Estimated reading time: 22 minutes
The human race has been bugging out for thousands of years. History is filled with stories of entire civilizations abandoning their homelands due to wars, pandemics, and natural disasters. It’s nothing new, and neither are the natural and manmade disasters that plague us to this day.
We live in a time when the continent of Australia is literally on fire, when wars are measured in decades rather than years, and when rogue countries are ruled by the rage of animal instinct. If that doesn’t motivate you to build a bug out bag, nothing will.
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Perhaps the most critical consideration for any evacuation is the duration. If you’re evacuating for a short period of time due to a natural disaster, your bug out preparations could be as simple as a 72-hour kit, as FEMA calls it. If the duration is long-term, everything gets more complicated, especially if it’s a manmade disaster like war, terrorism, or economic collapse.
In this article, we’re going to cover all of the possibilities and variables related to bugging out and bug out bags. Throughout, you’ll find videos and links to articles with more details on particular aspects of bugging out. (By the way, most of the videos come from one of my favorite Youtube channels, Reality Survival.)
Okay, let’s get started…
- Should You Bug In or Bug Out?
- Why Bugging Out Could Get You Killed
- What Not to Do if You Bug In
- What Not to Do if You Bug Out
- Making The Final Bug In/Bug Out Decision
- Making Your Move
- Why You May Need to Bug Out Fast
- The Challenge of a Big City Bug Out
- The 3 Critical Steps to a Successful Bug Out
- 1. The Bug Out Bag
- Choosing the Best Bug Out Bag
- Bug Out Bag Checklist
- Urban Bug Out Considerations
- Bug Out Foods
- Traveling Light
- Traveling Smart
- Bug Out Items You Forgot
- Surviving Without a Bug Out Bag
Should You Bug In or Bug Out?
In some cases, this will be an easy choice. But oftentimes, it won’t. The dilemma is anticipating the unknown. Are you really better off abandoning the comfort and safety of your home? And even if you have a well-established bug out location, can you reach it safely?
Here are some fundamental things to consider if you bug out, starting with 5 reasons to bug in:
- If you live in a rural area or if you’re a suburban and your house is fully stocked with emergency food and home security measures, it’s best to bug in.
- If you have the means to live self-sufficiently, you should bug in.
- If you have small children or you’re pregnant, you should bug in.
- If you don’t have anywhere else to go, you should probably bug in.
- If you don’t have good wilderness skills, it’s best to bug in.
Then again, there are many good reasons to bug out. Here are the top 5:
- If you have a bug out retreat that’s less than 100 miles away, it’s best to bug out.
- If you don’t have a choice (an imminent invasion, tsunami, etc), you have to bug out.
- If you have a solid, well-equipped bug out vehicle, you should bug out.
- If the disaster affects the transportation system, you have to bug out.
- If you hear insider news that things are about to go downhill, you should bug out.
Why Bugging Out Could Get You Killed
Remember, bugging out is a last resort. You’re essentially abandoning ship. If a major threat is imminent such as a volcanic eruption or anything that will kill you or destroy your home, then obviously you have no choice. But making the right choice is the most critical decision you’ll make in a disaster.
Here are 7 reasons why bugging out could get you killed:
- You bug out in a hurry and/or have no strategy.
- You’re not in good physical condition.
- You think you can make it alone.
- You’ll be exposed out in the open.
- You’ll have a hard time finding food.
- You’ll run out of supplies quickly.
- You don’t know the area at all.
Proper preplanning could preempt some of these possibilities, but traveling will be dangerous, and if you arrive at a bug out location unprepared, you’ll have a tough time surviving.
What Not to Do if You Bug In
A lot has been written about what to do if you bug in during a disaster, but little has been said about what not to do. Simple mistakes could cause you and your family to get sick, draw unwanted attention, waste resources, or get killed even in what may be your safest location.
This is especially true when you consider that the power will probably be out. Here are some key things for your “not-to-do list”.
- Don’t burn treated wood.
- Don’t cook indoors without adequate ventilation.
- Don’t board up windows from the outside; do it inside.
- Don’t cook with galvanized metal containers.
- Don’t burn green lumber.
- Don’t assume walls are functional cover.
- Don’t try to heat your entire house.
- Use adequate water when flushing toilets.
- Don’t let any light shine out of your windows.
- Don’t run your generator inside.
- Don’t drink untreated water.
- Don’t leave a candle burning.
- Be careful with space heaters.
- Be careful when you answer the door.
- Always have one person keep watch.
- Don’t store fuel by flames.
- Don’t barricade all exits.
- Don’t go outside in daylight.
- Don’t let trash accumulate outside.
- Run your generator only when you need it.
- Don’t fire warning shots.
- Never trust a stranger.
- Don’t leave cars parked outside.
- Don’t let your pets run outside.
There are reasons for all of the above which may seem fairly obvious. There’s also a video that gives more details on what not to do that’s worth watching.
What Not to Do if You Bug Out
Again, we always seem to focus on what to do rather than what not to do. Here are some good points to ponder about what to avoid doing if you bug out.
- Don’t forget to pay your bills before you bug out.
- Don’t burn bridges.
- Don’t announce you’re leaving.
- Don’t tell anybody where you’re going.
- Load your vehicle in the garage.
- Bring all you can fit in the car.
- Don’t carry more than 20% of your body weight.
- Don’t use major freeways.
- Don’t leave without your final destination in mind.
- Don’t leave without a logical cover story.
- Don’t go unarmed.
- Don’t have firearms in the open.
- Don’t look military.
- Don’t stop at night where you can be seen.
- Don’t have a fire at night.
- Don’t sleep all at once.
- Don’t trespass on private property.
- Don’t mark your destination on a map.
- Don’t approach your destination immediately.
- Don’t become complacent.
Complacency may be the greatest danger. More detail on this “To-Don’t List” is well covered in a video on what not to do when you bug out.
Making The Final Bug In/Bug Out Decision
Sometimes events make the decision obvious if they present an immediate threat, but there may be time to ponder what to do. Here are 11 realities that can make that decision easier:
- You’re ordered by the authorities.
- A massive storm is approaching.
- Steadily increasing civil unrest/rioting.
- Martial law.
- Top leaders disappear.
- Troops show up on the border.
- Shortages of… everything.
- A collapse of the markets.
- Bank runs.
- Your home becomes compromised.
If the inevitable becomes obvious and you have no choice but to bug out, you need to implement your bug out plan. If you don’t have one, make one.
Making Your Move
You’re stocked up. You’ve made a list and checked it twice. You’ve acquired as much knowledge as you can and you’re locked, loaded, and ready to go. Or are you? Here are 4 critical considerations for putting your bug out plan into practice.
- Practice and get to know everything about your gear, tools, and equipment.
- Know your technology, especially if it’s a new technology you have never used.
- Practice your family escape plan every month and consider different scenarios and multiple escape plans.
- Assess your survival wealth. How long can you survive with the supplies, knowledge, and equipment you have assembled?
Perhaps the most critical consideration is the idea of multiple evacuation scenarios. It’s easy to imagine everyone sitting around the kitchen table debating whether to bug out, but what if one of the kids is away at college? What if a family member is recovering from a recent surgery? What if a newborn infant has joined the family?
All situations evolve with time, and you need to assess your current state in addition to the events surrounding you.
Why You May Need to Bug Out Fast
Events that lead to an evacuation can occur quickly. This is especially true in the event of natural disasters, but manmade disasters from the threat of war to a rapidly spreading pandemic can create the need for a quick and timely evacuation.
Here are 7 important tips to help you bug out fast.
- Develop a plan for everything from stocking to packing to traveling.
- Make a list of everything you need for your evacuation and use it as a checklist.
- Pre-pack whatever you can so it’s ready to go.
- Pre-plan both primary and secondary travel routes.
- Maintain minimum stockage levels of at least 30 days.
- Pre-position items at your bug out location.
- Prepare survival caches at semi-secure locations on the way to your bug out location.
The idea is to anticipate time-consuming tasks and do them ahead of time so you can evacuate quickly.
The Challenge of a Big City Bug Out
Evacuating from a major metropolitan area will be a huge challenge. Traffic jams are the obvious concern, but a large and desperate population will create its own set of dangers and obstacles. If you live in a city, you should add an additional set of considerations for rapid evacuation.
- Don’t hesitate. People who evacuate a location before local authorities mandate an evacuation avoid the traffic jams of a panicked mass departure. If things are going from bad to worse, make your decision quickly.
- Remember the importance of alternate routes, and don’t forget that roads and streets off the beaten path may be your fastest avenue to escape. Once an expressway with hard medians becomes jammed, you will have no options or alternatives.
There’s a video that illustrates many of the problems with a city bug out and how to deal with them. It’s worth watching.
The 3 Critical Steps to a Successful Bug Out
1. The Bug Out Bag
There should be no debate about it. Everyone should have a bug out bag. FEMA recommends it. Local authorities recommend it. Common sense demands it.
Recent natural disasters like floods, wildfires, and category 5 hurricanes make it a reasonable item for any household. But it’s a complex solution and a lot of factors need to be considered.
Choosing the Best Bug Out Bag
Let’s start with the most critical decision. How do you pack and carry the items that will ensure you and your family’s survival? Here are some of the key things to look for when purchasing a bug out bag:
- Size – Big enough to carry what you need but not so big that an individual can’t carry it for any distance.
- Compartments – Multiple compartments allow you to carry more and makes it easy to find certain items while you’re traveling.
- Frame – A frame distributes the weight of a pack better and will allow you to carry your equipment longer, farther, and with less pain and strain.
- Durability – Your bug out bag will be subject to harsh conditions and will potentially be with you for a long time. Durability is not negotiable. And make sure it’s waterproof.
And by the way, everyone in the family should have their own bug out bag, each designed to suit the age, size, and needs of that individual.
Bug Out Bag Checklist
The standard recommendation is to pack the items you would need to survive independently for 72 hours. That’s why a common expression for a bug out bag is a 72-hour kit. It’s the recommendation made by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and it makes sense because it would be difficult—if not impossible—to physically carry sufficient items for any period beyond three days.
You should also have backups for your most important needs. That means you need two ways to start a fire, two ways to purify water, two ways to cook food, two ways to light your camp, and so forth. It’s about redundant capabilities, not redundant gear. For example, don’t just pack two lighters. Pack a lighter and a Ferro rod.
Also, remember to pack enough supplies for everyone in your group, and remember to distribute various items across bags in your group. For example, put the lighter in one person’s bag and the Ferro rod in another person’s bag. That way if one bag is lost, you still have a way to start fire.
We’re going to start with the bug out bag as a basic survival/evacuation item and then scale it up to selecting a vehicle and preparing a bug out location. Let’s start by determining the best items for a bug out bag. We’re going to do this by category.
- Communication and Navigation
- Compass, maps, walkie talkies.
- Fire and Light
- Lighter, fire steel, flashlight, candles.
- Food and Water
- Cook kit, canteen, water purification, backpacking food, MRE’s.
- Medical Supplies
- First aid kit, OTC medicines, prescription meds.
- Personal Hygiene
- Washing, dental, shaving, sunscreen, toilet paper.
- Shelter and Clothing
- Tent, sleeping bag, rain gear, two changes of clothes, mylar blankets.
- Tools and Weapons
- Hatchet, saw, knife, handgun, multitool, folding shovel.
- Miscellaneous Items
- Duct tape, insect repellent, cash, survival guide.
Urban Bug Out Considerations
Urban environments can present some unique challenges that could require gear you may not have considered. Here are some of the things you can encounter when evacuating an urban environment and what to pack to prepare for them.
- Move fast. In urban environments, the first people out have an advantage. It’s a good reason to travel light and make sure you’re not overloaded.
- Be aware of urban hazards. It’s possible you will be traveling through areas of dust and debris. Think about what you’ll need to travel through that kind of environment from work gloves to dust masks and a crowbar.
- Be gray. Don’t call attention to yourself. Keep a low profile and blend in.
- Be a threat, not a target. You’ll run into more people in the city than in the wilderness, and many of them will be desperate. Make sure your group looks strong, be aware of your surroundings and keep a low profile when possible.
- Trust your instincts, not the mob. Follow your plan, not the crowd. If the crowd is traveling on your pre-determined path, go with the flow.
Bug Out Foods
Although you can survive for 72 hours without food, it would take its toll on your energy and your morale. Food also provides comfort, especially for children. You also have to consider your energy and calorie expenditure. You’re most likely going to be very active and possibly walking a great distance.
The more you exert yourself, the more calories you burn. The average adult needs 2,000 calories a day to maintain their weight. Exercise adds to the calorie debt. And remember that the food you pack won’t be refrigerated. Here are the best foods for your bug out bag:
- Beef jerky
- Breakfast bars
- Candy bars
- Drink mixes
- Freeze-dried meals
- Instant oatmeal
- Mixed nuts
- Peanut butter
- Trail mix
There’s more, but the expanded list in the link can give you a good head start on how to approach your food supplies. But regardless of what you choose to eat, the critical thing is to travel light.
How much should your bug out bag weigh? The standard recommendation is no more than 20% of your body weight if you’re in good shape, and no more than 15% of your body weight if you’re not in good shape. Therefore, everything you pack should be assessed to some degree by its weight.
There are some bug out bag items that you really don’t need to pack. And as for the items you do need, see if you can find a lighter alternative that will perform the same function. Tools that consolidate functions are one example. Equipment made from plastic rather than metal are another.
You can also substitute multipurpose items that accomplish things they weren’t designed for. For example, pantyhose can be used to filter debris out of water, make cordage for your shelter, prevent blisters on your feet, and so forth. There are many more ideas in this article.
To put it bluntly: we’re spoiled. We get in a car, pull out a smartphone and enter an address, and a sophisticated system links a GPS app to a satellite while a friendly voice guides us to our destination as we glance at a detailed map on our phones showing us where we are and where we’re going.
That’s pretty remarkable… assuming the phone is working. In a disaster, it might not be working, which means we’d have to resort to a lost art: map reading. That’s why you should take the time to carefully pack some important maps for your bug out bag:
- City maps
- County maps
- State Maps
- Fire Road Maps (also known as forest service maps)
- Topographic maps
- Photo maps
- Hunting maps
- River maps
The maps you choose should be relevant to your current location, your travel route, and your bug out location. You’ll need them to evacuate from your home, make your way to safety, and survive when you get there. And while you’re at it, there are few other things you shouldn’t forget…
Bug Out Items You Forgot
How often have we torn through kitchen drawers looking for the scotch tape, the scissors, or a pen that actually works? Our lives are filled with little things we take for granted. Those needs don’t end when we go it alone on the road after an evacuation.
There are all sorts of things that just don’t seem to make the bug out checklists, from a sewing kit for torn clothes to Benadryl for an allergic reaction. Here’s a link to 100 items you might have forgotten when packing your bug out bag. You may decide you don’t need many of them, but make sure.
And while you’re at it, don’t forget to waterproof all of your gear. This includes your tent, clothing, backpack, sleeping bag, and anything that will be exposed to the elements. Bugging out in the rain is always a possibility, especially if bad weather is the cause of your evacuation.
Surviving Without a Bug Out Bag
If you’re reading this, you probably already have a bug out bag or are at least preparing one, so why should you worry about surviving without one? Because you never know what might happen. A disaster could strike while you’re on vacation, while you’re on a business trip, etc. Or maybe you can’t get to your car or your home (where your bug out bag is). Or maybe it was stolen. Like I said, you never know.
Here are some things to do if you have to survive without a bug out bag.
- Keep everyday carry items with you at all times:
- Folding knife.
- Firestarter on your keyring.
- Small personal survival kit.
- Find a remote location.
- Build a shelter from natural materials.
- Find some food and water.
- Build a fire if remote and if necessary.
Surviving without a bug out bag won’t be easy, but you can take a bit of comfort in the fact that after any length of time, you’d have to do many of these things anyway.
2. The Bug Out Vehicle
Up until now, we’ve focused on the bug out bag and the idea that you would be walking away from your disaster. What’s more likely is that you would get your family in the car or truck and drive from the disaster area. Hopefully, you’re driving to a predetermined bug out location, and we’ll cover that in more detail later. But for now, let’s hit the road.
The Best Bug Out Vehicles
There are some common-sense features you should consider when choosing a bug out vehicle:
- 4WD/AWD is best.
- High ground clearance.
- Enough room for everyone.
- Enough room for equipment, supplies, food, and water.
- Good fuel mileage.
- Extra fuel in hard metal/fuel-safe cans.
- Tow straps.
- Trailer hitch installed.
- Two spare tires but at least one.
- A grill guard for off-roading.
You may not be able to address all of these considerations, but if you have the option to easily accommodate some of them it would be a good idea. This video goes into more detail on how to make the most of any vehicle for a bug out.
On the Road Realities
We’ve covered a lot about bugging out or bugging in, but the most dangerous part of any disaster evacuation is that period of time when you’re in transit from one location to another. Pre-planning and careful mapping of alternate routes is certainly a critical success factor, but there are other factors that can affect your survival, especially when you’re on the road.
For example, there are things to keep in mind when you’re camping on your way to your bug out location. Even if your destination is only a hundred miles away, everything from traffic jams to roadblocks due to a natural disaster can slow your progress and cause you to stop for the day or night.
Here’s what to keep in mind:
- Choose the right area. Off the beaten path, remote and ideally with access to firewood and water.
- Set up a perimeter with rattling tripwire or motion detectors to detect intruders.
- Mind your waste disposal.
- Build a fire carefully and at a minimum to reduce visibility.
- Know the wildlife in the area and the risks.
- Keep moving. Rest and go.
Camping while you evacuate may be necessary, but it’s risky because it leaves you exposed with minimal resources. That’s one of the reasons self-defense needs to be considered. There are a couple of guns you should take along when you bug out, not only to get you through the trip, but also to hunt and provide defense at your bug out location.
3. The Bug Out Location
You’ve finally arrived at your bug out location. Assuming you have one. It doesn’t have to be a well-stocked, remote cabin in the mountains. It could be the home of a family member or friend who lives in an area you know to be safe. It could also be a natural shelter you’re aware of like a cave, mine, or campground.
We’ll cover all of the possibilities, but for now, let’s get into the basics of what makes a good bug out location.
- Security. How defendable is the location?
- Camouflage. How hidden is the location?
- Water. Is there a natural source close by?
- Hygiene. How will you keep clean?
- All season shelter. Winter. Spring. Summer. Fall.
Just as important is stocking your bug out location. The best way to do this is to pre-stock it so you have most of the items you’ll need when you arrive. To a large degree, these items and preparations are similar to any preparations you’ve made at home. You could certainly transport some of those items to your bug out location, but having some of these items already there will simplify the ordeal.
Stockpiling a bug out location comes with a price, though, and it’s not just about the cost of the items. A remote location that is mostly unoccupied is an easy target for thieves. You may make frequent trips to your location and even vacation there, but locals will be quick to notice if no one is home.
The greatest risk may occur immediately after disaster strikes and before you get there. It can get discouraging, but there are ways to defend your bug out location, as well as yourself.
- Assess how defendable your location is.
- Remember there’s safety in numbers.
- Keep the location a secret.
- Add defenses.
- Acquire suitable defensive weapons.
- Have a healthy stockpile if trapped at the location.
- Have an escape route.
Once you’ve settled into your bug out location, you’ll have to rapidly make some adjustments. This is especially true if the area is geographically different from your home or is a primitive location. In those instances, you may have to adjust to some extreme environments. Things you’ll need to adjust to include:
- Travel conditions.
- New and varied food sources.
- Improvised and natural medical solutions.
For some people, this won’t be an issue for the simple reason that they don’t have a bug out location. Most people probably fall into this category. But that doesn’t mean you’re without options. Here’s what to do if you don’t have a bug out location:
- Campgrounds if it’s the offseason and the evacuation is temporary.
- Mines are a possibility, but you might have company. Abandoned mines are very dangerous.
- Ghost towns are another possibility, but here again, you may not be alone.
- Factories and warehouses may be abandoned, depending on the nature of the disaster.
One thing these locations have in common is they are only suited for short-term occupation. Over the long term, they will attract more and more people, and if there is no law enforcement, things could get dangerous.
However, there are places to bug out that might offer better security. They are defined by logging roads across North America and especially in Canada. They all lead to remote locations and are rarely traveled.
Watch the video below for more info:
Are You Truly Ready?
So far, we’ve covered some basic factors affecting a bug out: The bug out bag, the bug out vehicle, and the bug out location. The first two are the most critical. Everyone should have a bug out bag packed, and everyone should give some thought to traveling as part of any evacuation.
But the third factor—the bug out location—may be the most important in the event of a long-term bug out. Here are some things to consider if you’re worried about the long term.
How to Bug Out if You Have No Land
If there’s a disaster bad enough that you’re forced to bug out, that doesn’t necessarily mean there is widespread chaos across the entire country. It’s possible that things will be close to normal in a neighboring state. In that case, you should be able to find a bug out location, even if you have no land.
- Public lands in another state.
- Extended stay hotels.
- National and state park campgrounds.
- Your vehicle, RV or trailer home.
If that sounds too risky for you, maybe now is the time to think about buying some property and getting that remote cabin established. There are many states that offer affordable properties with the kind of geography ideal for a bug out cabin.
And remember, the location you choose will probably be a wilderness location that aligns with your interests and lifestyle. In that regard, you’re building a vacation home that could not only satisfy your needs in the event of a disaster but give you a comfortable retreat where you can enjoy the outdoors and someday … call your retirement home.
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