Thursday, January 17, 2019

Bug Out Bags for the Unprepared

The other day I got into an internet conversation about what to put in a BOB/GHB for children. My friend was convinced that a 5-year-old should carry a lighter version of an adult bag, and I was trying to convince him otherwise. I've been mulling the idea around for a few days and I'm still convinced that a child's bag should be packed in a manner similar to what you would hand an untrained adult. Yes, I do have supplies set aside for helping family and friends; that's part of my job as father/uncle/grandpa/chaplain, to help others where I can.

I have grandchildren and nieces/nephews that range from less than a year old to their mid-20s. With the exception of the older nephews, none of them have any training or experience that would help them in an emergency. This influences what would go into a bag that I could hand off to them in case they were caught in a crisis near me. Rather than get into specific items, I'll list some of the categories of BOB contents and my thoughts on each.

  • Everybody needs water to survive. I've covered my locale in other posts; it's hard to travel more than a mile in any direction without finding water of some sort in the area around me, so I stock ways to clean water instead of stocking water itself. A Sawyer Mini filter weighs a lot less than the amount of water it can purify, so they are a staple in my kits. For kids and the untrained, I prefer the LifeStraw due to it requiring no training other than the instruction “use this every time”.
  • Water purification chemicals require a minimal amount of training/education to use, and I wouldn't trust anyone under the age of about 10 years old to use them correctly. Small children might eat them and cause serious damage to themselves, so I leave them out of any bag that might go to the untrained or underage.
  • Most filters come with some sort of bag or container now, and many of them have adapters for common bottles like soda and water bottles. Finding a bottle in an emergency isn't as hard as it used to be; just make sure it's clean. Reusing a soda/water bottle is cheaper than buying a dedicated flask and it will be more familiar to children that are used to drinking from them.

  • The quickest, cheapest shelter I can find is a Mylar Space Blanket. Lightweight and small, I usually toss more than one into any kit I assemble. They don't hold up to extended use, but will reflect body heat well enough to keep a person warm in all but the worst winter weather. They are also rain-proof and make a good insulating layer when used in the construction of a debris hut or other make-shift shelter.
  • Plastic bags are quick and dirty ways to get out of rain and snow, and  I've covered their many uses in earlier posts. Anyone over the age of about 3 can be trusted with a plastic bag; under that age they're going to need constant attention.

  • I did a series of reviews on various emergency rations a while back, and I keep several of the “$10 cookies” on the shelf for tossing into bags. They're cheap, compact, and palatable if you pick the right brand, and will keep the hunger pangs down. For kids and finicky adults, try to find the ones with a variety of flavors to keep the whining and boredom at bay.
  • Snacks and candies will lighten a child's mood, so make sure you add some hard candy (they store better than chocolates or gummies) to be used as a source of calories. Kids tend to burn a lot of calories since they're constantly in motion, so be ready to provide the energy they need. Most people are addicted to sugar to some extent, so adding it to an adult's bag won't hurt.

  • This is very situational. I wouldn't trust anyone under the age of 12 with a way to start fires without supervision, but I also know several adults that I wouldn't trust with a pack of matches. Use your own judgement when assembling a bag for unprepared/untrained adults.
  • I found a source of ferrocerium rods years ago and bought a batch. They're small and have holes in them, so they go on the drawstrings and zipper pulls of a lot of my everyday gear. Ferrocerium rods are the spark-producing rods common in fire starting kits. They're cheaper if you buy in bulk, and Amazon has a variety of sizes to play with. I feel that these are safe to give to children because of the effort and training needed to use them. If nothing else, the kids will be carrying your back-up firestarter without noticing it.
  • Lifeboat matches in a waterproof container are an easy, cheap addition to an adult bag.
  • I've played with “permanent matches” and had varying luck with them. The best I've gotten was about two years before the fuel evaporated and left me with a very small ferrocerium striker for starting fires. Lighter fluid or naptha evaporates as quickly as gasoline, so they have to have a very good seal if they're going to be stored for any length of time.

Tools and Misc.
This is a catch-all category for the toys and tools that we like/need to have. Tools require training to use properly, so consider a person's age and aptitude when adding any of these to a bag.
  • Knives: Anybody older than 7 or 8 should be trustable with a folding pocket knife. The Cub Scouts used to teach boys that age how to carry and care for a pocket knife, but they had to earn the privilege to carry one and carry their “Whittling chip” card (which could be revoked by any adult). Fixed blade knives used around a campsite or kitchen will depend on the level of maturity and experience.
  • Firearms: This is a touchy one. I won't give a firearm to anyone I don't trust with my life, but I have several people that fill that bill. I also have more firearms than I can personally carry at one time, so rather than leave them behind I will distribute them to friends and family as needed. In a few years I'll have second-generation children that I can trust with hunting guns; they're just now learning to shoot.
  • First Aid: Another one that will vary depending on age and training. By the age of 5, kids should know how to apply a band-aid to themselves or others. Training beyond that is something that you'll have to take into consideration before tossing in a tourniquet or Epi-pen. Required medications and supplies should go with the people who need them as long as they are competent enough to use them properly.
  • Cordage: Everybody carries paracord for emergency use, but without the ability to tie useful knots it's just extra weight. During an emergency is not the best time to teach knot-work, but the lessons will definitely stick in their memory.
  • Light: Everyone should have their own flashlight, preferably with standardized batteries. I've seen a lot of urban people who can't handle the darkness of a rural night, so a few glow sticks or Paqlites will help them get by if the power is out. Chemical glow sticks have a shelf-life, but will work in a pinch; watch the clearance racks of local stores around the holidays. For example, you can pick up cheap Halloween glow sticks in November. 
  • Sanitation: A washcloth and hotel-sized bar of soap inside a zip-lock bag should go into every BOB. Keeping clean feels good and reduces a lot of infections that can ruin your day. Not smelling each other will also help maintain personal relationships. Feminine hygiene products are a must if you are dealing with women.

  • Small children and immature adults will have a hard time dealing with the loss of all of their comfort items. Toss in a favorite stuffed animal or toy for the little ones, a solar charger/battery pack for recharging cell phones for the bigger ones. Having a way to play a familiar game or two will distract them and might help calm them down a bit.
  • Most adults and some children will have “addictions” that will need to be addressed. Instantcoffee packs are shelf-stable, have a long life, and will help wean people off of the caffeine that they consume on a regular basis. Sugar was mentioned above, but some people get cranky when their sweet-tooth kicks in. Tobacco is best left to the user's choice; they'll need to figure that one out themselves.

As you can see, I don't have any hard rules or recommendations for putting together a BOB for someone else -- too much depends on the person's maturity and training. The basics of water, food and shelter are a good start, with the other stuff added as needed. Keep in mind that most children and quite a few adults are not used to carrying anything heavier than a cell phone, so you'll have to keep the weight down to less than you'd carry yourself.

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