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Bug Out Bag: the Frustrating Truth

Posted on November 21 2018

ReadyMan ran SIX bug out bag tests with a Navy SEAL and two Green Berets over the last five years and we reached ONE startling conclusion. We baked all that learning into the Plan2BugOut--a bug out bag builder engine that you can have FREE online. Here's what we learned:

 It turned out to be the best ReadyMan videos we never made. We shot three-quarters of the video but our Green Berets wussied out. That’s right: Evan and Jeff. They went full sissy. Chad Wade and I— we did the deal.

We endured a sixty-five mile bug out from the middle of Salt Lake City, in the dead of night in the middle of frozen winter, bugging out to our group farm outside of the rural town of Tooele, Utah.

A week before, all four of us came together in the ReadyMan Team and we busted out our personal BugOut bags and tore them apart for the cameras. Chad Wade, Navy SEAL. Jeff and Evan, Green Berets, and yours truly, a lowly preparedness geek.

That afternoon transformed my idea of backpacking and bugging out forever.

By far the youngest, Chad decided to take a huge pack, a heavy rifle and he SKATEBOARDED 65 miles through the night. He barely arrived at the farm after hellacious prices paid by his body and several gnarly crashes. I’ll post one of the crashes I caught on video below.

He kinda deserved it for being a crazy-ass SEAL.

I’m a cyclist, so I set up a distance cycling rig with a trailer and rode through the night using night vision. I ended up being forced to cross a bunch of private land with active security, with all my lights blacked out because of problems with GoogleMaps. It delayed me several hours. I had to cross a swamp with my bike and trailer, then ride into traffic on the interstate to get back on course. (That’s the kind of stuff you learn when you actually DO your bug out.) It was an epic butt-whooping, and I learned tons.

We’re still waiting, four years later, for Jeff and Evan to do their 65 mile bug out. Evan claims he’s busy running a massive coffee company. Whatever.

Even though they bailed on us, Jeff and Evan broke our brains with their bug out bags, and here is what we learned from them, wussies or not. 

 

Jeff Kirkham’s Concept:

Jeff had just returned from nine years, BOOTS ON THE GROUND, in Afghanistan and he had been running endurance trail runs for years in the States. 

 

 

 

 

“Why wouldn’t I jog to my bug out location? I’m just trying to get there before anyone takes my stuff, right? I won’t be jogging 65 miles, but I can run/walk it.”

He made a really good point. Then he broke out his bug bag—basically a Camelback running bag with minimal first aid, gel snacks, iodine tablets, running shoes, a compact Glock and not a whole lot else. The entire kit weighed maybe ten pounds. “I don’t plan on sleeping. I want to get there pronto. Sixty-five miles, fast-walking and running would be only a little more than an endurance trail run or an Ironman triathlon.” 

If you knew Jeff, you’d know that he wasn’t just talking smack. As long as his feet held up, and he knew from long experience how to protect his feet, Jeff would show up at his bug out location, exhausted, some time the next morning. If he were competing with a guy in a sixty pound pack, he’d beat him there by days.

Evan Hafer’s Concept:

Evan wanted to take his dog, Karl (named after the recoilless rifle) and Evan planned on sleeping outdoors. But Evan’s kit didn’t weigh much more than Jeff’s, coming in at a little over 25 pounds without water and weapons. 

“It’s an ultralight pack with ultralight gear. It’s what I already use to backpack into deepest, darkest Idaho for fly fishing. I’ve got enough in here for three or four nights in the bush.” 

I made him prove it. He and I backpacked into the snowy mountains elk hunting. He slept perfectly well under his light rain fly, wrapped in a light tarp, and he kicked butt on the hike because his pack weighed nothing. Evan’s rifle weighed almost as much as his bug out bag, because he carried a huge LaRue AR-10 for the elk hunt. 

Our conclusion: ultra-light bug out bags are the only thing that makes any sense if you’re forced to bug out on foot. Still, we preppers love our heavy duty gear and we keep making bug out bags that we would never be able to pack further than a few miles.

  • Back in the team room, we brought in five pre-made bug out bags, four of them sold online. They all weighed in over 50 pounds. 
  • On one of the Facebook preparedness groups I frequent, a guy displayed his 75 pound bug out bag this last week and asked for commentary.
  • In ReadyMan Challenge One, Mike showed up with a bag weighing in around 53 pounds (plus rifle) and I watched him unmake himself over the course of two days, and we only hiked about ten miles in those two days. And Mike is exceptionally fit. His heavy pack destroyed him and utterly compromised his combat effectiveness and his ability to cover ground.

We love to believe that more gear makes us more survival-hardened. Unfortunately, every bug out test we’ve run proves the exact opposite: more gear results in bug out failure. 

The Plan2BugOut engine (that ReadyMan offers at no charge) splits the difference between heavy duty gear and ultra-light by dividing the bug out bag into three, nested units:


  1. Your Vehicle bug out bag. This has everything most guys will put in their backpack such as an axe, saw, radios, MREs, etc.. The computer engine designs this kit around your budget, climate, etc..
  2. A Secondary Vehicle bug out bag. This might be a bicycle, OHV, snow machine or even a Radio Flyer Wagon. This kit is pared down significantly from the car/truck kit but isn’t entirely ultra-light.
  3. Your Backpack. Based a bit on your budget, this pack shouldn’t come in over 20 pounds, even with water and weapons. It should be in the back of your car or on your back (on a bicycle) so it must be very, very light.

In our tests, EVERY TIME, our test subjects are flabbergasted at just how easy it is to survive out of a 15 pound pack, many days in a row, hiking long distances. In a recent test of the ultralight kit, a college buddy and I hiked over 40 miles in two and a half days, fishing and foraging without ever taking our ultralight packs off our backs (BTW, we’re both 49 years old.)

Once we get past our love of robust, camp-colored gear, there awaits a new love affair: ultra-light kit allows an old guy to trek like a young man. Isn’t that what prepping is all about? Using the wisdom of age to outwit youth and mindless vitality?

If you’re down with that scheme, sign onto the Plan2BugOut and see how we get it done in 15 pounds or less!

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3 comments

  • CW: November 27, 2018

    4 mountain houses, Power Bars, gallons of water, a bottle of KJ Cab, a 1911 w 4 Wilson combats, lighters, knives, life straw and platypus, head lamp/batteries, 4 boxes of hot hands, Marmot 1P tent, Jetboil, 7 Layers of Clothing, sleeping bag, ground pad, entrenching tool, hatchet, gps, road atlas, compas, Med kit, set of Titleist Ap2s and a JK Wrangler. She ain’t killed me yet.

  • KJQ: November 23, 2018

    Your article is great at highlighting that most people pack bags that are way too heavy (i.e. too much stuff). Now maybe I’m nit picking, but what it didn’t do is explain the differences between Get Home (GHB), Bug Out (BOB), and I’m Never Coming Home (INCH) bags – either for purpose or contents (but the point of too much is valid for all 3 types).

    Here’s the thing. The determinants of how much to bring are very similar regardless of the type of bag:

    Where are you going (i.e. How far do you have to go and over what terrain), how are you getting there (driving, cycling, walking), what is waiting for you when you get there, when are you going there (weather), and how many people are you traveling with (i.e. what are they carrying).

    One needs to pack the minimum amount of gear to ensure survival until the destination is reached for each essential area (shelter, food, water etc.). The key is not to bring any “nice to have” items unless it’s an INCH bag and you have some form of transportation. Fitness levels, skill levels etc. all play a role in deciding what to pack. Just not sure if these points would be clear to other readers.

  • Fredy: November 23, 2018

    So what’s in your ultra lite pack? I’m too old and sore to carry any more , and as such I’m always trying to optimize my small pack.

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