I'm sure you'll agree how frustrating this is.
You've put together your ultimate bug out bag. It has EVERYTHING you need to grab and go in case of an emergency.
And once it's all packed, and all ready to go, you find out ...
You can't even pick up the darn thing, much less strap it to your back and walk with it.
So what do you do?
Well, it turns out you can have everything you need to get out of Dodge in your bug out bag, without all that back-breaking weight.
In today's post, I'm going to show you 7 simple hacks that will guarantee you can carry your bug out backpack farther and longer, without breaking your back.
Why Weight is So Crucial
Before we get into those hacks, let's talk about why your bag weight is so crucial.
Think about this:
Even experienced backpackers can suffer physical injury from carrying packs that are too heavy for them.
But it's especially important if you don't hike often, or if you aren't in good, physical shape. In that case, it's much more likely that your knees, feet, and back will start to hurt sooner rather than later during a bug out.
So what happens when your bug out backpack is too heavy?
First, it will slow you down - right at the height of an emergency when every second counts.
And as your bug out continues, you'll get tired more quickly with a heavy bag. You'll start taking longer and more frequent breaks, slowing you down even more and adding to the stress of the situation.
Here's what might happen:
If your trek is a multi-day trip, as your feet, knees, and back begin to hurt more, your energy will be sapped. You'll get so tired, you can't even think straight. Not the ideal mental state during an emergency.
At some point, you might wise up and start to discard items to lighten the bug out bag.
That's a good idea ... unless ALL you've packed are the essentials.
Because that's what you'll wind up discarding: items essential to survival, like water, food, clothing, and sleeping bags.
And if your bug out is longer than a day, you'll soon regret getting rid of the things you need to survive comfortably.
So the time to get the weight off your bag is right NOW - before the emergency - as you are putting your bag together.
How Much Should It Weigh?
Here's the kicker:
Ask 100 hiking and survival experts how heavy your pack should be, and you'll probably get 100 different answers.
Most of their answers will be based on your body weight, and their recommendations will range from as little as 10 percent of your weight to up to an incredible 50 percent of your body weight.
So let's forget the experts for a moment.
Let's find an answer that's right not for them, but for YOU.
Here are four things you should consider:
- How much do you weigh?
Obviously, a heavier person can carry more than a light person.
- How fit you are?
Someone who is in good shape and regularly backpacks can carry more than someone who doesn't.
- How far do you need to travel?
Do you have a prearranged bug out location in mind? If so, the farther away it is, the more you'll need to carry with you.
- What kind of terrain and climate?
The more severe the terrain you live in - for example, a mountainous area or a desert - the more gear you may need to carry. And if you live in the heat of the desert or the cold of the northern plains, you may need more gear than if you live in a more moderate climate.
Sure Fire Way to Get the Weight Right
So what is the right bug out bag weight for you?
Here's a sure fire way to get your bag to the right weight.
I'm going to assume you are in average (but not great) shape. If that's the case, start by packing your bag somewhere between 15 and 20 percent of your body weight.
That means if you weigh 180 pounds, you should aim for 27 to 36 pounds.
If you weigh 200 pounds, aim for 30 to 40 pounds.
If you weigh 250 pounds, aim for 37 to 50 pounds.
Keep in mind the distance, terrain, and climate you'll likely encounter when choosing items to put in the bag, but aim for that 15 to 20 percent to start.
And don't guesstimate.
Weigh yourself to get the right starting weight, and weigh your pack on a scale once you have everything in it.
Once you have your bag at 15% to 20% of your weight, strap it on, leave your house, and go for a one hour walk.
Walk away from your house for a half-hour, and then turn around and walk back towards your house for a half-hour.
Here's what you'll discover:
If you find it difficult to wear your backpack for an hour, you need to shed weight from the bag. The 7 tips below will help.
If you find that hour walk easy, you probably have the right weight.
- If you find that hour walk extremely easy, you might be able to add more weight. But keep in mind that your bug-out will be for a longer distance, so don't over-estimate how much you can carry.
Put Your Bug Out Bag on a Diet
But let's say you find out your bag is too heavy.
Here's what you can do to lighten the load ...
1Reduce the Amount of Water
You'll need at least a gallon of water available each day in an emergency situation for drinking, cooking, and hygiene needs.
But a gallon of water weighs just over eight pounds. So assuming you have a three day bug out, water can take up about 25 pounds. For most people that can be 50% to 90% of their bug out weight.
While you'll be consuming the water as you go, which will lighten your load, that's a lot of weight at the start of the journey.
This is where a little planning helps:
Depending on where you live, plan your bug out route so that it goes near streams, ponds, or other water sources.
Do this even if those water sources take you slightly out of the most direct path to your bug out location.
Then carry PART of the water you need, and instead include a backpacking water filtration system. Use it to filter water from the terrain, and refill your water bottles on the way.
2Reduce the Weight of Your Food
Food is essential for giving you the energy you need to keep moving.
But it may not be necessary to carry a full "backpacker's kitchen" on your back. If your destination is three days away or less, forgo the cooking utensils and food that needs preparation (other than adding water).
Go minimalist on the food:
Pack items that don't need to be cooked at all and come in lightweight packaging.
MREs (Meals Ready to Eat, like the military relies on) are often lightweight, though they may have some bulk to them. Still, they are often lighter than carrying cooking utensils.
But especially if your bug out destination is a few days away, you want just enough food to give you the energy to keep moving. So consider using high-energy bars, protein bars, and dried fruits and nuts for your primary food supply.
3Cut Down on the Clothes
The old adage that people pack "twice the amount of clothes and half the cash they need" on vacation holds true in disaster situations as well.
Shedding the weight of extra clothing can make a big difference.
Pack just one change of clothing and underwear. An extra shirt, pair of pants, and a set of underwear should get you through a three-day trek to your destination.
If you have to travel during a cold month, you'll already be wearing your outerwear such as a coat and hat. It's not necessary to pack extras "just in case."
But there's one exception:
If there's any kind of clothing that you should pack extras of, it would be socks. Keeping your feet warm and dry during a bug out is essential.
I'd say a minimum to pack is two pairs for a three-day bug out. You'll have three pairs all together - the ones you are wearing; the ones you've taken off, washed, and are hanging off your pack to dry; and a reserve pair in your pack. Rotate through the three during your walk.
4Lose the Tent and Heavy Sleeping Bag
You'll want something to sleep in and under when you stop at night.
On a normal camping trip, you'd likely take a sleeping bag rated for the temperatures you expect to encounter, plus a tent to protect you from bad weather.
But consider this:
If you need to cut weight, instead of a heavy sleeping bag and tent, take a lighter weight sleeping bag and a bivy sack.
Choose a sleeping bag that is rated for warmer rather than colder temperatures. They often weigh much less.
Then, to increase the warmth from the bag and improve your protection from the elements, use a bivy sack.
A bivouac sack, or bivy sack for short, is a small personal shelter, just big enough for you and your sleeping bag. Many completely enclose you and protect you.
Bivy sacks vary in weight, so choose the lightest you can for the terrain and climate.
5Save Ounces to Save Pounds
If you've worked hard to pack smartly and included only the essentials, start looking for an ounce here or a half an ounce there you can drop.
You may think it's useless, even nit-picky, to focus on saving ounces.
But think of this:
Saving all of those ounces can add up.
So when you're at the end of the second day of your three-day trek, and your feet and back are aching, you'll be glad you did.
Here are some "ounce saving" ideas that can add up:
- The Ziplock Strategy
Get rid of original packaging when possible.
Use ziplock bags instead. They are lightweight and less bulky, especially if you squeeze the air out of them when you seal them.
For example, ditch the aspirin and prescription medicine bottles, and put your meds in sandwich-sized or snack-sized zip-lock bags.
Same with individually wrapped power bars. Unwrap and place them all together in one quart bag.
- Save weight on hygiene
Bring a small amount of tooth powder in a zip-lock bag rather than toothpaste in a tube.
Leave behind the solid and roll-on deodorants, and bring a little cornstarch mixed with baking soda in a baggie.
Bring a sliver of soap rather than a whole bar.
You can even get radical, and cut off part of the handle of your toothbrush to save an ounce or two.
- Cut tags out of clothing, coats, sleeping bag, bivy sack, and other gear.
Yes, this may be going a little far, but every ounce counts.
Some of the clothing and gear I buy has three or four labels in them. Grab your scissors and cut all of those out.
You can also cut extra pockets off clothing or cut out extra linings you don't need.
- Use lithium batteries instead of alkalines.
If you are carrying a flashlight or anything that runs on batteries, replace the alkaline batteries with lithium batteries. Even if you have to carry spares, the lithium last three times as long (so you'll need fewer of them), plus they weigh about half of what alkalines do.
These are just a few "ounce saving" ideas. I'm sure you can come up with many more for your own pack.
6Get the Supplies Before the Bag
When planning how to pack your bug out bag, you need to include the weight of the backpack itself.
Seems obvious, right?
But backpacks come in all sizes, shapes, and weights. While larger bags offer you more room to carry bug out bag supplies, they also add weight to what you carry. They also can encourage you to over-pack, since you have so much room.
Instead, choose the smallest backpack that holds what you need to carry.
The best way to do that?
Too many people buy the bag first, then gather the supplies.
Instead, get your supplies together first.
Then go looking for a bag in which they will just fit.
It doesn't seem as though it would make much difference if you choose a pack that weighs 2.5 pounds rather than one that weighs 4.75 pounds.
But after a day or two of carrying, your back and knees will thank you.
7Knowledge Weighs Nothing
This may be the most important tip on the list.
Take the time to become experienced in the types of things you'll need to know and do if you have to bug out.
- Replace survival items with survival skills.
For example, knowing how to start a fire with materials on hand means you don't have to pack fire-starter materials.
Know how to properly filter water.
Practice sleeping in your sleeping bag and bivy sack.
Learn the skills you need from books, videos, and online sites.
And don't ever think you "know enough" already.
- Keep expanding your knowledge of survival skills.
Spend a few minutes every day learning something new about survival.
But make sure you actually PRACTICE what you learn.
Just as ounces add up to pounds, a few minutes of practice each day adds up to a lifetime of experience.
And that knowledge and experience you carry in your head will be more valuable than gear you carry on your back.
Now It's Your Turn
Now you are ready to start "right weighting" your bug out backpack.
So what's your first step?
Send me a tweet and tell me which of these hacks you want to try first.
Planning on getting a backpacking water filter next?
Or are you exploring options for bug out food?
Or maybe you are going to check out bivy sacks first?
Or have you come up with a hack of your own we haven't discussed here?
Whatever you'll be doing, let me know. Send me a tweet, and let me know what you'll be doing with your bug out backpack.
Also, please take a moment to sign up for my Quick Start Prepper Guide.
The five "big picture" strategies in this short guide will cover the most important prepping situations, plus give you a roadmap on how to get started.
And it's absolutely free to you.
So click this image to get access:
Thank you for reading, and I wish you and your family a safe, secure, prepared life.
Jason Ryder Adams