What Does Bugging Out Mean to You?

Any survival instructor worth his or her salt will be the first to tell you that there are no universal solutions in the world of preparedness. What works for one isn’t necessarily the best idea for another. We all bring to the table different levels of knowledge and experience, different budgets, and different goals.

Bugging out is the single most popular topic in all of prepperdom, that is for certain. I couldn’t even begin to guess how many words have been written on the subject. Yet, for all of its popularity and coverage in survival literature, people still struggle with the concept. I think at least part of that confusion stems from the common human desire to have someone just tell us what to do, rather than figuring out the solution ourselves.

Here’s the thing. Bugging out means different things to different people. Generally speaking, I believe bugging out should always be a last resort, rather than a primary plan. However, I’m smart enough to know that even that rule will have exceptions. For me, bugging out means I’m going to have to abandon all of my goodies at home, grab my kit, and head for a safer location, such as the home of a close friend or family member, until the crisis has passed.

For others, bugging out means leaving home and never planning to return. Some of those folks figure to head for the hills and live off the land for the rest of their days.

Some people envision bugging out as involving heated gun battles as they fight their way toward their final destination. Because of this way of thinking, they load up their bug out bags with several firearms and many boxes of ammunition. Others plan for a more stealthy trip, doing everything they can to avoid any contact with other human beings. As a result, their planned bug out routes may take them miles away from a straight path, circling around towns and other potential problems.

I, nor any other instructor, can tell you exactly how to craft your own bug out plan. Your situation is unique to you. However, I can give you some guidelines to consider.

1) Any confrontation carries a risk of injury to you and members of your group. It doesn’t matter how well armed and prepared you may be, all it takes is a lucky shot from the other side to bring down one of your people. It might be a better plan to try and avoid such situations as best you can.

2) Bugging out without a planned destination just makes you a refugee. Know where you’re going and how you are going to get there, including alternate routes.

3) Planning to live off the land for any length of time, for the vast majority of people, is folly at best. Avoid the Hollywood nonsense and apply a good amount of common sense when crafting your plans.

Garbage Bags for Disasters

The next time you visit your local hardware store, pick up a small package of contractor grade trash bags. While a box or roll of them will be somewhat heavy, individually they weigh seemingly nothing and adding a few of them to your bug out bag won’t be noticed.

Garbage BagsSome folks use a garbage bag to line their packs, in order to keep things dry inside. This isn’t a bad idea at all. Simply open the pack and drop in a trash bag, very similar to how you’d use the bag in a trash can. Then, fill it with your gear and use a twist tie to close up the bag. This method is far better than first putting the gear into the bag, then trying to stuff the loaded bag into the pack.

A trash bag also makes for a great ground cover when you’re out in the field. You can kneel or sit on it, even lay a couple of them end to end so you can lie down. This is why I suggest using contractor grade bags. They are thicker and thus much more durable. The standard trash bags you’ll find at the grocery store are typically very thin and will tear easily if you tried using them as ground cover.

Should you find you need to cross a small body of water, you can fill the trash bag with air and tie it closed to make a flotation device. It isn’t perfect, not by any stretch of the imagination, but it will work fairly well for short term use.

If you’re in bear country, put all of your food and such into a trash bag and hang it high from a tree. The plastic trash bag will help keep smells from wafting through the forest.

Contractor Grade Trash Bags

In a pinch, you can stuff a bag with leaves and grass to make a pillow or small mattress. Not the most comfortable option in the world but it will help insulate you from the cold ground.

At home, if the plumbing isn’t working after a disaster, you can line the toilet with a trash bag to avoid having to use the tree outside. After a few uses, you’ll obviously need to change the bag. Don’t wait for the bag to get too full. You might be surprised at just how much human waste weighs. Keep a box of baking soda or some powder laundry detergent nearby and sprinkle some into the bag after each use to help with odors.

Remember, try to stick with the thicker, contractor grade, trash bags. They are going to be more expensive, yes, but they are also far more durable. When you piece it out, they’ll still amount to mere pennies per bag, too.

Bugging Out – Where to Go?

Bugging out should, with rare exception, be your last resort rather than your primary plan. That said, it is important to plan for the possibility that home won’t be a safe haven.

While putting together a bug out bag is, of course, a crucial step, knowing where you’re going is perhaps more important than knowing what you’re going to take with you to get there.

See, here’s the thing. Without a specific destination in mind, bugging out just makes you one more refugee on the roads. There are a few different factors to consider when choosing a bug out location.

Bugging Out

Attempting to bug out to a location that is several hundred miles from home is likely folly at best. Remember, the odds are pretty good that you may end up on foot for some or even most of your journey. Think about it like this – if you can’t get to the end of your driveway and back without getting winded, you’re probably not going to make it a few hundred miles on foot. As a general rule of thumb, I like to use 100 miles as the absolute maximum distance a bug out location should be from home. For most vehicles, that’s less than a half tank of gas. That’s still a haul, though, if you’re on foot.

Next up is property ownership. Planning to bug out to some sort of state or county owned land probably isn’t the greatest choice. See, you’re not the only person who’s going to have that brilliant idea. In fact, you might find the state forest bursting at the seams with wannabe survivalists. The absolute ideal, though it isn’t feasible for everyone, is to bug out to land you personally own. A hunting cabin, perhaps? Failing that, talk to family or close friends who live outside your immediate area. Come to an agreement whereby if disaster hits your area, you’ll be welcome in their home and vice versa. Maybe go so far as to stash some supplies at their place, including extra clothes, toiletries, cash, and such.

I also suggest choosing more than one bug out location. I recommend at least three possible bug out locations, ideally laid out in sort of a triangle around your home. For example, Grandpa’s hunting cabin to the north, your old college roommate’s house to the southwest, and your Aunt Suzanne’s farm to the east. The idea here is to give yourself options. Given that we have no way to know the nature of the disaster that could cause a bug out, we can’t reliably predict whether it would prevent us from traveling in the direction of our primary bug out location. Let’s say the way north is blocked by massive storm damage, earthquake fissures, or even manned roadblocks. It would be nice to have some alternate locations to consider, right?

Plan ahead, choose a few different bug out locations, and practice different routes getting to each of them.

Water Purification Options When Bugging Out

Water, more specifically clean water, is essential to survival. Common thought is that one can live perhaps three days without hydration. As a practical matter, the latter day or two of that time frame will be spent in delirium and agony. Suffice to say, you need water to live.

Purifying Water when Bugging Out

You can only carry a finite amount of water. It is heavy and takes up a lot of space. Therefore, a wise prepper will not only carry water but also invest in the supplies necessary to treat additional water to make it potable. Fortunately, there are several options available.


Bloing Water in a Metal Container for PurificationBringing water to a boil is about the surest way to kill any pathogens or other critters floating in it. It is best to filter the water first by running it through a coffee filter or something so as to remove any sediment and debris that might be present. Then, use a clean pot to bring the water to a rolling boil. Technically, just bringing it to a boil is enough to kill anything in the water. But, many people like to err on the side of caution and let it boil for a few minutes. Realistically, you aren’t using that much extra fuel in doing so, if that’s your preference. However, it can be difficult to provide enough water for an entire family or group using this method. Of course, this method also requires you to carry a metal container you can use for boiling the water.

Purification Tablets

Water Purification TabletsA mainstay in many survival kits, water purification tablets work very well. The tablets add a chemical (typically either an iodine compound or chlorine dioxide) that will kill off the bad stuff in the water. Generally speaking, you’ll add the tablets to your water, shake vigorously, then seal tightly and wait 30 minutes or so. Follow the directions on the package exactly to ensure the best results, of course. Personally, I’ve found the chlorine dioxide based tablets leave the water tasting better than the iodine based tablets. Your mileage may vary. What I suggest is that you carry two water bottles. One with water ready to drink at all times and the other being treated as you travel.

Filter Straws

Straw Filter for DrinkingA third option is to purchase a filter straw. What is nice about this option is there is no work or waiting involved. The device consists of a straw with a built in filter. You simply put one end of the straw into the water and suck through the straw, just as you would if it were a can of soda rather than a stream or river. The water is filtered as it goes through the straw and is potable by the time it reaches your mouth. This can be a great option for those who are looking to truly travel light.

My suggestion is you double or triple up on your water purification methods for your bug out bag. Remember – two is one and one is none!

Civil Unrest Preparedness

It has become increasingly common to see and hear news reports of riots, looting, and other forms of civil unrest in our cities. The causes are varied but the fact is, if you live or work in an urban area, you are at risk of getting caught in the middle of a potentially violent situation.

Preparing for Civil Unrest

Civil Unrest

Obviously, the first thing you’ll want to do if you find yourself in a bad spot is to get out of the area as quickly as possible. If you are on foot, don’t try to go “upstream” through the moving crowd but instead move perpendicular to the forward motion, pushing to one side of the crowd. Once you are out of the thick of things, keep moving away from the area, cutting down side streets if possible. Link hands with those who are with you so no one gets left behind.

If you are in a vehicle, you may find it a bit tougher to keep moving. Keep your windows rolled up and your doors locked. Do the best you can to keep going forward until you can turn down a side street. However, if you’re not familiar with the area, watch for signs that indicate the side street is a dead end so you don’t trap yourself.

For those who live in urban areas, civil unrest can be a two-fold dilemma. Not only might you get caught up in the thick of things when you’re out and about, the riots and looting could make it unsafe to even leave your home.

This is one of the many reasons why I encourage people to have enough food, water, and other necessities in their homes, sufficient to last at least a couple of weeks. That said, impending rioting and looting in your immediate area would be one of the rare occasions where I’d suggest you give serious thought to bugging out to a safer location until things settle down.

There is a documented psychological effect at work in large groups. Often, it is called mob mentality. It is actually pretty scary when it happens to you. Without any real thought, you’ll find yourself mimicking the actions of those around you.

Their emotion becomes your emotion. The issue at hand might have originally had absolutely no bearing on your life but suddenly it has become your passion. You’re angry, you’re upset, and you want to do some decidedly nasty things.

Later, you’ll be at a loss if asked to explain what happened. It’ll all just seem to be a blur. If you find yourself getting caught up in the moment, try to remember to take a step back and breathe for a moment or two. Clear your head, calm yourself down, and give just a second or two of thought to the situation. Doing so might help keep you from doing something you’ll regret later.

Weekend Project

This weekend, I’d like for you to take a little time and put together a mini survival kit. Nothing elaborate nor fancy is required. Just a kit that will satisfy most if not all your basic needs in a survival situation, yet be small enough to fit on your belt or in a purse.

To review, here is a list of basic needs:

–First aid

Preppers are some of the most ingenious people around. This is often highlighted when it comes to building survival kits. People figure out all sorts of great ways to save space and not sacrifice quality.

So, show me something! Get creative! Send me a pic or two of your creation, along with some info about what you included in the kit. I’ll pick the best ones to feature here on the blog in the next week or two.

Send the pics to: Jim@SurvivalWeekly.com.

Signs It Is Time To Bug Out

A few weeks ago, Lisa Bedford, The Survival Mom(TM), asked several survival and preparedness bloggers for a short essay detailing how we’d know it is time to bug out, or as she put it, that the “balloon had gone up.” Here is my contribution.

One of the most common questions I get, just behind What kind of gun should I buy? and just ahead of Who sells the best-tasting dehydrated food? is “How will I know it is time to bug out?” Variations of this include “How will I know this is the event?” and “How can I get out before the crowd?”

It is very difficult to give any sort of concrete answer to these questions because they are, at least in part, very subjective. For almost all potential scenarios, my pat answer is to remain at home until such a time that home is no longer tenable or safe. But, I’ll readily admit that is side-stepping the actual question.

Here, then, are some indicators, “red flags” if you will, that things are likely to get much worse before they get better.

Stores aren’t seeing stock coming in. We’ve all heard the statistic that grocery stores only have about 3 days worth of stock at any given time. While that figure varies depending on the item, such as they may have enough toiletries to last a typical month but enough fresh meat to only last a couple days, the average for the store on the whole is likely stock levels to last a week or less. If something causes disruption to the replenishment process, that not only makes it difficult to purchase food and other supplies, the secondary result is people begin to panic. In our modern society, most people are accustomed to immediate gratification. They want something so they go to the store and buy it. Now, how often have you run to the store to pick up something and upon arriving you learn they don’t have it in stock? It makes you feel frustrated, maybe even angry. How dare they not have the new season of Justified on DVD! Now, imagine that instead of a set of DVDs, it is canned vegetables, milk, or bread and your family is already getting pretty hungry. One of the first things we’ll see in the wake of a major event is store shelves not being stocked. The disruption may only be for a few days but you don’t want to be around when people find out they can’t get food from their normal sources.

You hear eyewitness accounts of looting in your area. I want to stress the “eyewitness” part of that. In chaotic situations, rumors are guaranteed to be flying left and right. Case in point – think back to all the rumors you heard about what went on inside the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina. No doubt about it, there were bad things going on but, as far as I know, the rumors about infants being killed were never proven to be anything but stories. So, if you hear that a neighbor was told by a friend of their cousin who heard from a guy down their block that their uncle saw some looters, you might take it with a grain of salt. However, if said neighbor instead tells you he saw a band of ne’er do wells going house to house as he was coming back from scouting the area, that’s a sure sign things are likely to be heading south quickly.

Emergency services are overwhelmed. As we’ve seen in the aftermath of major disasters like Hurricane Katrina and various tornadoes in Oklahoma, law enforcement agencies as well as other emergency services can easily become overwhelmed. Please do not take this as a gripe against them. Thousands and thousands of good men and women work in those fields and do the very best they can to respond to emergencies large and small. However, they are only human and they have limits. They can’t be in two places at once and there’s only so many of them to go around. At some point, triage will have to take place and decisions made as to which emergencies are more important than others. This happens every day, actually. Police dispatchers routinely need to determine which 911 calls get priority when things get really busy. A traffic accident with possible fatalities on a major highway takes precedence over a complaint about an out-of-season campfire in a backyard (yes, people call 911 for such inane complaints). However, after a major event, staffing levels may drop due to officers having been injured in the disaster, being ill, or just plain wanting to remain at home with their families and this will result in many calls for assistance going unchecked for longer periods of time, if responded to at all. Even if attendance at roll call is 100%, the sheer volume of requests for help may become too much for any department to fully bear. In the event that takes place, you really don’t want to be one of the people standing around, waiting for a squad car to arrive and hopefully resolve a problem for you.

Above all else, trust your gut. If that voice in the back of your head is telling you it is time to head out, do so. You may only have one chance to get out ahead of everyone else and make it to your secondary destination rather than end up in the middle of an interstate that has become a large parking lot.

The Argument for Mini-Kits

Spend much time on the more heavily-trafficked survival message boards and you will inevitably see posts come up regarding mini-kits, like the kind you make out of the ever-popular Altoids tins. Frequently, what happens is someone posts a picture of one they put together, which is all well and good. But then, you’ll see several posts saying how it is a stupid idea, what possible use would such a small kit have, that sort of thing.

Part of the problem is that those who build these kits are often inexperienced with survival skills in general and perhaps feel these small kits are all they’ll need. At least, that’s how it sometimes comes across.

The reality is, these mini-kits are great.

But they certainly aren’t intended for long-term survival by any means. They are a backup, perhaps even a backup to your backup gear. They are not, or should not, be seen as the end all, be all survival kit.

The idea behind having a mini-kit is that, no matter what, you can always have at least some survival gear with you at all times. They are small enough to toss into a pocket or purse and not make you feel overburdened by the size or weight. If something happens to your primary gear, you’ll still have some of the basics at your disposal.

Typically, these Altoids tins and such have things like:

–Strike anywhere matches
–Tinder (Fire Straws, anyone?)
–A button compass for navigation
–A signal whistle to help rescuers find you
–A small razor knife or other blade
Water purification tablets
–Some adhesive bandages
–Duct tape
–Maybe even some paracord

No, a mini-kit isn’t going to keep you living high on the hog for weeks on end. But, it just might be enough to keep your butt alive for a day or two, at least long enough that you can work to improve your situation. As I always say, skills trump stuff every time. So, while you work on assembling all these nifty kits and whiz-bang gear, please be sure you know how to use all of it!

More Unusual Additions to the Survival Kit

One of the things I truly enjoy is coming up with ways to take common items and repurpose them as survival gear. I can’t say I’m always the first guy to come with a given idea as, more often than not, I’ll later see it or a variation mentioned somewhere. Still though, ’tis fun.

Alcohol swabs are pretty cheap. They are great to have in your kit to help clean small wounds, of course. But, they are also excellent for getting a fire going. Tear open the package and pull the swab out about halfway, then light it using any of your typical means of doing so. You may not see much flame as alcohol burns very cleanly. It also is pretty damn hot so be careful!

This one comes courtesy of survival expert and author John McCann. Toss a few small balloons in with your survival fishing gear. They work great as improvised floats. Who doesn’t have room in their kit for a couple balloons?

Glue sticks don’t need a glue gun to work. Just heat up one end over your fire, then smear the glue where it is needed. Great for making expedient repairs in the field. But, watch your fingers as the glue is obviously hot and will stick to the skin.

A simple, inexpensive rat trap baited with peanut butter will work well in keeping you fed. Spray paint it first with a neutral, flat color like gray or tan. Screw in an eye hook on one end so you can tie it to a tree so you don’t lose the trap if the critter isn’t killed instantly and instead tries to crawl away while “caught.”

Take a look around you. Think about how you could use everyday common items in a survival situation. Get creative!

Bug Out Bags vs Long-Term Storage

On one of the more popular survival-related message boards, this question was recently asked.

I’ve heard of a lot of people having two separate supplies – one kit for bug out purposes only and another for long term storage. Is it in my best interest to have both?

To my way of thinking, this is sort of like asking if you need both a smoke alarm and a fire extinguisher. While they have related purposes, to keep your butt alive if there is a fire, they serve two entirely different roles.

A bug out bag is a portable collection of food and gear, designed to sustain you for a short period of time as you try to get to a safe location. This could be getting from work to home or it could be traveling from a home that is no longer safe to a secondary rallying point. For most people, the bug out bag won’t have enough space to include food to last more than perhaps a few days to a week. Some could rely upon their skills to augment that food by hunting, fishing, trapping, and wild edible plants, of course. But even so, the idea behind bugging out isn’t to go off and live in the woods forever. You should have a destination in mind and work towards getting there quickly and safely.

On the other hand, home is where you want to be if at all possible. No matter how great your bug out bag is, all it does is turn you into a well-equipped refugee for a time. Home is where you should have enough food and supplies to get you through at least a few weeks, preferably longer. Hard to take all that with you during a bug out.

Do you need both a bug out bag and separate supplies stored at home? Absolutely!