How to Know When to Bug Out

When a long-term disaster strikes, it can be confusing to know what to do. You need to determine beforehand whether you will bug in or bug out. Unless you have a well-stocked bugout location and a means to get there safely, bugging in is, in most cases, your best option. After all, home is where you are comfortable and you can easily stock it up and prepare it to weather the storm and defend it if needed.

Of course, bugging in isn’t the topic here, although there is plenty of information on bugging in.

This is because no matter how well you prepare for bugging in, there are situations in which bugging out is the better option, even if you don’t have a pre-designated bugout location stocked and ready to go. The question that is asked by so many people is how to know when to bug out, and that is a very good question.

What Bugging Out Means

There are plenty of potential natural disasters that would force you from your home, but know that if a forest fire or Category 3 hurricane is bearing down on your home and you have to leave, you are not bugging out—you are evacuating.

These situations happen in a localized area and if you need to leave your home, you will be evacuated for your safety, in most cases prior to the event. There will be first responders and government agencies that will help ensure public safety and you can assume that unless your home has been destroyed, you will be returning to it.

The difference between evacuation and bugging out is that the latter generally done with the understanding that you won’t be coming back.

The situation that has occurred is such that there are no first responders or government agencies to have your back and keep law and order. The need to leave your home results because staying has become more dangerous than leaving. The question is, how do you know when this is the case?

Why Would You Bug Out?

If you are safe and you have everything you need, you aren’t going to bug out—at least you shouldn’t. It’s as simple as that.

However, there are two primary reasons why you would bug out—if your security and safety are compromised and/or you run out of resources and cannot replenish them. Let’s take a look at each of these.


How secure and safe you are in your bug in location is the most important deciding factor in whether to stay or go. With the world falling apart outside, you are likely spending most of your time inside, particularly if you are well-stocked.

Assuming you have stayed, do you know what is happening out there? Do you know how dangerous things are, how dangerous your city or neighborhood is? You need to keep yourself informed so you will be better able to make decisions.

If law enforcement is gone and looters and gangs are roaming around, then you need to consider very carefully how defensible your home is.

Have you prepared your home to be secure against threats? Do you have a good line of sight, weapons, and the manpower to defend?

Do you have a community of neighbors you can work with to help defend each other’s homes? If the answer is no and the danger from other people becomes great, you might have to leave.


Perhaps you have remained safe and secure in your bug in location. If you have managed to stay under the radar, bury your trash, and avoid being noticed or have successfully been able to defend your home when needed, there will still come a time when you will run out of resources.

Maybe you had a source of water that has been used up. Maybe your food has been eaten and you have close to nothing left. If you are in an urban center, it might have been looted and cleaned out, leaving no way to replenish your food and supplies. If you have nothing where you are, then you will have to go somewhere else to find what you need.

The question that remains at this point is how do you know when either of these things has become an issue? Essentially, you will need to know the signs to watch out for, the signs that will tell you it’s time to bug out.

Signs that Indicate when to Bug Out

This is not a black and white issue. Knowing when to bug out is a complex problem that depends on many factors, including where you live, your initial level of preparedness, and what is happening outside of your home and beyond. In order to know what is happening, you need to be able to gather information.

Your ability to get information on what is happening in your immediate area and beyond is critical when it comes to making the decision to bug out. Your primary means of determining what is happening is via the communications grid. You need to consider the following:

  • Are communications still up and running?
  • Provided you still have electricity (something we will discuss below), do you still have cell phone service?
  • Are the television stations still operating and have they broadcast any public safety warnings?
  • Are the AM and FM radio stations in your local area still broadcasting? Can you get any signals?
  • If you have emergency or two-way radios, can you receive official alerts from the National Weather Service or other official channels?

If there are no communications, that is a sign that the disaster has far-reaching effects. If you can’t find the information you need via television, phone, or radio, then you need to connect with another human being, preferably law enforcement.

But is law enforcement still functioning? When is the last time you spoke to or even saw a police officer or another first responder, such as an ambulance or the fire department?

For that matter, when is the last time you spoke with or saw anyone outside your home? Do you know what is going on in your neighborhood? Have people been coming by and asking if you have any food or water? Have looters been seen in your neighborhood? Other things to consider include:

  • Do you have electricity?
  • Do you have water?
  • Are stores, banks, and gas stations open?
  • Are deliveries and pickups still being made? This includes mail delivery, deliveries to grocery stores, and garbage pickup.

Essentially, you need to find the answers to as many of the above questions as possible. The status of these situations will give you an indication of how bad things are on a local level and larger geographic scale.

If the answers to any or all of these last four questions is no, then you know the situation is dire and you should at least consider whether it is safe to stay.

This is particularly true if the electrical grid has gone down, because without electricity, everything else grinds to a halt and chaos will erupt. You should also watch out for the following:

  • Cars lined up at gas stations
  • Long lineups at ATMs and in banks
  • Lots of people buying up food, water, and supplies at the local stores
  • Lots of people at hardware and building supply stores purchasing supplies to prepare for a disaster
  • News reports of a potential threat
  • An increased presence of police or the military appearing on your streets

Now, I am assuming you have done your basic preparation and you have food, water, and supplies at home, so you don’t need to go near all these lineups of panicking people, but you do need to be aware when a run on the banks and stores is happening, because while everyone else is trying to stock up, you can decide on your next move.

Being prepared ahead of time gives you the breathing room to think and decide what to do.

What about City Living?

I feel the need to mention this topic in the context of living in the city. In any major SHTF scenario, things will get dangerous quickly in the city. The city has a lot going against it during a long-term crisis, including:

  • Lack of sanitation, in terms of sewage and trash build up
  • Lack of water or water sources
  • The quick spread of disease
  • A larger concentration of people that will include gangs of looters and desperate people
  • It will be difficult to hide the fact that you have what others do not
  • Resources that are available will disappear more quickly due to the larger population
  • The authorities might confiscate your preps to help the general population
  • Difficult to get out of if you don’t bug out early

Ultimately, if you live in a city, you will have to bug out sooner, rather than later in most SHTF situations. The only way to survive is to have prepared ahead of time and ensure your bug in location is very heavily fortified and guarded.

The Bigger the Threat

Remember that the bigger the threat, the more likely it is that you will need to bug out at some point. You have to be aware of the signs and the window you will have in which to make a decision to bug out or not will be small.

You might have mere minutes to make up your mind, and if you wait too long to bug out, it might be too late. Once everyone else realizes they need to leave, the chaos will make bugging out close to impossible and very dangerous.

The very best thing you can do for you and your family is prepare for both bugging in and bugging out. The greatest hope is that you will be able to bug in and stay put, but there is no way to predict how a SHTF event will play out.

You might have to get out of dodge quickly, so having a bug out plan and the food, water, and supplies needed for that scenario is critical.

Don’t get caught unprepared. Be ready to bug out and know the signs that it is time to leave. Most of all learn to listen to your gut.

By this I don’t mean make an emotional decision; I mean listen to your intuition if it tells you the situation is becoming too dangerous to stay.

Ultimately, only you will be able to make that decision, so be as prepared as possible to make the right one.

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