Your bug out bag documents are those pieces of paper (or digital documents) you’re going to want with you if forced out of your home. They are very personal and specific to you and your family. It’s not something you should take lightly.
Everything you put in your bug out bag is in there for a reason.
That’s why I always recommend you use a detailed bug out bag checklist, to ensure you don’t forget something important.
And for those of you who have already constructed your bug out bag, this article serves a specific purpose.
To help you determine which documents are worth adding to your bug out backpack, and how to store them.
A Quick Introduction
Obviously, discussing documents (even the important sort) is not the most exciting survival topic. Some may even say it’s boring. But that attitude is for amateurs.
Why? Because ensuring you pick the right bug out bag documents helps 1) prove your identity, 2) affirm your survival skills, and 3) sharpen your survival knowledge. It’s these overlooked but important details that give you a survival edge during a bug out.
Even in a worst case “the end of the world as we know it” survival scenario; society will eventually start putting things back together. And once they do, it’s only going to be a lot easier if you can prove who you are, where you’re from, and your level of education and abilities.
And to be honest, while the “end of the world scenarios” are the most severe, they are also the least likely reason you’ll need to bug out.
It’s more likely you’ll be forced to flee your home because of a wildfire, an earthquake, riots, floods, pandemic disease, economic collapse, nuclear attack or EMP attack…
And in the wake of any of these disasters, you’ll be glad you packed copies of your most important documents.
Having the proper bug out documents stashed in your pack is a very functional, rational means of making your survival life easier.
So it’s wise to spend a bit of quality time fine-tuning the documents of your BOB. Otherwise, you may find yourself lacking critical information right when you need it most.
Paper Copies For Your Pack
I recommend keeping physical paper copies of your important documents. Paper copies are easy to access, cheap to produce, and don’t require a computer, internet connection or external energy source to access.
Paper is the most foolproof form of documentation and is, therefore, my personal favorite.
Go to Kinko’s, find a copier, and make yourself a backup stash of every important piece of paper you can find. Many of these documents may already be in your document safe or safe deposit box.
However, paper is not the most durable of materials.
It can easily tear, burn, and soak to the point of ruin. And in an emergency survival situation, being gentle with your bug out bag will be low on your priority list.
Stuff happens; so you need to prepare your paper bug out bag documents for these events. The good news this problem is easy to navigate with some preparation:
Laminate pieces of paper, cards, and photographs
Laminated documents are waterproof and less prone to tear. Laminating your bug out bag documents is the best method to protect these important papers.
Plus, laminating paper copies is easy if you get yourself a laminator and is relatively inexpensive for the amount of extra protection it grants you.
Keep documents in a waterproof carrying case
These pouches come in a variety of different sizes and shapes to accommodate your needs. Buy a single large one, or get several smaller pouches for maximum organization.
These will keep water away from your vulnerable paper documents and ensures everything stays neat and tidy.
Without a way to contain your documents they will get tossed around, smashed, and crumpled inside your pack.
One of the biggest drawbacks to paper copies is they get heavy when added up, and there is nothing you can really do about that. So, pack the rest of your bug out bag light.
Obviously, paper is light in small quantities, but once there’s a stack, it suddenly becomes very heavy. So stash only the most important documents in paper form, the rest can be saved digitally.
Digital Copies For Your Pack
Digital copies are the most efficient and lightest way to keep backup documents stored for bug out emergencies. Use a photo scanner (you can often find one at local libraries or copy stores) to scan everything you need and most of what you want.
The best part about storing digital copies is that you can save almost as much as you like.
Unlike paper copies, which must be carried in moderate quantities, with the right amount of digital space/memory you’re capable of storing every family photo you own, your favorite video clips, your important documentation, your survival books library, and still have room left over for frivolous extras.
The main problem with using digital means to store your emergency documentation is the fragile nature of electronic equipment (of any kind) and their reliance on power/computer access.
In the event of an EMP strike or total social breakdown, getting your hands on a working computer will become difficult – probably even impossible
However, it’s more likely the world you flee into is one where you can still find computers and electricity, in which case it will be helpful to have digital copies of important information on backup.
There are several options for storing digital files:
Smartphone, Tablet, Laptop
I have no way of knowing how much you plan to invest in your BOB. If you want to keep an emergency laptop computer ready to bug out with, this may be a good option for you. Especially if you like to read a lot…
Books are heavy, and in digital form, you can keep a complete library of books. Survival books, cooking books, fiction novels, and how to guides stored on a smartphone, tablet or laptop.
But these computer devices are both are heavy, and fragile (the opposite qualities of good bug out gear). When something falls on your computer, or when you drop your pack or sit on it, it’s going to break. And there will very few people who can repair it.
But you can mitigate this risk by investing in an industrial strength protective case. However, now you’re adding more weight to your pack.
So the bottom line: it’s not my favorite solution.
USB Flash Drive
A USB flash drive is the ultimate digital file storage device.
If you showed a USB to a human born on the other side of 1900 and demonstrated how much you can store on one of these, they would accuse you of being some kind of magical sorcerer. And they’d likely burn you at the stake.
Or more likely they’d think you were nuts since they wouldn’t know what the word “digital” meant in the first place.
The largest USB available on the market today is the Kingston DataTraveler Predator. This bad boy can store one terabyte of content (currently going for a modest $870). That is 17,000 hours of music, 40 days of video, or 310,000 photos!
All in a device the size of your thumb.
Obviously, you don’t have to go that big. But the point is: when it comes to saving digital files that are important or helpful, a USB drive can give you plenty of space.
You may even want to save some home videos, photo albums, personal projects, or your favorite music, and the best way to do that is, without a doubt, a USB flash drive.
The biggest drawback you will face is the risk of damage.
Like handheld computers (and other electronic devices in general) most USB flash drives are not built to withstand any abuse or the elements. They are made for office use.
Those sterile, safe environments where it’s not likely to experience mud, rain or blunt trauma.
That’s why you need a badass survival USB.
One that can handle real-world abuse and is waterproof.
No matter how you store your digital bug out bag documents, you need to be cautious with how you store them. Because you don’t want your digital data to end up in the wrong hands.
Imagine someone getting a hold of your personal USB drive that had copies of your license, passport, social security card, debit/credit cards, family photos and home videos? That’d be a crappy day.
So there are several solutions to help protect the information you store digitally. Here are a few examples:
Cyber Security Software
You can invest in online tools to protect your privacy online that will serve as a decent barrier against simple intrusions. Allowing you to surf anonymously and encrypting your digital data. And as with most things in life, the more you pay (typically) the better security you’ll receive.
There are a ton of different levels of security that you can buy for digital documents – it all just depends on how big your budget is.
You can choose to hide files deep within other files, buried in a sequence of random names and numbers that only you would be able to follow.
This creates a digital labyrinth that’s difficult to crack quickly.
Changing Files Names
This is a simple method for misdirecting anyone sifting through your information. Mislead them with strange file names that only you will recognize.
Changing File Types
This is another simple method for misdirecting amateur hackers. The more specific the file type, the less chance there is that anyone but you will be able or willing to open the stored documents.
Finding Sources Of Power
As mentioned before, one of the drawbacks to using digital means to store your documents is the power necessary to access them.
USB’s need a computer with a USB port, handheld computers (like smartphones and tablets) require electric charge before they can be powered-up and things like external hard drives require both a working outlet and a USB port.
None of those would be accessible by traditional means in a world where the power is out for good.
So what can be done? More than you might imagine, actually. There are a number of ways for generating power without the power grid that society is so dependent on.
Renewable energies are perfect for this task. Here is a list of some alternate means of power production:
Portable Solar Panels
You should invest in a portable, packable solar panel today that works great for just this purpose. They are powerful enough to charge phones, tablets, speakers, and flashlights.
These are relatively new devices and are absolutely perfect for your bug out bag. This BioLite Woodburning Stove uses heat to create electricity.
In our 104 Item Bug Out Bag Checklist, we suggest taking a small portable camping stove to boil water and heat food. Now you can add “generate electricity” to the list. There’s just one word to describe this stove: Badass.
These come in all shapes and sizes. Some are only large enough to charge up a flashlight, while others are more than capable of ramping up the wattage for bigger jobs.
Crank generators convert your physical energy into electrical energy – you just have to make sure you have enough energy and get crankin’!
My personal favorite style of a crank generator is the style built into portable radios. Items with dual purposes help combat pack weight. Instead of hauling around a hand crank generator AND a portable radio. Just get a hand-cranked radio and you’re all set.
Which Bug Out Bag Documents To Take
There is a lot of bug out bag documents you could choose to save, especially with the extra space provided by a USB or handheld computer.
Here is a list, broken into two categories (with some overlap) of some general forms of documentation/identification you might want to save.
1 – Reference and Personal Documents
Emergency Contact Information
Keep the numbers of those closest to you and emergency contact numbers. Emergency numbers such as the poison control hotline.
This serves two purposes: one, it ensures that you have all of the appropriate contact information for emergency situations.
And two, in an event that you are the victim of an emergency, and someone else finds you and your Bug Out Bag, they will have the means to contact the right people.
Keep this as a luggage tag, attached to the outside of your BOB, or in an easily accessible file in your digital databank for easy access.
General Contact Information
Keeping a databank of phone numbers, mailing, email and physical addresses of your friends and family can come in incredibly helpful.
If you need to get ahold of someone for lodging, refuge, supplies, or help of any kind an address/phone book is exactly what you need.
Contact information is an incredible survival tool – friendly humans can be very helpful.
Of course, you cannot carry every map with you. Even with a gigantic amount of digital storage space, you would struggle to store all that memory.
But you can keep the important maps laying around – maps of your city/state, maps of the places you spend most of your time, maps of the areas around your family’s homes, and maps that detail how to find your survival cache.
Translation Books and Apps
Who know’s how far you’ll need to venture, so having a number of conversational translation books on hand could be a lifesaver.
No obstacle is more challenging than that of the language barrier.
Obviously, carrying big language books around would get bulky, and heavy. But translation apps do not weigh a thing, and you can buy them cheap (some even for free).
If you are traveling in a car, on a motorcycle or even by bugging out by bike, bring a repair manual or a book on engine maintenance. If you have a stove generator or some solar panels, you will need some guidance for managing those suckers.
If you have a computer or a survival radio do not forget to bring or download the instructions and repair information before setting out!
Technical issues suck, they always happen, and they can be serious if you can’t fix them. Prepare for this.
Family Photos and Home Videos
These are the most personal items you can choose to include in your bug out bag document stash. They will not help you fix engines, or navigate you through unfamiliar terrain, but they can make you feel a lot better.
Items like these do not provide any hard survival advantages, but they will keep you sane in a world gone mad.
Books and Movies
Another item that does not provide hard survival benefits, but can keep you from falling off the deep end.
Survival situations do not allow for a lot of downtime for reading or watching films, but when the time does manifest, you will be incredibly grateful that you packed/downloaded something to entertain your brain.
2 – Official Documents
Passports and Visas
For obvious reasons, these are essential. You cannot cross the US border without them, and a passport is the ultimate form of identification in the USA. Having yours is extremely important.
Even photocopies or pictures of your passport are better than nothing at all.
If you plan on using vehicles, having one of these is sort of important. Usually, people keep their actual driver’s license in their wallet (and not tucked away in an obscure pocket of their go bag), so photocopy it and snap a few pictures to have as backups.
Birth and Marriage Certificates
Actually, any federal certificate is good to have a copy of in your survival bug out bag document stash.
Two Alternative Photo ID’s
These can be student ID’s, work ID’s, military ID’s, any official identification with your name and face on it. Ideally, two of them. This is helpful for reiterating your identity.
If things get really bad people won’t trust you just because you have a driver’s license. Having a couple extra proofs-of-selfhood never hurt anyone…
If you take any medications regularly (like insulin, inhalers, or anti-anxiety meds) keep a copy of your exact prescription handy.
Because in the event of a disaster or emergency, finding your medications will be hard; having the names and doses written out will make it a lot easier.
Health Insurance, Medicaid, Medicare Cards
Having proof of insurance could save your life. If you get hurt or sick and need immediate medical attention the doctors will be a lot more inclined to get to work knowing that their patient can pay up.
Hopefully, medical experts will help you no matter what – but having this documentation might endow them with a level of peace of mind.
This includes listing allergies, medications frequently taken, chronic illnesses or injuries, mental health history, immunizations and reasons for prior hospitalizations.
Any and all of your medical information and history is important, and will likely come in very useful.
Last Will & Testament
This is probably the most important bug out bag document you should be carrying. Because let’s face it: any event that forces you to grab your bug out bag and flee your home is a dangerous one. And in a dangerous world, people do not always live as long as they planned.
Having a will may seem like overkill but it could ensure that your children or parents or friends get your heirlooms (and not the federal government or looters).
It will also give you great peace of mind that, if you do not make it out of your situation, your belongings, and final wishes will be cared for. Making a will can feel like a grim process, but there is arguably no other document you can put in your BOB that will be of greater utility.
Concealed Carry Laws For Different States
Many people who bug out, plan on doing so with a firearm handy. That is great. Just make sure you’re ready to follow the concealed carry laws of whatever states you find yourself in.
It would be a major bummer to survive a serious disaster, bug out of your home, escape to a safe land, and then get arrested because you had a .357 hidden under your driver’s seat.
Just prepare to know the “lay of the lands” you’re entering.
Copy of The United States Constitution
If the SHTF event that causes you to flee turns into a martial law scenario, it’ll be important to know your rights. The constitution was designed to protect the rights of the U.S. Citizens from the Government.
In times of chaos, those in power will want to subdue those rights in the name of “security”. Don’t be fooled, make sure they know you understand your rights and you may be able to avoid being forced into FEMA camps or worse…
Consider packing a pocket version of the US Constitution.
The Final Word
Documents are not that exciting; I get it.
But when you are getting ready for survival under rough circumstances, you will probably pack your weapons first, medical supplies next, food, water purification, and other tools all before you even think about packing a file full of important papers and a survival USB loaded with important documents.
But regardless of their dull nature, documents are just as important.
They will make your life easier and will increase your chances of making it in the long run.
The Bottom Line is this: DO NOT pack a bug out bag without including a stash of your important bug out bag documents.
If you do, you will regret it.