Building a Basic Bug-Out Bag for Your Car

Pam No 1 Bug out Bag

by J. P. Cowan

So, you’d like to build a basic bug-out bag for your car. First, don’t confuse a bug-out bag with an emergency car kit. They both may have a flashlight and duct tape but the latter may also contain flares and kitty litter to help you get back on the road, the main purpose of an emergency car kit.

A bug-out bag is for when you have to leave your car, or live in your car, and will help you survive in relative comfort and safety for up to 72 hours. The contents of this particular bag will do that, but not much more.

For instance, there is no suggestion that you carry wire for snares or fishing hooks and line, because the idea is that there will be enough food for you to make three meals a day for three days.

If you’re interested in having a more robust bag you can use the list below as a starting place. For now, let’s concentrate on a light-weight bag that will help you take on whatever  disaster you might encounter out there on the road, be it a break down in a remote area, or an emergency evacuation after a fire or earthquake.


  • WEIGHT: Don’t pack more than you need. 25 pounds is a good limit to set.
  • Location: Keep your bag in your car. More than one car? Make a bag for each. You’ll want your family members to have access to one. Also, if you rent or borrow a car remember to toss your bag in.
  • ROTATION: You’ll want to rotate some of the contents regularly. Your pack is only as good as what’s in it and if what’s in it is stale water, spoiled food and medication that no longer works you’re not going to be healthy or happy.
  • COST: You shouldn’t wait until you have the money for everything you want. You can start now by using thing you’ve already got. A used backpack from a second hand store will work fine. Garbage bags are great as ponchos or ground cover. A tarp makes a good tent. You get the idea. Start by gathering things you already have around the house, buy the best you can afford of the most important elements, and then add and upgrade as you can.
  • BREAKAGE: According to travel expert Rick Steves, “You should be able to put your pack on the ground and kick it like a football. If you’re worried about breaking something then get it out of there and replace it with something that won’t.”


  • WATER: 1 gallon per day for drinking and cleanliness. Because water is so important to survival a supply of water purification pills or a Lifestraw (a straw that filters water as you draw it through the straw) is also recommended.
  • FOOD & COOKING: Choose a solid fuel, propane or alcohol burning stove that takes up little space. Some weigh as little as 7 oz. Pack dehydrated backpack meals and energy bars which last a long time. At minimum pack a small pot to boil water and a cup to eat or drink from. Add a fork and spoon. Toss in a scrap of leather to use as a potholder and a couple of dishcloths for cleanup. Disinfecting cloths are easy to come by and make good, spill proof substitutes for cleaning solution. They also save using precious water.
  • FIRE: To start a fire you should carry at least three methods: watePam No1 BoB 2rproof matches, a windproof lighter and a firesteel and scraper. This is a modern version of the old flint and steel. For something to burn in your fire you’ll need to cut firewood and kindling so you’ll want a wire saw, small hatchet and/or fixed blade survival knife.
  • CLOTHING: A pair of shoes or boots and socks comfortable for walking is essential. Also pack rain gear such as a poncho or rain jacket, a warm knit cap, and good work gloves.
  • SHELTER/WARMTH: A tent, or tarp and rope to serve as a tent. A sleeping bag and ground cloth. Remember, staying dry is essential to staying warm.
  • FIRST AID: There are plenty of first aid kits available. Buy one and add whatever you think might be useful, such as elastic bandages to wrap a strained ankle, or mole skin to place over blisters.
    • Duct tape can repair tears in your tent or even your skin.
    • Rope of two types. One, duty rated for climbing and one for hanging your bag in a tree, building a shelter, and many other uses. For this, paracord is great, but even cheap clothesline will work.
    • Pin one or two on your bag. Be a shame to survive a hike only to get run over on the highway. I don’t recommend tape as pin on type can be removed if you need to stay in the shadows.
    • Trash bags of the heavy duty lawn variety can be used as a rain cover for your backpack, to keep your shoes dry, to act as a water carrier, to be blown up and used as a pillow and for many other purposes.
    • Plastic bags serve much the same way, keeping items such as matches and maps dry and contained.
    • Multi-tools save you needed space by providing a small knife, screwdriver, can opener, plant digger, splinter puller, rope slicer or you name it.
    • Two flashlights, preferably one crank operated handheld and one headlamp for hands free operation.
    • Safety whistle with compass. Make sure its loud. Mirror. Both items can draw needed attention from rescue.
    • A three-day supply of prescription meds and a list of health conditions and alerts.
    • Toothbrush and paste to keep you feeling civilized.
    • Handy wipes, TP and feminine hygiene.
    • Your disaster plan. Who do you contact? Friends and family’s phone numbers and addresses. Remember, your cell phone may not work in an emergency so stored numbers may not be accessible.


Remember, this is only a basic bug-out bag. You should modify it to fit the regions you live and travel in. You may also be considering packing a gun for personal defense. Remember, weight is a huge issue when hiking any distances so, as survival author John Boch says, “Unless you expect to have to fight your way through Little Mogadishu on your way home, a sidearm and a reload or two will probably suffice for 99.99% of likely contingencies.”

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