I do a lot of backpacking, it is something I really enjoy, do quite often, and feel that it is something at which I have become quite efficient.
That’s why when I see peoples’ advice on what a bug-out bag should look like I often end up shaking my head. Nobody would last an hour out deep into the woods with the bags I constantly see flaunted. More often than not, they’re poorly made tacticool bags that were created by somebody who’s spent the majority of their life in a cubicle.
You want something that will actually work out in the woods, not something that just looks good on a website. So if you want to avoid ending up letting apathy win 20 miles out with a sore lower back, achy shoulders, and chafed hips I highly recommend picking a bug out bag based off of the following traits:
- Bag Size
This is the very first factor that you need to consider. Do you need a big bag or a little one? The answer to that question depends on your length of stay out in the woods, mobility needs, desire to blend in, and sheer convenience.
A large bag allows you to carry more gear (aka survive longer) at the cost of mobility, convenience, and concealment. A smaller bag doesn’t allow you to pack as much, but permits you to move fast, blend in better, and will more likely be nearby when the poo poo flies.
- Hip Belt
If the bag doesn’t have a hip belt, forget it. These things are heavenly. A hip belt allows the majority of the weight of the bag to ride on your hips rather than your shoulders. The amount of weight that they take off your back is unreal.
I’ve done a few hikes with a broken hip belt and you tire sooner, end up hunched over a good portion of the day, travel slower, and tend to wake up with an achy back.
Also, make sure that the hip belt has a comfortable amount of padding. Some cheaper military-style bags contain a nylon strap which they claim is a hip belt. Those things will cut into your stomach and leave you raw within the first couple of miles.
Pick something that is actually high quality.
If you’re going to be spending any time moving about in the woods, you need to have a padded hip belt.
- External vs Internal Frame
You need a bag with a frame, and to get one without any form of frame is sheer stupidity based on the ease with which one can pick up a quality, reasonably priced framed bag.
Framed bags not only help to distribute the weight of your back better, but they also permit you better posture, and keep pointy packed items from jabbing into your back. Without a frame you end up hunched over with your tent poles digging into your lumbar every step.
If you choose a smaller bag, it’s going to have an internal frame. External frames are only placed on larger backpacking bags. Knowing which one to pick between the two choices depends on your location and personal preference.
An external frame will allow you to stand up higher, permit more ventilation between the bag and your back, and are built to let you carry heavier loads more comfortably. This comes at the cost of mobility though. These packs can sway a bit side to side when you’re moving quickly, and if you need to scramble through any tight spaces you’ll quickly end up in a game of tug of war with your stuck bag.
An internal frame gives you greater mobility when it comes to scrambling up hills and moving across rougher terrain because it stays close to your back. This means that there’s no ventilation there though, and you may not be able to hike as upright as you would like.
Pick a bag that doesn’t stick out in a crowd like Hulk Hogan playing the recorder. Neon colors are out. Find a more earthy tone that doesn’t scream as loudly to the world where you are whether that be in a crowd or in the woods.
- Pocket Distribution
If the bag only has two gigantic pockets, it cheap and non-functional. Find something with a respectable number of pockets to keep you from having to journey deep within the bowels of your bag every time you need your rain gear.
- Sleeping Bag Space
I don’t care what time of year it is, if you go out into the woods to spend the night without a sleeping bag, you’re not going to be doing very much sleeping. Make sure your bag has enough space for some sort of tool to keep you warm at night.
Yeah, I realize that aluminum blankets will keep you relatively warm, but they alone will not keep you from being miserably cold at 3:00 AM out in the woods unless you have two as you need insulation from the cold dark ground as much as from the sky above. Make room for a sleeping bag, a quality, compact one.
Does the bag feel good when you have it strapped to your body? Remember, this thing is going to be with you for the long haul. You may as well spend the extra money now. Backpackers like to chide each other when they’re deep within the woods with “Do you wish you had paid the extra $20 now?” Usually the answer is an exasperated, drawn out ‘yes’.
Just like tools, buy the best quality backpack that you can right now with the means that you have. Otherwise, you’ll make up the difference and then some when you have to buy a proper bag not long down the road. It’s cheaper to pay for quality up front.
The last thing you need when the need to get out fast happens is a crummy bag that either spills your goodies everywhere, makes life miserable, or that doesn’t allow you to get away from what you need to quick enough. There are a lot of bags out there to choose from, but as long as you follow the above seven (7) guidelines to picking out a fantastic bag, I’m confident that you’ll have chosen a good one.