The Conundrum of Bugging Out and What To Do About It

Gaye LevyGaye Levy | Jul 4, 2019

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.

The Conundrum of Bugging Out | Backdoor Survival

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, the 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 events.  Take steps to mitigate the 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 the 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 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 heads 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 without 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 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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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.

can opener_0

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, screwdriver, 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 with free shipping.  Not only that, it is ranked as the #1 best seller  in both the camping and hunting knives categories.  The reviews raved about this knife so I bought one, used it, 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 FilterThe Amazon Top Ten Most Wanted Survival and Outdoor Items Backdoor Survival:  The LifeStraw is considered the most advanced, compact, ultralight 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.


Help support Backdoor Survival. Purchases earn a small commission and for that I thank you!




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18 Responses to “The Conundrum of Bugging Out and What To Do About It”

  1. How many more times do we waste time rehashing bug out? Again, it is an absolute waste of time to rehash this issue. Bug our or die at home, it’s that simple. Two articles that are as useless as a dead mule hooked to a wagon, is the one above, and the one about the unwilling to prep spouse. No offense, just use your time more wisely please. thanks

    • As joel says, it’s not a waste of time for everyone. But I think your attitude stinks. Not everyone has the skills to survive on the road so if you don’t plan ahead with a specific bug out location in mind as a destination, you’re much more likely to die on the road than at home in all but a few specific circumstances. I have more preps in my home than I could carry in anything short of a 40 foot trailer, and I can’t afford an 18 wheeler as a bug out vehicle. So if I’m forced out of my home I’ll be leaving a lot of preps behind. If it really is a bug out or die event, then that’s an easy decision. But for something like a pandemic, I’m sealing up the windows and doors and putting a biohazard sign on the front door to scare off intruders. 😉
      Flexibility is the key to survival. While I base most of my plans around hunkering down (bugging in), it pays to know when you MUST leave or die and be ready to flee within minutes. Articles like this are a gentle introduction to folks new to prepping to introduce the idea that sometimes fleeing is a good idea.

    • Ditto.

    • Sure, we can all go sit out in the open with a red blanket around us like the lady in the photo. Why not just use a beacon saying here I am. Honestly, how long do you think she would last. She is not buggin out, she’s just out.Again this bugin bugout mess is a waste of time.

    • Ha! Taxn2poverty, you’re funny. Also, when you ask, “Honestly, how long do you think she would last.” Which movie are you referring to: the one with zombies, or the one with lions, tigers and bears, or the WWIII film? Oh wait, you don’t think that photo of the red blanket was just to demonstrate it, do you? Or that anyone might ever possibly want to be found and seen? Oh dear, I see. You seem to have a very narrow preconcieved idea of what buging out means and the situations a person might encounter. Sort of like when horses wear blinders?

      You write, “Again this bugin bugout mess is a waste of time.” Perhaps you don’t live near trains which can derail, industrial plants which leak, or near an area that experiences wildfires or has a smouldering toxic nuclear dump blowing smoke your way. Maybe you live in some kind of mystical, bubble-safe-zone of some sort? Is that it? You never, box outside of the think?

      When you write, “Bug our or die at home, it’s that simple.” it occurs to me that in life, usually nothing is that simple or cut and dried. Anyway, thanks for the chuckle. Keep on keepin’ on.

  2. while it maybe old news to some it could be helpful new news to a new convert to prepping.Instead of being a sourpuss offer something helpful or maybe keep your yap shut? Id rather die in my home than go to a FEMA camp.Im prepared for the long haul anyway short of a nuclear attack im pretty set

  3. Rehash! Rehash! Yes, I am all for it. Years ago we went camping and who do you think remembered to get the little charcoal grill – you guessed it, Nobody. But for me personally, the rehash said to be prepared so we were as I did bring the propane stove. I enjoy this site and enjoy reading about what happens to others so I can better prepare myself. Tks Gayle!

  4. Some thoughts about the discussion about water filters from the comments at The Survival Buzz #193 and #194:

    Better than a Brita filter, which many people around me thought was a good enough filter to have before I started looking into things, I have two types of water filters in my camping bag. One is a bit more time consuming to use and I thought it was a bit more “robust” than most, but even that does not remove viruses. The other is a quick and easy to use Lifestraw. I am a bit better informed about the limitations and uses of both now. For that, thanks for the input to motivate me to research things more, prsmith.

    Should I have a Sawyer instead of a Lifestraw? Maybe. But are any of them any good when they freeze? (And does Ron Brown have a book out about water filters like his propane one?)

    Then there’s this from an Amazon ad about the Sawyer Mini Water Filtration System:

    “The Sawyer PointOne is certified at 0.1 absolute microns, meaning the filter contains no pore size larger than 0.1 micron in size. […] The filter does not remove chemicals, dissolved solids, or viruses. However, viruses are very rarely found in North America or when traveling to foreign cities.” That’s with using their, “0.1 Micron absolute hollow fiber membrane inline filter” So, because like the Lifestraw, this filter does not remove viruses, should they remove this and a few other products they have from the market, too? I don’t think so.

    I suppose it’s possible that sewage could contaminate water supplies, if SHTF, changing the virus outlook. How do I want to prepare for that? With a Berky filter and or with a Lifestraw Family filter, or…? Do I even want to try drinking water contaminated with sewage, even if the filter removes 99.9% of viruses, without boiling it or treating it first?

    The Sawyer Products SP191 Point Zero Two Bucket Purifier Assembly Kit with Faucet Adapter says it removes viruses, but it’s 120 bucks. Ouch. It says on Amazon, ‘Simply install the compatible purifier to a plastic bucket (not included) and you’re setup”. It’s kind of limited that way?

    The LifeStraw Family 1.0 Water Purifier is only 58 bucks and it says on Amazon, “LifeStraw Family 1.0 large volume water filter can filter out viruses” and it, “Removes minimum 99.999% of viruses (>LOG 5 reduction)”. It can only filter 4,750 gallons vs. 1 million gallons for the Sawyer SP191 which also filters out 99.9% of the viruses they tested, but with a 62 Dollar difference, maybe the Lifestraw is the better deal of the two? …And, what about the viruses they didn’t test?

    The only other filter I’ve found so far which removes viruses is the Survivor Filter with Triple Absolute Filtration to 0.05 Microns for 30 bucks. I’ll have to research some more and think it over.

    I’m not preparing to survive a nuclear Winter or to drink unboiled water taken from a puddle situated next to a hog feed lot. I am, however; prepared to drink water from natural springs located close to home in an urban area, or water from a less than pristine fountain at a campground, and maybe even prepared to drink the water supplied at a FEMA camp if I have no other choice, provided our overlords let us keep our gear, or a least what we can carry around our necks and in our pockets. …Can you carry a Sawyer Products SP191 Point Zero Two Bucket Purifier Assembly Kit on a lanyard around your neck?

    I like the take in this review of the Lifestraw, it meshes well with the refreshingly calm perspective in Gaye’s blog entry, The Conundrum of Bugging Out and What To Do About It.

    Key phrase: “For my environment”.

    “[With the Lifestraw]… it’s fairly safe to drink from running water in rivers, brooks, and creeks, it’s not a good idea to use the LifeStraw downstream from an industrial plant or in a pool of water in a third world country. […] For my environment, I feel the LifeStraw fits my needs better […] As for end of the world survival? You’ll want a more robust system with a more durable filter. But for hiking, camping, and enduring survival situations until you’re rescued, the LifeStraw is one hell of a valuable piece of gear.” – Thomas Xavier, LifeStraw Personal Water Filter Review, July 7, 2014.

  5. I went through the reviews on Amazon of the Katadyn Hiker Microfilter which I have (with only 0.3 micron filters) and found these interesting experiences from people using this filter to obtain water:

    I went to a local duck pond filled with bacteria and drank it for Microbiology Class experiment. No side effects from drinking the water at all.

    the Zion Narrows […] no one experienced any ill effects from drinking water that was originally loaded with all kinds of fun friends!

    Hiked the appalachian trail and this was a lifesaver. Little 1-2″ deep puddles were like icy cold dasani’s.

    Didn’t get sick from filtering water at Moraine lake at the base of the South Sister in Oregon, USA. that lake is slightly stagnant and we were all fine!

    an old pine tree was found uprooted. The nastiest water was there in the hollow bellow the root ball. Stagnet mosquito larva filled grossness. No choice filtered this water out and I wouldn’t say yum but would say praise the Gods of fool hardy knuckleheads.

    the boundary waters […] pumped lots of water right off shore opposed to canoeing to the middle of the lake, and had no issues.

    used this to filter water from the Willamette in central Oregon. I don’t have [diarrhea] and have not grown a third arm,

    I have used this water filter all over the world, with some of the “nastiest water sources” around, and it works great.

    pumped around 20 gallons of river water through it without any signs of sickness.

    Anecdotal comments for sure, but interesting, none the less.

  6. Taxn2, Shame on you. You may think the subject is over but there are plenty of newcomers that appreciate reading the articles. We had a BOL but 5 years ago but due to some machinations of the stepsibs, we lost it. Now I’m the go to place for the family and I will NOT go to a FEMA camp(had friends in New Orleans and Sandy Hook,nuff said). So unless the house collapses around me or it’s on fire we’ll be “hunkering” down at the house and praying that I’ve done “enough” to survive AND thrive

  7. One caution regarding bugging out to the in-laws or other relatives. Yes, they may have a WELL-stocked retreat. Yes, they may welcome you with open arms (they ARE family, after all).

    BUT, as every fisherman knows, worms get rotten if they aren’t packaged correctly and fish spoil if they aren’t kept in a package in the fridge or freezer.

    I HIGHLY suggest that if you’re headed to friends or relatives houses as your BOL, that you do some ‘advance’ preparations. FIRST, talk to them about your concerns and see what their take is on your staying there—perhaps FOREVER (I’m talking TEOTWAKI) or even for an ‘extended’ period of time.

    I strongly suggest you store some alternate supplies at this BOL. Just a couple boxes/buckets of beans and rice may be all you can afford, but it’ll definitely ease the tension if you’re there for a LONG period of time. I’d suggest some basic tools, as well and maybe even some heirloom seeds. Since none of us knows the future, and none of us knows what may befall, it only makes sense to prepare for those unseen circumstances and not be a burden on friends and/or family.

  8. Unfortunately I don’t have time to read every single article here but do my best. It’s totally not rehash for me. I’m looking forward to you sharing the contents of your newly re-worked Bug Out Bag next week. I will be getting a new bag before the end of the year (a really nice one, finally) with a gift card, and money left over even, for a nice head lamp! I’ll be reading that article for sure, so rehash away I say! Thanks for all your great articles, older and new. I appreciate them!

  9. Speaking of rehash, for anyone who wants real world examples of people having to bug out – and what happened to them – so you can have an idea of what you might encounter, find some time to read this series about some of the people who had to leave their homes due to Hurricane Katrina, it can be a real eye opener, especially if you consider how it impacted people who lived further away from New Orleans.

    I will never forget the crowds of them showing up in my city 2 and 1/2 states away. Nor the woman who was walking past my house looking for the local homeless shelter (her accent a dead give away as she asked for directions) holding a stereotypical broomstick across her shoulders with all her worldly possessions balled up and hanging from each end inside dulled and ragged bandannas. I wished that I could have helped her more than just give her directions.



    A snippet:
    “Something I don’t want to do is make anyone afraid. Fear isn’t useful. You shouldn’t do any of this out of a sense of fear or panic. You should do it from a positive, forward looking philosophy. However you work that, you should do it – especially if you have kids. Many times in my youth I walked around not knowing where my next meal was coming from. That can be a little disturbing, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the rising panic you feel as you’re riding along with nothing but the money in your pocket, unsure if your house is still standing, with your little girls in the back seat. Trust me.

    The events and stories herein are true,…”

  10. Advice from public health: if you take any prescription medications, please make sure that you have a back-up supply of at least a month’s worth of drugs. Pharmacies will either be shut down or devoted to treating the sick during a mass emergency, and trust me when I tell you that you will not be able to get that regular prescription refilled.

  11. You stocked up all those preps. Just so me and my friends could take them.

  12. Well some scenarios are probaly best not dragged out,the world of Mad Max wouldnt be a very good place to live in.The Raveners and berserkers may do good for awhile,but infighting will cull them pretty quickly.People will try to live off the land,but believe me that will be exhausted pretty quickly.So perhaps it is more bang for the buck-to bug in(a safe room or cellar at least)

  13. The real downer would be,to risk life and limb to get to your bugout location and find it already occupied by squatters.”Lucifers Hammer” is a good read,but it does rise some interesting points,despite being very fanciful.After a catastrophe of that magnitude,life would be hard everywhere on the Earth

  14. what do you say to the rescuer that insists you go in the bus? I would have my radio with me and tell them I have family a mile up the road waiting with another group and they are waiting for you. and walk off quickly. with others they are directing they wont pressure you.


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