Covering More Ground when Bugging Out

bugging out

by Ryan

So it is time to bug out. Something horrible has happened and you need to get away from civilization as quickly as possible. You have plenty of wilderness ahead of you, but you need to move quickly and put miles behind you. The terrain is rough, the rocks are slick, and you may even have people tracking you. How do you move as quickly as possible? Knowledge and preparation are the key to a swift bug out. If you know what to do you can double or even triple your rate of travel.

Bug Out Bags

The most important strategy for any bug out scenario is planning. One aspect of that is packing. Of course you read about bug out bags on every survival site you visit, but the weight of the items you pack is not emphasized nearly enough. When you are travelling long distances, a few pounds make a huge difference in your ability to keep pace. First, you need to buy the right pack. Try to pick something that has an interior frame and waist strap to take weight off of your shoulders. I know from personal experience that sore shoulders and a strained back make it very hard to keep hiking.

Next, focus on the weight of your items. Before you buy each item, shop around online and try to find a version that is lighter but just as functional.  In addition, constantly reevaluate your pack contents. As you become more experienced, you should be able to bring fewer items in your pack reducing its weight.  Also, as time passes technology produces lighter versions of the products in your pack. If enough progress is made, you may want to consider an updated version of a few of your items.

Planning for Your Whole Family

It is also very important that you plan for the group with which you will be travelling. If it will be you, your wife, and your two kids then make sure you do what you can to keep the hiking speed of each person as close as possible. Younger kids should not have anything to carry, while teenagers should have a decent load. Anybody that is injured or has a disability should have nothing to carry and you should do what you can to supply tools to speed their movement. Test out your plan in advance and fine tune it to keep everybody walking at the same swift pace.

A quick departure is important to any bug out situation. You should have a bug out plan with your family and practice it regularly. Keep your bug out bags in the same place and near the door. Modular bug out bags will allow you to make last minute adjustments to the contents of your bag. This can save you a few pounds while still keeping all items you expect to need on your voyage.

Fitness

It may go without saying, but your physical condition will greatly affect the pace at which you can hike. I am not saying that anybody needs to run marathons to spend all day in the gym. However, some level of fitness is a good idea. If you get in some hiking in periodically, it will also help your feet adjust to the abuse. Tough feet, strong legs, and decent endurance will be vital if you need to cover dozens of miles in a bug out scenario.

Routing

Planning a route is also an overlooked aspect of a proper bug out. For some reason people think that they can just walk out their front door and head in any given direction. This typically does not work out. You need to know your area well and have a specific route in mind. If you plan to leave civilization, figure out a direction that gives you mile after mile of wilderness. Then pick a travel route. It should be in an area of cover such as a wooded area or a dry creek bed that dips below the horizon.

You also need to plan a method of navigation. Landmarks are by far the easiest plan to get you where you are going. With proper landmarks, you really need nothing else to navigate. One example would be to find a creek and follow it to your destination. Another would be to follow specific rock formations or distinctive trees. You can also use the sun or a compass to maintain a specific cardinal direction.

General Rules

There are a few general rules for foot travel in the wilderness that will help you move quickly. First, always take the path of least resistance. Many times this will be a dry creek bed or a game trail. Make sure you maintain your desired direction, but these clear areas will allow you to walk without wading through brush or tall grass. Also, on a hillside the best path is about half way up the ridge. Often brush will be thick at the bottom and there will be loose rocks at the top. It also takes more energy to climb to the top of a ridge to travel versus staying on the side.

Pace

When you start walking, pace is very important. The military standard for long distance hiking is three mph for flat terrain, two mph for hilly terrain, and one mph for jagged terrain. Pick a pace based on your terrain and stick to it. If you over exert yourself, your pace will drastically slow after the first few hours. You are also much more likely to injure yourself if you tire out quickly. The most efficient way to travel is a brisk walk. Never run unless somebody is chasing you and is right on your tail.

Staying Safe

Avoiding injury is paramount to a solid bug out pace. If anybody in your group twists an ankle early in your journey, it will destroy the rate at which you travel. Walk slowly enough that you can pay attention to each and every step that you take. Be cautious of your footing and try to avoid loose or wet rocks. Wet leaves are also a hazard to avoid. A walking stick gives you a third point of contact and is a helpful tool if you can find one. Also be cautious not to step near any snakes as you scurry through the forest.  If you have to climb anything steep, slow down and use ropes if possible.

Periodic rest is just as important as a swift pace if you want to travel all day. Always rest based on the weakest link in your group. This will typically be young children, injured people, or those weighed down with heavy packs. If one person gets too winded, it can shut down the whole group for the day. Stop to sit in the shade, drink some water, and get a snack if needed. These little breaks will make a great difference in the distance you travel per day.

Protect your Feet

Another sometimes overlooked variable for travel speed is foot care. Make sure each person that is with you has a pair of boots that fit properly, provide traction, seal out moisture, and offer ankle support. These can be expensive, but they are worth the investment. Everybody should have wool socks if possible. Wool will keep your feet warm even when wet and will hold back moisture better than cotton. Another trick is to put on a pair of panty hose under your socks to reduce friction that could cause blisters.  When you make camp, have everybody dry out their boots and socks near the fire.

Even with proper footwear, it is likely that you will end up with blisters at some point. To treat them sterilize your knife in the fire and cut a slit in each blister. This will keep it open so the fluid will dry. If you have medical tape, tape over the blister until it is callused over. Few things will slow you down more than painful blisters. Also, make sure to keep your toenails trimmed so they do not cause any sores on your toes.

Making Camp

When you stop to make camp, keep it quick and basic. If you need to cover dozens of miles, you do not want to spend four hours on a fancy shelter. Do just what is needed to avoid hypothermia, protect from rain, insulate from the ground, and avoid predators. This will allow you to travel until just before dark and leave at first light. Sleep is important, so make sure you are protected enough to properly rest.

Food and Water

Often searching for food and water can slow people down when bugging out. You really should not take the time to set traps or do any conventional hunting or fishing. Instead be opportunistic and think like a gatherer. Look for nuts, berries, or edible plants as you travel so you can grab a handful and keep going. If you get to a body of water, look for a quick snack instead of going after a big fish. Try to find some crayfish or mussels or even seaweed or kelp. For purifying water, try to avoid taking the time to boil it. Bring a filter with you or bring some iodine tablets that will allow you to purify water while you hike.

Night Travel

As a general rule I never suggest traveling at night in a survival situation. However, if you need to make up some ground and you have lots of artificial lighting it can be an option. You definitely want to stick to a path without obstacles to trip you such as a game path. It is way too easy to step wrong on a rock or slip on loose leaves in the dark. It is also much easier to get lost, so make sure you have a map and compass. I suggest that you know how to navigate by the stars as a backup plan. Do not forget that predators are more active at night. Again, this would only be in a worst case scenario.

Snow Travel

Hiking in the snow and ice is a completely different challenge.  Safety and efficiency become much more important.  If you are walking on lots of ice, be very careful of your footing.  If you have access to crampons to strap to your shoes, that is the safest bet.  Never walk on frozen rivers or lakes unless you are sure of the thickness of the ice.

If you are walking in snow more than a few inches deep, you may be doing some ‘post holing’.  This is when you have to pull your leg out of a hole to take a step and then sink down into the snow as you put your foot down.  This is an efficiency killer and can slow your hike to as little as 10% of your normal pace.  Build some snow shoes to ensure you stay on top of the snow.

Once again I will have a chance to test out all these suggestions in a few weeks.  I am going to complete a long distance challenge in which I have to travel about 30 miles in dense woods with rugged ridges and cliffs. I will be doing all this with a light pack containing only a few items, so I should be travelling at a fast pace. As you can see, having a strategy and being prepared is the key to this pace. Hopefully I will be able to cover the distance quickly and get back to civilization.


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11 Comments

  1. Walking sticks are great! Not being a young pup anymore, I use one 95% of my time in the wood’s and trail’s. They are a third leg and help out crossing stream’s, or going up/downhill if long enough. I also use mine for foraging, easy to move oregon grape and other vegetation aside when looking for mushrooms. They may seem a bit ungainly at first, but that doesn’t last long at all.

    Mine is all of six foot in length, the current one is vine maple, but I also use hazel/filbert. De bark and let season, a bit of stain or other water proofing helps them last. Diameter to individual preferance. A stick also provides wood shavings for a fire if everything else is wet, and an additional pole for a tarp setup. You can drill and end and add a button compass, or even a small diameter pipe plug for what have you; perhaps a small fishing kit or snare wire?

  2. It’s good to practice rucking to stay in shape and have a realistic iidea of how far and fast you can walk. It’s generally not anywhere near as far as you think for the average person. I use 50 pounds for rucking and it feels like 150 pounds after one mile. I wouldn’t use more than 20 pounds in a bug out bag.

  3. Here’s something to think about , Several Mormon pioneers went over a 1000 miles useing “handcarts . Also Ive seen a webpage of a device called a “Mule” which is a backpack/travelos , this allows a user tow his load by a backpack that distributes the load on the hips and shoulders allowing a heavyer load .

  4. don’t forget that if you are bugging out in a family group, you will be walking at the pace of the SLOWEST member of that group, that might be an aged grandparent or it might be a young child.

  5. There is an old saying that the best prepared battle plan never survives first contact with the enemy. Regarding route planning, it is absolutely essential that you have intimate knowledge of your primary and alternate routes before you have to use them in a bug out situation. When the SHTF, conditions could deteriorate rapidly and you may have to make quick decisions that alter your course. Know your alternatives as well as your primary route.

  6. Great article, wish i had read this before publishing my last book, would have given me some great ideas. Something to think about is that there could be a possibility of being followed as you noted. A good rule of thumb is to leave no trace of your camp and to be flexible. But, most important is to learn skills, skills that would make gear less relevant. Say you fall into a river and lose your pack? Keeping a knife firmly attached to the body would be very valuable for example. Loved the article thank you for posting, looking forward to more.

  7. If things ever get so bad you have to leave a city on foot, I believe it is unlikely you would be able to make the miles you could doing normal hiking. There would likely be so many barriers to normal routes that realistic travel would be limited to no more than 4mi/day. The amount of water/food/gear necessary to cover any substantial distance would increase along with the time necessary. I believe pre positioned items along your intended route would increase your chance of success. When my son was in med school we buried buckets along a pre determined route he would take to simply get home. (about 60mi) He still had his ‘get home bag’, but was encouraged to know that he had those backup supplies too. Helps keep your travel bag smaller. Makes you less conspicuous. Limit yourself to 20% of your body weight for your backpack.

  8. We live in a rural area so if it comes time to “bug out” it is because the military has gone rogue or bands of criminals have cleaned out the urban areas and now have had to forage far afield. With cached goods in place and an understanding of and familiarity with the local terrain and animal/insect life, as well as, the various rivers and streams, puts us in a bit of a better situation. From my time in the military, I firmly believe in the old adage, “Ounces equal pounds, and pounds equal pain!” This is always kept in mind when I consider items for my BOB. Over the last few years I have tested and perfected my home-made water and fire kits. Both these kits have built in redundancy (“Two is one and one is none” as we used to say in the Marine Corps) so if one approach doesn’t work the second or third will. I now only use Mountain House brand of freeze dried backpacking foods because of their light weight, long shelf life, and proven good taste. I’ve tried many different brands and the Moountain House, while more expensive, is a better, proven product. I’ve also found the SOLO stove to be the best alternative to other types of backpacking stoves due to its lighter weight and capacity to use natural fuel sources around you, fuel you don’t have to carry. Broken-in boots and wool socks too should be ready for use. I always keep three pairs – one fresh pair on my feet, one fresh pair in my pack, and the ones I wore yesterday, washed and rinsed out and drying on the back of my pack as we are moving the next day. A hammock with a rain fly, and a poncho liner for sleeping, along with a mosquito net. Got to get a good night’s sleep in order to function effectively the next day. I always have two tourniquets in my IFAK. We standardize on the 5.56mm caliber and AR-15s due to the availability of parts and ammo and most people’s familiarity with the pat weapon system. The list of what to carry and how to proceed can go on and on – these are just a few of the essentials I make sure I have.

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