Are You Missing These Often Overlooked Necessities in Your Bug-Out Bag?

September 30, 2020
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by Toby Cowern

Co-Author of SHTF Survival Bootcamp

Most of you are aware Selco and I run a wide range of physical courses and have done so for the last six years now. Ranging from our flagship course down in Croatia, using directly applied lessons from the conflict down there, as well as our Bug-Out Course and our ‘Off-Grid Medical’ Range of courses.

One consistent theme in our courses is encouraging students to bring the equipment they think they need. We don’t issue a kit list per se. We want to give our students the creative space to assess the situation and bring what they think is needed. If students need some guidance, they get that. Almost everyone includes these essential basics but there are other items that are often overlooked.

Each course we get a huge amount of variety in the equipment carried by our students. And, we begin the courses by having them lay all that equipment out and briefing us on what they bought and why. We will then assess the student’s equipment.

We put together the Often Overlooked series to help you evaluate the equipment in, or NOT in, your Bug-Out Bag.

Often Overlooked 1: Edged Tools

I would estimate a 98% failure rate with this particular item. As in 98% of people will make this mistake, omission or overlook. Edged tools are items such as knives, axes, machetes and other similar tools. These are not the items overlooked. What we have seen innumerable times is there will be no means to maintain the integrity of the tools.

People forget to bring the necessary apparatus to sharpen their edge tools. Only about 2 to 5% pack something to sharpen with. And, typically it’s not a great device, or they have no knowledge on how to actually use it.

I don’t want to add more weight than is necessary in my Bug-Out Bag. I want to keep everything light and lean. Selco and I only work with diamond dust sharpening tools: a diamond dust file and a diamond honing stone. The diamond file I carry comes in a set of 5, although I only choose to carry one.

The diamond honing stone in my bag is the tool I tend to use most often, because, my edge tools rarely get dull. If I do, for example, really wail my axe on something and take a big chunk out of it, then I will need the super heavy duty diamond file I carry in my car.

Don’t let diamond dust scare you. It’s not that expensive. Whatever you choose is up to you. Just make sure you have the means to maintain your essential equipment with you in the field.


Often Overlooked 2: Firearms

Many people want to, and do, carry firearms. But, what we often see is people carrying firearms with absolutely no means to clean or maintain them. And that is a big problem, especially in field conditions.

If your weapons are exposed to dust, dirt, mud, sand and precipitation the impact on those weapons is going to be quick and detrimental without timely cleaning with the proper tools.

The last thing anyone of us want is for this possibly life saving tool to be fouled and dirty to the point it no longer works at exactly the moment you need it to work! At the very least carry the minimum means to clean and maintain your firearms.

And, always the knowledge to be able to do so.

A large part of my military career was elite infantry. For me weapons maintenance is crucial. I carry a large kit with me in order to cover a range of firearms. For others, at the very least you should have a cleaning brush, a small container of oil, a bore snake and a few small rags or towels.

Some weapons require specific tools to open, operate or maintain. Make absolutely sure you have the tools needed for your specific weapons and the competence and understanding to use those tools.

Try to stay as streamlined as you can while still having the things you need. You want to always keep your firearms in top condition and have the resources and the abilities to maintain them as is necessary.

Often Overlooked 3: Protect and Enhance the Senses

Think: top to toe. Anything you can carry, that protects or enhances your senses is well worth carrying. What are you worried about? What Should you be worried about in the environment that you’re in that could potentially harm you? And what can you do to protect from that?

EYES: You have only got one set of eyes. Protection glasses or goggles are an excellent investment. If your eyes get injured it’s going to be debilitating and (significantly) limit your performance. And in a compromised situation there’s no guarantee you will get the quality of care you need to deal with that issue.

I’m a huge fan of carrying a small, high quality binoculars with me wherever I go. Anything that helps you seeing further will aid in keeping you safe.

Let’s say for example, you are in a field hunkered down, with a decent set of binoculars you will be able to get a good look at whatever the threat may be without having to get too close to it.

I prefer binoculars, but if you find those a bit big and bulky, consider getting a monocular. It’s better than nothing. I find it a little bit more awkward to use. I get a lot of eye fatigue just having one eye closed and one eye open. That’s why I like working with binoculars. Choose what is best for you. 

EAR DEFENDERS: The ear defenders I have protect my hearing and have a forward facing microphone that will pick up and amplify any sounds from the direction I’m facing. There’s a little bit of a cost to these, made by a company called Peltor. Well worth the investment. Something as simple as in ear foam earplugs are great for protecting against general noise. But, what I actually like to carry these for is sleep. Everyone should have a clear plan to manage adequate sleep.

The accepted rule of groups, is there is always going to be a snorer, and the snorer is always going to fall asleep first. Having some basic earplugs to mute out most, if not all of that sound enables you to get some better quality sleep.

HANDS: Your sense of touch and the need to use your hands is critical. If you are rummaging around in things and there are syringes or glass or anything that can cut you, correct gloves will protect you from any nasty cuts or wounds.

Thin gloves that allow you to have a great degree of tactile sensibility in your fingers are great to have, but you also need to have a heavier duty pair of gloves that are heat resistant with a higher degree of protection. Another thing to consider is having standard surgical gloves on hand to prevent cross contamination, blood borne pathogen exchange, etc.

FEET: l always wear construction boots that are steel shanked in the undersole and have steel toe caps. A kick with these boots is going to leave way more of a mark than if I was wearing a sneaker. And, it also means no matter what the environment I am in my feet are staying protected.

Often Overlooked 4 : Pocket Brain

Selco and I often see people coming to our courses neglecting to carry notepad and pen. Or they will have a regular paper version. The minute conditions get adverse that paper is going to become useless. Many times people will bring some of the items I mention below, but those items are all tossed about and not very easy to find.

My pocket brain is one of my most essential carry items. It always sits in my thigh pocket and this goes with me everywhere.

Essentially, my “Pocket Brain” is a notebook cover filled with items that I believe to be crucial to have. First and foremost is a notepad. I’m a huge fan of the the spiral bound “Rite in the Rain” products. They are fully weatherproof, and have great quality of paper, so they’re easy to write on.

Inside the notebook cover is a front flap and a few different pockets. I carry quite a few writing implements: dry wipe markers, regular mechanical pencils, pens, permanent markers and old-school regular pencils. Something to keep in mind, if you live in an extremely cold environment, like I do, regular pens can and will freeze. Dry wipe markers can be used quite effectively to write on various materials.

Also inside is a calibrated compass, with as many different scales on the base plates as can be found. So I can use this for measuring purposes for drawing purposes. And, you know, for mathematical purposes. In addition to those tools, I carry with me a small multi colored selection of chalk. Chalk is very effective for writing on asphalt, cement surfaces and internal and external walls.

The Pocket Brain is all about the ability to clearly communicate information needed to others as well as tracking things for yourself. You can notate your hydration levels, write down your passwords, or write out a sentry (Guard duty) list if needed.

In mine I also have some useful visual aids. I have one small toy car and 10 small numbered colored triangles. I use these when delivering orders to my group or briefing my family on immediate actions necessary in any situation. Each numbered triangle represents a certain individual. For example, number one is me, number 2 is my wife, number 3 is my baby. The toy car of course represents the vehicle being used.

I made these triangles myself just by cutting colored plastic and numbering them. Having visual aids can help a great deal with communication because often times verbal communication can get confusing or be misunderstood. Other things such as maps, reference cards or any type of documentation you feel will be needed can also be tucked away safely inside the notebook.

Often Overlooked 5: River Ready

People put a huge amount of thought into the equipment they are carrying, but not necessarily where and how they’re carrying it. We find that people tend to carry something like an bag open and things are just dumped in it. Finding items somewhere in that big mess is not something you want to have to do when the SHTF.

If you do compartmentalize, for example, you put your toiletries in a bag and your spare clothing in a different bag and then put those bags in the other bag, that’s great. However, the two elements that rare missing is weather proofing and the cross contamination element. Any bags you carry need to be able to withstand the environment you are in. That includes the bags inside the main bag. Waterproofing is of course essential.

Imagine you have your big warm jacket and you have put it in your bag and it gets damp. Now, the thermal gain and effect of that big warm jacket has been massively reduced. What I suggest is a dry bag that rolls back on itself after you have put items in there, with a really good weatherproof seal. But, you want it to be easy access, especially when it’s extremely cold.

Dry bags come in a huge variety of colors and sizes and can be used to separate spare clothes, socks, thermals and sleeping clothes. It’s easy to find your change of clothes if you know you have put them in the red dry bag versus the green dry bag which has your socks in it.

Standard Ziploc bags come in a huge variety of sizes. These are perfect for the cross contamination factor. Most likely you will have items in your bag that will open or leak. A good habit to get into is to put these items inside separate smaller Ziplocs and then put all those inside a larger Ziploc.

Your goal here is to have a very modular, clearly organized, well protected pack. By having everything packed in these airtight bags most of your equipment and other items should be what we call River Ready.

Guess how Selco and I test that on our courses?

Yes, literally your bag is going in the river and we will let it bob in there for a while. After dragging it out later, we check to see if your contents were compromised. You need to pack your bug-out bag with the thought in mind that anything could happen at any time. You might just have to rip it off and ditch it somewhere for a period of time. Your bag will then need to sort of look out for itself!

About Toby

Toby has an extensive background in the military, emergency services, risk management, and business continuity, combined with applied wilderness and urban survival skills. He discusses personal safety, security, and the crossover of military skills to the average civilian.

Are You Missing These Often Overlooked Necessities in Your Bug-Out Bag?
Toby Cowern

About the Author

Toby Cowern

Toby Cowern has an extensive background in the military, emergency services, risk management, and business continuity, combined with applied wilderness and urban survival skills. He discusses personal safety, security, and the crossover of military skills to the average civilian.

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