hiker in the woods with backpack

How to Test Your Bug Out Bag

So you have spent your hard earned money, and your valuable time getting prepared.  You have read all the articles and made the perfect bug out bag. Now what?

You can sit the bag in your vehicle, or home and just wait till SHTF so you can bug out. I asked my self-everyday with my BOB sitting in my backseat of my truck, “What am I missing?” I always see new items that I think I have to have and wonder if I should buy them. I have spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars over the past many years buying stuff so I can be ready.

How do I know I am ready?

I knew there had to be a valuable way of finding out if my bag could keep me alive for 3 days or longer if needed. I put my bag to the test. Here is what I have done and continue to do.

I do on a regular basis “Survival Campouts” or “Bug Out Bag Campouts”. Basically the premise behind this campout is to have different scenarios that will test my knowledge and bag. I like to do this at different seasons throughout the year. It can’t always be sunny in the 70s.

I just finished one a couple of weekends ago. Here in Kansas City it was cold and rainy. Needless to say it was miserable. I did this one with several family members that tagged along. Each of us had our own bags. I typically use land that my brother owns. There are 81 acres of land. I am currently talking with other friends who have large amounts of land. It doesn’t do me a lot of good to constantly use the same land since I know the layout of it.

Related article: how to test your bug out bag by taking it hiking

Here is how I structure the testing weekend. I come up with what I consider possible real life events that would require us to bug out and that would cause us to abandon our vehicles and take to foot. I will use this past weekends experience as an example. The first thing I did was ensured that the land was not being hunted on. This past weekend was opening rifle season in Missouri and the last thing I felt like doing was treating a gunshot wound.

There were a total of four of us that went. My girlfriend (27), one of my nephews (10), my mother (57) and I (34) all participated. I also brought along my dog. When preparing for this test, I told my family to bring what they thought was necessary for them to survive for three days in the wilderness. I didn’t put limitations on them since this was their first time.

For me I had only what was on my person, and my bag. My dog also has a vest that has molle packs on it where he carries his food, some water, fire starter kit, a small first aid kit, and a cable run so I can ensure he doesn’t run off. I didn’t add or change anything in my bag, and I wore normal clothing that I would wear for the current type of weather.

The key here is to NOT do any extra planning or packing

If SHTF in real life and you are forced to bug out, you mostly likely won’t have the chance or time to pack new items. I also keep my bag in my truck and at night I bring it into my house. If I keep it at home and I am out and about and SHTF I am without my bag till I get home.

The scenario started with SHTF. We were forced to bug out due to unsafe circumstances in the neighborhoods we live in. We all had a rally point were we meet up and then proceed to our bug out location. On the way to the bug out location our vehicles were rendered useless. Now we had to transfer to foot. We packed up with the supplies we had brought and headed in the general direction of our bug out location.

At this point we were all relying on our knowledge and equipment we had on our backs. The weather was in the 40s with the sun up and was forecasted to be in the low 30s at night, plus it was lightly raining. The last time I updated the items in my bag was early summer. I was concerned that I might not have what I need to survive.

As we setup camp and I opened my bag and started to inventory my items, I realized that this was going to be interesting. The first thing I did was setup a shelter and then started a fire. I had 2 quarts worth of water that I carry with so water wasn’t my first concern; it was the colder weather that was rapidly approaching as the sun went down.

This night was a chilly one. Remember I didn’t do extra planning or packing. I had on a long sleeved shirt with my medium coat. I had a brimmed hat in my bag which is designed to keep the sun off my neck, and that was it.

First Night Was Over…

The next morning we decided to stay at this campsite while we figure out our plans moving forward.  We spent the next two days testing our skills and equipment. I had written several scenarios that I implemented at different times of the days to test skills, and knowledge. These are as examples the following, make up your own that will test your skills:

  • While away from camp an animal finds food in your camp and eats half of it. I took the entire camp food supply and took half of it and placed it out of service.
  • While away from camp a looter comes in and takes 5 items from your supplies. I took five random items from each persons bag and placed it out of service.
  • I had a couple of days before the camp out placed a tote and a backpack at random spots on the land. These were there to represent the possibility of scavenging items. They had random items that could be valuable to the camp if found. No instructions or even knowledge of these was presented to the camp. They found the tote, but didn’t find the bag. Of course I recovered this later.
  • I then added a scenario about a group of unknown people scouting the camp. The group had to decide how to react to them.
  • The next scenario was the group of unknown people advancing on the camp.
  • Then it went to a scenario of one of the unknown attackers was injured and another ran off. What steps do you take now? Do you use your few medical supplies to help them?

During “free” time I taught basic skills like fire building, shelter building, water purification, foraging, and many others. I would then test their knowledge on how to make or do the simple tasks. On day 3 we did some more training and the packed up camp and headed back to our vehicles.

These are very important types of tests that make you better prepared. It is one thing to have all kinds of equipment and supplies, but another to know how to use it and what actually works.

An example. I carry ration bars, freeze-dried meals, and other long shelf life items. Well the ration bars and snack style items were great. The freeze-dried meals were a disaster for me. I carry a small cooking pot that I can cook and boil water in. Well these freeze dried meals produce 4 servings. My little pot wouldn’t cook a quarter of the bags.

I tried portioning a small amount into my pot and cooked it like suggested. The issue is the seasoning is impossible to portion that is loose in the bag. I had a horrible meal that my dog wouldn’t even eat. Plus each of these uses a whole quart of water to make. I now know that these are great for bugging in or even at you bug out location, but not in my bug out bag.

One of the biggest things I realized was how I am not all weather prepared. I had one mylar emergency blanket. If it weren’t for my knowledge and my dog snuggling with me, I would be an ice cube. So very quickly in a short three days, I realized I had a few mistakes that could have cost me my life in a real SHTF situation.


In conclusion, if you have not yet tested your bug out bag, or if it has been a while then go out and test it. Unless you plan on repacking your bag every few months, I recommend packing stuff for the different weather you might come across. Also don’t be afraid to pull items out of your bag you don’t use. Every pound counts when you are lugging your bag around for miles and days. There is no better way to know if you are ready than to put your skills, knowledge and equipment to the test.

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