Winter Bug Out Bag Essentials for When SHTF

winter bug out bag


A winter bug out bag may be essential in an SHTF scenario.  Bugging out in the winter brings its own set of challenges and threats.  These are uniquely different to bugging out in different seasons.

Bugging out in winter will make one vulnerable to threats like frostbite and hypothermia.  On top of that, there are different challenges in the winter like gathering water, cooking food and setting up a shelter.

In this post, we are going to be talking about winter bug out bag list of items that you need to survive.  You can skip down below to find a full list of items needed.  Before we do that I will explain the reasoning for certain items that are needed and provide my recommendations.

When packing your bug out bag you will want to start with the foundation of the Rule of 3’s.  Then you can add on survival multipliers.  Once you have a list of items needed then you can determine what bag will give you the ability to easily carry those items.

Winter Bug Out Bag Essentials for When SHTF

Survival Clothing Layers

In a bug out scenario, there is a high chance that you would be forced to walk to your location.  This will leave you vulnerable to the elements of the cold weather.  This places you in even more danger of frostbite and hypothermia.

This is why it is important to have winter survival clothing layers.  Surprisingly you can’t just throw on a bunch of clothes hoping that it will keep you warm.  If you dress incorrectly then you can be placing yourself in even more danger.

For example, if your clothes are mainly cotton then you are going to be screwed if you get wet.  In the winter there is a high chance of you coming across snow.  This can melt and leave you wet.

Cotton is your enemy when it comes to surviving the cold weather.  It takes extremely long to dry.  This is why you should dress in wool and polyester clothing that dries quickly.

Shelter System

You can only survive 3 hours in rough weather conditions.  Especially in the winter, frostbite and hypothermia can set in quickly.  A lot of times its victims don’t realize that they are suffering from such.

This is why your winter bug out bag should provide a warm and safe shelter system.  Now you can bushcraft your own debris shelter A-frame.  Another option is to carry a tent.

However, a tent may take up a lot of space in your winter bug out bag.  It can also add additional weight that you may not be able to carry.  So it is important to know how much you can effectively carry.

Your winter bug out bag should be dedicated to getting you and your family to your bug out location within 72 hours.  It isn’t designed to help you survive the apocalypse.  Your bug out location should contain all the important long-term items to help you survive a long-term event.

If you can’t comfortably and effectively pack a tent in your winter bug out bag then you could place it in your bug out vehicle.  This would only be good if you are able to reach your location that way.  However, there may be a chance that you would be forced to walk to your location.
So I would recommend packing a lightweight shelter system.  A good option to consider would be packing a tarp.  I typically use the Snugpak Stasha Tarp.  It may leave you exposed to the elements.  However, if you pitch it correctly you can remain extremely warm.

Sleeping arrangements

Your winter bug out bag should contain the appropriate items needed for sleeping in the cold.  You will want something that not only keeps you comfortable but warm.  So you are going to be fighting the cold weather around you along with the cold ground.

Now your pack should remain light but functional.  The pack could include a sleeping bag.  However, a lot of sleeping bags are heavy and take up a lot of space.

A great lightweight but warm alternative to sleeping bags are emergency blankets or bivys.  They are not the most comfortable things in the world.  So it’s not going to be like a night at the Holiday Inn.  But it guarantees that you will remain warm.

Insulation from the ground is another important thing to have when sleeping in the cold elements.  One option is to gather leaves around your shelter to sleep on.  However, if it has been snowing then those leaves are going to be cold and possibly wet.  So if you are going to gather leaves then I would recommend grabbing leaves or pine needles from standing trees.

A more convenient option is to buy an inflatable air mattress.  These are relatively small and lightweight.  They will not only provide you with insulation from the ground but also comfort.

Fire Starting Kit

Another essential for you winter bug out bag is going to be a fire starting kit.  You will want the ability to build a fire to keep you warm, cook food and melt snow for water.  You can have smaller kits that provide sources of tinder or build a bigger kit that includes options to cut big pieces of wood.

You can make your own fire starting kit using dryer cotton lint for tinder along with some other tools.  There are some other small lightweight options that you can include in your bug. One great lightweight tool is a Waterproof Flint Match Lighter.  Also, I typically carry a survival pocket hand chainsaw in my bag.  It doesn’t take up much space or weight.  However, you will be limited in the size of wood that you can cut.

Other options include carrying an ax or hatchet.  However, these options can be a lot heavier and take much space.  Again, you could place them in your bug out vehicle and keep your lighter options in your bag.

One final lightweight additional that can be used to keep you warm are hand warmers.  These are small little packs that when shaken will produce heat.  When camping in cold weather I like to place this at the bottom of my socks at night.

Water Retrieval

You can only survive 3 days without water.  In the winter it becomes a challenge collecting water especially if it has been snowing.  The freezing temperatures can also freeze the water that you do collect.

One way to overcome that challenge is by packing an insulated water flask.  These containers can keep your water warmer for longer.  In freezing temperatures, you will want to place it inside of your bag to keep it from freezing over.

When you run out of the water then you can use a cup from your mess kit or camping cookware set to scoop up snow.  Then place it over a fire to melt it down.  Surprisingly it may take 4 or 5 scoops of snow to get a decent size cup of water.

Altogether you should have three cups.  You will need one to collect water.  Then another cup to boil the water. Not only will you need to boil snow but you will want to boil standing water as well.  This will help filter and purify it.  The last thing you will want is beaver fever in a survival situation.  Finally, the last cup should be used to drink from.

You shouldn’t be drinking from the same cup that you collect water from.  Local water sources can contain harmful bacteria that will make you sick.  This is why you place that water in a second cup to boil or purify.

First Aid Kit

The winter weather can be brutal on your skin.  This is especially true if you have become injured.  Cold weather conditions cause your skin to dry out.  Unfortunately, wounds heal best under moist conditions.

This is why it is important to have a first aid kit if your winter bug out bag.  You will want to pack this kit where it can be easily accessed from your pack.  I typically recommend placing it on one of the outside compartments or at the top of your bag.

Hygiene and Medicine Kit

With the cold weather comes the flu and viruses.  So you will want to be able to properly fight such a threat.  One way to do so is by packing hygiene items like sanitizer.  You will also want cold and flu medicine in the case that you feel one coming on.

Cooking Kit

Typically your bug out bag should be packed for a 3 day supply.  You don’t want to be bugging out for more than 3 days.  It is just impossible to survive forever on just a bug out bag.

Now, you can actually survive 3 weeks without food according to the rule of 3’s.  However, food will be needed to keep you going as you will be exhausted when bugging out.  You will need something to keep you energized.

Food will also keep you warm during the winter.  This is especially true with fattier foods.  It takes your body longer to digest fatty foods.  In return, the digestion process produces body heat.

There are some really great lightweight options for helping you cook food while bugging out.  Yes, you could use your fire to cook food.  However, you should be prepared for the case that you are unable to build a fire.  Also, you may get hungry when you don’t have much time or resources to build a fire.

In that case, you could carry a smaller option like a pocket stove.  This is a great option that screws on to a propane or kerosene tank.  So it doesn’t take up much space or room in your pack.

Finding the Perfect Bug Out Bag

As I mentioned earlier, when deciding what bag to use for your winter bug out bag you will need to determine all the gear and supplies that you need.  Then find a bag that will be able to comfortably and effectively carry those items.

In a previous post, I mentioned the important things that you need in a bug out bag.  For winter, you will especially want a pack that is water resistant.  That way the snow doesn’t melt into your pack.  This would ruin your gear and supplies.

Complete Winter Bug Out Bag Essential Item List

Sleeping Arrangements/Shelter System

  • Emergency blanket/bivy
  • Inflatable Pad (for insulation from the cold ground)
  • Shovel (to clear the ground of snow and wet leaves)
  • Tarp (for shelter)
  • Paracord (to tie off your shelter)
  • Hand warmers

Fire Starting Kit

  • Tinder (dryer cotton lint)
  • Ferrocerium Rod
  • Survival Knife
  • Handsaw
  • Waterproof matches

Water Collection

  • Water filter
  • Insulated Flask
  • Mess Kit Cup
  • Purification tablets or drops

Cooking Kit

  • Mess Kit
  • Pocket Stove or folding stove
  • Kerosene or Propane Tank
  • Stove Windscreen
  • Survival food

Survival Multipliers

  • First Aid Kit
  • Hygiene and medicine kit
  • Maps
  • Compass
  • Flashlights
  • Binoculars (with night vision is an added bonus)
  • Signaling equipment
  • Batteries


Altogether these would be my tips on what to pack in a winter bug out bag.  It’s not an exhaustive list but does include what I consider to be some essentials.  If you have a suggestions or questions then leave a comment below.  I will assist you to best of my knowledge.  Also, your feedback helps the community prepare the smart way now so that we can thrive later.

winter bug out bag