> TEOTWAWKI Blog: Rucks vs. Bug Out Bags



Rucks vs. Bug Out Bags

Here's something that I've noticed come up fairly frequently in the survival community, that again showed up in the question post from yesterday - the notion that a bug out bag has to be a large multi-day backpacking pack. 

A large ruck, framed pack or any other big arse 40-70+ pound pack have their place, but they are different from a conventional bug out bag. Two different purposes. 

Bug out bags got their start in military special operations circles. These dudes carry really heavy rucks to support themselves off-grid in a war zone. Radios, batteries, explosives, lots of ammo, heavy MREs to last a week or two...gets heavy fast. 

They also know that if/when they make contact with the enemy, they will be unable to move quickly and make a hasty retreat with those giant rucks. So, what do they have to do? Ditch 'em. Leave them behind.

This is when the bug out bag - also called a 'go to hell' bag in some circles - comes into play. The plan has gone to hell and they need to ditch their ruck and get out of dodge. It is a smaller, lighter bag that has survival necessities. It's something they can move quickly with and even fight while wearing. And it allows the special operations guy to ditch his ruck, break contact and still have the critical essentials to either continue with his mission or make it to friendly territory.

Will they be comfortable, warm and cozy? Not likely. BUT, they will have enough to scrape through, not freeze to death or die of dehydtration.

SO - that is a 'real' bug out bag and its original intention - a smaller kit to take with you as a last ditch when retreating from danger. 

At this point, we may need to come up with a different name for bug out bags in this context, since the name has been adopted for any variety of emergency backpack, big arse 80+ pounders on down. I'm certainly guilty of this. "Go to hell bag" might work.

So - a 'real' bug out bag is not something that you're going to want to take on a 5-day backpacking trip for funsies. It's not something you're going to have room to carry pots and pans and grills and three changes of clothes in. It will be small-ish, light and packed with the bare necessities.

Obviously, large rucks for supporting extended operations in the field have their place. No argument there. But, a ruck and a bug out bag are different things, at least originally - different tools for different jobs. 

If you're starting out, start with a bug out bag. If you decide that you need a ruck, you'll still want to have the BOB anyways.


  1. Most US forces now have modular packs with "assault pack" attaching to the main pack. This assault pack is sort of a 48-hour pack (calling it a 72-hour pack is a stretch).

    In the 70s and 80s troops had LBE/LCE harnesses and many had a "butt pack" which served the same purpose, but never left the soldier.

    MOLLE plate carriers changed the game considerably - troops are way more armored now than they ever were in previous generations of warfighter in the US.

  2. Here's another one: The "72 hour/3-day Bag"

    Since when did 72 or 3 become a magic number?

    Your gear needs to support your plan and reasonable contingencies. If I'm bugging out from current location and moving to my retreat or alternate retreat then I need to assess how much gear and supplies I need to support my movement there, plus enough for contingencies. If that ends up being 24 hours or 7 days, then so be it. If it's too much weight then I need to look at emplacing caches.

    There is no Survivalist/Prepper HQ that is going to provide us with doctrine correct nomenclature for our various bits of gear (Thank God.)

    The important thing is that we have the gear and supplies that support the plan that we have made based on an assessment of our situation and the contingencies that we are planning for.

  3. Using military terms for the gear we utilize isn't quite legitimate. How often is a partisan or modern survivalist going to get resupplied when in the field or traveling? Not likely.

    Ditch the nomenclature and stick with what YOU are planning to do with the pack. I know many manufacturers advertise the size by how many days worth of stuff you can supposedly carry in it, but once again, that's a totally subjective claim. The amount of stuff you need will change with the weather and conditions. The pack I use for an overnight trip into the woods is much different than the pack I would bring if I were to head for the bail out location. Let's look at a realistic view of the packs I use.

    Get home bag- I can walk home within 2-3 days with this pack without death from exposure or dehydration. Minimalistic because I'm not looking for comfort, I'm looking for miles under foot. The pack weighs 5# minus the gun that gets transferred to my body.

    Camping bag- This is my recreational camping gear. It changes with the season and conditions. I plan to use it this year to do a 50 mile rugged hike to test my endurance and to gauge my speed for a bail out on foot.

    Lightweight camping bag- Small overnight camping kit for summertime. Nice for a day hike or overnight on a rugged trail or when scouting a hunting site.

    Ruck- It's my sustainment pack. Long term, week plus rucking or bail out bag. It carries everything I would need for a long term situation. Attached to it is an assault pack.

    Assault pack. I would grab this off my ruck if I needed to patrol an area or defend my AO. It has a little fast/cold food, water bottles and a camelbak, 4 extra magazines, cleaning kit, extra batteries for NOD's, gps and sights, Comms, med kit and a few toiletries.

    I'm home sick the last 2 days so I've had time to do some work with my packs and ordered the things I need to adjust them a bit. Also had plenty of time to post here and on my blog.

    1. You made the same point I wanted to. For SPEC OPS there is somewhere to go. They have a destination and resupply. This really fits the GHB concept more, which is usually light, carrying the bare minimum.
      The BOB is to my understanding more of an open ended pack. Your situations are either moving to a BOL, temporary evac (for all the time the SHTF but the world doesn't end, hurricanes, fires, ect). Either of these have different but similar roles and requirements.
      Finally we have the INCH bag, which would possibly be taken to the BOL if you had time or enhanced mobility, or would be taken if you had no destination, couldn't stay, and had to be highly self sufficient. Basically start roaming, become a refugee (hopefully one able to avoid relying on refugee camps).
      I think the issue is that BOB can be seen as the amalgamation of all of this. So you end up with a bag ready to kind of handle all of the above situations. Too heavy to be a good GHB, probably irrelevant stuff for a BOB as I described, yet still not enough for an INCH pack.

    2. Meister - Goof points.

      Anon - in my opinion, for a true bug out bag, you should have somewhere in mind to go. The bag would sustain you during that a to b journey.

      An open ended refugee/INCH bag is mostly a bad idea.

  4. Or like the military, you can make your BOB eventually tack on to your ruck like the military does. Primary items in the BOB, secondary/redundancies in the ruck.

  5. Perfect article! You're exactly right on all points.

    Nothing wrong with a giant ruck sack. I have an ALICE frame that fits that purpose--I consider that pack my wilderness survival bag. But if you're bugging out on foot (probably because you ditched your car) you want a lightweight bag with some basic items to make your foot march a bit easier. Trying to drag a 70lbs ruck around could just get you and your family killed. Basically you want what people would call a "get home back" except in this scenario you're using it to "bug out" away from home. If your car broke down in the middle of no where right now--before the end of the world--what kind of bag would you want to sustain your journey back to civilization?

    If you REALLY truly want to work on your bug out bag--or "go to hell bag"--put it on your back and walk around a city for 2-3 hours. It not as easy as sitting on your fat butt all day but I've done it and it helps a lot. Was your bag way too heavy? Was it taxing to wear it for so long? What stuff do you actually take out and use during the journey (probably few things if any)? Did you really end up needing your full-size felling axe? What stuff would be nice to add to your kit--maybe stuff you wish you'd had during the trip?

  6. In my circles we call it the "Go Bag" as in you grab it and go go go.

    I went through this nomenclature exercise awhile back and came up with or found at least a dozen different names and bags for as many situations. I did this as most of the kits can be divided into smaller kits and not all large kits will have all the smaller kits.

    I'll try to keep it short, most are self explanatory:
    -USK (urban oriented)
    -UCK (Urban Convenience Kit)
    -UCP (level 2 of the above with clothing)
    -Base Kit or Core Kit (what you prefer to have in all your kits) basically a beefier PSK with items that are more than single use
    -Ration Pack
    -Hygiene Kit (not as silly as it sounds
    -Fix All/Repair Kit
    -Rest Kit (for catching Zs in different environments
    -Commo Kit
    -Information Kit (thumbdrive with all the apps, docs and manuals you'd want)
    -Power Kit
    -Trauma Kit/Blow Out Kit
    -Ammo Pack (resupply)
    -GTW/BOE (Go to War/Bag of Evil) just the fighting uniform and gear
    -Mess Kit ( :D )
    -Laundry Kit (drain stopper, soap, clothesline/550, mesh dunk bag, hangers, bucket)
    -Office Kit (THIS is the shelter in place for 72 hrs kit)
    -GHB (Get Home Bag - for getting from the office to home, would contain the USK, FAK, in most cases)
    -INCH - all of the above? This would be nice in a wagon...
    -BOB (what started this discussion)
    -Go Bag: back pack sized survival kit with most of the smaller kits (but reduced) above. Components are durable, reusable, and essential. Shouldn't weigh more than 30lbs with water. 1-3 days of food (I put the Survival Tablets in mine). This one will solve 80% of your problems in emergencies.

  7. The biggest issue with the "Bug Out Bag" discussion is a lack of common terminology. I'm not saying that any one way of looking at it is right or wrong (though your BOB definition is much closer to my get home bag;) just that if you ask 5 survivalists to define a BOB you get a different answer. This leads to a lot of confusion.

    I think it is important to note that bags should be scenario driven considering what might happen to you or that you need to move from point a to point b. A guy who works 60 miles from home in Minnesota needs a lot more gear (especially in the winter) than one who walks to work in South Carolina. Unless Mr. Minnesota is at an elite level of fitness that's a multiple (probably 5 plus) day walk. A glorified school kid's backpack with a poncho, a few granola bars, a bottle of water, a lighter and a knife ain't gonna cut it.

    A winter sleeping bag is stupid in Florida and you don't need an Axe in Kansas, I think we get the point.

    My bag tips the scales just above 40lbs, probably 35 wet. It has 3 comfortable days worth of food and some snacks, shelter, some spare clothes, hygiene gear, first aid stuff, a few spare batteries, etc. I do not have that gear because I plan to become a refugee but because for a short period of time I just might have to live like one. It is full but mostly because I haven't put much effort into squishing down clothes, etc.

    Personally if you have the discipline not to fill it with junk I would rather carry a framed pack partway full than an overly stuffed overloaded bag doing more work than it is meant to. A ruck with #40 is often more comfortable than an assault pack with 25 in my opinion.

    Thanks for the conversation.

    1. "A ruck with #40 is often more comfortable than an assault pack with 25 in my opinion."

      Excellent point. I've seen so many over loaded "3 day Assault Packs" that it's not even funny. Once that frameless pack goes over 25 you are sucking.

      I go with the Gregory ruck. I'd MUCH rather carry my Gregory with 50 lbs than an "Assault Pack" with 35.

      Modern rucks are head and shoulders over the old ALICE, though I know why people stick with those.

    2. Vocabulary aside, the point is what kind of bag do you want for a "bug out" situation. You are on foot, heading for a known safe (or at least safer) location, and have your family in tow. You're not trying to just get home by yourself, you are "bugging out" for lack of a better term--marching on foot AWAY from your home because its too dangerous to stay there. You want to get from A to B as quickly as possible and for some reason a vehicle is no longer a viable option. You're almost certainly going to stick to roads, rather than start trailblazing through the forest. Whatever made you leave must be pretty bad so you want to get out of there as soon as possible--not set up camp and have an MRE cookout. You'll need something lightweight and comfortable but that covers a few important areas--things that will help with your journey. While a lightweight frame might be a good option you certainly don't want a massive ruck sack and you don't want camping gear. If your "bug out bag" is overloaded and looks more like a wilderness survival/sustainment rucksack then you probably need to rethink things. If your plan in an emergency is run off into the woods and live there for the next few months then I guess that might work sometimes but we aren't talking about "bugging out" any more--your bugging in, its just your "in" is the woods instead of a house. I guess in the end if you want to call your wilderness survival rucksack your BOB that's fine, please just don't bring it along when it actually comes time to bug out.

    3. Ryan -

      Good points.

      The terminology does matter. Folks spend much energy arguing about what a bug out bag is and what it should be. Getting at its origins and original intent ends up with something that I don't think most survivalists think of when they hear the term.

      It is the exact same concept as Max Vs ruck plus patrol pack conversation. The ruck is for sustaining you at a base camp, patrol pack is for taking on patrols or grabbing if you need to bug out.

      Now I think it's pointless and futile to try to recapture the original military meaning of bug out bag - just using another name is probably wise at this point.

  8. When it comes to my bug out bag I always think of each item as how far would I have to go before the need for that item come into play and does that need outweigh enduring the extra weight or doing without.