You can ask any prepper what most scares them, and they will probably tell you that it is being unprepared for a bad situation. Inquire further into what they hold a serious disdain for, and they will probably tell you that it is inefficiency, or wasted effort.
Accordingly, most of us will strive to be ready for whatever Mother Nature or mankind can throw at us by packing and keeping close at hand a BOB, or bug-out bag.
It is somewhat ironic, then, that the BOB so cherished and relied upon by so many preppers is neither as ready as it could be, nor as efficient.
After the initial effort of choosing the bag, determining what is required for the most likely circumstances and then packing everything into the bag in a way that makes sense is done, the bag is set aside, seemingly forgotten except for periodic maintenance.
There is a better way to do things when it comes to your bug out bag, and the way that I am referring to will make your BOB lighter and better equipped simultaneously, scoring you improved efficiency, and better overall readiness in the bargain.
To accomplish this, we will seasonally equip our bags but the items we are most likely to need in the changing climate. I’ll tell you everything you need to know in the rest of this article.
Why Make Your Bug Out Bag Season-Specific?
For two simple reasons, reasons that will make sense and be highly desirable to any prepper: First, your BOB will almost always become lighter overall by adapting your loadout seasonally. Second, you will be better prepared for any given circumstances since your loadout will be better optimized for local conditions.
Let us think through it together. Most preppers (including your author here for a long time) take the common approach to BOB packing, meaning they include absolutely every piece of gear, every provision and every item that they think they might possibly need so long as they can justify it against the pack’s weight budget, if they have established one.
You won’t get any argument from me against the notion that it is good to be anything but prepared, but as with everything else there is always a trade-off.
A bug out bag that is packed to the gills for all situations and all seasons is going to be heavier than one that is packed for a specific season. Plainly stated, you don’t need certain items or pieces of gear in certain seasons, or are so unlikely to need them that it is difficult to justify their inclusion against other items you would rather have.
Why would you even carry a hammock in the middle of winter? Do you really need those extra heavy layers in the summertime? The list goes on.
By deleting these items when they are strictly non-necessary, your BOB will become both lighter and better optimized for the climate and ambient conditions you are facing. I trust that the concept makes sense.
Now, let us get on to our list of seasonal gear adaptations you should make to your BOB.
Seasonal Gear Picks for Hot and Cold Weather
A quick note about the items featured on this list: They aren’t mandated by God, so use your head. Wherever you live, if your seasonal changes are particularly mild or practically non-existent, you won’t have much call for seasonally rotating the gear in your BOB.
Likewise, if your plan or specific circumstances mandate carrying certain items year-round then go ahead and do that. The items featured on this list are a baseline for people living in areas that experience typical seasonal climate changes.
Hot Weather Gear
Light, Quick-Drying Clothes
Working hard in hot weather sucks, and it sucks even more if you are wearing inadequate clothing. Whether you go long sleeve or short, hot weather clothing in high UV environments should be lightweight, loosely fitting, moisture wicking and preferably fast-drying.
This will help keep you as cool as possible while protecting you from direct exposure to sunlight. This is one area where performance fabrics might really pay off because many traditional blends do not dry quickly enough for my taste.
You don’t have to be living in the rainforest or a particularly rainy environment to warrant quick drying clothing, either. A long march or other arduous tasks attendant to survival will see you working up a good ladder, soaking your clothing with perspiration.
The longer you stay wet, the unhappier you are likely to be, and you’ll also greatly increase the chances of developing rashes or other skin conditions.
Don’t forget to upgrade your socks accordingly. Take care of your feet and they will take care of you!
Hat or Other Head Gear
Many areas are bombarded by relentless sunlight in the warmer seasons, and this means functional headwear that will protect your head, neck and shoulders from sun is essential.
Most folks have their preference when it comes to hats, but this is one area where the classic American baseball cap is just not going to do the job. You should choose a hat with a wide, wrap around brim and a taller top to facilitate loss of heat off of the top of your head.
If hats just aren’t your thing, you can consider some other fabric solution though you might give up some shading. Large bandanas are essential outdoor items (and prepping multi-tool!) that can be rigged up as both a head covering and a neck wrap.
Or you might choose a more intercontinental solution in the shemagh which can similarly be wrapped to protect the entirety of the head and neck.
You might be tanned and you might be tough, but dealing with constant exposure to UV will steadily degrade you by damaging your skin, and causing you to lose even more moisture than you already are through perspiration. Don’t risk it! Keep your head and neck protected.
Solar Charging System
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Speaking of constant subjection to direct sunlight, you should take advantage of it in every way that you can, and one of the best ways that modern preppers can turn the sun to their advantage is through the use of a compact, portable solar charging system.
Let’s get real, modern gadgetry can afford the tech savvy prepper tremendous advantages, everything from smartphones to GPS systems and even headlamps and flashlights are constantly heading towards rechargeable battery systems instead of disposables.
This is great from a long-term sustainment perspective, but it also makes refueling these devices on demand more challenging.
Chances are you won’t have access to a conveniently placed outlet while you are bugging out, so that means you’ll need to provide your own. With an open view of the clear, blue sky and the virtually limitless energy of the sun free for the taking, these systems form an essential link in your power supply chain.
One change that I personally highly recommend making to your summer or hot weather loadout is replacing your tent or tarp with a flyweight bivy.
Everyone has their preference on what is better for camping to say nothing of bugging out, but I believe the simplicity and minimalist nature of the bivy carries the day in the summertime.
Compared to a tent, a bivy provides only enough room for you to crawl inside of it and get out of the sun, wind and rain.
If you are lucky and your bivy features an extra large “annex” you might have enough room to sit up comfortably, and maybe even bring your pack inside with you. But in exchange, you’ll save weight and bulk in your load, and also save a lot of time compared to setting up and tearing down a tent.
Bivies aren’t that great in areas with nasty weather or that get very cold but assuming I’m not dealing with either of those circumstances regularly I’ll take the bivy.
Everywhere on earth, except the very coldest environments, you’ll find insect life. Regrettably, there are always enough insects in any given place that seem to delight in biting people.
Whether or not they pose an actual danger in doing so is irrelevant, as the emotional and mental toll this will take on you as you accumulate welt after welt throughout the course of your journey will sap your willpower and ruin your attitude.
Survival is a mental game, so taking steps to keep the “gates” of your mental fortress barred against such petty aggravations is worthwhile in my book.
The only practical defense against swarms of biting insects like mosquitoes, noseeums and other blood suckers is bug spray- unless of course you plan on hunkering down inside your tent or staying swaddled in a mosquito net.
Not for nothing, certain biting critters carry with them a substantial risk of contracting various nasty diseases that you would prefer to avoid.
Make sure you get a high quality insect repellent that contains DEET or other similar, proven insect-deterring chemical formulations.
The dinky stuff you pick up from the grocery store might be sufficient to let you enjoy your cookout unimpeded, but heading into the deep country will expose you to miniature saber-toothed pterodactyls that will make short work of your pristine skin.
Most preppers already know that baby wipes are a great idea for inclusion into a bug-out bag, but they are particularly vital in hot weather or arid climates because you will not have much of any water to spare for personal hygiene unless you have the good fortune to be near a large and safe natural source.
Adventurers and soldiers alike are long used to the notion of a hobo bath using nothing but baby wipes.
Using just a handful, it is possible to get your entire body reasonably clean with no soap or anything else required, and if you are really pressed for time or resources you can just scrub down the most troublesome parts of your body, face, armpits, feet, groin and butt to stave off stench and keep germs at bay.
If you care to, it is possible to invest in extra large wet wipes designed specifically for the purpose. These are made of a tougher weave than typical baby wipes, and will go a little further in use.
Whatever brand or type you decide on make sure you keep them in a tightly sealed or closed container so that they do not dry out. That will of course defeat their purpose.
Electrolyte Drink Mix or Gels
Recharging your body’s water supply is only half the battle when it comes to hydration. The other half is topping off your electrolytes which are vital for proper cellular function.
As you sweat your body will lose a bunch of electrolytes, and though water is and will always be crucial for sustaining life, you’ll wind up running out of gas if you aren’t getting a little bit of sugar, sodium and potassium among other elements.
You have a few options when it comes to electrolyte uptake. You may, of course, get these vital nutrients from various foods, but processing food takes more water and also takes time. A much swifter and easier way is to drink an electrolyte beverage.
Everyone has heard of Gatorade and PowerAde, but if you’ve been following this site for any length of time you know that liquids are freaking heavy and you generally want to avoid carrying them if you can. A better option is to carry electrolyte drink mix in powder form or special electrolyte gels.
By carrying a small box of electrolyte mix you’ll be able to add the resources you need to your canteen, cup, hydration bladder or any other source of drinking water to both quench your thirst and refuel your body.
You can carry pretty much any kind of food you want to in hot weather or arid climates so long as it is shelf-stable and durable.
Compared to carrying food in a cold environment, at least you don’t have to worry about it freezing and breaking its packaging or turning into a huge mess inside your luggage.
However, you should still take the time to optimize your diet when packing your BOB with rations for putting in the work in the warmer seasons.
For most preppers this means loading up on clean, complex carbohydrates. Much of the trail food and other survival rations that you are already familiar with (and hopefully already like) fit into this category, things like trail mix and dried fruits, but you should also include a variety of nuts and even breads.
Remember what I said above about food being a viable source of electrolytes also, and any of the above will help recharge your body’s stores of electrolytes.
Also, keep in mind that you generally won’t require as much food in hot weather as you would in cold weather, so depending on your preferences and personal requirements this might be an opportunity where you can cut a little bit more weight.
Something to keep in mind if you’re already at a surplus of pounds because you are carrying more water. Speaking of…
Extra Water and Containers
This is one hot weather seasonal inclusion that most preppers won’t have to be reminded of at all. When it is hot, you’ll sweat more, and you’ll sweat even more than that if you are forced to put in hard work during hot weather.
If you are a heavy sweater and it is really steamy outside you could be burning through a liter of water an hour trying to stay hydrated. This will go through even the largest bladder or biggest Nalgene bottle in frighteningly short order.
A smart prepper will still work to accommodate this vital necessity, however. Unfortunately, there is no free lunch as mentioned above, and you’ll still have to balance the additional hydration requirement against the weight of your pack.
Water is very heavy, tipping the scales at more than 10 lbs. per gallon. Obviously you’ll need the water and that means you’ll need something to carry the water in, which means adding even more weight in the form of plastic bottles, canteens or larger bladders.
One strategy you might try, depending on where you live, is packing less water up front and depending upon regular refills so long as you have known, vetted and comparatively safe sources to draw from along all of your potential bug-out routes.
Leverage the capability of water filtration devices and purification chemicals to save yourself some weight up front.
A hammock is a viable option for bedding in most hot weather climates so long as you have some conveniently located trees or other firm points to hang it from. Aside from its lightweight, minimalist nature, the best advantage a hammock confers to you is it gets you up off the ground entirely.
This is definitely nice for falling asleep and catching a little bit of extra breeze, but it also keeps you out of contact with the legions of terrestrial bugs, reptiles and mammals that are just itching to make contact with you when you least expect.
Ask any camper who is woken up by a snake in their sleeping bag with them and you’ll begin to understand just how precious this capability is.
You might want to pair your hammock with some required secondary gear such as a mosquito veil or even a tarp to make an impromptu roof so you can keep a little rain off your back.
Baby wipes are brilliant for easy, on the go washing and hygiene as part of your BOB’s complement. They are especially vital in hot weather settings where any water is an incredibly precious resource and you might not have access to a convenient nearby stream or lake for washing down.
Since baby wipes pop right out of the pack moist and impregnated with gentle soaps or detergent you can take a couple of minutes and attack the most troublesome areas of your body after a long, sweaty day on the trail. This will help keep germs at bay and accomplish two things:
First, you won’t stink nearly as bad, making you feel better and keeping everyone in your group that is downwind of you happier. Second, this will go a long way towards keeping rashes and skin infections from taking hold.
Those ailments that are symptomatic of a dirty body might not seem like a big deal under the circumstances, but untreated and left to run rampant they can quickly spiral out of control and turn into incapacitating conditions.
Include a big package of baby wipes in your summer BOB loadout, and make sure you keep them in a properly sealed container or bag so they don’t dry out.
Cold Weather Gear
Appropriate Layers of Cold Weather Clothing
Failing to plan and equip appropriately for exposure in a cold climate or just in the middle of a harsh winter is planning for failure, and a slow, miserable death.
Dressing appropriately in cold climates is essential for survival when outdoors, and your bug-out bag must be equipped with a proper survival wardrobe when the time comes. Simply throwing in a wool hat, some warm socks, and your favorite coat is not going to cut the mustard.
If you are going to hack it in cold weather while remaining functional, you’re going to have to dress in layers. Specifically, you need a thin, light but warm and moisture wicking inner layer to pull perspiration away from your body and allow it to evaporate before it can chill you.
On top of that, you’ll need to wear something a little heavier and a little fluffier to trap a layer of warm air against you so you’ll be insulated against the cold. Lastly, you’ll need a wind and waterproof outer shell to beat back the elements and hang on to that precious heat that you have accumulated.
There are lots of variations on this basic method, and some locales will require more or less layers but that is the essential.
Also, make sure you pay attention to proper fabric selection and try to choose cold weather gear that has worthwhile quality of life enhancements, such as zippered vent panels and other convenience options that will give you greater control and ease over regulating your temperature.
Gloves and Mittens
There are very few preppers who would dream of heading afield without a good pair of gloves. No matter who you are and where you live, it is a good idea to protect your hands in the middle of any emergency situation or crisis.
This definitely holds true for winter weather, however, you need to upgrade your gloves and potentially add a pair of mittens in addition as part of your cold weather loadout.
Your basic leather work gloves or the thin fabric “jersey” or Mechanix utility gloves will not give you anywhere near enough insulation in cold weather.
What’s more, none of these resist moisture in the least, so as soon as they get wet your fingers are going to freeze in short order.
Since your extremities are disproportionately vulnerable to frostnip and frostbite compared to your core, you might be heading for a show stopping cold injury.
Proper cold weather gloves will protect your hands more or less the same as the above utility gloves but they are specifically designed to keep your hands far warmer than the aforementioned types.
You might also consider a pair of mittens, either as an alternative or an add-on. In the coldest conditions mittens have an advantage because they allow your fingers to share their generated warmth with each other, though one flaw is they make using tools or any fine dexterity task more difficult.
In warm weather, sleeping bags might very well be optional. But in harsh, cold conditions they are absolutely mandatory, and it is also mandatory that the sleeping bag itself be rated for whatever temperatures you might be facing if you want to stay warm.
Don’t think you can get away without one! Sure, there are all kinds of natural and improvised shelters you can use, but nothing beats a good sleeping bag for keeping warm.
Unfortunately, sleeping bags are big and bulky, and the better they are at keeping you warm the more expensive they will get. It is possible to get comparatively compact, lightweight sleeping bags that also work like gangbusters in cold conditions, but you are going to spend a small fortune on them.
Consider this a necessary investment if you live in a year-round cold climate or just face harsh winter weather.
Don’t forget to pair your sleeping bag with an appropriate ground pad and rig up a carriage system on your BOB ahead of time so you aren’t struggling to secure and move it when time is life.
Fleece Bag Liner
If you need to upgrade your existing sleeping bag or you are heading into some seriously cold weather, toss in a fleece sleeping bag liner as part of your BOB’s seasonal load.
A sleeping bag liner is exactly what it says on the package, yet another inner layer that is inserted into the sleeping bag to help keep you warm, or at least warmer, when conditions are seriously nasty.
If you know what your sleeping bag is capable of but notice that you are just a tad too chilly when resting or bedding down for the night these are a great option they can save you a lot of cash compared to upgrading.
Even better, nice examples in this category are lightweight and can be folded or rolled such that they will take up very little room in your bag. Alternately you can pre-install them in your sleeping bag and leave it there.
Cold-Weather Food and Snacks
When the weather turns chilly you should make it a priority to rotate your survival rations, snacks and meals, not just for freshness but also to optimize them for survival and ease of use in a frigid environment.
First and foremost, consider the fact that your bug-out bag is not likely to keep the contents well insulated.
Any food items with a high moisture content can freeze, destroying their packaging, likely ruining the food and creating an enormous mess for you to deal with when the whole, soggy affair eventually falls.
To prevent this from happening, switch out your meals and snacks for any food with very little or no moisture content. Anything that is dehydrated is a reasonable option, including meats, fruits and vegetables.
Typical camping and prepping fair like nuts, solid candies and other such items are good inclusions too. Assuming that preparing hot water is not going to be an issue, definitely don’t skimp on complete dehydrated meal options as popularized by several major brands.
Another factor that preppers sometimes overlook when putting together a menu for cold weather survival is the fact that your body will require more calories in cold weather than it does in hot weather.
The same activity over the same period of time will burn more fuel when the weather is frigid, so make it a point to bump up your calorie payload when preparing your BOB for colder climates.
A thermos, or a different brand equivalent, is another invaluable piece of cold weather survival gear that is virtually mandatory.
Aside from their obvious and advertised utility at keeping coffee, cocoa or soup hot and ready despite blisteringly cold outside temperatures, you can also use such a container in a more mundane capacity by employing its insulation to keep liquid water from freezing for far longer than it would in a different container.
Perhaps the only downside to a good thermos is it the capacity is never what you would think based on looking at it, as their double-walled, vacuum insulated construction means you sacrifice some capacity, so if you want to tote a sizable quantity of any hot beverage, soup or stew it will be something of a size commitment in your bag.
I would recommend that most preppers are already entirely acquainted with headlamps as a personal lighting solution, and I would say a majority probably already rely on them in one fashion or another.
However, headlamps are especially vital for inclusion in any cold weather loadout because typical gloves or mittens that are worn in such climates make operating, even hanging on to, a typical flashlight very difficult.
Contrast this with a headlamp which is worn on the forehead or attached to a piece of headgear and you won’t have to worry about losing it after it is dropped in the snow.
Additionally, most headlamps are operated by the way of a large, tactile switch as opposed to a small, fiddly button, making them eminently easier to use when wearing heavy winter gloves or mittens.
Don’t get me wrong, you’ll still have call to use both, but in any cold weather setting where you are bundled up and on the move a headlamp is likely to treat you better than a handheld light.
Hand warmers are priceless in any cold weather setting where you need to keep your hands warm, flexible and dexterous. Sure, you’ve got your heavy duty winter gloves and mittens on already, but the cold has a way of seeping in and numbing your extremities no matter what you do.
For preppers, we rely on our hands to accomplish all the many tasks attendant to our survival efforts, from processing firewood to tying small and sometimes intricate knots with cordage or rope.
All of that gets really difficult if your hands are so numbed your fingers don’t work or you can’t feel what you are doing, and if your hands get cold enough it’ll even become impossible.
Consider the notion that you are very likely to be attempting these tasks with your gloves off for best control and hand warmers start to make a lot more sense.
Put some activated hand warmers in your pockets or a kangaroo pouch and you can simply place your hands inside to warm them up between tasks and keep your fingers motile and functional.
Obviously, these are something of a luxury anytime you want to warm up “right this second” but don’t discount the practical function of these ingenious devices.
Snow Goggles (or equivalent glasses)
Protecting your eyes is always imperative in a survival situation, as losing either one of your “optics” is going to be a major showstopper.
You don’t need me to tell you to protect your eyes from the sun with sunglasses and from shrapnel with ballistic frames or goggles, but in any cold weather environment that gets a lot of snow you’ll need to be aware of another, sneaky risk factor in the form of snow blindness.
That pearly white, beautiful snow acts just like a tanning mirror, reflecting intense sunlight and UV radiation onto your face and into your eyes. Just like being out on the open ocean produces blinding glare, you’ll be dealing with the same one-two punch in any snow covered area.
Snow blindness is debilitating, causing significant pain and greatly impairing your vision. Prevent this condition by investing in and including in your BOB purpose-specific snow goggles or glasses designed to completely shield the eye from exposure to this intense glare.
You might have just done a double take at the mention of sunscreen on a winter survival packing list, but you read it right. That same glare that will fry your eyes will absolutely barbecue any exposed skin, and this is likely to be your face and neck in cold weather.
It might sound like you have bigger problems to worry about, but being exposed to this intense, reflected light for hours on end can lead to viciously bad sunburns.
Consider also the effect this sunburn will have on skin that has already been abused by wind, cold and very dry air and you’ll begin to understand just how nasty a winter sunburn can be.
Indeed good sunscreen will help, but you would be wise to invest in an all-in-one sunscreen and wind blocking balm that will provide total skin protection.
Keeping ready with a bug-out bag is more than just packing one time and setting it aside for a rainy day. A smart prepper will periodically update and rotate the contents of his bag to account for changing parameters and changing conditions.
Seasonal conditions are one change that will happen regularly year in and year out, and by adapting your bug-out bag’s load for these seasonal changes you can keep it both as light and efficient as possible.