Seventy-two hour kits, bug-out bags, and weight (Or, “How to assemble a list of ‘essentials’ so heavy it would give the Terminator a hernia”)

I’ve been reading a lot about seventy-two hour kits again lately. The lists of STUFF recommended by these so-called “authorities” (read: pointy-headed wogs that have never strapped on a pack in their lives) is astounding. There is no consideration given to weight or context. They take a one-size-fits-all approach, ending up with about two-hundred pounds of gear. Worse, these lists are copied-and-pasted throughout the blogosphere. Stop it. Stop copying and pasting without acknowledging reality. You’re going to get someone killed, hopefully just yourself.

Let’s consider weight. Yes, our military men and women routinely deploy with 120-pound rucksacks; and you know what? It’s entirely too much weight for a 20 year-old Ranger, who is so hard you could roller skate on him. If it’s too much weight for men that get paid to exercise, it’s too much weight for your average wheezing cube-dweller. Get realistic. For the last hundred years folks in the know have been advising our military (and armies throughout the world, actually) that forty pounds of gear is the extreme upper limit of what to carry for any extended period of time. Forty pounds, and that’s including your clothes, boots, rifle, and the weight of the pack itself. How much can you really carry?

Get your bag out. Now start as naked as you can get without scaring the dog and cat and step onto the scale. Add forty pounds to that weight. Boots, belts, and everyday-carry gear can really add up, can’t it? Now, go through your pack. Do you really need all of that? I am not going to begin to tell you what to carry, or to make a list for you. I hate pre-made lists. If you’re looking for that, go somewhere else. The internet is replete with asinine lists, with no context or purpose. Do not copy what you have not tested. Consider what you need to survive in the rule of threes. A person can survive:

  • 30 seconds without controlling serious bleeding
  • 3 minutes without oxygen
  • 3 hours without shelter in extreme hot/cold conditions
  • 3 days without water
  • 3 weeks without food

Prioritize and build your bag accordingly. It should all add up to about forty pounds (including your rifle), depending upon your physical condition.

Set limits that fit your physical fitness, age, location, companions, budget, and intentions. Where are you going? How are you getting there? This is why I say time and again, “Walking sucks”. Set your gear up in “lines”. Pre-pack everything so that you have it set up from what’s in your pockets, to what is in a pack or LBE, to boxes for the bed of your truck or trunk of your car, to a trailer or roof rack. Have plans for losing, stashing, or giving away all of it. That is, be prepared for going without the line below the one you’re currently using. If you lose your pack, use what is in your LBE. If you lose your LBE, use what is in your pockets. This is not an excuse to add weight to your person. Use what you have. If you don’t have the tool, you are. Use your skills and knowledge to make up the difference. Above all else say “And no more!” once you hit your weight limits, so every single tool is prioritized. Add the “nice-to-haves” to these other layers. Camp stoves, tents, heavy food supplies, extra first aid supplies, water, ammunition, wedding pictures, scrapbooks, whatever, it all goes here, in your car, truck, RV, pack mule, whatever. Keep your immediate-use gear light, handy, and pertinent.

I am not a fan of the “seventy-two hour kit”. First, there is no way of knowing how long you will be on your own in, or in the aftermath of, a disaster. My take is forever, or until the stores open again. You are on your own. No one is coming for you. FEMA and the Red Cross are not your friends. They will disarm you and put you at their mercy, feeding you what they feel like, when they feel like it. The ultimate goal of Survival Club is to live as close to the comfort level you are now for as long as possible. Let some other schmuck stand in line for an MRE and a cot in the corner of the Murderdome. If you are relying upon your “bug-out bag”, know what you’re doing and where you are going, in context.

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11 Responses

  1. Dissenting view.
    “The ultimate goal of Survival Club is to live as close to the comfort level you are now for as long as possible.”
    very good. But we must also examine the ultimate goal of 72 hour kits. Do you think that the .gov recommendations for 72 hour kits are directed at the uber 7337 preppers with a safe full of guns, a basement full of grain and a head full of survival knowledge? I say no.

    I think 72-hour kits are simply a “huddled masses friendly” PR campaign to get people thinking. It’s like the popular “what 3 […or 5 or 10] things would you bring on a dessert island?” exercise that is popular in school. It’s thoughtful, and hopefully some will follow that thought with action. If the worst thing that happens is 0.01% of the population gets a bag and stuffs it full of bulky only semi-useful gear… is it really that bad? You can always ditch gear later, it’s tough to improvise an extra pack of matches, or an extra pack of tactical pop tarts.

    Now if we discuss the advanced school of survival crowd, then yes – your point is valid. Alot of cowboy commandos who spend more time typing on a keyboard than walking thru the woods. The “advanced” [perhaps novice would be more appropriate?] survival crowd does need to pair down the weight and load. Of course we also collectively need to pair down our waistlines, work on some more strength training, get to the range more often, and off the benchrest when we do go…. I could go on.

    But I still see 72-hour kits as an easy baseline for a large group of people to grasp and marginally obtain. In a sample of 100 people I’d rather have 20 with crappy [by our definition] 72 hour kits than just 2 with ultra-refined lightweight, multi-tiered kits. Ideally, tho – we can both in that same sample… and the two who know what they are doing can help the other 20 get rid of the junk they don’t need when the zombie apocalypse comes.

    My $0.02. Contemplate and respond as you wish.

  2. There are several related points here. I’d like to separate them out. First, my problem with seventy-two hour kits relates to attitude. Too many people see them as talismans that ward off evil. “If I have this, I don’t have to think about it anymore.:” What happens on the fourth day? You get hungry, go to the FEMA camp, or join the looters. My goal is to keep everyone out of the FEMA camps. Yes, it’s good to get your foot in the door; but it’s no place to stop. You can’t build a bag, then get fat and sassy.

    Call me a cynic, but I see DHS/Red Cross’s recommendations as more bread and circuses. “Yes, there are disasters; but don’t worry. We’ll take care of you.” Brandon, you and I both know that’s bull. Perspective is key. You and I see seventy-two hour kits as tools to get you where you need to be. The average ready.gov reader sees them as the be-all/end-all. That’s my point. Sure, I have a few layered GOOD bags; but I also have car boxes and stay-at-home preparations. I also have a head full of learning.

    And again, weight is key. How much can you carry? May as well prioritize now. A way to purify water, a Nalgene bottle and steel cup, a tarp and wool blanket rolled up together, a change of clothes and extra socks works out to be a lot more realistic than the pounds and pounds of crap recommended by the bloggers that regurgitate the exact same lists (type “72-hour kit” into the WordPress search engine and you’ll find the copypasta’ed list). It’s really unrealistic.

  3. You are a cynic – but doesn’t mean you’re always wrong, either.

    I don’t have a bunch of warm fuzzies about all of the organizations that are willing to help in a disaster… but I guess my point is that I see the “typical” 72-hour kit recommendations as a good starting point that hopefully the unwashed masses will think about and do.

    It might help some of them in a disaster.

    For serious S&P nuts, I’d be hard pressed to disagree with you on any of your points.

  4. The one serious exception is food. Folks that stuff their “seventy-two hour kits” full of ramen noodles and Jolly Ranchers are dooming themselves. That stuff is junk on its best day. To have folks rely upon it when their metabolisms are amped up and they’re stressed out is an invitation for disaster. Even if their kits weigh fifty pounds, even if they’ve loaded it up with their wedding albums and Gameboys, if the food isn’t nutritious, they’ll end up beating down the doors to get into those FEMA shelters.

    My goal is to keep us ALL out of the FEMA shelters.

  5. […] kit” issue Posted by SamAdams on January 19, 2011 Uncategorized After reading a very though-provoking blog entry on the subject, I sat down to write my own list, meant to account for my needs and abilities. The […]

  6. Your post made me think about my GOOD AND actually add up the weight. I believe that the only real reason FEMA wants everyone to have a 72-hr kit is so that they can reach the camps with a minimum of looting and violence on the way. My own list might be as follows:

    * backpack (approx 5lbs)
    * pistol + 100 rds ammo [G30 in .45ACP + 3 mags] (approx 4.5 lbs)
    * rifle [AR + 200 rds ammo in mags or .308 sniper rifle + 50 rds loose ammo] (approx 9 lbs)
    * 2 MRE
    * Medical kit
    * Water bladder + 5qt water (9 lbs)
    * Compact binoculars (2 lbs)
    * Knives & tools (3 lbs)
    * Water filter + collapsible carrier (2 lbs)
    * Toiletries

    Its a start…now to put it together and go for a hike!

    • It’s good to think about. You might be able to save some weight on water, since you already have a filter packed.

      Toiletries are a necessity, not just a “nice-to-have”. A bar of soap, a washcloth, a cut down toothbrush, some floss, some baking soda, and you’re good there. Remember extra socks, too; and a fleece top and hat might be more useful than the extra weight you’ve shaved from the other categories.

      Remember to strip your MREs, too. Two MREs will fit into one bag, after you strip out the garbage. It doesn’t save much weight; but it sure does cut down on the bulk.

      Overall I’m glad to see folks thinking about it. Remember, “Light” infantry, isn’t.

      Knives are another issue. I like a big knife, instead of a hatchet (which definitely has it’s niche); but a small knife is just so handy. I still have a multi-tool in my LBE, and I keep wondering if it’s worth the space and weight. A Swiss Army knife would likely be a better investment. Call it inertia (too lazy to take it out yet).

  7. water is one of those things that is easy to strip out, if needed. I say store an extra “throwaway” bottle of water with your pack in the form of a reused 2 liter or juice bottle. If SHTF grab it and drink a good amount of that water quick, and then you have the option to stash the leftover or dump it.
    Frankly I’m very hopeful that weight concerns are rendered null post-SHTF because I’m hoping I can just toss the packs in the car and go… but we will see. Right now I’m in the middle of a pretty big repack of my bags, while I’m also upgrading medical.

    Bo: my single favorite use for a heavy multitool around camp is for cooking. having a pair of pliers to pick up and move hot pots and pans around the fire with ease is a big payoff in my eyes. I find it useful for other things, too – but campfire cooking just is so much nicer with a multitool IMO.

  8. Brandon, I agree that a multi-tool is nice around the campfire; but I’ll bet that you don’t need a campfire to prepare any of the food in your primary GOOD bag. That’s probably where you keep your licky-chewies (power bars, beef jerky, nuts, and other stuff you can eat on the run). Keep the multi-tool in your line four gear (with your camp stove, mess kits, Mountain House food, hatchet, and other base-camp sundries).

    The way my LBE is set up, half of its pocket contents would go into my clothes pockets (line one). That includes the multi-tool (as long as it’s still in my kit), compass, extra folding knife, shooting gloves, and a few other small items. A good small Swiss Army knife (like the Camper model from Victorinox) has everything a multi-tool has minus pliers, and is handier in the pocket.

    Oh, and dummy-cord all of that stuff to your belt loops. You don’t want to lose anything in a WCS (when you can’t just run to the China*Mart to replace it).

    Water is heavy. It’s vital, and I keep quite a bit of it around. I only keep two quarts in my bag, with another empty bladder, and a second empty bladder in my LBE (and an empty one quart Platypus for my pocket). I also keep a Miox in the bag and a Katadyn Pocket (still the gold standard) in my line four gear.

    It’s so easy to load yourself down like a stevedore. One tip is to get a smaller backpack. The smaller the pack, the more likely to prioritize its contents.

  9. This is a very good article, sound thinking, good points. Personally, due to family health issues, if TSHTF I’ll probably have to engage at distance and use a spider hole until what will be, will be.
    BUT – I have commented on other blogs like Death Valley Mag, I did have a friend years ago who had so prepared his – fill in the blank, Bug Out bag, Survival Bag, Evac Kit – whatever – that it really did, no BS, weigh in at sixty pounds. Just getting it in, made him sway like a palm tree in a high wind… and thinking about him trying to climb, descend, or navigate broken streets or rubble-strewn AOs, like in Douchebagistan, or for that matter, “Book of Eli”, was pathetic.
    I have mentioned before ( perhaps giving away my age) that often the VC could get by with a water bottle of some type, a couple of bandos of AK ammo ( or whatever they were given) a knife and a rifle, Yes, they had dumps and underground depots, but look at the Iraqi muslim scumbags today and see what they carry. Damned little. Priorities are key.
    The ONE thing that I would mention besides water and ammo – as plain as it sounds – would be at least three or four pair of socks, to keep the feet as dry and clean as possible. I know what jungle rot, athlete’s foot, and small cracks in the skin, can do to bring a man down and take him out of action, if the feet get soaked in bad stuff.
    But overall, light travel is desireable. And if you are fighting an actual enemy, rather than the results of a natural disaster, you can hopefully re-supply from the fallen foes who won’t be needing THEIR stuff any longer.

  10. Good points regarding the socks. Thanks for your comments.

    I really like medium-weight SmartWool hiking socks. I keep four pairs in my three-day pack, along with two extra t-shirts. Ideally I’d be able to wash and rinse them at the end of every night. I also have a pair of slip-on Merrells in my line four gear to wear at night while my boots are drying out (wet boots is bad news). I don’t keep them in my pack. I don’t take them with me during the day; but ideally I’d have them in a car convoy or if I have to shelter in-place.

    I’ve been thinking more and more about weight. It complicates things considerably. We need communications in our three-day packs; but even the lightest gear adds up. A 2-meter handi-talkie is definitely better than just a “nice-to-have”. Then there’s survival communications, like a signal panel or mirror. How much is enough? A smoke generator or pop-flare? Again, that’s more weight and space. I’d like to have all of those things available in my ruck, ideally.

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