Tactical Packing: How to Load Your Bug-Out Bag Like a Survivalist

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Tactical Packing: How to Load Your Bug-Out Bag Like a Survivalist

Look…anyone with a credit card can buy a bug-out bag.

But it takes tactical thinking—your number-one survival skill—to know how to properly pack bug-out bag. That’s what separates the survivalists from the day hikers. 

Today we’re going to brief you on the proper way to pack a bug-out bag so you can react quicker, and travel further when SHTF (or when you're out on a weekend hike).

Tactical Packing: Why Does It Matter?

To the greenhorn survivalist, making a fuss over how to pack a bag may seem silly. But there are plenty of good reasons for it:

  • Fit More Lifesaving Supplies. We’re not advocating that you overload your bag. That can lead to its own problems. But a properly packed bag can carry more supplies, and you’ll be glad for that extra bit of rations if you ever need them.
  • Get Your Gear Quickly. A split second can make a big difference in a survival situation, and a well-organized pack gives you split-second access to your gear.
  • Spare Your Back and Travel Longer, Stronger. Properly distributing the weight of items in your bug-out bag can make a heavy load feel lighter. It takes the strain off of your back. It also allows you to travel faster and longer.
  • Easily Rearrange and Swap Out Items. Survival situations are dynamic. Items will be coming in and out of your bag depending on the circumstances you face. A well-packed bag is easier to rearrange quickly.

What Kind of Bag Is Best for SHTF?

two identical backpacks

There is no shortage of backpacks out there, and truth be told, most of them make fine bug-out bags.

Prepare Like a Survivalist. Pack Your Bug-Out Bag with the Best Gear Possible!

However, if you’re in the fortunate position to shop around, here are the most important criteria for selecting the perfect one:


Never pack a bag you can’t carry a good distance on foot.

  • 30 – 50-Liter Bag. For children and smaller adults, a 30-to-50-liter backpack should do just fine. Fitting everything you need inside might require extra planning and prep—but that’s not a bad thing!
  • 50 – 80-Liter Bag. For other adults, we recommend a 50-to-80-liter bag. This will give you enough space to pack the extras a bug-out bag requires without overloading yourself.
  • Go Larger? Feel free to go larger, especially if you’re a bigger person or particularly fit. However, keep in mind that you may not be in peak condition throughout a disaster. A lighter bag is a blessing when you’re exhausted.

Versatile Bag and Gear

  • Versatile Bag. A well-packed bug-out bag keeps the most critical items close at hand. If there is no zipper between you and the gear you need, you’ve succeeded in your preparations. To achieve this, you’ll need a versatile bag with outside pockets, loops, and (most importantly) a “pouch attachment ladder system” (PALS) for fastening on “modular load-carrying, lightweight equipment” (MOLLE). This will add to your capacity and allow you to customize your load as you see fit with items like knives, water, and more.
  • Versatile Gear. The gear in your bug-out bag should fill multiple roles. For example, there's no need to take up a bunch of space in your bag with a separate phone charger, flashlight, and hammer, if a single item will do all three of those jobs. The Ready Hour 9-in-1 Flashlight is just such an item—one of the best examples of space-saving versatility we've seen. It's why we've chosen to sell it on our site.

Quality That Lasts

The durability of a bag comes down to two things, mostly: the fabric and the stitching.

  • Fabric. Backpacks are usually made from cotton canvas, nylon, polyester, leather, PVC, polypropylene, or nylon-based Cordura. Of these materials, the most durable is Cordura, followed perhaps by canvas. Cordura is waterproof and tear resistant. It also tends to be expensive. Canvas is generally more affordable and plenty durable in its own right. It’s also easy to mend—just stitch it up like you would any cotton shirt.
  • Stitching. Look closely at your bag to make sure it’s sewn together with double stitching, especially where the shoulder straps bind to the body. Look for well-padded, comfortable straps, too. These can help you travel longer distances.
  • Frame. Finally, we recommend a backpack with a frame—specifically an internal frame. They are more stable because they hold the load closer to the body. They’re also slim, which means they won’t catch on things like branches and fences as easily.

Pack for Utility with Deliberate Layering

first aid kit, water filter, datrex bars, and mylarblanket

Now that you’ve got the right bag, you need to start thinking about how you’ll pack it.

Here’s our advice: don’t pack it like a suitcase.

Tactical Gear Can be the Difference Between Success and Failure. Prepare Today— Get the Gear You Need!

Many of us (not all), load up our suitcases for maximum carrying capacity. We treat it like a puzzle. We look at the shape and bulk of our items and then fit the most we can around those shapes.

When it comes to your bug-out bag, you should pack for utility. Organize your load into three groups:

  • Group One. Items you’ll need right away, like a first aid kit, flashlight, or water bottle. These should go at the top of your bag, in outside pockets, and on your PAL.
  • Group Two. Items you’ll use on and off throughout the day, but that you won’t need at a moment’s notice. This might include food, a radio, and a compass. These items should go in the middle of your bag.
  • Group Three. Items that you use once a day or less. An extra set of clothing and your sleeping bag would be included in this group. These items go at the bottom of your bag.

Pack for Comfort and Distance Hiking

Finally, if you can, distribute the weight of your items in a way that makes sense. For example, don’t pack all your heavy gear at the top of your bag—this will kill your shoulders and wear you down quickly.

There’s actually a science to this. The graph below does a good job explaining it:

Weight distribution graphic

NOTE: It can be tricky to pack for both weight distribution and utility. Do your best—any tactical packing is better than none.

Not the Last Word on Tactical Packing

There’s plenty more to say about tactical packing that we didn’t cover here. There are strategies for keeping your load dry, consolidating gear, and more. Please share your tips for packing a bug-out bag in the comments below!

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