Before I begin discussing bugging out or Getting Out of Dodge (G.O.O.D.), I want to be clear on one point: Any travel during a disaster is dangerous. After TEOTWAWKI, it could be deadly dangerous. If you can avoid it, you should.
Mr. Rawles is a strong advocate of living year round at a well-stocked and well-chosen remote retreat location, and I couldn't agree with him more. This is a great compromise that will get you through a whole variety of problems. Unfortunately, not all of us are so well postured and are forced to make due with a lesser solution. Your solution might be living near a city and maintaining a retreat somewhere. Or, it might be living in a city with a plan to go join relatives in an emergency. Or, worse yet, you may only have a vague idea of where you could go in an emergency. The purpose of this article is to explore the circumstances that could cause you to need to bug out and generate some discussion on tactics and maybe cause some of you to think seriously about where you will go and how you will get there.
Some problems are temporary and regional, but still too dangerous to face, like hurricanes. For these events, you need a bug out bag that can carry you to safety. You will also need a reliable means of transportation and a route to safety. so, where is safe? For a regional problem, you can move almost any direction out of the immediate area and make it to an unaffected area in a few hundred miles. In this case, cash is king. If you can live in a hotel or take a Some problems are probably better faced at home in the city or town where you normally live. An economic depression, for instance. Economic problems are likely to last for very long periods. Crime rates will rise, and so will prices. There may be terrible shortages of almost anything. You probably have a better chance of weathering it by hunkering down in your own home and trying to lower your household expenses. If you can continue paying your bills as best you can, you will have a good chance of hanging on and waiting for better times. Having a deep pantry and some cash or barter goods can make all the difference. You need to keep enough "money" in some form to pay your bills if you are unable to work for a period of time. Something like a pandemic disease can force you to curtail working or cut back hours and impact your income. If you are ready for that, bugging in is a good option for minor emergencies.
Bugging in or moving out temporarily to avoid a short term disaster are both relatively easy solutions, but will not serve if the worst happens. If we experience a total melt-down of services, bugging-in in any urban or suburban area is a bad decision. Once the power goes off, water stops flowing, food trucks stop and the police quit reporting for work, life near any city is going to be dicey and very short. Hiding is not an option unless you can hide your whole building since every building will be systematically searched for food within weeks. IMHO, bugging out is an urbanite or suburbanite's only real option.
There are some serious problems with bugging out in during a disaster. If recent natural disasters are any guide, the roads can be expected to be clogged and fuel and food stocks low or non-existent. Consider the possibility of being stranded for days (or forever) in an endless traffic jam with thousands of other thirsty, angry, scared people. The towns along major roadways will be quickly saturated with people and run out of supplies. Where will those thousands of stranded motorists go once FEMA, Red Cross, and the national guard not around to rescue them? The last place you want to be is stranded with them. This is a sobering thought. If you make it past the swarm and get a clear road, what happens when you catch up to the guy who ran out of gas on a lonely stretch of road yesterday?
If law and order break down, the situation gets much worse. Property rights become very theoretic and hungry, desperate people will take whatever they need, if they can. Even without a traffic jam full of thirsty people, you face the probability of ambush and robbery. I have experienced this phenomenon in four different countries. Here is one example: In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DROC), immediately after the coup in the mid-1990s, it was common practice for local thugs to put up road-blocks and "tax" anyone passing by. The bad guys would place a log across the road and station one person next to it and the gang would sit in the shade nearby. Anyone passing would be robbed and sometimes gang raped or beaten if they couldn't pay enough. We drove through the region in two Land Rovers with FN-MAG [belt-fed light machinegun]s mounted in ring mounts, so we were able to bluff our way past each of these roadblocks. As we approached each roadblock, we pointed our machineguns at the group sitting in the shade and announced (through a loud PA system using a local interpreter) that we were the US Army and ordered them to clear the road. They usually smiled and waved as they scrambled to clear the log from the road. We were, of course, bluffing to a certain extent, because we couldn't afford a firefight any more than they could, but the group knew we would (and could) fight, so we got away with it. As soon as we were out of sight, the log went back in place. A single family in a car would have had to pay dearly every 20-30 miles and probably would have found themselves on foot very quickly--or dead.
Put into the context of the USA, I think local law enforcement is probably your biggest threat. It's going to be awfully tempting for some towns to use the highways passing nearby to extend their tax base. When the local sheriff is running out of fuel for the squad cars, I think at least a few of them will attempt to tax "surplus fuel" from passing vehicle traffic. (I expect lots of fuel and food delivery trucks to get confiscated en route.) How many jurisdictions does your bug-out route pass through?
The message is clear. Your bug-out will have a much better chance of success if you get out early. If you wait too long, the roads will be clogged so badly you won't be able to move. If you wait until the roads are jammed, the only way you can keep moving past them is with a motorcycle, bicycle or on foot. Cars are going nowhere in a bad traffic jam. Bugging out early is essential, but really can't be guaranteed. Some disasters are sudden and you can't be sure that you will react faster than the golden hoard. Having a well thought out plan can save your life.
1. Have a definite and reasonable destination. If you live in New York and plan to bug out to Montana, you are dreaming. Your destination needs to be reasonably close. Betting that you can refuel several times and keep moving in your primary bug-out vehicle assumes a lot. You may get robbed of your "extra" fuel or hit an impassable section of road and have turn around (if you can) and find another route. Your vehicle could be disabled along the way. If you can't possibly walk there in a couple of weeks, it's too far. I would estimate "reasonable" for me as roughly 200 miles. With a full tank of gas, I could reach that far if the roads were clear. If I had to walk, I could do it if nothing bad happened to me along the way.
2. Have a reliable vehicle. Your mini-van may be fine as a bug-out vehicle (as long as you can stick to paved roads), but it needs to be in top condition. Have a full sized spare tire (not a "doughnut" [mini-spare]) and a tool kit and air pump with you to repair tires and other mishaps. You may need oil, coolant, belts, etc that you can't buy after a disaster, so carry some spares with you.
3. Carry all the supplies you will need. This is hard, but essential. You can't count on being able to re-supply or re-fuel along the way. So, you need to carry fuel, water, food, sanitary and medial supplies. Carry enough supplies to get there even if you have to detour or get stalled for some reason. At the same time, you need to avoid looking rich. If you have a dozen gas cans strapped to your luggage rack and visible, you are going to be an awfully tempting target. You want to avoid envy at all costs. In an emergency, envy quickly turns into confiscation.
4. Be armed. Legal rights, especially property rights, are a legal fiction. They exist only as long as they are enforced. When you can't count on the police to provide that enforcement, you have no recourse except to defend yourself. You have to use some judgment here, but there are times when a convincing show of force is the only right answer. Nobody sane wants to get into a gunfight, but the willingness and ability to do so can save your life. When you come across a stranded motorist standing in your path waving a pistol to stop your vehicle, your chances of getting past him will go up dramatically if your "shotgun" passenger really has a shotgun (or AKM) to provide a counter threat. If
you come under fire, your ability to shoot back may be your only hope of survival. Your passengers need to be able to provide a quick and deadly response to suppress the enemy or kill them. The people who say "violence never solved anything" are idiots who have learned nothing from history. Violence is the foundation of diplomacy. Without a credible threat of violence you have no rights.
5. Have a backup plan. Your vehicle can be stopped by too many things. If circumstances prevent you from using it, you need to have a plan for alternate transportation. A good emergency transportation system is bicycles. A bicycle can allow you to tow a trailer with over 200 pounds of gear at an average of 5-10 mph, depending on the terrain and your physical condition. I have toured on a bike towing a trailer and see this as a viable mode of travel in an emergency. You can travel roughly four times as fast as you could if you were walking while carrying four times the weight. With a trailer, you can carry your 60 pound bug-out bag plus another hundred pounds of supplies easily, but you will need to buy a sturdy cargo trailer, not the light weight stroller types. I recommend the Aosom Bicycle Cargo Trailer, available on Amazon for a little over 100 dollars. They are stoutly built, low profile for stowing on top of a vehicle, and rated for 180 pounds of cargo.
Choose bikes with comfort in mind. You will want a very slow low gear or you will be pushing them up every hill. A bike towing a trailer moves slowly, (under 10mph) most of the time and you never want to let your speed get over about 15 mph with a trailer. Count on moving slowly for long periods. Choose a gear that allows you to pedal about twice a second using little power. That will allow you to ride longer and further than you could in a higher gear or at higher speeds. Rest on the down slopes and continue to move at a slow pace and you will find yourself eating up the miles. You should easily be able to cover 50 miles a day, even if you are not in especially good shape. 100 miles a day is not an unreasonable goal if you have some riding experience and you are in good physical shape. If your retreat is about 200 miles away, you could cover the whole distance to your retreat in under four days if you had to.
If your vehicle quits on a lonely stretch of road, or you get stuck in a permanent traffic jam, having a bike for each member of your group could allow you to repack your essentials and keep moving. You can get bike racks for up to 4 bikes that attach to the rear of your car. Up to two bike trailers can be strapped down on the top of most vehicles if they have a luggage rack on top. You can load most of your bulky bug-out gear in bike trailers before you start, and secure them to the top of your vehicle roof and cover them with a tarp to cut wind resistance. Then, if you get stranded, you can quickly continue on your way at a slower, but still respectable speed. If you have kids too young to ride their own bikes, you can tow them in a cargo trailer sitting on your bug-out bag.
Another (generally dreaded) form of transportation is walking. People used to walk more than they do nowadays. My father, when he was a teenager, used to walk nearly 15 miles to see his girlfriend and walk back the same day. I used to backpack as a teenager and routinely covered 15 miles in rough mountains carrying a heavy pack. I also have some experience ruck-marching in the Army, so I have a lot of respect for LPCs (leather personnel carriers). The advantages of walking are huge, but unfortunately, so are the disadvantages.
Advantages: Mobility over almost any terrain. You can walk where no wheeled vehicle can go. You can leave the road and move cross country if you need to and detour around trouble. You may be able to travel parallel to a large road and remain unseen, especially if you travel at night. Security is easier on foot than in any vehicle. You can move silently and watch and listen to your surroundings. That lets you see dangers and avoid them rather than driving into them blindly.
Disadvantages: Walking is slow and tiring. With a heavy pack you will be lucky to maintain an average of 2 m.p.h. unless you have lots of experience and you are in good shape. That limits your daily range to 10-20 miles per day or even less. The longer your trip takes, the more provisions you will need to carry and the slower you will travel. If you plan to walk to Montana from New York, you would have to carry enough food for 3 months or more, which is simply impossible. It's difficult to carry enough provisions for more than a couple of weeks at the most. Realistically, this limits your trip distance (without food re-supply, but foraging for water) to something like 200 miles. If you must carry your own water, your realistic trip distance drops to about 50 miles.
You also have to be physically able to do it. You can't expect to walk far if you are out of shape, pregnant, overweight, elderly or have young children with you. All of these factors slow you down, limit your cargo capacity and also limit the number of hours you can travel every day. Any injury can make matters worse or even impossible. A twisted ankle by anyone in the group can end your trip. Be realistic with yourself when planning a foot movement and plan for the worst. Count on moving slowly and carefully to avoid injury and exhaustion.
Preparing in advance for foot movement can make all the difference. If you expect to move a hundred miles carrying enough gear to make it in good health, you need to do a little work in advance.
Get a good map! If you have a decent map (a paper map, not electronic) you may be able to save yourself miles of walking.
Good shoes or boots. Without good walking shoes, you are going to be miserable in no time. Sneakers are better than wingtips, but dedicated hiking boots are a godsend if you have to cover any real distance. Sneakers are less expensive, but they will fall apart fast, so the cost savings are an illusion. A good durable pair of boots are essential to have anyway. Cheap shoes will leave you barefooted in a few months. Try on the shoes with your walking socks before you buy them and get a set that are very slightly loose to allow for swelling feet. Wear them for a while to break them in. A long foot march is the last place to try to break in new boots or shoes.
Walking socks. Good socks are another essential item of gear if you plan to move very far on foot. Believe it or not, there are a lot of options and opinions out there about socks. Some people buy very high-tech socks for hiking. I used to wear a thin pair of dress socks or ladies knee-highs under a thicker pair of wool socks. Having a thin layer under heavier socks helps prevent blisters. Thick wool provides some padding and insulation and continues to insulate well even if it's wet. But many modern backpackers hate wool because it dries slowly and gets very heavy when it's wet.
Moleskin. A blister is a serious matter when you have to depend on your feet. If ignored, it will get worse and worse until you can't continue. A broken blister can get infected very quickly. When you feel a hot spot forming on your feet or heels, you need to stop immediately and deal with it. One good approach is moleskin. This is a sort of adhesive bandage that you can put over the hot spot that eliminates the rubbing or chafing and prevents it from forming a blister. I have successfully used duct tape for the same purpose, but carrying a small package of moleskin is easy and lightweight.
Walking stick. In rough terrain or when you are tired, a sturdy walking stick can really help you keep your balance. It also gives you something to lean on when you stop for a brief rest.
Good sling or holster for any weapons you carry. Toting a 10 pound long gun around all day is exhausting and ties up your hands. Besides, it makes you look very dangerous and could draw unwanted attention. If you are carrying a long gun openly, you should have a sling that works with your pack. A long body sling that allows you to carry a weapon cross-body in the front will allow you to quickly grab your weapon and fire it without removing your pack. If you carry a pistol, experiment with your holster and pack together. Most holsters interfere with the pack belt.
Walking around looking like Rambo might be a bad idea. A better option might be to carry a folding stock weapon in a tent-bag strapped to your pack and a pistol in a Maxpedition Versipack. You can fit a folding stock AKM and a few magazines into a large tent bag and [with a short section of foam padding included] it looks like a tent unless it is closely examined. The Maxpedition Versipack is not an obvious holster and can be rigged to not interfere with your pack belt. This is a good compromise allowing you to travel without looking dangerous and still be postured to quickly present a weapon if needed. If things get really bad, you have quick access to a more effective weapon tied to your pack.
A good pack. Uh-oh. There are a lot of choices for a main bug-out-bag sized pack. Whatever you buy, be careful about buying a bargain pack. The mid-range bags around $100 are a safer choice, especially if you are inexperienced at walking long distances. On a good pack you will "discover" nice features you didn't suspect you needed. I am partial to the "High Sierra" brand packs. A good bag will allow you to carry most of the weight on your hips and walk upright. I use a "High Sierra Long Trail 90 Frame Pack " I got at Amazon.com and I love it. It's a good choice for a large man like myself. But if you are smaller than 5'10 or so and have a waist smaller than 34 inches, you wouldn't be happy with this pack. If you are small, I suggest their "Sentinel 65" or even the smaller "Explorer 55" models. If possible, try on the pack with some weight in it to see how the straps feel. A good pack is one of your best investments. I used an Army rucksack for years and hated it every time I had to do any serious movement. The frame doesn't fit my body at all. If you get a good fitting, well made BOB, then I guarantee you will thank yourself if you ever have to walk with it.
Consider using a cargo carrier such as a bike trailer, stroller or even a wheelbarrow. These can allow you to move a lot of cargo with less physical strain than carrying it on your back. A "jogging stroller" or bike trailer can handle fairly rough terrain and allow you to move off road somewhat.
So, what do you have in your BOB?
That, of course, is a very personal question. Each person has their own preferences and opinions about what gear and supplies they consider essential. It's one of those questions with no right answer. The biggest consideration is what you expect from it. A BOB packed to carry to a FEMA shelter a few miles away or get you home if your car breaks down will be very different from one packed to carry into a desert wilderness for a month. A 3 day kit is very different from a 2 week kit.
In general terms, You need to fit your BOB to your plan. (including contingencies). My own BOB is actually three different groups of equipment and goods that reflect my predictions of what I will need in three very different sets of circumstances. The core is a heavy backpack with a wilderness backpacking load of gear and 3 days of food. It includes the following stuff:
Water filter (PUR backpack model)
polar pure Iodine crystals
2 x 1 quart canteens and a canteen cup and 2 large steel spoons
1 quart pot and a small rocket stove
Small tupperware box hot beverage kit (tea, bullion, instant coffee and sugar)
Several plastic garbage bags and several freezer food bags.
6 x MREs. With care, this is enough calories for about 3 days...well, 2 days at least.
P38 key ring can opener
2 butane lighters
2 camping candles
Box of self striking fire starters
Small radio (Kaito KA1102 - this is one cool little radio)
LED light and spare batteries (rechargeables)
Solar battery charger
insulating ground pad.
real Army poncho
poncho liner (army. Great piece of gear!)
large drop cloth
10' x 12' camouflage poly tarp and 500 feet of 550 cord
Hat and wool glove inserts
set of thermal underwear and 2 sets of underwear and socks
Bath towel (lots of uses, but really handy for field bathing)
Ka-Bar size sheath knife (7 inch)
Kukri machete Cold steel 12 inch. (multiple uses)
Bicycle tool kit
Ruger SP101 revolver and three speed loaders of .38 +P ammunition (total of 20 rounds)
I also have a large tent bag with a folding stock AKM, four magazines and 120 rounds.
Medical kit (Mine is fairly heavy because of the IV bags)
Bar of soap and washcloth
3 pressure dressings (army)
1 large burn dressing
2 x saline IV bags and an IV kit for fluid replacement (rotate yearly)
sewing kit with 4 suture needles
aspirin (100 tabs)
burn cream (not much)
emergency blanket (inexpensive)
Razor blades (and an old safety razor...gotta shave you know)
A new Toothbrush each for me and my wife
Large sling bandages (2)
ACE bandages (2) (These are a must)
A waterproof/fireproof safe with our important documents, cash and more spare eyeglasses. If I have to walk far, they can be transferred to a vinyl bag and fit in a side pocket of my pack. I also have $1,000 cash in $20 bills with the documents and a small wad of $1 dollar bills for machines.
My wife has a similar, but lighter bag. (Also with a .38 revolver and more cash). Both of these bags (as you can tell) are optimized for remote camping, but would be equally useful if we moved into a shelter or a hotel.
The rest of my bug-out gear, including weapons, food etc. depend on my need and build on the basic BOB wilderness motif and add three cases of #10 cans (food enough to last me and my wife two weeks at least), mechanic tools, pioneer tools, extra clothing, 14 gallons of water a full set of cooking utensils. I will also carry two motorBikes and a trailer in case the truck breaks down. The full-up kit takes 35 minutes to load by myself, but the hurricane kit only takes about 10 minutes.
My full vehicle kit has a 12 gauge coach gun in the front seat which is short enough to use from inside a vehicle and inexpensive enough to abandon, along with 80 rounds of buckshot. I also keep a nice old Ishapore 2A1 [7.62mm NATO Lee Enfield bolt action rifle] and 200 rounds in the vehicle, but less obvious behind the cab seats. While driving, I keep a Ruger P90 .45 ACP handy, but concealed. My retreat is only a few miles from my home, but if I can't get there immediately, I feel well prepared to evade or walk or bike to the site without attracting too much attention.
Notice that my kit contents strongly reflect my plan. I plan to travel 300 miles to relatives in case of a hurricane or other regional disaster and plan to buy gasoline along the way. (I have 7 gallons of gas in two cans. That won't get me very far, but that and the half tank of fuel I always have will hopefully get me far enough to be able to buy gasoline). In an orderly evacuation I should have no problem reaching my destination. If things turn nasty, I figure I can rent a hotel room or at least rig a shelter out of my truck and ride it out at some town along the highway. Whatever happens, the problem is temporary and I know help is only a few days away.
If I am bugging out because of TEOTWAWKI, I have to make it a few miles over suburban and rural roads in a gun-permissive area. The climate here is very mild, so I don't have to worry about freezing or getting snowed in. I have pre-positioned most of my supplies and gear, so the BOB gear just has to get me there in one piece. I don't need to worry too much about traffic unless I wait much too long to bug out. In fact, I could leave behind everything I am carrying and probably still make it to the site on foot with no serious trouble.
Your kit will need to reflect your own plan. I strongly urge you to start your planning with a set of triggers that could cause you to bug-out and then work out a solid destination. Build your G.O.O.D. plan from there. You may need extra fuel and vehicle emergency kit (or even two vehicles) if you strongly rely on your vehicle. You may need cold weather gear or snow chains or special tools. Think it out now and if possible, rehearse your bug out plan. You may find that you are over-prepared for the plans you are most likely to use. Or you may find that you have forgotten something critical