When I set out to build my first bug out bag, I never really added everything up to see how much it would cost when it was finished, if it ever would be finished. It seemed that no matter what I had in it, I always wanted more, but there are certain things we all know that we need in every bug out bag.
That aside, recently I’ve been thinking about the cost of bug out bags and how expensive they can be. This got me looking into ways to reduce the cost of bug out bags, and see if we can build one for less than $200.
Let me first start by saying this was no easy task. There are so many items that everyone wants in their bug out bag, getting everything for under $200 was a huge challenge. When you set out to start reducing the cost of your bug out bag you will be faced with some difficult decisions. Sometimes you will have to cut back on quantity, other times it will be quality.
Let’s see how I did.
First on the list is the bag itself. You can’t have a bug out bag without the bag, so let’s take a look at some viable options for inexpensive backpacks. My favorite style of backpack is the MOLLE bags. The MOLLE bags allow your bug out bag to grow with you as you add more things to it, and they come in a variety of colors and styles, as well as a variety of prices.
My personal favorite is the Survival Tactical MOLLE Rifle Gear Combo backpack, but at $299, that wasn’t an option for what we are going for here.
So I continued my research, with the only criteria being a backpack that was under $35 and that implemented the MOLLE system. I came across 2 backpacks that I liked and that fit my criteria. The first is a Mil-Tec Military Army Patrol Molle Assault Pack Tactical Combat Rucksack Backpack 36L at a price of $34.06 and the second one is a Mil-Tec Military Army Patrol Molle Assault Pack Tactical Combat Rucksack Backpack Bag 20L at $27.24. Aside from their size, these two packs are identical.
Both of these models are fully MOLLE compatible, heavy duty, chest and hip buckles for added support, they are listed in black, but can be ordered in a variety of colors. The one I am choosing for our $200 bug out bag is the later of the two, the Mil-TEch Military MOLLE Assault Pack 20L, since it is a little cheaper, but still big enough to allow us plenty of space to get the rest of our gear packed up.
Mil-Tec Military Army Patrol Molle Assault Pack Tactical Combat Rucksack Backpack Bag 20L Black
Total so far: $27.24
Now let’s move on to one of the most important items we need in our bug out bag to survive, and that’s water. When it comes to packing water you don’t want to weigh yourself down but yet you need enough to get you through at least 72 hours of survival. Also taking into consideration our $200 budget, we can’t really splurge here and get a nice water filter, so where does that leave us?
Most of us have a water bottle lying around our house somewhere, anything that can be used to hold a liter or two of water will do, and it can be strapped to our backpack. The best part about this type of water bottle, is that it is free, we already own it.
But what happens when it runs out? One really nice item to have on hand is a water bladder. Water is not an area where you want to skimp on what you store your water, however having said that we are on a tight budget. So when I was looking at water bladders I came across two that I think would fit the bill.
Again due to our budget I am going with the cheaper of the two options.
Having a water bottle and a water bladder are great, but they are still limited on the amount of water they can hold, and again you don’t want to weigh yourself down with a lot of water. To solve the issue of having enough water, I elected to add some water purification tablets. These are very inexpensive, take up very little room yet can last for a very long time if you’re in a survival situation.
Polar Bottle Insulated Water Bottle $0.00 (owned)
Platypus Platy Bottle $9.99
Water Purification Tablets $5.99
Total so far: $43.22
Fire and Light
Now let’s tackle fire and light. No one wants to be left cold and in the dark, so first on our list is lighters. If you’re a smoker, or light a lot of candles chances are you have at least one, if not several lighters laying around your home. If not these can be picked up very inexpensively pretty much anywhere that sells groceries or gas, but if you’re an online shopper Amazon has you covered, you can get a 5 pack of mini-Bic lighters for $1.45.
You will also want to have some matches on hand, I personally recommend waterproof, and I know most of you won’t have these lying around if you are just getting started. Thankfully a pack of waterproof matches can be picked up for next to nothing, here’s a pack of 20 with case for $3.01.
Next up is a magnesium fire starter, no bug out bag is complete without one. These are a great way to start a fire with some kindling, and can be picked up for $1.90 on Amazon.
One more thing in our fire and light section. We need something to burn. It’s one thing to gather some kindling but to get a really nice flame you’re going to need something that will light fairly quick. For that we recommend the good ol’cotton ball and Vaseline. You can also save the lint from your dryer and use it instead of the cotton balls.
Waterproof Matches $3.01
Magnesium Fire Starter $1.90
Cotton Balls/Dryer Lint & Vaseline $0.00 (owned)
Total so far:$49.58
Tools is an area that most of us, probably all of us, could spend well over $200 on, especially when it comes to adding things to our preps and our bug out bag. When it comes to buying tools for survival one important thing to look for are tools with multiple purposes, this will keep you from weighing the bug out bag down with lots of different tools, and also will help keep the cost down a little.
First on our list is a nice solid fixed blade knife. These are great for hunting, but if you get one that is partially serrated they can be good for cutting tree branches as well.
This Survivor HK-106280 Outdoor Fixed Blade Knife featured an 11-Inch full tang blade is only $10.82 and comes with a magnesium fire starter. It also has some nice serration on the back side that makes it ideal for cutting branches for fire or to build a shelter.
Next up is a nice multi-tool. Like I said before, tools with multiple purposes are great for cutting down the amount of equipment you end up packing in your bug out bag. Getting a nice multi-tool for cheap is something I found hard to come by, so next to the backpack this will be the most expensive item in our bug out bag. Also I wasn’t willing to skimp too much while picking out the multi-tool, so I went with the Gerber 01471 Suspension Butterfly Opening Multi-Plier. It is fairly lightweight and includes a nice sheath, for only $26.48
Now we need something to cut down some serious branches and maybe even a small tree. The serration on our survival knife probably won’t do the job. I selected the Chainmate CM-24SSP 24-Inch Survival Pocket Chain Saw. It is made from carbon steel, lightweight and includes a pouch, for only $11.75.
Check out the Chainmate Pocket Chain Saw in Action:
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The last two items on our tools list can be made really easy from things lying around your house, or if you know someone that fishes and someone else that sews clothes, even to repair them.
You need a good fishing kit and a good sewing kit. Lucky for me my wife patches holes in our clothes, so building a sewing kit was pretty easy, and takes up very little space in our bug out bag. We also have plenty of fishing equipment in our back shed, so I was also able to put together a survival fishing kit as well.
One last item in our tools section. In any survival situation you will most likely putting some major stress on your knife blades, this is where having a good whetstone comes in handy. The last thing you want when you sit down to skin a fresh kill is a dull knife blade. You can get an Hard Arkansas Knife Sharpening Stone for $4.99, they are compact and will not take up much space or add much weight to your bug out bag.
Survivor Fixed Blade Knife $10.82
Gerber Multi-Tool $26.48
Chainmate Pocket Chain Saw $11.75
Fishing Kit $0.00 (owned)
Sewing Kit $0.00 (owned)
Total so far: $103.62
I’m sure everyone was wondering when I would get to the food. Food is obviously vital to our survival, next to water, we can’t go too awful long without it. Now you can go crazy here spending a lot of money on MREs or survival food, but we already ate up over half of our $200 budget. So we are not going to be buying any of our bug out bag food. We are going to gather some things from our pantry and make our own MREs to pack. A couple important things to remember when it comes to packing your own survival food, protein needs to be near the top of your list, it needs to be easy to store and easy to make.
Here is how is how to make your own MREs:
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What about cooking? One thing we don’t need here is a camping stove, I know a lot of preppers have these, but when it comes to our budget bug out bag, we are opting out of the camping stove, but instead opting for some good camping cookware. You can get a nice Coleman camping cook set for less than $16.00, these are made from aluminum, and some can be tied to the outside of your bag saving space on the inside.
Last in our food section is utensils. This part is easy, just sneak into the kitchen when your better half (if you have one) isn’t looking and swipe a spoon and fork from the drawer, tape them together and quickly run away. They won’t even know they’re missing.
Food (scavenged from the pantry) $0.00
Cooking Set $15.68
Utensils $0.00 (owned)
Total so far: $119.30
When you are putting together any type of bug out bag you need 3 things that fall in the communication area.
- Cell Phone – Everyone, well almost everyone, has one. Make sure this isn’t the time you forget it, and if you don’t have one, pick up a cheap pay as you go phone from your local Walmart.
- An Area Map – You don’t need an Atlas of the United States, or even a state map, you need a local map. One that will show you the roads and typography of the area. You can print one off the internet, but for a nice one hit up your local engineer’s office, they are free. Once you have it, study it, look for alternate routes of escape if need by, locate water sources and and major landmarks and highways.
- Hand Crank Radio – One area of communication that is almost always broadcasting is radio, and accessing it is free as long as you have a radio handy. When the SHTF you will need to stay abreast of the situation and your surroundings, no better way than listening to the radio. You will also need one that does not rely on an external power source such as batteries, pick up this hand crank radio for $11.31.
Cell Phone $0.00 (owned)
Map $0.00 (owned, or free at your engineer’s office)
Hand Crank Radio $11.31
Total so far: $130.61
Clothing and Shelter
When it comes to listing the clothing and shelter items that you need in your bug out bag it can get quite long. So we will move kind of quickly through this section.
One important, and my favorite, item to have is a bandanna or shemagh. Bandanna are easier to come by and a lot cheaper than shemagh, but shemaghs do have more uses in a survival situation than bandannas. However bandannas are very versatile while surviving outside. We have several bandannas in our home, but if you don’t you can pick one up for less than $1 at your local Walmart.
These next few items I am almost certain you already have but I will list them so that we cover our bases here.
- Socks (I suggest at least 2 pair)
- Pants (BDU/Cargo if possible, avoid blue jeans)
- Jacket/Coat (The type will depend on your area and climate)
- Poncho, 4 pack on Amazon for $5.99.
Now that you have your clothes, one important thing to learn is how to properly pack these so they take up as least amount of space as possible. That is where a skivvy roll comes into play.
How to make a skivvy roll:
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Next up after clothes, is shelter. First you need a good space blanket. Space blankets are excellent for holding in body heat, and can really save your life under certain circumstances. Get a 10 pack for $6.56 and give some to family members.
Now with a $200 budget you’re not going to get a nice warm sleeping bag rated for negative 40 degree weather. Instead you’re going to get a nice wool survival blanket. They are a little heavy, but can be rolled and tied to the outside of your bug out bag to save space. These are relatively inexpensive, you can get a nice wool blanket for $12.70.
One last item in this category is your shelter. You will need something to build a shelter that will keep you safe from the elements, that item is a tarp. It will need to be large enough that once it is used as a shelter it keeps you covered and protected, a 10 x 12 foot, camouflaged tarp can be bought for $17.45.
Bandanna $0.00 (owned)
Socks and Underwear $0.00 (owned)
Pants $0.00 (owned)
Shirts $0.00 (owned)
Jacket/Coat $0.00 (owned)
Space Blanket $6.56
Wool Blanket $12.70
Waterproof Tarp $17.45
Total so far: $173.31
Now we will talk about some items that don’t really fit in the above categories but are essential in any bug out bag. First on the list, I am sure everyone has been wondering when I was going to add it, is paracord. Paracord is to a prepper like duct tape is to a handy man, you just can’t go without it. You can use it for everything from hanging your tarp to building traps, you can even separate the threads and use it for fishing line if you had to. Lucky for us paracord isn’t expensive, pick up 100 ft of it for $8.30.
These next few items you will or should have laying around your house, so they will take up none of our remaining budget.
- Duct tape
- Pencil and Paper
- Heavy Duty Garbage Bags (How to use Garbage Bags for Survival)
Last in our miscellaneous category is a nice first aid kit. If you are just getting into prepping you may not have one of these around your house, though you should. This Lifeline Trail Light Dayhiker kit has over 50 items, and is only $7.99, perfect for our budget bug out bag.
100ft of Paracord $8.30
Duct Tape $0.00 (owned)
Pencil and Paper $0.00 (owned)
Heavy Duty Garbage Bags $0.00 (owned)
Compass $0.00 (owned)
First Aid Kit $7.99
Total so far: $189.60
Grand Total: $189.60
There you have it. A complete bug out bag with over $10 to spare in our $200 budget. You can use the extra 10 bucks to get some higher quality gear, or to pick up a few items that I had laying around that you may not.
I know some of you are thinking I left a lot out of this bag, and if you insist please post your displeasure and any additions to this budget bug out bag in the comments below.
The point that I proved here is, that you can build a nice fully packed bug out bag for less than $200 and a little scavenging from around the house.
Finally, if you ever hear someone say they don’t have the budget for a bug out bag, just simply direct them to this post, even if you don’t have $200 on hand to build it in it’s entirety you can also spend $50 a month and build it as you go.