Bugging Out On Foot – What to Expect

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Bugging out is something that you must consider as a prepper. When a situation becomes unsalvageable, or the danger of staying put or bugging in entails risks that you are not willing to take, it is time to get out of Dodge.

Many preppers plan to bug-out using a personally-owned vehicle of some kind but no matter where you live there’s always a good chance that circumstances might dictate a bug-out by vehicle is a no-go.

In that case, you need to grab your BOB and take off on foot. This plan has something of a romantic notion to it, but there is nothing romantic about the grueling realities and exertion needed to carry off a successful on-foot bug-out.

The stresses will be considerable and the risks will be magnified. You are oftentimes just more vulnerable on foot and that means you have to have you’re a-game in place both when planning and executing.

In this article, we will be providing tips and guidance for putting all the pieces together so that when the time comes to cinch down the straps on your BOB and head for the hills you won’t be heading for tragedy instead.

Route Selection and Planning

If you had planned on bugging in and things go bad and you have to bug out and leave your home or retreat, and you’re doing it on foot, there are a few important concepts that you need to remember.

The first rule to follow is to make sure that you have a plan in place for bugging out. This means making sure that all of the people involved in the bug out understand what the plan is and where the new spot is located.

Have you taken the time to perform route assessment heading to your various bug-out locations, or BOL’s?

Have you analyzed these routes to determine what the possible dangers are, where potential setbacks or obstacles will be?

This is one of the most important things you can do when getting into the initial phases of your bug-out planning.

If you are an urban prepper you will want to avoid any areas known for high crime, as well as any areas that are liable to attract trouble in times of disaster or crisis.

This could be commercial areas which will see a sharp spike in vandalism and looting. It could be places like police stations or the city hall, both liable to attract the ire of people who are angry at the government or desperate for protection.

Consider chokepoints like bridges, tunnels and major thoroughfares which can become clogged with people and vehicles. 

If you are a rural prepper make sure you assess the viability of your routes during different seasons. The passage of time as well as effects of climate and inclement weather will greatly impact your route choice when the time comes to bug out.

A comparatively easy hike over gently rolling hills and valleys in the fall could turn into a death slog during wetter seasons.

If you plan on using established trails you need to keep an eye on them over time to ensure that they do not become overgrown or completely obliterated.

Your physical condition too as well as the physical condition of your group should also be considered when planning routes

At the bare minimum you want to have two routes going to or from each BOL; a primary and an alternate.  Each should be scouted for potential setbacks and hazards noted along each.

ideally, you will be able to detour from one to the other in case you run into trouble though this will not always be possible depending on your local geography and other terrain factors.

Do Not Doubt: Map it Out

What the mind may forget paper will remember. Maps are an essential part of a comprehensive bug-out plan since they will help keep you on the right course in the midst of chaos and a considerable amount of stress.

Have maps for everyone in the group and have them clearly marked with the new location and they planned route.

It is good to practice bugging out a few times before SHTF so that everyone is comfortable with the routes, the procedures, and what role they play in the plan.

To avoid confusion and sure that each of your routes are marked in a way that makes them distinct but also makes sense to you, with any particular notes of hazards, detours and other essential information that will help you on your journey noted accordingly.

You should also keep in mind while making your markups that the landscape could be drastically altered by damage in the case highly destructive natural or man-made disasters.

Also take care of that your maps are durable, either by acquiring and utilizing maps printed on weatherproof materials or by weatherproofing them yourself by lamination or insertion into a field map case.

Your map will not do you much good once the ink starts to run or if it starts to disintegrate because it has gotten wet from rain or soaked with sweat.

Non-Traditional Route Considerations

If you do have to bug out from an urban or suburban setting make sure and avoid main roads and freeways as these routes will be the ones that the majority of the other people will be using to get out of the city.

It will not take much to see them unrecoverably clogged with both vehicles and with bodies.

This will definitely slow you down and also is likely to subject you to considerable risk since desperate, scared people are not known for good decision making and will behave erratically, and often violently.

No matter if you are an urban or a rural prepper you should make use a little known paths and hidden routes as much as you can.

Rural preppers might try to use back roads, dry river beds or dry canals if at all possible. Additional good pathways are logging roads, unmarked county roads and game trails.

Urban preppers can try to move underground tunnels like maintenance access ways, sewers and similar infrastructure or plot a route directly through buildings in order to stay off the roads entirely.

It might seem like slow going, but if the alternative is to be mired in a mass of humanity or a complete gridlock of vehicles you will still be making good time.

Make sure these non-traditional routes are clearly marked on the map and always have a secondary route marked in a different color if your primary route is blocked. You can always use that secondary route to achieve your goal.

Practice So You Don’t Get It Wrong

Once you have your primary and alternate routes planned, picked, scouted and marked up on your maps it is imperative that you do “dry runs” before things get bad.

This way you’ll know what to expect on the route, what you can expect from yourself and what you can expect from your equipment.

This will be the truest test of everything you have worked so hard for to this point.

Start slow, travelling your routes in a logical progression based on which ones are the surest or the most likely to be used.

Don’t go out at first carrying your BOB loaded down with equipment,  especially if you aren’t used to rucking; this is a surefire way to injure yourself.

When just starting out, at most you should carry a lightweight pack with only the bare essentials needed to complete your hike or the phase of your hike in case you are traveling an extremely long route.

After this is done, you can move up to carrying your larger BOB with a partial equipment load and then finally you’re fully loaded BOB in a sort of final exercise.

When you are conducting these practice runs, pay attention, don’t just grind through it mindlessly.

What failure points are you noticing either in your own fitness, physical hardiness or your equipment? Is your pack starting to pop stitches or are the straps digging into you painfully?

Is the pack suspension doing its job? Is perhaps your load plan bungled, with items shifting to and fro inside the pack as you move? Carry a small waterproof notebook with you and jot these observations down for later correction.

If you keep your eyes open you will also notice things on your path they can both help and hurt you. Some things you might need to address by adjusting your route.

Perhaps the route is faster or slower than you anticipated. Others will not be showstoppers but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep an eye on them or have a plan in your pocket for dealing with them.

If you cannot be bothered to take the time and put in the effort to physically travel your selected bug out routes before you need them, you have your priorities out of order.

Timing is Everything

Knowing what the best time table is for your bug-out plan is essential and timing your departure correctly may very well decide whether it is successful or an abject failure. 

Assuming that your route is not completely dependent upon daylight for successful navigation you might make sure that you are able to bug out at night if at all possible.

It is much easier to slip out undetected under the cover of darkness. The less attention you call to yourself and your group the better.

This fact can spare you a considerable amount of traffic and competition while you try to get out of town.

You must not underestimate the threat posed by your fellow man during any crisis.

Sure, some people who might potentially harm you or take from you or just driven mad by desperation and will do anything to provide for them and theirs, but others will be legitimate predators taking advantage of the chaos, confusion and (hopefully only temporary) loss of the rule of law to force their will on other people.

A single individual or a small group carrying packs loaded with the promise of equipment will be an inviting target.

It goes without saying that the bad guys are going to be watching for people packing up and leaving and you might look like easy prey.

While traveling at night you can reduce visibility by always making sure to use a red or green filter on your lights and even then using them only when absolutely necessary.

The filter serves two purposes, first it will allow you to use the light and not mess up your ability to see in the dark. Secondly, red or green light does not travel as far as white light, and is harder to see at a distance at night.

More than anything else, the human eye is most readily attracted to light. You might need light to navigate, but that doesn’t mean you need to paint a bull’s-eye on your back or the backs of your group. You always want to make sure your group is using light discipline.

This extends to fire for warmth or cooking, also. Try to never, never use fire unless absolutely necessary. This means not building fires at night or even during daylight hours even for cooking.

Fire can be seen at night for great distances and fire can also be smelled from quite a distance away. This is probably the fastest way to give your position away.

If you need to cook make sure it is with a fuel burning stove and make sure it is done quickly. The smell of cooking food travels well, also.

Security and Other Factors

Even in a remote setting you must be prepared for providing for your own security while bugging out.

This entails having the skills and tools for managing or fending off potential human threats but also serving as your own first-responder in case you or someone else in your group becomes injured.

You will not be able to call 911 and expect paramedics or police to show up why you are bugging out in the middle of who-knows-where during a crisis. There will be no cavalry coming; it is up to you.

You should endeavor to learn comprehensive first aid skills but also skills for dealing with basic trauma.

Make sure you put in the time to practice medical intervention in austere environments since you will not always be guaranteed to have the correct supplies on hand.

Knowing how to get by with primitive instruments and materials might spell the difference between life and death, even in the middle of a city in chaos.

You must also think about now how you will deal with strangers that you encounter or the approach your group while bugging out.

Ensure that if you are bugging out in a group setting that you’re not the only person thinking about this.

Confusion, disagreement and conflicting opinions will only slow down a response and potentially make things worse. Everybody needs to be on the same sheet of music.

If you encounter someone that is in need will you help? If so, how much time, effort and resources are you willing to part with at the expense of your group’s outcome?

Have you considered the idea that you might be encountering a decoy, a person who is serving as bait for the sentimental and what is known as a “broken bird” ambush?

You need not think situations like this are the stuff of fiction; throughout history in the twentieth century we have many examples of all kinds of depraved acts being perpetrated on the virtuous during crisis events.

The need for security is especially high when bedding down during the day or at night for a rest period in case your bug-out route takes more than a days’ transit.

If you are traveling in a group, everybody will sleep much easier if one or more persons are on watch, both for threats and also for the monitoring of radio and other electronic signals for any possible updates about the overall situation. 

In keeping with the overall concept of minimizing visibility to interested parties who might turn problematic for you and yours the person currently on guard duty should have a 360 degree view of the surrounding area if possible.

The guard should also try to minimize their own movement and visibility in any way that they can.

People that are out scouting around will find it much easier to find your camp if the guard is up walking around.

Make sure to use natural camouflage from the surrounding area to hide the camp as well as possible.

Conclusion

Bugging out on foot is a cherished idea among preppers but is not for the faint of heart. This is an exercise that will put your skills, stamina and planning abilities to the test and it will not suffer a failure gladly.

You’ll be more exposed and more vulnerable when bugging out on foot compared to bugging out using a vehicle, but considering how easily immobilized or blocked most vehicles are you must have a comprehensive on foot bug out plan in place no matter what.

last update: May 28th 2020

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10 Comments

  1. Very good article with some good advice, I would add a test run to see if you can handle the load you will try to bug out to.

  2. Can I first of all say thank you for your informative articles and posts!!
    As an ex serving member of the Australian army I would like to add to the great post above by saying that it standard operating procedure for the Australian Infantry (highly regarded around the world) to use a purple filter on all our torches.

    The main reason being that if you use a red light then you will not be able to see the red contour lines on your map. The other reason is that purple light is even harder to see from a distance than red light.

    I hope this info is helpful to your readers.

    Regards,

    Tim

  3. Some very good points although I take exception to having maps. If everyone knows what the plan is and the primary and secondary routes maps are an unneccesary risk. As with routes primary and secondary locations should be scouted and established prior to the time of need.
    Consider how far away you are from your bug out location. Most people can walk about 1 1/2 miles an hour comfrotably even with a decent pack load. A 20 mile day is going to be tough on the young ones. If your bug out location is a considarable distance, preselected and cache’d, points will be a neccesity. You will be carrying food and water, water will have to be resupplied enroute. Reliable water sources along the route should be known to all with the means to collect and store it.
    Thanks for your thoughts. A lot of good ideas.

    • In regards to water, all members of the bugging out group can each carry a water filter straw. This will greatly reduce the need to carry heavy pounds of water.

  4. I think this particular scenario is, unfortunately, one of the most real SHTF possibilities, in that staying put may no longer be a viable option, and travel could well necessitate traveling down the ol’ “shoe leather express” due to extreme circumstances where gas/petrol is in either short supply or simply unavailable. One may have the finest means of transportation available, but if the go-go juice is gone, well….you get my drift.

    Well thought out post by a guy who knows his stuff.

  5. Great article Sooch turned me onto your site, and I’m glad he did. I’ve been a prepper for a long time. I’m lucky enough to live in the perfect location. My bug out location is just 300 yards from my house with several escape routes, and plenty of food and water. I’ts nice to be able to bug out, and yet still keep an eye on your house. I have several ways to cook outdoors, and when I need to start a fire I use a Dakota Pit. Look it up on Youtube I think you will like it.
    Dano.

  6. I believe maps are necessary for two reasons. It gives a morale boost to know how close you are to your location, it also gives you the opportunity to take an alternate route if your primary or secondary route is blocked. Just going by memory isn’t the greatest to use especially if family members aren’t into camping/hiking or even preparedness. I am also not saying to mark your route or the location of your BOL location on the map. But having one available is important.
    Another point (echoed above) is that one MUST have one or two caches set up along those routes to resupply or to even equip yourself in the event you are unable to take your custom loaded BOB that’s tucked away in your closet at home.

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