To Go Gear Or

"Bug-Out Bag Philosophy”

Zombie Outbreak/Apocalypse survival is a subset of urban apocalypse/collapse survival, which of course is a subset of general survival. There is going to be a lot of crossover in necessary skills and gear.

One thing a would-be survivor should jettison from his mentality is a "purist" outlook. Even the most public exponent of this approach, survival instructor Cody Lundee says to use whatever man-made artifacts you may come across to keep yourself alive. This is of course going to be FAR easier even in a rural-agricultural region of even the undeveloped world than in an actual wilderness setting.

However, do not succumb to the myth that more and more gear (especially weapons and ammo) is the ticket to survival. The more you pack, the far faster you will be fatigued and the more likely you will be caught by zombies or raiders. Also, as either a solo or small group, the LAST thing you want to engage in is a firefight with other desperate survivors.

The "Rambo syndrome" is a well-known neurosis in the survivalist sub-culture. Essentially, some armchair commando eventually obtains one or more high power firearms and a whole bunch of ammo and now thinks that, come the apocalypse, they will become the "Humongus ruling the desert"

The highly technical name for this type of person in an actual survival situation is a corpse.

What military or near-military grade weapons won't and can't give you is the realization that one is a puny naked ape who will die by the rule of threes: three minutes without air, three days without water, and three weeks without food--and the later two can be quickly shortened under any sort of extreme environment. This is, of course, apart from that 30-30 rifle round fired from ambush because someone else wanted to upgrade his armory--or is very, VERY hungry.

High power and high capacity firearms and the sense of invincibility they can give the uninitiated can nullify a human's most valuable survival asset--rational fear. A survivor's goal is to survive, and in an apocalypse scenario, survive on one's own or with a small group long enough to join a larger group of survivors in a self-sustaining and growing community. The "armed loner" approach is a path to quick death.

One of the best ways of understanding this necessary mindset is the 1955 juvenile science fiction novel Tunnel in the Sky by Robert A. Heinlein. In Heinlein’s novel, humanity has perfected a means of "wormhole" travel across interstellar distances to colonize new worlds. Starting in high school, potential colonists are trained in all sorts of survival skills and the graduation test is surviving on some wilderness planet for a few days with NO supervision and NO consequences for their actions other than living or dying (this book was the Hunger Games of its era).

Rod Taylor, the novel's protagonist, gets a reality lesson from his military officer sister, who encourages her brother to NOT to take any firearms for his survival test to encourage him in being super-cautious. Rod survives in this manner, unlike a classmate who, by his attitude of combining arrogance with military grade weaponry, is quickly rendered into carrion chow.

Now, a LOT of text has been spent justifying the contents of "bug-out bags", be it for a zombie outbreak or other urban apocalypse. Some of these breakdown lists go into mind-numbing detail--so while I will give some specific examples, I will really try to avoid the trap of "you MUST buy this product and none others and do not depart from the list in anyway if you want to survive". The basic philosophy of a Zombie Apocalypse Bug-Out Bag (ZABOB) may be summed up in this statement:

"In one portable package, provide all the necessary equipment and supplies for a single person's immediate and intermediate survival needs during a zombie outbreak or other potential urban catastrophe."

One necessary parameter for the above "mission statement" is all gear must fit into a single large duffle or "deployment bag"--e.g., a buck-naked would-be-survivor could just grab this bag and vastly improve their chances of living through a zombie outbreak. This does NOT preclude getting other gear, supplies, and weapons if time and situation allows, but breaking open the ZABOB is going to be the first, or near first-step, one does.

A ZABOB might be stored at one's residence, or in the trunk of one's vehicle, possibly even at one's workplace—and if one has the resources, all three. A ZABOB must be lockable to prevent potentially dangerous items from being accessible to minor children (or light-fingered coworkers or snoopy security personnel). The lock should be a combination padlock whose release code is thoroughly memorized--and preferably a button-model where one can release it in total darkness. If a combination lock is ruled out for any reason, a keyed padlock can be used as long as one keeps one key on one's most-used key set, duplicates in nearby hidden locations, and even another duplicate on one's person (a neck chain is a good choice). In a worst-case situation, one must be able to cut through the fabric with nothing more than pointed scissors, a serrated steak knife, or a jagged piece of metal or glass to gain access to the contents.   Your ZABOB will have to provide a few critical needs:

1. Defense: Should be considered on par with oxygen as a time critical necessity. Your ZABOB weapons may not be your "first choice" weapons but they MUST be good enough to see you through to getting better weapons. 2. Nourishment, i.e., food and water—including means of safe preparation. 3. Shelter, including appropriate clothing. 4. Tools, including fire making, communication, and information. 5. Psychological Support

A brief explanation on the "Levels" of gear:

I. Level I: On Person, including clothing and gear kept inside clothing pockets or on trouser belt. Absolute minimum equipment to survive—SHOULD have at least one weapon at this level. II. Level II: Operation Load-Bearing Equipment (LBE) or "Combat Pack” (WWII usage)—MUST have at least one weapon at this level if not carried at Level I. III. Level III: Longer-term gear and supplies; Backpack, stowed-away deployment bag, and hand carried or shoulder-slung weapons.

Some guiding principles about your gear choices: 1. Keep it LIGHTWEIGHT 2. Keep it QUIET 3. Keep it SUBDUED.

Forget about considerations like "camouflaged"," cop-ninja black”, "government issued", or "new". If a WWII surplus field pack meets your needs, including your budget, go for it (though you really might consider replacing the shoulder straps with ones wider and more padded).   And now, the gear listing: A. The Deployment or Duffle Bag:

1. Has to be large enough to contain Level I, II, and III gear and supplies AND emergency weapons; it should be at least 28” long to a maximum of 36”. 2. Must be rugged in construction and secure (lockable) 3. Must be able to be used as transport carrier in its own right (shoulder strap or backpack straps) 4. Do NOT jettison this item once you have broken out the contents--the deployment bag can be an invaluable large carrier of salvaged supplies.

There is no practical reason to get anything but a Cordura-nylon Army duffle bag; about 34” x 23”, retail price $15.00 used, maybe $25 new. Anything fancier and more expensive than this is largely a fashion statement rather than an actual need. Spend the cash you save on other gear and supplies.

The potential cargo capacity of this bag is huge but do NOT fill it to capacity for your immediate ZABOB kit. It is not suitable for long-distance portage of heavy loads (confirmed by painful personal experience). Your total kit INCLUDING clothes and weapons should not exceed 50-55 pounds unless you are already at a level of hiking fitness more suitable for young infantry soldiers. For short term to intermediate survival, the emphasis will be “lean and mean”. The more you can pare the weight down, the longer and faster you can “hump it” away from the zombies or other bad guys. Remember William Dafoe dumping Charlie Sheen’s excess gear in the movie Platoon?

B. Medium-sized Backpack (no frame)

There are lots of suitable choices, everything from surplus ALICE and other military rucksacks, to fancy civilian “3 day packs”. Choose a lightweight, rugged, comfortable, and SUBDUED color model, with at least three outside pockets where you can place critical gear for ready access. Do not be suckered into spending too much; $100 should be your upper limit.   C. IMMEADIATE NOURISHMENT

This may seem to be a rather odd primary category, but disasters occur when they occur and not when you are necessarily well rested, hydrated, or fed. Inside your duffle in a separate plastic bag, you should have these items packed for quick access: • 1-liter plastic bottle of store bought, factory sealed drinking water—no reason to get anything fancier than the store brand • 1 sealed bag of easily chewable candies—my recommendation is for Dark Chocolate M&M’s • 1-2 little bottles of caffeine-based energy drink—“Five Hour Energy” is fine

It is very difficult to make effective decisions if you are dehydrated. DRINK ALL THE WATER AS SOON AS YOU CAN.

Especially if you have just been woken up from a night’s sleep, your blood sugar will be low. This severely affects judgment, reaction time, and muscle performance. Allowing for medical conditions (like diabetes) EAT AT LEAST HALF THE BAG OF CANDIES AS SOON AS YOU CAN.

You may have to be as alert as you can be as soon as you can be. Allowing for medical conditions, DRINK A BOTTLE OF ENERGY DRINK AS SOON AS YOU CAN.


As mentioned before, the need for weapons than can stop a deadly assault on your person (by zombie or human) can be as time critical as oxygen. This section only addresses weapons inside your ZABOB. Once again, the weapons in your ZABOB do not preclude you getting other weapons; either of your own or what you can pick up later. ZABOB weapons are meant for the initial Zombie outbreak , to shoot or chop one’s way out of an indefensible position (isolated farmhouse or local pub) so you can make it to other (well armed and well fortified) survivors or to your (well fortified, well armed, and well stocked) residence or survival “retreat”.

1. Ranged Weapons: As Lethal Force Institute founder Massad Ayoob declared over 30 years ago, “firearms are the ONLY weapons that put a smaller and weaker individual on tactical parity or superiority against larger, stronger, more numerous and more vicious assailant or assailants.” Zombies crashing through your doors and windows certainly qualify in almost all criteria of the assailant category.

If you reside in a jurisdiction, where it is legally and practically impossible to obtain and keep a firearm, or you are adamantly personally opposed to possessing a firearm, skip ahead to the melee weapon section. There is NO non-firearm ranged weapon which possesses anywhere near the same zombie-killing efficiency to justify putting it into a ZABOB and taking up space and weight that could be better allocated on more critical gear.   The criteria for your ZABOB firearm are:

• MUST be a rifle and NOT a sidearm (pistol) and MUST fit inside your duffle bag. This means it must either have a collapsible shoulder stock or be a “break-down” model that can quickly be assembled. The ability to hit a small target (zombie brain) at even close quarters is vastly better with a “longarm” like a rifle than a sidearm. • MUST be a “repeater” and not a single shot or double-barreled model. • MUST be powerful enough to reliably destroy a zombie’s brain with a single on-target shot. • MUST be inherently accurate enough to consistently place its rounds into a 2”X5” target area up to 50+ yards (150+ feet) range. • MUST be mechanically reliable and not prone to malfunctions (aka “jamming”). • MUST be a commonly available caliber • SHOULD be able to be quickly reloaded • SHOULD be a “self loader” (semi-automatic) action • SHOULD NOT cause “flinch” in inexperienced shooters because of excessive muzzle blast or recoil • SHOULD NOT encourage Rambo Syndrome

The above criteria essentially reduce the ZABOB firearms choices to .22 LR self-loading rifles with detachable box magazines and with either folding shoulder stocks or “break down models. The two main choices are:

1. Marlin “Papoose” breakdown 2. Ruger 10/22 with after-market folding shoulder stock

Obviously, these are not appropriate fire fight weapons-but they can make it possible for you to live long enough to upgrade to such weapons. .22 Long Rifle ammunition is far cheaper than center fire ammunition –on sale a 1000 round “brick” runs less than $50, encouraging frequent practice. Both rifles come with factory 5 and 10 round magazines, and after-market manufacturers have 20 to 30 round magazines and on-body magazine pouches for rapid reloads. Your ZABOB should easily be able hold at least 1000 rounds of .22 LR in pre-loaded magazines and in reserve boxes.

Regarding the zombie-elimination capacity of .22 LR, out of a rifle (pistols do not fare as well) a .22 long rifle round can reliably hit and destroy a zombie brain up to the above mentioned 50 yard range.. Practicing with store-bought coconuts as substitute “brain targets” will prove the truth of this claim as long as one’s own marksmanship is up to the task. In the surrounded residence scenario of Night of the Living Dead (1968 OR 1990 version), one reasonably cool-headed person with a .22 self-loading rifle and a minimum of practice could have resolved the problem. Two or more person with these weapons should be able to blast a corridor through a zombie mob allowing themselves and other survivors to get well away from the threat.   Some further considerations:

• Practice “miss-fire” clearance drills until they become reflexive. Rimfire ammunition (like .22 LR) has a slightly higher occurrence of miss-fires than center fire ammunition.

• Likewise, practice magazine (aka “clip”) changing drills.

• VERY IMPORTANT: Do NOT discard your empty magazines on the ground if you can help it—unless you want to be quickly reduced to carrying only a single shot rifle. Learn to stash your empty and partially full rifle magazines in your pockets or (better yet) in a flap-top medium to-large “dump pouch” you can place on the front of your body by a shoulder strap or attach it to your trouser belt.

• The TWO MANDATORY modifications MUST be done by a capable gunsmith prior to placing your rifle into the ZABOB are:

1. A crisp trigger pull—anywhere from 3 to 6 pounds, possibly heavier, but a clean release is a critical part of good marksmanship

2. High visibility and rugged “iron sights”—the “ghost ring” configuration is an EXCELLENT design for combat or hunting. Even if you have a telescopic or “red dot” primary sighting system, you must have good iron sights as a backup.

Of course, ANY firearm is better than no firearm.

3. Close Quarter (Melee) Weapons:

If the zombies are bursting through the doors, an effective “contact” weapon may be the only thing you can get out and ready at all. What you choose had better have a proven combat record of putting down a determined assailant with as few strikes as possible (preferably just one). It also has to fit into the ZABOB, so halberds and katanas are eliminated right from the start.

As survival gear, your melee weapon may have to be used as a tool. Big knives, like Bowies and Kukris, do non-combat cutting duties better than short swords. It is very hard to cut a shelter pole with a one-hand sledgehammer. The often recommended crowbar is excellent at prying things open, but it actually is a pretty clumsy bludgeon and doesn’t hammer things (including zombie skulls) anywhere near as well as a hammer.

You should be able to carry your melee weapon on your trouser belt (or elsewhere on your body) in comfort all day long—this is something very difficult to do with a crowbar or sledgehammer. If something is uncomfortable to wear on your person, you will be very tempted not to wear it, which can be a VERY bad thing if you are attacked by something breathing or not. In addition, your melee weapon should be heavy enough to be effective but not so heavy it quickly exhausts you in use (thus, giving the “edge” to blades over bludgeons).   Here are some excellent choices for your ZABOB melee weapon:

• A large Bowie, Kukri, or other big “battle blade”; see Night of the Living Dead Long Knives, .

• A combat quality Tomahawk, either traditional or modern design. Most of the time you can ignore whatever slow-to-draw-from belt sheath came with the ‘hawk and slip the handle through your trouser or web belt, like they did in the Colonial era (see The Last of the Mohicans or ¬The Patriot).

• Short Sword: Cutlass, Gladius, Wakizashi, Barong, etc…

• A fixed handle SHARPENED entrenching tool, such as Cold Steel’s “Special Forces Shovel”. Carry and use it much as you would a tomahawk


In a sealed bag, (a “vacuum” storage bag is perfect) and NOT in your rucksack you should place immediate-wear clothing. It is a proven fact that actually donning activity-specific clothing can help an individual quickly assume the proper mindset. Survival oriented clothing leads one into “survival can-do” mentality”. USE the “Hawthorne Effect” but do not let it use you.

The clothing should be, as much as possible, adaptable for a wide variety of climatic conditions. Take your lead from people who live in the outdoors for extended periods: Infantry soldiers, professional guides and hunters. It is hard to go wrong with a modern “BDU” set of blouse (with 4 cargo pockets) and trousers (with 6 total pockets, including cargo pockets on the legs). Do NOT choose 100% cotton for “breathability”—“Mil-Spec” cloth (cotton/polyester/nylon) is far more rugged and with the proper loose but not floppy fit can be bearable in hot climates--witnessed by any Service member who wore fatigues AND 80+ pounds of body armor and gear in the 130+ degrees of Iraqi summer.

A subdued earth-tone color (khaki, brown, olive drab) will work quite well for not drawing attention. Camouflage, especially current military patterns, might make some raiders think you are a well-equipped service personal and ripe for the picking. Better to look like a homeless person and not worth the bother of a long-range shot. Mud streaked on your BDUs will serve to break up your silhouette quite nicely.

With the BDU set, you will also need a set of underwear, preferably high-wicking t-shirt and briefs. Women survivors should pack a good wicking sports bra.

Having a top and bottom set of thermal long underwear is very important. Hyperthermia can kill you just as easily as a flesh-eater or raider. Depending upon your prevailing climate, pack a set either with your main outfit or in your rucksack. Medium or heavy-duty polypro is the best material—if wet, one can wring most of the water out quickly, something you can’t do with either wool or cotton.

Do not skimp on footwear. You want already broken in high top lace up boots with thick (preferably Vibram) hiking soles. Current US military (“Desert”) service boots are quite good as an economical choice. Boots also serve as protection (from broken glass and metal shards even more than ankle-biting zombies) and weapons in their own right. Spend the money on decent padded boot socks; one pair ready to go, two spare pairs in your rucksack. DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES GET BOOTS WITH “SPEED” ZIPPERS. Zippers bust under any sustained wear; speed laces will allow fast enough donning. Avoid steel toes; they not only can cause toe and foot damage with constant wear, in cold weather they also conduct body heat away from your already frostbite prone toes. If you have to “football kick” someone with the point of your boots, curl your toes DOWN AND HARD.

A long “Shermagh” or “Keffiyeh” scarf can protect your face, head, and neck from insects, sunburn, wind-chill, as well as serve as head camouflage or a towel. Learn how to wrap one and have one tucked into one of your BDU’s pockets. Consider also tucking in a wide brimmed “boonie hat” for sun protection when you don’t want the face wrap of the Shermagh.

Current military personal wear heavy duty “mechanics gloves” in the field for good reason—hands and fingers are the first body part “on scene” and the most prone to cuts and burns. Infection is bad enough when you have a combat medic in your team and medical evacuation just minutes away—it can be a near certain killer when you’re all alone and hunkered down in the warehouse trying to avoid the walking dead. Good mechanics gloves really help you get a grip on things, especially when you’re in full fight-or-flight mode and your hands are sweat-slippery. Additionally, gloves protect your hands and fingers when delivering either fist or open-hand strikes. Don’t skimp with cheap versions; the savings is so minor as not be worth the risk of shoddiness and bad fit.

Especially in the context of a Zombie Outbreak, you may want to pack some Kevlar Wrist-overs beside your gloves. In addition to being bite or cut-resistant protection, wrist-overs help reduce the loss of body heat in cold weather and when soaked in water, provide significant wicking-cooling action to the near-surface blood vessels in your wrists when the temperatures soar. Through your trouser belt loops, you should already have in place a heavy-duty nylon trouser belt.

Here is additional Level I gear you MUST have distributed on your person (pockets, belt, neck lanyard, etc…)

• ZABOB Melee Weapon: For Bowies and other Battle Blades, I like the “Outside of Leg Carry”, with the grip just at or above knee level (right-handed, right leg, left-handed, left leg). The sheath should be strapped at the lower level securely through your boots laces and again on your upper calf, but not so-tight as to cut-off blood circulation. It takes just the slightest of crouches to draw from this position and it is an immediately accessible position if you are seated, as in a motor vehicle. For hawks, entrenching tools, and short-swords, carry them on your trouser belt and NOT your Level II web belt—that way if you are separated from your Web-set you still have a significant melee weapon to cut your way out of trouble (even if the cutting is upon firewood rather than skulls!)

• Multi-Tool: Leatherman, Gerber, Remington, etc…—get a quality model you like and place it and its carry-pouch on your BDU belt. You’ll probably use it far more than the Melee chopper, so quality is critical.

• Sheath Knife (backup): Something small and light, but of good quality, appropriate for lanyard carry around your neck, underneath your BDU blouse. It is hard to beat the value of the Cold Steel Pendelton Lite Hunter at just about $20.

• Fire Starting Kit: A fresh disposable cigarette lighter, a plastic container of water-resistant survival matches, and at least 5 cotton balls well saturated with petroleum jelly packed into a zip-lock bag. You may also want to attach a Magnesium Striker Stick to your Key Chain (see below)

• Water Kit: In another zip lock bag, a small bottle of water purification tablets, 3 plain silicone condoms (for water storage!), and at least 6 feet of 1/8” diameter silicone siphon tube.

• Tactical Flashlight & belt pouch: Naturally, place on your trouser belt. Change the batteries at least once a year.

• P-38 Can Opener: Yes, you have a can opener on any multi-tool, but these things are so small, light, and cheap, get at least two of them; one to place on a neck lanyard (with the sheath knife) and the other on your back-up keychain.

• Key Chain (backup): In addition to your most critical keys, the above-mentioned P-38 should be here, along with a small “tactical” roll of high adhesive tape (Gorilla brand has one ready from the package), and a magnesium striker match is highly recomended. On my set, I also have a combination bottle top opener, a small pen knife, and a corkscrew (I don’t know of any multi-tool that has a corkscrew!).

• Major Wound Field dressing: You can get these at most Military surplus outlets. A female sanitary napkin can be substituted, but the wound dressing has its own medical tape.

• 10’ (feet) Paracord: Multiple uses

• Notepad Kit: In a zip-lock bag, pack a small notepad, a cheap mechanical pencil, and a black permanent marker (Sharpie). Also put in here a small compass and an immediate area map.

• Spare Vision/Reading Glasses: Let’s not end up like Burgess Meredith in The Twilight Zone! Keep them in a hard case.

• Emergency Mylar Blanket: Pocket-sized life saving device.

• Spare Wallet: With duplicate id, family photos, critical information—especially medical. $50+ dollars in cash—“You never know!”

• Religious Items: Medals, Rosaries, Prayer beads, etc… For us believers, they can provide significant stress-reducing comfort.

• Soup Spoon (stainless): Not just for eating but also as back-up digging.


• Hydration System: CamelBak™ set the standard. You need to get one that is compatible with wearing with your field pack. You want to avoid it getting contaminated from long term storage, so fill it as soon as you can after you break open the ZABOB, using purification tabs and filtered siphoning (see below) to treat what water you come across (unless you KNOW it is trust worthy—like factory sealed bottles).

• Military Web Belt and Suspender Set: I prefer the “H” suspenders to the “Y” version. You may want to consider a padded web-belt liner. TOSS the metal attachment clips for any pouches—they rust, can make noise, and even wear through fabric to wear into your skin. Replace themwith high quality dark cable ties. On your LBE you should have:

a) First Aid Pouch & Supplies: Available at any military surplus or outdoor supply store. If not included, put in a blister (foot) kit. A small (sample) bottle of medicated foot powder (Gold Bond™) is highly recommended.

b) Compass & pouch: In a full-out urban collapse, the GPS system is unlikely to stay operational. I recommend a good Lensatic compass.

c) Monocular & pouch: You can substitute a pair of quality compact binoculars, but either one allows you to scan an area at a distance and stay out of trouble before you walk into it.

d) Firearm Cleaning kit: Substitute a Teflon-based oil for the issued stuff (especially Break-Free™). I highly recommend Remington’s offering. If your rifle has a stock storage compartment, place your cleaning kit there and not on your belt.

e) US Military Issue Plastic Canteen, pouch, and Stainless Canteen cup: The issue style pouch has an outside pocket for water purification tablets—use it so!. The stainless cup will be, along with your spoon, the extent of your mess kit. There’s also a stainless “stove bottom” available that fits on the base of the cup, allowing you to place fuel tabs, small pieces of wood, or even burning blocks of C-4 explosive underneath your cup (as Mythbusters has demonstrated, burning C-4 will NOT explode if you step on it!)