Over the past five years, I have seen the concept of bugging out escalate to the realm of ridiculousness. Much of this, in my opinion, has come from the commercialization of bug out bags, the glamorization of bug-out preps in the media and within entertainment circles, and, quite simply, blogging sites that promote bug out strategies as part of their down and dirty fear mongering to get you to purchase over-priced info-products or survival gear.
Circling back, bugging out has its place as I will explain in a moment. But for 99% of the disruptive events out there, my vote is to stay put and hunker down in the comfort of your home, surrounded by your preps.
Still, in spite of my personal feelings on the matter, we still need to be ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice. There are questions we must ask and answer in advance:
When should we bug out?
What should we take with us?
What if we have inadequate means of transportation to get away?
These are just a few of the questions that make up what I call the conundrum of bugging out.
Why Bug Out?
The main reason we need to be prepared to bug out is that at a moment’s notice, our homes could become unsafe. Starting out with the laundry list of predictable disasters such as hurricanes, wild fires, flash flood, winter storms, pandemic, and more, finding a safe haven out of harm’s way is just good, common sense.
Not so easy are the unpredictable disasters such as an earthquake, tornado, chemical spill, nuclear implosion and terrorist attacks. There are others but you get the point.
Regardless of where you live, the risk of a potential disaster will always be there and so we must be prepared to bug out. That said, bugging out should be a solution of last resort; something you do when harm is headed your way and it is no longer safe to stay at home.
Risk Assessment: When to Bug Out
Sorting out when to stay and when to leave is part of the risk assessment we should all do in advance. As a matter of fact, risk assessment should be a key component of our preps, and one that should be revisited periodically. This is especially true when it comes to sorting out whether to bug out or hunker down.
You might be asking what exactly do I mean by risk assessment. By way of explanation, businesses and insurance companies use the term risk management to describe “the identification, analysis, assessment, control, and avoidance, minimization, or elimination of unacceptable risks”. As a prepper, you will be ahead of the curve if you start out by doing the following:
- Evaluate what types of disaster or crisis may occur in your area or in your life
- Perform a walk-around inventory of your home in order to identify areas that would be damaged if there were a natural disaster or other disruptive event. Take steps to mitigate damage if a disaster should occur
- Examine your financial resources and evaluate how long you could survive without an income from your job or other sources
- Develop an evacuation plan in the event your home or your immediate area becomes unsafe
Bug Out Basics: Three Important Steps
After assessing your risks, there are some additional steps to becoming bug-out ready.
Step 1: Have someplace to go to.
The first is that you have someplace to go to. Identifying where you will go to is one of the most overlooked aspects of preparedness. Not everyone has the financial resources, time, or physical acumen to prepare a remote retreat out in the rural boondocks. For them, the idea of doing so is more of an impossible dream than anything else.
Likewise, grabbing your bug-out bag and emergency supplies and heading for the hills, perhaps even on foot, is more of a Hollywood script than reality. Surviving in the wilderness while foraging for food and water is a disaster of its own making unless you are well versed in outdoor living. The truth is that most of us are creatures of comfort and would not last very long on our own.
A better option is to identify in advance friends and relatives that will be willing to take you in in the event that life becomes untenable where you live.
If that is not possible, finding shelter at a school or church is a possibility although not optimal given the hoards that may be competing for an empty cot and a bottle of fresh water. A final choice, and one that I personally plan to avoid, is a trip to Camp FEMA where you will subject to the whims of government inspection and rule. On the other hand, for many that will be the only choice.
Step 2: Know when to go.
The second step needed to become bug-out ready is to know when to go. Run through this exercise in advance knowing that the plan is written in pencil but a plan none-the-less.
Will you wait for authorities to tell you to leave or will you leave in advance? Or will you, as an example, leave when a CAT4 hurricane is being forecast? The answer to these questions will find their foundation in your existing preps as well as how well you were able to pre-determine somewhere to go to.
Step 3: Prepare your bug-out bag and emergency kit
In this step, you will take the information from your risk assessment coupled with the knowledge of “where you will go” and fill your bug out bag with what you need to get there.
Bugging out to your brother-in-law’s well stocked place in the mountains is a far cry from going to a shelter. Other than personal items, the components of your bug-out bag may be very different given these two situations. Do you see where I am headed here? It might make sense to have a basic, foundation kit as well as smaller kits that are risk and destination specific.
Here is another way to look at it. If you work outside the home, there is a likelihood that you have a “get home” kit at the office that you will use to make your way back home if a disaster strikes during work hours. Your vehicle may also have its own kit that will be put into action if you get stranded on the road somewhere. Both of these examples are subsets of your main kit.
What I propose is that for various scenarios, you have additional kits. Using the same example, if you are headed to the BIL’s stocked retreat, you probably will need just a modest kit.
The Foundation Bug Out Bag
A term I have used in this article is “foundation kit”. This is your basic bug out bag containing everything you need to survive for a short period. It should include basic emergency gear such as a radio, light source, cordage/paracord, knife and fire making tools and water. Remember, this is not the 100 pound gorilla that you will use to set up camp in the wilderness!
The exact contents of the foundation bug out bag will vary from person to person. It is, however, is a topic that is frequently requested and so I plan to share the contents of my own kit with you next week. As with my FAK (first aid kit), my B.O.B. was recently reworked to include the items I felt were most suitable for my needs and the risks I might face given where I live and my lifestyle.
It is not a kit that was was put together using a generic list compiled by some anonymous author in an eBook. To that point, there are tons of eBooks out there on how to put together a B.O.B. and other kits. In my opinion, however, many are quite impractical given that for most of us, heading for the woods to live is a least likely scenario. Heading out of the city to a safer location shared with friends or relatives is much more likely so if that describes you, plan for that.
Finally, lest you forget, when putting your Bug Out Bag together, you should start with an honest evaluation of your financial resources. I know this is difficult, and with the rise in our cost of living (food, fuel, healthcare, taxes), it is sometimes easier to just get by day to day and not think about the financial impact of a disaster or of sudden economic woes.
Face the reality of your financial resources head on, then plan accordingly but do plan. Doing so will ensure your survival if or when a disruptive event really happens.
Resolving the Dilemma of Bugging Out By Bugging In
Bugging out poses a major dilemma for many preppers. Family obligations, money, jobs, and health considerations all play a role in the bug-out, bug-in decision. So what do I think?
At the end of the day, I honestly I believe bugging in is preferable to bugging out if circumstances allow you to do so. By bugging in and hunkering down, you have the benefits of familiarity, not having to traverse treacherous circumstances to get to your retreat, and your supplies are right there at hand.
That being said, the best way to practice bugging in is to take a weekend and have a “no-power, no-water” drill. During this drill, take notes so that you can see what holes in your preps need to be addressed. It goes with out saying that it is much better to realize a shortcoming now than when you are dependent upon your supplies for survival.
The Final Word
The focus today has not been on the specific contents of a bug out bag and a corresponding list of things to buy. Instead, my hope was to give you the incentive and motivation to think about your risks and plan for your needs in a rational, unemotional matter.
Start with these questions:
What do you need to put in place in order to hunker down?
What conditions would require you to bug out?
If there were a natural disaster, what are the proximity of friends and neighbors to help?
Would Camp FEMA be a bad thing?
By answering these questions honestly and realistically, you will be well on your way to creating a both a bug-out and a bug-in plan that works for you and your family. At the end of the day, isn’t that what matters?
Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!
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Bargain Bin: I plan to share the contents of my newly re-worked Bug Out Bag next week. In the meantime, however, here are a few of my personal B.O.B. items that are universal to all of us.
GI P38 & P51 Can Opener Combo Pack: This is one of the army’s greatest tools. They can be used for dozens of jobs: opening cans, cutting a straight edge, cleaning grooves, screw driver, fingernail cleaner, seam ripper and many, many more practical uses. For a couple of bucks, they are a good deal for very little money.
Tac Force TF-705BK Tactical Assisted Opening Folding Knife 4.5-Inch Closed: This is a great knife that is currently priced at about $8.603 with free shipping. Not only that, it is ranked as the #1 best seller at Amazon in both the camping and hunting knives categories. The reviews raved about this knife so I bought one, used it, and and can recommend it. See The Inexpensive Tac-Force Speedster Outdoor Knife.
Light My Fire Swedish FireSteel: This “Scout” is the one I own. Using this basic pocket fire-starter, you can get a nice fire going under almost any conditions. This is a small, compact version and is my personal favorite.
Potable Aqua Water Treatment Tablets: Potable Aqua Water Purification Tablets make questionable water bacteriologically suitable to drink. Easy to use and the water is ready to drink in 30 minutes. One 50 tablet bottle treats 25 quarts of water.
LifeStraw Personal Water Filter: The LifeStraw is considered the most advanced, compact, ultra light personal water filter available. It contains no chemicals or iodinated resin, no batteries and no moving parts to break or wear out. It weighs only 2oz. making it perfect for the prepper. For more information, see my LifeStraw review.
Grabber Outdoors Original Space Brand All Weather Blanket: I was interested in a re-usable emergency blanket so I purchased one of these based upon the excellent reviews. This space blanket is definitely “heavy duty” compared to the cheapies (not that they don’t have their place because they do). A Backdoor Survival reader passed on this tip:
We place one of these blankets silver side up on our mattress underneath the fitted sheet or mattress cover. It reflects body heat like you wouldn’t believe, instead of the heat being absorbed into the mattress.
Emergency Mylar Thermal Blankets (Pack of 10): I do believe in helping my neighbors in the community so a supply of these will be handy to hand out to those in need. You will be surprised at how warm these will keep you. Be sure to test one out in advance so that you have the confidence to trust the blanket in an emergency. About $8 (or less) for 10.
For over 25 years Emergency Essentials has been providing the highest quality preparedness products at great prices. Plus, each month they feature sales that quite honestly are fantastic. This month note the great sale prices two of my favorites, the Mobile Washer (Hand Operated Washing Machine) now only $14.95 and the Tote-able Toilet Seat and Lid, now only $11.79.
Need something from Amazon (and who doesn’t)? I earn a small commission from purchases made when you begin your Amazon shopping experience here. You still get great Amazon service and the price is the same, no matter what.
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