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Build a Wilderness Survival Bugout Bag

“Every mile is two in winter.”

George Herbert

Escaping the unknown and overwhelming is the basic idea behind bugging out. It’s not as far fetched an idea as many might think.

This same concept is applied several times each year in the coastal regions of our nation. When a category 4 hurricane is bearing down on Florida we use the word evacuation.

There are some distinct differences between evacuation and a bugout but for the most part, you are leaving your best shelter option for something less desirable but further away from the threat.

Rarely do people evacuate to the wilderness but a wilderness survival bugout bag is a big part of most prepper’s plans

Build a Wilderness Survival Bugout Bag

Disclaimer: Bug in First

Alluring and adventurous as it might sound the bugout should always be your alternate plan. You have already established your primary emergency shelter.

There is a good chance you are sitting in that shelter and reading this article. Yes. Your home is likely the largest investment in shelter that you have ever made.

Most modern homes will provide you with insulated shelter from the elements, come hell and moderately high water.

Prepare to bug in first. It will always be your best bet. You can store more food there, you know the people around you, (hopefully) and you are familiar with the area.

10 C’s Survival Gear Concept

Building a survival bugout bag is not something you have to contemplate on your own. Many people have done this before and created highly effective bags and checklists to replicate.

My first bugout bag was a laughing stock. It was a collection of the few things I had purchased in my short time prepping. It was filled with things I would never need and others I didn’t even know how to use.

Don’t be me!

Dave Canterbury is one of the most important bushcrafters in modern times and has a passion and a process for wilderness survival that is very rare. His passion comes from a deep appreciation for the pioneers.

Not sure if you know this but he started out doing reenactments from the time period.

Since then he has solidified a basis of gear for wilderness survival that has been dubbed the 10 C’s of Survivability. These are such great items that we are going to start our wilderness survival bugout bag with the 10 C’s.

Right away you might think of a survival knife, you wouldn’t be wrong. However, a tool for cutting could also be a machete, ax, or something like a froe.

A froe is a long blade with a handle on it that goes up and down rather than one that runs parallel to the blade.

If I am looking to manipulate the forest than I want a few different cutting tools.

Each of these cutting tools can be used to handle a particular task.

I think of shelter building when it comes to wilderness bugout, and with these tools, I am confident that we could create a decent shelter or two from the forest around us.

Your wilderness survival bugout bag does not have to include all of these. They do add weight. You need to have at least one reliable cutting tool.

Fire is an essential element for any outdoorsman or prepper to control.

There was a time when I thought I knew how to make fire. I could get fires burning after some struggling but it wasn’t until I had made hundreds of fires that I really started to understand it.

When it comes to packing a combustion device, be sure you have options. Ferro rods and flint and steel are very fun ways to make fire. They can boost your survival ego.

I don’t have a single bag that doesn’t have a lighter in it. This is easy fire that should not be taken for granted. Ferro is good but make sure you have a combustion device that makes a quick easy fire in any circumstance.


The greatest threat that you will face in a wilderness bugout will be the elements. Before you run into a ravenous bear or a pack of drooling wolves, you will face the cold and the heat.

I shiver outside at 50 degrees. That’s just a personal admission so that you can understand how quickly you get cold and at what temperatures. If you are wet from a downpour, at those temperatures, hypothermia can set in fast.

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Having some form of tarp or tent that you can use as cover can protect you from moisture and maybe even wind. Packing an expensive tarp into your bag is not that effective.

Learning how to make shelters with that tarp will go a long way during the bugout.


Water is weight.

When it comes to bugging out you do not want to have gallons of water to carry. You will need access to a gallon of water per person per day to drink. That creates an issue, right?

Boiling water is the best way to kill bacteria in water from lakes, streams, and rivers.

A metal container gives you the ability to boil that water over a fire.

I still have visions of Carter, my oldest son, clinging to a warm steel cup of Earl Gray tea on a cold hike. He doesn’t even like tea! However, the warm drink was perfect on a snowy hike in the mountains.

Warm drinks are another benefit of having a metal container.


You might like paracord or you might like bank line. No matter what camp you are in, its a good idea to store some cordage in your bag.

Most of the time you see cordage being used to make shelter but I have used cordage to do everything from repairs to hanging my food at night, to makeshift tool making.

Creating hanks, or smaller amounts of cordage wrapped up can be a great way to store quick access cordage. These can be in 30′ lengths, 10′ lengths or whatever you like.

Cotton Bandana

At PrepperCon 2018 I met the guys from 3Vgear. They gave me a bunch of free gear for repping them. I still use some 3vgear to this day. What I have loved more than their bags was the fact that they sent me away with a few shemaghs.

These things are the best! Not just for the bugout bag but for life in general. As scarves and headcovers the shemagh is a one tool option for all sorts of tasks. You can even filter water with them.

A shemagh is both part of my EDC and part of my bugout bag. As a German, Irish English mutt, I burn in that midday sun. The shemagh makes a world of difference in protecting my neck and face.

Cargo Tape

Some type of tape is a must-have for repairing that cover you brought with you. Modern tarps and tents are durable but prolonged use will tear them. Remember, this is going to be your “home” during a wilderness bugout.

Whether you decide on Gorilla tape, cargo tape or good ol’ duct tape, it will be worth its weight.

Some people wrap their water bottles with tape, others wrap their lighters.


Navigation is a skill. I have some pretty good natural navigation instincts but I am not in the mountains every weekend navigating by map. I have a nice compass but it’s only as effective as the handler.

Basic map reading and navigation requires a compass. Your wilderness survival bugout bag will require a compass.

Cloth Sail Needle

Life in the wilderness is not easy. I am always surprised at how many people are so eager to leave their homes and run to the mountains to bugout.

You will have repairs to make. The elements will take a toll on your tents and tarps. The cloth sail needle will give you the size and strength you need to repair things like tents and canvas. Obviously, this is designed for repairing sails but the needle has many uses.

Think of getting out thorns and splinters, uses as an awl and even to suture in a worst-case scenario.

Candling Device

From the high-quality Olight H2R LED headlamp to a literal candle, you can carry all sorts of devices to provide you with light in the dark.

Many of the top survivalists don’t subscribe to the idea of light at all! They say you should use your night eyes to see in the dark. Our eyes can adapt to the dark but we will never have the eyes of a nocturnal creature.

Personally, I want light options in my bag. I like lanterns, flashlights and headlamps. When building a wilderness survival bug out bag you should include at least one of these.

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Other Essentials


Glen Martin, the original owner of the Prepper Broadcasting Network, published a book a few years ago called Prepper’s Survival Navigation. Because of its topic and its perfect size, it changed the way I felt about books in the bugout bag.

The right sized books with the right information can add layers of skill to your bugout.

I don’t know about you but I can only remember so much. Having a few good books in that wilderness survival bugout bag is incredibly important.

Another great book to carry is Bushcraft First Aid by Dave Canterbury and Jason A. Hunt, PhD.


Wool didn’t make any sense to this cotton wrapped kid of the 90’s. I was more worried about the logo on my shirt as opposed to the material that made it up.

When I got my first pair of wool socks I put them through hell and they were unaffected. These socks stood between me and my hiking boots for 4 days straight and were dry as a bone. I didn’t even have any hot spots on my feet!

Wool socks, blankets, sleeping bags, shirts or whatever else, deserves a place in your wilderness survival bugout bag. The insulative and waterproof properties are as close to survival magic as you can get in real life.

Metal Traps

Trapping can be ugly. Who would want their life to end in the clutches of a cold steel trap?

The problem is that steel traps work! They work all the time and they work while you are away doing other things. Its the most effective means of passive food gathering.

Conibear traps are heavy but effective. The DF-4 deadfall trap by Self Reliance Outfitters is a lightweight trapping option.

If you are squeamish about trapping animals, employ killing traps. Your meal will be lifeless and waiting for you upon arrival…in most cases.

Mess Kit

Wrapping some bannock dough around sticks and cooking it over the fire is a fun way to eat during a weekend camping trip.

If that becomes your nightly meal prep, it could get old in a hurry. If you are truly planning on bugging out to the woods, you should have a cooking plan.

It only takes a few pans and some reliable utensils to make up a good mess kit. Your container can double as a pot for boiling water. You might also consider some cast iron cook wear as part of your bugout setup.

Long Term Planning

Your wilderness bugout is not a weekend camping trip. It could become your new way of life. This should change the way you look at things like food, shelter, and water.

Food and water go from being short term fixes to long term processes. Trapping food, collecting and sanitizing water will have to be parts of your life that require attention almost every day.

Your tent is not a long term shelter. You will need the cutting tools we described above to fashion a shelter from strong hardwood.

There is one word that I would like you to mull over when you consider your wilderness bugout plan.


You might start small with a simple lean-to but over time it will require expansion to have success. That might mean clearing trees for land expansion, family expansion, expansion into new skills or areas of need, and it might even include expanding into another group of people.

Consider the long term and consider expansion when you are building your wilderness survival bugout bag.


The creation of bugout bags is a cornerstone of preparedness. We are often mocked about our bags full of stuff at the back door. However, there is a lot of utility in having a bag full of effective gear that you know how to use.

I take a modular approach to bag building and that is by removing and adding things to a certain bag I transform it, quickly, based on the needed use.

You could wind up with too much redundancy if you have 4 people in your home and each person has 3 different types of bags!

Never forget, you can only carry so much.

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