Building a Bolt Bag: Prepared to Go at Any Moment

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Building a Bolt Bag: Being Prepared to Go At Any Moment

By Matthew Sharp

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Fresh off the heels of ITS Muster IV, I’ve taken some of what I learned on building a Bolt Bag and applied it to my home “Bolt Bag,” which generally speaking, I always have with me. A Bolt Bag contains mission essential equipment that you’d never want to be without, no matter what your “mission” happens to be.

At home, such a bag might be less useful than when away from home, since you would generally have access to everything you have at home. However, if your house were to catch on fire, aside from making sure your loved ones (including, in my case, my wife and my awesome-but-slightly-crazy dog) are safe, a Bolt Bag would provide an easy to grab kit to utilize until you can find a safe place to start thinking more long-term.

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When away from home, your Bolt Bag can provide you with things you may need in order to get home safely; medical supplies, a means of containing water, survival tools, methods to communicate or signal for help and anything else you might want to keep around you all the time. This can be a small backpack-sized kit, or an even smaller bag you can grab from a larger bag if you’re traveling with a larger loadout.

Known-Knowns, Known-Unknowns and Unknown-Unknowns

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There is, of course, no planning for every contingency. There’s a limit to how much equipment you can carry and a limit to your imagination in regards to the countless things that could potentially go wrong. Especially in situations where you might have to leave in a hurry and head for safer ground.

Every individual’s situation is going to be unique; what may be more likely here in the San Francisco Bay Area, may not be likely at all where you live and vice versa. One major concern here is earthquakes. If I lived near Yellowstone Park, or Finland, I might be more concerned with volcanic eruptions. If I lived below sea level in a marshy swamp near a major river, I’d be more concerned with flooding.

The Mission Defines The Gear

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Each situation is different, so every person’s loadout should be different. However, there are some basic principles that can help you decide what to keep in your Bolt Bag. You also want to keep in mind that simply assembling and having your emergency gear with you at all times is a small part of the battle; you absolutely need to be comfortable using that gear as well. In addition, you’ll need to have mental plans in place so you’ll know what to do when the proverbial fecal material makes impact with the proverbial aerodynamic directional magnification device.

Gear alone won’t save you, but having a functional mind-state, thinking about the situation and relying on your knowledge to be able to use your gear, might just give you the right advantage. Add in practicing your exit strategy until you’ve got it committed to memory and you’ve just boosted those chances even more.

Threat List

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One of the most important aspects of developing and populating a Bolt Bag is to assess what dangers you could potentially face and to think through what could go wrong given those circumstances. In the Bay Area, the biggest concerns are earthquakes and associated earthquake problems like tsunamis, mass fires, electrical grid failure and infrastructure collapse.

Also on the list, but lower in priority and likelihood, are things like terror attacks on major landmarks (e.g. the Golden Gate or Bay Bridges). Historically, there was a threat that the Soviet Union would launch a nuclear attack over the San Francisco Bay to maximize damage to buildings by air burst and super heat the waters of the Bay, compounding damage for the entire area. Obviously, this is less of a concern today.

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Your own AO (Area of Operation) probably has different concerns than my AO does. Think about all of the possible disaster scenarios for where you live. Are you in the path of Hurricanes? Tornadoes? Do you live somewhere that criminal elements might launch a large scale siege? Is the country you live in suffering from, or on the verge of suffering from internal unrest?

If so, who are the players in that unrest and how might large scale actions taken by said groups cause problems for you? Whatever the concerns are, list them and prioritize them. Once you’ve done this, you can start thinking about what your plan of action in any given situation would be. Only then will you be able to come up with a useful list of equipment you might carry to better facilitate dealing with those potential incidents.

Route Planning, Route Recon

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The primary purpose of my Bolt Bag is to enable me to get home in the event a potential disaster occurs. Home is where I keep all of my supplies, so if these things happen when I’m there, I’m already prepared. Everything I need is there. I live on a rock that’s significantly higher in elevation than the landfill area between us and the Pacific. However, I also live in a house that was built in the early 1900s, so it’s still entirely possible that I may need to leave my house in a hurry.

If the house collapses, I may be able to salvage some of my equipment and set up camp in the yard or nearby woods. I happen to live near an old Nike missile site that sits on top of a tall hill comprised of solid rock. If the house catches fire, I can still grab my Bolt Bag, my wife, my dog and head out to someplace safe. Therefore, I want to have the tools I’ll need to provide basic necessities for my family.

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That means making sure I can create a shelter, have a little food, have the means to get drinkable water and can start a fire for warmth. If you live someplace with actual seasons and more importantly, an actual winter, you may want to add things like warm clothing or an emergency blanket to your kit. That’s less of a concern for me here, as it rarely dips below 40 degrees and even then, that’s generally only at night.

You’ll want to have a planned route to either get back home or to a specific location away from home, in case yours goes belly-up. You might not be able to use Google Maps to pick the route once the disaster happens, so the time to make this plan is now. I personally prefer to use printed maps and plot out my course to my alternate location from home.

It’s also highly useful to take that trip on foot after you’ve plotted your path. Do some recon and look around, keeping your eyes peeled for what could go wrong with your proposed route. Are you crossing bridges that might cease to exist in an emergency? What would a downed tree do to your ability to get to your alternate location?

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You may want to come up with an entirely separate secondary route to your alternate location and even a tertiary route. Then perform that same foot recon process with your other routes. Think of anything that could potentially happen that would render your plan useless and correct as needed.

As for route planning, in the event the disaster happens while you’re away from home, make sure you know where you are. When I say “make sure you know where you are,” I don’t mean “make sure online maps or your GPS can tell you how to get home from where you are.” I mean keep your eyes open.

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Be familiar with the general location and how it relates to where you live. Are you South of your home? North? Do you have any idea? Are there any visual landmarks you can use to navigate your way back home? In San Francisco, I use Sutro Tower, a colossally large radio and television tower built in 1973. It’s visible from almost anywhere in San Francisco and even from Marin County or down in the Peninsula. It’s also within a thousand yards of my home, so as long as there isn’t a thick blanket of fog (or smoke), I can always use that as a landmark to guide my progress.

Even if that 977 foot tall tower breaks and falls, it’s still going to be a large, noticeable item on the skyline. However, what I’ve found much more useful is the sense of comfort that comes with having thoroughly explored the area where you live. Go walking every chance you get. Become familiar with the various landscapes of your home. You should be able to tell where you are by what you see.

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In a city, you should be able to tell what neighborhood you’re in by sight. If you live out in the country, you should become familiar with the natural features and terrain. Not only is this skill crucial to your ability to get home in a disaster, you’ll also learn a lot about where you live by walking in that area. It’s entirely too easy to miss so much by relying on driving; you have to pay attention to the road and only see things that are visible from that road anyway. Get out, walk around and really check out where you live. Learn it, explore it and know it.

These days, no matter where I am in San Francisco I can easily figure out where I am, where I’m going and how to get there. I know this is a perishable skill and we as a culture are slowly losing it by relying too heavily on search engines and mapping software to handle navigation for us. Those things may not be there when you need them, so make sure you don’t actually need them. While beneficial to all of our lives, they’re also something that you shouldn’t bet your survival on. Cell towers stop working, data centers can burn and networks can go down.

Ounces Equal Pounds, Pounds Equal Pain

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I certainly suffer from a tendency to over-pack. Whether I’m going on vacation, camping or just heading across town to meet up with friends, I often take more stuff than I need. This isn’t a helpful tendency in constructing a Bolt Bag. Travel light and remember that whatever you bring, you could be carrying for an unknown time period.

If your bag weighs 20 lbs., you probably won’t have much of a problem carrying it indefinitely. If it weighs in at 80 lbs. though, it’s going to hurt sooner rather than later. I’m not saying that 20 lbs. is the right weight; I’m just saying that every ounce you add to that bag is going to add up as you keep adding more things. Strip it down to what you really need.

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I used to carry a GPS in my bag, kept my tools all together in a HSGI Taco, put my rolled up change of clothes in a pouch and tethered things together with pull-out MOLLE panels. I ditched all the unnecessary containers for tools and instead started using the pockets my pack had, as well as my dry bag. This has enabled me to shave off four pounds from the total weight of my pack. Four pounds may not seem like that much weight, but it’s a sizable percentage of the total and the reduction makes a difference in ease of carry.

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While walking at a normal pace with the stuff may not make me break a sweat, running with all of it certainly did. This is yet another thing to consider in regard to weight; when you think you’re done, take that pack for a run. If it’s kicking your ass, come back home and think about what you can shave off. Maybe you carry less backup batteries or ditch the separate pouches for everything. Maybe you don’t need one item or another.

The more you reduce, the happier you’ll be. You should definitely be able to run or walk with your Bolt Bag without pain. This is because you might have to run with it at some point. The wrong time to find out your pack is not run-friendly is when you’re running for your life.

Bag Selection

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This is really a huge, separate subject on its own and better men than I have written about it. If you’re ready for the fire hose of information, point your gob at Brian’s Backpacking Blog. Brian has written a lot of useful information here at ITS, like his Introduction to Lightweight Backpacking. I’m an obsessive pack-collector and over the years, it’s gotten to the point that I’m a little embarrassed about how many I own.

I’m also a little proud of myself though for having amassed such a wide selection of packs with different purposes. For my Bolt Bag, the important thing to me thing was comfort, followed by utility and then reduced size. I’ve gone through a number of different types of Bolt Bags, but lately find myself using GORUCK’s 10L Bullet Ruck. Mine is Coyote Brown, but currently it appears they’re only shipping black out.

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Color choice for your pack is largely irrelevant, though you do want to consider your environment and whether or not your bag is going to make you stand out in a crowd. The GORUCK Bullet is almost pushing it visibility-wise, with the couple rows of MOLLE and the Velcro patch area at the top.

Basically, you want to match your environment socially, rather than literally. If you live near a military installation, maybe MultiCam is going to stand out less. Use your head. If you’re “bolting,” chances are that other people will be too and some of those people are going to be looking at someone who’s obviously prepared as a potential victim. Don’t look like a potential victim when you don’t have to.

Modularity, Accessibility and Packing Order

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Once you’ve assembled the gear for your Bolt Bag, consider sorting it into various groups. I’ve divided my gear into two main categories, Things That Shouldn’t Get Wet and Things That Can Get Wet and also into a few sub-categories; Medical Stuff, Food and Water, Clothing, Electronics, Tools and Signaling Stuff. For all the things that shouldn’t get wet, I’ve put them in a dry bag made for the USMC day pack. Once I put all that stuff in there, I can then compress the hell out of it since it has a one-way air valve.

As a result, it takes up less space in the Bolt Bag. All of the items that shouldn’t get wet are items that I would generally be able to stop for a while if I needed them. Because of this, it’s not really a problem to have them packed away in a dry bag, further inside the Bolt Bag. I put the clothes in the bottom of the dry bag, then the electronics (including satellite phone), then the pouch filled with small tools on top of that, as that’s generally the order in which I’d need all that equipment.

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My medical supplies and food are stored in the lower interior pocket of the Bolt Bag so that they can be quickly accessed. I also like that the contents are visible through the mesh when you open the bag, so that if for some reason I can’t talk and need medical care, whoever is helping me can open my pack and see where the medical stuff is without having to dig around for it.

In the outside slash pocket of the pack, I keep four tools; a knife (this is an additional knife I have with me, since I always have a knife in my pocket as well,) a window-breaking/seatbelt cutting tool, a utility tool and a spork. Three of those things are in that slash pocket so I can easily get to them. The spork is in there because it was roughly the same size as the other things, plus I like keeping the inside lower pocket clean, since it has my medical stuff in it and storing a device that is eventually going to be in my mouth in the same pocket as the med kit stuff seemed like a bad idea.

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Your loadout is going to be different from mine. Just keep in mind the order in which you may possibly need things and make it easier for yourself by packing accordingly.  Also there’s merit in the idea of approaching this from a modular angle; separating the various gear into groups is going to make it much easier to know where to find something when situations aren’t nice and calm. It might also enable you to know which items you can safely leave behind and which items you’re taking with you if things get so bad you need to leave that Bolt Bag behind.

No Camping

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If you’re not familiar with the term “gypsy camp,” it’s a pejorative term for the technique of attaching any and every damned thing to your pack you can think of. If you find yourself using shock cord to strap things to the top, bottom, sides and back of your pack, or you’ve got five carabiners holding water bottles, beer opening tools or every other gadget you thought you might possibly need to the shoulder straps of your pack, you’re a walking “gypsy camp.” My preemptive apologies to any Gypso-Americans who might take offense to the term; it isn’t mine, I promise you. If you can figure out who said it first, you can take that issue up with them.

Regardless, the reason you don’t want to set your pack up like that is because you need to be able to get through potential debris, wooded areas or spaces that might be a tight fit and you don’t need your Bolt Bag getting caught on things. Also, items attached to the outside of your pack are going to make noise when you walk.

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The less attention you draw to yourself, the better off you are. Keep it simple. I basically have three things attached to the outside of my pack; on one shoulder strap, I have a plastic ITW carabiner, which holds the hose of my hydration bladder out of the way. I also have a SAR signaling mirror and a plastic ITW whistle tightly and firmly attached to the MOLLE row on the back, because I want both to be fairly accessible and because I was able to secure them pretty snugly.

Russian Nested Eggs (EDC vs. Bolt Bag)

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One thing to consider with regards to your Bolt Bag is size; the smaller it is, the easier it is to fit it inside a larger pack. I often carry a GORUCK GR1 as my “daily carry” pack, as it allows me to put my laptop, a soft armor insert and various things I might need in non-emergency situations (aka “life”).

I can easily fit my Bolt Bag inside that GR1 with room to spare and as a result, if things go haywire and I need to “bug out” and leave that daily carry stuff behind, I can with relative ease. I don’t need to unpack and repack to optimize; I just pull that Bolt Bag out of the main pack and ditch the rest of the stuff, possibly in a cache I might return to later if the situation merits it.

Security Considerations

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If in the course of your work or other day-to-day activities, you enter secure premises on a regular basis, you may have to adjust the contents of your Bolt Bag accordingly. I recently learned the hard way, when heading down to the San Francisco Federal Building to get a list of every place I’ve ever worked for a background investigations packet I needed to complete, that knives are a big no-no when entering a federal building.

Since they were unwilling to hold on to my knife (or knives, as the case may be) and let me have them when I was leaving, I had to come back the next day with a stripped-down pack, free of both knives and everything else I thought security might find objectionable.

Constantly Rethink Your Choices

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Once you’ve built your Bolt Bag, take it with you everywhere you go. Periodically reassess your current situation with an eye towards how you can improve it. Building a Bolt Bag is roughly the same as building an AR-15; you’re never really done building it.

You’re always going to be able to streamline and you’re always going to want to add things you hadn’t previously considered. Nothing is written in stone; analyze your load out constantly and adjust on the fly. If you’re going to a new area, you may want to bring an entirely different set of equipment. Adapt to change.

My Bolt Bag: An Almost Comprehensive Breakdown

Backpack: GORUCK Bullet, 10L

Lower Inside Pocket

Food:

Bonk Breaker tangerine/orange energy chews

MRE Rice, Fried

Medical Supplies:

ITS EDC Trauma Kit

Boo Boo Kit

Signal:

IR Chem Light

Upper Inside Pocket

CAT (Combat Application Tourniquet)

MPIL

Type III Paracord

Suunto M3 Compass

Main Compartment

Crye Compact Assault Ghillie

Vapur Eclipse Anti-Bottle:

Contractor bag

Sealine Military dry bag containing the following:

Clothes:

Patagonia M.A.R.S. Capilene Boxers

Darn Tough Mountaineering Socks

5.11 loose fit crew shirt

Diamondback Tactical AK double-magazine pouch containing:

Motorola P4000 Power Pack

Iridium 9555 Satellite Phone

• (1) USB 2.0 Type B charging cable

• (1) USB/Lightning iPhone charging cable

• Triple Aught Design OP1 Admin Pouch (currently sold out), containing:

Lower Jaw of OP1

Surefire G2X Pro

Phoenix Jr 123 Infrared Beacon

Pegasus 2AA IR Signal Device

Exotac nanoSTRIKER XL

• Auto Jigglers (courtesy Serepick at ITS Muster IV):

Middle Bottom of OP1

Jute Paracord

Top Jaw of OP1

Rite in the Rain Black Bullet Pen

Rite in the Rain pocket 3×5 notebook, spiral top

Pocket Straight Razor Survival Tool

Windmill Delta Stormproof Lighter

Ironkey Secure Flash USB Drive

• Unknown vendor, Generic 8GB USB Drive, Tails Linux

• Government issued knife sharpening stone

Southord Jacknife Pocket Lock Pick Sets JPXS-6

• Bic disposable lighter, brown

Outside Flap Pockets of OP1

CR123 4-battery case with batteries

AA 4-battery case with batteries

Outside of the GORUCK Bullet

Mounted on the top row of MOLLE:

SAR Eclipse Dogtag System

ITW Survival Whistle

       Contents of the slash pocket:

Snowpeak Titanium Spork

SOG Power Lock

Benchmade Houdini Pro

Strider SMF, Tanto blade

My Own Reassessment

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There’s currently only one thing I intend to add to my Bolt Bag; a small Mini Survival Kit. I go back and forth on whether I really need that Crye Compact Ghillie or not, but it’s small enough that I don’t mind it taking up space in the pack. The benefit of it would be if I needed to move through a wooded or other natural open area with stealth, or if I needed to stash the bag someplace in an area like that, unnoticed for a while.

Generally, though it isn’t listed in the bag breakdown above, I also have a 3-liter Source hydration bladder. It allows me to have fresh, drinkable water without taking the pack off and provides a nice cushion on my back. I’ll also stuff a hat or two inside the pack, depending on weather. An Outdoor Research beanie and a waterproof “boonie” hat allow me to adjust to chilly or rainy weather while taking up almost no space.

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Hopefully, what I’ve written above will help you think about how you might build your own Bolt Bag. There may never be a disaster that would facilitate using such a bag and I hope you never encounter one, but if things ever do go haywire, wouldn’t you rather be prepared?

Editor-in-Chief’s Note: Matthew Sharp is a Plank Owner and Life Member at ITS and goes by the username “viator.” He lives in The People’s Republic of Northern California and enjoys long range shooting, carrying heavy objects great distances and fuzzy little puppies.

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Discussion

  • C.C. Chapman

    Definitely something that has been on my mind more since Muster and this is a SOLID breakdown. Thank you for writing it.

  • Trent Arnold

    Good read Matt Soper

  • Matthew N Sharp

    Thank you, sir. It was good to write it all down and re-think it as a result.

  • C.C. Chapman

    It has been on my mind a lot too and THANK YOU for putting all the links to the products at the end. As I was reading through I kept thinking “what is that?” and “oh I don’t have one of those.”
    You just added a whole bunch of stuff to my Christmas list.

  • Chris Cavallari

    I’ve been wanting to create a go bag of some kind for awhile now. Definitely going to use this guide.

  • C.C. Chapman

    We had to carry one with us everywhere at Muster in addition to other things we needed so it has been top of mind since I got home.
    We’ve always kept “winter bags” in our cars with supplies we would need if we ever crashed or got stuck during a good old New England snow storm, but I’ve been thinking more and more about this.

  • C.C. Chapman

    Never hurts to be prepared.

  • NickoDemeter

    Certainly a post that I will be bookmarking and coming back to ensure my list is complete. Thank you!

  • Toby Santangelo

    Excellent article. It brought some new light to the components of my bag. Ty

  • Matthew N Sharp

    Thank you, sir!

  • Tyler Kirk

    I’d also add; the 10L bag mentioned in the article is great. For cooler climates, the 15L version adds just enough additional space where you can stuff a packable jacket and beefier gloves/hat.

  • Matthew N Sharp

    I’m going to use this knowledge to justify buying another GR bag. Thanks for being an enabler!

  • Andrew Urias

    How much for the bag and its contents?

  • Zac Stetler

    Video of the bolt bag and your FJ load out. #geartasting

  • Michael Sean McHugh

    Excellent write-up, Matthew N Sharp.

  • Matthew N Sharp

    Thank you, brother!

  • Matthew N Sharp

    I haven’t added it up with the specific contents. I have to swap out a water heater today, but I’ll add it up tonight and get back to you.

  • Ken Bass

    Good job Matthew! This is a new trend for a lot of people compared to the BOB of a few years back!

  • Joshua Boudreaux

    Saw and read this this morning. Good idea to have around just for basic stuff you gotta get done and you can bring it in the car easily as well.

  • Don’t forget a far more likely possibility—a serious sickness in the family that requires quickly relocating to a distant city. The stress of that will make thinking difficult.

    When I worked in Seattle Children’s Hospital caring for kids with leukemia, a typical admission was a child with a cold that wouldn’t go away. The parents would take the child to their pediatrician, leukemia would be diagnosed, and on very short notice the family would be driving or flying several hundred miles to us. Food and shelter weren’t the issues. The issues were all the things a family with kids needs to get by day to day. 

    One mother told me that when that emergency hit, all she had the time and sense to do was grab her “earthquake bag.” It had all she needed to relocate quickly. That’s clothes, diapers, toys, snack food, storybooks, medicines, and the like. Don’t forget a list with the phone numbers and email addresses of family and friends. Also, remember that, when one child is sick, the others still have needs that will be compounded by that emergency.

    Fortunately, many such hospitals have a Ronald MacDonald house where families can stay.

    http://www.rmhc.org/about-us

    –Michael W. Perry, author of My Nights with Leukemia.

  • Allan Valdes

    Jennifer Hincapie read and get ready cause I’m going to build yours soon.

  • Logan Merrell

    Ounces equal pounds, pounds equal pain

  • Billy Austin

    Is a “bolt” bag the same as a go bag? If so, when did people start calling them bolt bags.

  • Shawn Quinn

    life straw is a pretty good thing to put in there too.

  • Galen Acevedo

    Ace Apollo – My next build 😀

  • Ace Apollo

    I need to start putting one together

  • SorenRTapolyai

    How much did all of this cost? And did you gather it over a period of time, or collect it all at once? Also, did you primarily use online shopping to get the supplies, or did you also visit stores? And what stores did you visit if that’s the case?

    • matthewnsharp

      SorenRTapolyai I’m still planning on adding up the total cost, but I definitely acquired the stuff over a period of time, not all at once. Some of it is pretty expensive (i.e.: the sat phone, for instance), but some of it is relatively cheap. Some was acquired through online sources (which are generally linked in the article, particularly on the list part), some was acquired at brick and mortar stores, and some was given to me at some point or another.

      Everyone’s kit should be different, for the most part, given that everyone will devise their own plans, but the overall contents of the bag should reflect the basic idea of “stuff you would need to get home, given certain circumstances”, and the basics of survival (water, food, shelter, fire). If you live some place with similar potential disasters as where I live, your bag may end up having a lot of the same stuff in it. Or maybe not, it all depends on your own emergency plans.

  • Tim M

    Great idea… I need this in case the shit goes down or we have a large earthquake here in southern california. Ill add a tomahawk and water purification filters rather than the ghillie suit and lock picking kit. cheers!

  • Phillip Rusty Boisselle

    That SMF is sic! I’m saving up!

  • redteamsblog

    Great writeup Matthew. I see some familiar concepts applied differently and that’s great. It makes sense. Here’s a little something on modular packing and how layering makes sense. I explained this during the Muster too.

    http://redteams.net/gear/2015/modular-packing-light-is-fast

  • Illini Warrior

    Guy – the last thing the prepper community needs is ANOTHER acronym or prepper “tradename” – especially for a bug out bag – a BOB ….. no need for “bolt bag”…

    you have a talent in writing – compiled a good bag …. just resist the urge to create buzz words on your future submissions ….

    • matthewnsharp

      Illini Warrior I understand what you’re saying and am not trying to create another buzz word, but for me, the “bolt bag” (or “get home bag”) isn’t the same thing as a bug-out bag. Bug-out bags, in regards to my own disaster planning, are the type of bags I keep at home, loaded with larger amounts of supplies, and meant to be used in the event of something like a mass urban fire, where I’d need to get out of my home, and leave for safer ground. 

      The “bolt bag” is more aimed at getting back *to* home, in the event of disaster, but contains some minimal provisions, and the means to obtain additional material, as plans dissolve. It’s not a term that I made up, by any means, but I understand the confusion that comes from endless acronyms or terms, particularly ones that are redundant.

  • Phil Montgomery

    This is an awesome article Matt – one thing, can you explain the rationale and difference between the two IR devices.  I’m not familiar with these.

    • matthewnsharp

      Phil Montgomery The rationale behind each one is three-fold; in the event of a major disaster (including civil unrest), I want to have a friendly signal to send to my wife. We live on top of a hill, with nice lines of sight down that hill, and she knows where the night vision monocle is, and how to use it, and the basics of how to defend a 100 yard section defined by the street of approach to the house. With the NV optic on, I could signal that it’s just me returning home by using either of the IR beacons. The Pegasus is a little easier to see than the Phoenix at greater distances, for what it’s worth. The other purpose of both devices would be to allow me to stash, say, the EDC bag I have, and just take the bolt bag, but to leave an IR beacon on it, so it would be easier to find when I returned later, provided I brought the night vision optic with me. The third possible use would be if, for some reason, I needed to signal a legit rescue agency that I, or my family, were located someplace and needed help, at night, but didn’t want just everyone to be able to see that signal. Assuming USCG or other rescue personnel would be running any night rescue efforts with night vision, they’d be able to see the signals, but bad actors other than them would not (unless, of course, they had NV). All three situations are highly hypothetical, but given the light weight of both devices, I’m comfortable keeping them in the bag.

      For some reason, the link to the Pegasus is wrong: the correct link is https://tnvc.com/shop/pegasus-2aa-ir-signal-device/

  • rdbabcock

    Matt this is a great article. I started using a get home bag a few years ago when I was traveling close to an hour each day for work. Since my commute has become much shorter, it hasn’t been kept up as well as I intended, but this is a great starting point for me to reevaluate now that my situation has changed. I have a question, because one item jumped out at me, the Tails Linux USB drive. I work in IT and have set up Puppy distro as a bootable USB drive before as a light OS on a flash drive that I mostly have used for troubleshooting purposes. I assume your Tails is bootable. Can you explain why you chose Tails and what uses it has?

    • matthewnsharp

      rdbabcock  Thank you for the kind words, sir. And yes, the Tails USB is bootable; it’s used, predominantly, as a means to use the net quasi-anonymously in the event I don’t have access to my own computer, or if I’m using my own computer on an insecure public access point, since the disk file system, itself, is encrypted, and all of its traffic goes through Tor. I’ve also got a few sets of cryptographic tools loaded on it, as well, and I keep copies of documents I think I might need (eg: SSH keys, etc.). I really have no allegiance to the choice of using Tails, it’s just one I have a decent amount of experience with, so that’s why I went with that.

  • MagiSci

    Excellent article. Your emphasis on flexibility and mission appropriateness is critically important especially when one considers that “survival is eternal vigilance”. As an example, long ago (for my personal edification and use) I modified the acronym EDC to SAC (Situation Appropriate Carry). I did this to constantly reinforce in my mindset the critical importance of flexibility, adaptability and situational awareness.
    Thanks for your superb counsel and perspective.

  • What about Weapons like a crossbow , spear, sword and Bow & Arrow. When Ammo runs out, wouldn’t you want a back up.

  • MagiSci

    An excellent point. Weapons are always a part of my SAC (Situation Appropriate Carry) and especially my BOLT bag. However, you must always consider local concealed carry laws and prohibitions. Thanks.

  • Outpost75

    The mini survival kit thing is something I have worked on for years.  My target for a small grab & go kit with basic first aid and survival items which could always fo with me, was a 1 kg package.  Contents must be customized for your training, experience, geography and mission, but the pist which follows can serve as an “idea starter” for you.  Good luck.

    Level B – “Kilo Kit” use this list is your own
    “idea starter:”
    Fenix E01 LED light and 4AAA spares holder

    P38 Opener
    Frontier Survival Filter Straw
    Waterbag (gallon ZipLok)
    Betadyne 1 oz. squeeze bottle, wound cleansing and water purificiation
    SnareWire
    Military SpeedHook 
    NATO whistle
    REAL laminated glass Signal Mirror
    Suunto Orienteering Compass
    GuardianSafetyLight
    tea candles (2)
    3 birthday gag candles (the pyrotechnic kind which don’t blow out)
    BIC lighter (cable tie under tab to prevent accidental release of butane)
    DoanFireTool+striker
    Lifeboat Matches
    Tinder pack (QuikFire)
    Fresnel lens (Best Glide)
    Leatherman Squirt multitool
    Victorinox Recruit
    Pocket sharpening steel
    DermaSafeKnife
    DermaSafeSaw
    PhotonX-Light
    BestGlide WoundPack1
    BestGlide MedPack1
    Pill fob with 3-day supply of personal meds
    QuikClotSport25
    Triangular bandage
    2 brass blacked bandolier pins
    6 assorted cable ties
    20ft.550# paracord
    survival kit pouch
    snap link to attach pouch to gear
    I am fairly satisfied with this, especially its compact size and weight, but it
    every time I have actually had to use it, I discover tweaks to be made!  Biggest
    change was substituting a 1 oz. plastic first aid kit BOTTLE of betadyne,
    for multiple foil ampules and swabs.
    Doing so saved enough space to include a Frontier filter straw!  But because the filter  straw is not adequate to remove all
    biologicals, chemical treatment remains necessary, Betadyne doubles for
    water purification and wound cleansing.

  • TheArtfulDodger

    It’s a nice set up for sure. But not practical. Your list of items is very pricey. If I spent this much bankroll on a kit I’d carry it with me everyday. Also, I would rather have my “bolt bag” set up now, not spend a year saving up for these items. Just my opinion though. I’m sure a list comparable, but more affordable can be made with out having to hurt the bank account too much.

  • kf62w6

    Lock picks…hum. Unless you’re a locksmith of your going to jail once the police search you.

    • kf62w6 Might want to look up the law before you claim to know it.

    • kf62w6

      bryanpblack I have.

    • matthewnsharp

      kf62w6  In California, and, in fact, in most states in the US, possession of such devices is not illegal unless they can prove intent to use them illegally. http://toool.us/laws.html has much greater state by state detail on the legality of possession.

  • Aarne1

    Great article, covering  aspects that many wouldn’t even think about. One thing though, and greetings from Finland, we don’t prepare here for volcanic eruptions 🙂 More like 72h blackout mid-winter and -30C. And russian armed tourists with tanks 🙂

  • LeonKeith

    Any chance you looking to let go of this 10L bullet ? If you’re selling off , please let me know .
    Many thanks

  • Robert

    A superb article, Matthew! You seem to have covered all the bases. I will kindly offer my 2 cents worth. I would suggest a stash of currency. Mark at his company Gearward markets a 2.6″ Go-Tube (provided by Karl @ OscardDeltaSPD) which will perfectly hold 10 bills (U.S. currency). A breakdown of differing denominations would be best for obvious reasons. Along these same lines, a local credit card included within the BOLT bag might be beneficial. I cannot take credit for these suggestions (as I have seen them before – as I am sure most of you have, as well); but believe might be helpful as a refresher. Thanks!

  • Strych9

    I understand the concept of this but are you carrying it on your person all the time? 

    I tend to think of this in terms of Gear Lines. 0 being wants on your person, 1 in your bag that you’re carrying 90%+ of the time, 2 being what’s in your vehicle and 3 being what’s in your house. 
    For me, 0 is a pistol, knife, flashlight, spare pistol mag and my general stuff like a wallet, watch and keys.
    1 is my bag, which as a student I use every day. That adds an IFAK, raincoat, a day+’s worth of food, and 1.5L of water. 
    2 is where I keep most of my stuff. I have a lot of this stuff and a lot more in my car. I leave it there because it’s convenient. At this point I’m never more than a few blocks from my car should I need that stuff. For me personally, I’d just leave all that gear there and if I need it swap out my textbooks and laptop for whatever I think I might need and I would only do that if I thought there was a good chance that roads would be blocked.

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