The Ultimate Guide to Bugging Out
Even if you are a complete newbie to prepping in general you have doubtlessly already heard the term BOB, meaning “bug-out bag”, referenced countless times in various articles, books and discussions on the matter.
The bug-out bag is the backpack you’ll carry containing all of your supplies you’ll need for the bug out itself that the pack is named for, the self-starting evacuation that will hopefully see you and your loved ones escape from trouble.
So that’s great. Now what do you do? Seriously, it is time to grab your pack, grab your family, and flee your home with the hope that you’ll reach someplace safe. Where do you go? How do you get there? What do you do?
This is not a pop quiz, but these are all serious questions that require equally serious answers if you want to survive a serious SHTF situation.
Obtaining a bug-out bag, and filling it with the right stuff is only half the battle. The other, and much harder, half is actually escaping from danger, really bugging out.
That is what this guide is going to teach you how to do, and within these pages will be providing you with a front to back walkthrough on how to plan your bug out from beginning to end. There is a lot of ground to cover, and no time like the present; time to get moving!
Table of Contents
The Bug Out Defined
Bugging out is sort of an odd topic in a way, because when you ask people what it is, what the term really means, you are likely to get all sorts of differing answers, and sometimes they differ by a lot!
Some folks think that bugging out entails abandoning your home or permanent shelter for what will ultimately be an unknown destination, and that all you need to know is the danger where you are is too great.
Others state that a bug out is what happens in response to a true societal collapse more than a specific disaster. For our purposes, both of these definitions are far too specific.
A bug out is simply a self-directed evacuation in response to or anticipation of overwhelming danger, typically brought about by an inciting event or deteriorating conditions.
When the situation has grown too uncertain or looks overwhelmingly negative, then it is time to abandon your current shelter, whatever that is, and head for someplace safer. That’s it.
Bug outs can take place on foot or you can go by vehicle of some kind, most typically a common commercial automobile but it is possible to bug out via aircraft or even by boat.
What matters is that you have determined that you cannot stay where you are, and you need to get some place else, someplace safe, while surviving and surmounting any dangers or challenges that you face along the way.
Luckily, we have our friend BOB to help us do just that.
The Bug Out Bag
One fundamental resource that you must establish for bugging out (and one some people might call an inseparable component of a proper bug out) is the “BOB” or bug-out bag.
Your bug-out bag is simply a piece of luggage, typically a large backpack, that carries all the many pieces of gear, equipment and supplies you will need to support yourself and overcome challenges while en route to your destination.
BOB’s can take many shapes and all kinds of form factors and like lots of other things everyone seems to have their own idea of what a true BOB is and is not. All you need to know is that your bug-out bag is defined by the role you have dictated for it.
It is the bag you have chosen for the task and it contains all of the things you have determined that you will need or might need just in case.
In this way, the BOB is a sort of emergency measure, not unlike a fire extinguisher: it should always be kept in good repair, placed somewhere handy, and ready to use at a moment’s notice.
This means you need to get your act together, and get your BOB put together well before disaster arises, before even the question of whether or not you should run arises.
When bad things are happening, people are panicking, and the whole world is seemingly falling apart it will not be the time to frantically sprint around the house gathering random items to pack into your beleaguered backpack.
You need to know that your BOB has what you need and is ready to go, so the only thing you’ll have to focus on is grabbing your loved ones and then your pack before heading out.
But assembling this BOB is task unto itself, one that requires careful reflection, foresight and ongoing maintenance. You’ll have to balance necessities, and wants against weight limitations and expiration dates.
Chances are you have already seen how popular this topic is among preppers, and how much they like to argue about it; it is serious business, for sure!
The following short sections will provide you a quick primer on BOB selection and a rudimentary packing list.
Selecting the Right BOB
Make no mistake, picking the right backpack to serve as your BOB is important. You’re going to ask an awful lot from this backpack, and it must be able to perform in extremes, so that means certain design factors and capabilities are mandatory.
Consider the following when appraising any backpack for its suitability to BOB duty:
Durability – Durability is arguably the most important factor for any BOB. This is a pack that is going to be loaded very heavily, carried often, jostled, pulled, snagged, dumped and more. It must be able to withstand all of this without blowing out at stitching or tearing off a strap.
Either can prove disastrous, especially when you are moving primarily on foot. A common backpack that is scarcely tough enough to hold the things you need on a daily commute is not going to work as a BOB.
Capacity – Your BOB must be able to hold all of the gear that you’ll require for the duration of the bug out. However, the more you include in your BOB the heavier it will become, and since you are the one carrying it you will suffer accordingly.
The balancing act of a managing weight while maximizing capability is one you will hopefully have a lot of time to practice.
Comfort – Comfort might seem a strange consideration when talking about hauling around a heavily loaded backpack, but it is nonetheless important. A good BOB will fit you well, provide enough stability for the load, and avoid chafing, pinching or generally aggravating you.
Anything that is annoying at the beginning of your journey will become murderously intolerable near the end, so maximize creature comfort as much as practicable. Don’t listen to the “Sergeant Hard-Ass” types; this is important consideration for your success!
There are many other considerations great and small that can be factored into consideration. Is a brightly colored pack best or a low profile camouflaged one? Does my pack need a waist belt, or are straps alone okay?
Do I need a frame, and if so should it be internal or external? Which material is best? We won’t derail this guide by delving into all that minutia, but they are questions you should strive to answer.
Any decent BOB that is worth the name is going to contain a wide selection of gear, supplies and other things that are needed to sustain yourself while underway to your destination.
These contents typically focus on four of the big five necessities of survival. They are typically shelter, water, food, and security.
The other survival necessity that is sometimes included or sometimes not depending upon perceived threat is air; it is usually so plentiful most people take it for granted!
Every choice, every chosen inclusion stems from one of these necessities. Each of them is a requirement for sustaining life, and depending upon the situation and your specific context you might have more or less time to go without any of them.
Regardless, your BOB will be your primary source of provisioning for the duration. Some example items derived from each of these categories are below.
Shelter – This category will include things like clothing appropriate to both season and weather, a lightweight shelter such as a tent or bivy, materials to help you improvise a shelter like tarps with cordage, and also items that can help you stay warm in cold conditions, fire-starting equipment, tinder and so forth.
Water – Water is an incredibly precious resource when it comes to survival, and anyone will only have a few days to live when they have no access to drinkable fluids.
Any bug-out bag will include a quantity of drinking water in a canteen or bottle, but also gear for making found water safe or safer to drink such as filtration equipment, sterilization chemicals and so forth.
Food – Most of us can survive for a far longer period of time without food than water, but just because we aren’t starving does not mean we aren’t suffering. Survival is hard work, and that means you’ll need a steady intake of calories to fuel a working brain and body.
Typical bug-out bag foods or items that are extremely stable, have a long shelf life, are calorie dense, and require minimal preparation prior to consumption.
Security – Security is paramount when the world is falling down around you, and you’ll need the means to make both your environment safe, as well as protect yourself from the desperate or deranged who might mean you harm under the circumstances.
Security is a broad concept, but typically weapons belong in this category, lethal weapons like firearms and bladed weapons, and non-lethal weapons like pepper spray, stun guns, and the like.
There are many other gear inclusions that do not neatly fit into any one of these categories, such as personal lighting tools like flashlights and headlamps which are extremely important during any disaster scenario
Other tools like hatchets, bushcraft knives, and folding saws that will help you craft what you need while in the field, and the ever important personal hygiene and medical kits which will help you stave off injury and keep your body in good shape are also very important.
As you might have already learned, preppers will argue and nitpick ad nauseam over exact packing lists, how much or how little of anyone resource they should carry, redundancy, contingency planning, and prioritization of survival necessities.
These are all worthwhile considerations, but for now you can consider it a success if you have the basics covered.
The Importance of Trial Runs and Fitness
One of the gravest mistakes that any prepper can commit with regards to bug out planning is failing to properly test both themselves and their gear. Unfortunately this is an especially common fumble when it comes to bug-outs and BOB’s.
Some folks, misguided as they are, seem to think that it will be as easy as throwing on their backpack like you were headed to school before going for a little pleasure hike, eventually arriving at safety. Nothing could be further from the truth!
What you will really be doing is moving a heavy backpack across a considerable distance on foot, and doing it all despite weather conditions, rough terrain and other hazards.
At least you will be if you are going on foot, and even vehicle-born bug outs can quickly become foot-mobile bug outs in the blink of an eye.
At any rate, most people are frankly just in bad shape, and are in no way prepared to move a considerable load for any length of time. Without proper conditioning and preparation, this is a great way to get injured.
Furthermore, how will you know that your backpack and the rest of your gear is up to the challenge if you don’t test it?
Before you can say you’re genuinely ready for a bug out, you must harden your body and in the process put your gear through its paces. The activity of carrying a heavily loaded backpack is popularly known as rucking, as in rucksack.
As with any novel physical activity undertaken as a neophyte, you should crawl before you walk, and walk before you run. Start carrying your backpack with just a little bit of weight in it, maybe only 10 to 15 lbs.
As your muscles get stronger and your feet and shoulders get tougher you can increase the weight and increase the distance traveled as well as your workout tempo. Pretty soon you’ll be hauling a 45 or 50 lbs. pack while marching like a mule in hell!
Additionally, now is the time to pay close attention to your backpack, as well as how you have it packed. How does it carry? How is it holding up? Are there any major annoyances or outright aggravations that need to be fixed or should you look elsewhere for your equipment needs?
Many parts of your bug-out bag can be upgraded, like the straps, frame and waist belt. Others you’ll just have to live with and certain material inadequacies, either in the fabric or the stitching, might be effectively permanent necessitating you upgrade the pack entirely.
That is always a bit of a bummer when you reach that conclusion, but it is far better to reach that conclusion now, on a voluntary practice run, versus in the middle of a live event with a blown out pack that has scattered all of your gear across a muddy trail!
All right. The time has come. You have chosen your bug-out bag, assembled and packed your equipment and provisions, and worked out rigorously with your kit to make sure that both it and your body are up to the challenge. You have come to it at last: it is finally time to bug out for real in the face of some greater danger.
It would be unwise to underestimate the risks attendant with such a decision, no matter what you are facing where you are. Going by car or striking out on foot will make no difference and what you’ll be up against.
Aside from whatever natural disaster or human caused catastrophe you are dealing with you’ll be facing a world turned upside down by whatever destruction has already been wrought, masses of panic survivors and refugees, confusion and potentially even direct threats on your life from people who are either desperate or deranged.
There will be chaos and nothing will be guaranteed. This is where the real work begins.
Before you ever grab your BOB and dash out the door, there is still much to do beforehand. You must know where you are going as taking off into the backcountry or heading elsewhere is not a solution.
If you do not understand the context of what you are facing you cannot determine where safety actually is; you’ll be no better off than you would be staying put.
This is where you’ll need to assemble a list of multiple bug-out locations, or “BOLs”, to choose from, and ideally each with multiple routes that you can take to reach it.
If this sounds like a lot of homework, that’s because it is. It is not necessarily fun, sexy or intriguing.
You aren’t learning how to run a gun, fight, or put to practice some physical skill with the attendant instant gratification. It feels like what it is- work! – but it is work that must be done if you want to be truly prepared for a SHTF situation.
Before we do anything else, we must determine what makes a good bug-out location, and determine what routes are fastest, easiest and safest to take in order to reach them.
What is a Bug-Out Location?
Think of a bug-out location as the place you are evacuating to. A fallback point. A rendezvous point. It might be your final destination, or a waypoint along a path to ever greater safety.
A bug-out location is nothing more than a place you can head to in times of trouble to seek safety, or at least be safer than you would be if you stayed where you are.
Bug-out locations can take almost any form, from a relative’s house in the next county to a remote parcel of land in another state.
Ideally this will be a place that you own or have unlimited legal access to, but it could even be public land in a pinch, so long as you have a dependable expectation of unfettered access when you need it. And trust me; when you need it, you’ll really need it!
There are many considerations that factor into choosing a bug-out location, but as mentioned above you would be wise to have more than one, and preferably several to choose from so you’ll always have a viable option no matter your circumstances and no matter what kind of event you are facing.
As mentioned, ideal bug-out locations are the homes of close friends or family that are either ideally situated on favorable terrain or far away from the potentially affected area that you currently occupy.
Maybe you can hike on foot to this associate’s home, or maybe you’ll need to roadtrip it. Either is viable if planned correctly. Perhaps you own a summer home, vacation cabin or just a patch of vacant land. Any of those could work in a pinch.
You don’t even have to keep it close to town when it comes to bug-out locations. Many preppers, especially seasoned outdoorsmen, choose to head into remote wildlands in any given environment, especially those that afford excellent access to natural resources like water.
What matters most when it comes to choosing bug-out locations is that it affords you safety and security against a specific threat, natural or otherwise, and it has reasonably easy access to drinking water.
For our purposes “drinking water” means water that you can make safe to drink through filtration or chemical treatment.
Generally you will want your bug-out location to be away from any route that you could expect a mass migration of humanity to move along, hopefully reducing your contact with potentially dangerous strangers and the subsequent, dangerous need to manage unknown contacts.
You have plenty of options when it comes to choosing BOLs. Smart preppers will take pains to select BOLs that are more or less located in any direction from their home, so that no matter which way trouble is approaching from they can head in the opposite direction.
Smart preppers will also consider which of their BOL’s might be compromised from the onset of a given disaster so that they may choose wisely and avoid blundering into an even worse situation.
Modes of Travel
You have identified suitable bug-out locations that you can head to in a variety of situations. Now is the time to bust out your collection of maps, and start figuring out exactly how you’re going to get to each of them, and what it will take to move along these chosen routes.
Before we get into the fine details of the critical step of route selection, you’ll have to make a larger, global choice. How will you travel to any given bug-out location?
The quintessential and somewhat romantic choice of conveyance is your own two feet, by foot. The vast majority of preppers would greatly prefer to use a vehicle of some type, preferably an automobile.
Some preppers, right or wrong, plan to use more specialized vehicles, be they boats, aircraft or even bicycles. Depending on the specifics of a route, you might have options or one mode of conveyance might be mandatory.
Consider though, that more specialized forms of transportation cannot be counted upon unless you have full-time control and upkeep of that vehicle.
A boat tied up at the small launch on the river in your backyard is one thing; your boat kept at the marina over an hour away is another.
The latter might not be there when you arrive to make use of it! Consider this carefully before betting your outcome, and ergo your lives, on the availability of specialty vehicles.
Your major considerations when choosing bug-out routes will be distance to a given bug-out location and the intervening terrain.
If your ideal bug-out location is 20 miles away, most people can reasonably expect to complete this movement even laden with a heavy BOB in a day (more or less), so long as the terrain is gentle, and the weather is cooperative.
That same 20 miles over steep and craggy terrain in nasty weather might well take days if you can complete it at all. Longer distances necessitate the use of vehicles or planned, multi-day movement intervals.
Vehicles are the choice if you want to arrive in a timely fashion not completely strung out, but remember that the attendant chaos of the event is overwhelmingly likely to dramatically slow you down or even completely block your progress.
A 30 mile road trip over the interstate doesn’t even take half an hour in normal times, but it might take days when faced with gridlock traffic, crashes, abandoned vehicles and other obstacles.
Additionally, if at all possible you should develop at least two routes to each of your bug-out locations. Obstacles, detours, human error and plain old bad luck could see any given route closed to you or rendered effectively unusable.
If you have more than one way to get to any given destination you will only ever improve your chances of making it there when failure is not an option. It is also a good idea to consider developing routes utilizing a different mode of travel that can be employed in contingency.
It is imperative that you consider any route, for on-foot or vehicular travel, as likely to be under the effects of any given disaster or event.
Alternative Route Options
There are a few specialty route selections that are worth mentioning, and a section of their own. Generally, certain terrain features, be they natural or man-made, can generally be depended on to survive anything but the most apocalyptic of conditions.
When these terrain features run from place to place and are easy to follow, they can make excellent markers or paths for our bug-out routes, and many of them are easy to traverse in the bargain.
Consider a large river. They generally will not be obliterated by any event, and if you follow the river in one direction or the other you can reliably know where you will end up. This could be done by walking along the banks, or floating easily along in a watercraft.
The same counts for man-made installations like high tension power line towers, railroad tracks and above ground pipelines.
Do not discount the utility of these terrain features when bugging-out and you should endeavor to become familiar with all of the major ones in your area so long as they lead someplace meaningful or closer to your intended destination.
They can prove invaluable when you are without map and compass, GPS or any other navigational aid.
Pit Stops and Safe Havens
It is the sincere hope of every prepper who’s facing a legitimate bug out, and my sincere prayer for you that, when the time comes, you can whisk yourself and your family away with hardly a bump or delay encountered on the road.
Unfortunately, it is highly improbable that your journey will be so blissfully uneventful. Things go wrong. Vehicles or people break down. The situation becomes uncertain.
Whatever the case, you are unable to make it to your destination in a timely fashion, or you just need to stop for rest and reassessment. What you need is a safe haven.
Safe havens and pit stops are any place along your route that is suitable for halting movement in order to take care of some unexpected problem, gather more information, rest, or take care of any other chore or task that necessitates a break.
Generally speaking, these locations are not directly on your route, especially if that route might be heavily traveled. Remember that you would be wise to cut down on as many encounters with strangers in these times as possible.
A proper safe haven will furnish you additional security, and also allow you easy entrance and exit.
If going by vehicle, it is a place that will ideally allow you to conceal the vehicle from plain sight. If traveling on foot, it is a place that will provide some shelter while also affording you concealment. This is important for both safety and relaxation.
Consider that the best safe havens and pit stops are often bug-out locations that did not quite make the cut for one reason or another.
It could be the home of that friend or relative that was just a bit too close to an urban area for comfort. It might be any installation or building that provides civic service and is still operational, like a fire station, EMS bay, hospital, or police station.
Do keep in mind that in certain survival scenarios any of the above might become hot spots swarming with angry people or opportunists.
Mapping Routes for Bug Out Success
Well, you have certainly been exercising the old gray matter selecting bug-out locations, analyzing and choosing routes, and assessing them for potential pitfalls.
Glad that is over! Sorry to disappoint you, but you are not quite done yet, although the finish line is in sight!
Now all you need to do is commit the determinative results of all your research to paper so you can let the paper do the remembering for you. I am talking about obtaining suitable maps and marking them up.
Do not allow yourself to be deluded by your years or decades long lived experience in and around a certain place, or your supposed “expert” knowledge on every nook, cranny and path in or out of an area.
Stress, damage, uncertainty and exhaustion will dull even the sharpest memory and make recall challenging.
A navigational aid is what you need, and for our purposes, there is nothing better than a map marked up with our bug out locations, routes and other information. All you need is an appropriate set of pencil, pens or markers designed for the purpose and you’ll be set.
Also consider the fact that your best laid plans, all of them, might be laid low and rendered useless against all probability and all of your effort.
If that occurs, you’ll really be improvising, and it will be much easier to make an informed decision with various maps of your area and region.
Your selection of maps should include a detailed map of the overall urban area, if you are a city dweller, or a complete county map if you live in the suburbs or a smaller town. Also include topographic maps of your area and region, and don’t ever go without a road atlas.
The following sections will cover special considerations for bugging out via any means.
Bugging Out With Animals
Quite a few readers, perhaps even most, will not just be looking out for themselves and their human family members. Many of us count various animals among our concerns, from the family pet or pets to livestock that we are dependent on for our livelihood.
When the time comes to bug out, most will not be willing to simply abandon their animals to their fate unless they have absolutely no other choice. This is commendable, but preparing to bug out with animals in tow will necessitate an entirely new layer of preparation.
Animals require additional, specialized gear in the form of carriers, collars, harnesses, boots or shoes, tack, and so forth along with specialty provisions, their food, supplements, medicines, and such.
The quantity and type required is dictated by the species. A dog or cat can get by with a carrier or perhaps even hoof it on their own if kept on a harness and leash. Canines and felines are also highly adaptable to altered diets, at least in the short term.
No matter how well behaved your pet is, consider a muzzle mandatory since they could lash out in a panic if placed in a hectic or dangerous situation.
Livestock are an entirely different problem. Cows, pigs, chickens and so forth are typically encountered in large herds or flocks and that will necessitate vehicles with the appropriate trailers or cages to move them in anything resembling good order.
This is a complication that must be considered if you are dedicated to saving your animals, but the intricacies and details are beyond the scope of this guide.
Some other animals, like horses and llamas, actually offer preppers advantages when it comes time to bug out so long as you have the skills to take advantage of them. Llamas have been used for millennia as pack animals, and horses can carry both cargo and people, or pull wagons.
Again, animals of this nature must be acclimatized to such work, and the preppers who seek to take advantage of it must have the skills to foot the bill in this case: Attempting such as a “learning experience” would only lead to pandemonium and disaster.
Whatever kind of livestock you are attempting to save when you bug out, consider that they will require massive amounts of resources, both food and water, resources that you likely will not be able to transport with them in any quantity.
Identifying Hazards and Obstacles
When assessing any bug-out route against your greater bug-out plan, you must anticipate obstacles, delays and other issues. This might literally be a matter of life and death, since any delay that sees you overtaken by an event or trouble while underway might mean your demise.
A gridlocked highway, a flooded or collapsed footpath, rubble, and the secondary or tertiary hazards resulting from the event can all blow your timetable.
Consider the obstacle that something as simple as a fallen power line might cause. Is it energized? How do you know?
Can it be safely avoided, or must you turn around? Even if you have room to go around what is the terrain like? Will you get stuck, overturned or injured during the bypass?
How about another entirely mundane obstacle like a traffic jam, one that spirals into gridlock so intense you are now effectively camping in your vehicle? When other drivers, in their panic, abandon their vehicles the gridlock becomes permanent. Now your highway is a parking lot!
Footpaths are not necessarily immune to these effects, either. Growing unrest in urbanized and suburbanized areas can make entire blocks impassable by foot.
Trails both big and small can flood, wash out or just be overtaken with plant growth, making them difficult to traverse and even more difficult to find and follow.
This must be considered carefully in the greater context of what you’re trying to do. How will you handle it if your preferred route, or just the one you are on, becomes tenuous or obviously dangerous?
Do you have time to wait? Do you have time to attempt a detour? Have you scouted the best potential detour routes for such circumstances?
As with many things prepping, and especially bug-out planning, is a game about imagining and accounting for contingencies and curve balls.
Avoiding Danger Areas
No matter the scenario, no matter where you live there are bound to be certain places in your region or AO that are frankly pretty dangerous places to be. What form might these dangers take?
In urban areas, and even many far smaller towns there could be a part of town or an area just outside of town that is notorious for the moral turpitude of its inhabitants and correspondingly high crime rate.
You should assume that these places will only become more dangerous when society is straining to its breaking point.
In areas that are unconcerned with crime it might be a place that is vulnerable to specific weather effects, such as a house or neighborhood at the base of hills or mountains when an avalanche or landslide is likely.
It is low lying areas during any massive flood event. It could be swamps or bogs anywhere if you are traveling on foot while bugging out, or taking a vehicle cross-country.
Some areas are only dangerous when events domino in such a way to cause a secondary catastrophe. In industrialized places, it might be a chemical storage site, or a refinery of such chemicals.
Damaged by weather or exposed to flames severe contamination of air and water or even a titanic blast is a possibility. You would do very well to give such installations a wide berth no matter where you are bugging out!
Carefully consider what areas might be danger points on your travels, under what conditions they will be dangerous, and then mark them accordingly on your maps for future reference. Don’t let things go from bad to worse: avoid these places as a matter of course!
Bugging out is a tenet for most preppers, and though getting a bug-out bag and gathering supplies needed for an evacuation take up an awful lot of mental “bandwidth” for the average person there is considerably less effort invested in the planning and preparation for the bug out itself.
Planning a bug out involves a lot of advance work and careful research, and you’ll need to do plenty of both before you can call yourself ready for the main event. Take the time to review this guide, and then use what you have learned to start planning for your bug out when, not if, it occurs!