Survival Bags Explained: Which is Best for You?

Magic Prepper • July 02, 2023

Not Every Survival Bag Needs the Kitchen Sink

One of my favorite parts of prepping is setting up survival bags. It’s like a puzzle where, once you fit all of the right pieces together, perfection is achieved. There are many types of emergency packs, each designed to be useful based on the situation at hand. There are bug-out bags, get-home bags, INCH bags, quick-response bags, and of course many more. A problem I have run into myself is that, regardless of the type of bag we are building out, as preppers, we tend to turn all of them into the same thing. A smaller or larger version of a bug-out bag with either less redundancy or smaller pieces of kit. It’s a common theme as we often operate under the terms of “what if I need it?” rather than “what will I need for this specific purpose?”

So, let’s break down the basic concepts of a few different types of bags to help others who suffer from the same issues as I do.

The Bug-Out Bag:

Bug-out bag

What is a bug-out bag?

The bug-out bag provides you with the ability to grab one singular backpack in an emergency that will cover your basic survival needs. Usually, on the larger side, a bug-out bag should have all of your core equipment needs covered to help you through any survival situation.

A great way to prioritize the gear in your bug-out bag is to use Dave Canterbury’s 5 C’s of survival; Cutting, Combustion, Cover, Container, and Cordage. This list has even been expanded to the 10 C’s of survival; however, I find the 5 C’s easier to remember and recite. A bug-out event might happen due to an evacuation order regarding a natural disaster. Or you may find that your area has become too dangerous to remain in and leaving is your only option for survival. In those events, the possibility exists that you may never return to your home again. So we try to cover as many bases as we can in case of that unfortunate circumstance.

Bug out Bag Essentials:

One thing I would keep in mind is that, although a lightweight bag is ideal for mobility, you can always shed weight if you need to in the field. But adding additional supplies may be impossible depending on the environment.

The INCH Bag:

Image relating to Survival Bags Explained: Which is Best for You?

So, this survival bag concept might be where the “kitchen sink” is a good thing. The “INCH” in INCH bag stands for I’m Never Coming Home. This particular bag would be your go-to if you knew for a fact that returning home would never be an option. This could happen for many reasons including man-made and natural disasters alike. Think of an INCH bag as being an expanded version of a solidly put-together bug-out bag. Some of the things you may have cut out of your bug-out bag for weight reasons may be worth having if you might never have access to those items again. Some examples of where you might invest some extra weight into an INCH bag: a more substantial shelter system, a more capable sleep system, additional food, extra medical supplies, more cordage, and extra ammunition are some of the areas you might enhance for the INCH bag that you might have skimped on in your bug-out bag. Based on the extra weight carried, you might want to look at an external frame backpack. There are not many instances where your INCH bag will outperform a good bug-out bag regarding your basic needs. However, with the INCH bag you will increase the amount of time that your sustainment and comfort will last.

The Get-Home Bag:

The Get-Home Bag

The get-home bag has always been a struggle for me. To keep it from transforming itself into a tiny version of my bug-out bag has required some intense personal strife. The main purpose of the get-home bag is well, to get home with. The way I approach mine is based on how far away from home I will be on a generalized basis. My daily commute is rather short. But, I do frequently drive 1-2 hours for shopping and firearms training with my local group. I use that information to calculate a one-way trip back home from the furthest place I frequent, which, in my case, would be about 120 miles. In the terms of a worst-case scenario, an EMP or CME event shuts down all vehicular movement, for example, and I would need to plan to return home on foot. Although this is highly dependent on the season and the environment, it would be reasonable to walk 120 miles within 6 days at a pace of 20 miles per day. So, in order to give myself a buffer, I plan on my get-home bag to last about a week. You’ll need food, but it’s less of a priority, as remaining mobile and, of course, water will have to be sourced along the way as it’s unfeasible to carry enough water for that type of endeavor. Keeping things light is important and keeping the main goal of returning home in mind is the key to setting up a get-home bag successfully. Some examples of items I carry in a get-home bag are a small set of bolt cutters (in case you need to take shelter or get through an obstacle), an emergency shelter (mylar tent, military surplus poncho, etc.), wet wipes (remember, we’re talking 6-7 days), 5 Hour Energy or similar energy supplements, a power bank, and a digging tool. Your main goal is to get home but, there may be some challenges along the way. Keep it light and fast while still having some options.

The Quick Response Bag:

Image relating to Survival Bags Explained: Which is Best for You?

A quick response bag is geared towards self-defense more so than survival. It should be lightweight and purpose-built with only the gear absolutely needed to deal with whatever situation requires using it. Survival takes a backseat in this setup to direct action necessities that will help you stay alive during a dangerous encounter. My quick response bag integrates seamlessly into the rest of my kit which includes a chest rig or plate carrier and a gun belt. Some examples of gear in a quick response bag would be; extra magazines, observation devices (including thermal/night vision capable devices), road flares or other signaling devices, an IFAK, and extra batteries for all electronics.

Wrapping Up:

Having a survival bag of any kind is a great idea. It puts you ahead of the curve immediately as you’re suddenly able to respond to an emergency in a much more pragmatic way. Once you reach the point of having different types of bags for a variety of emergency scenarios, it’s important to keep the goal of those bags in mind. If you can do that, then balancing the capability and weight of each bag becomes a much easier task to achieve. Try to avoid the desire to turn every survival bag you own into a different-sized bug-out bag because of wanting to bring the “kitchen sink” with you for every occasion. As someone who has committed this error more than once, trust me, you don’t always need everything.

--Magic Prepper

Recommended Backpacks:

Bug Out Bag: Elberlestock G2 Gunslinger II Backpack

INCH Bag: Mystery Ranch Beartooth 80 Backpack

Get Home Bag: Maxpedition Prepared Citizen Deluxe Backpack

Quick Response Bag: Tasmanian Tiger Assault Backpack 12

All Around Good Bag: Eberlestock F3M Halftrack Backpack