A recent question on Rural Revolution has inspired this post. The question was from someone just starting to put their Bug Out Bag (BOB) together and wanted to know what 5 things she should start with. From the responses, it was apparent that we all live in different parts of the country! There were many offerings of water purification tablets. Well, where I live you may have lots of tablets but no water ! So here are my latest thoughts on your BOB or GO bag or whatever you call yours.
The most important thing about your BOB is to have one and fight the temptation to pilfer from it. Remember it is part of your emergency PLAN and your SYSTEM to execute the plan.
If your emergency plan is to drive north away from the hurricane, you may have a BOB that is more heavily geared to cash and clothing. Do have some water and quality snacks for the trip, as you may spend part of that time in a long parking lot and pulling into McD's may not be an option....
I'd offer that your BOB should be tailored to WHERE you are and where you'd be going if you had to leave home for a while. I live in the desert, so #1 for me is that the actual bag needs to have away to carry a fair amount of water. The BAG design and getting the right one is #1 for me. (I am currently saving up for that one, but am using an OK bag with 2 water bottles in the mean time). It also supplements what's in my car if I have the luxury of leaving in my vehicle.
It rarely rains here, so my poncho is a cheap plastic disposable and wasn't in my top 5. Think Maslow's hierarchy. Water, food, shelter, security. I have 3 ways to start a fire (matches, lighter, Firesteel) you may want to start with one or two ways. I have multiple ways to get water. Because it is so scarce here, these include getting it from small or unconventional sources (like the Hydropack pouches). If you have abundant water, you may only need water bottles and ways to strain and purify, like a bandana and purification tablets.
Food and a way to eat if are a high priority. If you take dehydrated of freeze dried, you'll need more water and a way to heat water.
Rather than 5 'things' I'd suggest 5 capabilities that are most important to you. Staying hydrated, sleeping without pests or rain on you, protection from bad things, light and or heat, something to eat.
After that you can work on luxuries like a good first aid kit, personal hygiene and a change of clothes (maybe a couple changes of socks and undies).
When you get down to the actual BOB in a backpack or duffle, miniaturize to keep the weight down. I try to keep my pack at about 16 pounds so that with water, protection and my hiking stick I don't exceed 30 pounds. For a man, I would do the same, but allow more weight for some items not in the pack, like a small shovel or larger weapon and extra ammunition.
Also, have a pack for each member of the household, according to what they can bear. Once a child is 6 or 7, they can carry a change of clothes, a few snacks and a pint of water. My dog has a pack and carries a supply of her food, a bowl and about a quart of water. No free rides for those with 4 good legs! I don't have a cat. If you do, you're on your own!
Earlier I mentioned SYSTEM. My BOB is bare bones. If I go in my car with my BOB and what's in the car, it elevates my capabilities because of what is in the vehicle kit. The heavy and full-size things are there. An inflatable sleeping pad, a full-sized lantern, tarp, pot and pan, etc. More and better food to last a couple weeks, etc. If I have time to do more than jump in, I have a few more bags to load for a better journey.
Last item is that your BOB should not be a static thing. We have essentially 3 seasons here, so I unpack and review my bag about every 4 months. For the monsoon season, I add extra DEET and some mosquito netting. For winter, I add a few items to keep me warmer and extra fire-starting material but take it out in the spring. For Spring, it's extra food because the already scarce natural resources are tapped out until the monsoon.