The 72-Hour Adventure Bag
The 72-Hour Adventure Bag is an emergency bag made for short-term survival situations (3-7 days), like evacuating from a hurricane or wildfire, and designed to get you from Point A to Point B. Often these bags are referred to as “Bug Out Bags”, Go Bags, Evacuation bags, or SHTF bags, but I strongly prefer the term “Adventure Bag” because I believe in the power of positive word associations, as outlined in this post. The 72-Hour Adventure Bag should be somewhere between 55-70L, and should typically be as large as you can comfortably carry on your back.
As I said in my earlier post on Adventure Bags, there are a couple of things everyone should have for safety, but the rest is really up to you. I’m taking a page out of Steve Kamb’s fitness guides when I say, think about packing this bag like you’re creating a Dungeons & Dragons character sheet: you’re going to want to think about what kind of person you are, what you’re good at, where you feel most comfortable, where you see yourself excelling, and pick equipment that complements your skills and your interests.
There is no one-size-fits-all guide to Adventure Bags, but I’ll recommend some starting gear.
Category I: The Essentials
- The Bag: For the 72-hour bag, durability matters quite a bit. This isn’t a bag you’ll be leaving in your car, it’s one you’ll be actively carrying most of the time, so comfort and durability should be a top priority. The Rush 100 from 5.11 is a very good choice. The Osprey Aether is another excellent choice. I assume there are other bags out there that also do a great job, but I’m personally most familiar with 5.11 and Osprey, and they both make outstanding quality products.
- 3-7 Changes of Clothes in a Compression Bag: You’re going to want enough comfortable clothes to last about a week. Make sure they’re climate-appropriate, especially if you’re traveling somewhere further away from home than you’d normally go. Pack a pair of wool socks and something comfortable to sleep in. It also helps to have a poncho or raincoat, as well as waterproof shoes.
- Enough Food for Several Days of Travel: There are many, many 72+ hour ‘survival food’ kits from well-known brands such as Mountain House and Readywise, and there are also your good old-fashioned MREs, but I prefer brands like Huel and Soylent for a multi-day adventure. The thing about evacuations is, there’s always food available, but the quality isn’t great. You won’t starve, but if you don’t pack good food, you might be stuck eating Burger King and truck-stop food for a week straight. Huel and Soylent are both meal replacements that contain all the micronutrients your body needs to thrive, plus quite a bit of fiber. It’s not the difference between life and death, but it could be the difference between a nasty bout of constipation and, well, smooth sailing.
- Water: If you’re traveling you can stop at gas stations and pick up a water whenever you need one, but plastic water bottles shouldn’t be left in a car because it’s unsafe to drink if the bottles get warm. A better choice would be canned water. It seems pricey, but when you take into account that they don’t really expire and would only be used in emergencies, a 48-pack could easily last 2-3 evacuations.
- Water purifiers like the Sawyer and Lifestraw can also be useful, provided you know their limitations, but I usually don’t recommend them because they’re more for camping than evacuating. Any water source within walking distance of a city or highway isn’t going to be drinkable no matter how many times you filter it.
- Battery Packs: Anker makes a wide array of battery packs for different use cases, and you can order directly from their website. Ordering Anker products on Amazon is kind of hit or miss because there are so many resellers, but you can’t go wrong with ordering them directly.
- A Good Sleeping Bag: Even if you’re not roughing it, a good sleeping bag can mean the difference between sleeping on questionable motel sheets and sleeping in comfort. The best sleeping bag for you is going to depend on your frame and how warm you’d like to be when you sleep. I’m a bigger guy so I like the Coleman Big & Tall line, but it’s really up to you and how you prefer to sleep.
- A Bathroom Kit and First Aid Kit: The same bathroom kit you’d use for a multi-day stay at a hotel. The FAK (First Aid Kit) should be a pretty in-depth one, with all the medications (including birth control, Plan B, and/or Plan C) and supplies you’d need for at least two weeks, as it can be difficult to get your medication after a disaster, especially if you’re traveling out of state. You should have at least two N95, N99, or P100 respirators. For an idea of the kind of FAK you should be packing, check out this one by REI.
- Cash: $40-100 in cash, in small bills. Potentially more if you feel comfortable carrying it. If the power’s out, credit cards don’t work and neither does ApplePay.
Category II: Tools & Equipment
- Solar Panels/Solar Generator: A solar generator may just be a fancy word for a gigantic battery, but they’re still incredibly useful, especially if you use a CPAP or something that requires continuous power. Jackery and Bluetti will likely be your best bets for solar generators. I’d recommend checking these out in person before buying, they’re heavier than you’d think.
- A Multitool: Remember the multitool I recommended for the 24-Hour Kit? Well, for this bag you’ll want something a little more heavy-duty. This one from Leatherman (the world’s leading brand of multitools) has everything you need and comes with a MOLLE sheath, which can be easily attached to any 5.11 bag. Seriously, if you take care of this, it should last you a lifetime.
- Eating Utensils/Dishes: Preferably a camping spork or two because they’re easy to wash and they’ll cut down on the total weight of the bag. A set of camp dishes from Walmart’s Ozark Trail would be a good idea as well.
- Lights: Any light is better than no light, but for this type of bag it’s ideal to have at least one camping lantern, and headlamps are generally better than flashlights because they free up your hands. These solar powered lanterns are amazing – I have four of them. The solar power on these is not a gimmick, these can legitimately be charged by a couple hours in the sun, and they run for about one night if used continuously. They’re also almost completely weightless. Many preparedness enthusiasts prefer the Streamlight Siege, which is a heavy duty camping lantern that has excellent throw and a reported runtime of 235-275 hours (or, 9-11 days). The only downside for me is that it runs on D batteries, which are heavier than other types of batteries and can be harder to come by in an emergency.
- Some Way To Make a Fire: Realistically you probably won’t need to make a fire, but it’s good to be able to, just in case. BIC grill lighters are good for this, the ones with the adjustable ‘snake’ neck. If your gear is wet, stormproof matches are also a good choice.
Category III: Safety & Security
Please check with your local laws (as well as the laws of the places you’ll be traveling to) to determine if you can legally carry these before adding them to your pack.
- One of the best things you can get for your protection is pepper gel. It’s the same basic concept as pepper spray, but it can be targeted and won’t blow back in your face or affect everyone in a room. If you live in an area where pepper gel is illegal to carry, check out the legality of carrying bear spray or wasp spray.
- You can also carry a whistle, or a personal safety alarm to scare off would-be assailants or call for help.
- Don’t carry a firearm unless you really know how to use one, have taken gun safety classes, and have any and all required licenses for your area. I have nothing against guns, they’re incredibly useful tools, but statistically, untrained gun owners are more likely to injure themselves or people they care about than successfully use them for self-defense.
- Don’t bother with tasers, ninja stars, throwing axes, bows, spears, or any other kind of ultra-specialized weapons.
- Always try to de-escalate a situation before going on the defensive. Most people are reasonable, and nobody wants to get hurt.
Category IV: Comfort & Fun
- This is where you can really personalize, which is the fun part (at least for me it is). So many preppers swear all you need is a deck of cards and nerves of steel, but honestly, there’s a lot of downtime in evacuations, at least once you get out of the danger zone. Evacuation or ‘bugging out’ isn’t supposed to be a punishment, nor is it supposed to be a battle royale style survival of the fittest exercise, and if you can find ways to relax and have fun with it, you’ll be better off in the long run.
- Music & A Good Pair of Headphones: It doesn’t matter if it’s your trusty old iPod, your Spotify account, or one of those ancient CD booklets with Journey’s entire discography. Evacuations are stressful, they require you to be ‘on’ all the time, and sometimes it’s nice to be able to zone out and shut off your brain for a little while.
- Handheld Gaming System: All my friends swear by the Nintendo Switch, I have a GameBoy Color, which makes me feel like an old man, but at least I can run my system on batteries when there’s no power. All jokes aside, a handheld game system of any kind can really brighten your day for the same reason taking 30 minutes to listen to your favorite band can brighten your day.
- Comfort Items & Activities: Games you can play with a group, things that make sleeping easier, a favorite blanket or stuffed animal, herbal teas, and anything you need to relax. When we evacuated from Hurricane Ida and ended up being displaced for about eight weeks, for the first few days we didn’t sleep very well and we felt like refugees. Having those comfort items, especially the fancy tea and anything that made me feel like I wasn’t in a motel living out of a bag, made the journey significantly easier. I have to recommend Squishmallows or Pillow Pets if you’re into stuffed animals because they double as neck pillows, and hotel/motel pillows never provide much support.
Wilderness Gear: Usually Not Necessary for Evacuation
I have mixed feelings about including camping gear or hardcore wilderness survival gear in these bags. It’s useful if you’re a Wilderness SAR professional, or if you’re using the disaster event as an excuse to go camping, or if you just want some cool gadgets to talk about at parties (which is the only time I’ve ever felt the need to pull out my Everclear stove), but natural disasters are usually localized to a very specific area. When you evacuate you’ll likely be staying in motels, and have access to restaurants and grocery stores as soon as you’re out of the danger zone.
‘Bugging Out’ into the woods after a disaster and trying to start fires and make shelters and live like Bear Grylls is a universally bad idea no matter where, or who, you are. Even if you’re Bear Grylls. Indefinite camping without a serious plan is just homelessness, and under no circumstances should your emergency plan involve being homeless unless you were already homeless. At best you’ll have a really uncomfortable few weeks, and at worst you could end up in real trouble and emergency services might have to attend to you when they could instead be focused on helping people in the disaster zone.