You won’t find the ultimate Bug Out Bag Gear list that works worldwide below; that’s impossible. But you will find an excellent, field tested list of equipment that will give you a starting point for a long term scenario (depending on your area and time frame). This list is inspired by the equipment my partner and I took on our six months in the boreal forest and the lessons we gained from it. You should check my article about the importance of having simple dependable equipment and my article about how food deprivation should influence your equipment choices.
Many survival enthusiasts will tell you they have a friend of a friend that can go into the forest with just a knife and live there indefinitely. That is a complete fantasy; it is a delusion. Ishi the last Yahi, had his tools stolen by prospectors and managed to live 3 years solo before being found starving trying to get food near a village.
He was the ultimate primitive survival expert (having lived his entire life as a hunter gatherer) in his bio region and couldn’t manage to live solo without his bow and other tools. You might be able to live months and even years but ultimately living solo and without many tools is unsustainable. I’m not saying you need all the gear I list below to survive either, but it would definitely help to have most of the equipment in the list.
Ideally your equipment should meet the following needs: transport, load carrying, navigation, shelter, clothing, fire, food, cooking, hunting, trapping, fishing, wild edibles, water, first aid, tools and winter.
Bug Out Bag list and Long Term Wilderness Survival Gear:
Moving a lot of equipment and supplies is unfeasible by backpack. A durable expedition canoe or a pack raft might be one of the best methods to carry a lot of equipment in a viable way. Having a canoe would greatly increase your range. For overland travel a pack animal would help a ton. If you are moving by land and have no alternatives but to use a backpack then it should weigh around 25% of your own weight, otherwise it will suck the life out of you. Dragging a sled in the snow might be another way.
The option of using a cart (The adventurer Sarah Marquis used one to travel throughout Asia) might be available depending on your location If you take considerable rations with you then forget about your backpack. Unless you cache rations before hand the only way of taking rations is by pack animal, cart, canoe, raft, or kayak.
Your backpack should be simple and made of at least 500 denier Cordura nylon for durability. I would recommend something like this. The backpack should be the last item to be bought to determine the size needed; nevertheless try to keep the amount of gear to 25% your bodyweight.
A lensatic compass that is air filled (to prevent bubbles) and is water and impact resistant.
- Button Compass
Have one or two button compass as back ups for your main one. They should be air filled, and water resistant (I use sealant to make them waterproof).
- Watch (optional)
Having a watch can be a quick navigation aid by telling you how long you have been travelling. In addition, a solar powered watch like my Pro Trek watch can measure altitude, temperature, air pressure, limited illumination, and has a digital compass. The wristband should not be made of resin because they break easily.
You should have topographic maps of the area. They should be waterproof (plastic is much more durable). The map could help you find other areas with food, like a river or a lake.
- Tent (optional, highly recommended)
A 3 season tent would work as a temporary shelter while you build a long term shelter. Lighter fabrics will compromise its strength so keep that in mind. It should be lightweight and bug proof. Another alternative is a tarptent. It might seem like a luxury, but you must figure out a way to deal with mosquitoes. I use a Big Agnes tent that is not super durable but it is light.
- Sleeping Bag
I would bring a hybrid or synthetic sleeping bag rated to the coldest temperature I would experience according to historical temperature records. It should be a hybrid or synthetic sleeping bag because after long term use they loose their insulation power due to dampness from your body or the environment. It shouldn’t have a goretex outer layer because it traps moisture.
The sleeping bag is important because the body uses calories to keep itself warm, and long term survival is all about calories. When your body is starving you loose fat, and fat keeps you warm. During the 6 months I spent I was very cold because I lost about 30 pounds at my lowest point. The Mountain Hardware Lamina sleeping bag would be good for -15 degrees F.
- Sleeping Pad (optional)
Having a durable, full length sleeping pad could be worth the extra bulk and weight. A closed cell foam pad would be the most durable, but it does lose some its thickness over time. I used a Therm-a-Rest Z lite during my 99 days Pacific Crest Trail hike, and I think it is one of the best options in the market.
- Tarp (optional)
A tarp is great for making your long term shelter waterproof easily. You might have to compromise between durability and weight. Sil-nylon tarps are ultralight, but they are weak and burn easily.
- Waterproof jacket
It should be made of 3 layered Gore-tex Pro fabric for durability. A hood and ventilation zippers are an asset. The Arc’Teryx Beta AR jacket would be a good choice (40D-80D fabric).
- Waterproof pants
Should be reinforced and made of 3 layered Gore-tex Pro fabric for durability. They should have ventilation zippers. The Burton pants (70D) would be a good choice.
- Warm wool or fleece jacket
Wool and fleece are more resistant to sparks from a fire and they retain their insulation better than down if moist, or if you are sleeping with it. The TACVASEN fleece jacket has a hood and thumb holes.
- Extra wool or fleece jacket
Having another wool or fleece jacket will provide you with options to layer up and increase or decrease your insulation.
- Base layers top and bottom
They will wick away moisture from your skin. The base layers should be made of wool or a synthetic material like the 100% polyester underwear. Many other base layers are cotton, stay away from them.
- Durable underwear
Your underwear should be made of wool or a synthetic material. ExOfficio underwear is quick dry and breathable.
- Everyday socks and warm socks
Durability is of utmost importance. They should be made of wool or a synthetic material. Wigwam socks are durable.
Many people are opinionated about footwear; use what works for you. I would recommend durable, low cut, hiking shoes like my Salomon XA Pro (although their durability will be lower than a boot). Unless you will be in the forest for years, they should last. A street boot would be the most durable but might be impractical in many bio regions. Another option for warmer climate and summers is Keens H2.
- 2 Bandanas
Buff type bandanas are very versatile, and help you keep warm. I use them a lot.
- Convertible pants
Convertible pants function as shorts and pants so you can use them throughout the year. They should be reinforced near the shoes, at your bottom, and knees. The fabric should be mainly synthetic and strong. I use prana zion pants every day, and I love them. They are very comfortable and durable; I need to reinforce the knees and back though.
- Long sleeve shirt
You should be able to wear it with the sleeves rolled up, and you should be able to unbutton it to regulate your temperature. The Long sleeve shirt should be loose fitting, for it is an important protection from bugs.
- Bug head net
The head net should be compact and small, they can be used in conjunction with a hat to be effective.
- Hat durable
A hat to protect you from the sun will be super useful. A cap or a hat should do the job. Synthetic fabric is best. I like my Outdoor Research hat because it is very breathable.
- Durable light gloves
The gloves should have the palm part made of leather. Mechanix gloves are popular among construction workers, mine seem very durable.
A belt will help you keep your pants on even if you loose a lot of weight. You might be able to wear a knife sheath or other tool with it.
- Magnifying lens
A glass magnifying lens should be used to make fire whenever possible. Fresnel lenses (credit card size) can be used too, but they are less durable. There is no other fire starting tool that can be used indefinitely if properly cared for. Even fire pistons need to have parts replaced. The simplicity of a lens can’t be matched.
- Ferrocium rod
Ferro rods are super reliable, they should last many fires. Bring a 1/2″ thick Ferro Rod.
You should bring many Bic type lighters only to be used scarcely and when you really need a quick fire.
- Rations (optional but highly recommended)
If you will have rations cached before hand or bring them with you make sure you take into account macro nutrient ratios (fat, carbs, protein), and minerals. Calculate how many calories your body needs and aim to bring at considerable amount of daily calories you. Otherwise don’t bother. Bring non perishables with high density of calories. Having spices like pepper, cayenne or cinnamon would help a lot. When my partner and I spent 6 months in the wilderness we brought whole milk powder, oil, brown rice, salt, flour, baking powder, yeast, and honey. Our ration gave each of us 1250 calories per day.
The minimum cooking gear would be 1 liter titanium pot that is wide and shallow. It should have a handle and lid. If shallow, it can also be used to fry in it (believe me, you will crave fried stuff like crazy).
- Spoon (Optional)
A plastic flexible spoon will not scratch your pot and shouldn’t brake easily. Stay away from sporks; I don’t know how many I’ve broken.
- Fork (Optional)
A plastic fork is also nice to have, but obviously not necessary. It should be flexible and durable.
A bow is nice to have in order to hunt small game and big game. It should be a traditional bow like a recurve and should be as minimalist as possible. Avoid sights and other contraptions that might brake. It should be light but durable. I like my recurve take down bow because its light and portable. I would like to try the spectre survival bow because it looks super compact, but I’m unsure about its durability
Your string won’t last very long so bring many spares.
If your bow needs a stringer you must bring one. I broke the upper limb of my bow because I didn’t bring one; live and learn. You might want to bring wax too
- Arm guard
A light minimalist arm guard would allow to practice often without injury.
- Finger glove
A glove or tab is highly recommended. I like my finger glove because it is simple and I can still use my hand to do other stuff.
Bring at least 6 carbon arrows. If you are using a traditional bow and shooting off the arrow shelf you need to have feathered arrows.
A compact hunting quiver that allows you to have your small and big game arrow points on your arrows is a great asset. My hunting quiver holds 6 arrows but it is heavy. A bowquiver might be better.
- Arrow points
- Metal traps (optional)
Depending on your method of transportation you might bring metal traps. Unlike snares, traps can be used indefinitely. They save time and are very effective. Depending on your local game you might want to bring leghold traps and/or conibear traps of various sizes. Remember that you will not be trapping for fur so keeping the pelt intact is not a priority; the priority is to trap as many animals as you need to survive.
- Fishing Rod (optional)
A fishing rod won’t last long. You will loose line and hooks. The rod might brake. Nevertheless, a fishing rod is a great way to catch fish while on the move and it is the best way of “hunting fish”. You will need to catch worms, leeches, grasshoppers, frogs, and minnows for bait. Bringing line to make a retrieving net in the field might be a good idea. You might want to try an ultralight collapsible rod for portability. An Emmrod pole is another good option.
- Gill net
Depending were you are going you should bring a net to catch fish. A gill net would be specially useful in streams.
- Fishing line
I would bring a lot of braided 50 lbs strength line. It has many many uses and is strong.
- Trotline kits
12 (hooks, leaders, lines, sinkers, bobbers)
- Treble or Circle hooks
Bring at least 60 strong barbed hooks. Be prepared to loose them eventually. They should be strong.
- Water container (optional)
Depending on your area a water container might not be necessary. You could bring a wide mouth metal bottle that can hold at least 750 ml. Plastic bottles might freeze and break in winter and can’t be used to boil water in them. The lid should be completely metal so you can boil water faster
- Aquatabs (optional)
If the water you will be drinking on your way to the wilderness will come from surface water near rural areas it might be a good idea to bring water treating tablets. They are a portable and easy way of treating your water.
- Duct tape
Duct tape is super versatile and might be used to treat injuries from taping improvised bandage on to making a sling.
- Israeli compression bandage
This bandage is an emergency bandage used to stop bleeding quickly.
- Super glue
Good for small cuts.
- Sewing kit
A surgical sewing kit for stitching your own wounds could be needed. We brought a skin stapler for our adventure.
You will need a prescription so ask your doctor for advice on which ones to take.
- Shovel (optional)
A sturdy shovel can help you collect wild edibles, build a shelter, and make primitive traps. It should be lightweight.
The knife will be used for carving, filleting, cooking, skinning knife. It should fixed blade, have a comfortable grip and be full tang. My stainless Morakniv knife is good for all those things.
I would bring a hatchet. A small axe would be very helpful to cut stuff for the shelter and fire, it is also great for doing quick wood carving. I would bring a Schrade SCAXE2 hatchet. It has a sheath, it is 11.8 inch (30.0 cm) long and weighs 1.37 pounds. It is a very good axe that I used everyday during my 6 months in the forest.
- Saw (optional)
Depending on what type of shelter you will build and be living in, a saw might be very useful. You must bring tools to sharpen it too.
- Multi-tool (optional)
A leatherman multi-tool could serve as a back up knife and it can be used to manipulate wire, cut your nails, saw etc.
- Sharpening stone (optional)
You can use a rock to sharpen your tools or bring a small sharpening stone. We brought the DMT combination sharpener in our adventure because it is lightweight and has a coarse and fine side.
I would bring 200-300 ft of ROTHCO type III nylon paracord. You won’t find any natural cordage that compares to it. It has 8 inner strands plus an outer cord. You can make fishing lines or nets with the inner strands. Use it mostly for gathering food though. Do not waste it for your shelter; use spruce roots instead.
- Repair kit
Duct tape, Rubber cement, Wire, Epoxy, Sewing kit, Dental floss, zip ties, and fabric to repair your clothes.
- Notepad and Pencil (optional)
A waterproof notepad can be useful to record thoughts, leave notes, and do math etc.
- Monocular (optional)
Having a waterproof monocular allows you to scout places with your sight, instead of having to go to said places and use up your precious energy.
Depending on your climate you might need to deal with extreme cold. Below is some equipment that you might need.
Lightweight but durable snowshoes would be required for areas with snow. MSR lightning ascent women’s snowshoes are durable and lighter that men’s shoes, but magnesium snowshoes (army issue) might be a better option. The first hikers to hike the PCT from Mexico to Canada in winter wore those.
- Warm jacket
It should be made of wool or synthetic materials for durability and to retain insulation if you sleep wearing them. Make sure the fleece jacket fits when wearing the other jackets.
- Neck gaiter and warm hat
Gore-Tex gaiters will keep snow out of your shoes in deep snow.
- Fleece pants
You can wear fleece pants to greatly increase the insulation of your pants. Make sure they are 100% polyester.
- Winter boots
It is hard to recommend a winter boot. Durability is a priority. It should have removable liners and be waterproof. I you are looking for a lightweight option Neos overboots used over your shoes could be an option, Although durability might be compromised.
- Big mitts
Thick warm mitts are a necessity for cold weather. Arctic mitts are some of the few good mitts for really cold weather.
- Canvas shelter and metal stove
Depending on your transportation method you could bring a teepee or a canvas tent. A collapsible stove could make your shelter much more comfortable.
- Fleece socks
Fleece socks would work great for sleeping and should be more durable than other socks.
- Snow goggles
They would help protect your eyes from snow blindness and weather.
Bringing electronics is tricky. Old school thought is that you shouldn’t bother, they will brake or stop functioning after a few months. On the other hand, depending on the time frame that you have in mind bringing electronics might be worth the trouble.
- Solar Panel (optional)
You should have a waterproof, portable solar panel. It must be able to charge your biggest device directly. A solar panel is more reliable and durable than a solar charger because it is more simple and doesn’t need a battery to hold a charge.
- Solar charger (optional)
You can use a waterproof solar charger in conjunction with your solar panel as a back up. The solar charger consists of a smaller solar panel and a battery. You should be able to connect your solar panel to your solar charger to charge its battery quicker. The Achilles heel of the solar charger is its battery and charging ports.
- Cables (optional)
You should have at least a back up cable for each cable you need. Shorter cables should last longer (less twists).
- Headlamp (optional)
Forget flashlights. A waterproof, rechargeable headlamp like the Zebralight would be super useful. Consider having extra lithium batteries as back up. I would recommend a headlamp that could also use AA or AAA batteries just in case.
- Smartphone (optional)
A smartphone can hold an entire library of books about wilderness survival, bushcraft, wild edibles, trees, herbal medicine, first aid, primitive tech etc. It can also serve as a GPS if it has topographic maps or aerial imagery stored. It must have a shock proof and waterproof case. I have a Samsung S5 Neo that is waterproof, has a replaceable battery, has a microSD slot for extra storage, and GPS. I use a Lifeproof case to protect it from impact and increase its water resistance.
- Smartphone batteries (optional)
The lifespan of your smartphone battery is around 300 to 500 discharge/charge cycles (Battery University). It should last longer, but could malfunction anytime. Depending on your time frame and how the phone is, you might want to bring a back up battery.
- Radio (optional)
A multi-band, rechargeable, waterproof radio like the Baofeng GT-3WP (IP67) could help you communicate with others, receive weather reports, news, and contact pilots or search and rescue. Some of the bands your radio should be able to transmit and receive in would be GMRS FRS CB VHF UHF HF AM FM, and NOAA Weather Radio.
Also check my article on building the ultimate INCH bag for similar info about wilderness bug out bag gear