Bugging Out On Foot: How Far Can You Go?
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There are many reasons why someone might leave home and head for a safer location. Natural and manmade disasters top the list of reasons.
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What’s curious about the current situation is that a combination of both is starting to come together. Between the pandemic, an economic depression, ands massive demonstrations, the streets are feeling more and more dangerous.
The Standard Bug Out Assumption
If or when we choose to bug out, the usual assumption is that we’ll load up the car, SUV, or truck and either head to an established bug out location (if we have one) or to a friend or relative’s home in a safer area. Extreme bug-outs could leave us camping or renting a hotel room, waiting for things to return to normal. But there’s an even more extreme possibility.
The “Walk Out Bug Out”
Most of us don’t think about bugging out on foot. But there are possible scenarios that could make that necessary.
- Our vehicle is stolen, breaks down, gets damaged by vandalism, or there’s such a severe gas shortage that any vehicle is useless.
- The streets and highways are impassable or unsafe due to natural forces like earthquakes, hurricanes, wildfires, and other extreme conditions, or violence in the streets is so extreme that driving is a dangerous option, although walking wouldn’t be much safer.
- We’re away from home and something happens to our vehicle and our bug out plan is a GBH or “Get back home” decision. In that instance, we’re essentially bugging out from the car and abandoning it for the time being to get home.
- In the middle of our trip to our bug out location, our vehicle fails us, and the only alternative is to continue on foot.
Regardless of the reason, bugging out on foot may be necessary, but it’s a dangerous proposition. Bug-outs always have the potential for danger during the trip and a walking bug-out brings a new set of risks.
Give It Some Thought
What would you do if you or your family had to bug out on foot? It quickly brings to mind a whole new set of questions that require some new solutions and a new way of thinking about a bug-out.
Experienced backpackers have an advantage in this kind of situation. They know the realities of hiking any distance and probably have much of the equipment and knowledge that makes walking any distance with a loaded backpack successful. If you’ve never backpacked, you’ll need to consider some key factors.
Factors Affecting a Walk-Out Bug Out
Distance To Your Destination
Realistically, most people aren’t going to make a 1,000-mile trek on foot. Here are some more likely scenarios:
- Someone in a city attempting to reach a relative or friend’s home in the suburbs. The walking distance can be anywhere from 20 to 50 miles.
- Someone has an established bug out location that’s 250 miles away or more and their only way to reach that location is a long hike.
- Someone decides to walk to the nearest airport or train terminal and take a plane or train to a bug-out destination. The distance to the airport or terminal could be 10 to 25 miles, but if there’s a form of public transportation available, it’s better than going the whole distance on foot.
Regardless of the distance, any bug out on foot requires a different set of considerations than a bug out in a vehicle.
- Hiking through the city or suburbs will not present you with the opportunities to find an easy campsite for the night.
- A vehicle offers you some level of protection from the elements and people around you. When you’re on foot, you’re totally exposed at all times. Are you prepared with the knowledge and equipment to survive out in the open both day and night?
The Local Situation
If you’re bugging out, it’s because the situation in your area has become so tenuous that you feel you have no choice. The immediate question is: how safe it will be to head out on foot?
The time of day for your departure could be a consideration if you’re surrounded by civil unrest. In those cases, early morning is typically the safest time for departure as opposed to the dark of night.
If a natural disaster is the cause of your evacuation, it’s really a matter of assessing the current and potential danger.
- If there’s flooding, are the waters rising or receding?
- If there are wildfires, are you walking away from them or toward them?
- In a pandemic, are you walking into a heavily populated area that’s a hot zone or away and around the area?
The same is true for manmade disasters.
- If there are riots, are you walking into an area that is a target for looters and vandals, or are you going away from or around them?
- Are protesters or rioters blocking any known streets or highways, stopping not only traffic but anyone approaching?
The key is to follow the local news carefully before setting out. Be sure to plan your route and map alternate routes as a plan B.
Your Physical Condition
After a few months of lockdown and staying home, a lot of people are out of shape. Gyms are closed or attendance restricted and even a walk around the block has given us pause, whether it’s the fear of someone coughing and sneezing or the possibility of encountering a large and unruly crowd.
If you truly want to prepare for a walkout bug-out, you need to find a way to get some exercise.
- If you have any kind of exercise equipment at home, use it.
- If you live in an apartment building, you could use the stairwells as an improvised stair-master.
- If those aren’t options, try rearranging your furniture while wearing your bug out bag. It sounds silly, but it’s a helluva workout. (Just be careful!)
- If your area is relatively calm and open, take advantage of any time to walk or jog. Again, be sure to do it with your bug out bag or some weight in a backpack. You want to get used to carrying 25-30 pounds or so.
People are usually accustomed to the terrain in their area but if your destination is dramatically different, it will affect your overall planning.
- What do you need to take along if you’re going to walk a long distance from an area with mild temperatures to an area with extreme temperatures (whether hot or cold)?
- How far and how fast can you expect to travel if you are walking from a city at sea level up into some mile-high mountains?
- Will you have to walk through a well-known and dangerous neighborhood, or can you find an alternate route?
If your bug out destination is a relatively short distance away, this might be less of an issue. However, if you are traveling long distances, it’s worth thinking about. As you plan your route, think about what kind of terrain you’ll be walking into.
Think about any temperature extremes you might encounter along your route. Time of year and the duration of your bug-out is another consideration. Inclement weather will slow you down, especially if you’re not prepared for it.
- If your goal is to walk 250 miles south over a period of months, are you ready for significant shifts in weather and temperature?
- If part of your bug-out is to walk to an airport and take a plane or take a train or bus 250 miles south, are you packed and ready for any weather unique to that area at the time?
- Setting out on foot probably means you’re going to be doing your share of camping. We’ll get into equipment to pack for your bug out bag, but the standard checklists usually say something as simple as “sleeping bag.” It neglects to mention how well that generic sleeping bag will do in cold weather after a sudden temperature drop. Even if you’re only traveling 20 miles, one frigid night in a tent with the wrong equipment can be grueling.
Alone Or In a Group?
There’s safety in numbers, but groups tend to travel slower. Especially with children. Your progress and speed will be determined by the slowest member of your group. It’s unthinkable to leave them behind, but manage your expectations and your estimated travel time accordingly.
Travel light. That’s why it’s a good idea to exercise while carrying a backpack that’s as heavy as your gear. It’s frightening for anyone to think about setting out on foot during dangerous times, and our tendency is to bring as much as possible.
Doing some walking with an accurately loaded pack before you depart will quickly convince you to prioritize what you take. But regardless of how light any one item is, there’s a critical success factor that every item you take must pass.
The Importance Of Sustainability
Packing 30 waterproof, strike-anywhere matches sounds like a good idea. It is. At least until that 31st time you want to strike a match. The same is true for everything else you’ll need. You have to think about sustainability and how you can get the most out of everything you take with you.
So what exactly should you take with you? We’ll discuss that next week.
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