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How to organize your emergency bag can be a daunting task. The building of a 72-hour emergency bag is the basic starting point for most preppers and survivalists. There are many opinions on the definitions of the various configurations for your pack or bag. A working definition for an emergency bag is one that has to keep you sustained for up to 72 hours in an emergency situation. The most common use for the 72-hour bag is in an evacuation situation due to a weather emergency. Some people call these the “Bug Out Bag” or BOB. Nevertheless, the emergency bag is a key part of your prepping strategy for any emergency scenario. In this article, I will discuss a way to understand your bag as a system of systems as you think about how to organize your loadout.

1. The Emergency Bag

The first consideration in the system-of-systems approach is the backpack or bag itself. The bag will contain the other aspects of your emergency planning. These other aspects are the subsystems within the bag, such as your first-aid kit. Most experts advise building the smaller systems or kits and then find a bag or pack to contain them. It is important to remember that you will not be able to pack for every little emergency nuance. The bag or pack must be durable in its construction but also adaptable in its use. For example, a good bag or pack will be able to be used for most packing considerations and employed in most emergency scenarios. My article on six essential features of a quality backpack will be helpful to finding a decent pack.

2. The Tool System

As we discuss the subsystems of the bag, one of the most important systems is the tool system. A basic tool system consists of a fixed blade, a folder, a multitool, and some wood processing tool like an ax or saw. However, your particular situation may not call for the use of all of those tools. A quality multitool and folding saw may be sufficient. Your emergency bag should contain some level of a tool system or kit. An urban or suburban environment may require some breaching or lock picking tools being added to your tool system.

3. The Fire Making System

The second subsystem in your emergency bag should be your fire-making system or kit. This kit should have at least three ways to start an emergency fire. Most fire kits contain at least a butane lighter and a ferro rod. However, there are many with stormproof matches, magnesium rods, or flint-and-steel items. One of the best fire making systems on the market is the Sigma 3 Fire Kit. Moreover, tinder of some kind should be in your fire-making system, such as wet cubes or jellied-cotton balls. There are many options on the market for both a source of flame and tinder. In the end, your emergency pack should have a fire making system.

4. The Water Procurement System

Another important system in your emergency bag should be water procurement system or kit. Sometimes these are called water processing kits. The water procurement system should enable you to collect and sanitize water. There are several ways to address these requirements. A basic water procurement system will have a filter straw and water treatment tablets. The water collection items can consist of a water bottle or canteen with a nesting cup or plastic bags. One of the best water procurement systems to consider is the Sigma 3 Water Kit.

5. The Food Procurement System

The obtaining of food during an emergency is vital to staying healthy and alert. The recent earthquakes in California illustrate the importance of keeping food and water available during an emergency. This concept is also true of your emergency bag. An immediate evacuation order is no time to start thinking about food and water. It should already be part of your system. However, what happens when your Mountain House, Cliff Bars, or self-made food bags are consumed? It is important to think about the kinds of food procurement and processing methods to integrate into your emergency bag. Some simple traps or trapping items are good considerations. If fishing is available in your area, then a simple backpacking fishing pole and small fishing kit are excellent additions to your system.

6. The Shelter System

Cover and shelter items are important to your overall emergency bag system. There are many videos on YouTube that demonstrate some options for cover and shelter. One of the best cover and shelter systems to integrate into your emergency bag are the Warbonnet Hammock and Tarp systems. They are compact and durable. However, the SOL Emergency Shelter is a good budget-friendly option as long as it is combined with other shelter items, such as a tarp or a GoreTex® bivy sack. Additionally, never forget that your clothing items are part of your shelter system. Thus, keep a change of clothes along with the appropriate seasonal outerwear in your emergency bag considerations.

7. The Sleeping System

The sleeping system works in conjunction with your shelter and cover system. An emergency sleep system should contain a compact sleeping bag, a sleeping bag liner or bivy sack, and a sleeping pad. I, personally, keep a U.S. Army poncho liner on-hand in my bag as part of my sleep system. One of the best items to consider for your sleeping system is the U.S. Army Gore-Tex bivy sack from the Military Modular Sleep System (MSS). These will fit over most mummy-style sleeping bags. On the other hand, be careful about the sleeping pad that you consider. The self-inflating or inflatable mats are great for general use. However, they tend to tear and get pinholes over time, rendering them unusable. The U.S. Army sleeping pad is a good consideration for emergency purposes. It is reliable, durable, and can be used as a hasty splinting device if necessary.

8. The Communications System

A reliable communication system is a must for your emergency bag. A good emergency communication system employs both passive and active communication methods. Most emergency bags contain at least an all-weather AM-FM radio, a signal mirror, and a blaze orange bandana. However, those with Ham Radio licenses will carry a handheld Ham Radio in their kit. Communication items vary from person-to-person along with regional or local considerations. Additionally, keeping some form of power such as a power bank or solar recharger should be in this system. The important thing to remember is to have some capability to signal for help in an emergency.

9. The First Aid System

One of the most important systems that you can have in your emergency bag is a first aid system or medical system. Most first aid systems consist of an individual first aid kit (IFAK), a tourniquet, and a trauma kit. However, it is important to know what you will need for your personal and family as you create or purchase items for your first aid system. It is crucial to get first aid training to be able to render medical aid more effectively to someone with your kit.

10. Hygiene System

The hygiene system is sometimes overlooked in some checklists that can be found on the internet. There is more to personal hygiene than keeping wet wipes in your bag. The U.S. and USMC require soldiers and marines carry personal hygiene items in their field packs. A basic personal hygiene system contains a razor, bar of soap, shaving cream, shampoo, and a washcloth. My kit consists of a disposable razor, and the following travel-sized items: a bar of soap, shaving cream, shampoo, toothbrush, mouth wash, and toothpaste. The additional items that I carry in my hygiene kit are finger and toenail clippers, dental floss, hand sanitizer, and wet wipes. Most of the hygiene items that work best in a hygiene system are in the travel section of the local Walmart, Target, or Walgreens. It is advisable to keep some flushable wipes or a roll of toilet paper in your bag.

11. The Maintenance System

Another aspect of packing an emergency bag that is often overlooked is a maintenance and repair system. Gorilla tape or duct tape and a multitool can be part of the maintenance and repair system. However, most military maintenance and repair systems consist of a travel-size sewing kit with scissors. Some people recommend only carrying a heavy gauge canvas needle. What they do not tell you is that this needle is used in conjunction with braided fishing line, Kevlar string, paracord inner strands, or bank line strands. In essence, the carrying of a single canvas needle implies other sewing items are part of your loadout.

12. Security System

Many people are interested in forms of personal security items such as firearms or non-lethal personal protection items. In an emergency evacuation situation, personal protection is a crucial part of emergency planning. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina demonstrates how vital it is to keep some form of personal security on you at all times. Thus, do not forget to add into your emergency bag some personal security options that are in compliance with local and federal laws.

Final Thoughts

Your emergency bag will help keep you sustained for a short period in an emergency. It will keep you going if you have to evacuate to an emergency shelter. There are other items to consider for your bag, such as cash and bartering items. Other things to consider are personal entertainment or morale items such a Bible, a book, or iPod. You will not be able to carry everything that you think you might need in your bag. Therefore, be both strategic and tactical about what items that you include in your system-of-system approach. Furthermore, be intentional and realistic about what you put in your bag. A well thought out emergency bag will be an asset during a crisis.

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