One of the most foundational elements in prepping beyond stashing emergency food and other supplies is bugging out, the notion that you’ll hit the road with a backpack load or, if you are fortunate and the situation dictates, a car load of survival gear to hopefully escape whatever disastrous end is barreling toward you.
You cannot strike up a conversation about anything in prepping without the topic drifting toward bugging out.
Since everyone and their brother, literally, is planning on bugging out, that must be the go-to plan, right?
First whiff of mayhem, or trouble or unrest and skinny-pedal-on-the-right to greener pastures, ideally a prepared bug-out location to call your own. After all, if you stay ahead of trouble then no trouble will come to you. Right. Right?
Maybe. It could mean being overtaken by severe weather and subsequent exposure, greater risk of being accosted by the desperate or criminal, or one of any number of lesser mishaps in kinder times that will no doubt spell disaster and even death during a SHTF event.
In this article, we’ll try to make sure that doesn’t happen by forewarning you with some hard-earned wisdom about the real risks of bugging out, so you’ll hopefully consider to bug in instead.
Table of Contents
The Grass is always Greener…
Preppers may quibble over the exact definition of bugging out, with some thinking it means a temporary if lengthy relocation to safer territory in the face of disaster while others feel it is more akin to an INCH scenario- I’m Never Coming Home.
Both may be bugging out, but here is what bugging out broadly means to the most preppers.
A prepper will decide to bug out when they decide that staying where they are, at “base” or “home” is no longer tenable due to oncoming threats or a lack of sustainability and that being elsewhere, anywhere else but hopefully a pre-prepped BOL is the safer option.
I say “anywhere else” Specifically because preppers will, given any vote in the matter, choose to carry their Bug-Out Bag or BOB with them.
This most cherished of all material preps is the “Last Coach out of Tombstone”, the “Get out of Jail” item that makes the BOB possible.
Within the BOB is everything a prepper will need to sustain life pretty much wherever they are.
It will contain shelter, fire-starting, food and water supplies. Tools, weapons and clothing. Medical and other support gear. The BOB is your home away from home, and where it is, there is home.
Some preppers will decide to bug out at the first sign of trouble, BOB and all in tow. They would rather risk some embarrassment and inconvenience over getting caught flat footed.
Others will wait for their “line in the sand” moment, or a set of preconceived criteria that signals the time to evac is upon them. There is no necessarily right or wrong answer, but it does beg the question:
Could bugging out be a bad call?
Or is it?
Flatly stated, bugging out may not be your best or even first choice in dealing with a situation.
Consider the alternative for most preppers, most of the time: sitting at home, staying buttoned up tight in your house, carefully stocked with supplies and staying put while the situation develops.
You’ll hopefully be doing this with the support of family, friends and neighbors.
You’ll have food and a healthy water supply because you have spent the lion’s share of your time bolstering and fortifying your homefield advantage.
If you bug-out, all of that is left behind save for what you can carry on your backs and in your vehicles. Even with a convoy, it is certainly far less that what you have it you have been stashing and stocking diligently
Even if your provisions and equipment total makes a lean list, you will be leaving behind the known for the relatively unknown.
I am not just talking about where you’ll be heading off to, assuming you know; the trip itself could be very risky depending on the circumstances that sent you flying in the first place.
Bugging out is a major decision. You must know yourself and your group or family if applicable. Oftentimes in prepping you’ll have to roll the dice on two equally unpalatable potential outcomes and hope for the best.
Managing and mitigating risk is part of it. In the next sections, I’ll offer you some considerations to mull over before you decide to grab the BOB and load the car or take off for the trail.
Your own physical condition and by extension the condition of your group members will have a significant impact on your decision to bug out or not. Do you have the strength to bug out?
Is your physical condition up to it if you go by foot or bicycle, or are heading to a place where survival entails hard labor, day in and day out?
Those could be life-threatening endeavors in their own right. Bugging out will certainly have its share of harrowing trials and tribulations. It might be ugly.
Are you able to run, jump, lift heavy objects, pull someone from the water, or even fight off an attacker? All of these things, and a lot more or worse, can happen in a bug out. All of them require that you have some measurable level of strength, endurance and agility.
Hiking while hauling a BOB weighing 20, 30, 40 or 50 pounds is on another planet compared to an unladen trot through a forest trail.
What about your family or group members? Is anyone elderly and infirm? Young, too young to be anything but a dependent? What about illness or persistent disability?
A yes to any of these will affect your decision, as total energy expenditure for sustainment goes up while available labor goes down. Not the end of the world, but something you must be prepared for.
It will almost always be simpler to care for these individuals in a place where you already have an advantage; your home.
Even travelling by vehicle, the very elderly do not do so well, and remember that this will be on top of the stress and strain of the event itself. This is not a vacation on awry.
If you are in face planning to travel by foot, you will need to make arrangements to accommodate this, either with wheelchairs, litters, carrying them or some other way.
Depending on the weather, this might be impossible. You’ll have to stay put and take your chances or abandon them to their fate. I trust no one reading this would ever do such a thing.
This is not saying you should accept what’s coming if it looks non-survivable! Only that you should do everything possible to deal with what is, not what you wish it were. A tenet of prepping is “be prepared” but also “be adaptable”.
What are You Facing?
Knowing the near-term and long-term effects of the event that is sending you packing is just as important as any equipment considerations. If you are fleeing from a weather event, your timing will be essential as leaving early and getting delayed may see you overtaken by the event.
Keep in mind you will also be faced with the harsh decision of staying, which might be better either in the short run, or the long run.
In a vehicle, this can be bad. On foot, it can be devastating. It is a fine thing and requires much in the way of research and “reading the tea leaves” to determine when the right time to head out it.
If you are facing something like a civil unrest situation, or the collapse of rule of law, then you’ll need to know where the most troublesome and dangerous parts of town are as well as any currently active mobs so you can avoid both.
Failure to do this on foot will likely see you injured or killed and your things stolen. Failure to do so in a vehicle may see you immobilized and ripped out of your car, or being forced to mow down pedestrians at best. Neither is a good move if it can be avoided.
Consider the duration of the event, and its projected effects on society. If it will be over, win lose or draw in about a week’s time, you might want to hold those horses.
A month or more, and dangerous all the while, that’s a little different if danger is a constant.
If you are talking about prolonged discomfort and lack of social niceties, that’s no reason to flee. You should have stashed provision accordingly.
Something much longer term or unknown duration, that gets harder to make the call on. Even if the event itself was not particularly lethal, the aftermath could turn out highly lethal if societies systems break down.
Missed meals, unclean water and a lack of law, order and basic services will see looting and outright marauding become constant threats.
As supplies are picked clean, they will spread out over a wider and wider area until they find more goodies. Even if you live out a ways. It will not be long before the desperate, the cruel and the crazed make their way to you neighborhood.
It might be best to be far, far away before that happens.
Where are you Going?
You can grab your BOB and bounce when the time comes, looking for a nice little oasis next to a babbling brook full of salmon to settle down next to and enjoy a restorative recuperation while the world burns “back there.”
Or, you can, you know, wake up and actually plan instead of daydream. But planning is a form of thinking and thinking is hard so most people avoid it strenuously. Don’t be one of them.
Ideally, you’ll have some known fallback location to go to. A structure for shelter and storage, as well as an advantage for defense. It might not be your property. It could be a relative’s, a friend’s or someone else’s.
Alternately you might have some wilderness location picked out, one you know well with access to water, materials for shelter and hopefully food.
No matter which one you have decided on as your primary, you need several backups, in descending order of livability and amenities.
Just as importantly, you need to assess as best you can how the current troubles will affect your route between Point A and Point B.
Weather and social unrest can have far-reaching consequences, and it would be awful to jump out of the frying pan and into a (potentially literal) fire.
Not for nothing, things might be going swimmingly at your BOL for a time, and then problems catch up to you. The site might become compromised. Some entirely new trouble may send you packing.
There is no way to know ahead of time. That is why you must constantly being doing secondary fallback point selection and route assessments.
You don’t want to be sitting there “Umm”-ing and “Ahh”-ing when it is time to go, go, go.
Potential Threats when Bugging Out
All kinds of misfortune could befall you at any phase of your bug out. From the minor showstoppers to events that are disasters unto themselves.
Below is just a small sample. Let each inform you as to what you might be facing, and what you might do to prepare.
- On foot, you are accosted by evil people using the current event as a license to do evil to their fellow man. You are forced to fight outnumbered, or you may die.
- Fleeing the worst of the storm damaged area by car, you are overtaken by a surprise flare up in the wake of it. You wind up trapped and immobilized far from civilization. Your cell phones are not working, and no one knows where you are or when to expect you.
- Attempting to get out of the city before the rioting turns into bedlam, you load up the family and go. A series of roads blocked with traffic lead you to improvise. You happen upon an advancing mob of malcontents, bent on mayhem. Cars have webbed you in. With nowhere to go, the rioters are tearing people out of their cars and smashing windows. Before you can react, a Molotov cocktail bursts against the windshield.
- Cutting across the forested preserve in the area will let you reach the next town over within a day of hiking, and you can avoid the trouble on the roadways. Your friend is waiting for you to arrive so you can depart with his family for their mountaintop getaway. Halfway through the woods, fatigued and sore, you fumble your step off a log and your ankle gives way with a sickening crack.
- By car or by foot, exposure is a rapid and certain killer. Any of the above in conjunction with bad weather could see you and your companions dead in as little as hours.
Some of these things you can prepare for, or prevent, either by altering your departure timing or simply packing accordingly.
Some can be mitigated by smart “pre-flight” planning and “registering” your plan with someone you know if you have time and opportunity to reach them. That way, at least, someone will know to come looking for you if you are overdue.
If all this sounds suitably grim, it is not my intention to scare you away from prepping. Not at all! I only want to make you aware of risk factors that others here to now may have omitted sharing with you. You cannot make good decisions unless you are aware of all the risks.
Getting Bug-Out Ready
Getting ready to bug-out should happen more or less concurrently with your growth as a prepper.
Meaning, “bugging out” is not a discreet skill you learn like, say, shooting or fire making. Instead, it is what happens when all of your skills and material preparation is put into gear according to a plan.
That being said, you should not wait until you are a Certified Master Prepper, 1st Class to begin planning to bug-out.
The time to plan is right now, and you’ll plan according to what you can do and where you are along your prepping journey.
More skills and better capability will give you more options. Even so, if you have a case of water and MREs, and old crossbow and a pair of hiking boots, you should still be planning your bug out to suit your station.
For instance, if you are in bad shape and have little in the way of wilderness survival gear, training or experience, you cannot “bug out” right? Wrong!
You can, yours will just look different from some snake-eating mountain man’s.
In your case as a nascent prepper caterpillar, you’d emphasize road travel at all costs. Where is the next safest place you could get to if forced to run? How far is it? How many ways can you get there (at least three, if possible)?
If you had to go right now- NOW NOW NOW THE SKY IS FALLING- how fast could you be ready and in the car and on the road. Seconds make minutes and minutes count, friend.
If you are scrambling right now to grab everything you need and roll and panicking if you should even do that, then you need to be thinking staging: have a BOB with what provisions you’ll need, even if that is only, right now, some food, water, a change of clothes, and your wallet. If that’s what you’ve got, do it! There is no shame in it.
As you grow in skills and abilities, maybe you can think of heading out on foot, either in an urban or rural area.
If you have the ability to make camp more or less effectively and comfortably anywhere, that is one more tool in your bag of tricks. You may not want to do that as your first or even second choice, but it is nice to know that you can.
The following is a grab-bag list of things you should be doing well-ahead of time to make your life easy, at least easier, when the time comes to bug out.
You’ll be happy to know that we have hundreds of articles here on Survival Sullivan Covering all the topics listed below, so all you’ll have to do is start studying up if you don’t know what to do.
- Select a Bug-Out Location (BOL)
- If you have some in mind, assess them for suitability against your survival needs:
- If you don’t start scouting some out. Ask friends, family members, etc.
- Try to have at least two in your pocket.
- If you have some in mind, assess them for suitability against your survival needs:
- Plan Your Routes
- Drive and/or walk or bike each route you plan to use for bugging out.
- Have at least three for each BOL.
- Be sure that different seasons and conditions will not invalidate your route selection.
- Plot your routes and destination on a map.
- Pack a Bug-Out Bag (BOB)
- Contains everything you need for sustainment while travelling to BOL.
- Items chosen according to skillset, plan and terrain.
- Make sure pack is comfortable and durable and can be carried on back.
- Get in Shape
- If your health and conditioning is poor, your chances of survival drop. Period.
- Start a fitness regime as soon as possible.
- Be disciplined and stick to it!
- Watch your diet.
- Train for performance, not aesthetics.
- Stay Alert
- Sometimes you’ll have advanced warning of danger. Other times not.
- You must have pre-decided “go” triggers for various circumstances.
Bugging out is often a good idea, but it is not the only idea. Bugging out can see you leave more of what you need behind chasing safety that may not exist, and creating exposure where there was none, in the face of danger that may not actually have displaced you.
For this reason, it pays to have a rock-solid bug-out plan and criteria for implementing it.
Make sure you fully understand the risks of any bug out plan, along with your own limitations, before you grab the BOB and run out the door.