The first bug out kit I packed must have weighed 50 pounds. I stuffed everything I could into it, and for good measure even tied a few bits of gear to the outside. Proud of myself, I couldn't wait to take it out on the trail to see just how well I would survive.
About five miles into my ten-mile hike I wanted to die. There was just far too much weight on my back, and soon my knees and hips were complaining. I ended up not completing the hike at all, and I'm ashamed to say that there were a few pieces of gear that never made it home.
If you're planning to bug out, your bug out kit needs to be light.
- You need to be fast on your feet
- You need to be able to evacuate fast
- You need to be able to escape your pursuit
In a crisis, you never know what could happen. Ideally, I've got my family loaded into our SUV and we have a leisurely drive out to our bug out location, filled with plenty of food and supplies and we ride out whatever disaster comes our way. But life doesn't always go to plan.
And if I'm being chased through the woods by looters intent on stealing my stuff (or worse), you don't want to be weighed down by 50 pounds of gear. You won't escape. These days my bug out pack is a lightweight 12 pounds. Light, effective, and more than enough to ensure I make it to my bug out location, which is all your bug out kit should be for.
Here's how I cut down the weight
Get rid of your food
Tinned food and everything you need to prepare a meal is extra weight. You don't need a camping stove or pots and pans. And you certainly don't need 15 different spices. All of this is metal, that weighs you down. It's also noisy if not properly muffled in your pack, which can make bugging out undetected a challenge. I've got about 8 high-calorie protein bars in my pack. That's it. Enough food to stave off hunger while I make it to my bug out location. Because really, going without food for a day or two won't kill you. It's not super fun (I do it every now and then just to test my endurance), and in a pinch I've always got some hooks and line, or my rifle, to bring down some wild game.
Get your clothes in order
Before you leave your home to bug out it's important you dress appropriately. I've got my boots, jacket and pants hanging in a cupboard right by the door, so I can always ensure I'm in weather-appropriate gear. In my bug out kit I've only got a change of underwear, and two pairs of socks. It's a luxury to have multiple items of clothing for just a few days, and if you dress in layers, you can always wash your shirt and dry it overnight by the fire before starting the day.
Get rid of your fancy sleeping bag
Nothing beats a nice, cozy sleeping bag but they are often one of the heaviest items in your kit. Especially in cold-weather bug outs, you need a high-rated sleeping bag to make it through the night. What I've found works quite well is to use a two-layer system to add extra warmth to a compact sleeping bag. First, I slip into an emergency sleeping bag. It's not the most comfortable thing in the world, but it traps all your heat, so you can use a lighter sleeping bag as the external layer. I've successfully used this setup in temperatures down to 14 degrees (-10 Celsius), though it wasn't the most pleasant of nights, I made it through okay.
Get rid of your tent
Going camping without a tent felt strange the first time I did it. These days, you'd have to twist my arm to get me to bring a tent anywhere. Not only are they bulky and heavy (yes even the ultralight camping tents), it's weight you simply don't need. All you need is a tarp or two. Unless of course it's the dead of winter, then you want all the protection you can get. Otherwise, tarps are all you need. And with a bit of paracord, you can string these up to provide decent shelter from the elements.
Get rid of everything you won't use
The first bug out bag I packed I had so many items in there, that were just in case. Of course, it's important you're not forsaking actual survival tools like a fire starter, but I didn't need to carry a mug, a book about local edibles, two changes of clothing. The list goes on. What you need to think about is your 72-hour timeline. Pack everything you need to survive for 3 days. That's it. There should be no consumables left in your pack once this time is up. And if it's a bit of gear with a questionable purpose, get rid of it.
Ultimately, the best way to cut down on the weight of your bug out bag is experience. Once you get comfortable hiking and camping in the wild, and you start doing it more and more, you'll learn what you need to bring, and what you can improvise along the way. My kit is very light these days, but that's because I've a pretty good track record of catching a feed of fish, cutting tent pegs from branches to set up camp, and a host of other experiences in the wild. If you want to pack lighter, my advice is to get out there and start learning. The more you know, the less "stuff" you'll need to bring.