What Should You Pack Into A Survival Backpack?

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What should you pack into a survival backpack? The essentials of survival that you cannot carry in your pockets. This will include a tent, sleeping bag, larger fire kit, First Aid, water, and food. It can also include rain gear, toilet kit, bug spray, and communications for one person for 72 hours.

A survival backpack is a great way to prepare for emergencies. What you pack in your survival backpack will depend on the emergency you are preparing for. But there are some basic items that everyone should include in their survival backpack.

Emergencies can happen at any time, and you never know when you might need to evacuate. It’s important to be prepared for an emergency evacuation by having a survival backpack packed and ready to go. But what should you pack in your survival backpack?

What Is A Survival Backpack

A survival backpack is a pack, is the foundation of an emergency preparedness kit. Specifically this type of survival kit is designed to be portable while meeting the needs for 72 hours of survival.

This type of survival kit can also be called a Go-bag or a Bug-Out bag.

The pack will have clothing. First Aid, navigation, shelter, food, water, and fire-making supplies in it.

They are ready to go with minimal if any other additional preparation.

Planning A Survival Backpack

Start by determining what are we planning to survive. While it can be fun to fancy ourselves a survivor, like, Daryl, or Carol from The Walking Dead, it’s unlikely a zombie invasion is ever going to happen.

The more likely scenario is some type of natural disaster.

For example, if you live in an earthquake zone, like California, it’s a good idea to have at least one survival backpack in a closet that you can grab, in case the Big One happens.

If you’re like me and you live in Tornado Alle having a survival backpack close at hand. This adds a peace of mind during storm season.

What Should Be In A Survival Backpack

I always go back to the 10 Essentials for hiking, but I add in one additional item, a battery-powered radio.

The ten essentials are:


This means compass and map or GPS.

These days, for emergency supplies, I would say keep a map and compass in your bag. Your phone will be your GPS device.

The compass and map are a backup, in case you needed to relocate and you can’t use your phone.


You want headlamps instead of flashlights. A headlamp allows you to see while you can still use your hands.

Sunscreen and Insect Repellent

If you need to be outside, you want to avoid sunburn. You also want to avoid ticks, chiggers, and mosquitos.

First-Aid Kit

We cover, First-Aid Kits in this article. I would want a substantial kit for my survival backpack because you don’t know what you might encounter.

A Good Knife

I would prefer to have two knives. I want a multi-tool like a Swiss Army or Leatherman plus a quality bushcraft knife. We review those in this article.

A Way To Make Fire

For a survival bag,I would have a fire kit on hand. In the bag, itself, put waterproof matches, lighters, and a Ferro rod, as well as a fire starter like cotton balls, dipped in vaseline. But since you are likely to be sheltering in place you can leverage your outdoor grill for cooking. Or you can use a camping gas grill you might have.


In most survival situations, you will have access to shelther. Hopefully, it’s your house. But you might be in your car. However, you can use your existing camping tents. But I would make sure my survival backpack had a tarp, survival bivvy, and/or tent packed in it. I would also add in 500 feet of paracord to assist with shelter making.


I would put enough food for each person for 3 days. These need to be non-perishable food. You can use backpacking meals like Mountain House, ramen noodles, or packaged meat. I prefer the meats that come in packets instead of cans because you can carry more of them in a smaller space. They also come in pre-made flavor packets.

You should also bring along a portable stove like a Jetboil. Keep at least a couple of cans of fuel on hand. Stoves are faster to use than a campfire for cooking.


You need to plan for 1 gallon per person per day for 72 hours. However, you can mix and match this for home use. Meaning, while you want to have clean water for washing, cooking, and flushing the toilet, for drinking, you can mix in soda, juice, tea, and coffee.

Have an extra pair of underwear and socks in your bag. However, I would expect to have enough time to at least dress properly for the environment before you needed to leave. And under the best of circumstances, to pack a suitcase.

I know a suitcase doesn’t mesh with the idea of “grabbing my bag and disappearing into the wilderness”. But that’s a stealth backpacking trip.

I imagine, most of the time, a survival backpack to be used in an environment where you are not going to need to camp in the woods without preparation.

For example, when we expect bad storms, I will pre-stock the bathroom we use as our shelter. I put in my pack, plus extra food and drinks. Even if it’s a surprise storm, I typically get 30 minutes of warning.

Unfortunately, with a disaster like an earthquake, we currently don’t have any warning.

Thus, I would want to keep my pack in a location that would be expected to survive an earthquake.

Also I would make sure every one of my family knew where the packs are.

You can also keep packs in your vehicle. Though these might have to be smaller packs so that you still have room for passengers and cargo for daily life.

Thankfully, the ten essentials, don’t take up much room, and most likely you could augment what you’re missing while on the go.

Survival Packs For Men

Survival packs are generally unisex. However, there is additional gear a woman might want to take for women’s needs. We will cover that in the next section.

If you are a husband or boyfriend, you should plan to take more stuff. If you’re the father, it is your duty to carry extra supplies for your wife and children. In particular, if you have young children who cannot carry heavy packs.

Plan to carry the tent, extra food, and water. You might be able to put the poles in another pack.

Women’s Survival Backpacks

A woman’s survival backpack is the same as a man’s though petite women might not be able to carry as heavy of a pack. Except a woman must make sure to pack sanitary supplies and makeup remover. She might also want to pack a small makeup kit. I’m not saying all women wear makeup in survival situations, but some women do feel better if they’re wearing makeup.

Put A Radio In The Survival Pack

An AM/FM portable radio is essential for a survival pack. Radio is going to be easier to find out important information after a disaster than your phone. Because the Internet might not be accessible. This can seem unimaginable but if enough cell phone towers go offline, your phone will be a brick.

Plus, many radios will be powered by AA/AAA batteries so if they will last longer than your phone.

And you can also get radios that will last indefinitely via hand crank electrical generation. I would also add in a mobile phone charger too.

How Much Food Should We Keep With Our Survival Pack

The rule of thumb is you are planning to survive for at least 72 hours on your own. Thus how much food that is will depend upon how many people are with you.

And, frankly. how hungry are you willing to be.

You can stock up on non-perishable foods. This can include expensive items like dehydrated meals from vendors like Mountain House.

Or you can go, the cheap route with ramen noodles.

I like to stock up on tuna and chicken packets. They are similar to canned tuna or canned chicken, but they come in foil packets.

These packets take up less room. And often you can get them flavored. So they taste better out of the bag, and not as bland as plain tuna or plain chicken.

You can also put in food items like beef jerky or summer sausage.

And depending upon your space. You could even put in canned food. Just remember that the food you have for your survival backpack might need to be carried in the backpack for an extended period of time. So I like to keep a mix of foods that fit into the backpack. With, a box of bulkier food items like canned food that we could access if we are sheltering in place, or traveling by car.

Finally, don’t forget to stock up on pasta and instant mash potatoes. These foods will make other foods extend to feed more people.

How Much Water To Store

The recommended amount of water is 1 gallon per person per day. While Americans typically think in gallons, camping water systems are sized in metric. 4 liters per day is the same as 1 gallon.

You can keep water in bottles or a hydration bladder. A hydration bladder seems convenient because you can fit it into your bag easily and then sip on the water out of a hose. But these hydration bladders are difficult to tell how much water they contain unless you remove it from your pack.

Thus many backpackers and survival experts now recommend carrying water bottles. I personally use Platypus 2 liter bottles because once they are empty they are collapsible. I will augment with additional bottles of water that I keep stored in the garage. Plus we always have soda and tea bottles on hand.

Though if I have any say about it, I’m not going without a way to make coffee.

In addition to water bottles, make sure you have multiple ways to make water safe to drink. This includes filters and a steel bottle (not a Yeti, insulated bottles can explode over fire). A steel bottle can be used to boil water and make it safe to drink. In an urban environment, I would distill the water to eliminate dangerous chemicals.

Search And Rescue Assistance

Additional items, I would put into my survival packs are items that would assist with search and rescue. This would include a whistle and glowsticks.

A whistle will carry further, and with less energy, then you trying to scream for help.

A glowstick can be seen for a long distance in the dark. The glowstick also helps provide light in an area without wasting your battery pack on your headlamp or cell phone.

Differences Between An Urban Survival Backpack And A Wilderness Survival Backpack Personally, I don’t find there should be a difference between an urban survival backpack and a wilderness survival backpack.

Because if I need to use my survival backpack. In an emergency, my urban area has become a wilderness. One thing you might think about if you are in an urban area is making sure you have some kind of self-defense on hand. I wouldn’t worry as much about it in the wilderness. But in an urban area, this is something we might have to think more about.

Yes, this means you could consider having a firearm. Just make sure you are trained and are following all local laws.

However, you might also want to go with a non-lethal set of tools, such as tasers, or pepper spray.

The most important tip for urban survival:

If you think you’re dealing with, like, unrest or some kind of criminal element is to stay calm and stay hidden. It can be fun to imagine ourselves as Rambo fighting it out. But you’re not Rambo..

You’re much better off just avoiding any type of confrontation. Thankfully, most likely what will happen is you will just make friends with your neighbors. And you’ll help each other out with the minimal risk of encountering any type of bad guys.


When assembling your survival backpacks, don’t forget to include your essential medications. And to pack a copy of your prescriptions with you.

Identification And Cash

You should make sure that your passports and driver’s licenses are accessible nearby if you need your pack.

Plus put $100 in various denominations in your pack.

What Is A Hiking Pack

A hiking pack is a smaller pack designed for a day hike instead of a multi day backpacking camping trip.

These packs will have a large main compartment with one or two smaller pockets for carrying snacks and water. You will, of course, want to make sure to fill it with survival essentials.

The hiking pack should still be heavy duty with a waist belt and sternum strap. However, they won’t be as large or have a frame like an internal frame backpacking backpack.

So you are unlikely to be able to carry a tent or sleeping bag with you. But survival bivvys come in compact sizes and/or your poncho can be converted into a tarp shelter as well.

What Are The Types Of Survival Situations Should We Plan For

With the popularity of the Walking Dead TV series in the early 2010’s, survival prepping became a popular topic. You might also have been a fan of the TV show Doomsday Preppers. Another popular show is Alone plus Survivorman, and of course, Bear Grylls.

I joke with my friends that I was a prepper before it was cool. I started when I was 10 and in the 1980s after seeing the movie “The Day After”, which is about nuclear war. That was a traumatic movie for me to watch.

I had nightmares. But it did inspire me to become active in nuclear non-proliferation. If I wasn’t so good with computers, I might have been a top researcher in that field. As iti is, I do know quite a bit about that topic.

Which is why I am pro nuclear power. Nuclear power isn’t the same as nuclear weapons, but I digress.

However, while, a nuclear war is still a possibility and zombie invasion is unlikely, the disasters we should prepare for are more common but not as sexy.

Blizzards, floods, earthquakes, and tornadoes.

Prepping was actually ingrained into me by my mom, who grew up in rural Ohio. They had frequent snow-storms and you needed to make sure you always had canned food, bread, water, and peanut butter on hand because you could be cut-off for several days.

I have seen the destruction of an F5 tornado. One of my friends was even the engineer for insurance companies after a tornado blew through Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He talked about how he forced himself to just look at the sidewalk when going into homes so that he wouldn’t see all of the children’s toys scattered in the yards.

So, while, an apocalyptic bunker is cool, being able to survive natural disasters is the foundation of our emergency preparedness.

What Type Of Pack, Should You Use For Your Survival Backpack

The best survival backpack would be an internal frame backpack complete with chest strap or you might refer to those as a sternum strap.These packs will also have a hip belt. This waist belt helps distribute the load plus provides additional compartments for storage.

Example of an internal frame survival backpack

You also want to make sure the pack has padded shoulder straps and is ventilated with breathable mesh to insure airflow while you’re carrying the bag.

Make sure there are many compartments to hold your emergency preparedness supplies. The main compartment should have plenty of space. Look at the zippered pockets and make sure they come with heavy duty zippers. The best heavy duty zippers are YKK Zippers. You can look for the YKK symbol on the zippers.

Example of a survival hiking pack or daypack

While a pack might be water-resistant, you will need a pack cover to make them water-proof. Some high-end packs like the Teton below, will come with a pack cover. Otherwise, you need to either buy a pack cover or wear a poncho that will cover the pack.

You should also make sure your sleeping bag and clothes are in a dry sack. A dry sack, which can be a trash bag, is waterproof. The last thing you want is a wet down sleeping bag and/or clothes.

However, between budgets and storage space, you just may not be able to use a full backpack for your survival pack. The next best thing would be a hiking day pack.

These are smaller backpacks but designed to be used in the outdoors. So they are often tougher and have additional pouches for carrying things like water bottles.

Finally, you could use a laptop backpack or military tactical backpack as a survival bag.

You’d be surprised with how much stuff you could carry in a 17-inch laptop backpack for a survival scenario. I know this because when I travel for work. I will put a lot of survival items into my backpack. My friends think I’m a bit crazy when they realize how much stuff I have in my backpack. But Mother Nature can strike anywhere at any time.

Example of a survival laptop bag

Here are the four packs I have used to build survival backpacks. Because I’m outdoors so much, I typically make multiple use for my packs. Meaning, my camping backpack would be my goto survival backpack.

MOSISO 30L Tactical Backpack, Military Daypack 3 Day Assault Molle Rucksack Bag

This is a laptop bag with benefits. It’s spacious. And with the Molle system, you can extend the capabilities using any Molle-compatible pouches.

MOSISO 30L Tactical Backpack, Military Daypack 3 Day Assault Molle Rucksack Bag, BlackMOSISO 30L Tactical Backpack, Military Daypack 3 Day Assault Molle Rucksack Bag, BlackMOSISO 30L Tactical Backpack, Military Daypack 3 Day Assault Molle Rucksack Bag, Black


Osprey Packs Mutant 22l Backpack

This is a hiking day pack. It’s great if you want a pack that you can use for outdoor day trips as well as your emergency pack.

Osprey Mutant 22 Climbing Backpack, Blue Fire, One SizeOsprey Mutant 22 Climbing Backpack, Blue Fire, One SizeOsprey Mutant 22 Climbing Backpack, Blue Fire, One Size


Backpacking Backpack, 60L/65L/70L/85L Waterproof MOLLE Rucksack Hiking Hunting My first backpack as an adult. Rugged and spacious. At times, I feel like this had more room than my Teton.

Plus it has lots of Molle straps to add-on stuff.

Backpacking Backpack, 60L/65L/70L/85L Waterproof MOLLE Rucksack Hiking HuntingBackpacking Backpack, 60L/65L/70L/85L Waterproof MOLLE Rucksack Hiking HuntingBackpacking Backpack, 60L/65L/70L/85L Waterproof MOLLE Rucksack Hiking Hunting


TETON Sports Ultralight Plus Backpacks; Lightweight Hiking Backpack for Camping, Hunting, Travel, and Outdoor Sports

This is a true backpacking backpack. I got the Grand 5500 90 liters so I can friggin take the kitchen sink with me if I want. And don’t forget to calculate how much water you will need for bugging out.

TETON Sports Grand 5500 Ultralight Plus Backpack; Lightweight Hiking Backpack for Camping, Hunting, Travel, and Outdoor Sports , Black, 34TETON Sports Grand 5500 Ultralight Plus Backpack; Lightweight Hiking Backpack for Camping, Hunting, Travel, and Outdoor Sports , Black, 34TETON Sports Grand 5500 Ultralight Plus Backpack; Lightweight Hiking Backpack for Camping, Hunting, Travel, and Outdoor Sports , Black, 34


Finally, you should check out our guide to cutting tools, which is the most important tool in your survival toolkit.