What Documents Do You Need In Your Bugout Bag?

One important item that people don’t always think of when packing their bugout bag is a file with backup copies of important documents. Having these copies can be extremely useful if you need access to the information on them or to prove who you are if you’re traveling in a foreign country. It may even come in handy if society breaks down and a new one begins. Hey, it could happen. Keep in mind that this doesn’t have to be just what you’d put in your bugout bag. You need to have similar information collected in one place in your house in case of fire.

First, let’s look at a couple of ways you can copy the information and then we’ll go into what you should copy.

Paper copies

The nice thing about paper is it doesn’t require power (other than some kind of light to read by) and is ready to go as soon as you grab it. The bad thing is paper doesn’t do well if it gets wet and it’s not very efficient at containing a lot of information. It does have its place though. If nothing else, you have some handy fire tinder.

If possible, you should keep paper copies in some kind of waterproof package. If you get the kind with writing on it, rubbing alcohol will usually erase it. You’ll probably have to fold your documents since they usually won’t fit completely but hey, they’re copies.

You can laminate them instead but if you have many pages, that weight and size will add up quickly. Reducing the size of the copies on the paper and adding more than one copied page on each sheet will cut things down but only so much.

Digital copies

In addition, you should keep some kind of digital copies of your documents on a thumb drive. Ok, I can hear some of you grumbling now that you shouldn’t do that because the EMP strike will kill your thumb drive and any computer you’d need to read it. Well, that’s definitely a possibility but in 99% of other situations you’ll find yourself in, your thumb drive will still be accessible. Stop focusing your life on the remote chance of the worst likely thing to happen and start putting some effort into dealing with the things that are really going to happen. Besides, if an EMP wipes everything out someday (which it will at some point), you just go back to the paper you have. You weren’t going to carry 857 books in your bag so the digital copies were just a huge convenience until that day.

Obviously, one problem with a thumb drive is that if you don’t have something with a USB port to read it, your information is locked inside. On the other hand, you can copy pretty much every document you have on one and it costs little space and weight.

If you do use a thumb drive (and I suggest that you do), you should protect the information in case someone else gets a hold of it. There are several ways to do this but here are a few:

Security software

You can load security software in the drive to password protect it. Some, like the SanDisk Cruzer Fit has it built-in. You can also add encryption software like TrueCrypt, which will not only put a password on the drive (in addition to any built-in ones), it gives you a hidden drive. One password opens up your main drive and a different one opens it all up.

Hiding files

You can hide the files on your thumb drive to make them invisible to most people who don’t know how to unhide them.

Changing the file names

You can also change the name and filetype from whatever it is to something else. For instance, if your file is documents.pdf, you can change it to something like Abnormal_Growth_of_Pathogens_in_Manure.pdf. To do this, you just right-click the name and choose ‘Rename’, which will let you change the part on the left of the dot. This hides your file in plain sight, which is sometimes the best way to do it. This won’t work very well though unless you have a bunch of files that are similar. If it’s the only file on the drive, they just click it and the game is up. It’s the same way you probably hid your compromising photos of Wonder Woman by naming the folder ‘Work Docs’ instead of ‘Folder Full of Win’.

Changing the filetype

If your computer is set to show filetypes, changing the part on the right is right where you are in the step above. If not, you have to set it to show the filetype to you. It’s not really that hard to do but this article explains it better than I can right now because it has pretty pictures and stuff. Using this method, you could change it from Abnormal_Growth_of_Pathogens_in_Manure.pdf to something like Abnormal_Growth_of_Pathogens_in_Manure.exe. What this does is change the icon so it doesn’t look like a pdf (because now it’s not) and it won’t open so it’ll look like a corrupted file. To open it, you just change the filetype back to .pdf and it’ll open.


Adding the file to a .zip folder not only makes it smaller, you can add a password to it as well. If your computer doesn’t have that capability, something like 7-Zip is free and works well. With it, you can password protect files and folders.

If you get a tiny thumb drive like the SanDisk Cruzer Fit mentioned above, you can stash it somewhere like inside an earplug case or plugged into something like the USB battery you use to charge your cell phone when the power goes out.

Kindle, smart phone, tablet, or laptop

I convert some of my documents into .pdf and load them into my iPhone and Kindle. The iPhone makes it easy to get to but the battery doesn’t last all that long and the screen is pretty small for some things. It does light up on its own though, and there are toons of apps that are useful in survival situations.

The Kindle Paperwhite I have is much better for documents but you have to have some kind of lighting to read it. A great example is the SAS Survival guide.

Which documents do you need?

Inventory list

One of the first things you should have a copy of is something that very few people take the time to do but it’s immensely handy and that’s a laminated printout of everything in your bag.

If you’re like me, you have tiny things packed in all sorts of pouches and pockets in your bugout bag, and have duplicates and equivalents of things in case something gets lost, broken, or just doesn’t work in whatever situation you’re in. Because of this, if I haven’t used that item recently or just repacked my bag (and even then sometimes), I can’t remember where I have something or if I even have one in my pack. I went through that the other night as I was repacking my bag and didn’t remember where I put my Petzl headlamp so I could put a spare CR2032 battery in its case. After dumping everything out and not finding it, I moved on. I found it in my main toiletry bag about an hour later – that I wasn’t planning on packing. Which is why I decided to write this article.

The easiest way I’ve found to solve this is to make a simple Excel spreadsheet. In addition to what I’m about to lay on you, having it in a spreadsheet gives you a digital backup and lets you easily update the list as you add/change/delete things. You could also just write it down with a pen or make a list in a Word document or text file. On this list, you should put the name of the item, a short description including what type of battery it takes or which cable goes with it, and which pocket or bag it’s in. I have a bit more on that at the end of the article.

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