Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Testing the Bug Out Bag

Joe Lake
I had a chance to test our Bug Out capabilities the other weekend when I took my 59 year old wife and our 23 year old family friend into the wilds of Algonquin Park.

I had been canoeing the Park since I was 13 and part of a three year outward bound program that was the best learning experience I ever had at my middle school. I learned how to travel light and make do with the minimum amount of comforts.

Canoeing anywhere into the park requires that you do at least one portage, and often three or more per day. This means humping everything you brought, plus the canoe and paddles anywhere from 100 yards to three miles.

(Showing off)
Those that are bush savvy make the portage in one trip - backpack, canoe, and paddles all on your back in one go. Those that haven’t learned the lesson of traveling light, have to make two or three trips. Instead of carrying 90lbs for a half a mile a day, they carry 180lbs three miles a day.

Nothing makes you question the usefulness of a piece of equipment more than having to hike back to go and get it six or more times a day.

It was for this reason that I always viewed my Bug Out Bag with skepticism. I believe the assumption most Preppers make is that in an emergency you would just toss the BOBs into the truck and head for the sticks. However, as I discussed in my previous article,The Summer Shower that Took Down Toronto, evacuating an urban center during an emergency in a vehicle is likely doomed to failure.

The second assumption then is to sling your BOB onto your back and hike out of danger. It is this second assumption I will address.

Too Much Weight

Like most Preppers I stuffed my day pack with as much survival equipment and supplies as it could hold. I have a Bug Out Bag for every member in our home but they were far to heavy for either my wife or our young female friend to possibly carry for more than a few blocks.

Our strategy was to duplicate the items in each BOB so that if one or more were lost, we would still have full redundancy in the third. I can guarantee that if we had to hike out of a danger area, half our equipment would be discarded before we got a mile.

(This is NOT my BOB,)

An often recommended inclusion in a BOB is 3 days’ worth of water. The girls wanted to bring bottled water instead of drink from the lake, (which I have done on numerous occasions without boiling or disinfecting with no ill effects), and since we had only one portage on our trip I acquiesced. However, if we had to actually back pack the water, there is no way we could have carried that weight.  On the first portage we had to make two trips because of the water we carried. Coming back, with only a litre of water left for each of us, we were able to do the portage in a single trip.

In a real disaster evacuation, I would make sure to have one or more methods of purifying water and focus on finding sources of water as you go. 

One of them fancy newfangled water filters I wish I could afford. Till then I just boil my water.

Day Packs, Back Packs

Like most people I live on a tight budget, and as much as I would like to throw money at the problem of emergency preparedness, I have to watch my expenses. For our Bug Out Bags I chose some fairly rugged looking day packs in the $50 range. Since they are intended to last for only three days, this would have sufficed. The reality is that these bags probably wouldn’t last much longer than three days anyway. This trip helped remind me of how tough, travelling through rough country can be on equipment, and people. (See further down)

When I have saved enough money, I will look to purchasing at least one "H" frame hiking back pack with waist belt and chest strap in the $200 plus range. I used these in my younger days and can attest to their ruggedness, the benefits of distributing the weight through the hips, and being able to strap all sorts of gear to the outside.
This is what I got.

This is what I want.
Grocery Cart

As an experiment we brought along one of my wife’s grocery carts. Stripped of the attached bag, the remaining frame was lightweight and folded up taking up minimal space in the canoe. The wheels were larger than those usually found on the cheaper carts, a full six inch diameter, and made of rubber instead of PVC.

We found that we could strap all sorts of equipment to the frame and one of the girls could easily pull more than twice the weight she could carry. When I finally buy a good frame backpack I will look into improvising a set of those wheels onto it and substitute the metal pull handle for a heavy duty shoulder strap. I’m sure this configuration would allow the girls to transport an entire Bug Out Bags’ worth of equipment with much less effort. 

Yes Sir! er...I mean Ma'am
(I have researched the commercially available backpacks that have wheels already incorporated and would not rely on these to work in a bug out scenario. While they may be fine for pulling along polished airport lobby floors, in the wild, my guess is that they wouldn’t last a day.)

I don't think so


While all three of us are more fit than most people we know, this trip required effort we didn’t expect when we set off. My wife and I are well into middle age and as much as it pains me to admit it, we started to feel our age. Even PJ, a fairly fit 23 year old woman, was pushed to exhaustion. 

Doing Pilates at the gym is great to stay looking thin and fit, but it does not prepare you for the type of work required to travel through tough terrain. What with lifting, carrying, collecting firewood, building cooking fires, setting up shelters, cooking, and keeping the fire going, we must have done the equivalent of 250 squats a day.  By the end of the day my quads and calves were cramping. When was the last time you added 250 squats, a three mile hike with an 80lb back pack, and five hours on the rowing machine to your work out?


We set off fairly late in the day and made about five miles in five hours. This would be a good rule of thumb to go by, one mile per hour. Under perfect conditions, with fit people, the maximum range in your evacuation plan should be no more than 8 miles per day. For most people, five miles would be a stretch. Add adverse weather, sickness or injury and your range could drop to a mile or two per day.



I think that the most important factor in your survivability is physical fitness. Evacuating on foot from a disaster and providing for the basic necessities while on the move will be an intensely physical ordeal. If you don’t have the health and physical stamina, then all the equipment and supplies can’t help you.


You will never know how well your survival plans will work unless you have tried them out in a dress rehearsal. Take your BOB out into the wilderness for three days. Only through experience will you be sure that your supplies and equipment will provide the necessities for staying healthy and comfortable for three days.

Less is More

Assume that a BOB is something you will be carrying on your back all day, not something to throw in the car. After your dress rehearsal you will find that many of the items you’ve stuffed into your BOB is not worth the weight to benefit ratio. Take those items you no longer want to include in your BOB and put them instead into your Car Kit, or Home Kit. During an emergency, you won’t have the time to go through all your packs discarding the extra weight.


Camping in the wilderness is not only a spiritually rejuvenating experience, but also a great work out, and a means of testing yourself and your equipment. If you’re serious about emergency preparedness, it is something you should do at least once a year.

Please watch my short video below of our Algonquin Park trip.