Bugging Out What it Means, How to Plan for It, and When to Leave


Bugging Out

Bugging out is a common term among preppers and people in the preparedness community. On its face, its a simple concept, leave you home when theres a disaster or emergency, but its much more complicated than that.

What does bugging out mean? Bugging out is when someone leaves their home because of an impending emergency or emergency that is already happening. It gets its name from the scattering of bugs when you turn on the light or try to step on them and they scatter in all directions.

If youre interested in bugging out then you should keep reading. Theres a lot of nuance involved in bugging out intelligently and effectively.

What Is Bugging Out

Bugging out is when you pack up your family, load as many supplies as you can into your vehicles and leave your home. Its not an ideal situation, but when you bug out it should be the lesser of two evils.

Im probably going to end up saying this a lot, bugging out should be a last resort! Dont live somewhere where youre going to need to bug out as soon any kind of problem happens. You home should be a safe place that can keep you and your family safe in all but the most dangerous situations.

Why is it called bugging out?

The term bugging out is believed to come from the Korean War during several instances of massive retreats that occurred during the war. It probably came from the 1930s commercials that showed bugs fleeing in front of a giant foot thats about to crush them or in reference to the way bugs scatter when theyre found.

Its a creative piece of slang that means retreat or relocate to a place thats safe, or less dangerous.

Why would you bug out?

The exact reason that someone would bug out is going to be different for everyone. Some people are going to plan to bug out as soon as theres any threat of social unrest in the area and others arent even going to consider it until its simply too late. You should aim for somewhere in the middle.

Examples of events that may cause you to bug out:

  • Pandemic
  • Financial Collapse
  • Civil Unrest
  • Natural Disasters
  • Foreign Military Occupation
  • Martial Law

Any event that would make living in your home or apartment unsustainable is a reason to bug out.

Bugging Out

What do you need to bug out?

In order to bug out, you should have a packed bug out bag for each member of your family, a bug out location, a vehicle to get you to that bug out location and a bug out plan.

Bug Out Bags

A bug out bag should make up the backbone of your basic bug out plan. It should include everything that you need to get from your home to your bug out location and nothing more.

When you bug out you should be in a vehicle, but you need to plan your bug out bag so you can carry it on your back the entire way. This is the worst-case scenario, so its what were planning for.

The thing that you really need to keep in mind is that a bug out bag needs to be minimalistic. Pack only what you need not what you think will be nice to have. If you want to have nice to have stuff while youre bugging out then put that stuff in a tote that you can load into your vehicle and get rid of if you end up needing more room later on.

These are the essentials that you must have in a bug out bag:

  • Backpack
  • Water
  • Food
  • Shelter
  • First Aid Kit

Urban Bug Out Bags

If you live in an urban environment, then youre much more likely to have to bug out than someone that lives in the suburbs or in a rural area. With so many people jammed into cities and literally living on top of each other, theres just a lot more that can go wrong. Even seemingly small disasters can turn into full-blown riots pretty quickly and with little to no warning.

This makes an urban bug out bag one of the most important things for people who want to be prepared in the city.

I normally recommend that you build an urban bug out bag in a way that draws as little attention to it as possible. You dont want it to be obvious that youre carrying a lot of supplies on your back if there are looters or hungry people around.

Rural Bug Out Bags

If you live in a rural area, I think youre a lot less likely to ever use your bug out bag, but that doesnt mean that its not still important. If youre planning to be able to bug out, start with a bug out bag no matter where you live.

I consider rural bug out bags to be a little easier to put together than an urban bug out bag. You dont really need to worry about drawing attention to yourself and you can find a lot more backpacks that are at home in the country than you can backpacks that are big enough to pack everything you need and not draw attention in the city.

Common Bug Out Bag Questions

These are a few questions that always come up when I discuss bug out bags.

Do I need a bug out bag?

If you were reading earlier then you already know that answer to this but the question comes up so often that Im going to touch on it again. A bug out bag should be the foundation that all your other bug out plans grow from. Its the one thing that will always go with you when you bug out, so yes, you really do need one.

How long should a bug out bag last?

Youve probably heard of a bug out bag referred to as a 72-hour kit or 72-hour bag. Does that mean that you should pack for three days? Not necessarily.

Your bug out bag needs to get you from your home to your bug out location on foot. Whatever that time is, then thats how long it needs to last. There is no cut and dry answer thats going to fit everyone.

I like to have a minimal amount of food to last the entire trip and water for the first day or so with a water filter so I can collect more water on the trip. Water is really heavy, so carrying a weeks worth of water just really isnt possible.

What should be in your bug out bag?

The minimum you need to pack in a bug out bag is water, food, shelter, and a first aid kit. There are all kinds of other things that make sense to pack in a bug out bag, but thats beyond the scope of this article. If youre interested in bug out bag ideas I suggest you read this article.

How heavy should a bug out bag be?

I try to get my bug out bag to weigh around 25 lbs. If you go over that its okay but you have to be aware that each pound you add is going to make each step you take all that much more difficult.

When you start getting over 35 lbs you really need to think about what youre taking. Is everything an absolute necessity?

Your bug out bag should keep you alive until you get to your bug out location. It doesnt need to keep you comfortable!

Bugging Out

Bug Out Locations

A bug out location is the place that you plan to take your family when you make the decision to bug out. If you have every other part of your bug out plan in place but you dont have a bug out location, then you really dont have a plan at all! Packing everything up and running out of the house with nowhere to go really isnt a plan and couple be disastrous for you and your family.

The good thing is you dont need to buy some piece of property in the mountains to have a bug out location. You can make plans with a family member to go to their property if something goes wrong where you live and they can come to you if something goes wrong there.

If you dont have a family then you can go to a close friends house or even a secluded tract of public land.

With all other things being equal, this is the list of bug out locations in order of desirability:

  • Land that you own
  • Property owned by a family member
  • Property owned by a friend
  • Secluded public land

Your bug out location needs to be able to support you and your family when you arrive so youll need to preposition food, water, and everything else youll need when you get there. If youre going to a friend or family members house, have them mark and store your food and water for you.

If youre going to try to use public land, which I dont recommend unless its your only option, youre going to want to cache food and water in a way that other people wont find it.

What to Look for in a Bug Out Location

Ideally, youre going to want to go somewhere with a low population, that can support you and your family. You should look for land with trees, wildlife, water, and shelter.

Areas that have extreme weather like hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, and draughts should be avoided if you can. Extremes in temperature also make the area less desirable.

What to look for in a bug out location:

  • Mild temps
  • No extreme weather
  • Low population
  • Abundant trees, wildlife, and water
  • An area that is easily defensible
  • Doesnt stand out from a commonly traveled roadway

If you live in the U.S. then youre lucky! There are a ton of great areas to bug out to.

Good places to look for bug out locations in the U.S.:

  • The pacific northwest
  • The Appalachian mountains
  • Much of the central plains states
  • Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama and southern Georgia

This is just a quick assessment of the country. You can find a good bug out location pretty much anywhere.

Getting to Your Bug Out Location

After you have a bug out location you need to plan the route that youre going to take to get there. Youre actually going to need several routes planned out.

The main route that you choose should be the easiest and fastest route to your bug out location. Its probably the way that you normally drive there.

Your secondary route should still be pretty direct, but it should take you around areas that may be compromised in the event of a disaster. Go around high crime areas, gang areas, population centers, etc. All of these could get bad in a disaster.

Be creative when youre planning your routes. If youre going to travel on a highway, what happens if that highway is gridlocked?

When youre planning your alternate routes (especially your walking route) look to see if there are man-made paths that you can use. Train tracks or easements cut under high tension power lines can make travel easier than trying to cut through a densely forested area.

Mark everything thats important on hard copy maps. Either print them out or buy them online and keep them with your bug out bag.

I like Rand McNally road atlases and state maps, but you can use any type of map that you prefer.

What to mark on your maps:

  • The main driving route to your bug out location
  • The secondary driving route to your bug out location
  • The main walking route to your bug out location
  • Routes to take with any alternate transportation you may use (bikes, horseback, motorcycle, dirtbike, etc.)
  • Areas where you can get more water (lakes, rivers, streams)
  • Gas stations/stores
  • Areas where you can find food (fruit trees/bushes, etc.)
  • Chokepoints (areas that force you to travel through them)
  • Hazard areas (known gang areas, high crime areas, etc.)

Bug Out Vehicles

There is always a lot of talk about bug out vehicles in the preparedness community. The truth is any vehicle that you have is a bug out vehicle.

You should take all of your vehicles when you bug out unless theres a specific reason not to. This makes it less likely that youll end up stuck on the side of the road if one vehicle breaks down and it also lets you carry a lot more gear.

Obviously, trucks with 4 wheel drive capability and more cargo capacity are better but if you just have a couple of Toyota Camrys you should still take them.

Bugging Out

Bug Out Trailers

A trailer gives you a lot more cargo room and smaller cargo trailers can even be pulled by cars if you have a trailer hitch.

I like the idea of having a cargo trailer loaded all the time and ready to go. (I havent done it yet though.) You can pack it with food, water and whatever else you want, then just hook up and drive away if things get bad.

Roof Racks

Roof racks can hold a lot of gear and theyre not nearly as expensive as a trailer. The main drawback of a roof rack is that you cant really have it preloaded like a trailer unless you have it loaded out all the time.


Mountain bikes make a great bug out vehicle and theyre a really good way to get around that doesnt need fuel. Consider taking mountain bikes if the roads are (or could be) packed with traffic. The later youre able to get on the road during a bug out, the more likely that youre going to hit traffic from other families trying to do the same thing.

Weapons While Bugging Out

Being able to defend yourself while youre bugging out is obviously extremely important. The areas in-between the place youre bugging out from and your bug out location could be more dangerous than you originally planned for. The same disaster causing you to bug out may have already hit those areas throwing them into chaos.

At a minimum, each adult should have a rifle and be able to use it effectively. If you have children that are old enough to use a rifle, then they should have one as well.

That probably seems a little extreme to some people, but it really isnt. Ideally, no one will even have to touch their weapons and everything will go smoothly. Unfortunately, we cant just plan for the best-case scenario and hope everything goes well. We need to plan for the worst and hope for the best.

Types of Weapons for Bugging Out

Having a rifle is critical. Im of the opinion that you should have an AR-15 or an AK-47 style rifle for everyone in your family or group that can use one. You should also choose one or the other and stick to it. This means that you will all use the same magazines and ammo, and should be able to use the same spare parts if someones weapon goes down.

If you have a pistol to bring with you then you should take that with you as well. A pistol gives you more options when youre bugging out. If you dont want to be seen with a rifle, you can still conceal the pistol and be armed in areas where a rifle would draw unwanted attention from crowds or law enforcement.

Other Things to Consider When Bugging Out With Weapons

A rifle is way more effective than a pistol, period. There are almost no situations where youre better off with a pistol over a rifle. You should always plan to take a rifle with you if its at all possible.

Weapons can draw a lot of attention in populated areas. If youre bugging out from a city you may want to keep your rifle tucked away until you need it or you get far enough away from people that you can start carrying it in the open.

In the past, some areas have declared a state of emergency and used that to confiscate weapons from civilians. In the U.S. this is unconstitutional (making it illegal) but it didnt stop it from happening in the past. In a state of emergency, you may have manned checkpoints that you need to get through so plan accordingly.

Always avoid confrontation if you can. Avoid crowds, dont get into verbal altercations, and definitely dont start fights. Even a minor wound can be life-threatening if you get into a firefight while bugging out.

Bug Out Plan

Bugging out starts a long time before youre actually packing your gear into the car and getting out of town with the family. You should plan your bug out ahead of time so each step of the process goes as smoothly as possible. Its not the time to figure out what you need to take and where youre going while a massive hurricane is bearing down on you.

We all have to understand that the ideal situation often isnt reality. When we plan our bug out, we need to make changes based on what we can afford and the reality of our own situations.

The good thing is that with enough planning and forethought just about anyone can put together a bug out plan that will be successful and not break the bank.

Choose the event or events that will make you bug out and stick to it. If you dont leave when youve decided to, you probably never will. Dont change your mind at the last minute.

Before You Need to Bug Out

Everything up until now has all been part of your bug out preplanning, but theres still some more planning that needs to be done.

Your bug out bag is the minimum that youll take with you when youre bugging out, but if youre driving and have time to load out your vehicle, you should pack as much as you can into it. Everything that you can take will make your life at your bug out location a little better.

Pack the most important items first with the least important items toward the outside so you can reach them easily to get rid of them if you need to make room.

Additional items to pack when bugging out:

  • Food
  • Water
  • Blankets
  • Sleeping bags
  • Important documents
  • Extra ammo
  • Water Filter
  • Firestarter
  • Flashlight and Batteries
  • First Aid Kit
  • Warm Clothing
  • Tarp
  • Knives

If its at all possible, you should have as much gear packed up and ready to go all the time. For most of us, its probably not possible but packing up what you can and having a good list of the things that you cant keep packed up will make getting everything into your car a lot faster. If you have everything on a list, itll also keep you from forgetting anything when the situation is stressful.

The Last-Minute/No Notice Bug Out

In a last-minute/no notice bug out situation, something has happened that requires you to leave your home immediately. This could be anything from an unforeseen natural disaster to spontaneous social unrest that puts you and your family in danger.

This is the worst-case scenario but also the easiest to plan for.

Actions to take:

  • Load your bug out bags into your vehicle
  • Load up your family
  • Leave ASAP and head toward your bug out location

Bugging Out

Bugging Out With a Few Hours Notice

Bugging out with a couple of hours notice is the scenario that I see as the most likely to occur. In this scenario, you can foresee a disaster starting in the next couple of hours and decide you need to bug out.

Actions to take:

  • Load your bug out bags into your vehicle
  • Load up any pre-staged food, water, and other gear
  • Go down your list of other things to take and pack as much as you can
  • Leave as soon as you can to beat any other people that have the same idea

Bugging Out With a Couple of Days or More to Prepare

I see this scenario playing out if you have your ear to the ground and really know whats going on with local weather or world events. Most of us will still miss the signs but you may get lucky and see something coming.

Consider renting a U-haul truck or trailer if you think something is going to happen in a couple of days. It sounds a little crazy, but if youre sure something is about to happen, then renting a large vehicle that can carry a lot of gear may make sense.

Actions to take:

  • Load your bug out bags into your vehicle
  • Load up most of your pre-staged food and water
  • Start getting your list of items together and position them near the door or in the garage where they can be loaded quickly
  • Continue going to work and school normally while you wait to see what happens
  • Make plans for everyone to get home as soon as possible if needed
  • Leave as soon as you see the situation deteriorating


Bugging out should be one of your last options when a disaster strikes, but you should know how to bug out and how to do it effectively and safely.

Plan before a disaster ever threatens your home. Start by finding a bug out location and building a bug out bag. Map out your routes to your bug out location and mark any locations of interest.

Decide whats going to make you bug out and stick to it! Dont second guess yourself when youre under stress.

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