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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.