As a prepper, your bug-out bag is the most vital piece of equipment you own. It’s your lifeline when the SHTF, or in any disaster. It is essential to know your BOB, and what it’s capable of, but just as important to know yourself.
One big mistake that many preppers make with their bug-out bags, is not testing them. Imagine actually having to use your BOB, and finding out in the middle of a life-or-death evacuation that it cannot do the thing you bought it to do, or worse, you are not up to the task of carrying it as far as you need to.
An arduous but undeniably necessary part of prepping for a bug-out is testing your equipment and yourself so you know precisely what you and your gear are capable of and under what conditions.
Neither the remote wilderness nor the urban jungle will suffer a fool to live; you must be ready. Nothing else will see you and your family or friends survive.
This is why testing your BOB is imperative. Having the added confidence of knowing your own capabilities in your BOB, your plan and yourself can alleviate some unnecessary stress.
In this article, we’ll give you a guide for logically assessing your ability, determining weak points in your BOB, and practicing your movement overland so you have a realistic expectation of what you are capable of.
Table of Contents
Bugging Out is Perilous
You’ll never fail to hear the boasts of some ill-prepared survivor types about their superhuman ability to make tracks cross country, live off the land and lose pursuers and danger both in the untamed and untrodden parts of the earth.
They’ll regale you with stories of their prowess, adventure and misadventure deep off the grid and off many a map. They will fawn over their meticulously packed (and shockingly heavy) BOB.
They might as well be the second coming of Daniel Boone, Lewis, Clark and Paul Bunyan all in one… But when the time comes to actually move or do anything exertive, they’ll fatigue quickly. They are sucking wind long before the destination is in sight.
They will audibly, or not, for the sake of pride, complain about the way the straps of their bag dig into their shoulders. In short, reality, not fantasy and not their fraudulent ego, has come a knocking.
The mountain has found them wanting. This is often a source of derision and hurt feelings from a laugh at their expense in play or practice. During a real situation, this might be a death sentence and is deadly serious.
Way, way too many preppers are stone-dead guilty of being all about some bugging out except when it is time to practice the bug out.
Everyone knows where they are going, but they have no idea, not really, on how long it will take them to get there, under what conditions, and carrying what load, nor at what price to their body will that progress be purchased.
Facts: Most preppers with a bug-out bag and an on-foot bug-out plan have never actually executed a practice bug-out hike, journey, expedition, whatever you want to call it with a fully laden BOB under real conditions. Most have never even traveled their bug-out route unladen.
This is a massive and dangerous deficiency, one we hope to correct today.
Mistakes and Consequences
The mistakes preppers make in failing to properly prepare for an overland bug-out by foot usually fall into one of a few categories, and the consequences of those mistakes all interlace with one another, making for a disaster tapestry that will leave them in shambles if it leaves them alive at all.
The mistakes, or omissions, that are often committed are:
- Failing to acclimatize to movement with a load.
- Failing to understand what is required to traverse route.
- Failing to understand how conditions and terrain will affect the timetable and consumption of supplies.
- Failing to verify the integrity of BOB and other critical equipment capability.
The first mistake is by far one of the gravest. Even reasonably fit individuals have no idea how much harder simple walking is with a pack on their backs.
And it isn’t simply a matter of taking more effort to pick up your feet and set them back down. Simple balance will require more energy. It will take drastically more energy to maintain even a gentle walking pace.
The muscles of the back, chest, core and of course the legs will all be strained geometrically more than if you were not carrying a load. Your feet will beg for mercy under the increased pressure. Blisters will be far more likely.
Chafing will become a constant companion. Your mind will reel from this new sense of feebleness and exertion, and will quickly turn against you. Unless, of course, you have put in the time to harden the body and mind both from deliberate, consistent practice.
This will be compounded by the second mistake. All of the above consequences assume you are moving across flat pavement or forgiving, soft and short grass.
Add inclines, and your workload will be multiplied further. Add rough, irregular or broken terrain and that is another multiplier. Bad weather will make things worse yet, as your BOB grows heavier and heavier from absorbed water.
The first two mistakes give rise to the consequences of the third; this failure to understand what local conditions on your route and your newly discovered source of agony will do to your pace, of which your consumption of food and water, as well as your need for rest, is all predicated upon.
Sweating buckets, you guzzle through half your water supply in half a day’s hike. If you have 3 days to go, you had better pray you can come up with more water.
Lastly, things can get worse still should your equipment fail. A strap breaks. A side panel blows out, spilling the pack’s contents into the mud and muck, and leaving you no easy way to carry it.
A lot of people will pack their BOB in the comfort of their own home and then put it on to “test the weight”, and having done so, declared both themselves and the pack “good”.
This is a critical mistake with BOBs because neither the BOB nor the body is feeling the long-term effects of the weight over long distances or extreme terrain. After you pack your BOB, you must plan a hike to really test how well your BOB works.
The solution to the above vulnerabilities is simple, if not easy, and accomplished via two main initiatives with an ongoing tertiary objective. The first is to harden your body and acclimatize to the demands of carrying a loaded pack by a logical, sustained, and consistent fitness program and practice toward carrying a loaded BOB.
The second objective is to gather meaningful data on your speed against your endurance, and see how various changes in conditions, including weight, temperature, weather, and terrain conditions positively or negatively affect your progress.
The last is an ongoing objective, and that is the physical stress testing of all of your BOB-specific gear, meaning putting your pack, waist belt, and all of that through actual use according to how it is loaded.
This will reveal any deficiencies in your BOB’s construction, as well as how you have it packed and its interaction with your body, things to be alert for including prodding, hotspots, chafing, pinching, and so on.
First things first, you need to get into shape to a solid level of general fitness if you aren’t already. Don’t even try to carry anything like a proper load at first unless you are already fit. Assuming you are, start slow and light!
Hauling a pack for time, or rucking, will be working entirely new sets of likely underdeveloped muscles, and the risk of injury will be commensurately higher even on flat, easy terrain.
Load light, maybe ten pounds in your pack (sandbags work great until you want to do a proper test run), and then do some light walking with it. See how your shoulders, knees, ankles, and feet feel at the end of that.
If you feel aces, up the weight a tad and increase distance or speed. Repeat weekly, staying hyper-vigilant for excessive strains and pains. As you go, time yourself for speed at a given distance. You should be working to beat your own personal best but also paying attention to how much even a small increase in weight can affect your results. Remember that.
Over time, you will work up past 25 and 30 pounds of weight. Your goal should be to carry 50 pounds across significant distances, repeatedly, with no ill effect aside from standard soreness. Once you have done that, it is time to start working your routes.
Effects on Your Body
Even as Infantrymen, we still get fatigued when we put weight on our backs and walk long distances. Remember, this expedition is only meant to test your BOB, and how well your body responds to your packing list.
Don’t injure yourself because you feel like you have something to prove. If you’re not generally extremely active, don’t go trekking through 12 miles of dense wilderness with 80 lbs on your back. Start light, and with short distances as per the above advice..
Another thing to remember is hydration. You need to keep your body well-hydrated through hot and cold weather. Cold weather injuries are generally worsened by dehydration just like heat injuries.
Have at least two quarts of water for every 10 miles you walk to sustain yourself. Never forget, if you walk 10 miles out into the wilderness, you still have to walk back 10 miles.
Never judge distance by the amount of time you’re walking. More than likely, you’ll cover more distance on your initial trek into the wilderness in 30 minutes than on your way back (because you’ll be fatigued).
Keep a pace count, the average stride will cover one yard every two steps. Set a pre-determined distance before you walk, your legs will thank you later.
Always make sure you stretch before, and after you walk through rugged terrain with your BOB. Lower body injuries are mostly prevented by stretching and wearing proper footwear.
Like I said before, you’re doing this to test your BOB and how you can carry it, not to kill yourself. Safety should be your primary concern above all else.
Going the Distance
Once you have gained proficiency and ability at moving about with a BOB on your back, it is time to hit your routes for real.
That means actually traversing your primary, secondary, and any other bug-out routes you have formulated, in the city or in the country. Naturally, since you are as fit as a fiddle now and as agile as a billy goat you are ready to lace up and boogie.
Not so fast! You don’t want to go out into the wilderness without a plan, right? You’ll want a primary plan for movement, along with at least two alternates, just like planning your route.
That means filing a “flight plan” with at least two trusted people who will sound the alert if you are not back by ‘X’ time on ‘Y’ date. Never wander into the unforgiving wilderness without backup plans; testing your bug-out bag isn’t worth dying over. If anything happens, you’ll need rescue out looking for you.
Of course, actually getting stuck out in austere conditions on a test run, and having that test run turn into a live survival event is far from out of the question.
Even if you are just trotting along a well-worn and traveled trail, make sure you take at least a minimalist kit consisting of appropriate clothing for nighttime temps and bad weather, some shelter supplies, a survival kit, and plenty of water and some calories.
No matter how well you did moving around with your BOB on flatland, really flatland, it is going to be a far slower and more exertive experience moving over eve pastureland: You’ll need to go slower to be sure of your footing. Slight variations in grade, terrain hardness, and more will slow you down and fatigue you quicker.
You will also need to be conservative on this “real” outing just as you were in the beginning of your training.
REMEMBER: For every mile out, it is the same amount of miles back. Don’t leave everything on the ground and be a dripping, sloppy mess only to have to turn around and slog back. Save some for the return trip until you are doing a “live” test of your plan!
At this stage, pay particular attention to how far you are getting, both in miles and waypoints, along your route at a given speed. Are you sucking wind? Slow it down. Are you feeling froggy? Speed it up a tad.
The idea is to find a sustainable pace you can maintain for a long time but one that steadily gobbles up the miles. It also pays to know your “double-time” pace and how long you can keep it up if you have to; speed may be a factor in your survival.
Record or make a note of your pace across various terrains and inclines, and you can use that data to extrapolate about how fast you can go across various sections of your route and ergo how long it will, nominally, take you to reach your destination.
Some preppers think they can cover 30, 40, 50, or even 60 miles in a day. Maybe you can, if your fitness level supports that across relatively forgiving terrain. Maybe you cannot, either due to a lack of capacity or simply a heavy load or damned hard terrain.
That’s okay. You just need to get sorted with the fact that you can only, at best, manage 20, 10, or even fewer miles per day. That is the metric you’ll need to plan around, both for rest stops and for consumption of food and water.
If a route is so arduous that you cannot pack enough water to get through it, you must locate reliable sources of water along the way to replenish or else pick a new route. Similarly, you will fatigue and start to wear out and make mistakes after too many miles and too much exertion.
When you stop to rest or stop to camp you are being smart. If your particular bug-out route takes you multiple days to reach your destination by foot that is okay so long as you have planned accordingly.
Rough Terrain and Other Curveballs
You might want to just take a nature hike with your bug-out bag to see if it’s comfortable, but what good will that do? To really put your bag to the test, you’ll want to throw the worst that Mother Nature has to offer at it. In the process, you might actually put yourself to the test as well.
Navigating through these types of terrain is not easy, but it’s better to practice it now instead of doing it for the first time when SHTF. The following will be difficult to hazardous to cross. Make sure you account for them.
- Steep hills
- Dense or spiny foliage
Remember when I talked about alternate routes? This is why. Terrain predictions on a map may look very different in real life. If you come across a piece of terrain that’s legitimately dangerous, don’t risk your life if you’re not experienced!
Navigate around it to one of your alternate routes or simply turn back. If something happens to you along the way, you’ve already told other people where you’ll be so they can find you in case of an emergency, but don’t risk injury needlessly; you are here to learn and try, not prove anything!
Estimating Travel Time Over Distance
If you have the time and opportunity to do a full workup on your bug-out routes with a pack of varying weight and in varying conditions, you are well advised to do that so you have a set of data to make estimates from.
But that is not always possible, especially when you are pressed for time or forced to “call an audible” on route selection.
Are you able to look at a map and roughly guesstimate how long it will take you to transit your chosen route? If not, you might want to brush up on some of your classic land navigation and hiking estimation skills.
But you don’t have to reinvent the wheel here: luckily, we are able to rely on the accumulated wisdom of many outdoorsmen, hikers, adventurers, and ramblers that have come before us.
Of particular interest to preppers, especially those among us who plan to bug out on foot when the survival situation goes pear-shaped, is Naismith’s Rule.
Naismith’s eponymous rule, named for Scottish mountaineer William W. Naismith, is a simple formula taken from one of the man’s journals that can help you coarsely calculate how long it will take you to traverse a given route based on linear distance traveled as well as changes in elevation.
While it is far from a comprehensive system, it does work well as a baseline that you can then modify using your own lived experience or some additional, more complicated modifications introduced by other regarded experts in the field.
Naismith’s Rule looks like this, expressed as a simple formula:
Allow one hour for every 3 miles traveled forward, plus one hour for every 2,000 feet of ascent.
An alternative and more granular expression can be deduced this way for you inveterate lovers of the metric system:
Allow 12 minutes per kilometer forward, plus 10 minutes for every 100 meters of ascent.
Simple enough right? One potential outcome could look like this: You are facing a nine mile hike to your first bug-out location. Along this route, the outbound leg anyway, you must ascend about 1,000 feet in elevation. How long will it take you to arrive at your first BOL according to Naismith’s Rule?
Based on the simple formula above, You are looking at about 3 ½ hours; 3 hours for the lateral distance traveled and 30 minutes for the 1,000 feet of elevation you’ll traverse.
But Naismith’s Rule isn’t perfect and is not infallible. It makes some pretty broad assumptions, assumptions that might get you in trouble if you rely on the formula as-is during a scenario where your life might be on the line.
Naismith’s Rule assumes that the people traveling the route are reasonably fit, traveling in idyllic conditions and crossing what Naismith called typical terrain.
What is typical terrain? You can assume it is any terrain that is not extremely rocky, muddy or otherwise difficult to negotiate. Your footing is sure and safe and you are more worried about your muscles or lungs giving out than taking a tumble or falling to your doom.
Most notably Naismith’s Rule does not account for the heavy load that you are likely to be carrying in the form of a BOB. An average prepper carrying a BOB or INCH bag is in all circumstances likely to be more heavily laden than a hiker, park ranger, or mountaineer of yore who might make use of Naismith’s Rule on the regular.
It also does not take into account breaks for having a rest or meal, consulting your map, dealing with repairs, or any other emergencies or eventualities. It assumes you can go straight through when based upon your fitness level and other conditions taking breaks and other stops might very well be required.
A smart prepper will consider any estimate generated using Naismith’s Rule the bare minimum time to complete a given route. You should always add more time if you know it is going to be difficult going for one reason or another.
Based on my own experiences and consulting with peers and associates who spend a lot of time bushwhacking, hiking and generally scrambling all over creation, I have provided a few tune-ups to Naismith’s Rule that you are likely to find useful.
If you have a hard time remembering them or you are just now getting into land navigation and rucking as part of your survival repertoire, you can omit these for the time being. Just remember to use Naismith’s Rule only as your base guideline in that case:
- Adjust based on the steepness of any hills and slopes you are navigating: An easy hill or slope will reduce the time needed to ascend, a steep one will increase it. Subtract 10 minutes for every quarter mile on a gentle slope, and add 10 minutes for every quarter mile on a steeper one that can still be “hiked”.
- Account for descents: An easy slope going downhill will save energy and therefore time, but a steep slope will slow your progress going down as well as up!
- Naismith’s Rule works best on simple routes featuring only one or two major elevation changes. On complicated or “technical” routes, your estimation might be off by a factor of 2.
Naismith’s Rule is extremely handy and always useful, especially when estimating a route that you are unfamiliar with.
That being said, there is never any substitute for experience, and you would be wise to hike as many routes as you can in as many seasons as possible prior to the day you actually need to traverse them with a fully loaded BOB
The Big Test
At least once, you should do a full mockup trial run of your bug-out route with your BOB loaded. If it is 5 miles or 5 days to your destination, you should attempt it to put yourself and your equipment to the test.
While this is more of a holistic prepper exercise than one purely for establishing useable bug-out data, it is important that you do so; there is no other way that you’ll truly know.
Filing a detailed flight plan is doubly important for a major or lengthy outing and in fact checking in with your county first responders and search and rescue team is not a bad idea.
Make sure you have every piece of emergency gear you’ll actually be needing packed in your BOB; you’ll need it! An SOS beacon is another good thing to have in this case as you may need a “bail out” from your bug-out trial run!
Should You Try Your Routes in Inclement Weather?
For an added test for you and your BOB, plan your expedition during inclement weather. This adds a dramatic increase to the stress that you’ll place on your bag, as well as yourself. When SHTF, you won’t be able to control the weather.
Murphy’s Law (whatever can go wrong, will go wrong) will more than likely be in full force when SHTF, so prepare for shitty weather while you can control the outcome. This way when real life strikes, you’re more prepared.
BUT. Use common sense; pack accordingly with the weather you’ll be practicing in. Don’t be that guy that runs out into the wilderness in the middle of a blizzard or heatwave with one hand warmer and one change of socks or a quart of water and a bottle of sunscreen.
Exposure is a big-time killer of people outdoors. Stupidity kills you even faster. Know your limits and have a plan for dealing with the unexpected and file a flight plan!
Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent. If you practice only on sunny days when the weather is nice, you’re in for a rude awakening when you have to bug out for real in the middle of a thunderstorm.
Other Important Considerations
Make a mental note of how your BOB feels when it’s wet, and when it’s dry. Waterproofing works well when your bag sits comfortably at home, the real test is in the unforgiving wilderness. Mother Nature takes pity on no one, and you’re not special.
Take your BOB out when it rains, cross bodies of water with it, and expose it to moisture. Really put it to the test, this way you know what waterproofing method works the best for your bag.
While you’re on your expedition, make a mental note of multiple things about your bug-out bag. In fact, you should be thinking of questions that pertain to your bug-out bag specifically.
After all, that is why you’re out here in the first place. Your bug out bag should be tailored to your needs for the environment that you’re facing. Here’s a list of questions that you should ask yourself as you use your bug out bag on your expedition:
- How comfortable is it?
- Does it hug your back?
- Is it easy to cinch close to your back, while remaining high up on your shoulders?
- How easily can you access small, necessary items?
- How easily can you navigate over, and around obstacles?
When you bed down for the night, make sure you have the proper materials to keep you safe. You should have every piece of equipment with you that you would take if you were to bug out for real.
If you are going all the way, don’t be limited to just testing your bug-out bag, but also testing your equipment. Never assume something works well just because somebody says it does. You don’t want to find yourself in situations where your life depends on an item that doesn’t work.
You need to know where you are going when bugging out, but also when you can expect to get there. The only way you’ll do either is by getting acclimatized to carrying a load and then practicing over real terrain.
When you test your bug out bag, you need to make sure you put it through rugged situations. Don’t just simply take a short nature walk with the bag and call it good. This is the only real way to tell if your bag, and you, will hold up when the SHTF.
I’m an active-duty infantryman with the U.S. Army, and I’ve served a combined-service of over 5 years. Throughout my career, I’ve learned various survival techniques, as well as self-defense techniques. I specialize in weapons, long-range reconnaissance, distance shooting, and long-term isolation survival. I’m a very conservative, very “to the point” kind of person.