7 Ways to Lighten Your Bug Out Bag

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In just a couple of weeks a lot of you are going to be making New Year’s resolutions and according to our good old government (not sure why they have to have a webpage to tell us this) the most common resolution is to lose weight. This is a great goal for a lot of people but as preppers we can look at this another way too. Maybe it’s time to trim some pounds off your Bug Out Bag and save your back in the process. For a lot of us, the mythical – perfect bug out bag is one part Swiss army knife, one part hardware store and one part supermarket with a dash of your favorite clothing outfitter thrown in for good measure. Over time in our efforts to be prepared for anything, we have lost sight of what this bag is meant for and traded common sense for comfort, at the expense of weight.

What choo talkin bout Willis?

In my research as a prepper I have watched a lot of YouTube videos about Bug out bags from people all over the world and in many of them you get very well-meaning people who put together pages of items that you simply don’t need. Others have items that could be lighter or who carry too much of a single item when that isn’t necessary. I myself am a well-meaning person so here is my take on some simple steps you can take to lighten your bug out bag but before I get into that, I want to give you my opinion on what a bug out bag should be in the first place.

What is a bug out bag for?

A bug out bag has been called by a lot of names. I have heard I.N.C.H bag (I’m Never Coming Home). G.O.O.D bag (Get Out Of Dodge), the 72-Hour bag, Go Bag and others that crop up from time to time when I think people are just trying to create something new and trendy (S.N.A.P – Seriously Need Another Plan). Whatever you call it, the bug out bag concept was envisioned as a bag to carry everything you will need to LIVE for 72 hours if you only have that bag on your back and nothing else in the world. Why did I put the emphasis on live? That is because a lot of people start throwing everything but the kitchen sink in their packs and it is one of the reasons why I wrote the post “Is your bug out bag going to get you killed?

When you start adding items with minimal practical use or perhaps less likelihood of keeping you alive then you start adding weight. Do this enough times and your bug out bag becomes an unwieldy mess that can cause injuries or worse, get you killed. So what are some ways we can prevent that from happening?

Don’t carry too much water

Unless you live in the desert and I know that some of you do, water should be something that you know how to find and can easily disinfect to make it drinkable. For the large majority of us, packing 3 days’ worth of water is suicide in terms of size and weight and it is really unnecessary. Again, if you live in a desert I am not talking to you, but you really need to evaluate your plans also.

Sawyer Mini is a lightweight hero when it comes to water filtration.

Sawyer Mini is a lightweight hero when it comes to water filtration.

Water sources are everywhere and you only need a good water filter to make all but the nastiest water perfectly safe for drinking. I like pump filters like the MSR Miniworks EX Microfilter and have taken this on several backpacking trips because they are simple and filter water very quickly. In terms of sheer weight and even space reduction, the Sawyer Mini Water Filtration System is a real champ though and in those respects it kicks even decently sized filters like the Miniworks to the curb. The Miniworks weighs 1 pound. The Sawyer mini weighs 2 ounces.

For water I would carry one full litter bottle and have one plastic bladder that I would use to collect water that I need to filter with my Sawyer. Nalgene water bladders weigh almost nothing empty and can roll up to fit in tiny spaces. My plan is to find and filter water as I need it along the way. Could you boil your water instead and maybe save these few ounces or use water treatment tablets? Of course, but you have to have a fire, keep something to boil it in, wait for it to boil, then cool down, lather rinse repeat or deal with the weird taste of those tablets. The filter is the easiest fastest way to go for me and the Sawyer will filter over 100,000 gallons! That is enough to keep you alive for over 200 years if my math is right.

Don’t pack like you are going on vacation

Too many bug out bag lists will contain a spare pair of boots and another change of clothes. Do you need more clothes to live? Maybe if you are bugging out from a nudist colony and you don’t have any on, but you should already have some clothes on. Maybe you need to adjust your wardrobe and put on a good pair of boots before you bug out, but packing another set of clothes takes up space and adds weight; especially if you are packing heavy winter clothes.

Dress in layers and take items that will compensate for a lot of additional items. I would bring a pair of socks so you always have a dry pair, set of clean underwear and not much else. If it was cold I would have a base layer(s) and maybe a fleece, but I might have that on my body anyway. Clothes shouldn’t be packed in place of shelter; you should deal with that separately.

What about my camping towel, deck of cards, favorite coffee cup and my travel pillow? Leave all of that stuff at home. This pack should only have the essentials if your goal is truly to have the least amount of weight you can. If you are running from everything you know for some reason you have bigger problems than a pillow and you will never pack everything you need in all scenarios for all situations so why try?

Use a tarp instead of a tent

Tents can easily weigh 5 pounds so they are prime opportunities for reducing weight. One of the simplest alternatives to packing a tent is to pack either a rain fly or tarp. Tents do not offer much in the way of protection from the elements unless you have a serious mosquito problem and primarily they are for keeping the rain off of you while you sleep and maybe affording some degree of privacy.

For a really nice option that also gives you camouflage, you could go with the Aqua-Quest Heavy duty tarp. This will string up easily between two trees, keep the rain off of you and as long as you were in a wooded area, this could prevent your location from being noticed by passersby. This tarp weighs 3.4 pounds so there are some savings but it rolls up much smaller than a regular tent and you don’t have to worry about those stupid poles and stakes that are always lost. Breaking down and setting up will go much faster as well once you have a simple tarp rigging system down and memorized.

Pack a tarp instead of a tent.

Pack a tarp instead of a tent.

Rain fly’s for hammocks are a similar option but usually weigh a little bit less. It’s the same concept as a tarp but with a slightly different footprint and coverage area. The ENO Pro Fly Rain Tarp only weighs 22 ounces and that is a huge difference from that 5 pound tent.

Look at the weight of your bag itself

Sometimes we can save weight simply by looking at our bug out bag that we are carrying all of this lifesaving gear in. Take just two common bags out there, the Rush 72 by 5.11 Tactical and the Maxpedition Pygmy Falcon II. These bags are not without their differences, but the Rush 72 weighs 4.8 pounds and the Maxpedition Pygmy weighs 2 pounds 1 ounce.

Now I don’t have both of these bags in front of me so the 5.11 could be twice as large as the Pygmy, and with a name like Pygmy, you know it isn’t Super Grande, but the point is your bag also contributes to the overall weight. Maybe if you are looking to shave some pounds and you make some of the changes above you won’t need as large of a bag in the first place. Something to consider.

Lighten your food load

Food is a great place to reduce weight. On one of our first backpacking trips into the woods we didn’t think about weight at all, we thought about pigging out after long days hiking with heavy packs. We had foil packets of tuna, summer sausage, cheese and crackers, whole bags of trail mix, pop tarts and cookies. We never even made it through all of our food that we packed in and in the process of that first backpacking trip learned a valuable lesson. Some foods weigh more than others and you don’t really need to pig out that much to have more than enough to keep you alive.

For a bug out scenario I am looking for a great calorie to weight ratio and one option is G.O.R.P which is simply good old raisins and peanuts. It’s a trail staple and Graywolf Survival has a great write up on this subject. One problem with G.O.R.P is it’s shelf life and ability to handle storage extremes. If your bug out bag is always located in the hall closet or down in the basement where it’s always 62 degrees then G.O.R.P is a great option. The trick is to only eat as much as you need based upon the caloric content. You can’t just eat until you are full or else all your G.O.R.P will be gone the first day.

Other options which are more heat tolerant and long lasting when we look at from a storage perspective are emergency ration bars (my current Get Home Bag option) and freeze-dried food like Mountain House. These are lighter than bringing 6 cans of spam in your pack and can take the heat of a car parked in the summer without spoiling.

Also, these options don’t require you to bring your own mess kit which is another item that isn’t necessary. Just bring a spoon like the Titanium Spork or even an old plastic spoon from an MRE and you are good to go. The Emergency Rations don’t even need that.

Reconsider One Is None

A prepping mantra is “One is none and two is one.” That simply means that stuff happens. Murphy will appear when you least expect him and anything you have can be lost or broken. That single water filter you have could roll down the hill, into the river and out to the ocean. The survival knife you have could be lodged in that great big bear you were forced to scare away from your camp and they might run off into the woods never to be seen again.

The temptation to pack two of everything sounds like great advice but it isn’t necessary or practical in a bug out bag. Could you find a use for two fire starting kits? Maybe. Could you need a back-up rain poncho? You could, but all of your redundancy is adding weight. Think carefully about whether you need this weight or maybe you should just be more careful. If we were talking about prepping supplies for the home I definitely agree that having two is a good idea, but when it comes to hiking through the woods, trying to survive I am less likely to adhere to that advice. I know I could regret it, but we are talking about weight reduction here.

Maybe there are certain items that you could have two of like a knife or a way to start a fire. I have a multi-tool as part of my EDC which has a knife that could be my backup. Also, I have a fire steel and a Bic lighter, but I am not going to carry two tarps in case I lose one.

Sleeping bag Options

Sleeping bags are another item that can weigh a lot and take up a bunch of space. I have a military sleep system that I purchased at a gun show that I love but would never put this in my bug out bag if I was trying to save space or weight. It is huge and heavy. I also have sleeping bags from Wiggy’s that are very warm, but they also take up a lot of space.

You can spend hundreds on very expensive bags that pack down small or you can spend a lot less money, dress in layers and maybe use your survival bivvy to supplement that system. The Recon 3 from Elite Systems is easily half the size and weight of my Wiggy’s and costs a heck of a lot less. Will it last as long as the other bags or keep me warm down to -20? No, but if it is -20 my butt is looking for shelter and a heat source.

So there are 7 ideas for reducing the weight of your bug out bag. What ideas do you have?


  • Veritas

    Great article! Backing up your comment about “reconsider one is none”, YES! And when it comes to knives you DO NOT need 14! I can’t tell you how many bags I’ve seen where it seems like every compartment have another knife! Yes they’re fun to buy and cool to use but they weigh a ton and if you get a good one they don’t fail. That brings me to #2, buy quality. So the first thing we all did was get one of all the things we need. Now that you have a baseline save up and start to buy quality items, they almost always weigh less and perform better. Consider lightweight backpacking gear over “tactical” while you’re doing this. And lastly before you buy that better gear use what you have, you know actually go camp and hike with it. Knowledge saves the most weight! Realizing you can put your spare clothes in your stuff sack at night means with zero loss of comfort you don’t need to pack a pillow. Keep doing this until you realize you don’t need to replace all your gear with better stuff listed above because you simply don’t need the item any more at all.

    • Pat

      Thanks Veritas,

      Good points on quality and on the stuff sack, I totally forgot to mention that.


      • Veritas

        Dual use is a huge weight saver. Another example for me is in the cooler (but maybe not winter months) I use a Hill People Gear mountain serape. It’s a super warm outer layer by day and turns into your sleeping bag by night…another item eliminated from the pack.

        • Pat

          That’s a pretty interesting item. I’ll have to check that out.

    • usmarinestanker

      “knowledge saves the most weight”….wow, that’s blindingly simple and elegant. Words to live by. I’m appropriating this 🙂

  • BobW

    The temptation to carry one of everything is a strong one. I started my BOB build by rummaging through my garage and basement for bags, bits and sundry items I’ve been unwilling to part with, but haven’t looked at in ages. Most of it was good quality army surplus, and none of it was light. I purchased items I didn’t have, focused on the low end initially, waiting for a birthday or Christmas to get the more expensive pieces. The pack wound up being a beast without food or water. The Rush 72 was the first major expense. After humping the bag around, and one tough day-hike, I realized that moderately loaded it was fine, but once it was “BOB-ready”, it wasn’t the answer. Fitment and capacity were limiting factors.

    This rocked my prep philosophy. I just doled out big bucks for a pack that didn’t fit me well, and didn’t have the room I needed.

    I stopped, re-evaluating the lay of the land before buying my 11 yo a pack. We wound up at REI where I learned about sizing a pack for proper fitment, and capacity/loadout. Those guys know their stuff. We spent 30 minutes trying on backpacks to find a couple that fit her well, were adjustable to account for growth, and had the capacity for the gear I expected her to carry in a bug-out/overnight camping trip.

    I realized during this process of discovery, that while tactical is sexy and functional, it’s also designed for the average Soldier to carry on a limited mission, like a recon, or attack. The military carries much larger packs when they are going out for extended time, and stuff something like that Falcon or Rush-series into the big pack for movement once they arrive at their bivouac site.

    After adjusting my philosophy, the Rush is my GHB, and a real hiking backpack is my BOB. I’ve also learned that there is something to be said for a good outdoors store. Seeing them in person, trying them on, getting them adjusted, etc. with someone who actually knows this stuff is worth far more than the $10 I could have saved online.


    Parting thought. It’s cheaper to lose 5lbs of fat than it is to lose 5lbs off your pack.

    • Pat

      Great comments and perspective BobW. I know how easy it is to fall into the tactical trap and I come by it honest with my prior experience, but like you said they are for different missions, individuals and strengths. A much lighter, higher capacity and comfortable bag would be a properly sized hiking backpack.

      Maybe we can spray paint them in Multicam and superglue some Molle attachments on the front…


    • NRP

      I love the “parting thought”, guess that means I don’t have to shave that 50 pounds off the pack? LOL, Oh shit, it would be funny if not so true. 🙁

  • Ralph

    Been trying to preach this to people for several years now. Had one lady who was 5’2″ and not in good shape explain to me that her BOL was mom and dad’s farm 2 miles down the road, and her 65# bag would just go in her truck. She could barely lift the bag, much less place it in the truck herself…

  • Dcsouthgw

    1+ The point on multi purpose items, getting practical experience on what is in your bag, and systematically honing what works and what doesn’t. That has been a part of lightweight backpacking for decades. Two of my favorite items that fall into the category of buying quality to reduce weight are the gatewood cape from six moons designs and the sierra sniveller from Jacks R Better. Just ask Ray Jardine.

  • brodius225

    Wow. I feel totaly unprepared now. My plan was to wait for things to die down for a few weeks and let the people in th metro area “off” each other then i was going to settle in a hardware store/ nursery in an industrial park
    thats close to a river and farmland about 10 kms away. My logic is that most people would raid supermarkets and electronics stores leaving hardware stores relatively intact. Didnt realize how much planning I’d need to invest in just the first few days

    • There is a lot to consider brodius225 and each person’s situation would be unique obviously. You might get lucky and the stores you are thinking of wouldn’t be touched. I try not to plan on that though and build redundancy into my location which should be under my control (unless I am overrun) at all times. Easier to keep tabs on what you have, who is trying to get it and when it’s time to go that way.

  • uisignorant

    Ounces lead to pounds, and pounds lead to pain.