[How-To] Build a Family Bug Out Bag

It’s finally happened. The wildfire has reached your neighborhood. Zombies have broken out of the hospital. Your in-laws are on the front porch. 

Whatever it is, it’s bad, and you know that you need to get the heck out of dodge STAT.

Such is the case for having a bug-out bag – or BOB – available at all times.

Bug Out Bag
“Just the basics” when you have kids.

But what about if you’re a parent? What do you do then?

Most certainly there are specific items you should include within your bug-out bag if you have kids, right? 

scared
The only proper response to unexpected family visits.

Yep! You’re right! A proper BOB contains everything it needs to keep your family safe for a few days while you retreat to safety.

As such, it’s going to be highly individualized. There’s really no cookie cutter program here.

That said though, there are most certainly going to be some items that you want to make sure that your BOB contains.

So, let’s take a closer look at what should be inside. 

Bug out bags (2)
Some of our favorite BOB options!

Table of Contents

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Setting the Stage

Anybody can come up with a BOB for an in-shape family in the beautiful South (apologies to those who don’t get to be here) with one middle school-aged kid.

Let’s not give ourselves any break here.

Nope, let’s set ourselves up for a challenge.

Challenge

They say the average American has 2.5 kids, right? So, let’s say that this BOB has to accommodate two kids – a newborn and a toddler.

Annnnd you’re an only parent. That means you have to carry absolutely everything for all of you by yourself. 

bug out bag
Real-time footage of me carrying all my kids’ crap.

If we can make a BOB that can accommodate that, then we can pretty much make a BOB that will accommodate anything. 

snuggie camping
Bugging out with a well-stocked BOB be like…

With a BOB, I think you’re really pushing it if you think that you can live out of it for more than two days.

I’ve got quite a bit of backpacking trips under my belt and can attest to the fact that carrying more than three days’ worth of food sucks.

Weight matters when it’s on your back and you’re hiking all day long.

Elk Hunting 5.11 Backpack
Weight makes a difference when hunting, hiking and bugging out.

So, we have to find a way to make sure that we are carrying what we need without forcing ourselves to carry 70-pounds worth of gear.

In my experience, long-term hiking with more than 35-pounds is incredibly strenuous.

Keep in mind that if you have a baby, you’re going to have to carry them as well

Baby Backpack
Babies kinda balance out the pack?

So, with those limitations in mind, let’s get into what gear you should pack!

Must-Have Gear for Parents Who Bugout

1. Four-Season Tent

The very first thing that you need within your BOB is a high-quality, lightweight tent.

In the warmer months, you can get away with a tarp and a hammock, but camping in the mountains in colder months is miserable without more substantial gear.

Snugpak Scorpion 2 tent
Snugpak Scorpion 2 tent

So, you’re going to need to include a four-season tent in this particular bag.

Weight, space, and insulation ability matter here.

If you don’t have the right balance of these three triangle points, your journey to the hills and your kids’ sleep at night are both going to be rather miserable.

Four-Season Tent
Four-Season Tent

Yes, you could make a shelter out of a tarp, but c’mon, you’ve got little kids. You’re much better served with a warmer alternative. 

2. Cold-Rated Sleeping Bag

There’s really no way around it: you have to have a sleeping bag if you’re planning on bugging out.

I’ve spent too many nights out in the woods to think otherwise.

Carrying nothing other than a bed sheet to sleep in leads to a chilly night in such circumstances even if it is a Southern June.

You have to keep those kids warm, and at nighttime, a sleeping bag is the way to do so. 

Bug Out Bag
Bug Out Bag

You may have noticed that I didn’t include a ground pad within the list – something that’s very much a staple of backpacking.

You place it underneath your sleeping bag, and it helps to insulate you against the heat-sucking ground.

The reason for the lack of inclusion is because an emergency blanket can accomplish similar goals without taking up near as much space within your bag.

You won’t have that extra layer of soft cushioning between you and the ground, but it’s a sacrifice for the bag space. 

40
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

When it comes to choosing a sleeping bag, I highly recommend spending the extra money to get a bag that is rated to as cold of a temperature you can afford. Also, find one that packs down as small as possible.

Sleeping bags are a huge space hog within a backpacking system, and the less room and weight you have to give up to a sleeping bag, the more you can give to other important things.

You know, like food. Food is kind of an important thing. 

3. Mylar Emergency Blankets & Receiving Blankets

I speak from experience when I say that these emergency blankets most certainly work.

A past backpacking trip found me unexpectedly sleeping in severe cold, and I’m pretty sure one of these things saved my bacon.

Mylar emergency blankets
Mylar emergency blankets

If you have to use one, you’ll feel like you belong in a Chipotle bag, but the warmth is worth it. Keeping little kids warm is essential – they lose heat quicker than an adult does – and these will help you to do that.

I’ve used the cheaper ones before, and was absolutely fine, but keep in mind that you get what you pay for with these.

Chipotle-burrito
Feels like this but minus the guacamole.

Spend a little extra money. The blanket will likely be more resistant to tears.

If there’s one thing kids excel at, it’s destroying things (my white couch with blue crayon all over it at the moment attests to this).

Kid Wall Drawing
Have kids they said. It will be fun they said.

As such, it makes sense to spend an extra $2 to $3 for a higher quality mylar emergency blanket. 

I keep two of these flannel receiving blankets on hand.

Babies just sleep better when they’re all bundled up like a little grub. It’s an extra source of warmth if the weather is cold as well. 

4. Diapers, Wipes & Desitin

Lots and lots of diapers.

This is probably the most space-intensive item on this list, but there’s really no way around it – you have to have them.

Diapers
Diapers

 “Well, I’ll just pack a few cloth diapers.” 

I’m personally not a fan of cloth diapers. You have to wash them to reuse them, and in a disaster situation, people who get infected with stomach bugs die.

Don’t believe me? Look at the stats.

So, I highly recommend having two full days’ worth of diapers for your kids.

That should give you enough time to figure something out.

For me (ahem, my kids) that ends up being about 5 diapers for the toddler and 16 for the newborn

heavy backpack
A man hoisting roughly two days’ worth of diapers.

You have to have something to wipe those little stinkers’ stinkers, and wipes are the ticket.

Unfortunately, these are pretty heavy. Fortunately, you could easily make do with half of a packet.

I believe an even more weight-conscious option though would be to utilize a few of the travel packets of baby wipes.

Baby Wipes Travel
A small pack of these goes a long way in weight savings!

You’d be able to probably capitalize on space with such instead as well. 

With diapers comes diaper rash. Sometimes there’s just no preventing it.

For when your kid’s butt is redder than a sinner in church, there’s Desitin. And it even comes in travel sizes!

elmo on fire
An actual picture of diaper rash.

5. Pacifiers

Pacifiers are easily the second greatest invention of all time. The first is TV.

Ask any parent and they’ll agree with me on this wholeheartedly.

Pacifier
Pacifier

Both of these are “sit-down-and-shut-up” inventions.

Two pacifiers should be plenty for your BOB. And yes, you do need two if there’s an infant.

They’ll eventually spit one on the ground somewhere when you’re not looking, and it’ll be swallowed by the earth in much the same way that your socks disappear in the dryer. 

6. No-Leak Sippy Cup & Baby Bottles

You could easily get by with just one of these.

In a disaster situation, you can’t afford to waste fluids. So, it’s best if you have a sippy cup that your toddler can use tolerably well.

Sippy cup
Lifesavers!

If you attempt to just let them drink out of a water bottle or mug, half of what you give them is going to end up on their shirt. The other half is going to water plants.

Packing a sippy cup is something you need.

drink fail
How every two year old drinks.

I think you could easily get by with one bottle provided you have two different nipples for it.

That way when one gets dirty you have another to switch to real quick.

Baby bottles
Baby bottles and spare nipples are handy!

It may be worth considering adding a brush of some sort with which you can clean the bottle while you’re out in the field as well.

I’ve yet to meet a bottle that I can actually fit my hand into with a sponge.

7. A SteriPen (and Batteries)

The SteriPen is hands down my favorite way of purifying water while I’m out in the woods. It utilizes ultraviolet rays to denature all of the little germs and viruses in your water, and it only takes a few seconds to use.

Steri-pen and bottled water
Steri-pen and bottled water

Contrast that with cheaper pump-action water filters which need to be cleaned, take up more space, require a lot of tubing, don’t filter out viruses, and may not filter out all of the other germs as well (it depends on the pore size)…and you’ll see why I think a SteriPen is well worth the investment. 

81
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

For more information on the SteriPen and other means of water purification, check out our run-down of the Best Portable Water Filters!

8. Extra Clothes for the Kiddos

I’ll let you in on a common dirty little secret (haha, there’s a pun there you’ll see in a minute) among backpackers: we often don’t pack a lot of clothes.

(Did you see it!? Did you see the pun!?)

excited shaq

On week-long trips I’ll commonly only have an extra pair of socks and underwear and an extra shirt.

For two days I wouldn’t bring anything extra for myself.

Clothes and diapers
Clothes and diapers

For my kids though, it’s a different story.

I’d bring an extra outfit for the toddler, and 2-3 outfits for the newborn.

Babies spit up a lot and you don’t want that wetness getting them cold. 

9. Travel Tissue Packets 

Two or three of these tissue packets and you should be golden.

On the trail, they work great as toilet paper, and they’re great for a kiddo’s runny nose as well.  

Tissue packets
We go through these a lot!

10. Plenty of Meals and Snacks

This is going to truly be one of the most important things that you take with you.

You think you’re unpleasant when you’re hungry? Have you ever been around a hungry kid? Holy smokes.

olsen eating spaghetti

So, for two days, here’s what I would bring: enough formula for a few days with an infant, and food that both you and your toddler will eat.

For my family, that means macaroni and cheese, granola bars, crackers, fruit leather, oatmeal, trail mix, and the like. 

If you want to know which emergency foods passed our taste-test (and which didn’t), check out the Best Survival and Camping Food!

11. Cooking Stuff

Obviously, feeding the kiddos is absolutely essential while out in the woods so a camp-kitchen setup that includes a camp stove you’re familiar with, some cookware, and a mess kit is a must — but for more than the obvious reason (cooking).

Coleman Max Stove and pots
Coleman Max Stove and pots

Babies like warm milk, and you’re going to need a way to be able to warm the formula in the BOB.

The best way to do this while out in the woods is to fill up your camping pot with water, get it hot, and then stick your bottle full of formula in it.

Let that sit until the milk is warm, and then you’re all set.

Coleman max stove and fuel
Coleman Peak 1 stove and fuel

Obviously, you’re not going to want to hump the trusty ol’ 2-burner Coleman stove, so something a little smaller will be in your favor.

Some of our favorites are the JetBoil and Solo Stove, as well as the trusty Coleman Peak 1.

12. Baby Wrap 

If you’re going to be hiking out in the bush – whether that be cold or warm weather – you need some means of holding the baby without having to use your arms the entire time.

You need your arms to be free for balance, to catch you if you fall, and to keep you from having to hold 10-pounds for 24 hours.

the hangover judging you
It’s kinda like this but with explosions and zombies and stuff in the background.

A baby wrap is absolutely essential, and really, I would put one of these in every one of your vehicles.

You never know when you may need to hike it out (e.g. running out of gas, engine issues, etc.), and have to take the kiddos with you.

It’s best to have what you need to make it a more pleasant experience. 

13. A First-Aid Kit (adapted for kids and babies)

Every BOB should have some form of first-aid kit within it.

Bandages, antiseptic, and the like should be part of its contents. With kids though, there may be some other items that you want to include in there.

Most certainly if your kids need any particular type of prescription (e.g. inhaler, Epi-pen), ensure that you have that with you before you go bugging out.

Surviveware Large, Small, and Mini First-Aid kits
Surviveware Large, Small, and Mini First-Aid kits

However, I’ve also found that including the following are all particularly useful for parents as well:

  • Anti-gas medication – If your baby has bad gas, it hurts their little bellies and they’ll let you know. This helps to shorten that process.
  • Kids cold and flu medicine – This will help a sick kid to both sleep and feel better. 
  • A snot sucker – Those little onion bulbs that suck out snot.
  • Gripe water – This helps a crying baby to finally shut up.
85
at Surviveware

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Also, make sure you have the training to effectively use your gear! Check out our list of the Best First Aid Classes to get spun up!

14. Hand Sanitizer

I always make sure that I have plenty of hand sanitizer with me when I go out into the woods.

Bugging out is the last place that you want to end up with some form of nasty stomach virus, particularly if you have two little ones that are dependent on you in a post-disaster environment.

Hand sanitizer
The good stuff.

So, make sure you wash your hands – and your little one’s – every time before they eat.

Plus, it lights on fire really quick as well!

I highly recommend buying name brand Purell or GermX.

After the chaos that was 2020 it seems as if everyone got involved in making hand sanitizer. The problem came when several of those products were proven to have wood alcohol in them—something that can very easily lead to permanent blindness when absorbed through the skin.

There’s still some of those products floating around out there, so for the moment, stick with name brand Purell.  

15. Bandanas

I keep two bandanas in my BOB. They have just about an infinite number of uses for the backpacker.

Seriously, they’re like the duct tape of the backpacking world!

Bandana
Easy to pack but super useful!

With kids, they can be used as spit up rags, bibs, or potentially a makeshift diaper in a pinch.

16. Your Kid’s Favorite Toy 

Toddlers typically have a favorite toy. Make sure to bring this with you if you can just so that you can help to keep the peace, and therefore your sanity.

For those who have accidentally dropped kiddo off at grandma’s before without the stuffed bear that he absolutely needs in order to fall asleep, you understand why.

lying awake
Don’t let this be you.

There’s also something of a psychological effect to this too. Bugging out is a sudden change of circumstances, and kids need routine.

Having their favorite hedgehog plush can help diminish the mental shock for the little squirt. 

Other BOB Staples (That You Gotta Have)

So, those are the chief special instructions I would give to a parent that is concocting a BOB.

Bug Out Bag
Bug Out Bag with the sleeping back wrapped in a trash bag to protect it from weather.

Other items you’re most certainly going to want to include are: 

  • Paracord
  • Glowsticks
  • Duct tape
  • Pistol with extra mags
  • Firestarter
  • Lighter
  • Flashlight
  • Cash
  • List of important phone numbers
  • Copies of important documents
  • Knife
  • Phone
  • Water
  • Multitool

For a more detailed look at the staples of a proper bug out bag, check out our Bug Out Bag 101 article!

Conclusion

This is most certainly not a definitive BOB list – there are going to be particulars that your family needs that mine doesn’t – but it should get you pretty dang close to where you need to be.

Tent and bug out bag
Tent and bug out bag

Preparing a BOB when little kids are involved is a completely different ball game than when you’re preparing one for your own self.

You have to get creative to figure out a lightweight means of providing for yourself and your little ones.

This may mean that you have to forego something for yourself in order to make sure that your kids are covered. It may also mean that your BOB is slightly heavier than you would like for it to be otherwise. 

Bug out bags (6)
Water and MREs does not a bug out bag make.

If anything, the main thing to focus on is that your kids are warm, fed, and not thirsty. Focus on those three pillars of kid safety while building your BOB, and you should have a pretty well-rounded bag. 

Are there other items that you like to include in your BOB for your kids? Are there items that you felt like we missed? Let us know in the comments below! Your kids of the…furrier persuasion? Check out how to build a Doggie Bug Out Bag!

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2 Leave a Reply

  • JohnnieB

    Step 1 of creating a BOB is throw away the tacti-COOL bag and get a real bag to carry your stuff.

    3 days ago
    • Charley

      Doesn’t the tacticool work for him?

      43 seconds ago
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