Ask Hackaday: What’s in Your Digital Bugout Bag?

Your eyes pop open in the middle of the night, darting around the darkened bedroom as you wonder why you woke up. Had you heard something? Or was that a dream? The matter is settled with loud pounding on the front door. Heart racing as you see blue and red lights playing through the window, you open the door to see a grim-faced police officer standing there. “There’s been a hazardous materials accident on the highway,” he intones. “We need to completely evacuate this neighborhood. Gather what you need and be ready to leave in 15 minutes.”

Most people will live their entire lives without a scenario like this playing out, but such things happen all the time. Whether the disaster du jour is man-made or natural, the potential to need to leave in a big hurry is very real, and it pays to equip yourself to survive such an ordeal. The primary tool for this is the so-called “bugout bag,” a small backpack for each family member that contains the essentials — clothing, food, medications — to survive for 72 hours away from home.

A bugout bag can turn a forced evacuation from a personal emergency into a minor inconvenience, as those at greatest risk well know — looking at you, Tornado Alley. But in our connected world, perhaps it pays to consider updating the bugout bag to include the essentials of our online lives, those cyber-needs that we’d be hard-pressed to live without for very long. What would a digital bugout bag look like?

Grab That Phone

It pays to think about the specs before designing any system, of course, so for the purposes of this article, let’s define our bugout scenario as a natural disaster of local to regional scope — think hurricane, flood, tornado, ice storm, etc. We’ll assume this will require you to leave your home for three days or so, and that you’ll have to travel to another location — a shelter set up by local emergency management authorities, perhaps, or even to the home of a friend or relative outside the impacted area. Let’s also assume that we can expect at least some disruption of infrastructure as a result of the disaster — lines may be down, power may be out, and cell phone service may be spotty.

Let’s further stipulate that our digital bugout bag will be part of our regular bugout bag, as opposed to a separate backpack or bag. Whatever we want to take with us will have to fit in the space between our sweatpants, undies, and MREs.

The center of most people’s online life today is the smartphone, so that’ll be the first thing in the bag. In fact, if you’ve had any heads up on the disaster brewing around you, you’ve probably been on the phone pretty much constantly, checking out the situation. That’s good — situational awareness is critical to making good decisions in any crisis, and your smartphone is the perfect tool for that. But it’s not much good without juice, and if you’ve been texting and browsing in the lead up to the evacuation, is the phone even fully charged? How bad would it be to get to safety only to realize that you’re at 11% and have no way to top off?

I’d say the next thing in the bag needs to be a charger for your phone. As cheap and ubiquitous as these are, and as small and light as they’ve gotten, it pays to have a couple around (including the appropriate cable). Stash a charger or two in the car as well your emergency bag. But our scenario might include a power outage, so a wall-wart charger might not cut it. So I recommend a USB battery pack plugged into an outlet next to your bag. It’ll always be topped off and a three-second process to throw it (and its charger) into the bag. Fair warning, though: as my son just discovered on a six-day backcountry hiking trip, even a fully charged battery pack might not charge a depleted phone completely. So you might want a big one, or perhaps two.

You also might want to think about where you’re likely to shelter. If you’re crashing on a friend’s couch, chances are good you’ll be handy to an outlet. But if you’re on a cot in the middle of a high school gymnasium, your nearest outlet is going to be far away. I’d say it’s unreasonable to put an extension cord in the bag to handle this, and chances are good that shelter administrators would frown on this anyway. So you might want to prepare for the need to share an outlet. Throw a multi-tap adapter or power strip in the bag, and it’ll be easy to persuade the outlet’s current occupant to share. Remember that this phone is your digital lifeline, so stick around while it’s charging.

What Was That Number?

With a smartphone and a means to charge it, you’ve got instant access to all the information and entertainment in the world. But without service, which we counted as a possibility in our bugout scenario, what good is the thing? Cell sites might be swamped, or their backup generators could run out of fuel. Or maybe the shelter you’re in has no WiFi or their ISP has gone dark. What do you do then? Do you know even a few of the phone numbers for your people? I know I don’t. I couldn’t tell you my wife’s phone number if my life depended on it!

We’ve become so accustomed to just punching up our contact list or asking Siri that we don’t remember phone numbers anymore. So if your contacts are not actually in your phone’s memory, keep a printed backup of the most important ones in your kit. It seems odd that a dead-tree version of your contacts should be part of a digital bugout kit, but there you are. While you’re at it, write your doctor’s name and number as well as any medications and dosing information on this hunk of cellulose pulp.

And what about your online content? Most of us can get along for a few days without music and video, but if it’s important to you, think about putting it on an SD card that fits your phone. While you’re at it, maybe it would be prudent to add other important documents that you might not have access to, like copies of passports and birth certificates. Personal documents on an unsecured card represent a security risk though, so encryption might be wise.

Now It’s Your Turn

Here’s where you get to sound off about what you’d include in a digital bugout bag. What vital pieces of technology would you throw in to make a 72-hour stay bearable? Or would you even bother? Perhaps you’ve been through such a situation and learned some lessons. If so, share your hard-won wisdom and help us all get prepared to survive a few days in a digital dead zone.

117 thoughts on “Ask Hackaday: What’s in Your Digital Bugout Bag?

      1. Will agree with you on the thumb drive. Several years ago there was a tragedy in Brazil where some genius built a tower block and decided that beach sand was good enough to make concrete (look for “Palace II” on wikipedia). For obvious reasons, the building collapsed. What left me in shock was not the tragedy itself, but an interview with one of the survivors, an old man, that said: “my wife passed away last year, and all my photos and memories with her were inside the apartment. Now I have nothing. I can build another home, but it will be mostly empty”. Touched by it, I started a massive backup of all family photos and videos I had, packed into an external HD, “to never lose them”.

        ….aaaaaaaand I got my apartment robbed months later. Guess what?

        1. I had the same issue with more than an external HD along with my mobile office that was basically a bugout rig (more stealth overlander longbed truck with cap) office with off the grid kit like Swedish Fire Steal, Honda 1000W generator, deep cycle battery, battery charger, gas and liquid fuel lighting & stove and other cold and warm weather gear. When law enforcement manufactures crime and health care disasters inspired by you is what I am finding out.

  1. If you’re evacuating for your life, digital comforts disappear. Bring your phone, bring a charger, abandon everything else. If you survive then you can worry about playing music and catching up on TV. A bugout bag needs clothes, identification, required medical supplies, and a day’s food and water. Not a USB drive. If you can’t survive without entertainment… well, more food for me.

        1. You can, but the problem is that it’s mediocre at either function. Better to invest in a good radio and a smartphone that meets your needs. Heck, even a cheap HT that you keep in the bag would be better than nothing.

          1. I like a roll of magnet wire (or salvaged) and am wanting to try the Kevlar braid I scored since so lightweight. From a minimalist perspective also a transformer, crystal set, some power source and if you really want to get fancy tin snips, nippers small drill and knowledge of how to make a P.O.W. more advanced radio from salvaged materials.

    1. Agreed. While I appreciate the thought provoking question HaD, I can’t get the image out of my head of a princess being ripped from her castle as the enemy breaks through the gate yelling, “someone grab my art!” I think you should be ready to survive forever away from home, but if people need to start thinking that way by thinking about what they would do for 72 hours away from home, that is OK by me.

      1. People never consider domestic situations. Being able to shut the kids up and keep them from wandering off for a few hours so you can get that shelter built is hugely important. “But my kids are trained to help and not be worthless in those situations”. Yea, right. For the other 99%, there’s a thumb drive and video player.

    2. He said “digital” bug out bag.
      I understood it to mean that it would be supplemental to a regular bug out bag.

      Yes, if you don’t have a regular BOB, then certainly assemble one before you assemble a digital BOB.

    3. What’s wrong with having a USB drive?

      Sure, that’s a really low priority item when the immediate concern is survival. Someone who doesn’t make it because they delayed evacuation to search for the USB stick with their movie collection or worse because they were busy putting the collection onto the USB stick probably deserves their Darwin Award.

      But this isn’t about that. This is about preparing ahead of time. Doing that of course survival necessities are the important items but there is time to think about the non-important stuff that makes life more comfortable too. I would never recommend including large and/or heavy entertainment items that might crowd out more necessary provisions but really, how much space does a tiny thumbnail sized USB memory chip and an adapter to plug it into USB micro or c, whatever your phone takes require?

      Personally I wouldn’t bother because my phone is choc full of eBooks and other lower-bandwidth media that would keep my mind occupied for years anyway. But.. if you are the type that prefers to watch movies all day… you can only fit so many of those on a phone’s internal storage. Why not prepare?

      1. I like USB drives, and you can get ones with the USB and micro USB plug on the other end also, for when at libraries or on others systems to copy date, backup data, store data and have Live-USB/CD operating systems that don’t have persistence. Sometime you can pick up a Live-CD from the book store in a magazine if you can’t download also.

    4. Well a better question would by “Why are you bugging out?” If you are on this site, chances are you might be a hacker (not judging, I am one too). So a very probably reason for bugging out might be to hide digitally. This means any electronic devises you have could be a path for someone to track you.

      My go bag has jump drive for digital tools, but also a little slip of paper with a couple of sock puppet log in’s I have had for about 10 years. They have no traffic that can be traced back to me since I created them before I moved, so the originating ip will be different from my current one. They are friends in the social media sphere they both share and a friend has a copy. If I call her or she calls me and say “scramble,” that’s my Que to get somewhere safe for a minimum of 3 days and then post a message to one of those accounts. She monitors them and reports news, or all clear, or whatever.
      I know this seems paranoid, but it’s not for all the reasons I can think of that I have this set in place, It’s for all the reasons I can’t think of.

    5. Are you seriously suggesting that the room taken up by a thumb drive can be packed with enough calories to extend your survival enough to outweigh the benefit of maintaining the continuity of your digital life?

      Not all online activities are frivolous, after all, and even a cheap thumb drive (or an SD card, taking up effectively zero extra room) can store everything you need to start rebuilding your life if the event that forced you to leave ends up claiming your home and possessions. I’d rather rebuild from scanned copies of birth certificates, passports, credit cards, deeds, insurance documents, policy numbers, agents names, etc., then sit there with an extra third of a Clif bar and wonder what the hell to do next.

      1. Right and I can add mirrored copies all over the place of medical and legal records as well as considering using Cloud storage locations since bigger game players with more need to keep up and running… then again, i.e. Google Drive, Yahoo, FilesAnywhere (fax service too) and others that can share in this article as I am not sure about as I never programmed on the Cloud nor read into much since was way to open for where I worked. I had to struggle back in the day with not being stand alone, directly saving to servers, implementing backup servers and connecting with other sites to remote in and have virtual service to access their network data.

  2. I have everything for my earthquake/wildfire kit in a 5 gallon bucket. There is even room for a pot and propane stove to boil water if an evac turns out to be more than a few days. food, water, toilet, shelter are way more important to my family than my laptop or phone. wind up radio is in there to get announcements. and if I have 15 minutes to gather things up maybe I’ll grab my phone and charger. but I’d rather have a change of clothes and a towel as my luxury items.

    1. The bucket is a good idea, never thought of that. Although carrying it around requires the use of at least one hand whereas a quality-constructed backpack and at least a couple 5-gallon mylar bags with spigots would cover the typical use cases for a bucket like that. I suppose the bucket would also make for a chemical toilet but I don’t see much of a need for that other than a total end of the world scenario.

      1. My bucket has a toilet seat lid though. it’s designed to be an at home kit. Generally if I evac it’s going into a car and I won’t be carrying it. walking out is not an option. airlift could be an option, but then I’d leave pretty much everything behind except what I could fit in my pockets.

    1. That is nice, but a BOB is for when such public services are disrupted or unable to function such as in a man made or natural disaster, war, riot, revolution, etc or even something like a gas leak in your neighborhood that requires you to evacuate ASAP for a few days.

      1. I’m with exrctv on this, in Europe we tend to think more of how to work together if disaster strikes rather than preparing to be isolated in a wilderness. Maybe it is the higher population density.

        1. It may be a combination of population density and the scale of some plausible disasters that can require traveling a long distance to escape gives you a higher chance of getting stranded in a remote area. That, and something of a cultural fascination with cowboys, mountain men, and others who needed to survive in the wilderness.

    2. Does Poland have large flood zones? I’m talking about ones which encompass large cities not individual homes. Does it have forested or heavily covered in grass areas with extended dry seasons that are prone to huge fires? If so do people live there? Do you have warm coastlines that are subject to hurricanes? How about large 7+ earthquakes? Tornado zones where whole cities can be taken out in one storm?

      If not then why so smug?

      1. There are some areas prone to flooding but people who built their houses there are mostly retards who thought they made a great deal on inexpensive land. Forest fires? Not a major issue because we have both professional and volunteer fire departments, fires are quickly stopped. Warm coastline? Yep, but without major storms, it’s only Baltic ~swamp~ sea. Earthquakes? Nope.

        1. LOL Dude! Do you think there aren’t both professional and volunteer fire departments in California?!? Or in the entire developed world plus much of the developing world?

          And people think Americans are out of touch! LMAO

        2. My guess would be that if your fires are more quickly stopped it’s because your climate is less flammable and not because fire departments are a progressive luxury unique to Poland.

        3. What a minute.. what English (as a foreign language) class is going to teach words like ‘retards’ and ‘nope’? Yeah, you are from Poland all right. Probably the ‘Polish Village’ district of some US city!

          1. If you are on the internet for a long time you learn words like retard and nope. Nope is used in our everyday language nowadays btw( I’m german though).

        4. My house is on top of a ridge, yet 10 years ago we had “flooding” (water damage in the basement).
          Because of the huge amount of rainfall and the ground was already saturated.
          Our friends who live down in the valley fared worse.

      2. For the first time I feel the need to reply – because I’m Polish and I don’t want exrctv to speak for me.

        Yes, our firefighting service is great, healthcare is fair enough and people cooperate during emergencies. And we’re quite safe from large scale disasters. Quite. But just last summer there was a hurricane in northern Poland, mostly over forests but it blocked roads and destroyed power lines to some villages. In 1996, huge flood in Wroclaw, many people left without help for few days. Another less devastating one in 2010 (BTW, someone doesn’t remember this events and thinks that _other_ people are retards?). In the mountains – almost every winter you can expect roads blocked by the snow at least for a few days.

        So yes, help is on the way, but in any event that affects more then a few houses, authorities will simply not be able to help everyone immediately. That’s why most manuals recommend to prepare for 3 days, not for the fall of civilization. Firefighters and soldiers will be too busy helping hospitals and those with broken bones. If you’re not in immediate danger – wait for your turn. Neighbours would help, but being young and healthy I feel I should be the one who helps.

    3. Despite what you said, most likely it’s a good idea for the citizens in Poland to have their own personal emergency preparation in place as well. Even in the US rural areas where I live we have publically funded law enforcement, and semi-volunteer firefighters,medical emergency services. Having said that I’d have to estimate, except for volunteer emergency service personnel, very few citizens have bug out/go bags. I use the term semi volunteer because taxes insur the volunteers have the equipment they need.

    4. You seem to be misunderstanding things. It’s not an issue of whether there are emergency services.

      You local emergency services are designed to handle a bit more than a normal day’s emergencies. If something happens, I don’t know what kind of natural disasters you deal with there so let’s say there is an industrial accident spilling toxic chemicals and a town, or even just a large neighborhood, needs to be evacuated. Your local emergency services will be completely overloaded. Their job is going to be to evacuate everyone to, hopefully, a shelter.

      If you’re lucky there will be a shelter and the volunteers will be trained, prepared, and organized, but it won’t matter to you. The shelter volunteers and the emergency services are heavily overloaded and their priority will be on the injured, the sick, the disabled, and the children. You’re able bodied so you’re going to be ushered to a big room and left on your own. No point arguing, because it’s the right thing to do. You are now in the best case scenario, which is still a shelter that does not have enough supplies to go around, and you’re left to fend for yourself as there is no one available to help you.

      But I hear you asking, won’t they send in emergency services from other places? Yes, but that takes time. This is part of where that “72 hours” figure comes from. Optimistically, nearly 72hrs after the evacuation more help will be arriving, but again their priorities will be on the injured, the sick, and the disabled, as well as starting to slowly distribute small amounts of food and water to a large crowd of people who were not prepared.

      It’s after this point that hopefully someone will be coming around with a clipboard, asking your name and if you have any family that is missing and if there is someone to contact, and hopefully over the next day or two contacts will be made and you’ll be reunited with any missing family.

      If you do a bit of research you’ll see this is on the optimistic side of what happens in a disaster. There are a lot of people that train and work hard to be able to help in these situations, but there are just too many people that need help and things take time.

    5. If there is a terror attack or major disaster. you might be without services for a few days. You can look at historic earthquakes in Italy and Spain for an idea of what how long it might take for services to return to normal in a civilized place like Europe.

  3. An AM/FM radio with weather band would be a critical item. You can’t rely on the cellular network to be up but radio stations outside the affected area can still be a valuable source of information. Plenty of batteries but hand-crank would be better. Forget the tablet and laptop, the radio would be better for information.

    1. If you have ample electricity then and a non-apple cellphone then an RTL-SDR dongle will do the job while also giving you something ‘hacky’ to play with when the craving starts to set in. That’ll suck your battery fast though so in a real infrastructure-free situation a plain-old analog radio will do much better.

      1. I own an iphone, and it seems I’m not recharging it anymore than the owners of smart phones from other manufacturers. However that may be because I know how the power consumption of my phone, and they don’t know how to that with their phones. In an actual infrastructure collapse, there will be plenty of hacking opportunities, and it will not be about playing .Likely to separate the chaff from those who consider themselves DIY regardless of what label they choose. I do bag a pocket AM/RM radio that uses AA batteries.

    2. Is there any “weather radio” in Europe?

      “regular radio” is dying mostly due to vested interested from GAFAM, TV is next
      What would prevent from a bunch of lightheads to give up to GAFAM and kill weather radio in favor of IP (data plan) based shitty services that track you all over the place?

  4. Take an Inverter. Now you have power as long as you can pop the hood of any automobile. They aren’t that big. A ham radio with a portable terminal node controller allows VHF digital and VHF digital voice. A list of the IRLP nodes for your local repeaters (if they are up) will allow you to use your keypad on your HAM radio to dial up another repeater in an area outside your affected zone.

    Some models of HAM VHFs will allow you to tune in and store in memory the marine VHF frequencies. If you are near the water, you may be able to get either help or evacuation by sea.

    With the inverter, your laptop is now back in the game. Put that together with your HAM radio, and you can use Winlink 2000 (RMS Express) to get an email situation report out of the area.

    1. Depends on where you live. If you have floods, tornadoes, wildfires or earthquakes in your region. Then it would be wise to have a bag of things your family needs. I don’t think there is a such thing as a safe-house. It would have to be flood proof, fireproof, tornado proof and earthquake proof. or in a place where none of those things can happen, which probably doesn’t exist or isn’t a reasonable commuting distance to your place of work.

  5. My Nintendo and a couple of games? I don’t really own any gadgets except the NDS so the options are rather limited. A torch/flashlight (with handcrank) and a small radio seems to be enough.

  6. I would have a small solar panel attached to my backpack charging up my powerbank. If I got the space, I would take a small inverter but a car USB charger would probably work as well. (And maybe my nintendo switch)

  7. I would add a small radio (like a Baofeng UV5R or similar) to catch FM/AM and other radio traffic, and adapters that could allow me to harvest energy from several sources (car/truck battery). Maybe some hand cranked generator.
    Though some claims that a USB thumb drive could be worthless, I would add some personal advice: documents and old photos/memories are priceless. If your home is totalled, or some major destruction takes place, I can guarantee that you can build everything up again – except the memories.

  8. You realize people… who ever keeps dumping on the ‘thumb drive’ or any type of ‘storage media’ it isnt all about the movies and such to ‘entertain’ .
    There are movies, and pictures, that identify and that can be used as scout missions that are saved onto the storage media for future reference. Especially the picture for identification.
    Especially when as it says above your phone May not have power and how long does it take to charge it up? a little bit to get to 1% or even 5% for my phone before it turns on. And I dont carry ‘analog’ or ‘paper’ pictures always on me as they will get damages and turned to mush most of the time. A thumb Drive for all intense purposes are pretty well water proof, let them dry before putting in a computer and you are good to go. Same with SD cards as well heck you dont even need to rice a micro SD so that helps when you phone charges that youc an swap out the SD card and use it as a pic showing device, but if an EMP happens, the only way to identify will Prob be from a thumb or sd card(that has been shielded properly like normal) to a EMP proof laptop or comp….cause I doubt for the most part only a small % of phones will be EMP proofed when the time comes.
    As i see it most things will be destroyed or looted cause of the power loss, so analog photos prob wont even be around if they are for the most part even now… most are unless they are 5-10 years old no upto date and current.

    1. You elude to another important consideration.

      Pack items in sturdy zipper style plastic freezer bags! (e.g. Zip-Lok)
      Use a lot of bags, that will keep items (especially cords) contained and dry should any one bag get punctured.

  9. Have had to ‘bug out’ twice in last 15 years – such is rural life in Southern California desert/mountains. Stuff is pre-positioned at other locations, so only require materials to make the one to four hour trip, which is always staged in all of our vehicles. Water, food (definitely NOT MREs, will never again eat another), portable power source, fuel, paper maps, and two different communication devices. And consider that a decent beer will meet both water and fuel requirements.

    Most likely, you will not be at home with the authorities block of access to an area. Form a consortia with close friends that are separated from each other by at least 100km, and store supplies at each other’s sites. In most cases, not recommended to include relatives in the consortia. Do so at your risk. The best consortia members will be former military with STEM educations that you have know for many years. And if all you are thinking about is grabbing your tech toys, you may not make it through the conflagration. But will admit that a discrete GPS receiver is part of my personal kit.

    Looking forward to a combination of a 7+ quake and massive wildfire, followed by a zombie-plague outbreak. Humanity probably needs another character-forming crucible.

      1. Just because he won’t eat another MRE, doesn’t mean you don’t have to…
        MREs have higher than average fat/energy content to meet the needs of soldiers in active situations.
        Otherwise, freeze dried foods keep a long time, are light weight because they don’t have water.
        But you do need a good clean source of water to re-hydrate them when needed.
        Whether that water is obtained from a clean well, or filtered/chlorinated rain puddles.

  10. Just realized I actually have something that qualifies as a bug out story.

    There was a chemical plant that caught fire a couple miles from my location, filling the air with chlorine. Enough to be really annoying, not enough to give anyone a lethal dose. I’d followed the news enough to tell that the fire department had gotten things under control, so I didn’t plan for a very long bug-out, and the damage was fairly localized. Since my job at the time occasionally required having to take off at almost no notice for an overnight trip, I already had some basic toiletries and other things in the car. Beyond that, I ended up packing just my cell phone – this was before smart phones – and a borrowed paperback that I needed to finish so I could get it back. I also had a paper map with me, which I used to select a park about an hour and a half from me, perpendicular to the direction of the wind. Drove down there and sat down and read the book, checked into a hotel, then was back to work the next day. Two years later, I married the girl I’d borrowed that book from.

    So, lessons from that one? Nothing wrong with planning on a bit of entertainmnent. Bringing money or even a credit card is a perfectly valid strategy if the problem is local. And never discount the value of a common interest in books.

    1. That’s a great story! Sometimes you just need to sit things out.

      We live in a forest fire area here in North Idaho, and while we haven’t had one sweep through the area proper, and given my exact location that’s unlikely, we still do get impacted by the smoke from other fires. Last summer was really bad — weeks of the same stale, dense smoke with no winds to sweep it out. We nearly considered bugging out just for comfort, but we’d have had to go as far as Iowa to get to clear air. And if we had to go, with wouldn’t have been bugout bags and 15 minutes — it would have been an unplanned vacation in the fully stocked RV.

      Point is, even if nobody is forcing you to leave, sometimes prudence compels it, and being ready to go is always a good idea.

  11. iFixit and some other tool kit to fabricate, maintain and repair devices (thinking one of the TS100 also since Rossmann sold me with his review and maybe electrical tape to use the Hakko tips and grip). Tools are mission critical in the bag… including a HackRF at the least. Maybe a TEMPEST hardened box and computer for when the coast (over the horizon and ground wave) is repeater clear. Maybe a blender to make passive reflective material and more so we don’t end up toast.

      1. Aluminum and other metals as well as their oxides for use with improvised paints like with flax, pine or other oils as well as tars. Maybe just as is as powders.

        You can use to refine say if you make with your rocket heater or clay furnace.

        Chics might dig the fine powder for makeup if you don’t have a book. :-|)

        Might not be bad for sunscreen also.

        I prefer for preparing food and not using stones for grinding. We’re talking digital so; EMP, hacking, shielding, and antenna improvements… not just for the girls so they can talk and txt more if their phones aren’t working thoughts came to mind.

        I originally was going to write absorbing materials like carbon, ferrite and iron… though went with reflective and added passive since I’m used to passive and active systems as a term.

  12. In response to comments questioning the utility of this discovery: A well designed bug out bag should contain more than just the basics for survival. It should contain the items you need to maximize capability during and after an emergency. Survival gear won’t make you survive, it increases your capability to survive.

    You have to consider the type and duration of disaster expected. A bug out bag for earthquakes in California is not going to contain the same gear as a bag for wildfires in Montana. An emergency might mean flooding that causes a weekend away from home or a chemical plant explosion that keeps you away for months.

    The items in a survival kit should be chosen based on cost/benefit ratio, where the cost is usually a physical parameter like weight or volume. Once bare survival is covered there is always additional envelope for other items to improve capability. Photocopies of your families IDs and $100 cash for bus tickets might be much more useful than a fancy lightweight drinking water filtration system or tactical survival tomahawk to dispatch marauding zombie hordes.

    The weight or volume a cell phone, charger, and external battery are miniscule in comparison to the capabilities they will provide in almost every emergency. Almost every smartphone has GPS and a compass, a handy flashlight, and a pressure sensor for predicting weather. Many have FM radio built in as well. A thumb drive or portable hard drive containing copies of important documents and data is probably a great idea. In that case, adding copies of photographs, entire music collections, movies and games, or any other data carries no cost!

    This post inspired me to consider technological survival capabilities. A bootable Linux partition and an ISO of a support disk like Hiren’s Boot disk will allow you to use almost any computer on earth, in your own language. Most networks will allow Internet access if the device is connected via ethernet. It could be handy to have an encryption tool, secured communication applications, copies of PGP keys, and password databases. That is a massive boost in capability with a tiny physical cost.

    I would also recommend a small, cheap multimeter. Diagnosing and clearing electrical faults in a small generator or automobile is damn hard if you can’t measure voltage. Personally, I would also toss in a couple Arduinos (or your microcontroller of choice) . Need a security system? Some wire, aluminum foil, and a glue stick and you can detect doors opening or glass breaking. Need a remote turret with a phased plasma rifle in the 40 watt range? Might need a little more dev time, but an Arduino could drive it.

    The goal of a bugout bag is to ensure immediate survival, but also to return life to normal as soon as possible afterwards. A digital toolkit could be hugely beneficial.

    1. Your comment reminded me of when I left home to interview in another State (600+ miles away).
      I packed my small pickup with a topper with items I would need to move into a small apartment should the interview by successful.
      It wasn’t, but I spent the next 3-4 months living with a nearby relative while I searched for and started a new job.
      So, basically, the stuff I’d packed wasn’t needed as much. When I did get an apartment, then I unpacked most of the non-clothing items.

  13. * What’s definitely missing on this list is preparing for a loss of internet connectivity. A smartphone can become pretty useless if the mobile network fails (which will be the case pretty quickly in case of a large-scale power outage). With the right apps you can still have an offline map of your country/area (GPS will probably still work unless we have a global catastrophy/EMP attack/large solar storm) and also a full offline version of Wikipedia (only text, no images).

    Recommended map app: Osmand (based on OpenStreetMap)
    Recommended dictionary app: Aard

    Even better: Put those apps and the associated data to a USB pen drive (with an OTG-cable and USB-C) so that you can install it on other phones when needed.

    * Many phones have an integrated FM radio but it uses the headphone cable as an antenna (and won’t work well without it). So don’t forget to pack a set of headphones if this is the case for your phone. Still not as good as a good dedicated radio (maybe with shortwave and/or DAB) but defnitely better than no radio at all.

    * If you are planning to get away in a car, you should definitely take a USB charger using the car power outlet. This will make sure that you can get your phone (and power bank) charged whenever you are driving. If not, a small solar panel (with 5V USB output, 10-25W) can also be very helpful. If you want to go by bicycle and have a hub dynamo installed: There are also matching USB chargers for that.

    * Power banks are great. But a big one will take many hours to charge with a standard 5V/2A USB charger. So it may be worth to spend some extra money on a USB-C PD compatible power bank (so that you can charge it with 30W or so when you have power for a short time). Don’t forget to include a matching charger.

    * E-Book readers can be very useful as well since they use *much* less power than smartphones/tablets. So you can still read for many hours even if you don’t have much power left. Don’t forget to load a couple of books as long as you still have connectivity.

    * If you have a power bank + charger, you may also want to pack a flashlight/headlamp which can be charged via USB.

  14. I’d also bring a feature phone and a couple of spare batteries as a backup.
    Any phone you bring make sure it has a built in FM radio and bring some head phones or better still bring a battery operated radio with weather band since you can get news from radio even if the cellular network is down.
    Other important things a solar charger or better still a hand crank generator or if you plan on leaving with a car a power inverter.

  15. Some form of dedicated pocket flashlight, best with and adjustable projector lens + 2 additional cells that keep it going. Helps if it’s at least partially water resistant.
    Swiss knife and/or multitool and a way to make fire. Probably useless, but might come in handy…
    Maybe a small lock-pick set?
    Small sewing kit.
    Put your name ON EVERYTHING, people are thieving cunts.

    To the USB thing with documents and photos – you might want that encrypted, as it contains a LOT of personal info. Also flash memory is not exactly the most reliable. Two sticks with mirrored content maybe?

    A usable amount of physical money. Credit cards might not be so useful if there’s a problem with the networks.

    Smartphone should have an OFFLINE map/GPS navigation installed with maps of your area downloaded. It should also contain portrait photos of your loved ones…much easier to show a picture then trying to describe a person.
    Lock screen should display your name and address.

    Powerbank should have the ability to charge off of multiple sources. Ignore those with an integrated solar cell – useless. Separate panel if you want photovoltaics.
    Cables to charge all the e-gatgets, otherwise they are useless.

    Instead of dragging water, I’d rather focus on a way of making water safe to drink. The tablets are small and light.
    Any meds you need regularly + some general ones. Phone should contain a list of suitable alternatives on anything that keeps you alive.
    If you’re a heavy nicotine/caffeine addict, that also should be addressed, the withdrawal after a few days will make you an unbareable asshole to be around. Also, if there’s a shortage, these quickly become valuable items you can trade should you need to.

    Baofeng multi-thing or at least an AM-capable radio. Useless weight if you can’t power them, so keep that in mind.
    They also make nice foldable military-style antennas for “longer” bands (they’re quite hard to break, unlike traditional antennas for civilian use), might be nice to have for the baofeng.

      1. “copy of the Guide.”
        Copy?
        I’m still waiting for Intergalactic Express to deliver the one I purchased on eGalactica 3 cycles ago!
        Not to mention the Electronic Thumb I’d purchased through them turned out to be a cheap Malgrathean knock-off!

  16. Hand crank solar radio/usb charger, an inverter, and my backup dvds are already packed along with flashlight and an old flipphone to dial 911. I think there is also about 50′ of cat5 and my old wire pliers and a leatherman knockoff to do on the fly minor repairs and of course a flat smashed roll of duct tape. I keep it in an old ammo case that is watertight. We live in a stormy area and actually had to evacuate last year. Human life support and pet bob is a little more robust.
    In all honesty though, I kinda gave up on digital backups in a way after my first data loss. I have info stored on t3h goog and a private backup service as well but tend to look at my photos when I am bored anyway so I will have the good memories of family and such in my head, which will hopefully be intact haha.
    This is a good post though and hopefully folks that haven’t thought about any type of bob will put one together.

  17. Honestly, even a small drone would be invaluable.
    During the Great Flood of 2016 in Louisiana, drones were used extensively for surveying damage, finding clear paths out of flood zones, locating stranded survivors, and coordinate rescue efforts.
    Definitely strap a portable one to a bag, maybe with extra power packs if you can fit them.

    1. Good call… even the basic RC aircraft electronic components required so improvised framing can be made with salvage components. I’m working on a minimalist improvised design (without just duct tape… I know is challenging how humorous some designs can be) with carbon fiber golf clubs and even sheets of foam are suitable.

      1. Interesting, not a bad idea! It would certainly save a lot of space if you made the frame on the ‘fly’. ;)
        Seriously though, coat hangers, sticks, hell even paper and flour paste could make a passable frame in a pinch.
        Good thinking!

  18. I have a 4″ cube in my go bag that can project a 10′ screen on any flat surface, and play media off its SD card or an hdmi input. Essential to life? Well, if you end up stuffed into a community shelter with a lot of screaming kids, it *might* just save a few lives! Because no one is going to give a rats arse about your pirated copy of how to train your dragon when it brings blessed silence!

  19. http://www.king5.com/article/news/local/disaster/prepare-to-be-on-your-own-in-a-major-pacific-northwest-disaster/447180665

    Digital:
    I do have a thumb drive. It has my vital documents scanned in, birth certificate,
    current ID, list of out of are phone numbers etc. It also has photos of my living quarters as well as all scanned receipts
    for my electronics with serial numbers. Insurance information also should things need to be replaced.

    Real world:
    Spare batteries and my handheld 2 meter/70cm with D-Star handheld radio. (Icom IC-92AD)
    Cellphone with charger, small solar panel for slow charging batteries or powering a small
    AM radio. Basic first aid kit. A couple of “space” blankets those mylar things that reflect heat.
    Waterproof matches and firestarters. A whistle, signal mirror, change, a small amount of cash,
    Portable HF antenna and QRP rig. A small suitcase with clothes for 3 days.
    2 liters of water, and water purification tablets. And that’s just a small bag.
    The larger one has basically the same stuff in it with other things like a portable shovel and other
    camping stuff. Not only do I have basic first aid training, I am also a member of CERT.
    Am I prepared for any disaster? As prepared as I can be. http://www.ready.gov

  20. Wow! Just…. wow!

    Rule of three’s. There’s not a single electronic component, much less a whole electronic device, mentioned. This is basic survival school stuff.

    If you’re packing a bugout bag for anything less than a full-on disaster… it’s NOT a bugout bag. It’s an inconvenience bag. Take some tp, you’ll get more use out of that than anything else.

  21. My digital bug-out bag will be completely analog, the only electronic device will be a Degen DE13 solar and hand cranked Radio. And of course it’ll contain my collapsible hobo cooker. After burning through (pun intended) various LPG, kerosene and gasoline cookers, I ended up with a simple cooker, that’ll run on every flammable solid material.
    And that is something you’ll find nearly everywhere.

    Maybe I’ll add a credit card sized cell phone, but maybe not.

  22. So I understand that this is written from (and for) most US citizens.
    But I live in central Europe and I never had anything like that happen. “Worst thing” that happened was Chernobyl when I was born but that was more of a hassle – That my Mom told me. You couldn’t get Milk and stuff but it was no evacuation because it was far enough away from us.
    So my real question is:
    HOW exactly does this stuff happen? How REAL is this? I know from people living in Tornado Alleys and having to evacuate “on a regular basis” and be prepared. This is fine. But in my stupid little imagination, I see this world as pretty stable that something like that wouldn’t happen around me. Again – living in central Europe and I’m not affected by floods, hurricanes, volacnos or something like that. Everything that can happen is a blackout due to power shortage. The powergrid is stable enough that we don’t even encounter brownouts. Not bragging. I often see preppers doing their thing and read a lot about backup plans in case of emergency. But as soon as I start to think of stuff I should do, everything vanishes because I have no requirement for that. That sounds ignorant, I know.

    So please explain what the real “danger” can be if you live in – let’s say France or Rome or Munich. I can’t quite understand it. :-)

    Thanks

    1. While real danger in France or Germany seems to be widespread flooding, going by recent history, here in SE
      Australia it is bushfires. I had to bail out during the Black Saturday fires in 2009, which killed 173, and incinerated between one and two thousand houses. So, beyond my thumbdrive, which goes with me _every_ time I leave the house,
      there’s the bag of legal documents and half a dozen 20L plastic storage bins with reference books, technical periodicals, a Bitscope, stepper motors & a drive, and partitioned boxes of about a hundred of each of hundreds of components, plus soldering iron, etc. When one or more infernos rages in the region, the ute (light pickup) is facing downhill on the 10m high 50m long driveway (for a hill start in extremis), with the evacuation kit in the back, and a woollen blanket in the cab.

      The thumbdrive contains 28k lines of *nix usage and embedded system development notes (so I don’t have to repeat 30 years of mistakes), plus original plans for a pending garage/workshop/accommodation build out on the farm, as well as planning approvals and other documents which cost money and time to regenerate. There’s also PCB designs and firmware, which would cost a lot of time to redo. And yes, a few hundred photographs.

      Last time I thought of stopping to grab a sandwich as well, but the unanticipated local fire was too close, and I didn’t dare.
      The house stands in a tight embrace of eucalypt forest, not permitted for new construction since Black Saturday, and would stand no chance in the event of a bushfire. The heat even cracks the bricks left in the pile of smoking rubble, with aluminium car parts flowed across the ground, as in the case of a firetruck across the small valley, on the day. (Crew survived the flameover, due to protective reflective shields and a continuous umbrella of water spray – the water held out long enough.)

      If time permits,one of my chainsaws goes in, as retreat is to the farm, several hundred km distant, and it is therapeutic to spray a rooster tail of sawdust behind while cutting fenceposts or firewood for winter.

    2. 1. the EU is not stable – look at the inept and disjointed efforts for the new Low Voltage, EMC, RED, Medical, and GPS directives. The ‘management’ in Brussels are barely functional and are hanging by a few loose threads.
      2. ‘Bug-outs’ will typically be a response to a small local event that is effective for less than a 100 km^2. Local fires, chemical plants, material storage centers, power distribution yards, airports, seaports, and military bases would have the higher probability of creating a local evacuation event.
      3. The American western half is not built up like western EU. Much of the American west is sparsely populated, so support and response to natural and synthetic disasters will either not happen or will require on the order of days or weeks. Increasing areas of the U.S. and Canada have become seismically active (mostly from fracking), and California, Washington, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho will be subject to increasing volcanic and seismic activity. Most of the U.S. and Canada are now subject to periods of high fire hazard, and will continue to worsen per climate change. The EU has long since destroyed most of its forests and open areas, so your fire conflagration would most likely be an urban event.
      4. The EU will become much more susceptible to increasingly sophisticated acts of terrorism designed to affect larger population segments. The northern EU states will become more susceptible to variable rainfall and snow rates, and sea-level rise inundation during extended period of high winds over the North Sea. The Mediterranean states will have increase periods of reduced rainfall. Spain, Portugal, and other areas are not properly managing ground water resources. All of this stuff will cause a slow-moving series of bug-outs over the next 50 years.
      5. The EU power grid is not stable, and does not react well to dynamic loading conditions. The effects of climate change will increase the probability of fires and industrial accidents from power distribution failures.

      May you live in interesting times…

        1. Pretty much this.
          If you start to count politics into the equation, you can get your tinfoil hat out and hide under a rock.
          And I have never seen anything unstable in the powergrid. Again – I’m in germany to be specific. So no big issue here. No city-wide outages ever and no problems with unstable power.
          The only Issue I ever encountered was an outage after a nearby lighting strike. That lasted for whopping 30 minutes.
          I get it – you should be prepared for many things to happen, but we have basically no military here and all the other points you mentioned are not existant? At least I don’t see anything like that happen.

          We have no wildfires that spread through a whole city or any hurricanes. Except for the floods in the north of our county – but this is “expected” because you live right by the sea – the same as Hurricane-season in the US.

          I can only repeat myself – I get it that you should prepare, but I would have no clue for WHAT.

          1. Hi,

            > I get it that you should prepare, but I would have no clue for WHAT

            Think of what makes our lives possible, and what you would do if something from that list fails.

            Just discovered that the city where I live (Madrid) have a site about preparedness. In the section about the bugout bag, the only electric/electronic things are:

            * Flashlight with spare batteries attached with tape.
            * Small AM/FM radio with batteries attached with tape.
            * Smartphone with manual charger

            I would add more energy: a foldable solar panel with its battery charged, a 2A USB wall charger and a USB car charger.

            The complete list:
            http://www.madrid.es/portales/munimadrid/es/Inicio/El-Ayuntamiento/Emergencias-y-seguridad/Preparate-Madrid?vgnextfmt=default&vgnextoid=976fea8dbfd98110VgnVCM2000000c205a0aRCRD&vgnextchannel=d11c9ad016e07010VgnVCM100000dc0ca8c0RCRD&idCapitulo=4829975

          2. The “What” answer depends on your specific location. Your best bet is to focus on the more likely sort of scenarios. For example, my house is high enough above any local rivers that preparing for a flood is likely to be a waste of time, and the geology means a serious earthquake is nearly impossible. A warehouse full of nasty chemicals catching on fire and filling the air with acrid smoke? Had that happen before, and an overnight bag, dependable transportation, and a little emergency money worked last time. Hurricane? They’re usually spent by the time they get this close to the mountains – a stash of canned food for a day or so, some bottled water, and a camp stove to cook with if the power goes out, I’m ready.

            Snow and ice? There’s a more serious one for me. It may snow once a year here, but when it does, sometimes it’s a nasty ice storm that leaves sheets of solid ice on the roads, knocks out electrical power, and the local government is unable to adequately clear the roads. And my house relies on electric heating. OK… being trapped in the house with no electricity for a couple days is something I’d like to be prepared for by next winter.

            Emergency preparedness should be matched to what emergencies you are likely to be facing. My own circumstances mean a shelter in place plan is more important than a bug out plan. Somebody who lives in an area where the biggest threats are tropical storms, floods, or wildfire would need very different plans. There isn’t a one size fits all approach. And some people have VERY different ideas of what constitutes a likely disaster.

        2. “(5) Is pretty much nonsense; (1) is FUD and the bits in between are speculation.”

          For last ten years have traveled to various parts of Asia and Europe and Pacific basin, at least twice per annum. Australia and Malaysia both had some beautiful and viscous electrical storms – which forced my employer to re-evaluate the immunity levels for our stuff. The most troublesome and unreliable power was experienced at sites in Portugal and Republic of Ireland. Continuous, almost non-stop brown-outs and voltage surges.

          As for the weird stuff coming out of Brussels, subscribe and read the Listserv of the IEEE Product Safety Engineering and EMC societies. We spend a lot of time discussing and parsing the meaning of contradictory directives and regulations. The EU is the only government that continually publishes requirements in the OJ without any link to support a basis for the presumption of conformity (required for a Declaration of Conformity). They published the RED with no harmonized standards. They published the original RoHS directive with no harmonized standards. They published a medical device directive that contradicted the CENELEC DOWs. They published the Low Voltage Directive that …

          Ya wanna know whom is the most critical of the wonderful people in Brussels? Other Europeans. Cannot talk to the the Germans at TUV Nord or Rheinland without hearing disparaging comments about the EU. Cannot talk to NEMKO engineers without hearing disparaging comments about the EU. Cannot talk to…

          Do we have it all together in North America? Obviously not even close; but at least Americans tend to admit that we are idiots.

          Back OT – my favorite electronic device for the ‘BoB’ – my wife’s brain. She can parallel process bazillions of thought threads. Would really like to see an electrical activity map of her brain when she puts it into high gear.

    3. I live a bit to the East from you, and I feel similarily safe. As far as my imagination goes the worst risk for me is fire in the apartament. In other parts of the country it could be floods. Also heavy storms with high winds seem to happen more and more frequently. If you leave in the countryside it means damage or loss of buildings on your property.

      So all I could come up with is a very local risk where you have to leave home and anything that you leave behind may be lost forever.

      But all I really need to take then is my wallet, phone and USB thumbdrive with backup of important data, photos, scans of documents. Help will be always nearby.

  23. Where I live its pretty safe from natural disaster and its our small farm with cattle (A lot of genetics built up) so I don’t think my family would leave till it got real bad, but a good strong tall fence around it all would be good now and in any disaster. Plus we have a big diesel gennerator

  24. Good thoughts. Have your SD card loaded with knowledge items to help you survive, Internet will not be around so download what is needed now. For instance how to skin and process animals to eat, what plants are good to eat or not you would be surprised how many plants around you are edible. I live in the Florida suburbs lots of small animals that most people don’t know how to process to eat.
    So load the BOB with information to survive. I have a solar panel to charge the devices.

  25. Some apps:
    * There is at least one free offline survival manual app.
    * Osmand: a free offline navigation/maps app. You have to download the OpenStreetMap data for your country/area first, it is done within the app.

  26. As everyday carry I have a micro sd card in its sd card adapter folded in a piece of aluminum in my wallet, pics of important docs, addresses of family, family pics, a few of my favorite books, even if I lose my phone I have most of the data I need.
    I have an e-book reader and a couple of tablets (win and android) that are always handy near my “quick trip” bag is kept, I also have a powerbank in my bag that has a wifi hot-spot/ file sharing/ media streamer built in (like a pirate box) so I can share files from thumbdrives with groups of people as needed. A few cheap led cap lights still with the battery tabs are always in the bag along with some protein bars and beef snack sticks.

  27. Everybody who played in Fallout series know whats important in emergency situation but obviously you can not carry 260lb(117kg) – 10kg-15kg is ok. So solar panel, flashlight, powerbank(as night power storage), pipboy(aka IP68 smartphone). Its good to cover backpack with solar panels for continuously charging. BTW my EDC backpack weight 7kg and contains everything even for wild life.

  28. the rest of the bug out bag is fairly standard kit as it goes – as for digital tools – laptop and android phone, both have slow scan tv software installed and a bunch of survival information, laptop has some other programs that may be handy and scans of important documents, a set of the fairly standard walkie talkies that run on AAA batteries – my telecoupler and a dial up modem – flash drives with various flavors of os’es and a few things for entertainment – various cables chargers and power banks and a usb powered fan, because you would not imagine how much of a mood booster a simple fan can be – all wrapped in several anti-static Mylar bags each – and i think there’s a travel router in there but i could be wrong – my husband and i decided that we don’t want to add too much weight to the bag – but basic tech was important

    the laptop made it in because a large screen and storage were a nice thought to have – and it makes for a good way to make sure we have copies of our most important documents if we literally only have time to grab the one thing

    android phone is good for connecting to wifi and easier to charge than a laptop – there are no documents on it because it’s also the easier thing to loose \

    walkie talkies are obvious – we went with battery powered over rechargeable in the event we cant find power, some people forget to think about that

    the telecoupler is a bit of a stretch, but if you can find a payphone or landline and keep your documents updated you can get online anywhere if you know current dial up numbers

    operating systems because you may have a mass hacking situation and its nice to be able to be the person who can get computers back online

    i like to advise people to keep sstv software somewhere – you may be the only person who can get an image out to somebody with it, and it works basically over any audio connection be it walkie talkie, phone, sat phone – you just have to be able to hold the phone speaker to the microphone and vice versa on the other end

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