Even the professional weather forecasters cannot predict with 100% certainty what the weather forecast will be. If you are new to the idea of prepping and really aren’t sure why you even need to do it, you can read more in our Prepping 101 Zero to Hero Guide to Prepping.
The best thing for weather related emergencies is to get as much warning as possible before it hits your area. Knowing a storm or worse is coming an extra 10 minutes ahead of everyone else could be the difference between life and death for you and your family.
Because of this, it’s crucial for you to be alerted to a potential weather related problem at the earliest point possible. You will want to have at least one and maybe a couple different NOAA emergency radios. These will alert you to any possible danger or hazard once it becomes known to the National Weather Service. Most times this will be before it’s announced on television.
Another thing you can do is to begin to observe the weather patterns in your local area, both at home and at work. Notice how bright or dark it is as you go to and from work. Pay attention to the sounds of the birds, other animals, and traffic. Watch the leaves and try to predict whether or not it will rain. If you are aware of what regular weather patterns look like on a daily basis, you will be quicker to notice when something seems out of the ordinary or significant.
So when a natural disaster hits, such as any kind of storm, flood, or even an earthquake, you really have only two choices. You can prepare to hunker down, or to “bug in” or you prepare to “bug out”, which is our focus for this article. The same applies for a widespread SHTF event, such as an economic collapse, widespread rioting, or the enactment of martial law.
Whether to bug in or bug out is really determined by your individual situation and the severity of the event. Some people have disabled or elderly family members that make bugging in during any emergency a better option. And for short-term emergencies like ice or thunder storms that bring power outages, bugging in is probably the better option as long as you can determine your home is not in immediate danger of being destroyed.
For the purposes of this article, we will say that you have made the decision to bug out. This means you are planning to temporarily leave your home and head for a more remote location outside of the immediate danger zone. The event at hand is severe enough that your home is just not a safe place for you to try and hunker down. Or you may fear that your home could be destroyed by a wildfire or other natural disaster. So you’re going to bug out.
THE BUG OUT LOCATION (BOL)
The first thing to plan is your bug out location, or BOL. If a major crisis hits and you must leave your home with your family, you need to have a planned destination. To be really prepared, you can plan for two bug out destinations and then go to the one that is best depending on the situation around you.
It’s critical that you put considerable thought and time into planning your bug out location. For more information on how to do this, see our article on the basic do’s and don’ts for a bug out location. Once you have secured your bug out location, prepare that location to sustain you and your family once you get there.
Map out and practice using several different routes to get to your destination. Keep in mind that major highways and intersections could be bottlenecked by government roadblocks or crowds of desperate people trying to leave the area. And in a natural disaster, routes can be unexpectedly blocked by debris such as downed trees and power lines.
There are some people who intentionally choose to survive or “bug out” to the woods rather than at an actual BOL location with a permanent shelter. It’s no easy feat and if you’re considering this option, make sure you review our article on must have bushcraft tools. You will also need to invest considerable time, effort, and practice, learning the skills of bushcraft survival.
THE BUG OUT VEHICLE (BOV)
Determine a plan to get from your home to your bug out location. It’s also good practice to have a backup mode of transportation. If you haven’t yet determined what to use for your BOV, read more about the criteria for the best bug out vehicles. If you choose a motor vehicle, the first thing to prepare is a bug out bag to store in your vehicle. You can find more information on what items to include in your car bug out bag here.
Your mode of transportation will primarily depend on the distance to your bug out location, your fitness level and the land features around your home. You can’t bug out on foot or on a bike in a disaster situation if you become out of breath walking around the block on a typical day. A boat is useless if there is not a river or other waterway that runs through to your BOL.
It will be more difficult for you to bug out in a car or truck due to traffic congestion near urban centers so consider alternatives that have more maneuverability. Remember that in the cities, railroad tracks could be a viable and accessible route out of the city and one that not everyone will think to take. You get the idea.
You will also want to make certain that your mode of transportation is kept in good repair. If you’re going to travel using a bicycle or canoe, make sure you have materials to patch holes. Motor vehicles should always have a nearly full tank of gas. Gas pumps may not be working and the ones that are will be a madhouse of desperate people trying to get gas. If you have a full tank of gas when disaster hits, you will avoid dangerous crowds and will get out of town ahead of everyone else.
BUG OUT BAGS (BOB)
If you have to leave your home, there are two types of bags you need to have prepared in advance. The first is your bug out bag or BOB. This is the bag that you will take with you that contains all the items you may need as you travel from home to your bug out location. It should be as lightweight as possible and allow you to move quickly through crowds if you have to carry it on foot.
You can see this bug out bag essentials list for ideas on what to include in this bag. In your BOB, you will include items that will sustain you and your family for at least 72 hours. Ideally you should be able to reach your BOL by car in less than 12 hours or on foot in less than 24 hours. A 72-hour supply in your BOB allows for delays in travel which will be inevitable due to traffic and other unpredictable occurrences. Your BOB will keep you relatively comfortable if your travel is delayed and you need to spend the night in the woods before you can get to your stockpiled BOL.
I’M NEVER COMING HOME BAGS (INCH BAG)
The other bag that you should have prepared and stored at your home is an INCH bag. This is the “I’m Never Coming Home” bag. This is the bag that you prepare and store and hope you don’t ever need. You will take your INCH bag with you if you determine that the situation at hand is bad enough. If you believe your home will likely be destroyed or you otherwise know that you and your family won’t be able to come back home any time soon if ever, you can always grab both bags. If you ever have to choose only one or aren’t sure, grab the INCH bag.
Your INCH Bag is much more comprehensive. It is the bag you will take if you believe that your BOL could be compromised or unreachable. It is intended to carry items to help you survive for longer than 72-hours. This is the bag you carry if you believe that you and your family might have to survive in the woods for an extended period of time.
Include references in your INCH bag on how to identify edible and medicinal plants in your local area. Include some basic seed packets, and staple foods like beef or chicken bouillon. It should include items designed to help you hunt or otherwise catch food and basically survive in the woods for an extended period. See this list for more details on what to include in your INCH bag and how to choose a quality bag.
So you’ve made all these plans to bug out. You’re ready.
- You have a BOL setup so you know where you’re going and it’s stocked with supplies.
- Your BOV is in good repair, full of gas, and has its own mini BOB.
- You have prepared your BOB and it’s hidden near the door, ready to grab at a moment’s notice.
- You’ve prepared an INCH bag even though you hope you don’t need it.
- You and your family have done the drills, you are confident you can load up quickly and get on your way.
- You’ve been learning some basic skills for fire starting, water purification, and tarp shelters.
- You’ve mapped out alternate routes from your home to your BOL and you’ve practiced using them.
But what happens if at the exact moment that SHTF, you aren’t at home? What if you are at work, your spouse is at home, and the kids are at school? That’s going to throw a wrench in your well laid plans, unless you and your family or other group members have prepared detailed plans for this scenario too. Let’s talk about how you plan to bug out if you or someone else in your group are not at home when SHTF.
EDC kit (Every Day Carry Kit)
First and foremost, you and your spouse and other members of your group should have your own individual EDC kits. The items will vary based on the age and skill level of the individual. An EDC kit is with you every day, at all times. These EDC items are designed to aid you in a time of crisis, big or small, if you have nothing else with you.
You or your children could be anywhere when something happens. In the bathroom at school or work when a fire breaks out or in a conference meeting with your boss when an earthquake hits. Your child could be trapped in the library or lunchroom or even on a bus during a field trip.
Your EDC supplies should be carried in your pants and shirt pockets, in your purse or wallet, or around your neck. Items such as a folding pocket knife, a mini flashlight, a multi-tool, a paracord bracelet or paracord shoelaces. If you must, you can add bigger items, to a laptop bag, a fanny or waist pack.
Yes, your kids need to have a modified EDC kit too. Every child should have a whistle around their neck at all times. If trapped under debris in an earthquake or during an attempted kidnapping, a whistle can be used to signal for help. Include phone numbers for parents and at least one trusted person outside the area on a laminated card in their backpack or a pants pocket. Don’t send your child to school with unapproved items like a knife or other weapon, but something is better than nothing.
GET HOME BAG (GHB)
The other bag that you should prepare and have within easy access at almost all times is your Get Home Bag (GHB). This is a small bag and not one that will stand out. It can be a typical backpack in plain blue or black. Avoid a camouflage pattern or a military tactical bag that will stand out. Keep it somewhere that you can access fairly quickly. Store it in your locker at work or hang it on the back of your office door.
Take it with you to Uncle Bob’s for Thanksgiving, on that trip to the zoo with the family, and any place you travel that is farther than walking distance from your home. In case of a power outage or other crisis while you are at work or away from home, your GHB items will help you get home. Once you are home, you can grab your BOB or INCH bag and rendezvous with family members.
Don’t leave your GHB in your car unless it just isn’t feasible to carry it inside somewhere. At a formal event or wedding for example, you could leave it in your vehicle. If you aren’t sure what to include in a GHB you see this list for the get home bag essential items.
DANGERS AND CHALLENGES WHEN BUGGING OUT
There are a thousand things that can go wrong, or just not as planned, when you are bugging out during an emergency or crisis situation. Keep Murphy’s Law in mind and prepare for the worst case scenario but hope for the best. Understand and make an alternate plan if your routes to your BOL are impassable or when you arrive at your BOL, all of your stockpile has been stolen. Have a backup plan in place if your BOV or BOB is stolen or has to be left behind. Know what to do if family members sustain injury or become separated.
Regardless of whether you have to spend one night or an extended period of time in the woods with your family, bad weather, especially rain and snow, can certainly throw a wrench in the best laid plans. For more details on how to survive camping in rainy weather, see this article. Read more about how to use the bow drill method of fire starting and tons of other ways to start and maintain a fire so you can stay warm and dry.
Cooking outdoors or in the woods over a fire can certainly be challenging, especially if it’s not something that you’ve practiced before. Make sure your BOB and INCH bags include the equipment and cookware to make outdoor cooking easier. Can you cook without creating lots of smoke, to avoid alerting people to your location and to the fact that you have food at your campsite?
Trust me, it’s not something you want to advertise if SHTF. Most people have had the occasion to cook on a charcoal or propane grill. In a bug out situation however, you may be forced to consider different methods of outdoor cooking to stay safe and avoid negative confrontations.
Your EDC kit should include a good pocketknife and you may even carry a fixed blade knife in your BOB. But to spend an extended amount of time surviving in the woods or living off the land, you will need a good bushcraft knife as well. This type of knife is heavy duty and is designed to withstand the repeated use that is required when you’re living in the woods. If you need more information, see our article on how to choose the best bushcraft knife.
Another thing that can go wrong which will definitely put your life and that of your family in danger is if you run out of fresh drinking water before you get to your BOL or once you’ve arrived and been staying there for several weeks. Make sure that you have planned for and practiced several different ways to secure water. The water you can access may not always be fresh so it’s crucial to know several of the best ways to purify water if the need arises.
One of the scariest things that can go wrong when you and your family are bugging out and trying to get to your BOL safely is that you could be accosted by thieves or other desperate people who want what you have. They could threaten to take your BOV, your equipment, your food, or even your spouse or children. You absolutely must have a plan to deal with this type of confrontation.
URBAN BUG OUT SITUATIONS
If you need to survive in an urban area such as a large city during a SHTF event or disaster, you have additional factors to consider. Your bug out location may be closer or you may have to keep moving between several pre-determined locations. There will be more broken glass and debris from nearby buildings so you may need sturdier shoes, gloves, a long sleeved shirt, and thicker pants even in warm weather. This clothing will protect you from sharp metal edges and broken glass.
There will definitely be larger numbers of people around you. This is something you have to plan for because desperate people do desperate things. To keep yourself and family safe in an urban environment, it’s critical that your plans place more emphasize on self-defense, evasion, hiding, and grey man tactics. More opportunities for bartering will be likely as you encounter more people but you will have to deflect attempts to persuade or force you to share what you have as well.
The good news is that foraging in an urban setting can be easier due to the proximity of abandoned buildings like stores and apartments. There will also be multiple abandoned buildings to take shelter in as you move around and lots of debris, plastic, cardboard, wood, metal, and even glass that can be used for making a shelter. There will also be abandoned vehicles to use as temporary shelter.
There is just no way that I could list every possible scenario that could come up and there is no way to plan ahead for every single thing. Research those things most likely to impact your local area first and foremost and customize your plans for those events. Then learn and practice as many skills as you can. The more skills you have, the less you actually have to carry with you and the more prepared you will be to handle whatever nature or society may throw your way.