One of the tenets of prepping is the mandate to be ready to bug out: we plan our bug-out routes, choose bug-out locations and load our bug-out bags with all the things we think we will need to survive while we are out and about and hopefully very far away from whatever danger sent us scrambling in the first place.
Bugging out is definitely a viable strategy for surviving SHTF situations, but question you should be asking yourself is for how long?
Bugging out may mean camping, but it does not mean you are going camping, if you take my meaning. You cannot simply pull up your tent pegs and head home when you have had enough, or are tired, cold, hot or hungry. No, the situation will dictate when it is safe for you to go home, if ever, and so you had better know what you are doing and how long you can be out there before you kick in your Plan B and quick.
In this article, we’ll be breaking down all of the factors and concerns you should be aware of when bugging out that will affect your survival time.
Table of Contents
Understand What You are Facing
After many conversations with all kinds of preppers, the new, the veteran, the timid and the bold, I have come to the unfortunate conclusion that most of them don’t have a great idea of what bugging out entails.
While most of these folks have a destination in mind, it seems their plan has stopped there: they have not considered too many additional factors beyond, “is it safe there?” and “how do I get there?”
That just won’t do. You have to survive three phases when bugging out- the event that sent you running in the first place, the travel to your BOL (bug-out location) and then survive your stay, whatever the duration, on location.
The variables that make up each of these phases are enormous, but today we are concentrating on what is probably the most neglected, and that is staying at your bug-out location waiting for things to hopefully settle down.
Sure, you might be able to plunk down your BOB and basically relax if you are very lucky, extremely well-equipped or just that damn good, but chances are life and fate will conspire to throw a monkey-wrench into the works of your intricately laid plans.
Maybe you have more people than just yourself to worry about. Maybe you are very out of shape, or infirm. Perhaps you don’t have a dwelling or other structure to lay up in at your BOL.
You may have no way to cache supplies for future use, or arrive to find them stolen or ruined. There is practically no end to the variety of challenges and obstacles you might be facing.
Unlike recreational camping, exploring or any other such “risky” activity, there is probably not going to be a do-over when you are bugging out for real. The fact that you are bugging out at all is indicative of a major threat to life and limb, or a highly severe localized event of indeterminate duration. This means you cannot just “go home.”
The Importance of Logistics
If you cannot stay at your bug-out location any longer for any reason, you have the same choices available to any organism in a hostile environment: you can leave, you can adapt or you can die.
We are going to do our best together to make sure you know what you need to know in order to prevent the latter. The following sections will shed light on the various factors that will significantly affect your ability to survive (and for how long) when bugging out.
But before we get there, more than anything, if you take nothing else away from this article remember this: generally, the more you know, and the greater your skill, the less gear you need.
For most preppers, your gear and supplies are your lifespan in any unforgiving, austere environment to a greater or lesser degree.
I heard it said by the great Cody Lundin that the pack (or BOB) functions like a SCUBA tank for a diver in the ocean; if it has gear in it, and the right kind, you can stay “under” meaning out in the wilderness. If the gear, or “air,” runs out you have to come up or die.
He might have heard that from someone else but I first heard that wisdom from him, so that is who I am attributing it to.
At any rate, he is quite right. If you don’t have serious primitive skills, in-depth knowledge of your environment and more than a little luck, you will be in trouble, at some point, in most remote places.
So you can hedge your bets and get cheap insurance when bugging out by focusing more on those skills and increasing your knowledge of your surrounding bioregion and environment than by spending scads and scads more cash on gear.
Now that that is out of the way, let’s get into the other important stuff.
Climate / Weather
In the hierarchy of survival needs, shelter is in most areas second only to air. Yep, even more important than the all-important clean drinking water. You can survive a couple of days without water, even a bit longer, but only minutes or hours if exposed to the elements under the wrong conditions.
Plain exposure is one of the biggest killers of humans caught out by nature’s fury, so you must have a plan for dealing with it and it had better work. More, it must be able to accommodate all of the people in your group.
Any place that is hot, cold, or rainy (really, anytime you are outdoors and it can rain) exposure is a threat. Just getting soaked with sweat and exposed to a stiff wind will strip heat from your body like no tomorrow.
Warm and arid climates are more forgiving so long as you have shade, plenty of water and aren’t exerting yourself, but still pose a serious threat through drastically increased perspiration.
Not a coincidence, water is almost always harder to find in these environments and since it is so heavy you probably will not be able to bring enough with you unless travelling by vehicle.
Even in an idyllic climate zone, rain may cause flash flooding that can be life-threatening on its own or at best a serious pain in the ass, washing away shelters, gear and making life miserable until you can get to higher ground.
Consider all temperature and weather related effects before deciding on your BOL, and be sure to review them in light of hanging seasons.
Family or Group
Additional people are often a big help in a survival situation but they also create additional challenges, namely in greater consumption of resources, differing ability levels, health and medical problems, etc.
Even so, more hands make light work and can grant greater security during sleep scheduling and more. Consider the impact that a group, even if it is just a partner will have on your choice of BOL.
In areas with abundant tree growth or other natural resources gathering of firewood or other fuels and building of appropriate shelters will be much simpler and more efficient than doing it solo.
A fire will warm a group of people gathered around it easily, and that same group of people working together can easily gather a surplus of firewood in short order.
That being said, people need water and plenty of it to survive. Any carried sources are quickly drained and will need constant replenishment. Make sure that any BOL you choose has at least one and preferably several reliable sources of water that you can then make safe to drink by a method of your choosing.
People also need food in abundance, but this is mostly a psychological concern at first. Reduced or nil calories over time will result in crabby attitudes, but it is only after significant time with drastically reduced food intake that physical deterioration will occur.
At any rate, a steady flow of calories will keep all parties operating at high levels of activity, so you should be keenly aware of how much is required how often to sustain the required level of labor needed to survive in your BOL.
Any area with ample and easy to procure foodstuffs should be given serious consideration. You can carry quite a bit of food if you choose to go for super-calorie dense but bland fare, but having it nearby is a big plus.
This is what I was emphasizing so strenuously above. Your combined wisdom, skill and experience will directly impact your survival time.
If you are in a larger group, those with less experience will be able to rely on guidance and instruction from those who have more, and are always a ready pair of hands to help with labor, but in a small group, a duo or going solo it is critical.
Knowing what to do and when, and in what order will be essential to preventing a bad outcome. Time and risk management will be the order of the day, and being all alone in the wilderness, especially under the circumstances, will be stressful enough to fray nerves to the edge of panic.
The personal experience of having “seen the elephant” and being practiced at all the requisite skills like shelter and fire building, navigation, hunting, trapping, security and other skills will go a long way to keeping your mind in the right place.
Panic is contagious, and once it alights it can be very tough to check. Make sure you get familiar and comfortable with your route to, from and around your BOL. Attempt to learn every inch of the terrain and its features around it. Understand what grows and lives there, what it can do for you, and what it can do to you.
Knowing that you can setup a shelter or build one from scratch versus floundering with one as darkness or weather approaches is a major confidence booster. So is being able to start a fire quickly, efficiently, and easily.
Knowing that the growling, snuffling and snorting is a harmless critter and not an apex predator will keep your drawers dry and fear at bay.
No amount of gear can overcome a total lack of experience. Get on it!
Your health, constitution and physical fitness levels are massively important in a bug-out situation and will proportionally influence the outcome, good or ill. The same goes for the people in your group. Any infirmity or ailment must be accounted for and accommodated if possible or alternate plans need to be arranged.
If you are a flabby couch potato and think you will jock-up, pick up your BOB and march through the night over any kind of actual terrain you are dreaming.
Physical conditioning is more than just athleticism and anyone who has ever tried a long forced hike in the woods or mountains while carrying a pack of any weight will solemnly attest to the utter havoc it wrought on their soft feet and flimsy back.
First off, you need to make fitness a part of preparation if at all possible if you are serious. Second, don’t delude yourself as to your ability and work capacity. If you are not in good shape or are frail due to old injury or just infirmity, that is okay, just make sure your bug-out plan and selection of your BOL takes that into account.
Ultimately, fit people are more resistant to injury, harder to kill in general, get sick less, get better faster and can do more work- faster, farther, stronger- with less penalty and shorter recovery. Don’t fool yourself: you will need every advantage you can get when the SHTF, and a strong, fit body is one of the biggest.
Another thing, your mental and emotional health is closely tied to your physical health. Fit people stay cool and in control better in high-stress situations, and cope with the aftermath better than folks whose bodies are always in a stress condition thanks to their running at suboptimal performance.
No more excuses: get fit and stay that way!
Gear, Supplies and Other Equipment
There is no way around it: gear can make a big difference in your outcome when bugging out. An inhospitable and frozen hellscape can be made entirely bearable, even comfortable, with the right gear. A high quality tent and arctic-rated sleeping bag along with clothing to match can see you snug as a bug with little else.
A thermo-electric stove in an area with abundant fuel will keep your electronics charged while you enjoy heat and hot food. A firearm may solve a major conflict without firing a shot when words fail to convey your displeasure. A water filtration system can make the nastiest, murkiest water safe to drink.
A good craftsman always brings the proper tools. This time is no different. While it is tempting to just bring everything, weight limits will quickly reduce your range and exhaust you, to say nothing of placing major strain on man and pack.
You have to be smart when loading your BOB (lucky for you there are plenty of articles to teach you just that here on Survival Sullivan) and bring only those things you will need to support you.
Some BOLs may require more gear to support life. Others will require less. If you have the luxury of a separate dwelling far away from your home you might even choose to pre-stock it with the gear and supplies you need.
Outdoor or remote BOLs can be prepped with supply caches on-site or along the route. Consider all options and plan ahead when selecting a BOL. Some will furnish much of what you need by nature; others will be almost entirely dependent on what you are able to bring.
Paths of Drift and Evacuation
Sadly you must also consider people that are not your people when considering when and where to bug-out. If you are bugging out, other people are also likely to head for the hills. You just don’t want them on your part of the hill!
Aside from closely-tied groups or tight-knit communities, masses of people always spell trouble for folks trying to lay low and ride out a crisis. Aside from massive drains on any local resources, fear and desperation will mix to form a morality-erasing cocktail that will set people upon each other for a bite of bread when things get bad.
It is awful, but there is nothing you can do to stop it, so it is best to just avoid it. Especially around urban centers people will generally radiate away from the city as soon as they are able and have need to do so.
If your BOL is along a major route of egress, or is at a known “honey hole” that would make survival easy, you will be more likely to encounter other unknown survivors.
Managing these contacts takes another set of skills and is only done efficiently with people you trust on your side who are equally trained and experienced. Even in encounters where there is not a violent outcome, you will constantly be looking over your shoulder for thievery and retaliation from those you could not or would not help.
The farther and less accessible to the most people you BOL is, the better. Now you can probably see how “mutually exclusive” some of these criteria are from one another!
Hazards and Hostiles
There are of course some things you can only do well to avoid. They have little redeeming quality. Some biomes, like swamps, will make survival an agonizing or extremely difficult proposition.
The boggy terrain and aggressive wildlife and microfauna will increase the chances that you fall victim to a bite, bug or disease. Plenty of woodland and desert areas are infested with venomous and dangerous reptiles and insects.
Others have ill-tempered megafauna like bears and moose. Some areas are more vulnerable to natural disasters, like avalanches, mudslides and flash floods.
In suburban or urban areas you may face predation from human threats, be they gangs or opportunistic psychopaths who were just waiting for the say when the rule of law went out the window.
Follow-on and secondary effects from chemical leaks, sewage spills or overflow and low-lying areas that can be flooded with such a nasty morass after a ton of rain or an overflowing river will quickly turn hellish.
All of these are negative factors that, while they may be entirely avoidable, you must account for before settling in or travelling through.
Bugging Out Won’t Be Easy…
Bugging out is a central component of any prepper’s plans, but one must take the time and invest the care to ensure that doing so is not just a slow way to commit suicide.
A bug-out plan must be thought out in exacting detail and account for every contingency to ensure it is capable of supporting your life and the lives of anyone else under your charge. Use this article as a checklist to make sure you are looking at your BOL from all angles.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.