Q: What kinds of specific gear should I have in my survival kit for bugging out?
A: Your survival kit for bugging out, also known as a bug out bag or BOB, should have any specialty equipment that is specific to you, and any specialty supplies. This means asthma medication if you are asthmatic, heart medication if you have a heart condition, an eyeglass repair kit if you have glasses, and so on.
Next, your kit should have a tarp or, preferably, two tarps. These don’t take up too much space and are great for both lining the ground and providing cover overhead from the elements. Tarps are ideal because they are waterproof. You can layer the bug out bag with a tarp in the bottom and one on top, if you’re worried about space. Depending on how fancy you get you can also use the tarps to protect your other gear should you drop your bug out bag in a fast-flowing stream or whatever while you’re in the process of bugging out.
Similar to tarps, you should also be carrying space blankets and ponchos. These perform a similar function but in different ways. A poncho will make all the difference in the world if you’re moving around when it’s wet out. It keeps the rain off and helps keep you from feeling cold, drenched, and miserable. Large heavy-duty trash bags can also be used to accomplish this, with a few artful holes ripped or cut in them. The nice thing about trash bags is that they are double-duty and can be used as sacks when they aren’t ripped.
You should also have a nice large square of cloth (or more than one) in your bag. These are great as improvised bandages, head cloths, a means of carrying things, or even as improvised filter masks (if wetted down). The head cloth that our troops wear in desert environments, the shemagh, is widely available where survival and military surplus type things are sold. You could also opt for a bandanna or something more conventional.
A space blanket is an insulator. It operates on the principle of reflecting your body heat, which is why it can be so small and light but still keep you warm (by trapping your body heat inside the blanket). Keep in mind that once you unfold one of these, you will never, ever get it compressed the same way it was when you stowed it new in the bug out bag. Some come more tightly wrapped than others (I have seen some just folded loose, while others are sealed in plastic-like wrap. You may want to carry more than one of these as a result. It’s possible to treat them as disposable for short-term emergencies, although you should be careful about ever treating any of your gear as something you can afford to just throw away in a real emergency (especially one that lasts a long time).
In your bug out bag you need to be carrying a way to call for help if you get hurt or if help is simply a long way away. That’s what survival whistles and signal mirrors are for, after all: They let you call for help over long distances. A whistle is probably more versatile for most people. You may not be able to shout loudly enough to get someone to come near you in an emergency, especially if you are hurt, but a small whistle can make a great big noise with just a little bit of wind behind it.
You should carry multiple methods of starting fire in your survival kit. Fire creates warmth that can help keep you alive, but that flame can also be used to boil water to make it safe to drink. Heat from a flame can be used as a sanitizer (in case you need to perform some very limited medical procedures in the field) and of course for cooking. All fire-starting materials are relatively small and light, if you think about it. The ever-reliable butane lighter, a tinder kit, a magnesium fire-starting block... all of these things are very small and add only negligible weight and space to your bug out bag’s contents. Fire methods can fail (if you only have a lighter, what happens if it breaks?) and you really need the ability to make fire without trying to rely on your spectacles and the sun overhead. Do yourself a favor and carry multiple ways of making fire.
You need to be carrying in your bug out bag a means of collecting and heating water. That means a tin cup or metal canteen that can stand up to being heated -- a plastic container won’t do because it will melt over an open flame. It’s okay to carry collapsible water collection bags if you have a way to collect and store water when you get where you’re going (or if you’re camping out overnight, or something).
Your bag should have a good multi tool in it, preferably something with pliers in it. A good pair of scissors is also very useful, and of course the average multitool has all kinds of screwdrivers and cutting blades. The larger Swiss Army Knives may be good choices (although these are not as strong as metal-bodied multi tools, because they are smaller, with phenolic resin handles).
Your survival kit should also contain plenty of cord. This could be paracord, which is a good compromise in size and strength, or it could be a more substantial rope. You don’t need something large enough to allow you to climb down the side of a building. You just need an ample supply of cord for utility purposes.
Pack a utility tool in your survival kit as well. Multi Tools are great utility items for survival kits because you just can’t anticipate what tasks might confront you. A multitool, by design, is a compact, multiple-use implement for dealing with unpredictable needs.
Don’t neglect some means of finding your way, in your bug out bag. Whether this is a map and compass (you really do need to get training in how to use these to navigate) or some other kind of navigation system like a portable GPS, depends on what you are used to and what you think will likely be operating. If there is no power, there is no way to recharge a GPS, and in very severe emergencies the GPS system could even be disabled by the government. A traditional topographical map and compass may be superior as a result.
Don’t neglect water filtration or water purification methods. There are tablets that can be used to chemically sanitize water, and there are filters can strain out microorganisms (some are even straws that can be dipped into any water source).
A good flashlight is a must. If it gets dark, not being able to see where you are going could easily get you killed. Pack extra batteries or, even better, pack one of those dynamo flashlights you can crank to recharge. (Some of these can be used to recharge your electronic devices too.)
Finally, your survival kit should have a good medical kit. Remember that all of these suggestions are just to get you started. You have a lot of work ahead of you building your own kit, and we sell all the gear you need to embark on that journey.
Q: What sort of gear do I need to make water safe to drink?
Water is one of those things you can’t live without. You can go days without food, but the amount of time you can go without water before dehydration starts to become a serious factor is a lot less than the time during which you can function with no food source.
The problem is that water is heavy. There are lots of different amounts that get thrown around as far as what you should have on hand, but it wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that you should plan on having a gallon of water per person, per day, available for long-term survival. You can’t carry that kind of water. Even if you consume a lot less than that -- say, a quart per day -- you still can’t carry more than a little water with you when you’re hiking, traveling, or bugging out.
The weight of the water simply means you can’t comfortably transport more than, say, a canteen or two worth of it before it starts to hinder your movement and your progress.
What you are then forced to do is rely on water sources that you find. In urban environments, water sources are plentiful wherever the water is still running. The problem is that you have no idea, whenever a society-wide emergency occurs, just what is happening at the local water treatment plant. Is the water coming out of your pipes safe to drink? Just picture what happened to those folks in West Virginia when their water supply was tainted by mining chemicals. They couldn’t use their water for ANYTHING, not even for washing.
Water that has biological problems can be “fixed” by heating it, filtering it, or chemically treating it. Water that has chemical problems CANNOT be made drinkable unless you have the means of filtering out of it whatever that chemical may be. In other words, if your water source is contaminated with gasoline or radiation, there is no way for you to make it safe. On the other hand, if there is nothing basically wrong with the water but you are trying to get sick from drinking it (because it has bacteria or parasites in it) then you can use one of the three basic treatment methods to render it potable.
The best way to kill bacteria and parasites in drinking water is, without a doubt, boiling it. Bring the water to a rolling boil and let it boil for five to ten minutes (which may be considered by some to be overlong, but let’s be safe about this). If you want to be doubly safe, you can filter your boiled water. Commercial filters are available that are supposed to remove bacteria and parasites from water. You can buy filter-equipped straws. You can also construct a makeshift filter by using layers of sand and gravel. All of these come together to form the second method of making water safer, which is filtering. Unless you are using a credibly rated filter straw or filter bottle, though, boiling is still the preferable method.
Chemical treatments are available for water that basically kill the bacteria and parasites. This is a lot like chlorinating your swimming pool.
Q. Can you help me choose a gun, even though you don’t sell guns?
When choosing a firearm for survival, you won’t always be able to hunker down in your well-equipped survival retreat with your vault full of guns and your stockpile of ammunition. “Survival” implies a certain flexibility. You may be at home, with the hatches battened down, sure, especially if the problem causing an emergency is civil unrest or a temporary power outage. But what if you’re called on to use your survival skills because a wildfire is forcing an evacuation? What if a flood or some other natural disaster is bearing down on you? What if your government mandates an evacuation for one of any number of reasons, and all you can have with you in terms of supplies and equipment is what you can carry?
Realistically, you’re going to be able to carry a long gun, maybe two if you’re feeling youthful. More than that just isn’t going to work out unless you want to struggle to move and wear yourself out quickly.
You may think you can “cheat” these limitations by carrying a handgun or some sort of short-barreled weapon, such as a handgun fitted into a personal defense weapon stock (essentially producing a short-barreled rifle or even a semi-automatic “submachinegun” envelope). The problem is that “survival” firearms needs aren’t usually “combat” firearms needs. Combat takes place at relatively short ranges, especially in urban environments. That is where any sort of short-barreled weapon shines. But “survival,” especially survival in any sort of long-term capacity, implies longer distances. You may need to hunt game; you may need to fend off hostile parties from a distance. “Survival” also implies you’ll be alone or working with a small group of fellow survivors. You’ll be outnumbered by the myriad hostiles you could face, from government forces to looters to rioters and other citizens who want what you could be carrying.
What all this adds up to is that, yes, you may well be carrying a pistol or personal defense weapon, but that’s your fighting and self-defense tool, not your survival weapon. Your survival weapon is a long-range tool, a means to reach out and get someone or keep someone off you.
Survival weapons can also be used for long-range destruction of personal property. You may be wondering how this is a “survival” function at all, but it may be the case that you need to make it more difficult for people to track you or for authorities to intercept in you a full-blown, collapse-of-law-and-order emergency. In that case, your survival weapon can be used to strike everything from cameras (a particularly pesky issue these highly monitored days) to electrical transformers and a variety of other equipment.
You might choose to go with a shotgun as your general-purpose survival weapon. The shotgun has a lot to recommend it. A good pump-shotgun is very simple and readily available. In a time when there are more and more unconstitutional gun laws hemming in your ability to purchase and own a firearm, pump shotguns offer decent firepower that is usually quite legal (given the pump shotguns traditional standing as a hunting weapon, one of the few firearms the political left will still grudgingly allow you). A typical pump gun holds five rounds or so, which is more than enough firepower for limited engagements.
At relatively close ranges, the shotgun has great knockdown power. A variety of loads are available for it, including “specialty” rounds that let you tailor what the weapon is supposed to do (such as busting door locks). Realistically, though, there are only two loads you should be considering in a twelve-gauge pump gun. The first is double-aught (00) buck shot, which is basically nine metal pellets (each of them about the size of a nine-millimeter bullet without the cartridge case). The second is deer slugs, which are just a single heavy projectile. If you’ve ever shot a deer slug through plywood, you know it makes a hole about the size of a quarter.
At closer ranges the fearsome power of either load should be obvious. (Every other load is a waste of your time; birdshot and other lighter shot don’t penetrate deeply enough for self-defense use.) This is why the twelve-gauge shotgun is so well-regarded as a home-defense weapon. It puts immense power and moderate range in an affordable, legal, durable, and reliable package that almost anyone can own.
As the distances get longer, the shotgun looks less desirable as a survival weapon. The farther the distances get, the more 00 buck shot will spread. This means that if you’re shooting at a target that is near anything (or anyone) you DON’T want to shoot, you have no real idea where the pellets are going to go. Even if you have taken the time to gauge different shooting distances and work out the spread zones for each, this is still just a guess.
You can compensate for this problem by loading only slugs, or carrying slugs with the weapon (such as on a side saddle or in a bandolier sling) and loading them for when you anticipate needing them. But this brings us to the other problem of shotguns. They are very loud, and if you are using your weapon to destroy equipment in order to foul pursuit by enemy forces or compromised authorities, your long-term-survival or “bug out” situation could quickly become an active pursuit. The same is true if you are using your survival weapon to hunt game. The boom of a shotgun will give away your position for a long way around.
Q: Can You Recommend Any Modern Fire-Energy Gadgets?
A: It’s a fact that heat, and therefore fire, is nothing but energy. Energy can be converted into OTHER energy. There are multiple ways to convert fire into energy, the most obvious of which (and the one you probably can’t just put together in a survival scenario) is a steam engine. But you don’t have to buy or build a steam engine to turn fire into energy. You can buy a number of little camp stoves that do this for you. These are little stoves you can use to burn just about anything. That heat is converted by the stove into electricity, and that electricity can charge your smartphone or other electronic device. The thing about these little stoves, though, is that they aren’t very small. When you’re packing your day to day carry or your longer term survival gear, it isn’t very helpful to have lots of bulky stuff.
One alternative is a device (sold under different brand names) that can be put directly into a fire that will use the heat to generate electrical power. This can then be connected so that it generates the same energy as a USB port on a laptop computer, equivalent to half the power of a phone charger plugged into a wall outlet.
As gear goes, these things aren’t cheap, but then, neither are the smartphones and tablet computers on which we all seem to depend so much these days. In an all-out societal collapse, gear like this isn’t worth much, but in a localized emergency, it can help keep you connected when the power is out and batteries are in short supply. If you can afford to do so, consider adding these to your kit so you can use the power of fire.