I'd like to address the requirements for a Early Baby Boomer’s bug out bag. The word “emergency” has a completely different meaning for those of us who are over 60 and can’t move fast, can’t climb stairs and can’t get up once we get down on the ground! Needless to say, we can’t pack 100 pounds on our back, nor can we lift 50 pounds from the rear of the car. But survival is still important. My three sisters and I were born during the Korean War era, were raised on what I call a post-WWII and Great Depression farm in the Midwest in rather poor conditions. We "did without" a lot back then and we know we can do it again if needed. As you read through this, you may think that it would take you a fortune to outfit yourself. But we have found almost all of these items at thrift stores and garage sales. It takes time, but it can be done.
Pick a backpack that has thick padding on the shoulder straps and a padded waist. When you try it on, make sure no metal touches your body. You will want a bag with at least 2 outside pockets. Why? Because you can easily reach/find the things you may need most. Pack safety pins in 3 sizes in the event the zippers break.
Front compartment is for medications. You need to pack a 3-month supply. Take them out of the containers and put them in small zip-lock bags. Most hobby stores sell jewelry-sized bags that are 3x5” or 4x6”. Use a product called Un-du to remove the prescription label from the bottle. Allow it to completely dry, then glue or tape it to the zip-lock bag. Your meds will stay dry, take up less space and pack more easily. Tailor the size of the bag to the quantity of pills you have.
Purchase an over-the-counter inhaler such as Primatene mist just in case you have an allergic reaction to something and become unable to breathe. Pack a 4oz (or larger) baggie of corn starch. This will dry moisture that may accumulate in the groin area and help keep skin from becoming raw from rubbing or irritation.
My youngest sister used to be a highway flagger in a remote mountain area with no port-a-potties. She literally sewed a flexible funnel into her jeans, used duct tape to attach flexible tubing that ran down the side of her leg and had a portable restroom whenever she needed it. I swear this is a true story. I keep telling her she needs to manufacture a line of jeans, but she thinks they wouldn’t sell. In the meantime, you could rig your own.
Pack baking soda in a zip baggie as it can be used as toothpaste when mixed with water. This same paste can be used to relieve mosquito bites, poison ivy, bee stings and hemorrhoids. Adding 1 tablespoon in water and drinking can help with bladder infection and sore throats. Glucose tabs are a quick method to raise blood sugars when you cannot eat on a proper schedule. You can find them behind the counter at most pharmacies. Do not forget to pack stool softeners. No eating, limited water and over 55 create a whole new set of problems.
Many older individuals need to pack Depends. Even if you do not need them now, lifting and carrying a heavy load may cause a weakened bladder to present problems in the future. If you don’t use them, depends can be cut up and used as washing pads, first aid pads, and even stacked together and used as a pillow. Hemorrhoid medicine can also be used to reduce swelling of acne breakout, treat cold sores near your mouth (not on or in your mouth), My second sister puts Vicks VapoRub just below her nose and ties an old farmer’s handkerchief up over her nose when we go out on the ATV on dusty roads. She also does this at night to sleep. She swears it keeps her allergies down by keeping the pollens out of her nose. But Vicks can also be used on jock itch or other fungal rashes on the body such as nail fungus.
A personal family favorite that we all use is a product called Quadriderm. You can’t buy it in the US, but it’s available online. We first picked it up on vacation in Mexico. It’s an anti-itch cream that works perfect for any number of issues that older people incur due to drying skin, itchy feet, okay, any are of the body. Just rub a small amount on and in about 5 minutes, the itch is gone. It is much more effective than any over-the-counter or prescription corticosteroid available in the US.
Butterfly bandages are best for the elderly. You skin is looser and you can easily pinch it together and put the bandage across the top. Go to your local pet store and buy a jar of Kwik-Stop. It is a yellow powder that can safely be used on humans and stops the bleeding – for external use only on minor cuts. (Mom was a RN and used on us kids when we were growing up in the 1950s.) Whenever you go to physical therapy or to donate blood, they give you those bright colored stretch things. Pack those. They will make a useful tourniquet. I like screw-lock carabiners to attach a variety of bags to my backpack. I backpacked across Europe when I was 55 and trust me, you can get a ton of stuff into clip on bags. My preference is the Eagle Creek Pack-It Wallaby. That holds enough toiletries to last two months.
When selecting a tent, make sure the center is at least 42” as you will need to be able to dress inside (we are the modest generation after all). Make sure that when you put your backpack next to the tent wall that water doesn’t leak through. You will also want screened windows on at least 2 sides of the tent in order to get a breeze on a hot night. You are probably going to want something to help you get up. Telescoping walking poles are great as you can shorten them to assist with getting up, lengthen them for walking.
Because aging slows down the body’s blood flow, we tend to get colder than most, so pick a sleeping bag the will keep you warm to -20 degrees. A Therm-a-Rest pad will keep the cold off the ground away from you and it only adds a couple of pounds to your pack weight. It will self-inflate to a certain point, but you can also blow it up a bit more if needed. Most of us at this age have back problems. Therm-a-rest also makes a nice chair that is extremely lightweight. No need for the inserts, but they can double as pillows at night.
Thermacare heat wraps would be another necessity. They last up to 8 house and can provide great relief for arthritis victims.
When we were kids, we didn’t have much in the way of clothing. Easy to do again with the right stuff. You need two pairs of pants, one lightweight, and one heavy duty. The more pockets the better. Add a pair of waterproof over pants. Pack two long sleeved shirts – I like Columbia’s insect blocker shirts. They also have a line of sun protection clothes. Pack three T-shirts. Years ago, my sisters and I decided that the whole underwear thing was a marketing conspiracy and useless. But at our age, a good sports bra is necessary. The rest is “commando” – which certainly makes space for other essentials in our packs. Compression stuff sacks will give you even more room and keep your clothes dry.
SmartWool socks are great as they are much thinner than the old wool socks, but will keep your feet just as warm. Use silk liners if you want a smoother feel and less chance of blisters. Take care of your feet. Pack moleskin (3” x 4” sheets). It can be cut to any size and used to pad areas of your shoes/boots that cause friction against your feet. Take an ace bandage to wrap sore knees, elbows, wrists or ankles.
Food. Well, if you are like me, you love to eat. But food equals weight and since we can’t pack that much weight, just think back to when you were a kid. Things that are light weight but fill you up. Pasta. Chicken noodle soup – Lipton makes dry packages. Instant macaroni and cheese (just add water). Pack iodine tablets to purify your water. A kettle to boil water in and make your soup. Jerky will give you protein and is lightweight. Packages of tuna, Powerbars, small cans of chicken, individual packages of dry mashed potatoes. Anything that turns into food when water is added. One pan, one spoon, and a non-freezing canteen. (Yes, the CamelBaks are great, but plastic can break.) To me, the most important thing is going to be water. So a backpacking filtration system and a collapsible water bag are first to go into my backpack. My grandmother lived on fried dandelion greens during the war, but she had access to lard on the farm. I’ve packed powdered butter that will turn to “grease” when water is added.
Contrary to other advice, I would pick a Swiss Army knife that is easy to open and has a screwdriver, can opener, lots of tools, and a really good knife. Also pack small tools that might work to repair eyeglasses, etc. Pack hard cases for readers, glasses, hearing aids. Because my eyes are failing, I need a good light. I found the OttLite mini flip lite is great. If you have room, add a solar charger, as this requires three AAA batteries. [JWR Adds: An elastic strap can be used to turn an OttLite into a headlamp. But in my experience, a purpose-built headlamp such as a Petzl works better.]
I’ve packed a flask of vodka – multiple purposes! Consider duct tape and flex trash bags. You can make anything waterproof! And if traveling with a group, you can also fashion a private “restroom” or place to change your clothes. You can use a flex bag to cover your backpack and keep it dry. You can pack clothes and other items inside tyvek bags (just use priority mail envelopes from the post office.) Store food inside these bags, seal them shut – nothing will get to the food.
One of the best tools I ever had was a clever rotary awl made by my grandfather. He drilled a hole in a rectangular block of wood then glued the end of a drill bit down into it. Then he ground the tip of the drill bit into a razor sharp point. Works as a hand drill and awl and as light as can be. He would tell me to pack leather needles, and leather lacing. You can sew anything. Pack a good pair of leather gloves. Look for leather welding gloves that are good to 400 degrees. 100’ of parachute cord could come in handy for any number of situations.
I found a belt that has a zipper on the inside of the back of it to hide money. I thought that was great. Pacsafe makes a variety of fanny packs that can’t be slashed into and can be locked to almost anything. The slashsafe will hold my passport, driver's license, inhaler and medications as well as jewelry when I travel.
Follow the normal guides for everything else including hunting, fishing, cooking, etc. such as lightweight camp stove, waterproof matches. What I’ve written here are additional considerations for those of us who are baby boomers. Don’t pack more than you can carry comfortably. If you hurt your back, you won’t be going anywhere. Food, water, warm clothes and then add to that.
I know that I can’t run as fast as I used to run, I can’t hike as far as I once did, I can’t carry as much weight as I did just five years ago. But that doesn’t need to stop me from being prepared for the future. It doesn’t mean that I have to give up. Life has been a grand adventure and I don’t plan to stop just yet!