Buggin’ Out with BOB

The Bug-Out-Bag (BOB) is a classic survival strategy. The basic idea is to have a pre-packed, readily available, easily carried bag filled with equipment which, in case of catastrophic emergency, will help keep you alive for 72 hours. The main focus is usually on evacuation rather than long-term survival – but if you can survive for 3 days then you are definitely on your way to creating a more long-term survival strategy. The name is believed to have derived from the ‘Bail-Out-Bag’ developed to help military aviators survive a crash landing.

There are plenty of commercial BOBs available, each geared to specific circumstances – everything from very useful off-the-shelf Red Cross medical bags to all singing, all dancing techno-wizardry which will let your mother know where you are and cancel the milk delivery until the disaster’s over 😉 Personally we like to keep things as simple (and cheap…) as possible.

We also like to include the kind of tools which are, in themselves, the building blocks of long-term self-sufficiency. There are other kit-bags designed for longer term use (we will be discussing a larger Get-Out-Of-Dodge (GOOD) bag in a future post), but if you get your BOB right you’ll already have the tools necessary to build further, longer-term survival tools.

Let’s start with the bag itself…

John’s bag is a classic Sahara Raider, a great design with a 12.5lt capacity zipped main compartment and plenty of additional pockets and ‘organiser’ sections; the Sainsbury’s carrier bag is shown for scale – other supermarket carriers are available 😉 – but the overall dimensions are L 34cm x W 28cm x D 8cm. There are a lot of bag options available, everything from ex-army gas-mask bags which you can pick up for less than a fiver to a good quality day-pack sized rucksack. The most important thing is comfort; you should feel comfortable carrying your BOB on a full day’s walk without any muscle strains or rubbed skin.

As you can see you can get an awful lot of kit in a relatively small space, but the real trick is not to over do it. The most important thing is to develop an extensive skill-set to make the most of whatever kit you have available to you. In many ways the need for a BOB reflects how far removed we have become from our natural environment – and to what degree our species has tipped life-sustaining ecologies out of balance. Building up the essential knowledge and skills necessary for basic survival makes you more independent, more confident and psychologically more prepared for everyday life. As Ray Mears famously observed:

“Bushcraft is what you carry in your mind and your muscles … Knowledge is the key to survival and the best thing about that is: it doesn’t weigh anything.

Of all the tools in the BOB the knife is perhaps the most versatile. Sadly widespread spates of teenage misuse – and the media attention which this brings – has created a lot of a stigma (not to mention a legal minefield…) with regard to knife carriers in the UK; which is a real shame when you consider that knives, in one form or another, have been used on our planet for 2.6 million years – ever since the development of the Oldowan stone tool.

A 5-8mm thick, full tang (where the steel of the blade extends along the full length of the handle) knife is much more durable, and a classic survival pattern (such as Ray Mear’s ultra-desirable Woodlore or Ray Jardine’s incredible value self-build Ray-Way) with an 8-10cm blade will allow you to perform tasks as varied as cutting branches, shaping tools, preparing traps, skinning and dressing game, de-scaling fish, cutting cloth for rope or tourniquets and shaving!

A back-up folding knife is also advisable. Multi-tools are, as their name suggests, very useful (I carry a Leatherman Wave as part of my Every Day Carry (EDC)); as are pocket knives like the classic Swiss Army Knife or the Opinel No. 8. Remember 95% of all whittling only requires a 1/2″ blade, so size really isn’t everything 😉

Whatever knife you carry there are three things to remember…


Which is why you should include a sharpening tool of some description in your kit. Whetstones are available from as little as £3, but if you make extensive use of bladed tools – from knives to spades – it’s worth investing as much as you can afford. John’s is a very nice Fallkniven DC4 Diamond Ceramic Whetstone. Some people who use a knife a lot wear a whetstone around their neck as a rather nifty pendant. It’s also worth trawling the internet for ‘sharpening tips’ and putting the various advice into practice as often as possible.

An Aide-Memoire is invaluable to anyone who is going to be ‘eating out’ – as it were. Even the most experienced foragers can make mistakes sometimes, and the last thing you want in a survival situation is an upset stomach – or worse! John’s is a laminated Wild Food School guide for a Northern Temperate climate; the Collins Gem pocket version of Richard Mabey’s classic, Food for Free, is another good – albeit less waterproof – choice. A bulkier option, but one that is easier for the novice, is the aptly named Easy Wild Food Guide.

In Spring and Summer there are plenty of plants which are delicious raw, but when it comes to the colder months – and for less tender plants and meat all year round – you’re gonna have to get cooking!

John’s cooking kit reflects just how inventive the BOB (and John) can be…

There are some great light-weight stoves and pots available. Backpacking Light has some very desirable equipment, like the genius little Honey Stove or their ultra-light titanium pots, but unless you’re going to give them the use they deserve it’s probably better to go for the cheaper, heavier option. Billy cans and wind-shields are available cheaply from ex-army stores, but John’s gone even better than that…

His cooking pot is a metal coffee tin which he purchased from Wilkos for 99p – I can only find a set-of-three online at the moment, but even that option’s less than a fiver! He added his own wire handle to the body and attached an old door knob from a chest of drawers to the lid and hey-presto, a lovely cooking pot.

The hobo-style wind-shield cooker is even more ingenious. It started life as a metal cutlery container. John made a square hole in the bottom (see photo) which can be used to add small pieces of fuel and the whole thing can be secured to the ground with two tent-pegs. The cooking pot fits snugly into the stove to save space in the BOB (you can also store other things in the pot itself). The hobo stove is ideal for cooking when it’s not safe to make a full fire. But regardless of whether you’re cooking on a stove or an open fire you’re going to need a flame to get you started…

Matches are the perfect fire-starter for short-term survival projects. They need to be stored somewhere dry (for further protection from damp it’s also a good idea to carefully dip the match heads in melted candle wax), John has made his match-safe from spent shotgun cartridges. The beauty of this is that the end cap can also be used as a match holder so that you can pull the match out without ruining it even if your hands are cold and wet…

If you don’t have access to shotgun cartridges you can use any suitably sized container; like old sweet tins (sealed around the edge with plumbers tape), small Tupperware style plastic containers, taped up plastic bags, or maybe old plastic medicine bottles…

As well as matches it’s always handy to carry a disposable butane lighter (the flint wheel can come in handy even when the gas has run out) and as well as a match-safe it’s good to carry a seperate safe for tinder and kindling. This can include any small, easily combustible materials such paper, dry pine needles or grass, char cloth, rope/string fibres, pieces of Amadou fungus and/or dry wood.

A fire-steel (a ferro rod and piece of steel which are struck together to create a shower of sparks) provides another great way to light your tinder, and it will last a lot longer than the matches or lighter.

Along with the match-safe and tinder-box a third safe should be used to carry other small essentials like a sewing kit, fish-hooks, bandages/plasters, wire-saw, nylon/fishing wire, candles, snare wire, safety pins, button compass, etc. There are hundreds of commercial survival tins available, but half the fun is finding useful stuff to make your own.

Over the course of 72 hours you could survive on boiled nettles (yum), but if you’re going to be doing a lot a physical labour (building a shelter. etc), or are just addicted to burgers, you might want to consider something more meaty.

The Barnett Black Widow catapult is a cheap and effective hunting tool for small game and fish. Ideally there should be two sets of bands, one for stones and another that has been adapted to shoot arrows.

You’ll probably want to wash your meal down with a nice drink… unfortunately there’s not always water available that is nice to drink…

The Millbank Bag is a simple and effective filtration system ably demonstrated in this video by Mike Dixon of Stoneage Bushcraft

A small pump purifier such as the Travel Well Trekker makes a great back-up device.

Once you have your purified water you’ll need something to carry it in…

John’s canteen is an old-faithful 95 pattern military water bottle. You’ll also need something to drink from…

… a folding cup will save space, but a classic metal crusader mug will do just as well.

Balls of cord and/or string are also incredibly useful – as are the elastic bands you can use to bind them. I also like to wear a paracord survival bracelet. They’re quite easy to make (we’ll be showing you how sometime in the future), but you can also buy ready made ones – be careful though, as with everything else there are inferior products. We quite like Clay’s Creations, they’re a little dearer than some you can find elsewhere on the internet, but they very well made from durable 550 paracord.

John’s BOB includes a folding saw, which could be seen as more of a luxury item, but if you’ve ever built a woodland shelter (another future post!) you’ll know just how much vital time and energy this little beauty can save you.

Last but not least John always carries a piece of antler or bone so he always has some raw material to hand. He uses the piece in the photograph as a bearing block. This item is a perfect reminder that the most important part of the BOB is knowledge. You can have a whole car-load of equipment, but a tool is only useful if you know how to use it. We really can’t emphasise this enough. When putting your own BOB together remember to play around with each tool you put into it. Practice with each item until using it becomes second nature. To quote Ray Mears once again:

“One of the great things about bushcraft is that skills you learn in your back garden can be used all over the world.”

Published by The PermaFuture Project

We combine Permaculture and survivalist ethics and strategies to plan for a sustainable and self-sufficient future - both for individuals and communities.

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