How Your Bug Out Bag Will Kill You: Hard Proof. – Readyman

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How Your Bug Out Bag Will Kill You: Hard Proof.

Posted on January 21 2019

We’re getting set to commit suicide by backpack. Thanks to a 2013 study, we now know that those who carry more weight—even when they stick to US Army backback standards—are setting themselves up to die strapped to their Bug Out Bags.

It doesn’t matter how tough you are. It doesn’t matter how mean you are. If your pack weighs more than 30 pounds or 20% of your body weight, whichever is LESS, soft tissue injuries and slow overland movement are probably going to end your bug out attempt with defeat.  

Tough Guy, meet Reality.

In a comprehensive study for the Ambry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Anthony T. Thomas surveyed hikers of the Appalachian Trail, a 2,100 mile trek that extends from Maine to Georgia. The annual challenge tests every backpack-weight and body-type imaginable, with over 1,300 hikers attempting the overland movement each year. The Appalachian Trail, or “AT,” presents the perfect laboratory to test the question “what size bug out bag leads to failure?”

Like all real-world studies, Thomas’ study presents complex findings, with lots of gray area between packing too light and packing too heavy, but several findings should pull preppers up short when considering Bug Out Bag weight.

Even among the ultra-fit backpackers who attempt the 2,100 mile trek, their maximum backpack weight for any real chance of success is 30 pounds or 20% of body weight, WHICHEVER IS LESS.

When backpackers attempt to go over that limit, they risk a 46% chance of injury to soft tissues. Even going up five pounds over the limit causes the injury rate to jump by 27%. “The mean differences between injured and non-injured reveal that the injured carried an average of 5 lbs. more than the uninjured.”

“Hikers with more experience tended to have less pack weight and hike more miles per day.” Expert hikers finished with an average pack weight of just 15 pounds and 10.76% of their body weight. In other words, the true experts hike ultra-light.

However, hikers who carried too little weight compared to their experience level also failed to complete the hike, since they didn’t have the actual experience to use ultra-light gear and their suffering ended their attempt. Like everything else in survival, actual experience opens up opportunities to survive. Backpacking ultra light leads to bugging out ultra light which leads to a much greater chance of making it.

How To Get Under Fifteen Pounds Pack Weight

At first, it seems impossible; getting your pack under fifteen pounds. But, with a change of perspective, you can easily do it. Begin by reading Light Up! A Complete Handbook for Light and Ultralight Backpacking. It’ll cause your head to spin, as you realize a few key points:

  1. "Base Pack Weight” means the weight of your back BEFORE water, food and fuel. The target Base Pack Weight is FIFTEEN POUNDS, which is totally do-able. But, you will also find yourself cutting consumables too, bringing your weight down even more.
  2. Aside from all your chunky survivalist widgets (such as romantic fire starters), the items that are weighing you down the most are your actual pack, your sleeping bag and your tent. There are far lighter options than what you’re currently using. (Pro tip: you don’t need gear that is military-tough. You need gear that’s light.)
  3. Much of the gear you’re currently getting ready to carry in your Bug Out Bag is for comfort, not for survival: sleeping pads, tents, stoves, water filters, flashlights, most of your first aid, water bottles, shovels, axes, saws, multitools, etc., etc.. When you think about it, most of this stuff is for comfort (or cool factor), not survival.

If your purpose is to reach your Bug Out Location (“BOL”), then comfort—or long-term bushcraft—might sound cool, but comforts and cool factor will erode your ability to cover miles—another finding of the Thomas study.


If you really intend to survive the trek to your BOL—like those who complete the Appalachian Trail—then you need to make unromantic sacrifices in terms of bug out gear. Here are some trade-offs you should consider:

Water Purification Tablets instead of a a Water Filter.

20 Aquatabs (.10 oz.) instead of a Water Filter (11 oz.)

Water tablets taste crappy, they do the job and they weigh one-one hundredth as much as a water filter.

Bug Out Med Kit instead of Backpacker First Aid Kit

ReadyMan Bug Out Med Kit (1 oz.) instead of Backpacker FAK (16 oz.)

Most first aid kit is for comfort (band aids, gloves, bite ointment, etc..) All you really need is blister care, pain relief tablets, a couple feet of duct tape, and maybe a couple squares of gauze. If you backpack enough, you’ll notice that’s all you ever really use.

Gatewood Cape instead of a Backpacking Tent

Gatewood Cape (10 oz.) instead of REI Passage One Tent (59 oz.)

The Six Moons Cape might be a bit rugged, but even if you bump up a notch in weight to another Six Moons light weight tent, you’ll still be miles ahead (literally) from a standard backpacking tent. Plus, the Six Moons Gatewood Cape doubles as your rain poncho, dropping another half a pound.

ZPacks Arc Blast Backpack instead of a Heavy Duty Backpack

ZPacks Blast (21 oz.) instead of REI Traverse 70 Backpack (78 oz.)

Regular backpacks come packed with features and gadgets, and those buckles, belts and zippers all come with added weight. LOTS of added weight. You don’t need those clips and pockets to make it to your BOL. You can forgo the convenience of six pockets.

Mountain House (minus foil bag) instead of MREs

Mountain House meal (1.5 oz.) instead of MRE (24 oz.)

If you ditch the foil pouch, and carry your Mountain House meal in a light baggy, your food will weight next-to-nothing. At this rate, you can carry six days worth of bug out food under a pound and a half.

One Pouch (Liter) of Water instead of Three Bottles of Water

Platypus 2L Pouch (1.3 oz.) plus 1L water (35.2 oz.) instead of 3 full Nalgene bottles (125 oz.)

If you know your route, and you have paid attention to where to find water, you can refill your water supply along the way, treat it with tablets, and carry MUCH less water weight. Most backpackers carry a lot more water than they need. Know your route and carry only the water you absolutely need for the next leg of your journey.


Without even discussing the weight we carry in knives, fire starters, fishing equipment and weapons, we’re already cutting critical pounds off your bug out bag just with your tent, backpack, first aid kit, food and water. It’s not that hard to shave off ounces, which quickly become pounds. Getting honest about comfort and cool factor, you’ll see that cutting 10% off comfort can cut fifteen pounds off your pack weight. It’s not that much less comfortable to sleep under a Gatewood Cape than a full backpacking tent. Every category of backpacking gear comes with these easy trade-offs: lose a little comfort, gain a ton of weight savings.

ReadyMan offers a FREE ultra-light bug out bag internet application that helps you drop pounds off your bug out bag without breaking your budget. Signup for free below.

Plan2BugOut
Remember: your bug out bag is only as good as your bug out location. If you’re planning on becoming a mountain man in the woods with your family, then the weight of your bug out bag is only the beginning of your troubles. But that’s a subject for another blog.

Start today by taking a tip from expert Appalachian Trail hikers—the guys who “bug out” by the hundreds every summer: cut your pack weight WAY down, practice with light gear on the trail and increase your odds of arriving at your BOL alive.

ReadyMen Closed Group

21 comments

  • Joseph D Dell: March 17, 2019

    Comparing a hiking trip to an actual bug out situation is not the same at all. I tell everyone that if they see me with my kitchen sink bag on then it’s really gone sideways and a stubbed toe and some blisters are your absolute least worries. Why a huge INCH bag? Well what it I can’t get to my primary fop? What if I can’t get to my secondary fop? A number of reasons for that. In my case my locations because of where I live are a good 3 days hump in good “hiking “ conditions, in a full on SHTF situation your not gonna be on some stroll through the woods or streets and you have to assume you may not have transportation of any kind.

    Why MRE? I carry 4 because once again when the crap hits the fan you might not be able to make fire to boil water for “hiking “ food. Again we’re not talking about a vacation hiking. Water filters needed as well as chemicals, chemicals are an absolute must in a population area unless you have a $400 MSR filter that removes viruses something 90% of backpacking or filter straws can not do.

    One comment said no one has ever bugged out, strapped on a pack and road out, BS it happens all the time, people saying F-it and dip out to the woods to become a nome.

  • Medic John: March 06, 2019

    There are definitely some truly valid points here. There is obviously a big difference between a bug out bag & a bag you intend to live out of for the unforeseeable future. If you have your route well planned & you have chosen a realistic BOL, then there is a lot you can do to pre-stage larger items at your BOL. Thinking that you’ll need everything + the kitchen sink does sound like a recipe for disaster. Where I conflict is with the contents of the med kit, or at least, that a blow-out kit needs to be included. If you are carrying a firearm, you should, at the very least, be carrying a tourniquet. A good blow out kit should include at least one tourniquet, a pair of chest seals, a hemostatic gauze (like Quik Clot), & a pressure bandage (like an Israeli Dressing). Good luck dealing with a GSW without those items.

  • Branden : February 15, 2019

    The point of the article is a good one. Every bo bag needs to be as light as possible but one place to never skimp on is water. You never ever want to have just enough water. Forget the tablets and get some kind of filtration system. I’d give up my tent altogether for a filtration system. I can build a makeshift shelter. I can’t build a water filter.

  • TX Griff: February 07, 2019

    The article suggests 20 water purification tablets at .10 oz in lieu of an 11 oz water straw.

    But those 20 tablets will only purify 20 quarts of water, as compared to the Sawyer mini that weighs in, not at 11 oz but at 5.6 oz, and will purify 100,000 GALLONS of water.

    So you’re walking to your BOL and it should only take two days, three at the max… your 20 tablets are just fine for the outlined objective. But, oooops, someone slips and wrenches their ankle and knee… they need a couple of days to rest before they can start walking on ‘em again. Rationing water, in a stressful & chaotic situation, while living in the outdoors? How’s that gonna end well?

    Or you’re on your trek and you come across three individuals who are, literally, dying of thirst… you’re not the kind that can leave them to die, but who in your group is gonna go without water in order to ensure these three folks don’t die? Who is going to risk THEIR OWN DEATH so three strangers don’t die?

    Or two of the kids in your party “forgot” to not drink the lake water they were playing in before bed last night, and now have incredible diarrhea… how to make sure they won’t die on the rest of the journey if the # of tablets is rationed down to the pint of what everyone needed barring accident, strangers or illness?

    I hear what the article’s author is saying, but ensuring all of me & mine have the water they need almost no matter how quickly or often the original plans get changed due to circumstances beyond our control Is. What. Preppers. Do.

    >>"Getting honest about comfort and cool factor, you’ll see that cutting 10% off comfort can cut fifteen pounds off your pack weight."<< Okay, did I miss some sort of magic math formula here? To garner fifteen pounds of pack weight from a 10% reduction in “comfort items,” wouldn’t that pack have needed to have weighed ONE HUNDRED FIFTY POUNDS?

    So yeah… whatever… read the article at your own risk, but remember it’s you and yours that’re gonna be out there, not the author.

  • WS: February 07, 2019

    The best way to cut pounds off your bugout bag is to trade knowledge for gear. Increase your survival/hunting/self defense skills and knowledge to the point that you can carry a Daniel Boone possibles bag, a backwoodsman knife and a firearm then stay out for years at a time. The long hunters, mountain men, voyageurs and Native Americans did it. You can too, if you train to do it.

  • Kathy: February 07, 2019

    I do agree with preparing our stuff for whatever reason for a period of times. After reading your article, I admitted that I have to search more about bug out bag. I would love to share for more info, http://www.pirt.org/best-bug-bag. I do think this is helpful and useful article and hope to hear for more information.

  • Doreen: February 01, 2019

    Everyone should have a bug out bag if not 2 if you need to leave for what ever reason for a short time or weeks you will be ready to grab and go your life and safety is up to you to be smart or unprepared your choice have water in your vehicle and your bags and water filter systems know where to find water always have shelter and ways to cook and have heat be smart good luck to those unprepared

  • Frank Vazquez: January 26, 2019

    I see several issues even tho’ it’s a good article on an important subject. If one was bugging out, it isn’t the same as going on a hike as there may be potential dangers or concerns you need to be ready to deal with.
    Also, there was no mention of individual needs over following a method or single path of logic. In this case the author says some things are not needed, but one should never say never or that nobody needs “blank” because those who follow the advice may end up without the things they actually should have on them.
    I personally would probably pack my own foods and not spend money on freeze dried stuff, but I would use ziplock bags to save weight. And I would carry a knife and a machete (Tropical climates) or a small axe or tomahawk (Defense, rescue, firewood, etc) if I thought I needed them.

  • Tom Turner: January 26, 2019

    cchgn: January 24, 2019

    ATTENTION: You are not going to BO. No one in American history had to strap a backpack on and hoof it anywhere.

    I’ve had to do it multiple times for different emergencies, so you’re wrong. If you continue to base truth and reality on youtube videos, good luck in life, skippy.

  • Tom Turner: January 26, 2019

    Andrea Mollgaard – the trouble with articles like this is that they don’t (and can’t) take into account the different regions in which people live. I live in the desert, and FOUR litres of water wouldn’t keep me hydrated for more than one day, tops. One liter of water is what tourists carry walking downtown and dozens every year drop to the pavement because of dehydration. It’s very sketchy advice! :) Way to think critically. That will keep you alive!

  • Charles Becker: January 25, 2019

    Good article, great advice. However, I personally carry a sport berkey. Great filtration and doubles as water holder/purifier/filter in one and is light. You need good moleskin, socks and BOOTS. Invest in the feet. Being prior military we have had packs will full ammo/rifles easily reach 90lbs+. Currently ammo will be your heaviest item. Strap on sidearms, good sling and ammo pouches on your molle vest save it from going in the pack. Freeze dried food is far superior to MREs weightwise and you will not be ‘shitbound’ literally. HOWEVER odds you ever will bug out are near to 0. Unless you really need to bug out, you jump in your car with your bag and drive away. This article is best for hikers.

  • Drew: January 25, 2019

    There is a typo in the name. It’s Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Not Ambry-Riddle.

  • Andrea Mollgaard: January 25, 2019

    It looks like the article is advissing both to save weight by carrying dehydrated food instead of ready to eat food, and also to save weight by carrying barely enough water to drink to avoid dehydration instead of carrying enough water for additiinal uses, such as food perparation. Seems to be sketchy advice.

  • Noell Bishop: January 25, 2019

    Good article. Most people carry way to much stuff. If you have to bug out or get home from your vehicle, you need to go light. Get rid of the big and multiple knives and axes. They look cool but weigh you down. They are used to create things that you already have in your BOB like food, shelter and fire. Take care of your feet with moleskin, foot powder and extra socks. Avoid foot problems at all cost. I’ve done the bug out thing in the military, you don’t need a lot of stuff. Use your brain. Good luck!

  • David Bly: January 25, 2019

    For those of you who think that you will never need a bag. I’m a trucker and I have bags for the wife and I in the truck. My new normal route is Kansas City to Phoenix to L.A. to Denver and back to Kansas City.

    Now most of you might not travel like we do. If you travel at all, what happens during the “emergency”? You might not think you’ll need a bag. Probably get away with it too.

    Just for example, the temperature differentials in the areas of our travel cause me to think layers. Granted, I spent high dollar on both military and civilian clothes. I opted for a tarp instead of a tent. A sleeping bag w/ liner and a wool blanket. Each pack has a water bladder w/ filters. There are other odds and sods in them.

    Point is, I studied my route. I planned for it. I memorized water locations. Between my memory and my map book and my phone, I can gets us home. Will you be able to say the same if you travel?

  • Ghst: January 25, 2019

    Re BO- No mention as a Team. Tents do keep out mosquitoes etc ( carry pathogens) re weight.
    Snare wire/ string is a great asset. Personal experience should it be helpful to any

  • cchgn: January 24, 2019

    ATTENTION: You are not going to BO. No one in American history had to strap a backpack on and hoof it anywhere. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sqNUi-OpPq4&t=435s

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6T4-ICjYojQ

  • Darryl: January 24, 2019

    Good article. I didn’t realize my bag was too heavy until I actually began testing it. I didn’t have to walk very far to realize I needed to make some changes. Thanks to some tips I picked up from the P2BO software, I’ve been able to make some adjustments that saved me pounds, not ounces. Also, TEST everything you put into your pack. Know how to use your gear before you really need it.

  • Steve: January 24, 2019

    I don’t have a solid bug out location yet, I know of areas I can “squat” and possible structures which are mainly vacation homes here in the desert snowbirds use in the winter. Until I have a dedicated BOL I have 3 plans. 1. Load my vehicle with pre-staged supplies and head to a “safer” local. 2. Load reduced pre-staged supplies into wagons and walk. 3. Leave on foot with our daypack kits and become refugees. Here in the Mohave desert during Summer to walk any distance without copious amounts of water is untenable, water=weight, more than I can carry.

  • Jeff Ross: January 24, 2019

    Interesting article. I’ve often thought about weight but also the individual needs of companions and the challenges of my terrain.

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