The Differences Between a Bug Out Bag and a Get Home Bag
If you have spent any amount of time looking around general survival and prepping websites, forums and in other readiness-centric communities I have no doubt you will have seen several terms tossed around on the subject of luggage, specifically terms like the ubiquitous BOB, or bug-out bag, and GHB, or Get-Home Bag.
Oftentimes, these terms are used interchangeably in prepper parlance. After all, what is the difference from one bag to another so long as they’re full of the survival supplies you need when disaster strikes?
The difference between a BOB and GHB is more than just the size of the pack or its configuration. The two concepts have different missions, and that is what will inform your choices the most when it comes to size, contents and more.
A get-home bag is a lighter, leaner bag or backpack intended to help you get from a remote location back to your home, or resupply point, where a bug-out bag is a larger, more comprehensive one designed to help you survive when evacuating to a secondary shelter location or even in the middle of the wilderness.
|Feature||Bug Out Bag (BOB)||Get Home Bag (GHB)|
|Weight||40 – 50 lbs. (18 – 22 kgs)||20 – 25 lbs. (9 – 11 kgs)|
|Main Purpose||To allow you to evacuate your home.||To help you get home in an emergency.|
|# of Days It Will Help You Survive||3 – 7 days||1 – 2 days|
|How much water?||One large bottle||One small bottle|
|First Aid Kit||Large||Small|
|Compass||Lensatic compass||Button compass|
|Clothes||Full change of clothes, 2x underwear, 2x pairs of socks, heavy duty gloves||Gloves, socks and underwear|
|Water Purification||Water filter and purification tablets||Water filter|
|Maps||Fullsize road atlas||Compact road atlas|
In today’s article, we will explore the differences between a get-home bag and a bug-out bag and why you should care.
What are You Planning For With Your Pack?
Any survival pack for any purpose will contain a few similar sets of items that you absolutely must have for dealing with a SHTF situation. You’ll need food, and a certain amount of water along with supplies and equipment to filter found water while you are in the field.
You’ll need items for making shelter, things like a tarp or tent or bivvy, cordage, emergency blankets, and so on. To complement your shelter supplies you should invest heavily in fire-starting aids like ignition sources, tinder, accelerants and so on.
You’ll need a variety of tools for helping you deal with problems encountered in your environment and general crafting.
It will also certainly be helpful to have a well-stocked first-aid kit that can help you deal with injuries of all kinds including significant trauma as well as illness, and it’s probably in your best interest if you have some weapons to protect yourself from both man and beast.
In short, you can think of your pack as a sort of survival air tank. Just like a scuba diver can stay underwater for as long as his oxygen supply holds out, your average prepper will be able to remain afield in austere conditions for as long as their supplies and tools contained in their pack hold out.
That makes a pretty compelling argument for loading everything but the kitchen sink into your survival bag- But there is no free lunch! The inescapable trade-off for every single piece of gear and every item you load into your pack is weight.
Your Objective Drives the Gear Train
Even the smallest, lightest items made from the most high-tech weight saving materials will add ounces to the total tally.
Those ounces will turn into pounds, and those pounds may turn into a considerable amount of pain, fatiguing you, slowing you down and even leading to injury. Is for this reason that any prepper must be highly cautious and justify every single thing they put into their pack.
A fact that is overloaded will certainly make your traveling far more difficult, and may become impossible to move if you are injured or exhausted.
There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all BOB. Mine won’t look like yours, and yours won’t look like Joe Public’s. There are many factors to consider.
It is entirely possible to extend your time afield, and even replace a significant amount of gear if you have the primitive skills necessary to survive in a given environment.
Also, some individuals’ plans will not rely so much on going out heavy prepared for every, single contingency.
If you are facing a simple hike totaling a day’s worth of travel to reach your bug out location that is well stocked, would you risk carrying a 75 lb. rucksack loaded for bear? Probably not.
This is where the idea of different bags for different purposes comes into its own. Most preppers I know do indeed load their bug-out bags heavily trying to cover every conceivable contingency they could realistically expect to encounter and have to deal with.
This reasoning is generally sound, because if they are grabbing their bug-out bag they are dealing with some serious shit. Also, most of those same preppers do not even bother carrying their bug out bags with them when they leave the house.
Why not? Does that seem curious to you? Could disaster not strike while they are on their way to or from the office, or some other errand that would prevent them from heading home?
Of course it could. And the onus is still on them that they must be prepared for just such an eventuality. Nonetheless, hauling a huge rucksack in and out of the house is for some of them highly laborious and also highly conspicuous with neighbors around.
But they avoid this problem entirely by keeping a separate bag packed with survival supplies with them at all times when they leave the house; a get-home bag.
A get-home bag is not necessarily a replacement for a full-featured BOB, but it does replace it in certain circumstances and, most importantly, it can enable you to get home to your BOB as the name suggests.
We will dig into the primary differences and concepts between BOBs and GHBs in the following sections.
Main Differences between BOBs and GHBs
While I don’t think anyone will misunderstand what you mean if you drop any or all of those terms in casual conversation, not all survival bags are intended for precisely the same set of circumstances.
I would further argue that there are, in fact, differences in the way you should approach packing your survival bag that you keep at the ready for dealing with an SHTF situation, and so we should tighten up our use of labels accordingly.
A military bug out bag that is Molle compatible. This thing’s ready for some outdoors action, wouldn’t you say?
The Bug-Out Bag
- Large pack format, typically with waist belt, occasionally with solid frame.
- Designed to carry all kinds of survival gear for extended duration away from home stash.
- Enables intermediate-term to long-term sustainment afield.
- Typically on heavy side.
The bug-out bag is a concept you are probably familiar with already. Typically a large backpack, oftentimes one with a waist belt, that is kept loaded to the gills with all the survival accoutrement you need for an extended foray away from home in case of disaster or emergency.
This is either in support of movement to a bug-out location or to enable you to survive in the wilderness away from whatever troubles are plaguing your home area.
As a rule, almost any bug-out bag will focus on the essential survival necessities, but will place a heavy emphasis on shelter material, shelter construction, fire starting, procuring water and food and other intermediate- to long-term sustainment concerns.
Generally, a bug out bag is not used when you think you’re never coming home, or at least hopefully not, but you do rely on it when things are bad enough to send you fleeing for your life.
Because your BOB is supposed to protect you from many different threats and supply you for many different situations, it is often more generalist than specialized in nature.
Many seasoned preppers rely on their BOBs to give them a jump-start on either making it to or setting up their home away from home in a SHTF situation.
While the pack itself might only have enough supplies for 3-5 days, it allows the prepper carrying it to set up their shelter location or camp and begin foraging, hunting or harvesting water. This is dependent on a certain amount of skill, obviously, but the more skill one has the lighter their BOB can be.
A bug-out bag may come in a variety of sizes and weight categories, but the average seems to be between 40 and 50 lbs., and heavier is far from out of the question.
The Get-Home Bag
- Small to medium pack format, often lacks belt and frame.
- Intended to carry gear that will expedite emergency movement homeward by foot.
- Carries bare-minimum of shelter gear for season/climate.
- Maximizes items necessary to keep you energized, moving and safe.
- Typically lightweight to increase speed and comfort.
Think of a get-home bag as a smaller cousin to a bug out bag. But, just because it is a smaller bag with less room for all of your survival necessities, that doesn’t mean you’re going to grab it, take off into the woods, and then take your chances at surviving a major disaster with your leaner kit.
No. In a way, a get-home bag works sort of like a bug-out bag in reverse. You’re grabbing this bag so you can go home and hopefully to your bug-out bag!
Like a BOB, a get-home bag also focuses on the survival fundamentals, but places emphasis far more heavily on items that will keep you fueled up, environmentally and physically protected, and moving on foot towards your destination (which is likely your home or another resupply point where you have stashed more substantial supplies).
These items are typically things like lightweight, shelf-stable and calorie-dense foods that you can eat for regular bursts of energy, a water bottle and a flyweight water filtration system, footwear, socks and other clothing items appropriate to long movement on foot depending on the climate and terrain where you live, and, usually, a self-defense implement.
Extra emphasis might be placed on clothing items like socks and underwear, anything that may need to be quickly changed while working hard and moving fast in order to prevent blisters, rashes and any other friction or movement related ailments that could hamper your progress.
Survival items like a fire starting kit and shelter gear will be kept very minimalist in nature.
It is not out of the question that you might have to shelter overnight or halt temporarily while making your way home with your GHB and so you will pack accordingly, but you will prepare for a very spartan campsite.
Ideally, a GHB will weigh no more than 25 lbs, and hopefully less than that.
Comparison of BOB and GHB Loads
Wondering what practical differences there are in get home bags and bug out bags loads? Wonder no more. Below you can see what they might look like based on my own choices.
Shelter – My BOB contains a full-thickness sleeping pad, a lightweight bivy, stuffable hiking blanket in addition to emergency blankets, and an inflatable pillow. A tarp and cordage is included to form an additional windbreak if needed.
My GHB has only the tarp and cordage along with an emergency blanket; most insulation is provided by carried clothing.
The tarp with the GHB is used as a ground cover, simple tent, windbreak or even camouflage screen. The nights will likely be uncomfortable compared to the relative luxury of the BOB’s kit.
Food – BOB carries three MREs broken down into individual components for compactness along with several energy bars and energy gel packets for quick consumption on the move. MREs are jam-packed with calories and entirely stable, and edible through all kinds of climates.
One MRE can supply a couple of days’ worth of calories used conservatively.
The GHB is much leaner in this regard since weight is a major concern, and also since I am not anticipating being in transit so long that I need a substantial amount of calories. It carries energy bars, peanut butter packets and high-calorie crackers along with electrolyte powder mix.
Remember that most people, including your author, have enough fat storage on their body that starvation is of no near term concern. The intent is supply constant energy for the hard march ahead.
Water/Water Filtration – The BOB complement features a pair of 1-liter metal bottles suitable for heating over a fire, one with an integrated filter in the top. These are backed up by a Katadyn high-efficiency water filter, steri-tabs, and iodine.
I take no chances here with purifying water. The GHB, by comparison, has a single plastic Nalgene one liter bottle with wide mouth (for easy filling) and a LifeStraw water filter that will allow me to drink directly from suspect sources so long as they are not contaminated with sewage or certain chemicals.
Defense – The BOB has a long gun kept with it, a rifle or a shotgun depending on where I am living and also ammunition for that long gun. Three magazines for a rifle or 40 shotgun shells plus what is kept on the gun.
I include a couple of extra pistol magazines for my daily carry handgun with the expectation it is already on my person.
The GHB is radically different, containing a flyweight .22 LR revolver with 50 rounds as a dedicated break-contact gun if it is all I have to work with, and I include a pair of spare pistol magazines for my EDC gun.
Navigation – BOB holds local and regional maps in various scales as well as a complete road atlas, fullsize lensatic compass and robust standalone GPS unit.
The GHB contains a pocket road atlas, near-region topographic map, button compass and compact GPS with power bank, preloaded with waypoints to get me home again.
Clothing – Our BOB is a veritable wardrobe with a windbreaker shell, wide-brimmed hat, watchcap, spare pants, spare shirt, gaiter, two pair of gloves, 3 pairs of underwear and 3 pairs of socks.
The GHB is a pauper’s chest by comparison, containing only a pair of gloves, pair of socks and a pair of underwear along with an outer shell garment suitable for nighttime temperatures, along with a single hat chosen for the same reason.
I do though always, always keep a pair of shoes or light boots, well broken in, with the GHB to don when trouble breaks out in case I am wearing suboptimal footwear.
Do BOBs and GHBs ever Overlap?
Yes, of course. Some preppers would rather have a mid-sized BOB and take it with them everywhere they go.
For people that do not have much waiting for them back at their house, be that family or material supplies, this could be an ideal solution since you are ready to push off towards your bug-out location from wherever you happen to be so long as you have your BOB with you.
Others may lean towards a larger GHB and pad its contents with more survival and sustainment items in case they travel or work regularly very far from their home.
It is far from inconceivable that one might be dealing with a situation that could see them stranded tens or even hundreds of miles away from their home, and facing a very long march to get back.
If that was the case, it is foolhardy to think you can go straight through; you’ll need to stop to rest, or avoid bad weather or just to take the measure of the situation as it progresses.
A GHB that has supplementary shelter and sustainment supplies inside it will allow you to do that, even if it takes you a couple of days or longer to get home.
Just because the various types of survival luggage you can come up with are intended for different tasks and survival problems does not mean you cannot hybridize the two or come up with your own concept, for lack of a better term.
What matters most is not what you call your bag and is not making the bag and gear you have fit into a specific category, either.
What matters is that you have the equipment you need in a bag that will not make your job of surviving harder than it has to be while it carries all that stuff.
Don’t be afraid to prep and pack “outside the lines” so long as you have done your own risk assessment and are equipping yourself accordingly.
Get-home bags and bug-out bags are very similar on the surface, but are intended to specialize in certain survival tasks.
A BOB is the ubiquitous, go-to choice for preppers who are taking off to escape a bad situation and either make their way to their bug-out location or rough it in the wilderness until the situation blows over.
A GHB is a lighter, leaner and less broadly equipped bag designed only to give you what you need to make your way home on foot when a crisis has cut you off from speedy transport back.
It is not a matter of which you should get; you should have both!