Jan 23, 2016

Putting a bug-out bag together

A bug-out bag is a bag full of useful survival items that you keep somewhere in your domicile. The idea is to have a bag of survival supplies at the ready, which you can grab quickly in case you have to evacuate.

That's the nominal purpose, at least. Preparing a bug-out bag is also a central rite of passage for Preppers, the tribe who spends a lot of time preparing for post-apocalyptic life (fun New York Times profile of Preppers (a)). Viewed uncharitably, putting together a bug-out bag is really just a good excuse for geeking out about melee weapons, guns, and rugged individualism.

Regardless of your opinion of prepping, having a bag of useful supplies on hand for when shit hits the fan is a robustly good idea. A lot of people in my milieu spend a lot of time thinking about global catastrophic risks – a fancy term for shit hitting the fan. People who worry about GCRs don't appear to worry much about individual survival plans or bug-out bags (if they do, they don't do it publicly – searches for "bug-out bag" and "survivalism" come up empty on the EA Forum, and there's no substantive discussion on LessWrong, though there are brief mentions in these open threads from 2013). This is interesting – p(event for which a bug-out bag would be useful) seems inherently larger than p(GCR occurs). I'm considering this to be minor evidence of signaling dynamics at work in the effective altruism & rationalist communities (a la Robin Hanson (a)). People who both a) strive to be rational actors and b) genuinely believe that there is a >10% chance of the world as we know it being severely disrupted in the coming decades would be well-served by spending a few hundred dollars and a couple of hours to put together a basic survival kit. But nobody seems to be doing so.


This evening I ordered a bunch of stuff to put in my bag. I 80-20'd my order, and I'm trying to 80-20 this post too, so here's a list of the things I bought:

Calorie-dense non-perishables

  • Squeezable tubes of peanut butter
  • KIND Nut & Chocolate Bars
  • A few freeze-dried meals
  • Hiking-style sporks pot & pan
  • Hiking-style sporks
  • Might add a hiking stove and fuel at some point

Ways to carry water and make it safe to drink

  • Chloride dioxide water purification tablets
  • LifeStraw-type water filter
  • One-liter stainless steel water bottle
  • Might add a water bladder at some point

Heat-reflecting, durable synthetics

  • Very cheap, compressible sleeping bag
  • Quick-drying pack towel
  • Tarp / emergency blanket
  • Poncho
  • Will add a change of clothes

First aid
Packing bandages and a small pharmacy, drugs cribbed from this page (a)

  • Pack of bandages, gauze wraps, and alcohol pads
  • Triple antibiotic ointment (anti-infection)
  • Hydrocortisone ointment (anti-itch)
  • Dimenhydrinate pills (for reducing motion sickness, inducing sleep, and reducing anxiety)
  • Diphenhydramine pills (antihistamine)
  • Loperamide hydrochloride pills (antidiarrheal)
  • Ibuprofen pills (anti-inflammatory and pain relief)
  • Acetaminophen pills (pain relief)
  • Might add modafinil or caffeine pills at some point (for wakefulness)

Firestarters and blades

  • Stormproof matches
  • BIC-style lighters
  • Folding pocket knife
  • Kukri (Nepalese machete)
  • Will add a multitool
  • Will add a compass, considering adding a signaling mirror
  • Might add a handgun, though that feels like overkill

The bag itself
Eddie Bauer's Bacon Pack (a), mainly because I got it on sale. I've used it once on a motorcycle trip and it seems serviceable enough.

The supplies I ordered today totaled to a little less than $200. The bag was $50, and I expect I'll spend another $50 rounding out the kit with more supplies. [$300 total]

It took me about an hour to compile the list of things I'll need (though I have a lot of backpacking experience so knowing what to order was intuitive), an hour to go to Eddie Bauer and buy the bag, about an hour to put together the Amazon order, and about two hours to write this post. I expect it'll take about an hour to pack and place the bag once all the supplies come in. [6 hours total]

Also, I expect maintaining the bag (checking the integrity of the supplies, replacing expired food) to average about a half-hour and $20 per year.

(a) links are archive links for the link they're next to.
[rereads: 1, edits: formatting and typo corrections]