Bug Out Bag Basics–It’s the Little Things That Count!

Howes2with Gary Howes
Guns and Gunsmiths Editor

My mother always told me as a child that it’s the little things that count. I think she told me that so I wouldn’t be disappointed when I didn’t get that new surfboard or bicycle that I wanted for Christmas and had to settle for something small and utilitarian like a new pen and pencil set to start off the school year with. (Did I mention that I grew up in Australia where school starts in January? That always meant some sucky Christmas gifts.)

Anyway, now that I’m a grown up, I actually enjoy filling my space with the little things. After all, they’re lighter and cooler than a surfboard, and most importantly, they fit in my bug-out bag, which also goes with me on regular camping trips.

So, here is a partial list of the little things I find essential to have. After you read this, please use the comment box below to add the little things that you carry, so I have an excuse to go to Amazon and spend more of my money on stuff. After all, you can never have too much stuff.


Signaling tools are small and easily fit in a pocket–don’t leave home without them!

Three things that I have are for signaling– a signaling mirror, a small  but powerful flashlight, and a whistle. If you buy a signaling mirror take the time to practice with it. They’re pretty easy to use and only took me a few minutes to figure out, and I’m not too smart according to some people. A signaling mirror can get someone’s attention from a long way away, even as far as a small aircraft or helicopter that may be searching for your poor lost butt.

However, at night a mirror is useless, hence the flashlight. Besides the obvious use of being able to see where the heck you dropped that box of matches, a good flashlight will also attract the attention of rescuers over fairly decent distances on a dark night. I haven’t tested it out myself, but I suspect that a strobe function would even be more effective in making yourself seen.

If you don’t have a flashlight, even the light from a cellphone can catch the eye of a rescuer, especially if they have FLIR ( Forward Looking Infra Red) capabilities. And EVERYONE has a cellphone these days, right?

Lastly in the signaling department I carry a small but very loud whistle. Much easier, less tiring, and more piercing than yelling your head off for hours on end.

Don't forget a spare pair of reading glasses if you need them!

Don’t forget a spare pair of reading glasses if you need them!

Another small item I carry is a compass–you just know that the battery is going to die in your fancy GPS device just when you need it, but a compass will last a zillion years. However, with your compass, you will also need a local map, or at least a very good idea of where you want to go, as well as the skills needed to be able to use the compass correctly. I’m not going to go into the whole “how to use a compass and map” lesson now, but take the time to at least learn the basics.









You can never carry too many fire starting devices!

Of course I have fire starting equipment, including matches in a waterproof container, a butane lighter, and the Lightning Strike fire starter by Darrell Holland that I reviewed here before. I also have a magnesium block but I never was able to use it as easily as my other fire tools.








I also carry some cash, a small first-aid kit and a survival paracord bracelet.

That’s most of the little stuff I carry, leaving plenty of room for water filters, plastic bags, first aid gear, cutting tools some food and something to cook it in, etc etc etc. it’s amazing just how much “stuff” you can fit in a backpack.

So now it’s your turn–use the comment box below and share with us all the little things that you find necessary in your bug out bag or emergency kit.

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15 Responses to Bug Out Bag Basics–It’s the Little Things That Count!

  1. Good article Gary. Your comments had me chuckling a few times.

    When it gets down to the nitty gritty the items you have listed are definitely “the little things that count” in a bug out bag.

    Just curious does your signalling mirror float? Mine is a StarFlash Ultra Signal mirror (www.ultimatesurvival.com). It has a float-able backing glued to the back of the signal mirror.

    What I have done recently is use lightweight, plastic containers with seal-able screw-on lids (such as a mayonnaise containers or vitamin bottles, etc) and I put all my little bug-out bag items in them to keep them water proof should the rain permeate the backpack. This keeps things secure from falling all over and onto the ground and getting damaged and also it mainly keeps things dry like flashlights, first aid kit items, matches, GPS, clothes, money, dry foods (protein powder, rice, etc) etc, etc, etc,…the list goes on. You can always rid of the containers or use them for collecting water, or use the bottle for tinder that you gathered to start a fire later.

    Bottles and containers are durable and multi-functional and do not puncture as easy as Ziplocks. Heck I think when buying aquarium fish from a store they should use a mayo container with lid instead of a plastic bag with a knot or twist tie to make for easy transport home to the fish tank.

    Small vitamin bottles with screw cap lids stuffed tight full of tinder (vitamin bottle fluff, etc) is good. You can always burn up the bottle for a quick flame to get the fire started if need be.

    I also carry a Wenger CLAVA refillable propane lighter. It blasts a small, hot flame. It is meant for windy conditions where something such as a BIC lighter flame would be extinguished. It’s pricey but pretty cool because I keep it on my key chain along with a very small, loud whistle.

    I do like BIC lighters as they are very reliable and last quite long.

    I like using battery caddies for securely packing spare batteries. It prevents batteries from discharging should the terminals come in contact with something metal in the bug out bag. It also allows one to keep the batteries out of the devices for long tern storage when not in use and avoid corrosion while being in the device.

    A small crank flashlight is great, especially a headset crank flashlight to keep the hands free to use and keep warm. If the crank powers/charges a CR2032 or other battery take a spare battery and a small tool to disassemble the flashlight so you can pop in a new battery should the original fail.

    One of those small lightweight towels that absorbs many times it’s weight in water is handy to dry things with.

    Sea to Summit stuff-sacks are good. Use them to keep clothes and other items dry. It is a nice lightweight product to carry.

    One of those lightweight reflective “Space blankets” are a nice edition. It may even serve as a giant signal mirror as it is wrapped around the body to keep warm or hang it up as a large “signaling flag”.

    Thanks for the article. Cheers

    • Thanks Dana–all excellent ideas for the survival backpack. I did buy a small but powerful flashlight recently that has a backwards-facing clip on it so it can be attached to the brim of a baseball cap. Very handy when you need to keep both hands free and an inexpensive alternative to a dedicated head lamp.

      No, my signal mirror does not float, so it comes in handy if I ever get lost at the bottom of a lake. I might look into a couple of waterproof stuff sacks.

      • Great idea with the reversed clip for the flashlight. You may be able to duplicate that idea by poking some holes through the cap and use paracord to lash the flashlight to the brim or whichever. Never tried that, just a thought. Thanks for the reply.

  2. We played a joke on the son of a friend while we were in a primitive camp (no modern accouterments like flashlights). One evening he wanted to know the time. Since there were no clocks or watches in camp, someone suggested that he get the sundial and a candle to see the hour. Being young and naive, he did so. Then he got the joke.

  3. The one thing all of you forgot was toilet paper. Unwind a few feet from a roll and wrap it around a flat piece of lightweight cardboard. It can also be used to start a fire, Mark a blood trail when hunting or even wipe your butt – it’s much better than leaves or a pine cone.

    • You are absolutely right Joe, and I do have a couple of yards of TP in my bug-out bag. In a pinch though, you can hold a snake by both ends and use that.

      • i do not use a piece of cardboard. i wrap it around my hand and when i think i have enough i flatten it and fold it once and put it in my back pocket. as for using my snake i would rather use it for other things.

  4. so no firearms in your bugout kit….isn’t this a gunsmith newsletter?

    I’ll have to check out those mayo jars, reasonable that they are better than a ziplock.

    • Of course. I always have my Henry Survival Rifle in my bug-out bag and usually at least a handgun when I go camping. But that was not the topic of this particular post.

  5. Alot of good things to put in your bag…..if it gets too heavy, it will probably be left at home, in camp or behind! THREE THINGS you will need the most when lost, stranded, etc are: WATER, SHELTER AND FIRE. Most have been covered above but a 8-12 inch folding saw will be very valuable when building shelter and fire (8inches of snow will have you harvesting small dead limbs that are well off the ground. A bottle of water treatment pills will weigh almost nothing also.

    • Good advice and in fact both of those items were covered in other articles I have written on the subject. Some people have also suggested a wire saw instead of a folding saw because it is more compact, but I think the folding saw is much stronger and less liable to fail.

      On a side note, I HATE the cold, so I never camp in the snow (on purpose)!

  6. Excellent article. I personally don’t take a flashlight in the woods that doesn’t have a strobe function. It allows any one who may have to come get you a surefire beacon to follow at night. A note about weight of the pack, I was taught if you can’t think of multiple uses for one item then don’t pack it especially if it’s bulky. I noticed you listed some food but no specifics. I have found corn chips make an excellent addition as far as food and having multiple purposes. First of you can eat them, second the chips and the residual oil left in them make for excellent tender if needed, and lastly the inside of the wrapper is highly reflective.
    Odd but I promise it works. As always your mileage may vary.

    • Hi Dan. Thanks for your comment.

      I didn’t mention food, cooking utensils etc. in this article on purpose–I have covered them in other articles in the past which I will repost here soon for newer subscribers.

      I usually carry enough freeze-dried food to last at least 72 hours in my backpack, plus a water purification filter, my Henry Survival rifle, multiple methods for fire starting, and a number of other articles. This particular story I was concentrating on the little things that are easy to pack but can make a real difference when camping, or for more serious survival situations.

      I have heard about using corn chips as tinder, however I find that once I start eating them I can’t stop so there would be little left to make a fire! I believe Les Stood also covered this in one of his Survivorman shows.

      I also agree that anything you carry is a better choice if it can do more than one thing.

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