Realistic Bug Out Planning

Posted on: October 13, 2015

[Note: I gave this presentation at the NPS Expo in Louisville, Kentucky, in October, 2015. As a courtesy to those who attended, I am sharing it here. It isn’t verbatim, of course. In fact, there is far more here than I had time to cover at the Expo.]

Show of hands, how many here have at least one bug out bag packed and ready to go?

Show of hands, how many here have at least one planned destination if they need to bug out?

Show of hands, how many here know exactly how they are going to get from Point A to Point B?

Ok, cool. Now, here’s where I’m going to deviate from a lot of the advice you’ve probably heard or read when it comes to disaster planning. You ready?


Bugging out is what you do if, and only IF, you have no other viable options available to you. In the vast majority of potential scenarios, staying home is going to be your best, your SAFEST option. Home is where the bulk of your supplies are located. You’re familiar with the area and are likely going to be the most comfortable there.

Now, with all of that in mind, let’s talk a bit about what bugging out means.

Defining Bugging Out

What does the term bugging out mean to you?

Here’s how I look at it. Bugging out means traveling from a hazardous location to a safe one, as quickly, as efficiently, and as safely as possible. It does NOT mean heading for the hills to live off the land in a debris hut for months on end.

The fact is, relatively speaking very few people possess the skills that would be required to successfully live off the land for an extended period of time. Hunting, fishing, trapping, and scavenging wild edibles is all well and good, but that’s a damned hard means of existence when we’re talking potentially several weeks to several months.

Plus, think about this for a second. What scenarios could happen that would make living in the woods for an extended period of time be the best option? Natural disasters would, by definition, make being outdoors a risky move. Martial law? Sure, ok, but now you’re adding a need for extreme stealth on top of supplying your basic needs. Look, we live in the real world, this isn’t a post-apocalyptic fantasy novel. Do you really think you can meet the needs of yourself and your family members out in the bush for several weeks or more?

If this is your plan, I would encourage you to grow up, move out from your parents’ basement, and join the rest of us out here in big people world.

The fact is, the vast majority of people who plan to head off to the woods to live out the rest of their days will get exactly what they’re planning, just that the rest of their days probably won’t be quite as long as they think.

Ok, on to realistic bug out planning.

We’re not going to go into detail on what should or should not be in your bug out bag. That’s an entire workshop in and of itself. Suffice to say, there are roughly a bazillion lists available online that will tell you what you *should* have in your BOB.

Instead of this being what we might call gear porn, we’re talking today about planning for the actual bug out. The first step is determining where you’re going to go. Bugging out without a destination just makes you one more refugee on the roads. Perhaps a well-equipped refugee, but a refugee nonetheless.

Bug Out Locations

I suggest you have at least three different potential bug out locations, each of them in opposite directions from one another. Say, Grandpa’s old hunting cabin up north, your buddy’s homestead to the west, and your cousin’s place to the southeast. Prepping is all about options, giving yourself the luxury of choice rather than being locked into a single course of action. Planning multiple locations covers your bets, so to speak. Being that none of us can accurately predict the circumstances that might cause us to bug out, we don’t know where the safest direction for travel may be.

Assuming you’re like most of us in this room, you probably aren’t Mr or Mrs Moneybags and you can’t afford to just buy a bunch of land all over the place. Therefore, you’ll need to consider speaking with family and friends about coming their way should some crisis occur. Yeah, I know, that’s probably not going to be a fun conversation. But, it needs to happen so everyone is on the same page. Be sure to offer your place to them, should the event happen in their neck of the woods. I would also strongly advise you to give thought to socking some supplies away at each bug out location. This is made far easier, of course, if the BOL is someone’s home, rather than an empty cabin. Food, water, basic first aid items, all that fun stuff.


Once you know where you’re going, next is planning how you’ll get there. In an ideal world, you’ll have gotten out way ahead of the crowd and you’ll just have a leisurely drive, maybe even some sightseeing on the way, right? In reality, you’ll probably be facing rush hour from hell, possibly even roadblocks, official or otherwise.

This brings up something we didn’t talk about regarding choosing BOLs – the distance. Most cars and trucks on the road today average somewhere around 400 miles on a tank of gas. Given that most of us probably fill up when our tank reaches somewhere between ½ and 1/4 full, that gives us, on average, about 100-200 miles. Keep in mind, that’s not as the crow flies but as the road twists and turns, including detouring around roadblocks (natural or manmade) and other deviations.

Should you end up on foot, the likelihood of traveling a couple of hundred miles diminishes considerably for many people. Depending upon your physical fitness, the terrain, and other considerations, you might be lucky to get ten miles a day. If your BOL is 100 miles away, that’s almost two weeks of walking. Could you do that?

Something to consider is keeping bicycles at home for possible use when bugging out. You’ll travel much faster than if you were walking and you don’t have to worry about carrying cans of fuel with you. Plus, bikes can be used for transporting cargo, far more than you’d be able to carry on your back.

Animals can also be used for transport, of course. If you have horses or donkeys, they can be a great option. However, riding them or using them for cargo transport isn’t something you can learn in just a few minutes. Caring for the animals’ needs is crucial as well.

Route Planning

Ok, so you have your BOLs determined and you have a good idea of how you’ll be moving to get there. Now, we need to determine the routes you are going to take.

Plan for at least three separate routes to each BOL. Again, options. You can’t know ahead of time what the road conditions are going to be like. You might run into roadblocks or very heavy traffic. Speed is important, yes, but so is avoiding potential problems along the way. Far better to detour 30 miles out of your way than end up enmeshed in a major traffic jam for hours on end.

Routes should take you away from and around population centers as much as possible. Stick to back roads, ones that few people probably know well outside the locals. Test out these routes from time to time, varying between day and night as well as throughout the different seasons. You might be surprised at how different a given stretch of road can look at night or in the middle of winter. You want these routes committed to memory as best you can, so you know them like the back of your hand.

Always have the applicable maps in your bug out bag. There shouldn’t be a need for marking your routes on the map, you should know them already. The idea behind having the maps is to increase your options if you end up having to deviate considerably from a chosen route. Obviously, knowing how to properly read a map is important!


Depending upon the distance, it might not be the worst idea in the world to set up one or two caches along the way. A cache is simply a small collection of supplies that is hidden along your route. The most basic type of cache is a section of PVC pipe that is sealed up and buried. There are all sorts of websites and even Youtube videos that can show you how to assemble one rather easily. The idea behind a cache is to have resupply points as you travel to your BOL. If you’re running low on food or ammunition, it would be great to a stash available to you.

A few words of caution about caches.

1) Make damn sure you can find it again. One way is to triangulate the location between fixed points of reference, such as a large oak tree, a boulder, and a fence post. Another is to mark the location with a very easy to spot landmark, such as a uniquely shaped or colored rock.

2) Caches should be placed on property you either own or in some other place where it is legal for you to bury it. You really don’t want to get caught in the middle of the night in a public park or cemetery with a shovel and a large pipe-shaped object.

3) Items placed in a cache should be stuff that you can leave sit for years. Where in most areas of prepping we talk about regularly rotating our supplies, you can’t do that with a cache.

4) Lastly, I would encourage you to give thought to how you’ll access the cache when the time comes. Burying a PVC pipe isn’t all too difficult, removing it from the ground is a whole ‘nother thing. See, ground settles over time and that pipe might be locked in tighter than Winnie the Pooh got stuck after eating too much honey. Consider a tube-within-a-tube approach.

Unplanned party attendees

Okay, so there you are. You’ve managed to trek 80+ miles, mostly on foot, over the last week or so and have finally arrived at your BOL, only to find some folks have beaten you to the party. You’re tired, hungry, and more than a bit peeved that someone else has taken up residence in your BOL. Now what?

Well, like most things in life, it depends. For starters, hopefully you know the lay of the land, so to speak, better than they do. Use that to your advantage and learn what you can about them. Are they merely starving survivors who are thanking gods high and low that they found this nice piece of heaven on earth or are they more akin to raiders, looking to scrounge all they can and move on?

I mean, I might have a hard time kicking out a single mom with a couple of young kids, all of whom are starving and just looking to put a roof over their heads for a night or two. On the other hand, if it is a group of ne’er do well types, am I sufficiently armed and capable of meeting force with force, should it come to that?

Yeah, this one’s pretty much a judgment call. Let your conscience be your guide. Tell you what, though. Just at the outskirts of your BOL would be a dandy place for a cache.

The Importance of Drills

As I said at the beginning, bugging out should be your last resort, not your primary plan. That said, you should have a bug out component to your overall disaster plans. You don’t know what the future may hold. To that end, once you’ve established your bug out plans, you should practice them from time to time. On some Saturday afternoon when everyone is home, suddenly announce that you’re all bugging out. Time how long it takes for everyone to grab their stuff, load up, and get on the road. Practice a different route to a different BOL each time. Alternate drivers, change things up to make it interesting.

Now, you’re not doing this to keep everyone in a great mood, as likely as that is, of course. Remember fire drills in school? You know why they do them? Because they work! Family members need to know what is expected of them in an emergency and how to accomplish what you want them to do. Take it slow at first, with a minimum of shouting. Over time, they’ll get quicker at it, but only if you practice regularly.

At least one drill every few months should involve walking all or at least most of a route, rather than always driving. Yes, that’s a pain in the arse for all involved. But, it needs to be done.

Bug out bag recommendations

Now, as I said at the start of this workshop, we’re not going to go into great detail about what should or shouldn’t be in your bug out bag. However, I will share with you some of the most common mistakes I’ve seen over the years.

1) Don’t buy the pack first – determine what you’ll need to carry, then decide on a pack that will contain it all. Too many people buy a pack that is way bigger than needed, then feel compelled to fill the damn thing to bursting.

2) Cheaply made and/or untested gear – Look, I’m all about budgeting but relying upon the dollar store to provide for your survival is wishful thinking at best. Further, each and every item you purchase, whether for bugging out or sheltering in place at home, should be fully tested so you know exactly how it works and what is limitations are.

3) Lack of foot protection – Socks don’t weigh much and can be used for cushioning items in your pack. They are crucial to keeping your feet protected from injury. Always keep a good, sturdy pair of walking shoes or hiking boots near your bug out bag and change into them at your earliest opportunity. Ditch the Jimmy Choos or Allan Edmonds.

4) Ounces lead to pounds, pounds lead to back aches – overpacking is probably the most common mistake I’ve seen. Met a guy once who showed me his bug out bag. It was so large, he was out of breath from carrying it across a parking lot. Look, you need to put the bug out bag on your back and walk around with it, at least for a few hours. If you can’t make it to the end of your driveway and back, start ditching unnecessary gear.

2 thoughts on “Realistic Bug Out Planning

  1. Hey, I like the way you put it, bugging out should be your last resort but not your primary plan. If there are other alternatives such as moving out to another country, or other safer means, they should be your primary option. Bugging out should only be used as a transition from one safe destination to another, as a temporary means of survival.

  2. Great ideas. I especially like the idea of keeping a cache of supplies just outside your BOL in case you are overtaken by…relatives!

    One other thing, I would say if you can afford to set up an offshore bug out location ahead of time, and move to it when your “tipping point” is reached. What do I mean by tipping point? An event that occurs which, for you, signals the need to move out of the local area or the country (whichever you can afford) hopefully before the SHTF. For me that would be mandatory vaccination.

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