Published on the Doomstead Diner on February 21, 2016
Discuss this article at the Bugout Table inside the Diner
There are probably 1000's of articles circulating in the Prepper Blogosphere with Bugout Bag (BOB) recommendations. 99.9% of them focus on what you should have INSIDE the BOB, and probably 90% of those focus on Wilderness Survival, so the contents tend to include stuff like campsaws, hatchets, firestarting materials etc, etc, etc. Not to mention all the Gunz & Ammo it would be good to have along, if you are built like Arnold and can hump 200 lbs of gear around out in the bush on your back. How fucking realistic is this?
It is all well and good if you really figure on bugging out into the wilderness when TSHTF, but 99% of us are not going to be heading out into the bush when TEOTWAWKI arrives in your neighborhood, Yours Truly in particular. I'm just not suited for that shit anymore, cripples don't last too long in the bush. What most people will be doing is similar to what the Syrians are currently doing, which is migrating to GTFO of Dodge in the old neighborhood, and then try to find a new neighborhood that is not doing quite so bad where they can set up shop and hopefully find gainful employment of some type.
Now, if you have a vehicle and there is still gas available at the pump, you're not too limited here on the bugout bag cntents, a typical SUV can hold a dozen of them with all sorts of great preps enclosed. But of course, your typical Syrian doesn't have an SUV and even if he did he has to leave it behind for the trip to Sweden on the Refugee Highway. All he can take with him he has to be able to realistically carry at least some of the time, but mostly heave it in and out of buses, trains and planes on the way to the Promised Land.
A similar situation exits if Katrina is bearing down on your hometown of NOLA, Wildfires are about to consume your Idaho Doomstead, or a Tsunami just washed your LA Condo out to sea. lol.. If you have a car, you may be able to bugout in that with a dozen large bugout bags, but what if there is a traffic jam or no gas left on the route out of Dodge and you have to abandon the vehicle? You no longer can take the whole dozen bags with you, only what you can realistically carry, or Pull by Hand or by Bike if you have one of those available.
Thus the reason for this article, which is not to talk about what stuff your Bugout Bag should have in it, but just what should your Final Bugout Bag arrangement be, where you can carry the max amount of preps but still use the public transport systems of taxis, buses, trains and planes to get from TSHTF location to you are at to the not-yet-SHTF location you would like to get to?
I happen to be expert on this topic for a few reasons. First, early on in my life I spent several summers Interrailing around Europe, carrying everything with me I needed on the journey in a Backpack or wheeled luggage. A fairly standard camping backpack on the first trip, but I changed methodologies on later trips so I could carry more, but have less shit stacked on my back at the same time. Europe is NOT the Wilderness! A hikers backpack is far from ideal for this sort of travel. Train stations have smooth cement platforms, wheeled bags & carts work GREAT on them! WTF do you want to have 100 lbs on your back when you can drop it on a dolly and just pull it behind you?
Second reason I am an expert is from my years driving OTR as a Big Rig driver. In those years I reduced my personal possesions for carrying with me on the road to 5 bags/containers and a thermoelectric cooler. They were fairly large, but not so large I couldn't easily take them out of the truck and transfer to my car when I got off the road for a break. Of course in both cases I had a motorized vehicle with good cargo capacity, I didn't have to carry all the stuff around with me walking and yanking the shit around behind me.
Upon moving to Alaska, I reduced still further, so I could make the trip up here via plane and make my way through airports at least to the shuttle bus area to load my gear onto the bus. This got rid of the 2 pvc containers, substituting 2 large soft side wheeled suitcases. Also a wheeled duffel bag, a wheeled carryon bag and a medium size backpack considered a "personal item" for carryon purposes also. The 3 larger bags went into checked baggage, the 2 smaller ones came with me on the plane in the passenger compartment. In those days fortunately you did not have to pay by the bag for checked baggage, today it would cost me an extra $75 on every flight to bring so much baggage.
This represents pretty much the maximum amount of stuff you can haul around on public transportation of various types, but I can tell you from experience it is pretty unwieldy. You need to make 2 trains of your 4 wheeled bags, pulling one train with each hand with the backpack strapped to your back. This gives you a very wide walking profile and you have no hands free to open doors, so unless the door is automatic and very wide, you have to bring one train through the door while leaving the other outside, leave that train and go back out to get the other one, rinse and repeat every time you have to pass through a door. Its also quite heavy, which isn't too bad on level surfaces but anytime you go up or down an incline it becomes a problem. Going up it is hard to pull, going down…they have no BRAKES! lol.
For a 1 shot deal like the move to Alaska, all I had to do was negotiate 2 airports, I was dropped off and picked up in carz by friends on both ends so this was manageable. If you are going to be on the road for a significant amount of time, this is just way too much stuff to be hauling around.
On my trips Interrailing around Europe, I found 3 bags to be maximum, a backpack, a wheeled carryon bag and a wheeled duffel. On the train platforms to board and debark trains, I could carry the duffel and carryon one in each hand, heave them onto the train, board myself and pick them up, then find a seat and heave them onto the overhead rack. I didn't have to check any baggage this way, which is good to do if you can because you won't have lost luggage problems. If you are riding trains every other day or so for a couple of months, this is bound to happen to you eventually.
On planes nowadays as mentioned also you have the issue that checked bags cost money along with the possibility of being lost, but since you probably don't fly that often, for the additional carrying capacity a large suitcase or duffel gives you, it is reasonable to add one of these to your final bugout bag set. However, it should only contain relatively large and bulky items that it won't kill you to lose or have to leave behind at some point. All your most valuable stuff should be in the two bags that never leave your sight, your carryon wheely bag and your personal item sized backpack. We'll look at those first for charateristics, features and quality you want to look for in those bags.
Carryon Wheely Bag
The airlines have a maximum dimension set for this bag, so it fits properly in the overhead compartments on the larger jets. If you have such a bag with you on small regional jets, you're going to have to give it up on the jetway, but you can at least watch as they load it on the plane. The Max dimensions are 9"X14"X22", so you should buy one that uses up every last inch of that, plus maybe cheats a little with some external pockets that if full would make the bag exceed these dimensions.
For this reason I don't recommend the hard-sided carryon bags, but rather the soft side ones made from ballistic nylon. There are leather ones which are quite beautiful pieces of luggage, but they are outrageously expensive, they weigh a lot more and they are targets for thieves. You don't want to look like a rich tourist as you haul your life possesions around with you on public transportation!
Next important quality here is the wheels. Here you don't want to scrimp. Do NOT buy a wheely bag with cheap plastic wheels. Look for one that has high quality in-line skate wheels with caged ball bearing hubs. If you are going to be pulling the thing around on pavement and sidewalks besides the smooth floors of an airport, this is essential.
After the wheels, the next important aspect of quality are the exterior Carry Handles you will use when you need to pick the bag up and heave it onto overhead racks or on and off trains. The bag will probably be fairly heavy, jam packed with some tools as well as clothing,and cheap handles will either give way themselves after a while or they will rip the bag itself, essentially ruining the bag. You want good double stiched attachments with leather reinforcment at the attachment points. There should be 2 handles, one on the top and one on the side, depending on how you need to pick up the bag at any given time.
Another great feature a few of these bags have is the ability to convert it into a backpack. They have shoulder straps hiden inside a zippered compartment, and if for some reason you need to put it on your back these are great to have. A typical example is if you have to climb a few flights of stairs with the bag.
Finally, one of the "cheats" some of these bags have is an exterior compartment which will detach from the bag to become it's own daypack, which is great to have once you find a hostel or safe place to keep all your gear while you explore a town looking for work, etc. This allows you to skirt the limitation of only 2 carryon bags on an airplane. You can't load these exterior pockets up though when doing airline travel, because then the bag won't fit in the overhead compartment. Once off the plane though, it gives you great additional storage room.
Carryon Personal Item Back Pack
Like the main carryon bag the airlines allow, the "Personal Item" which includes things like briefcases, handbags and backpacks also has size limitations, and they are smaller than the main bag for carryon. Here the limitation is 9"X10"X17". However, I have never seen this enforced either going through security or boarding the plane, on several occassions while travelling I have seen people with two wheely bags of the maximum dimensions allowed for that. As long as the item will fit in the overhead compartment, I think they will almost always allow this unless the flight is super crowded and they are running out of room in the overhead bins. Your personal item is supposed to fit under the seat of the person ahead of you. So they are reserving the right to take one of your larger bags off and drop it in the baggage compartment of the plane if necessary.
It's worthwhile to stay inside the dimensions of what fits under the seat for yourself anyhow, especially on longer plane flights. I usually have a water bottle, a banana and orange and a sandwich in the pack for food on the flight, since the offerings these days of plane food aren't too good and they are expensive too. Getting this stuff out from the overhead bin while in flight is a pain in the ass. Similarly, my laptop is in this bag, and I want EZ access to that during the flight as well, especially since nowadays you can get wi-fi on the plane while in flight. Never know what will occur if I leave the Diner alone for a plane ride! Trolls wait for these moments to go on the offensive. lol.
In terms of what qualities you look for in the personal item/backpack, this is mostly a matter of personal preference. Some people like packs that have several different zuppered compartments to keep your stuff organized. Others prefer one large compartment so they can if necessary fit larger items in the pack, and organize smaller items using the "bag in a bag" method. I fit into the second category, and I like the bags that open at the top with a flap and drawstring rather than the zippered ones if I just had one of these, but I have several with different features. You can bring more than one of these with you, an empty one folds quite flat and you can store it at the bottom of your wheely bag without taking up too much room. It's always good to keep an extra bag or two folded inside another bag for use if you need it once off a plane.
Checked Large Bag/Trunk
The final bag is the large checked bag that will cost you $25 to haul on a plane these days. No extra charge on buses, boats or trains though, and since this more than doubles your carrying capacity, definitely worthwhile to bring along in all but the most dire circumstances where you will be foot travelling long distances.
You have several choices here, Duffel Bag, Soft-Side Large Suitcase, Hard-Side Large Suitcase, or Steamer Trunk.
Each of these bag types has it's own strengths and weaknesses, and you have to decide for yourself which one is the best for you, given what types of scenarios you see as most likely you will have to negotiate in a SHTF situation. Let's look at each one for it's strengths and weaknesses.
This is the lightest and the cheapest of the large volume BOBs you might choose. You can pick one up at an Army-Navy surplus store for $25. However, these are generally only good for clothing and they offer little protection for any items inside that might break with rough luggage handling. Besides clothing, you might fit in one of these a sleeping bag and pad, tarp, rope and paracord and other temporary shelter equipment that is bulky but relatively light, soft and pliable and won't be damaged if the bag is thrown around by the luggage monkeys.
Large Soft Side Suitcase
These also come in fairly cheap, though not as cheap as duffels. They offer a little more protection than a duffel for items that might be damaged, at least if you pack them well. They also generally come with their own wheels and extendable pullman arm. Some duffels also have this, but they aren't the real cheap ones from the surplus store. There is a wide range of choices and quality here, ON SALE at Walmart you can find decent ones for $50-70 or so, but more often they come in over $100. Like your carryon wheely bag, only buy one that has good in-line skate wheels, not the cheap plastic variety. Even more than the carryon since it is bigger and will likely weigh more, it needs quality wheels if they are going to hold up for any length of time, particularly over rougher surfaces.
Large Hard Side Suitcase
Offers much more protection for the stuff inside than either duffels or soft side suitcases, but these are a bit heavier and they cost more too. A good one will set you back at least $150, and that is with good shopping. Really good ones go for $500. They provide better protection from theft than soft side and duffels, you can't easily cut the bag open with a knife to get at what is inside. So in a Storm or Homeless Shelter situation, placed under your shelter bed it becomes a kind of "safe" while you are sleeping for your valuables. It has a large capacity, around 50 gal for some of them, so you can fit a lot in there. Full up, they are heavy though, and not easy to lift up, carry up stairs, etc.
Steamer Trunk/Foot Locker
By far, these give you the most carrying capacity, probably 50% more volume than even the largest hard side suitcase. They also come in much cheaper than the hard side suitcases, $50-100 will get you a pretty good one. The downside is of course the weight, unlike the hardside suitcase they aren't constructed from lightweight oil polymer materials, they are made from composite wood panels bolted together with some steel hardware. The trunk itself even empty weighs around 20 lbs, and once full up is too heavy and unwieldy for even a Jumbo Size individual like Arnold to handle solo, except yanking it around on wheels. In this case also, if it has built in wheels (like the one pictured above), because of the weight involved even high quality in-line skate wheels will be unhappy on anything but the smoothest surfaces. Better choice is to use a folding dolly with small bicycle wheels stored inside the trunk as a transporter.
Steamer Trunks have this name for a reason, they come from the era when rich folks travelled around on trains and steamships like the Titanic, weight and volume were not an issue and they had Negro Porters around who would haul their Steamer Trunks off and on the Ships and Trains as they steamed their way around the globe, the early version of the current crop of Pigmen who do the same thing faster in their Gulfstream V Private Jets. For the typical J6P making a bugout though, they are just a bit too big and a bit too heavy to make a reasonable BOB.
It is still worthwhile to have one though as long as you still have a vehicle with enough cargo room to load it to, a cargo van or pickup truck generally speaking. You can keep loaded in such a box a HUGE supply of preps, including quite a large supply of food, and as such is a worthwhile prep to have around (I do). Just don't count on being able to use it once the gas becomes unavailable or you have to travel somewhere your car just won't get to. You'll have to leave most of it behind, although you may be able to bring some along with a bag stored inside the trunk itself.
Now that we have a good idea of what your BOBs should be for the Final Bugout situation that is NOT a Wilderness Adventure with Bear Grylls,we need to decide just what are the preps you want to drop in these bags? You can't take EVERYTHING with you that you might like to have along, and contents may vary depending on what the bugout scenario actually IS. How far will you have to travel? What transportation systems might you be able to access along the way besides your own two feet? We do have parameters now in terms of total volume:
- a personal item with dimensions 9"X10"X17" for 1530 cubic inches
- a carryon wheely bag of dimensions 9"X14"X22" for 2872 cubic inches
- a large suitcase or duffel dimensions 28"X20"X12" for 5712 cubic inches
- Total Space: 10114 cubic inches
For maximum weight, this can vary by individual and depends on what you are trying to carry, but for most people a total weight of 200 lbs would be the most reasonable to yank around without assistance. Even that is quite a hig weight limit though,so we will keep our total load under that if possible. For myself in my current condition, 150 is probably the upper limit. In the next installment of the series, we'll look at content choices for each bag that work within these volume and weight limitations.