The recent disasters that befell many parts of the world have inspired some people to prepare ’emergency bags’ for themselves and their families. While this is always a good idea, from the reading I’ve done of several people’s set ups, it was clear to me that a lot of people out there really don’t know what to pack, how to pack it, and what to do when (god forbid) disasters DO happen.
I’ve had some experience gallivanting around with heavy rucksacks this way and that. Trust me, its not fun at all. So based on that, here’s some simple tricks to keep in mind for your ‘bug out situation.’ This is part one of the post. A second post is scheduled, so be patient.
1. First and Foremost: Have a Plan.
It doesn’t really matter how much high-speed kit you have if you run around like a beheaded chicken as soon as the shit hits the fan. Having a workable plan that is familiar to each and every member of your family will make certain that your chances of survival are much higher.
Formulate this plan by taking into account your environment. We live mostly on urbanized terrain. Keeping that in mind, the most plausible survival plan for you and yours (barring some catastrophic failure of EVERY part of society and the government) is simply to survive the trip from your home/office/school to an emergency shelter/gathering point set up by the Emergency Management Agency.
A key component to this plan is your ability to navigate, or as we call it: LANDNAV. Don’t be discouraged. This probably would not involve walking overland more than 50 kilometers with a topographic map, a GPS, a prismatic compass, etc. Remember: Urbanized Terrain. Know the landmarks, know the major throughfares, know alternate routes. Prepare in advance the waypoints/stop points that you would visit in sequence from the beginning of your survival trip. These locations could be major police stations/army bases, government buildings where you think its likely the Emergency Management Agency would set up shelters, public gathering places where you might find help/other survivors, etc.
To do all this, you need to have a map. Get a good map of the area you live in and its surrounding counties. Go over it with your family and loved ones. Figure out what roads to take if you have your vehicle, and what routes you will take if you’re on foot. Take into account that major avenues may not be passable. Figure out the alternate routes. Sharpen your map reading skills. Knowing how to orient a map to the four cardinal directions (N, E, S, W) will go a long way in ensuring that you don’t waste any effort in your trip. Make sure each person in your party has a copy of this map and make sure they know how to read it. You should also have a spare map with the same annotations packed in your kit, just in case something happens to your main map.
If you live in such an area where the trip would be a significant distance (say over 30 kilometers), prepare laying up points – that is areas where you can stop to rest – along the way.
Also important is to figure out and designate rally points. Make sure everyone in your party know where they are. A rally point is a point where your party can gather if they get split up. In the chaos of a post disaster area, this is a major possibility, and the last thing you want to do is to go around looking for lost party members. Set up rally points along the way, and a plan to use them. A rally point should be prominent and some place everyone is familiar with. For example, if you get split up after passing landmark A, the rally point would be this mall here. Once there, wait for 3-5 hours. If the missing members fail to show up then, leave a note/marker and move on to the next rally point and do the same.
Remember: Your goal is to reach an area where shelter and aid are available. Why live off the land shivering in a tent if you can simply walk to the nearest aid station? You want to survive, not be Bear Gryls against nature.
2. Know What to Pack
In the beginning of this post, I explained that I had some experience walking long distances with heavy rucksacks. If you’ve never done that before, let me explain something to you: It will suck the life out of you. Having a huge backpack while walking long distances require conditioning, stamina and, most of all, determination. It will quickly tire you out. It will slow you down significantly. If you need to make a quick exit out of an area a heavy backpack is NOT the way to go. An anecdote I heard from the recent tsunami disaster in Japan: A significant number of the victims were found still wearing their survival backpacks. They were prepared, but their backpacks slowed them down. You must avoid this at all costs.
It all begins with how you choose your backpacks. My suggestion is to go to outdoor stores and buy a medium sized hiking rucksack. You don’t need a huge 90 liter rucksack. Trust me. You’re not gonna be carrying ammunition, mortar rounds or the kitchen sink in there. You want a medium sized bag, about 20-30 liters, with a good design such as easy access pouches, wide and padded – if possible contoured/curved – straps, as well as other features that will make it easier for you to carry your load. The most critical of these features are internal frames, sternum straps and a hip belt. The frame, sternum/chest straps and the hip belt will distribute the load more evenly on your body, so that you don’t carry the entire weight on your shoulders.
The contents are key. Many people tend to overpack their rucksacks. They tend to want to carry everything they can just in case. This will slow you down. Remember: You Want To Survive. Therefore what you need to pack is the bare minimum you need to survive.
Here’s a loadout that I suggest in bug out bags (BOBs):
- Clothing. Don’t bring your entire wardrobe. Trust me, that beautiful Mango skirt isn’t gonna help you. I only have two sets of clothes in my BOB. One set for the walk/trip. This is what I wear most of the time. A nice long-sleeve t-shirt, good quality cargo pants, wool socks. Don’t forget a cap and sunglasses to keep the sun off. The second set is a set I keep in a plastic/waterproof bag. This is my sleeping set – just in case I need to make overnight stops. You might want to bring several pairs of socks and underwear as well. Plus a weatherproof jacket that you should keep in an outer pocket of your pack for fast access. This is ALL the clothes you need. No, you don’t need to change your shirt/pants everyday. Its a disaster. No one will care if you look like a supermodel. Wear one set for the walk, wear the clean/dry set for sleeping. That’s it. Maybe you can bring a pair of sandals to wear in the camp to let your boots dry out. We will cover clothing in detail later.
- Hygene kit. Leave your body lotions, facial creams, etc. Bring a toothbrush and a tube of toothpaste. Maybe some soap just in case you have a chance to take a shower. Maybe some shampoo. If you’re a woman, you may want to bring some of your specific hygene kit. Pads and all that. Nothing fancy. Remember: The Bare Essentials. That’s about all. Nothing else matters.
- Shelter. Get one of those lightweight dome tents that accomodate to persons. Each rucksack should have one of these. Personally I do away with a tent, and just carry a rubberized military poncho. I love ponchos. You can make shelters out of them and they’re light. But a tent will do as well. Also carry a nice sleeping bag and a bivvy bag (a sleeping bag outer sleeve made out of weather proof material like Gore-Tex). No, you don’t need a mattress. The sleeping bag will insulate you and you’ll sleep well enough. Its a survival situation, not a trip to the Ritz Carlton.
- Food and Water. MREs or prepackaged meals you can eat without cooking is ideal. Canned food are good, but the cans can quickly add to the weight. Each person and each backpack should have their own supply. Water is also very important. Don’t carry more than you think you need but, more importantly, don’t carry too little. I’m a big fan of the bladder hydration system. Check out your nearest hiking/outdoor stores and purchase water bladders there. Make sure you also carry water purification pills or water filters in case you need to replenish your supply along the way. Again I must emphasize that you pack only what you need. Chocolate is a good source of energy, coffee is too. To this end, you can always carry one of those camping stoves and a set of camping/outdoor cooking utensils. Use one of those military/outdoor hexy stove/burners. These are small, light and efficient. Your beverage might taste a bit weird, but you’ll survive. Leave the fancy chips and salsa dip, the vegan fake turkey shit, the hummus and whatever fancy food you think you’d like to eat while having a stroll. You’re surviving. You’re not out having a picnic.
- First Aid Kit. No, no need to re-watch House or ER. You’re no brain surgeon (well, unless you are) and you shouldn’t try. Learning basic first aid, however, is essential in survival situations. You need to at least be able to clear airways, stop bleeding and esure circulation. Learn how to properly bandage wounds, treat burns, splint fractures and other survival skills. Check out the U.S. Army Field Manual 3-05.70: Survival to learn about survival and emergency medical skills. Again, you don’t need to sit around with your party members to discuss alternative diagnosis of strange and exotic diseases. Leave that to House. You just need to patch people up and make sure they survive the trip to the nearest medical aid station.
- Rope. Rope is essential. No, you won’t need this rope to play tie-me-up games in the middle of the rubble. Rope can secure your shelter, help you climb, help you cross rivers/streams. It secures stuff to you and your gear. I suggest procuring some 550 cords (paracords). You can gut it open and use the five internal cords for many things. Gutten paracord is also my favorite bootlace. It is strong and it will not slip.
- Emergency Essential Backups. Some of your emergency essentials should always stay on your person. We will cover these later. You should, however, have back-ups or spares packed in your rucksack. Make sure you pack extra batteries for your phone (see Communications in the second post) and radio, batteries for your flashlight, another small light, an extra multitool (see Gears in the second post), an extra knife, writing utensils/markers and other small essentials spares. Make sure all of this fit into a small-ish pouch. Keep them together.
I would really like to add weapons or small arms to the list. I know I would carry one in my BOB. But knowing some of you lot, you’d probably hurt yourself with a weapon, so none of that. If you can though, team up with someone who knows how to use weapons/firearms. That would improve your chances even more.
3. Understand the Line System
Look at everything you carry with you in terms of lines. Essentially, you will have 3 lines of kit.
The first line is the basic essentials. These are your clothing, and what you carry around your waist on a belt/belt pouches as well as your clothes’ pockets. These are bare, basic survival essential. You should have some water and food in this layer. You should also always have your tools (flash light, and multitool) on this layer. A knife is useful there too, as well as your spare map and small compass. IF you have to ditch the rest of your gear, you should be able to survive based on this layer alone.
The second line is your primary life support system. Look into tactical vests with a lot of pockets/pouches. If you don’t like the tactical look, you can always obtain one of those fisherman’s/journalist vests from your local outdoor store. This is where you carry most of your gear. To be exact, this is where you carry the gear you need to be able to access without doffing your rucksack. Your navigation aid (compass, GPS, etc), comms, water, some food, and essential gear should go here. You should also have a decent flashlight (go to Alat Selam.com and pick a small, bright light with AAA batteries. Trust me. You don’t want to look for CR123s in an emergency), a knife (fixed blade or folder. Make sure it has a semi-serrated blade), and a set of multitools. These are folded tools that have different tools integrated in it. They usually have a couple of different knives (smooth edge, serrated edge and sawblade), a plier, screw drivers with different bits, a file that can also be used as a pry bar, etc. Look at the Leatherman Wave as a good sample. You can get these at Ace Hardware.You should also have a First Aid Kit in your second line. Check out the U.S. Army and Marine Corps IFAK (Improved First Aid Kit) as an inspiration.
The third line is your rucksack. We’ve covered that above. Remember to replenish supplies in your second line from the spares in your third line. This is essential. If something were to happen, and you have to ditch your rucksack, you don’t want to do so while the pouches on your vest are empty. So whenever you stop for a break, remember to resupply your second line.
The line system was designed to make sure that you always have gear on you. You may encounter situations where you have to lighten your load quickly and drop your gear. If you have the opportunity to return and recover them, everything’s fine. However, you may not have that opportunity and it pays to be prepared. Using the line system, you can survive even if you only have the clothes on your back.
This is the first three essential things you need to think about when you plan for your survival. The next post will go over choosing your gear, what communications you should have as well as other stuff I haven’t gone over in this one. Hope this helps.