by Selco Begovic
Author of The Dark Secrets of SHTF Survival and the online course SHTF Survival Boot Camp
In the survival-prepper world, it is very important what you carry with you and just as much so, how you carry it. But it is a giant myth that there is just one right way to do this. Despite what many people want to say, there is no perfect and universal everyday carry, perfect and universal bug out bag, car kit, or other gear.
There might be some items or universal rules that every kit should have, but everything else is based on the specific situation.
It is often misunderstood, You can see that actually when someone post his EDC for example on a social media post that you are gonna have probably many comments with specific suggestions what is right or wrong in that kit. But the problem is that lot of those suggestions (or objections) are based on the specific needs or scenarios of the commenter. The suggestions may not work for the person who has that EDC.
As a general rule, we can say that you may take advice about some item in your kit, but you should always keep in mind that you are building kit based on YOUR settings and needs.
Take, bug out bags, for example.
No matter how much we write (or read) about bug out bags there are gonna be more endless discussion about it, reasons are simply because BOBs are about having cool things (that are cool to discuss) and also because by having a good BOB we are trying to cover many problems that are gonna emerge when SHTF.
Over the time we set up our own BOB with tools and equipment that we hope are gonna work for us.
In a real-life situation, there are chances that we’ll be forced to lose our BOB. Maybe we’ll be forced to swim across a river and that bag gonna be heavy for us, or we’ll be forced to run from someone, or we’ll be forced to give it to someone in exchange for safe passage, or whatever.
Being without our cool things when SHTF does not sound good. But there are ways to have the most important things when you need them.
Here are some general suggestions about how to carry your items.
Layers and Levels of Importance
The way of organizing the stuff that you carry may be through layers and levels of importance.
It works very simply, and it may be some general rule, but still keep in mind that it depends on your personal settings.
For example, for you, it may make sense to keep your allergy medications all the time at the reach of your hand because you have a history of strong allergic reactions. But, for example, for me, it is not important because I do not have that history.
Try to have your gear organized by layers and levels of importance.
Another thing is how you carry all your stuff.
Some things need to be available in a split second, your field dressing for example, or your allergy medication, extra ammo or food. You could find your self in a situation where you will not have time to dig through all stuff to reach something. Your life might depend on that time.
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It is a good suggestion to have three (or at least two) levels of equipment on you.
In reality, it looks like this:
- Layer One: This is the equipment that will stay with you even in very extreme situations. It is equipment that is directly “on your body”. It may be placed for example on paracord around your neck, or on your wrist.
- Layer Two: This is the equipment that is on your belt, inside your pockets, small waist bag or similar.
- Layer Three: This is the equipment that you carry actually inside your bug out bag.
The point of these layers (you can actually have more or less of these layers, it is based on your settings) is to cover as many unplanned situations as possible that may happen to you. And that may include losing your pack for whatever reason.
You may lose your BOB because you’ll be forced to run really fast, or because you’ll be awakened by shots in the middle of night at your temporary camping site on the way to your BOL, and you are in panic, but you’ll still have small waist bag on you, paracord on your wrist, stuff in your pockets and similar.
You may lose the camping stove or the MREs in the BOB because you lost the bag, but you’ll still have power bars in pockets, lighter around your neck, etc. The examples are many.
Try to think in terms of “the pillars of survival”: fire, shelter, water, food, signaling/communication, medical/hygiene, defense and organize equipment in each layer for each pillar.
Levels of Importance
Another point of organizing how to carry your equipment should be based on what is most important to have “immediately”.
A very common mistake is to have all the equipment needed to overcome a hard situation but organized in completely the wrong way.
The reason for that is many preppers forget that when SHTF and you find yourself moving somewhere with your stuff, very often it could be the difference between life and death how fast and efficiently you can use that equipment.
It is nothing spectacular. For example, if the S did hit the fan and you are out moving through a dangerous and violent situation, would you want your weapon in the reach of your hand on your belt or at the bottom of your bag?
It is similar with other equipment.
You have to understand what you need to have available immediately and what is not as urgent from all of your other equipment too.
Another good example is the first aid kit.
It is very common for preppers (and I also see this often with students at live courses) to have first aid kits that are either tucked away in the BOB or completely full of nonsense. Or both.
Do you really want to find yourself in a situation when you are seriously bleeding and then you need to dig through your BOB to find your first aid kit, and then to dig through antibiotics, anti-diarrhea pills, plasters, and useless small scissors to find field dressings or a tourniquet?
Sometimes seconds can make a difference.
There are items that are important and there are items that are REALLY important.
Things that are REALLY and immediately important need to be right on you and available in seconds.
So, taking in consideration layers and levels of importance, for example (and this is an example only) your first aid kit might look like this:
- First layer: a bandana on your head, neck or wrist ( tourniquet, splinting, bandage)
- Second layer: sterile dressings, field dressings, povidone pads, alcohol pads, water tabs, allergy drugs, trauma shears… in your pockets or belt pouch, belt bag
- Third layer: antibiotics, anti-diarrhea tabs, existing illnesses medicines, prolonged care meds…
Now as I said this is only an example of specific items because it is absolutely about your personal settings and conditions.
For example, if you are diabetic it makes sense to have medication closer to you. Or if you have enough space in the first or second layer you can move items from the third layer there.
Again it is about understanding what is important and what is really important and trying not to lose all your equipment when the situation gets really hard.
You can use this analogy with every pillar of survival
So, for example, when it comes to shelter, your first layer might be a survival blanket or trash bag in your pocket and your second (or third) might be a tent in your bag.
Sometimes you could be forced to hide somewhere and crawl inside that trash bag quickly, eat a power bar from your pocket, and be very quiet.
Other times, you could lose everything except the lighter on your neck, paracord around your wrist, and the knife on your belt. But still, those items can get you through a lot of situations until you reach a safe place.
Remember: Necessity, Comfort, Mobility
To refine this still more, you need to factor in these words: necessity, comfort, and mobility.
It is a formula that may work well for you or get you killed.
There is no perfect and universal BOB.
Even the bag alone can be wrong – it may look too much like a bug out bag and attract unnecessary attention. If you look like a walking store of tactical equipment, that is another problem. So, again, using common sense in how you look by having all those supplies in a bag and on you is really important.
Comfort is a good thing. I like to feel comfort, too. But in the formula of carrying equipment, it may blur your decision of how much you carry with you. I like better the word “necessity” – to have things that are necessary for me to live.
Mobility is very important and whenever you deciding what and how to carry, think in terms of how far and how fast you can get with stuff that you carry.
There is no perfect everyday carry and bug out bag for everyone.
All this and I didn’t tell you how to make the perfect every day carry kit and bug out bag. This is up to you. And again it should be based on your settings, your condition, region, distance. Our friends at Best Survival have a bug-out bag checklist to give you a solid start, or make sure you aren’t missing any essentials. Check it out here.
Selco survived the Balkan war of the 90s in a city under siege, without electricity, running water, or food distribution. He is currently accepting students for his next physical course here.
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I would only point out, seasons.
I update/repack my BOB according to the seasons (If I want to keep it at a reasonable weight, 40lbs).
Clearly I am not going to need mid or heavy weight performance, base layers in the summer.
Nor, lightweight, summer weight socks in winter.
Could I go a full year with depending on what is in my BOB?
But I am of the opinion the situation is going to be a lot worse than depending on a BOB for sole survival.
SELCO is right about the First Aid kit. Keep it handy or within immediate use. Get as much First Aid or even higher level training if possible (EMT-B and Wilderness EMT [offered by NOLS]).
This bugout bag article by SELCO is exactly what I wanted to hear. I have outfitted myself in the way he describes with layers and levels. I only had two guiding principles. What is absolutely necessary for survival? And what happens if my backpack is taken from me? So I have a neck lanyard, a medicine pouch around my neck, a money belt under my clothes. And a waist pouch, cross body bag, cross body duffel and finally the back pack. I’m operating on the principle that something will have to be sacrificed at gun point sooner or later. And so I’m attaching as much as possible to my body and under clothing. By the way my firearms choices sre all wrong but I have lots of ammo for them. I lack the ability to carry the weight or to react quickly enough. That is why I don’t have high hopes for keeping all my stuff.
What I like about Selco – a REALIST! Only someone who has been there in real time and experience can take away the myths.
“As a general rule, we can say that you may take advice about some item in your kit, but you should always keep in mind that you are building kit based on YOUR settings and needs.” – Selco
Exactly. Everyone needs to evaluate exactly what is vitally needed in their location. The extreme lack of water in rural areas as well as high population density will require VERY fast evacuation to get out of range before things really get chaotic. The situation will go downhill very quickly here.
So for our kit, extra water storage is part of it. Pity that it is so heavy and bulky.
Yes, water is heavy and bulky. Why not dehydrate it, and then when you get to your destination, just add water. Ha! only joking friends. My point is, you can only go so far in trying to get everything pared down to the absolute minimums. Nobody can tell you what you are going to need, or what kind of emergency will come up tomorrow, so do the best you can. Make up a basic kit, that you can cary, and quit worrying about all the stuff you can’t get into it.
Why doesn’t anyone mention a load bearing vest or plate carrier? When under a jacket they are no more noticeable than a fannypack/money belt. Then wear a normal rigid frame hiking backpack without a billion pouches because they don’t look tacticool.
Because, to be honest, if you’re bugging out that means others are looking for people that are bugging out. No matter what, prepared people stick out. People have a strong will to survive and the ones that are the best at it can identify others. And if I’m desperate and I see somebody with a backpack I’m going to wonder what is in it.
The plate carrier, even with steel 11×14 plates on a fat guy like me, full of ammo and tourniquets, a water filter, useful stuff in the admin pouch, etc, weighs 35lbs. It has everything you need for 3 days except water, carries properly on your body to reduce fatigue, and might save your life.
Then what is in the framed backpack is convenience/secondary. Like a titanium wood burning stove with titanium cookware and perhaps an advanced medical kit. Since it is framed and fairly unobtrusive it also reduces fatigue and is fairly operationally secure. You can fit a lot into a framed backpack the size of a piece of carry-on luggage at around 40L and 30lbs. It’s still a backpack and if I were a gimmeyourstuff bad guy I’d still want to know what is in the backpack.
In theory, for 80lbs (the above, plus 10lbs for an AR10 and 6lbs for a couple metal handguns) you have what you need until you’re dead and it is fairly easy to carry because you are wearing it. You can drop 20lbs by switching to ceramic plates but then you really only have one altercation of protection.
Thank you Selco for the article. It’s appreciated as I’m still new at putting together BOB(s). The layer idea for availability is useful. One aspect of that, to me, it’s like carrying money in a large city. You don’t pull out a large amount of cash in a busy area, only what is needed at the time. Imagine the backpack as a wallet and “stuff” as money. Expect to get robbed of your wallet/back pack, so put a few dollars in it that are expendable. Otherwise be creative with hidden pockets sewn into your clothing, money belts, the soles of the shoes, items strapped to your body underneath clothing or mesh T-shirts, concealed carry holsters, etc.. To distribute stuff in layers on your hips and leg pockets lessens the stress on your back. (I learned a while back during training that to carry 50 lbs. or so of ammo on your back during an ambush, then drop and roll, will make one look like a pathetic upside-down turtle.)
Would it make sense to carry two of the same item, each one in a different layer? A large knife, on the back-pack strap or on a belt, and a smaller bush craft knife tucked away in addition to a neck knife when your stuff is robbed or lost. Yea, stuff is heavy which is another factor, weight, that I think illustrates a difference between Europeans and Americans. Europeans can make do with a Mora knife if needed while some Americans like me are happier with a Ka-bar-Becker Companion BK22/ESEE/crow-bar overkill and larger knife. Which leads to the question, and I realize it’s stuff, but do you differentiate between the terms, bush craft, survival, tactical, weapon? As in a folded shovel can also be a good weapon. Or whatever you have at the time is good so don’t overanalyze it.
I like the idea of contouring stuff around your body so as not to look like camel. And to get DARPA-esque, waterproof packets act as floatation devices for crossing rivers. Just kidding.
And hopefully something practical, this is for the mass of people bugging out for the first time along the East Coast. Permethrin (Sawyers) on your backpack, not skin, for ticks. Two bottles will last months since you’ll probably won’t be washing your clothes often. And, it’ll give an excuse to carry “Gorilla” tape, around your leg where your pants are tucked into your logging boots … along with your manly bar-fighting boot knife (although pointed steel tipped combat boots would make your toes look like a bind Chinese concubine). Using a tourniquet instead of tape would be taking it a step too far. I digress. Blousing straps are nice. (ps. If bugging out for the first-time, carry waterproof photo I.D. cards of the various ticks and descriptions of the diseases they vector, and illustrations of the two of three types poison ivy. Both will wind up on your BOB.)
j.i.c. , the pointed steel toed boots are known as Sh*t Kickers. I have witnessed a 300 or so pound country guy bring down a six foot plus lumberjack literally, after the guy purposely tipped his beer over, both standing next to each other at a bar, by grabbing and raising the man’s hand palm over his head and kicking the guy’s armpit with his pointed boot. Again from a standing rest position. Never underestimate an old guy. He then picked the guy up, put him on a stool, bought him a drink and talked a while. Go figure.
Whew! ‘Bug out’ bags. Its a never ending discussion kind of like which is best – 9mm or .45ACP. So many ideas and opinions mixed with vendors ready to sell you the stuff you are told you need. I like Selco’s approach. My levels may be a tad different but still the tactic is a sound one. He keeps it simple, like a plastic pop bottle instead of that nifty canteen from the on-line store. When I consider what the circumstances will have to be for someone to be compelled to “bug out” on foot I just think that someone obviously humping wilderness/military type gear = target of opportunity to any predators… and there will be predators. And, you ladies… I hesitate to say it but you may loose more than just your packs. Maybe the ‘Gray Man’ approach could be applied to a bug out scenario to carry important gear without looking like it you have anything of value or interest. Stay mobile and appear uninteresting. Maybe Selco could comment on that?