaving it behind because it’s too heavy and inconvenient. No matter what gun you choose, keep one extra magazine with your kit. Article and video discussing the Ruger LCP and Sig P238.
  • Snacks. You don’t need much here, but you do need something. If you work in Phoenix and live in Chandler, you have an 8 to 10-hour walk, and you’ll need a snack to keep you going. Get something you can eat without cooking; an energy bar and a can of sardines with an easy-pull top will be enough. You might be hungry when you get home, but it will help.
  • Map of your city. Sure, you know how to drive home, but you probably don’t know how to walk home. Your vehicular route will probably be a good bit longer than a more direct pedestrian route, and since you probably don’t walk home that often, you need a map. Besides, to use the Phoenix example again, you’ll need to plan a route that takes you past the canals so you can refill your water bottle on the way.
  • At least two ways to start a fire. If your flight occurs in winter or at night, you might need a fire to warm yourself. A ferrocerium striker with some drier lint, plus a butane lighter. A butane lighter is your go-to way to light a fire, but don’t rely on it alone, as the gas can accidentally discharge in your pack.
  • A multitool. I’ve tried many good options, but I always go back to basics — a Swiss Army knife. The Champion Plus model has everything I want, including a magnifying glass as an extra fire-starting method. Any Leatherman like this one is a good alternative; just be sure you have a blade, a can-opener, a bottle opener, and a flat-head screwdriver.
  • Any strong twine. I have 20 feet of Zing-it, which is made of Dyneema. It’s ultra-strong, and lighter than paracord, but paracord is also excellent, and much less expensive.
  • Compass. If you live in Phoenix, most of the roads are on a North-South and East-West grid, so it’s easier to find your way, but if you live in Winston-Salem, you’ll need a compass to get your bearings. The Suunto A-10 is a good basic compass, but for a kit like this one, I’m recommending a button compass; you can get 50 of these for $12 at Amazon, scatter them in every pack, survival kit, and vehicle, and have plenty left over for gifts.
  • Toilet paper. Nuff said.
  • Cash. You might hire yourself a ride home on a scooter, so keep $100-$200 in your kit.
  • Flashlight and spare batteries. If you’re storing your flashlight for long periods of non-use, store your batteries separately to keep them from leaking and ruining the flashlight. Tape them end to end with electrical tape to prevent accidental discharge in the pack. Get one that is compact and uses common batteries. The Fenix LD12 uses a single AA battery, has several useful modes, and is well built.
  • Salt. If you’re trekking through intense heat, you’ll need a pinch of salt now and then, chased with a big drink of water. I use “Real Salt,” which has lots of extra minerals. Here’s some info about it on Amazon, but I buy mine in bulk from a local distributor. If you don’t have Real Salt, get some hydration tablets. Just be sure you don’t run the mineralized water through your filter bottle; you’ll need a separate container.
  • Tampon. Again, you never know when your flight will occur.
  • Basic first aid. You need 2 to 4 adhesive bandages and a few antiseptic wipes.
  • Clothing. You can get crazy, but these items will be very useful.
    • Baseball cap. Shade your face.
    • Cotton sheet/shemagh. Shade your neck. Dip it in the canal and wrap it over your head to cool you down. Use as a scarf in the cold, or a mask in a dust storm. Also useful as a wound dressing, water filter, and to wrap other items. You can wrap your gun in it at the bottom of your laptop bag.
    • Walking shoes. If you work in heels, trust me — you don’t want to walk all day in them. Keep them light and small. This isn’t a planned hike; it’s emergency footwear to get you home.

Optional Items For Your Urban Get Home Bag

All the above I consider essential. Here are some important options to consider:

  • Duct tape. It has a million uses. I use the Gorilla brand — it’s very tough.
  • Fixed blade knife. You already have your bladed multitool, so you’re OK, but a fixed-blade knife at your hip is extra-handy. The Mora Companion is great because it’s so cheap, you can buy several and put one in every kit. I prefer carbon steel, but it’s available in stainless too.
  • Hooded poncho. In case it rains.
  • Otterbox. I almost put this case in the “essential” list above. It adds a little weight, but it’s extremely tough, and waterproof to 100 feet, so it keeps the contents from getting crushed in your bag, and even if you swim for it, everything inside will be dry. It’s available in many sizes. For this kit I use the Model 3000.
  • Loksak. If you don’t use a dry case like the Otterbox, get at least one 5 in. by 4 in. Loksak to store your drier lint, newspaper, or other tinder. Don’t substitute zipper bags; Loksaks are military grade and waterproof to 200 feet.
  • Mylar emergency blanket. You can get a lot of 50 for under $30 at Amazon, and place them all around the house, in every pack, and every vehicle.
  • Lip balm. It doesn’t just keep your lips juicy and kissable. If you develop a blister, apply some lip balm and cover with one of your adhesive bandages. You can also smear a little glob of it onto some paper and give your fire starting a boost. I like Bert’s Bees.
  • Everyday items. You’re getting ready for a major catastrophe, so it only makes sense to be ready for everyday things too, like an impromptu decision to spend the night away from home. These items will make your kit useful a lot more often than just during the next societal meltdown:
    • Toothbrush and toothpaste.
    • Change of underwear.
    • Change of socks.

Remember, make your kit as compact, convenient, and useful as possible, so you’ll always be happy to have it with you. Don’t be caught without it.

Choosing a Get Home Bag and a Bugout Bag

The Get Home Bag must be small, convenient, and comfortable to carry, because you’ll have it with you at all times. If you already tend to take a laptop on your commute, you can just add the get home kit to this bag. Otherwise, being prepared means adopting a new habit. The market it saturated with bags of nearly every conceivable kind, so you just need to decide what you like, and you can probably find it. It’s possible to get a tactical pack that doesn’t look very tactical because of the color scheme.

A side-carry bag like the Maxpedition Jumbo Versipack will contain everything in the get home kit except maybe some of the clothing. On the other hand, the small size and makes it convenient and understated. While some movie theaters and other public places prohibit “backpacks,” they might not notice this smallish side bag. It has no molle webbing and comes in many non-tactical colors (even hot pink), but it’s still very rugged, like all things Maxpedition. It comes in left and right-hand configurations (left-hand bags are designated as “S-Type”).

NOTE: If you’re wondering why I talk so much about Maxpedition, it’s because their bags are well designed and well built. I have no financial arrangement with Maxpedition.

A sling pack is one of the most convenient options I know of. The pack is worn on the back, but the single sling lets you slide the pack to your chest when you need to access the contents. These packs come in sizes ranging from extra-small to huge. Here are some “Gearslinger” offerings from Maxpedition:





Sitka. Article and Video review of the Sitka. Sitka compared to Falcon 2 backpack.



Vanquest is a new company making bags similar to Maxpedition. The Javelin VSlinger is like the Maxpedition Sitka; one of the notable differences is that Vanquest packs sport a bright orange interior that makes finding stuff in the bag much quicker and easier. It’s a seemingly mundane design feature, but it has big practical implications. I inspected a sample recently, and the design/build were excellent.

Messenger Bags are another category that bears mentioning. They’ll hold a laptop, documents, and your get home kit with no problems, and when worn on the carry-side shoulder, they won’t mess up your hair or wrinkle your shirt like a sling pack or backpack. Maxpedition has the new Vesper, and you should also consider Vanquest’s ENVOY, which comes in a little under Maxpedition’s pricepoint.

Backpacks are of course a popular choice. In the tactical packs there’s the one I carry all the time — the Maxpedition Falcon 2 — but you can get exactly the same pack in a non-tactical look. Compare the following:

Same bag, one looks tactical, the other doesn’t.

But if you’re going for something lighter and more stylish, there are excellent offerings from outdoor adventure outfitters like Deuter, The North Face, and Granite Gear.

Deuter Compat EXP Air 10. Small 10 liter hydration pack with a broad waist band for stability (it’s designed to wear on a bike). Great design and build, and will hold your whole get home kit.

Here’s a women’s specific Attack 18 cycling rucksack. Heavy for its size, but super awesome.

Granite Gear makes some of my favorite packs. The Athabasca is the smallest GG pack with a waist belt, but they do have smaller packs without a belt.

Choosing an Urban Bugout Bag

Your bugout bag is not as weight sensitive as your get home bag, because you don’t have to tote it all the time. I keep one in the bedroom, ready to go, and another in my truck.

Recommended contents of a bugout bag.

You need to think of your bugout bag in two different frames of reference. The first is when the whole kit is in the vehicle; the second is when you’re carrying it. As you prepare the pack and stick it in the car, go ahead and stock it with everything you’ll need for a three-day trip from your home to your safe retreat, especially including your emergency water stock. Chances are you’ll be driving at least some of the way. In the rare case that you have to finish your trip on foot, you can pare down the weight of your pack at that time. There’s no reason to be too finicky about it before then.

But you do have to know what’s going to happen when you leave the car and hoof it with your bugout bag. At that point the weight will suddenly become critical. When you figure the carry weight of the bugout kit, exclude the officially-recommended 3 gallons of water (1 gallon per day for a 3 day trip). That’s 27 lbs alone, and you’re going to need about 35 more lbs of kit, counting the pack itself, for a total of over 60 lbs. My experienced observation is that 90% of you wouldn’t make it 5 miles. You need to plan your trip with a realistic assessment of your physical capabilities, and that means carrying 1 or 2 liters of water and the means to get more on the way.

Your bugout bag should probably be a backpack. I do have a duffel bag in the truck, but that’s just to keep things organized — my bugout plan calls for transferring my kit to a backpack when I head off on foot.

Backpacks designed for heavy loads need a stronger suspension, which makes the pack itself heavier. Your load will probably top out at about 40 lbs, like mine, just out of necessity; most of us are simply not in condition to carry 60-80 lb loads all day. What this means is that you can get along with a lighter pack; it’s easy to find a backpack under 5 lbs designed for a 40-lb load. Here are some of the very best (most also have women-specific versions to account for the awesome differences in geometry between men and women):

Granite Gear Leopard AC 58. Women’s packs from Granite Gear are designated with a “Ki.”

Gregory Contour 60. Also comes in 50 and 70 liter versions, and the women’s version is called the Cairn.

Black Diamond Mercury 65.

Some of the factors to consider in buying a backpack:

  • Weight. The weight of the pack itself. Packs 5 lbs and up are considered heavy.
  • Volume. How much stuff can you stuff inside? Packs 70 liters and up are considered big.
  • Carrying capacity. How much is the pack designed to carry? Don’t ignore this limitation. Lighter packs are lighter because their suspension is not as sturdy, so they start deforming if you put too much weight in them. Packs are supposed to transfer their weight to your hips, and when you pack them beyond their capacity, the suspension bends itself out of shape and starts loading down your shoulders.
  • Access points. You can access the contents from the top, the sides, the front, or the bottom, depending on how the pack is designed. More zippers means you can reach stuff inside without taking everything out, but it also means more weight.
  • Attachment points. Some packs have loops or rings to tie on more stuff like a bed roll or a tent.
  • Ventilation. Some packs have aggressive channeling to increase air flow and cool your back. The tradeoff is that this tends to push the load farther away from your spine, making it feel a little heavier.
  • Swiveling waist belt. The Black Diamond, for example, has a pivoting waist belt so the belt can sway with your hips without knocking the pack off-axis. This makes for a very stable load, and helps you keep your balance on uneven terrain. This feature is actually very effective — not gimmicky.


Bugout Bags and Get Home Bags are both very important aspects of an urban survival plan. The key to good preparation of these different bags is understanding their function. Make sure your Get Home Bag is small and convenient so you never leave home with out it. For the Bugout Bag, it’s OK to be more thorough because you’ll most likely keep it in the house or in your vehicle, so if it has a little too much stuff, it’s not really a problem.



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