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5 Ways To Shave Weight Off Your Bug-Out Bag

I`ve been trying to put together the perfect bug-out bag for a long time now. I kept taking things out and replaced them with lighter, smaller alternatives. Some of them ended up back in, because I realised they were better and safer, and my family`s safety comes first. However, I`m still not over trying to shave off as much weight as possible, looking for ways to save space to fit in more crucial items, while keeping it light enough to carry around without breaking my back.

In time, I learned that there are certain techniques you can successfully use to save maximum space while keeping everything necessary. Here are 6 of them:

#1: Fill every inch of space

Take boots for example. If you`ve got a pair of spare boots in your bug-out bag, fill them up with other items, whatever you can get in there. Roll underwear and socks tightly and shove them inside your shoes.

Better yet, you can use them to protect fragile objects. Roll the fragile item in a piece of cloth (that you can use further, such as a bandana or a shemagh). Put it in the boot, make sure it stays fixed and, eventually, if there`s more room, cover everything with a pair of rolled socks, just to make sure it`s fully protected.

Here`s another tip. If you pack duct tape (and I strongly suggest you do!), unroll it off its original carton and roll it on a pill container or a bottle. Another way to save space with duct tape is to remove the carton and smash the duct tape on a flat surface. Simple as that!

#2: Use space bags

vacum bag


In case you don`t know what space bags are or how to use them, here`s a video that shows you every step of the way, as well as what you should and should`t pack in them:

These bags saved me a whole lot of space in our bug-out bags. And I do mean a WHOLE lot. But here`s the problem with them: once you open them, everything in there is going to get back to its regular size. Therefore you won`t be able to pack it back up when you don`t need those clothes anymore, because you`d need a vacuum to reseal the bags.

This is a downside that I`m not happy about, but I decided to use space bags anyway. It`s better to carry around some extra clothing when I`m not using it, then to suffer from cold or wear miserable clothes simply because I have no other change in my bug-out bag.

Now, it`s your choice whether you use space bags or not. I suggest you try them out and see if it`s convenient to you. You can`t really make the decision until you see just how much space you can save.

#3: Load up on freeze-dried foods

There`s a bunch of reasons why you should take (mostly) freeze-dried food with you when you bug-out. Here are the most crucial 3:

- It takes up little space and it`s extremely light-weight

Freeze-dried food loses 98% of its water, so it literally cannot get any lighter than that!

- It lasts up to 30 years

However, you have to take temperature into consideration. If you store it at high temperatures or subject it to brutal temperature changes, it will spoil sooner.

- It offers variety

This is my favourite thing about freeze-dried food: it`s diverse. I can pack the ones my family loves and offer them the meals they`re familiar with, even in stressful times of disaster. This is the kind of comfort that everyone needs when SHTF.

#4: Use multiple-use gear

And when I say multiple-use gear, I`m not referring strictly to those knife + fork + spoon + compass + whistle sort of tools. Those are great if they`re good quality. If they`re cheap, don`t bother to buy them. They won`t save space, just the contrary. They`re absolutely useless, so why carry useless things with you when you could fill that space with items that could actually save your life? My advice is to invest in a good multiple-use tool or not invest at all.

But besides these tools, there are plenty of other items with multiple purposes that can save a lot of space. For example:

- Bandanas or shemaghs (cover your head if it`s too sunny, prop a broken limb, protect your airways from wind and dust, stop the bleeding etc)

- 550 cord (you can make one of those 550 cord bracelets and wear it around your wrist, not in your bug-out bag)

- Potassium permanganate (water purification, wound sterilization, fire starter)

#5: Replace tents with tarps

Warning: I do NOT suggest this method during the cold season!

Replacing a tent with a tarp may be the most clever thing you can do to shave off weight off your bug-out bag. A tarp is a multiple-use item, it`s light-weight, resistant to wind and rain and it`s very easy to carry around.

You can spread it on the ground if it`s wet or muddy. You can make a perfectly secure shelter if you want to protect yourself from rain or sunlight. You can use it as a wind stopper. You can sit down on it to eat with your family. You can also wrap other items in it to prevent them from getting wet. You can make a stretcher so you carry injured people around. Or you can even wrap a tarp around a person, to maintain body heat.

However, replacing tents with tarps is not the best idea during cold season, as tarps do not offer full isolation. That`s why I only recommend tarps in spring and summer.

By Alec Deacon

8 Responses to 5 Ways To Shave Weight Off Your Bug-Out Bag


    Packing a "BOB" certainly CAN be a quandary the first couple of times.

    I, (fortunately) went to summer Camps from age 9 through 13, and on several camp outs as a SCOUT. So, had LOTS of experience in "doing it wrong"! lol

    I agree with you approach to counsel: "Always tell'em, that, in the end, it's THEIR decision, so they should test the suggestion out".

    Also, the size of the "BOB" makes a BIG difference, as well as the circumstances of the "BUG OUT"...i.e., You'll not need the same pack for patrolling, as for family exfil, nor the same , for a family E&E.

    Also, the # of souls involved, and ages, can RADICALLY change Mom's or Dad's "BOB" packing needs. Just a couple of things I've learned the hard way...{:-) Thanks for your hard work at helping folks avoid my method of learning!!

  • This is a great resource for putting together your 72 hour bug-out-bags. It goes through step by step and breaks it down into a 26 week plan. Take the "Overwhelming" out of putting your kits together.

  • a tarp doesn't weigh that much, you can easily add it to your pack and still keep your tarp. it can also be strapped to the outside of the bag. can be used under your tent, covering up anything you don't take into the tent, use it for an extra tent fly, use it to tie your food stuffs up in a tree so that the critters don't get into it.
    in my bag i also carry 4 of the little emergency blankets. they also are multi use.

  • I have commented about shaving weight on other prepper blogs, because it's an issue that's doubly-important to me -- because my wife has a bad back. Therefore, I essentially have to ruck for the two of us with only my pack.

    1.) Fill every inch of space: 100% agreed! I do the same with boots. I also do something similar with plastic water bottles and metal canteen cups. (e.g. I stuff my fire-making gear into my metal canteen cup, since I usually use it to boil water. Therefore, the fire-starting and the metal container (aka pot) are a natural match.

    Similarly, I have a pair of two-quart collapsible over-the-shoulder plastic canteens for each of us. But, I also have two water bottles in our kit (a blue one, and a red one.) The blue one contains all of our water-making gear; whereas the red one contains a personal first aid kit. The color-coding makes them quick/easy to find. Keeping the gear inside of them prevents the small items from getting lost or left behind. (e.g. everything has a "home" within our bag.)

    2.) Space bags: I strongly disagree when it comes to your bugout bag. The extra weight and single-use of them are too much. Plus, they just encourage you to pack TOO MUCH stuff! Remember, your bug out bag is MAINLY a 72-hour kit. For most of us, we CAN SURVIVE with just the clothes on our backs. Heck, I'd even argue that we could survive with NO CLOTHES on our backs during most situations. The only clothing items I can recommend INSIDE your bug out bags are: warm gloves or mittens; a warm hat (e.g. knit cap;) several pairs of wool socks (not cotton;) and a rain poncho/jacket. While I don't consider it to be "clothing," we also have a pair of small swim goggles for each of us (wind/sand/rain/water protection,) and disposable particle masks for our faces (again, sand, fire ash, etc.) Like yourself, we have a pair of bandannas. But, we also have a pair of military-style shemagh / keffiyeh scarves as well. I have a pair of water shoes (Aqua Socks) for each of us as well.

    Adjacent to our bug out bag, are a pair of mid-weigh hiking boots for each of us, and a medium-weight technical jacket for each of us (with built-in hood.) These are somewhat like the "step-in" concept that firefighters use. But, we do NOT put these INTO our bug-out bag. Instead, they sit NEXT to it.

    If you live in a cold-weather climate, then I'd also endorse a pair of long underwear for each person INSIDE the bug out bag, and a heavier-weight parka adjacent to the pack.

    We don't need ANY additional pants, underwear, or shirts in our bug-out bags. If you FEEL you will need these types of items, then pre-cache them somewhere a few-days walk away from your home/office (and pick them up as you bug-out.) There's NO NEED to carry them the WHOLE way!!!

    Remember: MOS bug-out situations are actually VERY "civilized," USUALLY, we are escaping a fire, flood, hurricane, civil unrest (riots,) etc. We are USUALLY feeing to a family/friend, or hotel/motel safely away from the "hot spot." USUALLY, there is indeed extra clothing at these locations, or a Good Will or department store nearby. 90% of the time, we are NOT going to need to truly live 100% from our bug out bags. Instead, there WILL BE civilization/businesses and such at our target destination. If, not, what we are wearing WILL be enough for quite a long time! (No need to bring more.)

    3.) Load-up on freeze-dried foods: Again, I couldn't disagree more! The average person can survive three WEEKS without food. WEEKS!!! Your bug-out bag is designed to allow you to QUICKLY retreat to a "safe zone" within three days. (It usually only takes a SINGLE day to retreat to safety.)

    You only need a couple of snacks in your bug-out bag (e.g. a snack per day per person.) You MIGHT want to include three "energy shot" drinks per-person (for a few extra miles each evening?) We DO keep some powdered single-serving drink mixers in our bug out bags (to flavor our water, and add some vitamins to our water.)

    Complete freeze-dried meal-packs and/or MREs have NO PLACE in our bug-out bags. If you want to keep a few in your car/truck/boat, that's fine. Or, keep some around the house because they have a LONG shelf life (in case you have to bug-in,) is fine, too. But, putting them into your bug-out bag is wasted weight and space. Even if I did have the extra space/weight allowance for these, I STILL wouldn't ruck them. (Get yourself a decent wrist-rocket and spare bands, instead.) And/or gear to make a trout/limb line for bank fishing, etc. And/or snare wire. (You will get more longevity from these items, than a freeze-dried meal.)

    #4 Multi-use or multi-purpose items: Bingo!!! I couldn't agree more! :-)
    Sure, I have somewhat of a "fetish" for Leathermans and such.
    But, my NEW favorite is the Kobalt multi-wrench:

    We now keep TWO of these in each of our vehicles (for opposing-force bolts/nuts, or for teamwork.) We also keep one in our bug-out bag. It's a bit heavy. But, it's lighter than the small tool kit that I used to carry!

    I also USE this tool MORE than I use my Leatherman Wave!

    I consider our smartphones to be multi-taskers, too. (e.g. phone, electronic compass, GPS, map, email, text, radio scanner, books, flashlight, language translator, medical reference, and such MUCH MORE!!!

    So, I recently added a flexible, fold-up solar panel kit to our bug-out bag. It provides enough power to charge both of our phones AND use them concurrently. During a REAL bug-out situation, we would travel mostly at night, and hunker-down (sleep in shifts) during daylight hours. Thus, the solar panels can recharge our phones while we sleep. When we go camping, we just toss this unit out next to the tent (base camp,) and plug-in a small lithium 12v motorcycle battery. This provides us with AMPLE power for all of our various necessities while we are camping.

    5.) Replace tarps with tents: Again, I couldn't DISAGREE more. Shelter is your NUMBER ONE concern during emergency situations. Let me say that again... Shelter is your NUMBER ONE CONCERN!

    I find too many people "cheap out" when it comes to the most-important item. They either buy some "CHEAP" pup tent from their local big-box retailer (which is almost functionally useless, and also weighs TOO MUCH!) Or, they opt (like you are recommending here,) to go the tarp route or tarp + hammock.

    Sure, when I was in the military, I was issued a "shelter half" (which is essentially HALF of a tarp.) Supposedly, it shared the same snap-pattern as my poncho (so I could snap the two together to make a full tarp?)

    But, I find this COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE. I would even argue that it takes most people longer to set-up their tarp-based systems, than it takes me to set-up my fly-weight, self-sustaining mountaineering tent.

    My tent (Big Agnes Fly Creek UL4) weighs slightly more than 4 pounds. Yet, it has nearly 50 square feet of floor space, and four feet of headroom inside. It is "rated" as a four-person tent. But, anyone who knows anything about tents KNOWS that these marketing materials are over-rated. Thus, our tent is really only suitable for three people. (Or, PERFECT for two people plus all their gear -- with room to move around.)

    Think about it this way: A king-sized bed in the USA is 76 inches by 80 inches.
    This tent is 86 inches by 90 inches! Thus, there is PLENTY of sleeping space for two people (even three close friends.)

    A California King is narrower (at only 72 inches wide.) Yet, it's longer at 84 inches long. But, the tent is still even LONGER (at 90 inches.) So, this tent is even suitable for tall people, too!

    Our tent features four walls, a floor, a mesh/screen roof, plus a COMPLETE rainfly.) It protects us from winds, sand, rain/water, bugs, snakes, scorpions, etc. Tarps barely provide a person shelter from light rains. They are useless in heavy downpours.

    Sure, if we wanted, we could just use our rainfly as a tarp-like shelter.

    Sure, we ALSO have a pair of small travel hammocks in our pack, too.

    But, these should NOT be your "go-to" shelter. These are "fair weather" solutions for clear skies and sleeping under the stars.

    When I mention tents/shelter, I feel compelled to mention sleeping bags, too. This is an area where people can save a TON of weight!!! We now have two mountaineering-class, down-filled bags that weigh less, and consume less space than ONE of our "old" sleeping bags.

    When discussing sleeping bags, however, you must consider your entire "sleeping system." This includes your ground-mattress, any additional liners or shells, and maybe even a pillow.

    We purchased a pair of high-tech, inflatable, lightweight mountaineering air mattresses. They ARE functional. But, when you USE your gear, you LEARN real-world experiences. We aren't skinny/small people. We also like to snuggle a bit when we sleep adjacent to one another. We find that most backpacking-style air mattresses are too narrow for our liking. Plus, the little mattresses seem to push-apart when we snuggle (leaving us in the crack or on-the-ground afterwards.) So, we purchased a THIRD air mattress, and created a Velcro-based method of interconnected all of them (so they can't separate at night.) Each of these roll-up and compress smaller than a water bottle. Three o these combined take-up less space/weight than our old roll-up ground pads. Yet, they provide adjustable (his & hers) comfort levels based on individual air pressures, and better warmth/protection from the ground elements.

    Bottom line: I couldn't agree more on shaving the weight of our bug out bags. Your goal is to travel as lightly/quickly as possible to somewhere SAFE within three days (or faster.) If you think you can travel for three days with just the clothes on your back -- DO SO!!! The less you carry, the faster you will get to your destination and safety.

    Sure, your bug-out bags CAN provide you MORE than three days worth of survival supplies. But, your bug out bag should be seen as a toolbox full of outdoor tools. NOT seen as a grocery basket or shopping cart. pack things that you KNOW you will use. ONLY bring things that you KNOW you will use.

    Either leave everything else behind, or pre-stage it at your destinations, or at cache locations along the way.

    Test: Put on your bug out bag, and take of jogging. (Have your whole family do the same thing.) You should be able to jog AT LEAST one mile with your fully-loaded bags (while wearing your hiking boots.) If you can't then your bag is too heavy (or your boots are too heavy) (wink.)

    I 100% agree with bringing QUALITY items that WORK. Sure, P38 can openers WILL open tin cans. But, a REAL hand-held can opener will open them MUCH easier/faster.

    But... why bring EITHER of these, if you aren't bringing canned goods along on your journey?!!!!!!!! Leave the can openers at home, and just use your Leatherman to open any cans your might find along the way.

    I STRONGLY ENCOURAGE people to proactively bug-out AT LEAT twice per year (winter and summer.) This will teach you the MOST about what to bring/carry/ruck/haul across God's green acres; versus leaving an item at home (or in the car.)

    Must-haves = go into the bug out bag.

    Nice-to-haves = go into the vehicle; or at cache locations.


  • When bugging out why doesn't anyone consider a bicycle? I always here about hiking and running but a bicycle can go almost anywhere and you can buy racks and other baskets on to carry things especially if you have a bad back! Just take a spare tire or tube and patch kit. I'm not against freeze dried food but you need water to hydrate it and filters to purify the water. WATER! Yes everything that shouldn't get wet is packed in water proof bags or heavy freezer bags to stay dry! It won't always be sunny when your bugging out! Food bars are probably the easiest thing to pack they save space are balanced nutrition and you don't need a fire to prepare them.

    • We have multiple options for bug-out vehicles (including bikes with those little trailers.) We also have a boat option, two car/vehicle options, etc. But, this article wasn't about BOVs. Instead it was about BOBs.

      I was assuming Bug-Out via foot, bike, boat, plane, whatever...

      Keeping things dry in your BOB: Consider a LARGE heavy-duty plastic trash bag as somewhat of an overall-liner inside your BOB. (Kinda like lining your trash can with a bag liner.) Line your BOB with the trash bag, then fill it with all your stuff. Then, twist the top closed, and maybe even use a twistie-tie to keep it closed. This creates esseantially a waterproof and airproof seal around ALL your gear inside. ALL backpacks leak water in a HEAVY rain (or river crossing.) In the military, I could almost float my rucksack across the streams because of this little tip. Whereas, other guys seemed to nearly sink as their rucks took-on water, and became a huge sponge. They had to ruck a HEAVIER ruck after the crossing (all that extra water now aboard.) Whereas, my ruck was lighter (and contents still dry!)

      Food bars melt!!! They usually contain chocolates, or icings and such. The melt pretty quickly/miserably. Slim Jims are pretty easy to pack, and squeeze into odd places. Ditto for packs of other beef jerkies.

      Don't get me wrong. I love, love, love my energy bars and such! But, a bag of trailmix is probably a bit better for long-term storage, and mess-free access months from now.

      Water USUALLY isn't an "issue" with most bug-out scenarios. Even if you live in the desert, within a day or two, you will hopefully be OUT of the dessert (and have access to water.) We frequently go to the "springs" in the desert to play and party. Thus, "yes," there IS some water in the dessert, too! Also, you can't really carry three full gallons of water per person during your bug outs (in addition to all your other gear.) So, you have to assume that you are going to need the necessary filters and such to collect and process water enroute. Therefore, you can kinda ALSO assume that you WILL have enough water to rehydrate foods (as necessary.)

      But, I don't think dehydrated foods have a place in your bugout bag. Sure, they are PERFECT for recreational backpacking or hunting trips for a ferw days into the woods. On those adventures, however, you don't need to bring your kitchen sink. You ONLY need to bring what you will need for THAT weekend. So, you can leave some "survival" items behind, and replace them with dehydrated meals for your weekend.

      Again, 90% of bugouts are actually via vehicles, during civilized times, to BUILDINGS with beds and electricity and such. 90% of the time, you will need an electrical outlet multiplier, more than you need a water filter. 90% of the time, you should probably bring your own pillow/pillowcase, to avoid all the "stuff" that's on hotel pillows (as opposed to a tent or sleeping bag.)
      90% of the time, you will benefit from having a three-prong/two-prong electrical adapter, instead of a fire-starting flint.

      All of our woodland/outback gear becomes quite excessive "extra baggage" during MOST of our bug-out situations!

      We have indeed planned multiple bug-out and meet-up options (and secondary fall-back plans.) We have these for foot-based bug-outs, bike-based bug-outs, and vehicle-based bugouts. We also have communication plans for bug-out situations, so we know if our family members are also on foot, bike, or vehicle, too.

      We also do our best to keep our BOBs TSA-friendly. (e.g. no MRE heaters inside.) Thus, we also have airplane-based bugout options (with valid Passports at-the-ready.) Various stats say that only 7-25% of Americans hold a Passport. I personally think the variance is due to the differences between: 1.) Valid Passports, versus expired Passports; and 2.) Passports before they were "required," and Passports now that they are REQUIRED to visit neighbor countries like Canada, Mexico, and the Bahamas.
      Regardless of the percentage, MOST Americans don't prep, and MOST Americans don't hold valid Passports, and MOST Americans don't keep enough free & clear cash at-the-ready to buy last-minute first-class International airfare to a remote safe-haven.
      So, if you add airline options to your bug-out plans, you could GREATLY increase your options (above those of the sheepole.)

      Remember: The key to a good BOB and plan, is to REPEATEDLY practice it! Leverage your next family vacation as an opportunity to TEST your plans! Just have everyone grab their BOBs, and get plane tickets, and "escape" to your destination-of-choice. See how it goes? What do you need to buy when you arrive? Where do you choose to stay? Does everyone get along fine, and enjoy themselves? or, do they whine, complain, and attempt to kill one another? Hint: This is a PREVIEW of what your actual bug-out will be like!!!! If your family can't get along during peaceful times, it will be 100-times worse when TSHTF.

      Peace, and keep on preppin'

  • I agree Jessica...but age DOES come a factor, as well as practice. I am 68, medium build, with a partially paralyzed right arm, so THAT weighs in on the practical side. My wife is over weight at present (due to physical problems), and has NO experience on bikes, (even as a child!?!). Another factor. And, we presently cannot ride our bikes around safely, except within the Apt. complex, (which is small), so, another factor. Nonetheless, we've bought two "mountain / all terrain bikes, and are in the process of getting new tires[4], tubes[4], & repair kits [3]. I've learned through hard knocks, that CIRCUMSTANCES MUST BE A STRONG INDICATOR of what is a "GO", and what isn't. Adaptability, planning for the worst case, and practicing the various plans, (for various circumstances), will be ESSENTIAL to succeed during crisis. "K.I.L. / K.I.S.S. / K.I.S." (Keep it light, simple, and smart!

    BTW, I believe Jack brings some VERY VALID suggestions and counsel to the discussion.

  • I feel the basics to survive for a short time is all one needs for a BOB. First aid kit with instructions. Fire starting kit. Small, light weight tent, basic toiletries and clothing suitable for the elements. It doesn't have to be a huge production and it shouldn't matter how much money one has or doesn't have.


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