Illustration by Ashley Seil Smith

It may seem insane to prepare for the apocalypse, but the process of putting together a Bug Out Bag can actually be… therapeutic?

Everyone hates my new stun gun. I get it—it lets out a sinister electric cackle and its logo recalls the bad guys of Cobra Kai. Also, I’m sure I didn’t inspire much confidence in my girlfriend when I attempted to test the charge and wound up zapping a tuft of my arm hair, though the near-miss did leave a lingering chill, like discount shock therapy.

I’m not packing a stun gun on my daily commute, and I hope to never use it at all. But it remains the crown jewel of my growing collection of disaster preparedness paraphernalia. That’s right, laugh it up. I’m a doomsday prepper. And I’ve slowly been amassing items for my Bug Out Bag, a Hail Mary, last-resort backpack full of gear to get you through a crisis. BOB’s are a staple of the survivalist movement, a way of hauling ass in the event of a SHTF or TEOTWAWKI situation. But for me, disaster prep is a soothing and timely form of therapy.

Some quick disclaimers: I have no military or law enforcement experience. Aside from the advantages that come with being an able-bodied white guy, I have no skills or areas of expertise that make me particularly capable of surviving, well, much of anything. I don’t even like to camp that much. It hurts my back and watching movie trailers on my phone drains my data plan. By all accounts, I’m woefully unprepared for disaster, with the notable exception of the Bug Out Bag I’ve methodically assembled since a cluster of RNC-related panic attacks in July.

Which is exactly the point. When the news cycle has you itching to become more self-reliant and less grid-dependent, a Bug Out Bag is a natural gateway, an emergency bindle designed to get you through the first 72-hours of a crisis.

A violent paring down of possessions ironically becomes just another excuse to go shopping.

Why only 72? Grizzled survivalists rely on a loose “rule of threes” to guide their preparations. Roughly speaking, humans can survive three minutes without air, three hours without shelter, three days without water, and three weeks without food. By the end of the third day on the lam, it’s assumed that any prepper worth their iodide tablets has reached the next stage of their Bug Out, whether that be a safe house, emergency shelter, or death by frostbite/lack of wifi.

The breakdown of society is impolite to discuss and alarming to imagine, but a well-designed BOB will provide for a relatively comfortable stretch. While there are plenty of packs available for purchase, a homemade kit will be customized to your needs, tastes, location, and circumstances. It’s also much less expensive, and there are surprising therapeutic benefits to packing your own BOB. Stockpiling these items, at home and in online shopping carts, provides me with a sense of control amid uncertainty, independence from a seemingly rotten system.

My BOB organizes my anxiety; it gives shape and focus to my dread. It reminds me not to take things for granted, and underlines the difference between necessities and luxuries. Assembling its contents inspires confidence and a renewed appreciation of the can opener. There are humbling moments as well, like glancing around my apartment and realizing I don’t know how anything works. Of course, when confronted with this overwhelming ignorance, instead of reading an owner’s manual or simplifying my existence, I usually just log on and buy more shit.

Yes, in the grand tradition of American capitalism, a violent paring down of possessions ironically becomes just another excuse to go shopping. Anybody tuning into Fox News or right-wing radio knows they have been hawking Armageddon for a long time, and as social norms deteriorate and institutions sway we can expect these campaigns to become even more horrifying and convincing. While suppliers once tried to broaden the appeal of their products by marketing them for the zombie apocalypse (some retailers even have a “Zombie Defense” section), that pretense now feels unnecessary. The plot has changed. Replace “zombie” with “fascist” and it’s easy to imagine how quickly doomsday prepping could go mainstream.

And we’re already well on our way. Goop’s 2016 “Ridiculous, But Awesome” Gift Guide features, among other extravagances, the Jetpack Bag, an “all-in-one, 72-hour survival pack.” It retails for $399, and suggests Gwyneth already has a beautifully appointed Bug Out chalet all stocked up in a cozy tax haven. The subscription model has arrived in the prep community as well, with the Apocabox, which is like Birchbox but for the End of Days. Outdoor retailers have entered the survival market and our tech gentry are prepping in their own grand fashion, commissioning floating cities and space colonies. The only difference between these billion-dollar Bug Outs and my homemade BOB is the scale of investment. The rich and powerful have always been allowed to indulge in paranoia. They have panic rooms, emergency protocols, private security, and nobody calls them crazy. I have Amazon Prime.

But billionaire or freelance writer, we’ve all got something to lose, and even sticking to the bare necessities, Bugging Out is pricey. To streamline things, remember the objective (72 hours of survival), and focus on your individual needs and abilities. In order to properly plan my Bug Out, I began documenting my day to day. Unsurprisingly, it turns out I rely on a vast constellation of goods and services that will probably be difficult to access while sleeping in a van behind a bombed-out Papa John’s.

Beyond staples like light, food, and potable water are forgotten luxuries like toilet paper, socks, and soap. The busy work we outsource to technology—GPS, timekeeping, communication—has to get done some other way, which means digging up and dusting off maps and compasses, keeping cash and coins on hand. There are medications and chemical dependencies to be considered. Waste must be managed and contained. Personal hygiene might feel non-essential, but when the lights go out, we are more vulnerable to injury and infection. Above all, every guidebook, forum and blog I’ve consulted says: be prepared to start a fire. In this case, redundancies—lighters, all-weather matches, fuel cubes, other sparks and accelerants—are necessities, as fire is an all-powerful resource, capable of boiling water, sterilizing instruments, warming bodies, and calming distressed souls.

The rich and powerful have panic rooms, emergency protocols, private security, and nobody calls them crazy. I have Amazon Prime.

Sitting in my apartment and daydreaming about disaster, I realized I’d never truly know what I’d miss until I was out there roughing it, so I decided to take my BOB for a test drive. My Bug Out location was a seaside state park about 45 minutes north. I printed out an evacuation plan and invited my girlfriend and the dog, surprised when both agreed to come along.

Things did not go smoothly. Unexpected traffic tested nerves and fuel reserves, nearly resulting in a dry tank. While the plan had been to go phoneless, the gas station search had us scrambling back to the grid’s robotic directives after just a few miles off the highway as we twisted through back roads, the dog growing increasingly carsick. When we finally reached the Bug Out location it was beautiful but cold, the sand frozen to a lunar consistency. Tossed to the elements, we would not have lasted anything close to three hours.

Even my pack was a disappointment, and definitely too bulky. It represented my only remaining possessions, yet I couldn’t wait to shuck it off my shoulders. While the sun was dazzling on the waves, soon my face began to burn. I checked the BOB: no SPF, not even a tube of lip balm. In a true Bug Out I’d be doomed to a feral bronzing, a drifter’s tan the color of moose jerky. Luckily, society still beckoned, and so I cursed the great outdoors and the forces conspiring against me before adding sunscreen to my shopping list, to be purchased on our return to what currently passes for civilization.



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About The Author

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Joseph Doyle is an active entrepreneur and life coach with a multi million property portfolio and advertising and marketing agency boosting large international brands. Contact Joseph at www.digilab.ie