So let’s continue and assume that we have to leave our happy home with just what we can carry in a bag or two or even in the trunk of a car. In general, what are the essentials I would want to have in an emergency?
The cell phone is a valuable tool. You need a way to keep it charged. Assuming you have your phone with you, consider including a solar charger or windup charger in your pack. The windups are often found in combination with an emergency radio which is also a good thing to have. Put a spare cell phone cable in your pack. You can’t charge it if you can’t connect it.
Stash some cash – not necessarily a lot -- $50 to $100 as a minimum, a little more if you think it is safe, IN your pack. Don’t “borrow” it and forget to replace it. Some should be in change so you can plug a vending machine easily. Most should be in $5, $10, and $20 bills.
Have some way to entertain yourself. If your phone is your MP3 player, you’ve got that covered. I would include a favorite book or two – in my case that would be a Bible or the New Testament. I would also include a small notebook and a pen or pencil or two. Some folks might want to take along a deck of cards or a harmonica. The important thing, and it is important, is to have something to occupy your mind and time if you get stuck somewhere just waiting and wondering.
For clothes, at the very least, I would want a couple of pairs of good socks – one pair thin for walking and a heavy pair for warmth. Socks should be changed if they get wet. Dirty socks are no big deal. Wet socks can get you in trouble. A change of underwear is not a bad idea if there is room, especially a set of long thermal underwear (this is for my part of the country where it usually doesn’t get much below 0 degrees Fahrenheit for too long. In other regions, more and heavier cold weather gear is critical). I would probably try to fit in a pair of cargo pants and a long-sleeved shirt. Have a pair of boots that will take some abuse and that fit. Stash your boots with your pack when you aren’t wearing them. Have a coat, preferably waterproof. Ideally you should have a sturdy sleeping bag and a foam pad, but a wool blanket or even one of those stupid space blankets beats nothing. A tarp along with some fishing line, zip ties, and/or duct tape would provide some shelter.
I would have a toothbrush, a toothpick, small travel-size tube of toothpaste, and small container of mouthwash that won’t leak or come unscrewed. A package of floss doesn’t take up much room, helps in cleaning teeth and proves a little emergency cordage if necessary. Keep a bottle of multi-vitamins in your pack that you rotate out regularly. Include some first-aid items like adhesive bandages, pain reliever, and Benadryl. An antiseptic like iodine or alcohol could be handy, but antiseptic mouthwash is probably – I’m guessing here – antiseptic as well. Throw in some wipes in addition to liquid soap in case you are short on water. Toilet paper may not save your life, but it might save your dignity. Pull the cardboard center out and compress a roll in a Ziploc bag. Insect repellant could save your life. I would have a hat with a brim, like my crushable felt fedora, maybe a watchcap, and definitely sunglasses or spare prescription shades. Have a little sewing kit -- a few needles, some buttons, and heavy-duty thread.
For water, a hydration pack is great, or, keep a jug or a couple of bottles of water with your pack and rotate out for freshness every once in a while. Whatever works. Just make sure you have water. Get a water filter. A bandana or coffee filter should be used to pre-filter the chunky stuff to keep things from clogging up.
Food should be compact, long-lasting, relatively unaffected by temperature changes, and require little or no preparation while providing fat and protein and a few carbohydrates. It should be light, as well. You can buy MREs. They are possibly the best choice, but I would supplement with sealed bags of nuts, sunflower seeds, or trail mix, and maybe a nutrition bar or two per person. You can also make your own MRE-like meal packages . For an evacuation situation, you don’t want to be carrying a lot of cooking utensils, but a small pan or large metal cup for boiling water would be useful.
If you think you might be end up “living off the land”, more cooking supplies and equipment are in order. Salt will be needed along with small amounts of a favorite spice or two – chili powder for me. Oil would be nice to have, at least in a small quantity, as long as it does not require refrigeration.
Have a way to start a fire. I’m a simple person. I always, always have a mini-BIC lighter on me just like I always have a knife and a flashlight. I have carried lighters for decades in fact, since the early ‘70’s after being stranded all night on a float trip with zero equipment except for my pocket knife and my buddy’s Zippo lighter (another excellent tool). If I’m going to be out in the boonies, I wrap three or four ranger bands (cross-sections cut from a bicycle inner tube, in case someone doesn’t know that) around the lighter and use the bands for tinder. They burn hot and last long enough to catch kindling under adverse conditions. It is a neat, complete, and compact package. A bug-out pack should have at least a couple of these lighters and with the bands or tinder of some kind along with a flint and steel or magnesium fire-starter. Fire good.
Light is good, too. If you don’t have a high-powered LED flashlight, go buy one. For $20 or $30 bucks at Wal-Mart, you can pick up an LED that throws an intense, long-range beam, runs probably four to six hours on two or three common AAA batteries. You can also spend more and get even better lights, one advantage being that they use the little disk batteries which are more compact and longer lasting, and have selectable levels of light so those batteries can last even longer. In any case, get some light.
Your pack should include a spare multi-tool and a modest fixed blade knife, perhaps something like the basic, non-threatening, yet frightfully sharp Mora that I reviewed a few months back. If you have edged tools, you need a whetstone or hone to keep them sharp. For a bug-out pack, I would probably go with a small ceramic, but that’s a personal preference. A fine diamond hone is a good choice, too. Of course, I’m going to throw in a chopper of some kind – big knife, hatchet, or tomahawk. Obviously, if one is going to be evacuated or forced to flee into an area with lots of other people, it is best to be discreet with things that might look like weaponry.
And speaking of weaponry, should your bug-out gear include firearms? That will vary according to the situation. If you are removed to some holding area by the authorities, they may well frown on the idea of you packing, even though that is a situation were you could realistically need to defend yourself. We recall what happened when people were forced into the Superdome in New Orleans by Katrina. The predators had easy pickings. I would be likely to take a firearm or two if I could at all. I would likely lie about having a weapon if I thought I would not be searched or run through a metal detector. If I thought I would be run through a metal detector and disarmed, I would probably not go with the authorities. That is not advice or a recommendation. I do not encourage other people to endanger themselves in any way, or to do anything illegal.
If I had to bug-out with only one weapon, it would be a centerfire handgun. If I could have two, one would be the handgun, the second would be a long arm, either a .22LR rifle or a shotgun. If space and weight are limiting factors, you could do worse than to have a good, reliable .22LR handgun, especially an autoloader like the Ruger Mark III. An alternative would be a .22LR conversion kit such as is available for Sig-Sauers, Glocks, and 1911’s. The advantage of the .22LR as a bug-out firearm is the amount of ammunition that can be carried, the low noise signature of the .22, accuracy, and the fact that smaller game can be taken without destroying too much meat. A really good case could be made for putting a take-down .22LR rifle, such as the Henry AR-7 or the Marlin Papoose ( the more accurate of the two) in the bug-out bag with a couple of hundred rounds of ammunition. Though it might be marginal for self-defense, the .22 will do the job, and it is an excellent foraging tool in the right hands.