I simulated bug-outs on foot in a variety of environments in order to test gear, test myself, and to learn from that single best teacher: experience.
I walked with various loads, pack configurations, and equipment through stretches of Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Missouri, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois. I walked on every type of road imaginable, from the shoulder of bustling interstates to rural roads with a stripe of grass growing in the middle. I walked on railroad tracks, by rivers, in desert, mountains, forests, prairies, and more. In more than a month, I walked around 200 miles while testing various locations and different bits of gear. As a result, I have some observations regarding gear, travel, shelter, sleep, water, food, miscellany, and fasting to share with you all.
I sincerely hope that it helps you.
For my primary backpack, I used a military surplus CFP-90, manufactured by SDS. I got it used from Ebay for $83. It is an internal frame pack. It has a woodland camouflage pattern. Everything about it screams ruggedness. I used and abused it, and the only apparent damage is a few frayed threads around the top opening.
The CFP-90 is very sturdy, and has a place for up to two rifles or shotguns along the side of the exterior. There is a main pouch that you load from the top, with an interior pocket for storing a Camel-bak watering system—or anything else.
There is a bottom sleeping bag compartment that is designed to carry the GI sleep system; I use it for this, and also for a hatchet, survival knife, folding saw, e-tool, and fillet knife. The sleeping bag compartment is intuitive, simple, and greatly aids in organization.
Then, there are three side pockets, two smaller ones on one side, one bigger one on the other side. A map compartment on top holds my maps and other small things. It accepts ALICE-compatible equipment and has PALS webbing. You can adjust the height of the shoulder straps by sliding a plastic connector up and down the height of the bag.
I have left it outside during rainstorms 6-7 times in direct rainfall, and, with one exception—a heavy storm where I did not seal the bag adequately—each time the items inside my bag did not get wet. The outer shell sheds water enough for my practical purposes. Overall, this pack is very solid, relatively inexpensive, and quite good. I am very pleased with my CFP-90, and I recommend it.
Along with my main pack, I tried out these pieces of gear essential: shoulder pack, fanny pack, vest, and tool belt. These helped me organize the gear I needed often, while making it easily accessible. Also, it helped with distributing the weight more comfortably, counterbalancing the main backpack. This was extremely helpful and is recommended. Otherwise, you will be wasting lots of time taking off your rucksack, going through it for specific items, and putting it back on. Save yourself this unnecessary ordeal.
For now, I use a small backpack as a shoulder pack. It is not the most comfortable thing, but it does work. I’ve also tried a tool belt, fanny pack, and smaller shoulder pack. The tool belt wasn’t a good idea because the pouches were open on the top. Things fell out. A fanny pack and smaller shoulder bag worked well, but I gave these to a friend. Just make sure it zips or buttons closed at the top, and you will be fine.
I also pack an empty, flattened, Jansport backpack in my main pack. After setting up camp, I left my CFP-90, packed the Jansport with fewer, lighter items of gear, and went off to gather resources or explore the area. I also use it as an improvised shoulder pack and attach it to the exterior of my main pack.
Finally, if my main pack broke, I could salvage most of my gear, place it in the Jansport, my other shoulder pack, and clothing pockets, and continue on.
One thing I learned very early is: do not over pack your bag! This will hurt you. Plan ahead and prioritize. Ditch everything else or store it at your destination.
I liked to put more of the weight towards the bottom. This seemed to give me better balance. I then tied some paracord to the top of my main pack and made a loop so that, while walking, I could pull the bag closer to my back, easing strain on my shoulders and neck. It wasn’t necessary, and wasn’t convenient, but it did work. Play around with your pack, try out different configurations, and settle on the best one.
From my experience, a slightly smaller pack than the CFP-90 has some notable benefits and drawbacks. First, the bag itself weighs less. Second, it is more difficult to over pack. You’ll be able to cover more ground quicker with a lightened load. However, when you set up camp, you won’t have as much gear. I enjoyed my experiences with a smaller pack and lighter load, but mainly just because it was more comfortable and easy. Overall, I still prefer my CFP-90 rucksack; I just pack it carefully.
For a tent, I use a USGI Gore-Tex bivy bag. I bought it used from eBay for $35. It is made of tent materials and is slightly bigger than a sleeping bag. I chose it based on its small size, light weight, and the ease of set-up. No tent poles or stakes required. The tight interior space is slightly suffocating at first, but I got used to it. There is actually enough room inside to store a small backpack, a few items, and still sleep comfortably. It is waterproof, windproof, adds another layer of insulation underneath and around me, and is highly portable.
It is incredibly durable. A solid and rigid spring was sticking out of a couch over which my bivy bag was draped. The spring hooked the bag; I yanked to get the bag off, then, puzzled by the resistance, yanked very hard. During this time, I heard a tear, and stopped. A very tiny tear in the innermost layer was the result. Barely a scratch. I fixed it immediately with duct tape, and it works fine. Given the amount of abuse I gave the bag, I was very impressed with how little damage occurred. My brother, who saw my foolish antics, was also impressed by its durability.
A regular tarp, on the other hand, had many small tears from twigs and branches after only using it for one night. It was bulky and took much longer to fold and unfold it. Also, it is less camouflaged than a primitive lean-to, which I prefer to build if I need to have a bigger shelter. In my experience, just say no to tarps.
All in all, I recommend this bag highly. The only downside is that you have to be careful when you are inside of it; if you seal it too tightly, it becomes a little difficult to get fresh air. This is easy to fix; just open the flap to get better airflow. However, this can become a bigger problem when it is cold; you then have to make the tough choice between letting cold air in or having less fresh air. However, even when fully sealed, the air restriction was never life threatening, just a minor nuisance.
For a sleeping bag, I have a used USGI intermediate cold weather mummy bag, which supposedly works down to -10 degrees Fahrenheit. At 20 degrees outside, with one layer of long underwear on, 85% wool socks, and a wool winter hat, it was moderately comfortable, but my feet were a little cold, and I would imagine that would get unbearable at -10 degrees, the minimum range it is rated for. However, for only $32 dollars, it was a great deal and works well—just probably only down to 0 degrees Fahrenheit, not -10.
For packing, I put my sleeping bag into my bivy bag. Then, I fold it over in half, and roll it up, and put it into the lower compartment of my CFP-90. There is even enough room left for placing my tools in the lower compartment. I find this works very well. If I want a better shelter, I can make one. Otherwise, this is a very compact, light, inexpensive, and efficient way to set up a shelter.
Boots and Socks
For boots, I use a pair of leather hiking boots from Cabela's for $80. So far they have worked well. The waterproof liner works. They are relatively comfortable. When buying boots, check for waterproof webbing around the tongue of the boot. Otherwise, water can seep in around the laces. This was what happened with my extra pair of leather work boots from Farm and Fleet; while the exterior was waterproof, there was no webbing. They got drenched a few times, making walking miserable and producing many blisters.
If you do drench your boots, do not put them too close to a fire to dry them. The heat can melt the outside of the boot and the rubber and glue inside of the boot sole.
Have waterproof boots! However, even if you do have waterproof boots, don’t get cocky. Water can still go over the top of them. Be careful around water. You do not want soaked boots!
I found that waterproofing my boots preemptively with neatsfoot oil was beneficial. Clean your boots and rub it evenly into the outer leather layer until it has soaked in. Note how long the neatsfoot oil is supposed to last on the directions.
You can use regular animal fat to waterproof your boots, although it is not nearly as efficient as using neatsfoot oil. Also, it does stink a little. I rubbed some groundhog fat on my boots and evidently the oils in it do repel water, although not perfectly or for more than a week.
High-wool content socks are wonderful. I have used some from Cabela's, some by the Fox River brand, and some from military surplus. The military surplus ones were too thin and the heel tore after light use. Both non-military brands have worked very well, but I spent quite a bit more on them. Make sure that there is padding on the bottom of the socks to absorb impact and that there is a high percentage of wool, preferably merino.
Liners made specifically for wearing under a regular sock can cut down on chafing and blisters. Cabela’s makes specialty liners for this purpose. It cuts down on chafing by absorbing much of the impact, which would otherwise reach your skin unimpeded. I found that these Cabela’s liners, while very thin, greatly cut down on blisters and made a big difference when compared to walking without them. They were especially helpful when traveling long distances with added weight.
The thickness of socks can make all the difference. Pay attention to how much room is in your boot. If the boot is very big, you can put two pairs of thick socks, keeping your feet warm in the winter. Otherwise, having too many socks will restrict blood flow to your feet and cause chafing and blister problems.
Have two pairs of boots, or an extra pair of shoes plus boots, so that you can change into dry ones if one pair gets wet, while tying the others to the outside of your pack, and letting them dry while moving. Boots are superior to shoes in many ways. Only have shoes if you already have boots.
Finally, don’t forget to break your boots in ahead of time.
For clothing, I have two pairs of clothes: one for being in society, with regular, solid, earthy tones that also double as camouflage; and one military surplus “uniform” for the rural, wild areas. I like the military surplus items a lot. They really are made for a similar situation to bugging out, and I recommend them.
A hat with a wide brim is helpful. It blocks the sun from your eyes, cools you off, and prevents sunburn. I used a boonie-hat and a cowboy hat. I preferred the boonie-hat because it can be folded up easily and stuffed into a pocket.
For gloves, I have a pair of Rothco military replica gloves. They help with tending fires, gathering resources, cooking, give mechanical advantage, and they protect my hands from sunburn, blisters, heat, fire, cold, punctures, scratches, and cuts. Gloves are essential. Any good leather pair will do.
Extra socks and underwear are the most useful clothing additions. They absorb the most seat and are also more compact. I had 4 pairs of underwear and 6 pairs of socks. These will require more washing or airing out, which can easily be accomplished by washing them in water with or without a bit of soap, wringing them out, and air drying them on the outside of your pack or coat.
Stay dry. Get an oversized poncho that fits over you and any vulnerable packs. I have tried this, and it works despite being cumbersome, but since my CFP-90 seems waterproof, I use smaller rain pants and a coat.
I use a Columbia shell for outerwear during cold weather. It is waterproof, windproof, and durable. I’ve had it for 6 years. Underneath that, I put however many layers are necessary. I have a thin fleece coat, long sleeved shirt, undershirt, and Underarmor shirt. I adjust as needed.
I personally find that my legs stay very warm, especially when I am moving. At 20 degrees Fahrenheit, I just wore some fleece long underwear underneath jeans.
Get wool for cold weather, never cotton. Wool—especially thick wool—wicks away the moisture from your skin, whereas cotton gets sopping wet, which cools you off quickly. Cotton, on the other hand, is good for hot weather, since it stays wet with sweat or water, aiding evaporation, and cooling you.
For tools, I used an E-tool, or entrenching tool, purchased from a military supply store for $30, lightly used. It has served all my shoveling needs. It also can clear the ground of brush and rocks fairly well. It is a small shovel made of three connected pieces that fold along two hinges. It isn’t as easy as using a full size shovel, but it can dig. It is a bit heavy, though; this is one of the things I am almost tempted not to bring along with, in order to lighten the load.
For my main knife, I use a Ka-Bar with a tanto point. The blade is 5 and 1/4 inches long; the full length, handle included, is 9 and 3/8 inches. It has a serrated spot near the handle. The knife has held up, albeit with superficial scratches. I did melt some of the protective coating by placing it in a fire. It works as a makeshift machete, can clear protruding branches off a tree quite well, and seems fairly easy to sharpen. I like the handle grip, although it is symmetrical; this makes it difficult to discern by touch alone whether the blade is facing out or in. The sheath works well. Honestly, I do not like the tanto tip. I think that was a mistake. Other than that, it works well, and for $42 from Amazon, I am perfectly satisfied.
With the Ka-Bar, I find that a small loop of paracord tightened around my thigh and running through two loops at the bottom of my Ka-Bar's sheath is helpful. This keeps the sheathed knife near my leg and in a constant position. This makes a quick draw easier and keeps the sheath from getting caught in branches, cords, and other things. It makes it easier to put my knife back into the sheath, too.
I used a folding saw for cutting down medium sized branches and thin trees. The BAHCO 396-LAP, or the Laplander 8” folding saw has been excellent, quickly cutting through many different types of branches, logs, and trees, is highly portable. I highly recommend it, and everyone who used it thought highly of it. This is really the piece of equipment I was most impressed with. The only downside is that I do not know how to sharpen it, but so far, after plenty of use and abuse, it seems to cut almost as good as new.
For a hatchet, I use a Fiskars X-7 hatchet. When I first got it, I was very impressed, but a few minor chips in the blade have slightly dulled my enthusiasm. It still works very well, however, and I definitely abused it to see what it could take. However, please note that I would seriously consider not bringing this and the e-tool along; they are somewhat heavy with limited, non-essential utility. The BAHCO folding saw cuts through branches and logs faster. The hatchet is better at splitting wood and cutting down trees too big for the folding saw. When you consider how much smaller and lighter the folding saw is, the hatchet appears somewhat superfluous.
I recommend a Leatherman, Swiss Army knife, or similar multi-tool. I have a Leatherman Wingman, which is great, except for the scissors, which are pretty difficult to use, and the clip, which caused the knife to fall to the ground once. I’d prefer a sheath. However, I’ve put the Wingman on my belt and pulled it off about a thousand times with only one drop. The wire cutters work. The pliers are tough. There are screwdrivers for all basic projects. The knife is great for eating with and doing precision tasks like cleaning small game. I highly recommend a multi-tool like this.
Then, “The Traveler”, made by Chicago Cutlery, is my medium sized knife. It fills a nice gap between my KA-BAR’s large size and my Leatherman’s small size. It, like all Chicago Cutlery knives, is very high quality, quite sharp, easy to cut, and comes with a good sheath.
You will want sheaths, clips, or someway to keep your tools attached and in easy reach. Sheaths are more secure than clips. Consider that when buying tools.
For first aid and medicine, I would say painkillers and multivitamins are the two most important things. A rub-on pain reliever like Ben Gay, as well as pills like aspirin and ibuprofen, allows a two-way assault on pain.
Everything else I have I consider optional but helpful. I now touch on these medicines here.
Diphenhydramine is a very helpful drug, as it doubles as a sleep aid and an allergy medication. Be sure to buy it for allergy medication and use it as a sleep aid, as it costs more when being sold as a sleep aid. I carry a few dozen, and use as needed.
Caffeine pills are a compact, lightweight, effective, inexpensive alternative to coffee or tea. They also eliminate the preparation and equipment requirements. They can be crushed and swallowed to speed up assimilation—and the stimulant effects. [Editor's note: This is not a safe practice with many other medications!] Be careful not to overdose.
Anti-itch and anti-fungal cream is helpful. I never got athlete’s foot, but the conditions are ripe for it, especially if it is warm and your feet get wet. Thus I have some cream for athlete’s foot and jock itch.
Sunscreen helps prevent sunburn and aloe-vera helps for if you get sunburned. You will want to have your intestinal ailments covered with laxative, stool softener, anti-constipation, and anti-diarrheal medicine.
Foot powder for keeping feet fresh and moleskin for blisters is also very useful. Some wet-wipes can be useful for keeping clean and for making you feel clean. Use them sparingly, first targeting the groin, armpits, hands, face, and feet. Other than that, all the regular little first aid things come in handy: Band-Aids, gauze, alcohol wipes, and so on.
I didn’t have any antibiotics or antiviral medicines. I haven’t researched these, so I can’t recommend any.
Last time I checked, Wal-Mart is selling medicines useful for bugging out for very low prices. If you buy these, many medicines have individually packaged capsules; open the packages and either remove the capsules or, if you want to retain the seal, cut around the capsules without puncturing the seal, then round the corners to prevent the sharp edges from puncturing things.
For keeping tools and knives sharp, I have two small sharpeners.
One is from DMT products, and is their red portable sharpening stone. It is quite good at sharpening knifes, but its small size makes it unwieldy to use on anything other than my Leatherman’s blade. However, if you are careful, you can use it to put a fine cutting edge on larger blades. To do this, you have to push the sharpening stone towards the blade, which is very risky. It was probably only luck that stopped me from cutting a finger while using this thing. I would not recommend it simply because of the small size and the associated complications.
I got a Bear Gryllis knife sharpening system made by Gerber. It has two integrated sharpening slots: one for coarse sharpening and the other for fine sharpening. You put the knife or blade into the slot, and pull it through at the correct angle. These two slots are very easy to use. Then, there are two small sharpening rods for sharpening serrated blades. This is less easy and straightforward to use, because the sharpening rods must match the size of the serration. Overall, I like this system more, but I find I can’t get as fine an edge on the blade as with the DMT sharpener.
If it is cold, carry lighters by your body so they continue to work. Pens freeze, pencils don't, but pencils can puncture clothing and skin. Get a pencil case, or mechanical pencil, which is lighter, refillable, and saves space. Or just carry pens by your body. Have a notepad, a journal, or both.
A small bit of liquid or solid soap can go a long way if used very sparingly. Hand sanitizer is also good, can be used to purify water, and is great for lighting fires. Dish soap can be used for anything that requires soap, not just dishes.
Try to have all your bottles be refillable and reusable after they are emptied. Big bottles, especially when barely filled, are very annoying. They waste space. Wal-Mart has refillable travel bottles, which have served me well.
Headlamps are optimal because they leave both hands free to do chores. The strap can be hung over a protruding pole, easily making a makeshift lantern. Having your hands free is incredibly important, and I would recommend you get a headlamp before you get a flashlight. I use both, but I got a headlamp first. I prefer LEDs because they last a lot longer than regular bulbs. However, LEDs do seem to mess with my depth perception at night. Bring a lot of backup batteries. If the nights are long, it can be a big, boring waste to sit still for hours before going to sleep. Although, on the bright side, this is a good time to pray and plan ahead.
When it comes to eyesight, if you have contact lenses, get glasses. Glasses do not require saline solution or generally clean fingertips to put in. You will have trouble with both these factors while bugging out. If you have glasses, get a second pair. Apply as many special treatments, such as scratch resistance and glare resistance, to the glasses that you are willing to able. They will go through a beating. Once while hiking, I fell and broke the lens of one pair of glasses. Good thing that I had a second pair.
Polarized sunglasses help with fishing. They allow me to see through the reflective surface far better. They also shield my eyes from too much sunlight.
A small container of fog preventative is helpful in cold weather; it prevents my warm, moist breath from fogging up my glasses. I use Liberty Sport’s anti fog lens cleaner. It works well except that it slightly increases glare when there is no fog. Also, it comes off when you clean them.
Get a small cord to attach to your glasses and loop behind your neck so that your glasses don’t fall on the ground and get broken like mine did. Stores sell straps specifically for this, but you can save money and improvise.
Also, I have a pair of cheap safety goggles that fit over my glasses for going through dense terrain so branches don’t poke me in the eye or steal my glasses. They can also be used to keep my glasses on my face.
For cooking, I used an imitation Army mess kit and a camping silverware set. It worked adequately. I would have liked a bigger pot for cooking, but it takes up too much space.
For repairs, duct tape fixes almost everything. I shove some paracord into the donut hole to save space and organize these items. Paracord is very useful and highly recommended, but I have also found a good supplement to it: fishing line.
In general, fishing line is immensely useful. You can twine and twist two to three strings together to make an improvised but effective bowstring. I did this, although I did not hunt with it. If the line is strong enough, you can make clotheslines or even hang a tarp from it. It can be used for many things that paracord can be used for such as lashing together a temporary shelter. You can use it for clothing repairs, but takes up far less space and is cheaper foot for foot than paracord. The downside is that the narrow strands can be somewhat difficult to tie and take time to braid together. However, once done braiding, if tied correctly, it can be used many, many times. Of course, it also works for fishing!
A small sewing kit and tackle box takes up very little space. Just be sure that it is a solid container. A few needles, some thread, a small bobber, a few hooks, and a sinker can be put into a very small space.
Instead of using floss, I bring along three reusable toothpicks. These are small plastic strips that work almost as well as floss. I got them for free from my dentist. I think that they are called Oral-pix or Ora-pix, but I threw away the box and just use the toothpicks. It takes very little soap to clean such a small item. I haven’t had any problems with these and I’ve used them for years. These take up less space than floss, and, so far, not a single one has broken.
Certain fireworks can provide an effective distraction or intimidating tool in any armed conflict. Loud, short single explosion fireworks are more effective. I saw both M-80s and firecrackers used for distractions, and the firecrackers were far less convincing or distracting, whereas the M-80, making one loud noise, was far more intimidating and realistic.
Another innovative defensive idea that was demonstrated to me was the many benefits of a fake gun. If you would like to save money and weight while looking armed, buy a replica plastic gun or airsoft gun. Spray paint the orange tip black, and if the gun is not black, paint that as well. Get a holster or sling, depending on what type of gun you’d like to impersonate. You now look intimidating without having to carry around a heavy gun, spare clips, and heavy, potentially noisy, clinking ammunition. When I first saw a holstered and painted airsoft pistol on the hip and in the hand of my friend Ramsey five feet from me, I thought it was real.
This is a versatile trick. It helps you be stealthier, lightens the load, and is cheap. You do not have to care for fake guns, saving space that would be filled by real gun care products. Combining fireworks and fake guns, my friend detonated a single loud firework and held the fake gun; if I did not know what was happening, especially from a distance, I would have thought it was real. An attacker may suspect something, but it would be difficult for them to call your bluff. Just be sure to carefully paint the fake guns—any orange left may give away the ruse. [Editor's Note: a ruse like this might work ONCE, but I wouldn't risk my life on depending on it.]
You can pack some toilet paper, but unless you pack rolls of it—wasting space in the process—you will run out. Survival isn’t pretty. Use whatever you can. Small bits of cloth found on the side of the road can be washed in running water, dried, and used a few times, then discarded or burnt. Or you can just use them without washing them. Be creative. If you’re going to try to carry some toilet paper, take out the cardboard tube or flatten it to save space.
Fishing maps, available from many Wal-marts or the internet, are helpful both for path-finding and for information that helps you acquire food. However, they are more geared for fishing, not travel. Thus, I prefer Delorme’s series of state maps, which have incredibly detailed maps. Delorme’s maps are a little big, but the detail makes them worth it.
I also print out maps and store them somewhere waterproof. Then, I have backup maps stored somewhere waterproof, just in case. I do not want to get lost.
For containers, plastic grocery bags can be compacted by twisting them while forcing air out. They take up very little space this way.
When unfolded, these can be double or triple bagged by placing one bag inside of another in order to carry weight more reliably. Most are lacking in durability, but they can be easily restocked. I carried twenty pounds of items in two triple-bagged plastic bags, one in each hand, ten pounds in each, while hiking twenty miles over five days. The handles stretched a little, but held up. Not a single bag broke.
If you have extra plastic bags, you can also create basic compartments within the triple bag shell. Just take a bag, place the items you want into it, and put it inside the triple bag shell. Repeat with other items. You can always double or triple bag these compartments. These are also the most water resistant areas, especially if you tie them shut and place them above the bottom of the bag. It was very easy to find replacement bags, as they are a common piece of litter.
These are very handy, multipurpose, water resistant, and windproof items. I highly recommend having a dozen or so in your bug out bag. Always look for more bags. I have some reusable cloth tote bags, but I have left them behind, favoring the plastic bags. The cloth bags take up too much space for their function. Should your main pack fail, the plastic bags can be pressed into service carrying your gear. While not optimal, it does work so long as you don’t overload them.
Larger plastic trash bags are also very useful. They can be folded into small spaces, but are tough. These are great for gathering resources, and, when stuffed, can insulate a shelter or to cover your sleeping bag.
If possible and practical, keep all electronics and batteries near to your body in a waterproof container like a Ziploc bag. Incidentally, Ziploc bags are also highly helpful for organizing any items and are recommended. Cold drains batteries at a hastened pace. Keep batteries out of electronics when not in use to extend their battery life. Or, if you can, put a small plastic disk cut from a bottle into the electronic device to prevent the battery from forming a circuit with the device. You’ll know the circuit is disrupted when the device doesn’t work.
At camp, I like to have an area where tools go when not in use so I can find them and don’t lose them. Also, I make it a habit to obsessively double and triple check my camp for stray items before leaving. At this time, I check my inventory to make sure that everything is there. I highly recommend packing and repacking you rucksack and bags, doing your best to memorize where each piece of gear is. This saves time in the long run and prevents lost items.
For fire, four Bic lighters, four match boxes, and a Swedish fire steel were sufficient for my travels. It is tedious and difficult to get a fire started from just a spark, but it is possible. Practice beforehand. Mainly, I just use a lighter or match to get a fire going. If you need a fire-starter, cattail down is amazing. Tear it up and fluff it up into a big, air filled mass and, so long as it is dry, it burns like something soaked in gasoline.
For bathing, a small washcloth bath with a bit of soap was sufficient. When it was cool outside, or exertion was minimal, I would go about a week between any bathing. This didn’t bother me very much, nor were there any problems as a result of this. When it is warmer, I sweat more, and thus bathing became a higher priority. Still, I only had to keep my hands, face, feet, groin, and armpits fairly clean occasionally. It was easy to do. Not a big deal.
While walking, do not overexert yourself. I temporarily crippled myself once by walking 33 miles over 18 hours with about 50 pounds on my back. This was done almost entirely on a solid road. Afterwards, my knees hurt and were so stiff that I was almost entirely lame, only capable of a very slow and painful limp for nearly a day. My feet were in agony at this time. The blisters were uncomfortable and an infection risk. It took me almost a week to fully recover, but I was able to move fairly well after about two days. Learn from my mistake; don’t overexert yourself.
When I took breaks while walking, it was very tempting to extend the breaks, eventually becoming hour-long siestas. This can severely cut into your overall efficiency, making the overall bug out take much longer. Try your very best to stay on target and not waste time. A five to ten minute break is optimal to rest, stretch, massage sore muscles, adjust equipment, and change socks if necessary. Be vigilant and disciplined to minimize the time spent on breaks. Of course, don’t overexert yourself, either. The only way to find your personal balance is to practice.
If it is too cold at night to sleep effectively, travel at night in order for the exercise to keep you warm. This has the added benefit of making you more difficult to see, so long as you keep your lights off or directed carefully to make a minimal prism. Of course, a lack of light also makes it more dangerous that you will trip and fall.
Railroad tracks make a good, elevated vantage point, although they are somewhat tricky to walk on. Also, you will often have a silhouette to any nearby observers. Keep that in mind. Consider getting off the railroad tracks when there are beneficial, flat, dry fields or an equivalent ideal footing, and getting back on the railroad tracks when going through a swamp or something difficult to traverse.
Otherwise, roads for cars can be a very good, flat way to cover a lot of distance quickly. If there is a flat strip of grass by the side of the road, use it. The additional cushioning effect of grass will save your ankles, knees, and hips from the jarring effects of constantly stepping on concrete or asphalt.
Gravel roads can be slightly tougher to walk on, depending on the size and stability of the gravel, but dirt roads generally work quite nicely. Again, I usually will look for flat stretches of short grass or solid earth to walk on. I found that this cuts down on the relentless strain of repetitive impact. The country roads are probably what you will want to look for with bugging out: less population density and generally useable roads.
It is very time consuming going over rugged terrain or through woods, and you increase your risk of injury. One loose rock can cause a tumble, which can be disastrous with a pack on. You have to spend time finding a trail through dense woods. All steep hills, especially ones with loose rocks, should be avoided if possible and, if they must be navigated, done so with a walking stick or two and caution.
You will slow down going over hills and mountains. It uses tremendously more energy. Avoid it whenever possible. Instead, stick as much as possible to roads, railroad tracks, fields, and other easy surfaces.
Stay alert while walking and look for useful items. I found an unlit police flare along a busy interstate in Texas. Cotton cloths, rags, small bits of clothing, Ziploc bags, plastic bags, and plastic bottles are useful and common. I also found some plastic sunglasses, a hat, and unopened and perfectly edible bags of dry crackers.
Finally, while traveling and camping, stay away from sand if you can. It clogs everything and gets everywhere.
When it comes to shelter, first, plan your location wisely. Is it visible from a road? From a trail? From above? Are there useful trees nearby? Is food nearby? Where is water? Is there a flat place to sleep? Are there materials for insulation? How do I get out of here? Think these things through before you start building. It saves time and resources.
Use whatever is available: a building, a wall, a cave, etc. If you are walking along roads or railroads, there will probably be usable buildings. Look for roofs. If you are going through the woods, make a basic shelter. I mainly just used my bivy bag sleep system, sometimes combining it with a lean-to or A-frame. I did sleep on concrete a few times, too. It is uncomfortable, but at least it is flat.
I experienced temperatures from 95 degrees to 20 degrees Fahrenheit, and I found the cold was much tougher to deal with. A few nights were more or less sleepless. I didn’t use my sleeping bag or bivy bag. I tested the lower bounds of comfort, shivered, built a fire, fell asleep, and woke up as the fire dwindled. I added wood and repeated the process. The cold woke me up and motivated me to do work in order to heat up. I never cut so much firewood so quickly.
If the night will get cold, do not sleep in a mountain valley. I camped by a river in a valley. Big mistake. All the cold air sunk to the bottom at night, and I got cold. Camp on the side of the mountain instead. The top of hills and mountains get more wind and you leave a more obvious silhouette. The only problem with sides of mountains is it can be difficult to find a flat place to sleep, but if you have an e-tool, you can make some minor adjustments to otherwise uneven ground, making a flat sleeping area.
If you can, build a noise-making barrier surrounding your camp made of brittle twigs and branches piled one to two feet high. This causes people, but mainly animals, to make noise walking over or through it, hopefully waking you up. It isn’t perfect, but the animal, which was, judging by the sound it made, about the size of a fox or small cat, didn’t seem to figure it out. I never had to face any human intruders, though.
It can be good to camp for an extended period of time in a shelter that offers conveniences like fresh, running water and plentiful food. This saves a lot of time and gives you the advantage of experience and routine: knowing the fastest routes to the survival necessities, not having to pack and unpack your sleeping gear, and many other small benefits. This can give you more time for rest and leisure or allow you to get more done. Whenever I stayed at a camp longer than a night, I began getting into a rhythm, partially learned the lay of the land, and generally felt better. Besides, it is important not to overtax yourself. Give your body time to recuperate after it is being put through what will be one of the most physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually taxing times of your life. Of course, balance this with the need to actually make it to your destination!
I simulated lack of sleep while hiking 22 miles over four days with 50 pounds of gear on my back. I gave myself around 8 hours of poor sleep over four days. It is certainly possible to bug out with little sleep, but towards the end of this, I was getting uncomfortable, miserable and inefficient. I wish I had slept instead. Learn from my mistake; get some sleep.
To improve sleep and relaxation, earplugs help. However, these can make it harder to hear important events around you. Improvise a facemask. Make a thick mattress of soft things for cushioning and insulation from the earth. A small, insulated lean-to or A-frame shelter can be cozy and, since it traps your body heat, warm.
In addition, try the drugs diphenhydramine or melatonin, available over the counter. If I was having difficulty, these greatly helped me get to sleep. However, they sometimes left me feeling groggy the next day.
For water, I used plastic bottles and a 2 liter Last-Drop system, which is an off-brand Camel-bak. It provides a collapsible canteen and the ability to drink without having to stop. I used one from Wal-Mart with a Last Drop system daily, and it worked perfectly, other than some slight leaking from the mouthpiece. Then, I used a GI steel cup for boiling teas or for cooking food.
I personally drank from two moving rivers in rural Missouri about 40 times without purifying the water at all. I just dipped in a cup and drank. I suffered no noticeable ill effects. In fact, it tasted quite good. However, listen to the experts and purify it through boiling, chemicals, or both.
I recommend a small travel bottle filled with bleach with the dosing information written on the bottle and memorized: 8-16 drops per gallon, more if the quality appears poorer. Add the appropriate drops of bleach, wait the recommended amount of time, and, if you want, you can boil it too. I never had any problems with only bleached water, but bear in mind that I never had any problems with water straight from the river, either. If you want to be incredibly redundant and safe, have some water purification tablets, too.
If you can, plan your route next to bodies of water. Always fill your water carriers when leaving a watering spot, because you may not know the next time you will find water or how pure it will be.
To spice up your water, pine and spruce needles can be boiled in water, the resulting brew drank, and the needles eaten. While you can only put a few needles in to have a mildly flavored tea, I like to just cram as many as I can into my steel canteen cup, boil for about fifteen minutes, cool, and drink. This pine and spruce tea feels very wholesome to drink.
Food was repeatedly the weakest link in my simulated bugouts. This may have been because I planned my routes near rivers, creeks, lakes, and ponds, giving me plenty of water. Also, I did not trap or fish because I did not have a license for this. Nor did I glean from farm fields. Still, food will be the weakest link because an immense amount of energy is required to lug 10-50 pounds around.
Raisins and peanuts are good for an inexpensive high calorie food that can be stored at room temperature and doesn’t require cooking. Don’t reinvent the wheel; use trail mix. Rice is good for when you have time to cook. A bag of rice can also double as a pillow.
You can glean food from farm fields. The combine loses some, and sometimes farmers leave a patch unharvested. While the quality, nutrition, taste, and edibility do deteriorate, in a survival situation, I saw enough to keep me alive. I found a smorgasbord of unprocessed soy beans, some on the ground, and others still on the plant, in many already harvested farmers’ fields in early November in Northern Missouri.
Foraging is fairly easy; the inner barks of pines and many other trees can be eaten raw or dried, pounded into flour, eaten, or mixed with water and eaten; while it does not taste good, it does work to keep energy up. You can also just eat pine needles.
Most nuts will keep for a while on the ground, but you will want a nutcracker to process them efficiently. Paw-paws, persimmons, apples, wild onions, wild garlic, cattail, sumac, wild grapes, and, depending on the season, many more edible plants are there, but first you need to know where to look, what to look for, what to harvest, and what not to harvest. For instance, hemlock looks almost exactly like carrot, but, in sufficient amounts, it will paralyze and kill you. Preparatory study and practice is necessary, quite fun, healthy, and delicious.
Consider carrying a few extra pounds of fat on you. This can be metabolized by your body into extra fuel during tough times. Before a big bug-out simulation, I would over-eat slightly, putting on a little bit of weight. As I walked, it would reliably dwindle away.
Think of this added weight as your own pack of meals ready to digest: MRDs. These are highly efficient, portable meals: no cooking, heating, silver-ware, mess-kits, clean-up, or even eating required!
If you do this, plan ahead with your clothing. You may want some suspenders or a good belt so that your pants still work after you lose weight. A regular leather belt worked fine for me, although the most my weight ranged was from 175 pounds down to 155 pounds. You can make your belt tighter by carefully poking the tip of a knife through it, creating another hole. I did this two years ago with a regular leather belt from Kohls, and I haven't had any problems.
Finally, when it comes to packing on a few extra MRDs, everything in moderation! Too many MRDs stashed around your midriff and thighs have their own set of problems for survival.
One major problem I ran into was that the necessities of survival were constantly on my mind, threatening to eclipse the greater necessity of religious renewal before God.
In order to combat this, I took a “fasting vacation”.
A “fasting vacation” of a few days gave my body time to relax and my spirit time to intensely focus itself on God. I recommend Paul C. Bragg’s “The Miracle of Fasting” for an overview of the dynamics of fasting. Basically, I have found that it allows heightened focus, concentration, and a sense of deep optimism. According to Dr. Bragg, it also purifies the body through the elimination of stored toxins. In a nutshell, fasting has lots of good benefits.
What I did for this “vacation” was find a relatively safe place and set up camp. Then, I did pretty much nothing.
While fasting and praying, I had much less physical energy. After four days of a water-only fast, I hiked 4 miles the fourth day while carrying around ten pounds. I was thoroughly drained afterwards for about six hours. Otherwise, that would have been a very easy hike. Plan accordingly and don’t fast before a twenty mile hike.
Also, remember that the subjective mental, emotional, and spiritual clarity I have reliably experienced while fasting may not occur for you. Try it out so that you know the effects for yourself.
In addition, some periods of moderate mental discomfort may also occur, but I have generally found that drinking more water and urinating tends to eliminate this. It is worst when I first wake up. This is, according to Dr. Bragg, due to toxins accumulating during the night; these are easily elimination in the morning.
In a fast, it is up to you how much time to dedicate to the Almighty. Perhaps you have more pressing survival needs than I did, or your needs for spiritual renewal are more great; adapt this for your situation.
During the fast is a wonderful time to read and reread useful survival information, plan routes, sharpen tools, become more familiar with your packing schemes, as well as all other low-intensity but useful activities like leisurely foraging for food. It is a good time to read the Bible and other religious literature, as well.
For me, two to four days of a water-only fast are effective for stepping back, relaxing, praying, and realigning my priorities from mere survival to serving God.
Bear in mind that it can take a day to even a week for your digestive system to fully restart. This is a difficult thing, and does take a while; try not to gorge yourself immediately coming off of a fast. I have gorged myself many times, and my digestive system does resume, but it takes much longer and is uncomfortable while it starts up. Slowly eating small amounts of food, and increasing meal sizes over time, works much better.
Coming off a fast, I find that fruits and vegetables are a lot kinder to my system, while meats, cheese, and dairy products, for whatever reason, tend to cause discomfort. A laxative and stool softener is also helpful.
If possible, eat less before beginning a fast, too. This allows your digestive organs to slowly wind down, rather than just cutting off all food instantly. I find that slowing down instantly is much less traumatic than starting up instantly.
I would recommend doing a fast at a safe place when you have 1-2 weeks to pre-fast, fast, and restart your digestive system. It is certainly possible to begin hiking immediately upon breaking your fast, but you will probably have some intestinal issues for a while. Finally, if a forced fast is thrust upon you by the hand of scarcity, be aware of these dynamics to optimize your health.
At the very least, understand the many proven and potential positive health effects of fasting, so that when you find yourself in a food-scarce scenario, you can remind yourself that, in at least some ways, your body, mind, and soul is improving. This will be good for keeping you and others optimistic.
Well, that should do it. Obviously I can’t cover everything in full detail. I left out many minor details, items, and tips to save space.
Really, experience is the best teacher, and it is extremely recommended that you do a simulated bug out with all of your gear, trying out each and every piece of equipment in as many different environments and situations as possible, especially the ones you would go through during a bug-out. Have fun. Be rough on your equipment. This shows you what works, what doesn’t, what you like, and what you don’t. From there you can perfect your gear. If you simulate a bug out, you’ll be more prepared if the real thing hits. And carrying 10-50 pounds of gear on long walks is a highly effective way to get into shape, which is essential for optimum living.
Given the immense practicality of most of the gear, and the many destabilizing forces at work in today’s world, having a bug-out bag and practicing for a bug-out makes rational sense. If you enjoy backpacking, camping, and the great outdoors, a bug-out bag serves two purposes. Hopefully, you don’t have to walk in a real bug-out, but if you do, I hope and pray that these observations can be of help to you. Your situation and needs may differ from mine, but that is just another reason why you should personally test out you and your family’s bug out gear!
May God be with you!