I've lost time of the amount of times I've packed and re-packed my bug-out-bag. It's difficult because with every change of season you need to ensure you're fully equipped. Plus, you may have changing needs if you're needing to take care of a larger family or if it's you alone. Essentially, what's in your bug-out bag should be the supplies you need to live for 3 days.
Personally, I've got a couple of options when it comes to bug-out-bags. I've got one in my office, another in my home, and I've even setup a larger kit that goes in my car. This way, I've always got the supplies I need on-hand, no matter what happens.
But over the weekend I was updating my kits again and I noticed a few similarities. When it comes to being prepared, there are a few items of common gear that are absolutely essential to survival. These items need to be in every bug-out bag you've got. Just make sure you've got a good backpack to keep it altogether, so it's easy to carry.
A waterproof tarp
I've not carried a tent in my bug-out bag for years, because it's simply too heavy, and it wastes space. Instead, ensure you've got a high-quality waterproof tarp, and the means to string it up when you setup camp. I've got about 100 meters of paracord in my bug-out-bag that I can cut and use as I need. Exposure is one of the biggest threats you'll face to your immediate survival, so it's critical you're able to keep the rain off, and stay dry.
Warm and protective clothing
Staying warm when the temperature drops at night is critical to staying alive, and the best way to combat hypothermia is to wear warm and protective clothing. Dress in layers so you can remove pieces as you need, and if you're in an area that gets particularly cold at night I'd also pack a sleeping bag. It's bulky, but it'll make a big difference when you bed down for the night. Oh, and throw in a change of underwear and socks. It'll make the world of difference, especially if you get wet.
A fire-starting kit
In addition to warm clothing, being able to get a fire going is very important. It boosts morale, can keep predators away from your camp, and gives you a way to purify water and cook any meals you have. Have at least 3 different ways of getting a flame, I usually pack a cigarette lighter, a flint-steel, and a small box of waterproof matches. I've also got a tinder kit, which contains a little char-cloth and some homemade fire-starters (petroleum jelly mixed with cotton buds), to help if I'm trying to get my fire going in wet conditions.
When it gets dark at night having a flashlight handy makes a world of difference, so definitely pack one into your bug-out-bag, along with some spare batteries. Being able to see at night can help you cover more ground, establish a better perimeter around your camp, or just give you a means to see if you need to get up to pee in the night.
A way to purify water
It's not safe to drink from most water sources you find in the wild, so you need to ensure your bug-out bag has a way of making any water you collect safe to drink. I've got a pack of water-purification tablets in mine, along with a water bottle that has a built-in filtration system. What I usually do is boil the water quickly in a small pot, and once it's cooled drink it through the filter in my bottle. I'd rather be safe than sorry when it comes to getting a stomach bug in the wilderness.
Three days of food
Without fuel for your body you're not going to last long, so ensure you've got enough food packed without weighing your pack down too much. Choose high-calorie meals, and snacks like protein bars, chocolate, and dried fruit and nuts that will keep your energy levels up while you're evacuating. At a minimum, ensure you've got at least 2,000 calories per day in your bag. For me, I've got double this.
A large knife
I've experimented with everything from pocket knives to machetes, and I think the sweet spot really lies somewhere in between. You want a knife that's sturdy enough you're able to use it to split kindling for your fire, yet comfortable enough when you're skinning or cleaning an animal you've caught. I prefer a fixed blade, with a knife that has a decent amount of "heft" in it, but that's just me. Choose a knife you're comfortable to carry, and use.
A way to identify yourself
Being able to identify yourself is important, and I'd recommend making a quick file with some of your most important documents inside. Like your birth certificate, driver's license, and a page outlining your blood type, allergies, and contact details of those most important to you. It could help considerably if you're in trouble and someone is trying to give you first aid, or get you to help.
A means of communicating
When the grid goes down your mobile phone isn't going to work. Satellite phones are an option but they're expensive, a cheaper tactic is to get a crank radio so you can at least listen to any local updates being broadcast. A pair of walkie-talkies can help members of your group stay in touch if you've got more than one in your party, and I'd also recommend that everyone you care about also knows your bug-out plans, so they can meet you along the way if need be.
Basic First Aid supplies
Without knowing what you're going to encounter it's tough to know exactly what to pack, but there's a few basics that will certainly come in handy. Painkillers, along with any blister kits you may need after walking all day. Bandages just in case, along with something for the bug bites. I'd also throw in some sunscreen, anti-diarrhea medication and a couple of series of antibiotics. It's not too comprehensive, but it should have the basics to keep you going until you reach your destination.
Don't forget your toiletries
Staying clean probably isn't your biggest concern if you're needing to evacuate, but it's important you have sanitation supplies in your bug out kit. A toothbrush and toothpaste make a big difference at the end of a day. So does a roll of toilet paper or some wet wipes. I'd also throw in hand sanitizer, and a bar of soap. Just because it's a crisis, it doesn't mean you shouldn't be clean.
A means of defending yourself
For me, this is my handgun, but I've met other survivalists who prefer to rely on their knife. Ultimately, it's up to you, but I'd heartily recommend that you at least consider getting a gun. In a full-scale crisis, the people who cross your path are going to be hungry and desperate, which is a recipe for disaster if they decide they want what you have. Being able to defend yourself is critical.
Packing your bug-out bag isn't rocket science, but it does require you to put a little thought into each item in your kit. With the right gear, you'll have no trouble spending a couple of nights on the run, and safely making it to your bug-out location to ride out the crisis.