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Editor’s Note: This resource has been revised and updated for 2019.
To bug out or bug in? That is a question that a lot of us may have given some thought to over the years. If you haven’t thought about it much then you probably should ask yourself some questions that will help you think more logically about it when the time comes.
Here are some questions to think about now but also ask yourself when a situation arises.
How long is the emergency likely to last?
While there are things that it may be impossible for you to know, an emergency that is only going to have a major impact for a few days or a week might mean that you are better off staying put and not contributing to congestion or involving yourself in large crowds. A little bit of civil unrest in town, for example, means that you should probably just stay in place.
The Nuclear Incident
A nuclear incident means get out ASAP and plan on staying gone a long time or possibly forever. In this type of situation, you might consider using your car to get as far away as you can and even dumping it and going on foot if it comes down to it.
Keep in mind that if you bug out of a nuclear zone, there may be checkpoints set up for evacuees. It is possible for you to have everything you have carefully chosen and packed, taken and disposed of because of the chance it is radioactive. Then you will have to depend on the state to help you.
Those that lived in the Fukushima nuclear zone were not allowed to go back for any items for 4 years.
Do you have the supplies you need to survive?
Notice I said to survive. Just because you don’t have everything you might want doesn’t mean you don’t have what you need for you and your family to survive. Risking safety to get unnecessary things can lead to tragedy. Just look at what happens when there is snowfall.
There are plenty of people that go about their business even when what they are doing is completely unnecessary. Considering the advanced weather forecasts and equipment we have today, there is little excuse for not doing your shopping in advance.
Is there civil unrest in your area or any of the surrounding areas?
Bugging out means traveling and if there is civil unrest then it may be better for you to stay put for at least a few days before getting out. Getting caught up in violence has happened to a lot of people.
If you try to get out and run into blocked roads or people that may target you based on appearance, what you are driving, or any other thing that stands out, the situation may become rapidly dire.
Where are you going when you bug out? Have you prepared yourself physically so that you can carry a pack for many miles if you plan on going on foot?
Some readers seem to have it all figured out when it comes to where they are going if they have to bug out while others seem to think they are just going to hit the road, bush, etc and see how it goes. Regardless of how well you know an area, taking off and surviving in the bush is easier said than done.
Hitting the woods/bugging out on foot is a last resort usually. If danger is coming your way and there seems no way to stay in place, then you should think about bugging out.
Those that are reading this that have heard someone say or thought to themselves that since they have a pack, gear, and a rifle, they can take and pillage for whatever they need after their supplies run out are in for a big surprise.
While this type of action may get you through for a while, eventually someone is going to catch you. No one is on top of it all the time. If you steal and pillage enough during a SHTF scenario someone is going to take you out.
Do you have kids that are going to need extra care and that will slow down any progress on foot? Are there elderly or disabled persons in your home that will need transportation to get out of a situation?
Sometimes I wonder how well everyone has prepared for their children in the long term or even short term emergency. Kids cannot move as fast as an adult and honestly, with the lack of physical education and outdoor activity, they are not all in the shape that kids years ago were in.
Those with kids need to be realistic about what is feasible. Bugging out with an infant is going to be pretty hard. I won’t say it’s impossible by any stretch but it is going to require some special planning and gear.
Some families just plan on bugging out with transportation. There are a lot of options beyond a regular car, even if they are just going to be used to get you to a location and then be abandoned.
Is a major event like a wildfire, flood, tsunami, or volcanic eruption occurring or imminent?
Wildfires, floods, and volcanic eruptions are all excellent reasons for bugging out. The sooner you do the better to some degree. If you wait too long then your risk being stuck in traffic with danger rapidly approaching.
Wildfires are awful and they can spread rapidly and trap people. Look at the terrain around you and the wooded areas. Crown fires are among the worst things that can come your way. Back in 2016 Pigeon Forge, TN experienced a fire that burned a large portion of town.
It was fueled by very high winds and there was absolutely nothing that firefighters could do to get it under control. Even the best of the best cannot do much against near hurricane force winds mixed with fire.
I grew up on the Skagit River in the North Cascades of Washington State and my father was always extremely proactive in getting out of town before everyone else when flooding was predicted. He would come get me at school even. This was a good thing because if you waited too long all the hotels and motels were full except the more expensive ones and even those could be limited.
As far as volcanoes go, my Dad still vividly remembers hearing Mt. St. Helens explode in 1980. He and my mother were living near Forks, Washington and they heard it clearly that far away. The only fatalities from that event were due to several stubborn older individuals refusing to leave their homes. This goes to show that getting out when you need to is important.
The instruments used to monitor volcanoes are quite advanced. Anyone living near a volcano should pay attention to any warnings about any activity whatsoever. At the same time, volcanoes smoke a bit if they are even the least bit active.
There were many times when I was a kid that we could see a haze over Mt. Baker. if you looked close you could see an indent on Sauk Mountain where the steam escaped. It is when the major activity starts happening that you need to pay attention to reports.
Even getting 50 ft above sea level can save you in a tsunami. If you are in a tsunami zone and get a warning then get out no questions asked. These can come fast and they are often the effect of another natural disaster like an earthquake, landslides, or volcanic eruptions. I remember being under tsunami warning living in Ketchikan, AK, and it was pretty scary.
Do you have the right food and enough of it for bugging out?
It may be quite some time before you can re-up your food supplies. Carrying a lot of food means a heavy pack. You also need to have food that doesn’t require much preparation. If you are on your feet a lot then you are going to need more calories than you normally would. If was going to bug out I would want at least a weeks worth of rations with 2 weeks being preferable.
You will thank yourself and your back for having freeze-dried not dehydrated food if you have to get out of dodge fast. When you add up the cost per day for freeze-dried it is actually a lot less than what most people spend to eat a standard diet at home and far less than the cost of a single cheap meal from a deli or restaurant.
Having bug out transportation is great but you need to be careful about what you choose to pack. Use your extra space wisely. Food, water and water filter, fuel, medical supplies, clothing, footwear, and personal defense supplies come to mind when I think about the best use of space.
Do you have animals that need care?
We have dogs, sheep, geese, and cats to think about during an emergency. Even just having a dog means you need to give some thought to what is best for them during an emergency short or long term.
Those of us with livestock, dogs, and cats need to be concerned about what calls to make when it comes to their safety and well-being in an emergency or disaster.
Sometimes I have got a little grief from cat owners for not including them in pet survival bug out bags. The truth of the matter is that if you are bugging out in a vehicle or temporarily and have transportation then go ahead and include your cat but if you are taking to the woods, your cat isn’t going with you.
A dog can trudge along but a cat is not going to do that and carrying them constantly is not realistic. I love my kitties but if I have to leave my home for a little while I will be leaving out an auto feeder they can reach and others can’t and letting them fend for themselves until I can get back. A 13 lb bag of cat food lasts a month or more.
Of course, bugging out with transportation for the long term may mean that you can take a cat along. I recommend having airline approved pet carriers on hand. If you have to take other transportation you are more likely to be allowed to have your pet accompany you.
Livestock like sheep, cattle, and goats that are on pasture and have a good source of water can fend for themselves.
Things That Make You More Prepared For Bugging In Or Out
- Enough food to get through a few months in case the grocery store is not an option if you are bugging in. I recommend a week’s worth or more if bugging out if at all possible.
- Water filtration suitable for your household size. Always have a backup water filter in case your first filter gets damaged.
- Entertainment for bugging in. Sure you can get by without entertainment but it is going to make for a miserable time, especially if you need to keep kids busy. Books, coloring books, pens, pencils, and small electronics are good options, especially if you have some extra battery banks you can keep charged up. Little solar setups are inexpensive. There are also plenty of charges you can plug into the wall and keep topped off in case of a power outage.
- Clothing for varying temps and weather conditions. Check out my post on Best Clothing To Have On Hand For SHTF.
- A way to cook meals. If you can cook outside then a rocket stove can work. If you have to you can make your own using a variety of materials. For those in apartments or urban areas, a propane stove that can run on the 1 lb fuel bottles can be a big help. You need no electricity for a propane burner or Coleman stove.
- Radio. If other sources are not available, a radio can keep you connected to the outside world enough to know what is going on a bit better. The right radio can also be used for communications.
- Pet supplies. My previous post Best Pet Survival Kit Ideas & Products has a few suggestions to get started putting a good kit together. Try to keep at least a few weeks worth of dog food on hand at all times. A month or more is better.
- Defenses. While having a firearm close by is nice, there are a lot of other weapons that can be quite formidable. Non Lethal weapons are easy to get and inexpensive. I learned a lot about them writing Best Non Lethal Weapons for the Prepared Individual.
Remember that your situation is unique to you. I can help you get started thinking about a big decision on bugging out or bugging in but everyone has their own circumstances to plan for. Being prepared means taking a long hard look at your limitations and strengths and creating a game plan that works with those characteristics.
Situations Can Change Fast
Being prepared is great but there are things that are beyond your control. No matter how prepared and skilled you are, you need to realize that situations can change fast.
You may wisely decide to bug in but then learn that the situation has escalated and you need to get out ASAP. The best we all can do is prepare for either case the best we can and practice good situational awareness.
Do you have a plan? What measures have you taken to make sure your family is prepared for bugging out or bugging in?
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