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How much ammo in your bug out bag?

ammoI have always believed that when it comes to bugging out, (click the link to learn about when it’s time to bug out) speed is your friend. I have written articles in the past stressing the need to keep your Bug out bag/Get home bag, light weight. The faster you get to your destination, the safer you will be.

When it comes to bags, you may have heard of the old adage, ounces = pounds, pounds = pain. Because of this, I tell folks to strip away a lot of the unnecessary accessories they have packed in their BOB. This includes bulk ammunition. Sometimes this notion has be met with a little opposition.

Many preppers out there believe that being prepared also means being able to adequately defend themselves. They argue that it stands to reason that they may find themselves in a situation where they need to be armed with the ability to adequately fight back. Hence they need plenty of ammo. And in some cases, I certainly agree.

But I also believe that bugging out with an ammo stockpile could, in many situations, cause you more harm than good.


Let me explain.

Travel Light

The main purpose of your bag, be it a Go bag, Get Home bag, Bug Out Bag, etc  is to be able to move safely and efficiently out of a danger zone. In a SHTF situation, you are most vulnerable while on the move. And I’m not talking about roving bands of marauders that so many people envision. I’m talking about being susceptible to the elements, to fatigue, to stress; being vulnerable to the unknown. Those will most likely be your enemies early on.

At home (or bug out location) you are not as exposed. You will hopefully feel safer and more secure in familiar surroundings. The more rapidly you can get there, the better off (and safer) you will be. And the less you are packing around, the faster and further you can move. (On foot.) Hence carrying less ammo makes for much easier travel.

A bullet by itself does not weigh much. But the more you carry, the heavier and bulkier it becomes. Below is a chart giving you an idea of how much bulk ammo weighs. As you can see, carrying 300 plus rounds of 12 gauge or 5.56 ammo could easily add 10-28 pounds of weight to your bag. (Magazines add weight too!) Carrying bulk ammo isn’t exactly quiet, isn’t always easy to transport, and is going to slow you down. In my opinion, it is totally unnecessary.

Why is it unnecessary?


Stay hidden and out of sight

During a SHTF event, you want to avoid open confrontation and conflict if possible. If there is danger up ahead, speed and stealth will be your biggest allies. No one ever died by sneaking out unseen….unheard. The added bulk of excess ammo only hinders this.

My son plays a video game called “The Last of Us”. It is a video game in a post-apocalyptic setting where you must use your brains to survive a zombie type outbreak. (Although they are not zombies). I played the game some with my son. What I liked about this game is that in many situations, you are better served by avoiding combat and instead using stealth and speed to escape. Many times direct confrontation leads to you and/or your companion being injured or killed.

This is absolutely true in real life in a SHTF scenario. The difference being is that in real life, you do NOT get to restart from your last saved game.

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Your best bet is to travel unobserved, or at least unnoticed. Here is a link to a great article on blending in during SHTF. So if your plan is to avoid armed conflict as much as possible, the need to carry large amounts of ammunition is reduced.

Protracted gunfights not realistic

As I have said in previous articles, thanks to Hollywood, so many people have an unrealistic view of what a gun fight is really like. Arnold and Stallone might use thousands of rounds and dozens of explosions to take down their enemies, but in real life situations, the majority of gun fights (outside of protracted military engagements) are not that way. Most last between 3-10 seconds and less than 10 rounds are fired.

America’s most famous gun fight, the Shootout at the Ok Corral, lasted about 30 seconds and had 31 rounds fired by the 9 people involved.  None of them were carrying hundreds of rounds of ammo, and the Earps knew they were headed to a potential gun fight!

You can point to the bank robbery shootout in North Hollywood. Sure, it lasted 44 minutes and almost 2000 rounds were fired. But that was an anomaly. It made worldwide news because it was so unusual.

More than half the rounds fired came from the robbers themselves. Around 750 rounds or so were fired from the police. However, those came from over 300 different officers that were on the scene.

More importantly, what did the civilians in the area do? They took cover and then got the Hell outta Dodge!

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My point is that most shoot outs do not last very long, do not have many rounds fired, and might be avoided all together. If you are bugging out and find yourself in a gun fight, you should be looking for an avenue of escape as opposed to going toe to toe with an unknown number of armed assailants. The BEST way to survive potentially violent conflict is to avoid it.

I would absolutely urge everyone that the use of deadly force should be used ONLY as a last resort when you have NO other options. You are better served with speed and stealth than with bullets! You should know my favorite saying by now: “Avoiding conflict is a primary goal, your guns are the backup plan!”

So how much ammo should you have on you during a Bug Out situation?

First let me state that there is no real right or wrong answer to this question. Everyone’s situation is different. There are hundreds upon hundreds of potential variables that could come into play in a SHTF scenario. So instead of answering this question directly, I want to give you some food for thought. Here are some things to keep in mind when trying to decide how much ammo to pack along.

Where you heading?

First, are you bugging out for your Bug Out Location (BOL)? If so, I would already have the majority of your ammo supplies at your BOL if possible. (For me, I have found a way to store my bulk ammo supplies on my homestead. Click the link for details.) That way, when bugging out to your BOL, you could probably just carry a loaded magazine or two for self-defense.


If you are bugging out to parts unknown, factors for ammo will certainly change. Most every prepper with any sort of intelligence will tell you that bugging out into the unknown is the last thing you want to do. But someday, something might happen in which you have no other choice but to go.

At this point, you have to consider not just ammo, but also what type(s) of firearms you plan to bring along.

I find it somewhat amusing when I see some preppers who plan on bugging out with multiple firearms and hundreds of rounds of ammo. I always ask them, “Do you need that many rounds to bug out?”

On the battlefield, US soldiers typically deploy with 7, 30 round magazines for their battle rifle. That’s 210 rounds (I’m not counting side arm rounds, and other types of specialty ordnance) for combat deployments. Keep in mind that this number can change based upon other factors such as the unit SOP and mission profile, etc. But as a general rule, 210 rounds for their primary rifle.

So if you are bugging out to get out of harm’s way, do you need 300 or even more rounds on your person? Are you bugging out to Afghanistan? This shouldn’t be a combat deployment! If it is, you bugged out WAY too late. Or you have a terrible BOL!

In an “bugging out into the unknown” situation, I would probably look at carrying something like a .22 rifle. Great for hunting small game, you could feasibly carry hundreds and hundreds of rounds of ammo with you. (1000 rounds is about 7 lbs.) And in a pinch, you could use .22 rounds for defense. It’s not the best choice. But it is better than nothing.

Yes, an AR, AK, or 12 gauge shotgun would be more effective as a defensive weapon in a SHTF event. But when you start to factor in the weight of the weapon and ammo, (1000 rounds of 9mm is about 25 lbs. 1000 rounds of .223 would be 25 lbs. 1000 rounds of 7.62 would be over 36 lbs. And 12 gauge…almost 96 lbs for 1000 rounds!) you can see that you can carry A LOT more .22 ammo than anything else.

For the record, I am not advocating packing 1000 rounds. I’m merely illustrating a point that .22 ammo is much lighter and smaller.

How you getting there?

If you are bugging out in your vehicle, you can obviously carry a great deal more ammo than you could on foot. But should you?

What if you have to bug out from your home and have just a few moments to grab some items before you have to leave? You would be better served using that time to load up supplies like water, food, shelter, clothing, etc.

In addition, if you have bulk ammo in your vehicle when bugging out, could that space be better utilized being filled with the aforementioned necessities? I promise you, in an SHTF situation, you will use food, water, clothing, etc MUCH more than you will bullets! If not, you are TERRIBLE at OpSec and a piss-poor prepper!!

I know there will be some folks that will disagree with this sentiment. And to them I say “To each his own”. But for me, if there is ever a time that I have to bug out, regardless of where I’m heading, I plan on moving fast, light, and hopefully unseen!

No nation ever prospered from prolonged warfare.
–Sun Tzu


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Stay safe out there!

For more info on ammo, check out these articles:

Threats to your ammo storage and what you can do about it

What you need to know about stockpiling ammo

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12 Responses to How much ammo in your bug out bag?

  • My bug out weapons are a Keltec PMR 30 and A CMR 30. 12 loaded mags that can be used in either. 22 mags have plenty of power and the PMR 30 is 19 oz loaded with 31 rounds. The CMR 30 weighs 3.8 pounds empty, and about 4.2 pounds loaded with 31 rounds. I prefer this over an AR7. I do like the AR7 but its not worth the difference in weight. Ruger now makes a 10-22 breakdown lite at 4.5 pounds for those that want high capacity mags and light weight.

  • I liked this alot im starting a bob from scratch i have tools knives hatchet tarps paracord fire starter even flint and steel kit my side arm 9mm amd my ar 15 but always kinda was like hmm how many mags after reading this 2 or 3 is sufficient

  • I just keep 1 extra Glock 17 loaded mag in Bug out bag but I have different bag dedicated to guns and ammo. Plus I keep a plate carrier loaded with 3 30rd AR mags and 3 17rd pistol mags.

  • I was wondering about the AR-7 if it has a thread on the barrel for a suppressor? There has been talk that a few of the anti-suppressor laws will be changed/removed which might make it better for the stealth side of things. Make less noise when hunting game or defending your bol

    • I know there is a barrel you can purchase that is threaded for a suppressor…I’m thinking they will fit regardless of the manufacturer of the AR 7.

  • This is an outstanding article James. Well done! As someone who has winter thru-hiked the 2100+ mile Appalachian Trail, weight is a huge issue, one that many people can’t appreciate until they throw 50# on their back and hoof a distance up and down hilly or mountainous terrain. Pare ounces from the bag and the pounds will take care of themselves. Lighter is better.

    • Thank you. If anyone would know about long term hiking and camping, it would most certainly be you! You must have a wealth of knowledge on this!!

  • Here is a good review on the rifle we have been discussing…in case you might be interested.

  • Re: Henry AR-7 Survival Rifle…nice weapon. Compact. Lightweight. Simple. Accurate. Reliable. And fun! Owing to the absence of a forestock/forearm, it took just a little getting used to, but I found it to be intuitive and quite easy to learn to shoot reasonably well. COMMON SENSE CAUTION: do your research and shop very carefully for any aftermarket equipment including high-capacity magazines, because there are some out there that just will not function properly (lesson learned: two OEM 8-round mags that work reliably are infinitely better than one aftermarket 15-round mag that doesn’t). Also, although the weapon is advertised to be somewhat weather/water resistant (which it is), try not to drop it in the lake, not even when taken down and properly stowed in its elegantly-designed stock with the butt cap securely in place. If there’s any chance of it being immersed in water, wrap the butt cap seam with tape to further help keep water out. Enjoy!

  • Thanks guys.

    Yep…I’ve already gotten an email or two from folks who plan on going “Full combat load” with hundreds of rounds of ammo. I just have to shake my head. “Rambo” is entertainment, not a field guide/how to manual to the Apocalypse.

    I have a small .22 pistol. But the Henry Survival rifle is something that has caught my eye and now on my wish list.

  • Indeed, this question seems to be one for the ages. For years now, no matter how many other article titles may arrive in my mailbox, the one I always read first begins with “How Much Ammo…” for one set of circumstances or another. Just can’t help myself. Thanks for your well-considered and well-stated perspective and for providing solid supporting data, including the graphic displaying the weights of various types and amounts of ammo.

  • Interesting points about ammo loads for BoBs. You’ll probably get heat from folks would envision bugging out with full battle loads. Avoiding contact sounds safer and faster. (It’s not always possible, of course.) To add to your point about weight, there’s the weight of the rifle itself. ARs and AKs don’t tend to be light. (7lbs?) and you’d have to carry that too. An AR-7 (Henry Survival Rifle) weighs 3.5 lbs. So, you could carry a rifle and 200 rounds for just under 5 lbs. Of course, some will snort at the notion of an AR-7 and .22lr as “good” self-defense. Sure, a AR-15 would outperform an AR-7, head to head. But, as you were outlining, if the goal is to out-run, not out-gun, a 22lr could deter and discourage would-be attackers more than lay them flat. Running with an additional 4.5 lbs of weapon/ammo sounds better than running with an added 10 lbs.

    Now, it seems like time to shop for an AR-7. 🙂

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