All preppers must have a quality bugout plan if they want to survive a doomsday disaster (not just an emergency). Even if you live on an amazing survival retreat and envision bugging in after the SHTF, a day could come when remaining on your homestead would no longer be an option.
There are three very important things you will need when developing a bugout plan – pen, paper, and time.
Spending just an hour or two conducting an inventory of your preps, and mapping out a TEOTWAWKI escape route simply will not suffice.
Realistically, it will take not only multiple planning sessions but practice runs to find out if the bugout plan suits all the family’s needs and actually works when enacted in a real-world disaster scenario.
Creating a bugout plan is a monumental task which will likely feel overwhelming even for a seasoned prepper. Breaking down the plan into actionable segments is an essential part of the process.
Table of Contents
Should you Even Be Bugging Out?
The very first question you have to ask yourself as a response to a disaster or a crisis in your city is whether it’s necessary to evacuate in the first place. On the one hand, you know the area around your home and all of your stockpiles and preparations are right there.
Bugging out has a myriad of risks, such as exposing you and your family to thieves, law enforcement and even hypothermia.
Knowing why you would bug out, meaning the actual factors that would make bugging out your default response, is critical. For too many preppers that I’ve talked to, bugging out is sort of a default, knee-jerk response to trouble, and it shouldn’t be.
The idea that you’ll grab your backpack and your survival kit and take off into the wilderness at the first sign of trouble or impending disaster is, understandably, morbidly exciting, but the stakes are entirely too real, and too high, to indulge in this kind of thinking.
Understand that bugging out means you’ll be leaving a more or less known situation with known terrain and other variables for an entirely new set of mostly unknown variables with attendant risks that could spell death for you and your loved ones if things don’t go your way.
So what are the factors that should get us set on the starting line to bug out? In my estimation it is actually the lack of two crucial things that should start pushing bugging out to the front of your mind as a valid response:
Generally, you and yours are going to be safer at home, wherever home happens to be. Without going too far into the weeds because there are many exceptions, home provides you with a bona fide home field advantage if you’ll forgive the lame pun.
You’ll know the terrain, you’ll know what you have, how adequate your shelter, the people around you and the local topography, both the terrain and the people.
In short, staying at home or close to it means you’ll know what to expect and have a pretty good idea of what kind of people are around you, crucial information in times of trouble and essential for long-term decision making.
Additionally, chances are if you are a prepper in anything but name you’ll have a sizable stockpile of supplies that you can draw from, actually kept in a room or other dedicated structure. That will put you in a far better position than depending on what you and yours can carry in backpacks or in a single vehicle.
Furthermore, if you are dealing with a human-centric threat it is far easier to survive and hold the perimeter when you’re at a known place with people you can trust to help out.
Isolated small groups of people or individuals on the fringes of society and particularly traveling from place to place have always, historically, been picked off by predators when the rule of law collapses.
Likewise, you generally don’t want to bug out when you’re in a place with abundant resources, even if you are in a bad position or dealing with a serious blow due to loss of your home or something else.
If charitable donations, Good Samaritans and organized aid from the government and NGOs are pouring into an area in the direct aftermath of an event, you probably don’t want to run away from that without a daggone good reason.
As the saying goes, the grass is always greener on the other side, but what we usually find out when we get to the other side is that the grass isn’t greener- it is still just grass!
However, if there is no grass where you are, and there is grass on the other side, you better head there if you want to keep eating grass.
Put another way, don’t be so quick to flee from a position with ample or at least adequate resources to a place that has similar or potentially even less resources just because something bad has happened.
That is nothing but a waste of energy unless it is a smart move as part of your greater, strategic disaster preparedness and response plan. On the other hand, if resources are short and dwindling fast where you are, don’t be afraid to head out and relocate to firm up your supply lines.
What Are You Prepping For?
The first step to creating multiple disaster plans is to come up with a list of the disaster scenarios most likely for your area. A good place to begin is to start with a list of four or five different disasters and then create a plan for each one.
Consider any widespread disasters, such as an EMP, that could affect the entire region or country as well as disasters that might only affect your county or state, like a hurricane or tornado.
If you live near the coast, for example, you will want to prepare for a hurricane, but if you live in the Midwest, a hurricane is an unlikely scenario.
If you live near a nuclear power plant, you will want to prepare for a potential power plant accident.
One of the most obvious things you can do is to ensure that at least some of your bug out routes are NOT anywhere near the plant. For obvious reasons, because in case of a nuclear meltdown, you don’t want to be anywhere near those places.
World War 3 would impact the entire United States, as would a power grid down scenario, but some types of both short and long-term disasters are more likely to strike in some regions more than others.
Do your research and learn what types of natural disasters have historically impacted both where you live and your bugout destination.
A life-changing event which could prompt you to bug out does not have to involve the end of civilization as we know it – every flood or hurricane survivor will remind you of that.
For anyone living near a river or large creek, having a flood plan is advised. Preparing for and evacuating in the event of a flood can be much different than preparing for other disasters.
Packing small individual inflatable floats or several blow-up vinyl boats and a manual foot pump with your gear could get the family over water-covered roads while bugging out. Utilizing waterways in your area when creeks are flowing could also give your feet a much-needed break when bugging out on foot.
Bugout bags should not only cover all the survival basics but be filled to address likely needs specific to your location. If doomsday occurs during the time of year your town becomes an “island” due to flooding, your SHTF gear must meet those needs in additional to all the general ones.
While each disaster plan is somewhat unique depending on what you are preparing for, each plan will still need to contain certain elements.
For example, each plan needs to include where everyone in your family will rendezvous before evacuating the city, your bug out location outside of the city, and every possible escape route leading out of the city to that bug out location.
Assessing Your Chances of Bugout Success
As mentioned above, bugging out is serious business, and is a pivotal decision in your survival plan that should not be made lightly.
The number of things that can go wrong with even a comparatively simple bug-out operation are virtually limitless and heed my warning when I tell you that in the greater context of the event that you are trying to survive you could be making things even worse by attempting to do so.
Accordingly, it is imperative that you perform a thorough and completely honest assessment of your capabilities at the instant that you would attempt a bug out.
It is one thing to appraise the capabilities of yourself, your plan and anyone else who would be traveling with you be a family or otherwise when the sun is shining, you are in peak condition and you don’t have to contend with the traffic, terror and death of a live event.
Your assessment will likely look very, very different at the moment of truth. Regardless, it must be done. Consider the following factors to help inform your determination concerning the success of any bug out operation you are likely to undertake:
There is nothing easy about bugging out, even if you have the luxury of traveling by vehicle. Traveling on foot is another thing entirely.
The physical strain of conducting movement while remaining alert to threats, attending to all of the needs of the people you are responsible for and generally being on edge will put your stamina to a severe test.
And if you are one of the preppers that plans on grabbing your BOB and heading out the door on foot, you will very likely have a grueling journey ahead of you.
For this reason, your overall health and physical fitness level, as well as the physical fitness levels of the people traveling with you, are imperative in determining whether or not a bugout is even possible.
Any group on foot can only move as fast as the slowest member, and although a motor vehicle will dramatically simplify these concerns assuming that passable roads are available ailments and various health considerations might mean that long-term confinement in a vehicle could simply not be possible.
Disregard these concerns at your own peril.
Thinking positive and visualizing a good outcome is generally worthwhile, but we must never divorce ourselves from the possibility that things will simply not go our way.
Life has a way of pitching us curve balls when we least want them, and I can assure you that life’s pitching arm will be well and truly warmed up during any major crisis.
You must consider what could potentially go wrong at every phase of the bug out operation and what the consequences would be.
If you’re traveling on foot, what would happen if you or someone with you became severely injured and could no longer walk, or even support their own weight? how much worse would that be if it happened in the most treacherous stretch of terrain during the journey?
If traveling by vehicle, what is the worst possible breakdown that could occur? Could you handle it? Are you prepared to handle it?
If you and yours had to abandon the vehicle and proceed on foot do you have a packing order for supplies? How would your route change in such an instance?
Just how bad is the event that you are facing? Is there a chance of some relatively minor flash flooding from a torrential downpour, or are you facing a 200-year flood event smack dab in the middle of a flood plain?
Has there been a rash of crime breaking out somewhere in town or his neighbor turning against neighbor in a frenzy of violence due to a societal collapse?
You must know what is arrayed against you and how bad it will likely be before you can make a genuinely informed decision about whether or not the risk of a bugout is worth it.
Sure, “better safe than sorry” is a fine mindset, but nothing is guaranteed, not even your quest for safety that begins with even greater safety in mind.
If things aren’t truly catastrophic think twice before you start packing bags and kids in the car or hitching up your pack and grabbing your walking stick. You might be giving up sure and solid ground for an uncertain outcome.
depending on where you live, what your plan is and what your destination is your bug out route and mode of travel could be entirely hazardous in and of itself. A long hike of a certain strenuousness through hilly or undulating terrain in a cold or wet season is a life-threatening event all its own.
Attempting to bug out of a metropolis swarming with scared and desperate people is going to expose you to a considerable amount of risk.
Breaking down or getting lost in the middle of a crisis when other people don’t know where you are, don’t know where to start looking for you and without anyone expecting you will be a hairy situation indeed.
Once again, bugging out is not heading off on a camping trip. It likely will not be easy and it almost certainly will not be safe unless you are truly blessed or extraordinarily lucky. Consider the bug out operation itself in totality before deciding to pull the trigger.
Where will you go?
Bugging out without a known destination is a recipe for failure. Before you can plan what type of bugout vehicles you will need to transport the family and what gear and supplies are necessary to take along, a specific end spot must be established.
Don’t just think, “I’m bugging out to the countryside” and mark that down as a destination in the bugout plan.
Circling an unfamiliar, and likely unwelcoming, rural community on a map is not a destination. Tens of thousands of panicked folks living in big cities and the suburbs will have exactly the same idea – all at once.
Rural residents, whether they are preppers or not, are more than aware of the marauding hordes which will be headed their way should a doomsday disaster strike in America. These people have guns, and know how to use them.
It will take only a few hours after the SHTF for rural residents, who tend to be on a first-name basis with one another, to block off their dirt roads and stand on the county line and stop any strangers attempting to come into their neck of the woods.
Ideally, buying land to turn into a TEOTWAKI prepper retreat in a rural locale far from a metropolitan area offers the best chance at survival. But, if going that route is just not in your budget, there are other more affordable and viable options.
Securing a Bugout Location Options
Form or join a mutual assistance group – Being a part of a like-minded group of preppers not only enhances the overall available skillsets necessary to survive a disaster, it also allows a pooling of funds to purchase a prepper retreat property – and gives you the numbers which will likely be necessary to defend it.
Prepping Leases – Rural residents often lease a portion of their land for hunting purposes on a seasonal basis. It may be possible to engage in a similar arrangement for bugout reasons.
Sure, a non-prepper might think you are absolutely crazy if you ask them to rent a spot on their land to park your camper year around and allow you to come live there after the SHTF, but don’t let that deter you – the lives of your loved ones are worth being stared at like you have two heads for a few moments.
Use social media and websites like Craigslist to find rural residents who are already allowing hunting leases on their land. These folks might be less shocked by a prepping lease proposal. Estimate a getting-to-know you period before getting a long-term lease contract.
When approaching a possible landlord, come prepared. Show the land owner background checks on all the adults in the family, share several heart-warming photos of the family to reassure the rural resident you are not a bunch of crazy people.
You should also be willing to show some financial documents and a credit check to further showcase your responsible nature and ability to pay for the prepping lease.
Draft a “skills sheet” for each person who would be on the leased property. This may convince the property owner of the benefits of having you and your loved ones around during an apocalypse.
Create a prepping lease contract which details how the land will be used both now and after the SHTF and include a release of liability waiver to ease any concerns the property owner might have over potential accidents and injuries occurring on the property.
Once a contract has been signed, turn the site into as much of a functional survival retreat as the landlord, your available funds, and time allow.
Get to know the community as much as possible, interact with the people there to increase your level of acceptance into their ranks during the rebuilding phase after a long-term disaster.
Every member of the family should carry with them a copy of the prepping lease to prove they have a right to access the property.
This may help you get passed any armed community force protecting the area, especially if the land owner does not survive whatever type of disaster has taken place.
State and National Parks – Bugging out to a park is far from ideal, but is better than not having a specific destination at all and could be used as a bugout backup plan for the detailed plan you develop.
Both state and national parks offer various types of lodging facilities, fire rings/grills for cooking, typically have stocked lakes or ponds, and plenty of wildlife running around to hunt and trap. Most parks have a dining hall, restaurant, or concession stand which can be raided for extra food and supplies.
Emergency gear and medical supplies are also stored somewhere on-site. A souvenir shop will be filled with clothing items and other useful tools and supplies geared to campers.
Bugout Communications Plan
Far too many Americans have become dependent upon modern technology to communicate. Folks younger than 28 probably do not even remember a time without cellphones and having their every question answered by grabbing an electronic device and “googling” it.
When the SHTF, regardless of just about any type of disaster you can think of, the communications will become overwhelmed and crash or be destroyed by the apocalyptic event itself.
Every bugout plan must devise multiple low-tech means of alternate communications so the family or mutual assistance group can connect with one another.
Handheld radios and HAM radios could become the most advanced and useful modes of communication during a doomsday disaster.
These items should be properly stored in a Faraday Cage, even when bugging out, in case the apocalyptic scenario involves a solar flare or EMP which could fry all sensitive electronics.
A printout of emergency frequencies should be memorized by the family while they are being trained to properly use the devices.
The list of frequencies should also be printed out, laminated, and carried with everyone who has a radio with an additional copy being placed in the fireproof box alongside other important documents.
Low-tech modes of communications only members of the family understand are essential to the bugout plan as well. Creating symbols or colors which relay a simple allow the family to leave warnings and messages for one another. Spray paint, permanent markers, or colored bandanas or string can be used as a non-verbal mode of communication.
Sample Emergency Phrases for the Communications Plan:
- Not safe here, danger
- Moved to next rally point
- Launch bugout plan
- Take alternate route
- Moving on foot
- Avoid roadway
Each family member should always have a contact card in their pocket, bookbag, or wallet. This contact card needs to contain the information, such as cell phone numbers and e-mail addresses, of every member of the family.
Meeting the Family’s Needs
Next to selecting and securing a bug out location, this is the most important aspect of the bug out plan.
While you have likely done the research and the math to determine how much food and potable water is needed to get to the bugout location, and have all those items organized into numbered or color-coded totes, there is so much more to consider when figuring out how to move your beloveds safely and quickly from wherever they are when disaster strikes to the survival retreat.
definitely check out here) but in general you’ll need to have provisions enough for every member of the family along with all of the usual survival essentials that can serve a group of people traveling together.
In short, you’ll need the following basics:
- Water and personal water filter
- Shelter supplies including tent and possibly sleeping bags and duct tape
- Navigational aids including maps, compass, GPS and spare batteries/charger, as well as a signaling mirror or Fresnel lens
- Weapons for self-defense, preferably firearms with spare ammo
- Spare clothing
- Communication devices such as walkie-talkies
- Basic tools for in-field repairs and problem solving, including a first-aid kit
Survival skills are far more important than gear, and must be carefully taken into consideration when drafting the bugout plan. If the family members cannot meet the expectations of the plan and emergency alterations of the plan, it is merely a useless piece of paper that took weeks or even months, to create.
Do not assume the entire family will be either in arm’s reach of each other or be able to chat/text via a cellphone or landline when the disaster happens.
When I was a school teacher, fire drills were always conducted first thing in the morning during homeroom, when no student was in the rest room, a teacher was always present with an attendance sheet in hand – never when the students were out to recess or eating lunch when there were only three adults supervising up to 100 students and none of them had an attendance sheet or even knew all the names of the children in their temporary charge.
If a fire had happened any time other than homeroom, neither the staff nor the students would be able to react quickly, safely, or with a clear head. Do not let confusion and panic be the go-to response for your loved ones during a disaster.
Establish a set of simple protocols for all the family members to follow, despite their age – and drill for various scenarios when practicing the bugout plan.
School-age children will be faced with adults in a position of authority attempting to follow rules created by a non-prepper administrator if the SHTF while on campus.
Evaluate the family’s strengths and weaknesses during both the family’s survival training and the bugout plan practice runs.
Chart the progress made by each loved one after each session and continuously work to improve the physical, mental, and emotional preparedness levels of your loved ones while working on survival skills.
Always cross-train when learning and honing skills – if the only person who knows how to do an important aspect of survival, all that knowledge is lost if the person dies during the disaster.
School Emergency Response Plan
You need to know the details of the school response plan and how to factor it into your bugout plan – or teach your children when and how to defy their teachers and to put your escape plan into action.
No school district is going to permit an older child to come take a younger sibling out of their care. Know this now and plan for it.
Each school in your area already will already have specific emergency response plans, and it’s your responsibility to speak with the school to ask about what these plans are. Include picking your children up from the school location or the school evacuation location as part of your evacuation plan.
Specific questions that you should ask the school regarding their emergency response plans include the following:
- Does the school store food, water, and medical supplies in the event of emergencies?
- What are the ways your student can communicate with you during an emergency or disaster?
- Is there a sheltered location where the school will take the students should they need to evacuate the building, and if so, where is it?
- What are the rules regarding picking up your child from the school or shelter location?
- Does the school allow students with a drivers’ license to leave campus to head home in the event of a disaster?
The answers to these questions are imperative, so you know what you need to do if disaster strikes when one or more of your children are at school.
If any of your children have a driver’s license, and assuming the school will allow them to leave to go home during a crisis, then you should decide in advance whether or not they will drive home to rendezvous with you there.
Also inform any of your children of driving age that they are responsible for bringing their younger siblings (if they have any) with them as well.
Again, communication is key. As soon as disaster strikes, or as soon as you hear the warnings of a pending disaster from the authorities, attempt to contact your children immediately even if they’re still in school.
Have a plan in advance so that if you have a teenager with a driver’s license and a car, who doesn’t respond within a set amount of time, they know you will come to the school to find them.
Make sure your child knows that even if they see your message after the agreed upon time, they are NOT to head home but should respond to you immediately and then wait at the school.
Agree upon a specific location at the school where your child should wait for you if they missed the response window, or cannot drive home because the car won’t start or is stolen, etc.
Identification and Emergency Contacts
Create a binder of essential emergency contact information, relative’s names and addresses, photo of all members of the family members bugging out, and important documents such as birth certificates, medical records, and insurance and property deeds – in case society does return to “normal” after a long-term disaster.
The binder should be placed inside a light-weight and portable fire proof safe and placed with the first box of preps that will be loaded into the bugout vehicle – and kept handy in case the family has to eventually abandon the vehicle and travel on foot.
A smaller folder of photos and emergency contact information should be carried by at least all the adults in the group, but ideally by each of the children as well. If the group becomes separated while bugging out, you will not be able to get on your cellphone and pull up a photo of the missing child or loved one to show to strangers.
If the adults in the group perish while bugging out or after reaching the BOL, the emergency contact information of relatives or close friends could be used to find someone to take the children in and care for them.
Incorporate both the weekday and weekend schedules of the family into the bugout plan. The family could be in different location in the same town, or even in different towns and unable to communicate when the SHTF. This very real possibility makes what you pack in each family member’s bugout bag even more important.
The established routines of all members of the family should be used when creating rallying points in case of separation when it is time to bugout. The locations of the rally points should be practiced until they are memorized and laminated list of the locations always with each member of the family.
Children cannot take a bugout bag to school, but you can pack them extra snacks, juice boxes, a change of clothes, and a flashlight in their bookbag.
A few simple items like these can help keep them safe and feeling prepared while waiting for you at a rally point. The extra weight of carrying a family member’s bugout bag to the rally point if maneuvering on foot, must also be factored into the bugout plan practice runs.
Create a backup-rallying point close by each primary rally point in case the area the loved one is supposed to meet in unreachable. All family members should carry some type of paint pen or permanent marker so they can leave a coded message to if they had to move to a safer location, such as the backup rallying point or the next primary rally point on the list.
Mode(s) of Transportation
The last thing we will talk about is the necessity of having a family bug out vehicle so your evacuation plan can come to fruition. Your bug out vehicle doesn’t have to be a separate car from your family cars, but at the same time, not every ordinary car will work for a bug out vehicle.
There are several qualities that your bug out vehicle must meet, including the following:
- It should be AWD or 4WD (in case you need to go off road)
- It must have enough seats to carry everyone in your family
- It must have enough cargo space for supplies such as your bug out bags, first aid kits, food and water, spare gasoline, weapons, etc.
- It must be reliable and in good condition
- and more.
A 4WD pickup truck or SUV is your best bet for a bug out vehicle because it most easily fulfills these qualities. While sedans may get better gas mileage, most of them lack 4WD capabilities, and cargo space is severely limited. A 4WD sedan may be fine for one or two people, but it’s going to be too small for a family.
Whether you will relocate using a bug out vehicle (BOV) your everyday driver, or on foot – have a backup plan in case the chosen mode of transportation is no longer an option – which could be very likely.
Unless the BOV is EMP-proof, it might not move during the doomsday disaster. Even if the BOV runs flawlessly, the roads may be too clogged or unpassable due to the nature of the disaster, to make bugging out behind the wheel possible.
Bugging out on foot and on horseback, should be worked into the bugout plan. All the carefully packed gear in the BOV may need to be left behind, the bugout plan must take that into consideration if it is to have even a remote chance at being successful.
The weight of each bag must be feasible for each member of the family to carry – even the little ones. An all-terrain stroller for babies and young children should be a part of the bugout plan.
Even if the stroller ultimately must be ditched along the way due to terrain issues, it will have substantial value for the quick movement of the family for the duration of time it is used.
Practice the bugout plan on foot to the logical degree possible to ensure each family member can carry the weight of the bag and is in top physical condition in case bugging out on foot is the only option.
Bugging out on horseback offers a far quicker pace and the packing of more survival gear possible.
If you cannot keep a horse at your home, lease barn space at a residential or commercial facility nearby. Burying caches of gear near barn will allow you to pack more survival gear than you can carry on your back while walking to reach the horses.
Understanding the Terrain
Seasonal weather fluctuations are also integral factors for the bugout plan. An escape route which is perfectly reasonable and accessible when you are working on the plan, could be impassible during a season of heavy rain, unseasonably cold weather that causes a waterway to freeze if bugging out by boat, or too rugged with dry waterways during the summer months.
Both the primary escape route and the backup route should be traversed by all possible modes of transportation incorporated into the bugout plan should be tested during practice runs during all four seasons of the year – and after an unusual weather disturbance.
Do not limit practice runs to daylight hours, the disaster might occur on a dark cold and stormy night – the family must be prepared to maneuver safely and quickly in low-light conditions while being pelted with a chilly rain.
Many routes are going to be blocked either due to law enforcement, traffic, collapsed buildings, or a combination of those things. If you want to evacuate safely, you need to be fully aware of every possible route out of the city and have multiple backup routes in place so you can change them quickly and decisively.
Also, keep your gas tank as full as possible at all times to ensure you can reach your bug out location.
If you do not have access to a reliable vehicle, consider alternate transportation including bicycles, four wheelers, motorized scooters, etc.
Typically, a reasonably fit person can walk between 2.5 to three miles-per-hour on even flat ground for an extended period. When carrying a BOB the pace will be slower and it is not likely you will remain on solid ground for the entire journey.
Burying caches along the entire bugout route is a great idea, but if it takes the family hours longer than planned to reach the next cache of hidden water or dry clothes, the group might never make it to the bugout location.
Traversing the route on foot is the only way to give you a realistic idea of how long it will take the family to travel regardless of the season and weather conditions. You may need to simulate portions of the bugout route with similar terrain for safety or OPSEC reasons.
If the journey to the prepper retreat would involve walking along a paved road if forced to abandon the BOVs, take the family to a public track or walking path and cover the same amount of ground while still carrying their bugout bags to get a close comparison of travel time and reaction to the pack weight.
In conclusion, while you should come up with multiple emergency evacuation plans that will serve you well as a response to different kinds of disasters, each emergency evacuation plan still needs to contain the same elements:
- A solid communication system between family members
- A rendezvous point where your family will all meet before evacuating
- A defined bug out or evacuation point outside of your city
- Multiple different routes and backup routes for getting to that bug out point
- Knowledge of the emergency response plan of the school(s) where your children attend
- A dependable bug out vehicle capable of carrying your family and your supplies
Tara Dodrill is a homesteading and survival journalist and author. She lives on a small ranch with her family in Appalachia. She has been both a host and frequent guest on preparedness radio shows. In addition to the publication of her first book, ‘Power Grid Down: How to Prepare, Survive, and Thrive after the Lights go Out’, Dodrill also travels to offer prepping tips and hands-on training and survival camps and expos.