* Organizing the Bug Out Bag

An important consideration when assembling your bug out bag is how it should be organized. There are two elements at work here–your choice of containers and packing order.

The only thing worse than just tossing everything into a sack without forethought is not packing the bag at all. It makes little sense to go to all the trouble and expense of putting together a bug out bag if you can’t find what you need when you need it.

Organize with interior containers

One of my preferred methods for packing items is to use small containers to keep like things together and organized. Often, this involves simply using ziploc plastic bags. One bag contains my Altoids Tin Alcohol Stove and fuel, another has food items. I don’t go to the trouble of labeling these bags because, well, they’re clear so it isn’t a mystery as to what’s inside. Using these bags also keeps the contents from getting wet.

Packing cubes have become very popular among world travelers and can be a handy addition to your bug out bag. They are simply a set of matching, zippered containers of varying sizes used to pack like items. This set has received excellent reviews and with mesh top panels you’ll be able to see if the “cube” contains toiletries, a spare set of clothes, or items for sanitation purposes.

Though they can be pricey, I also like using hard plastic cases, such as those made by Pelican. These types of cases are available in a wide range of sizes and colors and work very well at keeping your gear both dry and protected from being crushed. I use one such case for my primary fire starting kit.

Another product I dearly love and heartily endorse is the Grid-It Organizer. It consists of a hard, flat board of sorts covered with a mesh of elastic bands of varying lengths. This is a truly awesome solution for organizing little odds and ends in your bag, keeping them secure and within easy reach. Many backpacks today are equipped with a flat pocket for use with tablets or small laptops. Those pockets are great places for a Grid-It Organizer.

A wet sack comes in handy for storing wet clothes, a damp towel, or anything messy. It would make a good container for a set of toiletries and a wash cloth.

Whatever tools you decide to use for organizing your gear, the overall idea here is to keep things from just floating around in your pack and to keep like items together. You want to know where everything is so you can find it easily, even under stress.

Packing Order

This, of course, leads us to packing order. Give some serious thought as to which items in your pack you’ll likely use most often and items that you’ll need first when stopping for the night. These are the things you’re going to want readily available, either in side pockets or at the top of your pack.

For me, I want these items within reach at any given moment:

  • Flashlight
  • Cash
  • Handgun
  • Multi-tool

You shouldn’t have to dump out your entire pack just to get to your first aid kit. Your fire starting gear, too, should be easy to access.

From there, I pack, starting at the bottom of my bag, items I am less likely to use and that are heaviest. Interior pouches and pockets are used to store small items, such as matches.

Now, that said, it is best to keep the heaviest items close to your spine and/or towards the top of the pack. Keep those items centered as best you can, so as to not adversely affect your center of gravity. If you keep the heavy stuff too low in the pack, it will feel like the pack sags. Too high and you’ll feel off balance. Ideally, if packed correctly, the bug out bag will feel balanced and stable.

The person who will be carrying the pack is the one who needs to make decisions as to where everything will go. It may make perfect sense to you that a pocket knife go in the left-side outer pocket, but if your teenager will be carrying the bag, he or she may have another preference. Ultimately, the contents and their locations should be memorized through actual use or an occasional session of unpacking and repacking the bag.

Add an itemized list

Eventually, one person or another will need something in their bug out bag. It may be an extra flashlight during a power outage or the first aid kit when all the other bandaids in the house are used up! Whatever the cause, an itemized list of every bag’s contents will help insure that it continues to hold the most necessary items for emergencies.


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