As hardcore off-roaders, we do everything we can to make our rigs bulletproof. But as any Iraqi insurgent will tell you, the only problem with being bulletproof is there's always a bigger bullet around the corner. And it will take you out. So despite all the careful vehicular preparation, when the feces hits the fan and we're forced to spend the night in the wilderness or hoof it back to civilization to get help, it pays to have a few spares for the body as well as for the vehicle.
Enter the Bug-Out Bag. Created by veteran off-road instructor and backcountry guide Bill Burke, the origins of this daypack-sized kit reach back through a lifetime of outdoor survival training and adventure. From scrounging alongside alligators in the Everglades as a Cub Scout to wilderness survival training when he was a mechanic attached to a U.S. Army Ranger battalion in the early 1970s to running his own four-wheel-drive training and backcountry guide service, Burke's experience as a Wilderness EMT and First Responder has added to his storehouse of practical knowledge. Here are Burke's recommendations for what to pack in your Bug-Out Bag to help ensure you stay alive in the bush whether you're waiting for help or making a break for civilization on foot.
Hydration Pack - The military-spec Camelbak BFM daypack shown in the lead photo features a large three-liter hydration reservoir, plus plenty of pockets for organizing gear. $220, camelbak.com.
Water Filter - The compact MiniWorks filter from MSR combines a field-cleanable ceramic filter element that takes out nasty organisms with a carbon core that eliminates unpleasant tastes and odors. $85, msrcorp.com.
First Aid Kit - Adventure Medical Kits' affordable Weekender model contains everything you'll need to treat a wide range of backcountry injuries and illnesses. $60, adventuremedicalkits.com.
Snake Bite Kit - Best known as a post-snakebite treatment, the Sawyer Extractor contains a simple suction pump that can also help treat nasty insect bites. $15, sawyerproducts.com.
Supplements - Even the best prepackaged first aid kits need to be customized with prescription meds, insect repellent, sunscreen, and lip balm. $20-$30, your local drug store.
Knives/Multitool - In addition to a sturdy lock-blade knife like the M21-04 model from Columbia River Knife & Tool, you'll want to pack a multitool or a fully loaded version of the classic Swiss Army knife. $90, crkt.com; $50, swissarmy.com.
Survival Kit - While you can piece together your own survival kit, you'll be hard-pressed to pack more must-have items into a small space than you'll find in the belt-sized pouch of the Master Pro Survival Kit. $290, prosurvivalkit.com.
Survival Guide - The detailed instructions printed on the waterproof cards of Brunton's Pocket Survival Kit make a handy cheat sheet for wilderness survival tests. $10, brunton.com.
Fire Starters - While you'll want to have several options for starting a fire, the rugged Helios Stormproof Lighter will likely be your go-to fire tool. $60, brunton.com.
Light Sources - The tough, super-bright G2 flashlight from SureFire runs on lithium batteries with a 10-year shelf life. The tiny Arc LED flashlight makes a fine back-up. $36, surefire.com; $30, arcflashlight.com.
High-Energy Foods - Keep your motor running with foods that are high in carbs with a good balance of protein. $20, your local grocery store.
Heat Source / Small Stove - NuWick candles feature multiple wicks that will allow you to boil water or heat up grub quickly. Add a small folding stove and backpacking cookset and you're in business. $8, nuwick.com.
Portable Shelter - Pack a couple of space blankets or an emergency sleeping bag and use them before hypothermia sets in. $6-$30, adventuremedicalkits.com.
Extra Clothes - You'll want to adjust what you carry with the seasons, but the list might include a rain suit, warm fleece pants and jacket, socks, gloves, and a couple of large bandanas.
Sanitation Items - Throw in a half-roll of toilet paper, a travel pack of baby wipes in a Ziploc bag, and a small container of waterless hand-cleaner.
Cash/Coins - Cash can fix an awful lot of problems, so Burke always packs about $5 in quarters and $25 in ones and fives.
Paper/Pen - A Sharpie felt tip marker, pencil, and small notebook always come in handy.
Morale Boosters - Burke packs his harmonica to pass the time. He also suggests carrying a picture of your family to motivate you when the going gets tough.
Bill Burke's Memoirs
"Many years ago I broke a rear axle and ring-and-pinion gear outside Moab, and even though I knew someone would come looking for me in three or four days, having that pack made it easier for me to just make the two-day hike out to get the parts I needed to fix the truck."
"People go out into the backcountry for a fun day and always expect that nothing's going to go wrong, but Murphy's Law was made for these kinds of situations."
"Survival is about more than your equipment: There's a psychological component-a mental toughness-to it. Just knowing that you have what you need to stay alive can give you the extra edge you need to hang on until help arrives."
Bill Burke, 970-858-3468, firstname.lastname@example.org