Most of us are very proud of our first bug out bags. Whether you’re brand new and don’t own a backpack or just about ready to level up from ‘newbie prepper,’ you need to know if your BOB is legal. Simply put, you can carry a bug out bag in a suspicious or outright illegal manner. I went digging to see if you can get stopped just for owning a BOB. You should know the answer before you take yours out of the house.
Can you get stopped carrying a bug out bag? The short answer is no. You won’t be arrested for carrying a BOB. However, the longer answer is that there are other reasons you can be stopped and searched. If you have illegal items, you might get ticketed, detained, or arrested for them.
Calling Attention to Yourself
Always check the local laws when placing weapons inside your bug out bag. If you’re not sure what to pack and what to skip, you can pick up a fully stocked Bug Out Bag like my favorite pre-made urban survival bag from Amazon. Until you’re familiar with your local laws, prefabricated BOBs are a great solution. Plus, a pre-packed bag lets you prepare instantly instead of collection your own items over time. Ready-made bags ideal for new preppers.
The bag itself isn’t the issue. Walking around a large city dressed like you might be homeless or acting aggressive and violent is a great way to get stopped. Sometimes it’s all about presentation. Police need a reason to stop you and a better reason to search you. Drawing attention and alarming people is a pretty good justification. Shoot for blending in better if you’re openly carrying the bag on your back.
We won’t get into abuses of that power here. Suffice it to say, more often than not, officers won’t look twice at your BOB or ask to see inside it. If they’re preppers themselves and want to chat about survival, they may ask as a genuine conversation starter. In that case, you could make a friend.
Being the person who immediately starts in on an obnoxious tirade about Miranda Rights and how much you know about police limitations is a lousy plan. Resisting, inciting, and otherwise tormenting the police is just stupid. Plus, it looks terrible if you do go to court. If things go wrong, you want to look sparkling clean on the official record.
It’s Legal to Prep
As a general rule, a bug out bag shouldn’t have anything inside that will get you into trouble. If you’ve checked your local laws and packed accordingly, you’re okay. The police will probably leave you alone.
A good bug out bag is essentially a beyond basic version of camping gear, whether it’s for urban, rural or wildlands use. There’s no reason why, under normal circumstances, you’d have to justify carrying this in your car or having it at home. Lots of people prepare for emergencies.
Unless you are hoarding, carrying illegal items, or making a menace of yourself, your emergency preparedness plans are just practicing an above-average sense of caution. Even the Red Cross suggests that people need to do some prepping. Given that their purpose is to give aid in times of need, it makes them a reasonable authority on the subject.
We all know too many people have no emergency supplies. The exact stats on how many tend to get glossed over. However, I checked with the CDC, another reasonable authority, to see what they had to say about it. The reply was mindblowing.
- 48% of Americans have no emergency supplies.
- 44% of Americans don’t even own a first aid kit.
- 52% of Americans don’t have copies of crucial documents.
- 40% of Americans rely on mobile apps or social media to learn about disasters. (You can bet that many of them don’t have so much as a spare cell phone battery.)
Don’t Drive Crazy
Leaving your bug out bag in the car is a wise decision. You can get out of dodge faster if you don’t need to stop to grab your gear. Resultantly, driving with your bag is one of the most common reasons people worry about being stopped for carrying survival gear. This may seem silly, but if you want to avoid having the police pull you over in the car, don’t drive like a maniac.
Unless you’re blowing through red lights and swerving like a drunk, LEOs (Laws Enforcement Officers) don’t typically stop you at random. The exception to this rule is at a checkpoint. Police need your permission to search your car unless they have probable cause or a warrant.
If you happen to match the description of a person or vehicle they’re hunting for; you might get detained. Though it’s uncommon, it does happen. Hunting for criminals and maintaining peace is a LEO’s job after all. If you match a suspect description, they’ll probably want to know what’s in the bag.
Consent To Search
When officers ask you if they can search your home, car, or belongings, it’s consensual. If you are not sure whether you’re being detained, ask. Be polite. Say “Am I being detained, or am I free to go?” If the officer doesn’t answer or avoids the issue, ask the question again. You can do this until they answer one way or the other.
When detained, inform the officer that you accept the right to remain silent. Say you’ll wait until your lawyer is present to speak with them. After that, all you have to do is close your mouth. If you have done something wrong, then you might be in trouble, but it won’t be for owning a legal bug out bag.
Weapons in Your BOB
Lots of people add weapons to their pre-made bags, like the two-person emergency bag I picked up from Amazon. Before you grab your gun, check those local laws, and make sure whatever you’re carrying is legal. If you plan to take a gun, make sure you either have a permit or don’t need one where you’re traveling. Don’t exceed the local allowance for knives. For example, some states have length requirements.
Perhaps most importantly, tell the officer there’s a weapon in the bag. Follow directions and whatever you do, don’t try to pull any crazy stunts. LEOs have guns, training, and the ability to call on a significant force for backup.
What Not To Pack
Masks aren’t the only item to avoid putting in your bag. While you’ll find plenty of lists for what to pack, there aren’t many that mention what to avoid. You want to consider weight limits and what you need to bring with you. Sadly, some things just look downright suspicious. Furthermore, some items are illegal, even though they seem like they might make perfect survival gear.
It’s not illegal to pack lye, gloves, and acid in your bag. However, you need a pretty good reason for why you would have such a thing in with your survival gear. First, they’re dangerous and challenging to transport. Second, it does make you look quite a bit like you’re planning to kill someone rather than survive an emergency. Third and finally, those are just too heavy for a standard BOB. If you need them, store them safely at your bug out or bug in location.
Another toxic combination is allergy pills and fingernail polish remover. Separately they are both useful items that you may need. Together, especially in any quantity, they make you look a bit like you might be planning to start a meth lab.
Don’t carry a marked map that gives away the location of your bug out plans. While you won’t get arrested for any of the bad-choice items, this is especially important. You shouldn’t broadcast your emergency supplies location to anyone ever — not even LEOs who might stop you for an unrelated issue.
Illegal & Quasi-Legal Gear
Switchblades, gravity knives, and butterfly knives are only legal in some areas of the country. You’re better off with an ordinary pocket knife. Likewise, pepper spray is iffy. Some states have restrictions on how much you can have and what concentration is allowed.
Fishing gear isn’t illegal per se. However, almost every state in the US requires a fishing license. When fishing in water that’s contained on private property, you can probably skip the permit. Otherwise, carry your license with the fishing gear.
Whatever the justification, don’t open any alcohol container then put it in your BOB. Any opened bottle of alcohol is a touchy subject. If it’s in your vehicle, make sure it’s in the trunk. Leaving it at home is better still.
Legally, a parked car still ‘counts’ because it’s a car. Any open bottle in any part of your vehicle or gear is a risk. Unnecessary risk is the opposite of survival. If you must have alcohol in your BOB, make sure it’s sealed.
It might not be the first thing you think about, but carrying a mask around with you could draw undue notice and suspicion. Having a gas mask or face cover in your BOB can be a great idea. Unfortunately, it can also get you in trouble in some places.
Naturally, most people don’t just go around wearing gas masks or other facial coverings every day. Special occasions like Halloween or an emergency are few and far between, and not everyone dresses up in masks. Nevertheless, it’s good to check your local laws before you cover up your identity.
List of States With Anti-Mask Laws
This list is by no means complete, but the following states have laws against masks. This seemingly innocuous bit of gear can become a big problem under the wrong circumstances.
- California Penal Code Section 182-185- This prohibits any kind of disguise intended for evasion or concealment.
- District of Columbia (Washington D.C.) § 22-3312.03- In D.C. people over sixteen cannot publicly wear, “any mask, hood, or device whereby any portion of the face is hidden,” that scares people or aids in criminal activities.
- Florida Chapter 876- Florida considers mask wearing a potential threat to public safety and can class it as anarchy.
- Georgia Code Title 16 Section 11-38- Georgia makes it a misdemeanor to wear masks and other concealing items. Unless it’s for a holiday, sport, emergency, drills for an emergency or the theater, leave it at home.
- Louisiana RS 14:313- The folks down on the bayou don’t want your face covered unless you have an excellent reason, like Mardi Gras. Registered sex offenders may not wear anything that covers their identity even for holidays.
- Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 268 Section 34- In Mass. You can end up paying $500 or spending a year in jail plus a year on probation if you violate the anit-mask law.
- Michigan 750.396- Michigan will only hit you with a misdemeanor and jail you for ninety-three days, or make you pay $500 for concealing your face under a mask.
- Minnesota Statutes, Chapter Criminal Code, Section 609.735- Minnesota masks are limited to jokes, health reasons, and religious expression.
- New York Penal Law 240.35- Congregating in masks in public is forbidden in New York unless it’s for a party.
- North Carolina §14-12.7-14-12.8- North Carolina doesn’t allow masks on public property or roads at all.
- Ohio 3761.12- You can’t get together with friends to commit crimes wearing masks.
- Virginia Section 18.2-422- Virginia prohibits most masks both in public and on private property. There are some exceptions, for example, when you have written permission from a private property owner.
- West Virginia 61-6-22- Unlike Virginia, West Virginia seems to prohibit masks in cars as well as out in public among other places.
Carrying masks in your bag might raise a few eyebrows if you’re searched. It helps to know where you can’t wear them. In this case, when in doubt, leave it out.
Be sensible. Should you be searched, you don’t have to say anything at all, except to warn police if there are weapons. Don’t get rude or try to cite all your knowledge of the laws to them on site. Do as they ask within reason.
It’s perfectly reasonable to voluntarily tell a police officer that your bag is for camping, wilderness survival, or emergency preparedness. LEO’s are people too, and as first responders, they work the same disasters we prepare for. They might surprise you, or even have helpful tips.
Your bag may be legal, but your actions or the things you pack can change that fact.