Using the 80/20 Rule To Prep Smarter, Cheaper, Faster & Better

I don’t know about you but I’m what the French would call “lazy”.

However, I like to think of myself as “efficient”.

By which I mean to say, I prefer to do the least amount of work for the most amount of return. Smarter people than me refer to this as the Pareto Principle a.k.a. The 80/20 Rule.

I don’t know if you read bolded words in a big, booming voice in your head but that’s how I meant it.

What is the 80/20 Rule?

The 80/20 Rule states: You should aim to achieve 80% of the results with 20% of the work but the last 20% will take 80% of the work.

For example, let’s say that building a basic shelter, like a lean-to, takes you 30 minutes to set up. But making sure that it’s level, properly insulated, fully weatherproof, has a comfy pine straw floor, etc takes you another 2 1/2 hours. What you built in half an hour was basically all you needed but making it perfect is what took up ~80% of the time. Here is a quick example:


How Can The 80/20 Rule Help Me Survive?

I know, I know. You came here to learn about bug out bags and survival skills, not principles and rules and such. But bear with me, I’m going somewhere with this.

We can apply the 80/20 Rule to bug out bags as well.

If you’re on this site, you probably already know how important bug out bags are and why you need them. But raise your hand if you actually have one.

Now look up and see if your hand is raised. If not, read on. If it is, you can jump down to the Weight section.

Let’s start with what to pack.

Try to bring the minimum you need instead of the maximum you can carry

What to Pack

For a lot of people just getting into prepping, putting together their bug out bag is kind of overwhelming. Hell, I wrote a BOB checklist that had almost 100 items on it! And that still wasn’t everything.

Yes, you can go buy a $200 pack and drop another $500 in gear. And it would be totally worth it. But did you know that you can get 80% of the way there and 1107% more prepared than you already are without spending a dime?

If you’re like most people, you’ve got most of the supplies you need to survive already lying around your house. Because you’re surviving right now.

All you’ve got to do is put all that stuff in a bag.

Here’s a very basic breakdown of how this fits the Pareto Principle:

80% – Easy stuff you already own

  • Socks
  • Underwear
  • Shirts
  • Pants
  • Food
  • Water
  • First aid supplies (Click HERE to learn how to make your Bug Out First Aid Kit)
  • Medications
  • Flashlight (Check out our comprehensive Flashlight Guide HERE)
  • Lighter/Matches
  • Cordage (paracord is optimal but not everyone has some in their junk drawer)
  • Comfortable shoes
  • Pocket knife
  • Duct tape
  • Floss
  • Super glue
  • Tinfoil
  • Trash bags
  • Ziploc bags
  • Etc

20% – Need to buy

Sure, you’ll probably need to buy some items to be fully prepared but I bet you can survive for a while just on what you can put together in 30 minutes from what you already have.


Here is an article covering this topic specifically (click here to see it), but I will summarize here to make it easy on you.

bug out bag

A lighter kit will let you travel further and faster before exhaustion sets in.

Why should you care about your bug out bag weight?

  1. The weight of your pack is one of the main factors determining how far and at what speed you’re able to travel.
  2. A heavy BOB will cause you to burn more energy and sweat more, thus requiring more food and water.
  3. And when you’re tired and sore from lugging that thing across Kingdom Come, your morale plummets.

Bug Out Bag Interactive Packing List

Click on the button now to make your bug out bag list and see how much it will weigh!

But there are some very easy tricks you can do to get rid of a lot of that weight while still keeping 80% of the functionality.

First, comfortable shoes are a must when bugging out. But they don’t do much good if they aren’t on your feet. So either put them on or toss them but don’t take up precious space and weight with a pair of “just in case” hiking boots.

Second, water is important. But you don’t need to bring a week’s worth with you. Knowing how to find and purify water is an essential skill you should know anyways.  If you want to learn how, just Click HERE Now.

A bottle (16 ounces) of water clocks in at 1.05 pounds. So if you’re able to get rid of a spare bottle, you’ve just shaved a significant amount of weight off.

Keep a bottle or two with you (unless you don’t plan on being around a water source for a while) and ditch the rest.

long term water storage

Water is HEAVY! Bring a little and plan on foraging on the way.
Image credit Lisa Risager on flickr.

Third, while food is important, unless you’ve already gone through your original supplies and are forced to scavenge, stay away from cans.

The goal isn’t to have as much food as possible, it’s to have as many calories as possible.

Basically the opposite of your diet.

So focus on small foods that keep well and are high in calories (and protein, if possible). Things like:

  • Trail mix (there are some good recipes here)
  • Protein bars – I like these, they taste awesome and are long lasting.  I usually keep one in my EDC bag for a snack when I am on the run but they are well suited for a bug out bag also.
  • Coast Guard Survival Rations – These ones taste good and are very filling
  • MREs – Stands for “Meals Ready To Eat”, basically Army rations

bug out bag

MREs are light and provide plenty of energy when on the move

Fourth is shelter. If you plan on bugging out in a non-urban environment, shelter is pretty important.

There are two categories to focus on when cutting your shelter weight; what you’ve got and what it’s made out of. And what you can change or leave behind will be based very heavily (pun intended) on your specific situation.

For example, I live in a very hot, humid area. If I had to bug out, chances are low that I’d need a thick sleeping bag but they’re pretty high that I’d need something to keep the rain away.

So in my instance, I decided to ditch the typical tent and sleeping bag and instead went with a lightweight hammock and rainfly.

I’ve got a comfortable place to sleep and something to keep me dry (plus the hammock has mosquito netting which is essential in my region). And it all weighs less than 3 pounds.

bug-out hammock

Click On The Image to learn how to choose the right hammock for bugging out

So to lighten your load, you either need to switch out what you’re carrying, like trading a tent for a tarp or sleeping bag for a yoga mat, or buy lighter equipment.

There are “ultralight” tents and sleeping bags that weigh next to nothing but perform just as well, if not better, than their portly cousins.

If you go this route, make sure you choose your gear carefully, ultralight equipment can cost upwards of ten times the price of regular gear!

best lightweight tent

Click on the picture to see how to choose the right ultralight tent


No, not the final frontier, I’m talking about room in your bag.

If you followed all the rules from the weight section, you should have quite a bit more room for other essential items.

Take a look at the largest items in your bug out bag and ask yourself if you really need them or if there is a smaller alternative.

Here are a few quick tips:

  1. Wrap duct tape around a pencil or your water bottle so you don’t have to carry a whole roll.
  2. Remove items from packaging, if possible.
  3. Attach your flashlight and knife to the outside of your bag (especially if your backpack has MOLLE webbing). This will free up space and make them easier to deploy in a hurry.

Now that you’ve cleaned out the excess, don’t go throwing more crap in there just because you can.

Leaving a bit of space might be a good idea, especially if you plan on scavenging along the way.

Personally, I would use that extra room for more socks and underwear.

You may laugh at that but let me tell you from experience, you do not want to walk numerous miles a day, for multiple days, without a change of socks. Or undies.

Plus they’re light, have a number of uses, and disposable if you find a cute snow globe at the gift shop.


Wrap It Up

So that’s the 80/20 rule and some ways you can use it to improve your preparedness. Once you get used to thinking this way, you will see you will be able to apply it to nearly any aspect of life to get the maximum results with the minimum effort!

Your Thoughts?

Did you learn anything new? Were you able to apply any of these to your bug out bag? Got some more tips to add on optimizing your prepping?

Let us know in the Comments Section below, thanks!

About the Author

Evan Michaels is the chief editor at Know Prepare Survive. When he’s not rambling about survival skills and bug out bags, he can be found hiking (or, as it’s called in Florida, walking), fishing, and just generally being a cool dude.

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