It is truly stunning the amount of text that is devoted to the Bug Out Bag. This is not one of those posts. What I would like to do is give a perspective of things that may not be considered when you are on the move for an extended period of time and completely away from your normal supply chain.
Being in the military assumes that you have an unending supply of ammunition, fuel, food, and friends. There exist some times that either the military will not provide or the supply chain will not keep up with. Of course the unit has a detailed list of what people are required to take. In some cases, to assure uniformity, they make it known where you should put the item or how you should wear it. The reasoning behind it is, if you are in need of an item in an emergency, you will not need to look around for it if you have to get it off of someone else’s kit. This especially applies to things like first aid gear. What the unit cannot tell you are items that you will NEED to take.
Prior to the start of the invasion, I tried to bend the ear of every single Gulf War vet I could find. “What the hell do you take on an invasion?”, I would ask. So they gave me the following list in no particular order:
Baby wipes-This has been said many times before but needs repeating. You can never have too many. They are a lifesaver when you want to clean yourself but do not have the time or ability to do so. When you are on the run, things like water are a premium commodity and will not be wasted on cleaning.
Batteries – It seems obvious, but batteries are essential. Having your flashlight, electronic optic, or night vision device go down will be a significant emotional event when you really need it. This is another item of considerable weight. I have not looked into alternative power sources like the reportedly very fine one from Goal Zero, but it would be something to look into.
Socks – Lots and lots of socks. I am a bit of a heretic to conventional military wisdom when it comes to how I wear socks in the field. I believe in using plain white athletic socks and changing them often. My feet tend to perspire more than most so keeping them clean and refreshed is the best way for me to maintain them. Of course your mileage may vary with how your foot is conditioned. Whatever kind you wear be sure and bring a lot of them. You will need every pair eventually and they are not that heavy.
Tobacco – You will not be able to run to the corner store and I assure you, you will not find any battlefield pickups. When I reached Iskandariyah on the outskirts of Baghdad, we were able to find come cartons of the Iraqi government brand cigarettes but they were used only as a last resort. Beside from being truly revolting to each of the five senses, they ended up being forbidden due the high formaldehyde content. Of course, you can skip the whole thing and quit now. I did after 14 years and it has been one of the best things I have done for my health and my wallet.
Music/books – Entertainment items are superfluous but essential if you do not want to talk to yourself a lot and struggle to remember song lyrics. Even during the initial mad dash to Baghdad and beyond we would still have times of boredom. I have seen many articles floating around facebook about the utility of having a survival tablet. I could not agree more. Had I the chance to have an ereader back in 2003, my quality of life would have been much better. Charging the battery is, of course, a problem, but it is manageable with current advances in solar cell products. For the security conscious but not necessarily tech savvy, (and you are security conscious, right?), I would recommend the Libertas tablet as an alternative to the off-the-shelf version.
Laundry soap – You will get your clothes dirty and you will have to was them yourself. A clothesline can be made from 550 cord, but you will want a smallish container of Dreft, Woolite, or other powder. The key is that is must wash away clean with as little effort as possible (hence the baby or hand wash only detergents). All Free does not have optical whiteners, so if you do not want to shine like a Christmas tree when being viewed by an enemies Night Vision Device, you will want to go with that brand. I tried to use a device that was shaped like a ball that was supposed to build up pressure on the inside as you rotated with a crank but it did not work. I think that the technology has caught up a bit, so if you can find a labor saving device to keep your undies nice and fresh whilst on the move, more power to you.
Toilet paper- Another item you can never have enough of. However long you plan to be out, assume that it will be longer. MRE toilet paper is woefully inadequate on many fronts. Baby wipes shine in this department but you may want your foe other things. I would recommend a full roll that has been relatively waterproofed in a ziplock baggie as enough for a month. The fairer gendered among us may want to consider a bit more.
Caffeine or other stimulants – This, for obvious litigious reasons, you will have to be careful. When on the run, you will have to be sharp and focused to do what you have to do. The first 36 hours of the race into Baghdad we were driving the entire time. When you are in continuous active combat operations you will not always have the luxury of taking a power nap. The effects of sleep deprivation (among others)are a lowered immune system, weight gain (from using food to fuel your body to keep it awake), and eventual organ failure. The harsh reality is, sometimes, it just cannot be helped if the mission or situation requires you to be awake. So by having something on hand that can keep you focused for a longer amount of time until you can reach that nap, you will be better off.
Zip Ties/Duct Tape - Hundreds of uses. Maybe it was my lousy Supply Sergeant, but I never saw enough of these and would always have to buy it on my own. Having a small bunch of various sized zipties that are fastened arond a rubber band are essential to every packing list. If you are careful with your supplies, you can even reuse them. Duct tape can be either rolled around an old plastic credit card or pencil (the latter being my favorite).