Bugging out is a common term among preppers and people in the preparedness community. On its face, it’s a simple concept, leave you home when there’s a disaster or emergency, but it’s much more complicated than that.
Bugging out is when someone leaves their home because of an impending emergency or emergency that is already happening. It gets its name from the scattering of bugs when you turn on the light or try to step on them and they scatter in all directions.
If you’re interested in bugging out then you should keep reading. There’s a lot of nuance involved in bugging out intelligently and effectively.
Bugging out is when you pack up your family, load as many supplies as you can into your vehicles and leave your home. It’s not an ideal situation, but when you bug out it should be the lesser of two evils.
I’m probably going to end up saying this a lot, bugging out should be a last resort! Don’t live somewhere where you’re going to need to bug out as soon any kind of problem happens. You home should be a safe place that can keep you and your family safe in all but the most dangerous situations.
The term bugging out is believed to come from the Korean War during several instances of massive retreats that occurred during the war. It probably came from the 1930s commercials that showed bugs fleeing in front of a giant foot that’s about to crush them or in reference to the way bugs scatter when they’re found.
It’s a creative piece of slang that means retreat or relocate to a place that’s safe, or less dangerous.
The exact reason that someone would bug out is going to be different for everyone. Some people are going to plan to bug out as soon as there’s any threat of social unrest in the area and others aren’t even going to consider it until it’s simply too late. You should aim for somewhere in the middle.
Examples of events that may cause you to bug out:
- Financial Collapse
- Civil Unrest
- Natural Disasters
- Foreign Military Occupation
- Martial Law
Any event that would make living in your home or apartment unsustainable is a reason to bug out.
In order to bug out, you should have a packed bug out bag for each member of your family, a bug out location, a vehicle to get you to that bug out location and a bug out plan.
A bug out bag should make up the backbone of your basic bug out plan. It should include everything that you need to get from your home to your bug out location and nothing more.
When you bug out you should be in a vehicle, but you need to plan your bug out bag so you can carry it on your back the entire way. This is the worst-case scenario, so it’s what we’re planning for.
The thing that you really need to keep in mind is that a bug out bag needs to be minimalistic. Pack only what you need not what you think will be nice to have. If you want to have nice to have stuff while you’re bugging out then put that stuff in a tote that you can load into your vehicle and get rid of if you end up needing more room later on.
These are the essentials that you must have in a bug out bag:
- First Aid Kit
If you live in an urban environment, then you’re much more likely to have to bug out than someone that lives in the suburbs or in a rural area. With so many people jammed into cities and literally living on top of each other, there’s just a lot more that can go wrong. Even seemingly small disasters can turn into full-blown riots pretty quickly and with little to no warning.
This makes an urban bug out bag one of the most important things for people who want to be prepared in the city.
I normally recommend that you build an urban bug out bag in a way that draws as little attention to it as possible. You don’t want it to be obvious that you’re carrying a lot of supplies on your back if there are looters or hungry people around.
If you live in a rural area, I think you’re a lot less likely to ever use your bug out bag, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not still important. If you’re planning to be able to bug out, start with a bug out bag no matter where you live.
I consider rural bug out bags to be a little easier to put together than an urban bug out bag. You don’t really need to worry about drawing attention to yourself and you can find a lot more backpacks that are at home in the country than you can backpacks that are big enough to pack everything you need and not draw attention in the city.
These are a few questions that always come up when I discuss bug out bags.
Do I need a bug out bag?
If you were reading earlier then you already know that answer to this but the question comes up so often that I’m going to touch on it again. A bug out bag should be the foundation that all your other bug out plans grow from. It’s the one thing that will always go with you when you bug out, so yes, you really do need one.
How long should a bug out bag last?
You’ve probably heard of a bug out bag referred to as a 72-hour kit or 72-hour bag. Does that mean that you should pack for three days? Not necessarily.
Your bug out bag needs to get you from your home to your bug out location on foot. Whatever that time is, then that’s how long it needs to last. There is no cut and dry answer that’s going to fit everyone.
I like to have a minimal amount of food to last the entire trip and water for the first day or so with a water filter so I can collect more water on the trip. Water is really heavy, so carrying a week’s worth of water just really isn’t possible.
What should be in your bug out bag?
The minimum you need to pack in a bug out bag is water, food, shelter, and a first aid kit. There are all kinds of other things that make sense to pack in a bug out bag, but that’s beyond the scope of this article. If you’re interested in bug out bag ideas I suggest you read this article.
How heavy should a bug out bag be?
I try to get my bug out bag to weigh around 25 lbs. If you go over that it’s okay but you have to be aware that each pound you add is going to make each step you take all that much more difficult.
When you start getting over 35 lbs you really need to think about what you’re taking. Is everything an absolute necessity?
Your bug out bag should keep you alive until you get to your bug out location. It doesn’t need to keep you comfortable!
A bug out location is the place that you plan to take your family when you make the decision to bug out. If you have every other part of your bug out plan in place but you don’t have a bug out location, then you really don’t have a plan at all! Packing everything up and running out of the house with nowhere to go really isn’t a plan and couple be disastrous for you and your family.
The good thing is you don’t need to buy some piece of property in the mountains to have a bug out location. You can make plans with a family member to go to their property if something goes wrong where you live and they can come to you if something goes wrong there.
If you don’t have a family then you can go to a close friend’s house or even a secluded tract of public land.
With all other things being equal, this is the list of bug out locations in order of desirability:
- Land that you own
- Property owned by a family member
- Property owned by a friend
- Secluded public land
Your bug out location needs to be able to support you and your family when you arrive so you’ll need to preposition food, water, and everything else you’ll need when you get there. If you’re going to a friend or family member’s house, have them mark and store your food and water for you.
If you’re going to try to use public land, which I don’t recommend unless it’s your only option, you’re going to want to cache food and water in a way that other people won’t find it.
Ideally, you’re going to want to go somewhere with a low population, that can support you and your family. You should look for land with trees, wildlife, water, and shelter.
Areas that have extreme weather like hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, and draughts should be avoided if you can. Extremes in temperature also make the area less desirable.
What to look for in a bug out location:
- Mild temps
- No extreme weather
- Low population
- Abundant trees, wildlife, and water
- An area that is easily defensible
- Doesn’t stand out from a commonly traveled roadway
If you live in the U.S. then you’re lucky! There are a ton of great areas to bug out to.
Good places to look for bug out locations in the U.S.:
- The pacific northwest
- The Appalachian mountains
- Much of the central plains states
- Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama and southern Georgia
This is just a quick assessment of the country. You can find a good bug out location pretty much anywhere.
After you have a bug out location you need to plan the route that you’re going to take to get there. You’re actually going to need several routes planned out.
The main route that you choose should be the easiest and fastest route to your bug out location. It’s probably the way that you normally drive there.
Your secondary route should still be pretty direct, but it should take you around areas that may be compromised in the event of a disaster. Go around high crime areas, gang areas, population centers, etc. All of these could get bad in a disaster.
Be creative when you’re planning your routes. If you’re going to travel on a highway, what happens if that highway is gridlocked?
When you’re planning your alternate routes (especially your walking route) look to see if there are man-made paths that you can use. Train tracks or easements cut under high tension power lines can make travel easier than trying to cut through a densely forested area.
Mark everything that’s important on hard copy maps. Either print them out or buy them online and keep them with your bug out bag.
I like Rand McNally road atlases and state maps, but you can use any type of map that you prefer.
What to mark on your maps:
- The main driving route to your bug out location
- The secondary driving route to your bug out location
- The main walking route to your bug out location
- Routes to take with any alternate transportation you may use (bikes, horseback, motorcycle, dirtbike, etc.)
- Areas where you can get more water (lakes, rivers, streams)
- Gas stations/stores
- Areas where you can find food (fruit trees/bushes, etc.)
- Chokepoints (areas that force you to travel through them)
- Hazard areas (known gang areas, high crime areas, etc.)
There is always a lot of talk about bug out vehicles in the preparedness community. The truth is any vehicle that you have is a bug out vehicle.
You should take all of your vehicles when you bug out unless there’s a specific reason not to. This makes it less likely that you’ll end up stuck on the side of the road if one vehicle breaks down and it also lets you carry a lot more gear.
Obviously, trucks with 4 wheel drive capability and more cargo capacity are better but if you just have a couple of Toyota Camrys you should still take them.
A trailer gives you a lot more cargo room and smaller cargo trailers can even be pulled by cars if you have a trailer hitch.
I like the idea of having a cargo trailer loaded all the time and ready to go. (I haven’t done it yet though.) You can pack it with food, water and whatever else you want, then just hook up and drive away if things get bad.
Roof racks can hold a lot of gear and they’re not nearly as expensive as a trailer. The main drawback of a roof rack is that you can’t really have it preloaded like a trailer unless you have it loaded out all the time.
Mountain bikes make a great bug out vehicle and they’re a really good way to get around that doesn’t need fuel. Consider taking mountain bikes if the roads are (or could be) packed with traffic. The later you’re able to get on the road during a bug out, the more likely that you’re going to hit traffic from other families trying to do the same thing.
Being able to defend yourself while you’re bugging out is obviously extremely important. The areas in-between the place you’re bugging out from and your bug out location could be more dangerous than you originally planned for. The same disaster causing you to bug out may have already hit those areas throwing them into chaos.
At a minimum, each adult should have a rifle and be able to use it effectively. If you have children that are old enough to use a rifle, then they should have one as well.
That probably seems a little extreme to some people, but it really isn’t. Ideally, no one will even have to touch their weapons and everything will go smoothly. Unfortunately, we can’t just plan for the best-case scenario and hope everything goes well. We need to plan for the worst and hope for the best.
Having a rifle is critical. I’m of the opinion that you should have an AR-15 or an AK-47 style rifle for everyone in your family or group that can use one. You should also choose one or the other and stick to it. This means that you will all use the same magazines and ammo, and should be able to use the same spare parts if someone’s weapon goes down.
If you have a pistol to bring with you then you should take that with you as well. A pistol gives you more options when you’re bugging out. If you don’t want to be seen with a rifle, you can still conceal the pistol and be armed in areas where a rifle would draw unwanted attention from crowds or law enforcement.
A rifle is way more effective than a pistol, period. There are almost no situations where you’re better off with a pistol over a rifle. You should always plan to take a rifle with you if it’s at all possible.
Weapons can draw a lot of attention in populated areas. If you’re bugging out from a city you may want to keep your rifle tucked away until you need it or you get far enough away from people that you can start carrying it in the open.
In the past, some areas have declared a state of emergency and used that to confiscate weapons from civilians. In the U.S. this is unconstitutional (making it illegal) but it didn’t stop it from happening in the past. In a state of emergency, you may have manned checkpoints that you need to get through so plan accordingly.
Always avoid confrontation if you can. Avoid crowds, don’t get into verbal altercations, and definitely don’t start fights. Even a minor wound can be life-threatening if you get into a firefight while bugging out.
Bugging out starts a long time before you’re actually packing your gear into the car and getting out of town with the family. You should plan your bug out ahead of time so each step of the process goes as smoothly as possible. It’s not the time to figure out what you need to take and where you’re going while a massive hurricane is bearing down on you .
We all have to understand that the ideal situation often isn’t reality. When we plan our bug out, we need to make changes based on what we can afford and the reality of our own situations.
The good thing is that with enough planning and forethought just about anyone can put together a bug out plan that will be successful and not break the bank.
Choose the event or events that will make you bug out and stick to it. If you don’t leave when you’ve decided to, you probably never will. Don’t change your mind at the last minute.
Everything up until now has all been part of your bug out preplanning, but there’s still some more planning that needs to be done.
Your bug out bag is the minimum that you’ll take with you when you’re bugging out, but if you’re driving and have time to load out your vehicle, you should pack as much as you can into it. Everything that you can take will make your life at your bug out location a little better.
Pack the most important items first with the least important items toward the outside so you can reach them easily to get rid of them if you need to make room.
Additional items to pack when bugging out:
- Sleeping bags
- Important documents
- Extra ammo
- Water Filter
- Flashlight and Batteries
- First Aid Kit
- Warm Clothing
If it’s at all possible, you should have as much gear packed up and ready to go all the time. For most of us, it’s probably not possible but packing up what you can and having a good list of the things that you can’t keep packed up will make getting everything into your car a lot faster. If you have everything on a list, it’ll also keep you from forgetting anything when the situation is stressful.
In a last-minute/no notice bug out situation, something has happened that requires you to leave your home immediately. This could be anything from an unforeseen natural disaster to spontaneous social unrest that puts you and your family in danger.
This is the worst-case scenario but also the easiest to plan for.
Actions to take:
- Load your bug out bags into your vehicle
- Load up your family
- Leave ASAP and head toward your bug out location
Bugging out with a couple of hours notice is the scenario that I see as the most likely to occur. In this scenario, you can foresee a disaster starting in the next couple of hours and decide you need to bug out. In this case, having pre-loaded bug out boxes is great.
Actions to take:
- Load your bug out bags into your vehicle
- Load up any pre-staged food, water, and other gear
- Go down your list of other things to take and pack as much as you can
- Leave as soon as you can to beat any other people that have the same idea
I see this scenario playing out if you have your ear to the ground and really know what’s going on with local weather or world events. Most of us will still miss the signs but you may get lucky and see something coming.
Consider renting a U-haul truck or trailer if you think something is going to happen in a couple of days. It sounds a little crazy, but if you’re sure something is about to happen, then renting a large vehicle that can carry a lot of gear may make sense.
Actions to take:
- Load your bug out bags into your vehicle
- Load up most of your pre-staged food and water
- Start getting your list of items together and position them near the door or in the garage where they can be loaded quickly
- Continue going to work and school normally while you wait to see what happens
- Make plans for everyone to get home as soon as possible if needed
- Leave as soon as you see the situation deteriorating
Bugging out should be one of your last options when a disaster strikes, but you should know how to bug out and how to do it effectively and safely.
Plan before a disaster ever threatens your home. Start by finding a bug out location and building a bug out bag. Map out your routes to your bug out location and mark any locations of interest.
Decide what’s going to make you bug out and stick to it! Don’t second guess yourself when you’re under stress.