When building bug out bags for your family, most experts recommend that each person in your family have their own survival kit in case you need to bug out. That goes for kids too.
Of course, you probably aren’t going to pack a kid’s bug out bag quite like your personal bug out bag. Depending on your child’s age, they may not be ready for things like big survival knives or maybe even starting fires.
But they should have a bag with a few items that would keep them safe long enough for you to find them, or seek rescue from another party.
So how should you build a survival kit for your children?
Step 1: The Bag
The same principles of bug out bags for adults can be applied to kids as well. Get a bag that fits well and can be carried for long distances, and keep the weight down. Children don’t take to stress as well as adults, and a heavy bag will likely have them complaining while they’re with you, or potentially leaving it behind if they get separated and don’t want to carry it.
In most instances, any decent book bag for school or child’s hiking pack will be acceptable here. A kid’s bag should not have the heavy strain of extra gear that a normal adult bag might have, and is likely to have a lot less in the way of pointy objects that tend to tear a normal bag. Children are also much smaller, and more likely to stick to established trails, so the snags of heavy bushwhacking are also greatly reduced.
Standard non-military packs like this are also usually brightly colored, which will be good for step 2.
Step 2: Rescue Gear
Chances are your children are not survival experts and probably lack the skill to spend any extended period of time alone in the wilderness without an adult present. Their primary focus in a survival situation is likely to be finding you or another adult. To that end, the most important gear for a child survival kit is going to be that which creates the greatest chances of being found.
Emergency whistles, small mirrors, and/or trail marking supplies such as chalk or brightly colored ribbon (and the skills to use them) are of primary importance.
A flashlight, particularly one with multiple modes such as ability to strobe, are also very handy. A proper flashlight is good for any survival kit, but one that can be seen from longer distances greatly improve the chances of getting found.
Step 3: Shelter and Warmth
If your child does get stuck out in the wilderness at night, they need to have some way to duck the elements and stay warm. Most kids, however, aren’t well equipped to set up a tent on their own, and the added weight is probably too much weight for their pack. So how do you make sure your child gets out of the elements and stays warm?
The first and easiest thing to put in your child’s kit is some extra warm clothing. Light weight thermal underwear is a great option for adding warmth without a whole lot of extra weight to the bag. Aside from pure winter survival, thermal underwear and a decent coat and pants should keep your child warm enough to survival a slightly chilly fall or spring. Extra socks are also important here. The need for good, dry socks is important for children and adults, but having an extra pair to throw on at night means warm feet, which is probably half the battle of keeping your child warm.
A rain poncho is also another great addition to their bag. Small and lightweight, it’s a quick and easy way to get some shelter from the rain while trying to affect rescue. In a pinch, it could also be strung up as a very tiny tent.
My main recommended shelter for kids would be a tarp and paracord. With the cord tied between two trees and the tarp draped over it, you get a quick makeshift tent without the weight of a normal tent with poles, or the effort of having to slide poles through tiny loops in the dark or cold. A tarp could be wrapped around the body and huddled under (like the poncho) for a mini-quick-tent if all else fails. This takes some skill, and thus should be practiced from time to time before the skill is needed.
Emergency space blankets are also great here. They’re good for some quick warmth in an emergency and weigh next to nothing. One of these should be in every survival kit – adult or child.
Step 4: Water
As a basic survival need for all, water should be a high priority for any kit. Though it’s not likely your child will be able to carry a gallon or more of water at a time, they should be able to have a few ways of capturing, disinfecting, and carrying water.
Aside from always keeping a standard water bottle from the convenience store in the bag, a commercial water bottle with filter will allow the child to quickly gather water from a water source and allow the filter to decontaminate the water as best possible. In addition, a quick emergency water filter like a LifeStraw will work for drinking water straight out of a stream or pond without needing to wait.
We do not advise any sort of chemical system to disinfect water, as children are less apt to follow proper dosing instruction.
Step 5: Food
Children don’t react as well to hunger as adults, and thus have a distinct need for food in a bug out bag, even one that may only be needed for 24 hours. Children are also impatient, and thus need quick and easy food that doesn’t require any preparation.
With those qualities in mind, here are a few suggested items for survival food in your child’s survival kit:
Peanut Butter (w/ Spoon)
Powdered Juice Mix
Most of these items I wouldn’t normally recommend in an adult pack because they are extra weight for no real benefit other than morale. But for a child, morale problems can be deadly for children in the woods, particularly if they are alone, scared, and tired.
Step 6: Morale
Like I mentioned above, keeping your child happy (as could be in a survival situation) can be of crucial importance. Pack small items of little weight that will keep your child entertained such as a small game, stuffed animal, or favorite toy. Pictures of your family, family pet, and home can also give your child even a small sense that they are not alone.
Step 7: Optional Equipment
Here’s where you know your child best. Depending on their age, maturity, and skill level – all sorts of options are on the table. If you trust them to carry a sharp blade, or light a fire – then add those items in. But only if they have the knowledge to use those items, otherwise leave those to adult packs.
Your child’s pack isn’t like a normal survival kit. While adult bags contain many similar items, we adults tend to gravitate towards bigger goals and not just surviving the wild, but living and potentially thriving in it. It is unlikely that your child will end up in a “Lord of the Flies” situation where there are a bunch of children recreating society long term…they just need to make it until you or another adult can find them and (hopefully) assist in their survival until you can get to them.
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