We don’t need Hollywood to remind us that natural – and not-so-natural – forces have the capability to run amok, even in our most fortress-like cities. Despite that, the multiplexes are reliably full of such wildly apocalyptic fare as Gerard Butler’s Geostorm and the rolling gorilla rumble of War Of The Planet Of The Apes. Meanwhile, back in the real world, it’s hard to tap your smartphone out of sleep without hearing about a neighbourhood-busting crisis, somewhere around the planet.
It’s not like anyone is going to blame you for either burying your head in some complacent sand, or wigging out and going full paranoid prepper. Thing is, in a real emergency, stockpiling baked beans is about as useful as putting your fingers in your ears and singing Things Can Only Get Better. If your neighbourhood really does get too dicey to hang around in, then what you’ll really need is to get out of town, and fast, carrying nothing but the essentials for survival.
But we’ve all seen that scene in the movie too. You know, the one where the protagonist flies about in a panicked scramble to pack, ending up with nothing more useful than mis-matched socks and a Gameboy with a flat battery, while precious, life-saving seconds tick by. What you need is to go to the cut scene where you’re hightailing it out of there with a pre-packed ‘Bug Out Bag’ containing everything you need to survive without civilised comforts for at least 72 hours. Here’s what to put in yours:
1. The Bare Necessity
You’re not going to get far without fresh water. A minimum of a litre a day is needed, depending on the climate. Pack at least two litres in hard wearing, refillable bottles. Include a hefty supply of water purification tablets or a compact stove to boil water before drinking. Fail to do this and you could soon be drinking your own ‘waste water’. Top tip: let it cool first. Trust us, it’s worse warm.
2. Fuel For Your Flight
Long term, you’ll need a way to catch or forage food, but start with 48-72 hours of easy-to-heat, lightweight options. Boil-in-the-bag meals that can be eaten cold are perfect. A Jetboil stove is great for heating water swiftly to make it drinkable, as well as heating the boil-in-the-bags in the process. Multitasking activity is paramount in a survival situation in order to save time and energy.
‘As a minimum, carry a small sleeping bag, a small Goretex bivvy bag and an insulated sleeping mat’
3. Rest Is Life
Tired decisions are bad decisions, so prioritise kit to help you find shelter and rest. As a minimum, carry a small sleeping bag, a small Goretex bivvy bag and an insulated sleeping mat. A waterproof cover, such as a poncho and bungees, can make for a great portable home. If there’s any chance you might be sharing your trip, make sure the mat and poncho has enough space for two or you’ll be ‘hotbagging’: getting straight in after someone else and taking it in turns to sleep – at least it’s already warm when you get in…
4. Survival Can Come In A Tin
A good survival tin is worth its weight in gold. Make sure it contains a flint striker for starting fires, a wire saw, fishing line and hooks, a button compass, a signal mirror, a pencil and paper, cotton wool, a condom (no, for carrying water!), wire snares, spare shoes laces/paracord, razor blades, a sewing kit and a tea light. If, like me, you can’t stand not knowing the time, you can always chuck a spare watch in as well.
5. Everyone Is A First-Responder In A Survival Situation
A first aid kit is ESSENTIAL. From plasters and antiseptic cream to painkillers and slings; a decent med-pack can at least make things more comfortable, and at best save a life. Buy a shop-made one and add to it. Don’t forget person-specific items like medication, tampons and antihistamines. Add insect repellent, sunscreen and a mosquito net depending on location. I’ve seen small insects drive a man crazy when he forgot his net. And sunburn is really bad for morale!
‘When you venture out again, take off ALL the dry clothes, re-waterproof them and put on the wet’
6. Learn The Wet ‘N’ Dry Routine
If you get soaked in a cold environment, you’ll die. In the Royal Marines I spent many a night learning ‘wet and dry routine’: if you get soaking wet, when you’re getting into your sleeping bag, take off ALL the wet clothes and put on the dry ones. Then, when you venture out again, take off ALL the dry clothes, re-waterproof them, and put on the wet. You HAVE to keep the dry set dry, never wear it out unless someone (or something) evil is forcing you to run for your life.
7. Your Nasty-Weather Rig
They say there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes. Anyone who has been in a British rainstorm might disagree, and wherever you are, weather can become a life-threatening challenge without shelter. The essentials would be a waterproof jacket, insulated jacket, gloves, warm hat, sun-hat and sunglasses.
8. These Boots Are Made For Walking…
If you’re prone to wearing flip-flops, Converse or brogues, pack a pair of military or walking boots. Your normal shoes will only last a matter of days out on the open road. But a decent well-made boot could last years. Throw in some superglue in case a sole comes off, and some spare laces. Then chuck in some boot polish to help extend the boots’ life and waterproof qualities. NB don’t let any ‘funny’ survival comrades anywhere near your shoe polish before using binoculars – ha ha, chaps.
9. Conversation Can Be Life
A smartphone or tablet can keep you up with essential news, and enable live-saving communication and location sharing. I used to carry a waterproof Nokia phone and wind-up charger, and even without electricity for weeks I could keep it going. Solar chargers come with adapters for all your kit, but they are breakable. A backup or a wind-up backup could be worthwhile…
10. Light The Way
We all take electricity for granted but outside built-up areas things get dark, fast, even without power outages. So a head torch, leaving the hands free to work, is essential. For professional soldiers, keeping a spare protected in a hard case as a backup is standard practice. Wind-up torches can be useful long term. When not in use, leave the head torch around the neck and lanyard a normal torch to you. Watching someone crawl around in the dark searching for a misplaced torch is hilarious – unless it’s you.
11. Get The Right Tool For The Job
Leatherman, Gerber or Victorinox-style tools are your best friends. They’ll surprise you how much you rely on them, and many bushcraft skills rely on the simple array of reliable tools that they provide. Don’t get a cheap one from the local discount store – spend a bit and, again, lanyard it to yourself when you come to use it.
12. Getting Lost Is A Good Way To Lose
As a professional soldier a compass and set of maps was essential. A GPS and spare batteries is a real bonus, and don’t rely on a single solution – I always kept a spare compass safely protected in a hard case elsewhere in case the first broke. Obviously a compass is only useful if you know how to use it in the first place!
WHAT NEXT? As the man says, a compass is useless without the knowledge of how to use it. Explorer and naturalist Steve Backshall knows his way around the outdoors, and has made a useful series of videos to fill you in on compass use.