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Bug Out Bag vs Go Bag – The Differences Between Survival Bags and How To Fill Them

backpack hanging on a tree's trunk

Emergencies tend to happen without much warning. You may not have enough time to gather all the supplies you need to get to safety.

It’s recommended to have a backpack or other type of bag at the ready so you can grab it and get to safety when needed.

These are often called “bug-out bags,” so-called because of military slang for hasty evacuation, a.k.a. “bugging out.” Some people also call these go-bags, INCH bags, get-home bags, and whatever else strikes their fancy.

Is there a difference between these types of bags?

Yes, and it’s a big one.


What’s the Difference?

Both bug-out bags (BOBs) and go-bags are kept full of emergency supplies so you can grab them and rush into action when something big happens.

Bug-Out Bags

man packing a bug out bag

Bug-out bags are large enough to carry 72 hours of supplies or more. They contain survival supplies such as food, water, flashlights, batteries, and a first-aid kit. Finally, you can grab your BOB when you’re planning on leaving civilization behind, either temporarily or permanently.

However, BOBs are large backpacks, and you can’t always bring them with you during your day-to-day life.



man packing supplies in a go-bag

Go-bags, on the other hand, are smaller. These are sometimes messenger bags. They contain some emergency supplies like food and water, but not enough to survive long-term. Storing important documents such as passports in a go-bag is also recommended.

Also, go-bags are sometimes used when responding to violent events, such as a terrorist attack. Armed professionals use them so supplement the gear they carry on them with extra ammo, more grenades, an expanded first-aid kit, etc.

Go-bags are often carried in your vehicle so you can grab it and escape your vehicle. You may want to do this after a car crash or if traffic has stopped on the highway, as often happens before a hurricane.

In short, a bug-out bag is for mid-term survival, such as when you evacuate to escape a natural disaster. A go-bag is for shorter-term survival, can go with you more places, and helps you get to a safe place, your family, or where your BOB is!


What to Put in Each Survival Bag?

supplies to be placed in bug-out bags

While the definitions above will give you an idea of what to put in each bag, they’re not comprehensive.

Here I’ll go into detail regarding what you should put in each bag.


How to Fill a Bug-Out Bag

A bug-out bag should contain all the gear you and your family need to survive in the wilderness for 72 hours or more.

This includes (but isn’t limited to):

  • A disaster plan
  • A survival manual
  • Non-perishable food
  • Cooking supplies
  • Potable water
  • Water for washing
  • Water purification supplies
  • A first-aid kit
  • Medications
  • Vitamins
  • Bug spray
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Medical identification and records
  • Insurance information
  • Copies of birth certificates and social security cards
  • Spare socks and underwear
  • Hot weather clothing
  • Cold weather clothing
  • Rain gear
  • Fire-starting tools
  • Bandanas
  • A compass
  • Maps
  • A GPS
  • A USB drive with copies of important information
  • A sleeping bag
  • A backpacking tent
  • A Mylar blanket
  • Personal hygiene supplies
  • Female hygiene supplies
  • A signal whistle
  • A signal mirror
  • Paracord
  • Duct tape
  • Superglue
  • Aluminum foil
  • A tarp
  • Survival knives
  • A machete, hatchet, or both
  • A folding saw
  • A multitool
  • A watch
  • A knife sharpener
  • A fishing hook and line
  • Small game hunting weapons (such as a slingshot or pellet gun)
  • A firearm, ammo, and hunting license
  • Bear spray
  • A HAM radio
  • A Weather radio
  • Flashlights
  • A Lantern
  • Light sticks
  • Batteries
  • A solar-powered battery charger
  • Pet supplies
  • Trash bags
  • Vaseline
  • Playing cards
  • Ziploc bags
  • Cotton balls
  • Gloves
  • A sewing kit
  • Pen and pencil
  • A notebook
  • A towel

Believe it or not, this list is not exhaustive!

Feel free to mix and match this list. Experimentation is good. I’d recommend going on a practice run or two, living out of the contents of your BOB with your family.

This will help you determine any weaknesses and will help you organize the gear within the BOB better.

As for the bag itself, it should be a tough hunting or tactical backpack. Some bags are called 3-day bags. These work as minimalist BOBs, but your BOB should let you carry enough supplies to hunt, fish, trap, and gather more food in the wild.


How to Fill a Go-Bag

black go-bag

A go-bag is much easier to fill than a bug-out bag. Remember, the goal is short-term survival, and it will be more tailored to your situation. I’ll give some categories and let you choose what you need.

Remember, a go-bag should be small enough to carry without encumbrance. Messenger bags are the largest bags I’d use for a go-bag.

Emergency Supplies

You should have at least a day’s worth of non-perishable food and potable water. Don’t forget a first-aid kit, especially with supplies to stop bleeding.

You should also carry a flashlight, batteries, a small radio, a change of clothes, and a knife or two.

I always keep a bandana in mine, too.



notes and documents on table with clock

Your go-bag should hold your passport and copies of important documents. Insurance information, birth certificates, etc. Anything you may need to prove who you are and what you own.

The go-bag should also contain an emergency plan, to-do list, and potentially some survival manuals.


Responder Supplies

Off-body carry is controversial. I’d keep a firearm in an at-home go-bag, but not in one I keep in my vehicle.

Spare ammo for your concealed carry piece is a good idea, though. If you’re a police officer or other armed professional, then keep even more gear in your gear bag.


Using Bug-Out Bags and Go-Bags Together

small bug-out bags hanging

There’s plenty of overlap between a BOB and a go-bag.

That’s why I recommend using both.

If you put gear such as important documents and personal medication into go-bags and need to evacuate with your family, then you can spread out the load.

Everyone carries a personalized go-bag. The heavier supplies live in the BOB, which can be carried by the strongest person and shifted around when they tire.

If you live alone, though, you can get away with using just one emergency bag.


Other Emergency Bags

BOBs and go-bags are the two most common survival kits, but they aren’t the only ones.

Battle Box

slightly opened durable box

A battle box is like a large bug-out bag, except in a durable container.

Much more durable.

A battle box should be fireproof, waterproof, and secure against theft.

You fill a battle box much like your bug-out bag, except with more supplies. It’s also a good idea to store cash and documents inside, more than what you’d put in your go-bag.

This way you’ll have everything you’ll need to survive then recover even if a tornado levels your house. The battle box should survive, along with all of its contents.


Get-Home Bag

Get-Home Bag with supplies

This type of bag is basically a go-bag specifically for getting home and grabbing your family, BOB, and other necessities in case of a natural disaster.

As such, you’re less likely to need to store documents or tools for violent resistance. Consequently, get-home bags tend to contain more nonperishable food and emergency clothing than go-bags.

If you aren’t an armed professional and don’t conceal carry a weapon, then there’s no real difference between a go-bag and a get-home bag.



man holding INCH Bag

An INCH bag is like a BOB, except it’s designed for long-term survival instead of just evacuation.

INCH means “I’m never coming home again.” These are for long-term emergencies where you expect to never return. They contain enough supplies to survive for weeks, not days.

INCH bags will be heavier and have more heavy-duty equipment, such as a survival axe or hatchet. You’ll also need tools to gather water instead of just carrying water.



hand holding a bug out bag

Now you know the difference between a bug-out bag and a go-bag. You should also know when to use one or the other.

Or both!

Don’t forget the most important aspect of survival, though: practice.

Go over your emergency plan with your family. Check on the gear every six months to make sure it’s all good. Rotate out food and water. Go camping with your emergency bags.

If you’re learning how to use your kit for the first time SHTF, then you’re halfway lost.

However, if you know how to use everything, and all your gear is in order, you’re well on your way to survival. With enough knowledge and practice, you may even thrive!


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