The Most Surprising BOB Facts (a study of evacuation preparedness)

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Editors Note: An entertaining article from Ray Bryant to The Prepper Journal. And just in time. As always, if you have information for Preppers that you would like to share then enter into the Prepper Writing Contest with a chance to win one of three Amazon Gift Cards with the top prize being a $300 card to purchase your own prepping supplies!

If you’ve ever tried to hash-out a list of important supplies that you and yours would need in case of an emergency then you probably know just how fascinating and challenging the whole process can be. It starts with the realization that you need a list in the first place. Perhaps this insight is triggered by all the recent hurricanes wiping out entire towns or maybe it’s the mass evacuations aka wildfires, rising tensions between world powers, emergence of another financial bubble or just untrustworthy plumbing in the basement.

Whatever the motivation, you decide that some preparations would be a wise course of action just in case your family needs to leave home for a few days. And, of course, the best way to prepare for something is to make a list, something that will not only help assure that you won’t forget the important stuff but also something that will remind you to buy extra batteries, for instance, next time you go shopping—just a couple things jotted down on a notepad.

What you probably did not know at the time was once you put pencil to paper you initiated a literary and educational process that will gradually evolve into a full-on, comprehensive prepper’s Bug-Out Bag checklist.

Writing down spare food, as an example, leads to wondering about how best to eat the food. After all, eating with your hands is unsanitary—a fork and spoon are scribbled down. Speaking of being sanitary, you read somewhere that poor hygiene can cause all sorts of horrible digestive ailments. Better add wet wipes to the list and maybe some hand sanitizer to be safe. The next question that comes to mind is, “What kind of food?” The kids sure do love Spaghetti-O’s. Four or five cans of that should suffice and, of course, throw in a can opener and some microwave-safe bowls…

…Later, when your backpack is stuffed to capacity with things from your ever-growing list and it has become heavy enough to give a mule a backache, the checklist evolves in order to reflect the realities of weight, space and practicality; the spoon and fork are scratched in favor of a spork and the standard kitchen can opener is now a P-38. The microwave safe bowls (which turn out to be pointless when there’s no power) are replaced with a cooking pot, camp stove and stainless steel mugs. After reading the nutritional label on Spaghetti-O’s, albeit delicious and adored by children, you realize that processed pasta in tomato-flavored sauce cannot possibly sustain one’s strength for three days straight. Your list is further updated to reflect more appropriate foods like power bars, dried fruit—or, better yet, a variety of freeze-dried dishes that you just recently learned about during your unexpected college-equivalent studies of nutrition, shelf-life variables and food-handling safety.

And the process just keeps chugging along. Your original notation of, “knife,” turned into a plethora of assorted cutting implements…plus one wire saw. Although matches were one of the first items you ever wrote down, a dozen different fire starting methods were since discovered, each with its own list-worthy merits. And finally, as soon as you reach the third written column of bug-out necessities and what you believe has got to be the end, you start finding better versions of what you already have such as gear that is lighter weight, made of better materials or designed with newly integrated functions. The, “Trowel,” is now an ultra-light titanium 9-in-1 shovel-ax hybrid with a built-in bottle opener. Before you know it, your original handwritten post-it note is now a 72-item spreadsheet complete with categorizations, sub-classes and military designations.

Well…maybe that’s not how everyone develops their bug-out checklists but there are many people that do. There are also just as many who have sensibly copied most or all of theirs from one of the many great sources available on the internet. Some lists were created using just life experiences while others delved deep into the prepper world, researching every piece of gear, measuring the exact dimensions and performing extensive field tests that are, by the way, widely available on YouTube.

The fact is, no matter how or why an emergency checklist is created, there are almost as many variations as there are people writing them. So, what’s an OCD beginner prepper going to do in order to make a truly perfect list?

The answer: Perform a ridiculously lengthy internet consensus in order to find out what everyone else has listed.

This 2018 study of evacuation preparedness analyzed randomly generated internet images and websites in which every item on every qualified list was counted. It started with over 500 potential candidates but was dwindled down to 132 in order to meet preset criteria (sorry, but “Bridal shower survival kit,” did not make the grade). The survey gave no priority to any particular author or group and was extremely diverse taking into account amateurs, government agencies, professional websites and everything in-between including the occasional self-proclaimed Bushcraft master. It was meticulous, not just scoring for certain items but also for their general categories. For instance, a Survival Knife not only counted for its namesake, but also counted just once for the category of “Knives” no matter how many instances other knives may have appeared. This helped assure that the numbers would not get skewed by say a super ambitious knife enthusiast who detailed 17 cutting implements out of a total of 22 items (you know who you are Steven11818). To be eligible, the list had to be “Bug-Out” specific such as…well, a bug-out bag or Evacuation Kit, 72-hour Bag, Go Bag, GOOD, INCH and so forth. The survey did not use shelter-in place, get-home bags, BOV’s, hurricane readiness or other non-evacuation related designations.

Duplicate lists (by the same author) were omitted as were non-English and photo-only documents—they had to be in a legible written format with labels and not just a picture of someone’s gear spread out on a coffee table.

The objective of the study was to find out what people thought was best to pack for an evacuation scenario and nothing else. And, the results were amazing and in many cases, absolutely surprising. Here are the top Eight (8) most surprising finds about BOB checklists.

#8: There’s a Margin of Error

It might be a little surprising to learn that a simple study comprised of counting items on closely related checklists has a true and definable margin of error. In this case, it is plus-or-minus 2 percent. Why? The main reason is due to the great diversity and nearly limitless imaginations of the people writing the lists. Not everyone calls a flashlight a flashlight. It can be denoted as a torch by writers from the UK or as a portable non-flammable light source by those folks who must really just loathe simplicity. In all though, most checklists are easy enough to understand. But, unfortunately, there are a few that can get down-right tricky. For instance, “Individually packaged isopropanol-treated cloth/paper parcels,” is definitely over-complicating the description of wet-wipes. In contrast, “something shiny,” is a uniquely vague way of describing a survival mirror…or does it mean a flare? Fishing lure? The point is, although the numbers reflected in the study are for-all-intents very accurate, the potential for technical translation inaccuracies means that there is a 2% margin of error.

#7: Unsung Heroes

Most survivalists have a great appreciation for gear that has multiple uses. Even when something is made for a very specific reason, a true prepper will seek out some other purpose(s) in order to best justify acceptance of a new piece of equipment. Because of this, many notable items on checklists can be utilized for more than just one or two tasks. As an example, trash bags (listed 46% of the time) can not only be used for hauling rubbish as they were intended but can also be fashioned into a make-shift poncho, water moccasins, rain collectors and much more. What was unbelievable about the study of BOB checklists was how some of the most diverse, easiest to pack and most readily available items were also some of the most overlooked. Dental Floss was only listed 12% of the time while Chap Stick and Bandannas were both mentioned on only 11% of lists. There are many detailed articles and videos that exist explaining the numerous functions and benefits for each of those three items and yet, for whatever reason, they were all still listed less often than a comb (21%). It’s true: a comb, with really no significant survival virtue, was listed twice as often as a bandanna as an essential item that should be packed in case of a disaster.

#6: Pillows

Adding a pillow to a survival checklist is probably no surprise—at least, not to the 11% that actually did. Yes, better than 1-in-10 checklist writers favor a pillow as a necessary item for their emergency bags—not a hiker’s pillow, not a travel pillow, not an inflatable, just a pillow. (It’s one of those items that will make a checklist connoisseur cringe, not unlike hair gel, shower shoes and an electric blanket.) For the space a regular pillow will consume, you could add more food, water…basically anything else—add a Teddy Bear (at least it’s duel-purpose; you can help comfort your child and then steal it back later to rest your head on). Even a really small pillow will weigh about 15 ounces and takes up 30 cubic inches give-or-take. This is the equivalent of 1 can of food, 1/2 liter of water, 500 matches or a good quality multi-tool. There are many things, in fact, that would be better suited for the otherwise wasted space particularly if it’s something that can help in the continuation of life for another day.

#5: Tags

If you look closely at some BOB checklists, mostly those written by professional websites, you will occasionally (1-in-20 +/-) run across an item that makes you say, “Why on Earth is that here?” It’ll be something that seems unintentional, a human error or at best an attempt at humor. But, as you reread it to make sure its not just your over-tired eyes, you realize that these “tags” are always near the end of a particularly lengthy checklist and always fall into perfect rhythm with the other list items. At a glance, they seem to belong there, but turn out to be just ridiculous. Some examples of tags are a goat, 3-mm ammo, barbed wire and a fireplug among others. By the way, putting a goat (dead or alive) inside a backpack cannot end well for anyone. Perhaps these oddities are truly just jokes or perhaps they are a clever way of tracking one’s copyrighted material so that if someone cuts-and-pastes, “shoveler,” for instance, then the original author gets to say, “Ah-ha, gotcha list-thief. That’s a duck.” Whatever their purpose, the tags definitely add some unexpected yet welcome amusement to the task of counting BOB checklists.

#4: The Significance of Eating

A person can easily go three days without food. It is actually not unheard of for people to intentionally fast for as long as 21 days. However, what a few BOB checklist authors failed to realize when completely omitting food from their lists is that inanition will quickly lead to a loss of energy and strength and will even impair the ability to reason (all of which can mean the difference between life and death during a crisis). Moreover, if you go too long without eating, your vital organs and muscle mass will begin to shrink as your body literally starts eating itself to stay alive. With such menacing consequences, it is quite amazing that only 86% of BOB checklists cited food. On the other hand, food is arguably one of the most complicated resources to plan for on any prepper checklist. You have to find a balance between weight, bulk, shelf-life, caloric and protein content and of course, it has to be something you are willing to eat. Pemmican would undoubtedly be on every checklist if it was even slightly appealing but since it is not, food bars were the most referenced at 42% followed closely by canned goods at 38%.

#3: Nothing’s Unanimous

Not one item (or even a single category for that matter) was listed 100% of the time on all BOB checklists. The most mentioned item/category was First Aid at 93%. Again, the study was detailed and in order to not be counted the checklist had to be entirely devoid of any emergency medical references whatsoever. This means that there are list makers out there who actually created an emergency checklist without including anything related to emergency medical needs. Or, to put it another way, if you decide it’s finally time to prepare for a hurricane, wildfire or whatever, and you choose to just copy a random checklist from Google, there’s about a 1-in-11 chance that you will not have so much as a single band-aid in your emergency disaster kit.

#2: Water is #2

The number two most listed item found on BOB checklists was water at 88%. Believe it or not, water just wasn’t crucial enough to be first on every list. To be fair, however, a handful of lists that failed to mention the most important survival resource that you will ever need, did at least include other related items such as water containers (canteens, e.g.) presumably under the assumption that these containers would be filled with water at some point. Even when adding in the indirect references, water only rose to 92%. Maybe some list authors just forgot water or maybe it was intentionally skipped due to how difficult it can be to account for properly. After all, water is heavy and bulky. The standard one-gallon per-day per-person for 72-hours would easily consume a big chunk of any bug-out bag’s available space. But, leaving it off a survival checklist entirely is quite astonishing considering how important it is for staying alive. Water purification methods, which were listed 56% of the time, were also taken into account but oddly enough those lists that had water purification almost always had mention of water itself and/or water containers as well so purification methods had little influence on the end result, which is: not even water made every emergency checklist

#1: There’s E-D-C in my B-O-B

What’s most surprising about BOB checklists is that a full one-third (34%) specifically state common Every Day Carry (EDC) items as things that should be packed away in a bug-out bag, most notably cell phones and driver’s licenses. Should anyone take such lists literally, the following scenario could very well happen: You’re driving home and you hear the faint, muffled ring tone of your cell phone. You were expecting a very important call from your agent regarding a recently lost medical insurance card so you reach back and lug your bug-out bag onto the passenger seat. You abruptly begin the tedious task of unpacking layers of equipment and survival gear in a frantic attempt to find the phone. Just when you think you’ve reached the right compartment, the flashing lights of a highway patrol car catches your eye. You must have inadvertently swerved when you glanced away to get your pack from the backseat. You pull over and as anticipated the trooper cites you for crossing the yellow line. And, he gives you a second ticket for not being able to provide your driver’s license. You actually know exactly where your license is; it’s in a plastic baggie at the bottom of your bug-out bag along with, you suddenly recall, the previously presumed lost medical insurance card. But you wisely elected not to retrieve your I.D. due to concerns over how the police officer might react if you pulled out the 10-inch buoy knife that blocked you from reaching the documents’ baggie. Thanks to the EDC-laden checklist you copied a few days earlier, you now have two tickets, a sprained right bicep from awkwardly lifting a thirty-pound pack with one-hand, your passenger seat is covered in a mound of camping gear, paracord and tangled fishing line and your cell phone is currently cracked from where the 40-ounce can of baked beans rolled on top of it as you were obediently pulling onto the uneven shoulder of the busy freeway. Oh yeah. And, you just narrowly avoided brandishing a mini-machete in the direction of an armed law enforcement officer. In other words, EDC in your BOB never turns out good.

For anyone who’s trying to keep score, here’s the top 10 most listed BOB items from the evacuation preparedness study (nothing really surprising):

First Aid (93%)
Water (88%, 92% with indirect references)
Flashlight (87%)
Food (86%)
Radio (82%)
Extra Batteries (81%)
Knife (68%)
Clothing (67%)
Cash (65%)
Sleeping Bag/Blankets (65%)

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PREPEDE
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PREPEDE

. . . firearms . . .

Wild Bill
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On your hip or slung over your shoulder as opposed to being in the bag?

mr.e man
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mr.e man

No firearms in my job field. In my personal vehicle a pistol in holster and spare mag in console. In back of vehicle is a second spare mag in holster on load vest. Box of ammo and speed loader in BOB. Vest hidden under duster or long winter coat as seasonal.

Houston
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Houston

Great analysis, thank you for taking the time to put this piece together. I am surprised that Maslow’s pyramid didn’t come up as accepted prepper gospel. Because the Foxfire series is too heavy (lol). Have a great week and be safe!