The Obsession with Bugging Out and Bug Out Bags

by L.M.

“If you can’t evacuate your house in 5 minutes flat then stop what you’re doing right now and…”   Ever heard that before?   Did it scare you?  Make you think, Oh my gosh I better get prepared!

Most people who have been in the “survival” or “preparation” mode for any period of time have either read such a statement, or made a similar one themselves. The only problem is that the concept of leaving your home in 5 minutes flat with only what you can carry, or jam in your car is actually a very dangerous proposition.

The “bug-out-bag” is perhaps the most highly regarded sources of “prepper” lore around.  Discussions on what goes in it, where it should be stored, how often it should be inventoried, and even what kind of material it should be made from take up a multitude of room in many articles, blog posts, and conversations.

The only problem is that this seeming fascination with the “Art of the Bug out Bag “ is actually one of the most dangerous and potentially damaging discussions in the prepper community right now, in my humble opinion.

Why would I say such a thing? Well let me start by saying that I am not categorically against having a bug-out bag packed and ready to go in the event that an emergency evacuation is actually called for.  In fact, mine is ready to go even as I write this.

The problem is that the bug-out bag might be a solution looking for a problem when disaster strikes. Bold statement? Maybe, but I’ll explain my reasoning below.

Major Liabilities Inherent to Bugging Out

The biggest problem with bugging out, at least in the context of it being a one-size-fits-all solution to disasters, danger, and general disarray, is that it is treated throughout the prepper sphere as a universally good decision, one that is entirely reliable and so adaptable that you could hardly go wrong by implementing it. Like a panacea.

After all, the reasoning goes, what is a better solution to oncoming danger or potential danger than just getting out of the way?

Well, as it turns out not much could be better if you are considering bugging out in a vacuum devoid of consequences. Disaster or trouble is coming, ergo you grab the BOB, the wife, the kids, the dog and hit the road on a thrilling pseudo-vacation until it is safe to come back home and pick up the pieces. Bing, bang, boom, done: A prepper is you!

Unfortunately, reality is long divorced from such simple notions and the act, the very process of bugging out is going to be fraught with uncertainty, heightened danger and considerably more vulnerability than just staying put, 99 times out of 100. Consider the following.

Evacuation Might Be More Perilous than Staying Put

Think of it this way. Let us say you are a passenger on an airliner. Knowing that, however unlikely the event is, airplanes do occasionally crash and often with a total loss of life. But since you are a clever prepper you have brought along the one, true solution, an emergency get-out-of-peril-free card: a parachute!

Your plan, should you have any reason to believe that the plane will crash, is to simply strap on the parachute, head for the hatch and de-ass the airplane before it crashes, killing you and everyone else. Then you will float down to the ground as gently as can be for a nice two-point touchdown and a happy ending. Brilliant!

In that above scenario, evacuating the airplane at the first sign of trouble is likely going to put you in even more danger than riding out the issue.

Just because the O2 masks drop or the cabin loses overhead lighting does not mean the plane is in any danger of crashing and you in any danger of dying. A little turbulence does not mean you’re going to plummet out of the sky.

In both situations you are still far, far safer sitting strapped into that seat than risking collision with the airframe, getting mulched by an engine, hypothermia or hypoxia from bailing out at high altitude. In this hypothetical situation you actually risk greater harm and likelihood of death by trying to bail out too early before it is genuinely required.

Bugging out is much the same. Just because the mountains are roaring and the seas are giving up their dead does not mean you need to go sprinting out of your comfortable, well-stocked home looking for a theoretically safer place. You are probably safe enough, or even as safe as you can get under the circumstances, right where you are.

Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire

Most preppers drastically underestimate how arduous, stressful, and dangerous bugging out is going to be. At best, you are likely to be surrounded by panicky throngs of other people all scrambling to and fro. Many of them are not going to be as well equipped, well-trained or as educated on the subject matter at hand as you are. This makes them unpredictable. It might make them dangerous if they are desperate enough.

Worse yet, history has furnished as many examples of the predatory elements of humanity taking advantage of times of chaos, strife and uncertainty to perpetrate their evil deeds against their fellow man.

They might simply want what you have, or look to profit so they’ll be in a better position when things calm down and do so with less likelihood of capture. They might simply be of a mind to maim or kill for either thrill or satisfaction. Would you rather be facing them on an unknown ground with limited supplies or at home where you have better defensibility?

Worse yet, you are always, always going to be more vulnerable to bad weather and natural disasters when you are on the road in a vehicle, or on foot out on the trail going cross-country than you will be in virtually any structure. There are vanishingly few exceptions to this rule, and hardly any amount of equipment or provisions that you can carry in your BOB that will make up the difference.

Should You Give Up the Home Field Advantage?

You should also carefully consider the notion that you’ll be giving up what I call the “home field advantage” when you bug out, no matter where you are headed. Wherever you live, whatever type of home you have, when you are there you know the terrain, the people, what’s available, and what’s around.

Depending on your lifestyle, job or general level of attunement with your town you know who the “players” are. You probably know who you can count on to cause trouble and who you can count on to be a source of calm and leadership.

You’ll be throwing all that out the window when you bug out, gambling away a significant intelligence advantage on the desperate hope that things will be safer and better wherever you are going, and doing it all under the assumption that things are going to get so bad where you are that the bug-out process itself, with all of its inherent danger, will be a worthwhile risk.

Yikes. I’m not a logistician but I know common sense when I see it, and that’s not it. No matter how antisocial you are, no matter how skilled of a lone wolf you fancy yourself to be, humans are social creatures and get most of our work, our best work, done when we are working in groups, even if it is just gritted teeth cooperation.

Community Equals Mutual Support

If you have been prepping for any length of time you are probably well acquainted with all the mishaps, accidents and misfortune that can befall you and everyday life, to say nothing of the dangers and hazards that will be present in the aftermath of a legitimate SHTF scenario.

If you get hurt, get sick, lose your gear or just wind up in a really bad spot it sure would be nice to have some people nearby who care about you, or at least know you, and are furthermore willing to help you or rescue you.

That is the power of community staring back at you! Community is, sadly, one x-factor prep that way, way too many preppers don’t account for or, in the case of bugging out, are willing to throw away in a pipe dream pursuit of a safer place.

Do you honestly think you are better off in a place where there’s no one around that you know, or no one around at all? If you’re going to a populated place that is a significant distance from your home, what advantage do you gain from being in a place where no one there knows you and likely cares if you live or die?

Bonds with friends, neighbors, fellow citizens and sympathetic officials or other people with clout can make all the difference for your personal situation when the chips are down. You should never, ever throw away that advantage lightly under any conditions.

Bug-Out Complications are Usually Show-Stoppers

Prepping for true worst case scenarios means getting prepared for negative second and third order effects even while you’re dealing with the primary effects of whatever disaster has befallen you. It could be yourself or a family member getting injured or gravely ill.

It could be the ongoing care requirements of an infant or elderly family member. Maybe you just have herds or flocks of livestock that you are completely unwilling to turn your back on under the circumstances. Maybe one of your children is in a wheelchair.

Whatever the case, things are going to be tough enough when the time comes to bug-in while enduring a crisis, and they will only be made more difficult by any of what I call complications. Imagine how much more grueling and difficult things will be if you have to deal with any of them while bugging out. 

If you are dealing with bumper to bumper traffic, teeming throngs of terrified people or just the isolation of a cross-country hike when something goes bad, you genuinely will not have anyone to turn to under the circumstances.

Should someone get critically injured or ill and you don’t have the skills and the material to pay the bills you won’t even be able to stick your head out the window and yell for a doctor or a medic. Is that something you are willing to risk for an ill-advised evacuation?

A Personal Story

Let me give you an example.  Last week I attended an Emergency Preparation Meeting that was held and sponsored by a local church in our community. Among the many “experts” present was a former employee of FEMA who had great expertise in survival planning. A question about bug-out -bags and their contents was put to him and he dutifully answered with his opinion on the appropriate contents of a bug-out-bag.

I then raised my hand and asked him under what circumstances he would actually use his bug-out-bag.  He immediately answered and said anytime he had to evacuate his home quickly.

I pressed for further clarification and asked if he could recount for us any specific circumstances under which he would find it necessary, or wise to leave his home in the event of an emergency.

At this point he smiled and said, (and I quote) “Well, now that you actually mention it, I can think of very few circumstances where I would ever leave my home in a hurry.  It’s still a good idea to have one though.”

My point exactly! Ask yourself this question. When you grab your bug-out-bag, leap into your 4WD get-away vehicle and leave your house, where are you going?

I would argue that in the vast majority of cases the answer is – no-where fast. I recently was driving north in I-95 in Virginia. A paving operation during the middle of the day that closed 1 lane of the interstate for approximately 2 miles caused a thirteen mile back up that took approximately 140 minutes to get through.

Now think about this, if a paving operation can basically shut down an interstate in the middle of the day what do you think is going to happen in the event of a real emergency? Does the word gridlock come to mind?

Again the problem here is that the last place you want to be during an actual emergency (let’s categorize that as: terrorist attack, weather event, nuclear meltdown event, societal breakdown, TEOTWAWKI) is in a car, most likely backed up on some highway with very little in the way of water, food, or protection.

(Oh, and did I mention surrounded by hundreds of enraged and frightened other people who all, within about 90 minutes need to go to the bathroom?)

Only Bug Out with a Purpose!

The idea of having an off-the-grid getaway tucked away in a holler’ in the mountains that hasn’t been seen by anyone but the Indians for the last hundred years is certainly appealing. It has it’s own fresh water spring inside a cave that can double as a refrigerator.

You’ve already stocked the cabin with a supply of food. Your heirloom seed vault is there ready to produce the ultimate garden within 120 days of your arrival and your pre-positioned arms and ammunition cache is in place and carefully concealed. What could be better?!

All you have to do is get there, and your bug-out-bag is just the thing to tide you over until you actually do get there.

Believe me I get it!

But please don’t underestimate the potential difficulty of that trip!  My contention, as well as the contention of the guy from FEMA is that – in the event of a real, unexpected emergency, your best and safest place is in your own well stocked and prepared home.

If you must evacuate, then you must, and be willing to do so with all the trials and tribulations that entails but only in pursuit of known and safer ground!

Bottom Line

Bugging out is far more dangerous much of the time than most preppers would think, and should only be done in times of uttermost need when you have no other options.

Giving up the many advantages of a well-stocked home, even one that is damaged, for a litany of unknowns should not be a go-to disaster response plan. I assert that the emphasis placed on bugging out versus bugging in is placing the wagon ahead of the horse.

Bugging out is a time-honored tenet of prepping, but too many preppers have bugging out in mind as the one-size-fits-all solution to every problem that comes down the turnpike. This could prove to be a fatal mistake.

Get your home or homestead ready to withstand the rigors of a catastrophic event before you do anything else, and remember, perhaps the very worst place you can be in the event of a real TEOTWAWKI event is stuck in a car on the highway or out on the trail, surrounded by a bunch of angry scared people.

last update: 05/04/2021

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20 thoughts on “The Obsession with Bugging Out and Bug Out Bags”

  1. Great article….I have what would be normally described as a “Bug out bag”…..But really its a “Bub-in bag” . It stays in my truck and has all the basics to tide me over until I can get back to my home (from work or where ever I might be) where I have all my food, guns, dogs, Ammo, Water stored away.

  2. I agree, mostly. Having had the “home in the burbs, hideaway in the woods” bugout plan previously, I placed great importance on my bugout bag contents. Since building a home/retreat, not so much now, as very few situations would necessitate bugging out now.

    But, for those planning it and with the financial means: a 4X4 truck, a dual-sport/enduro motorcycle, and a motorcycle carrier (such as this:
    might offer a much better chance of getting 2 persons to their retreat than a truck alone. That was my plan anyway. I kept a “bike BOB” packed, with the intent of abandoning the truck on the highway and continuing on with the bike on pre-planned alternate side routes should it be necessary. The enduro was a requirement, as the first goal was to get off the highway/expressway between exits. Driving the shoulder/median on a bike past miles of stopped vehicles wouldn’t be a good idea IMO.

    Never got the evac time under 5 minutes, but I did consider haste a necessity for two reasons – avoid the mass exodus and get as far away as quickly as possible, and to avoid quarantines/road blocks that might imposed by the authorities. If I was unable to avoid being stopped by authorities en route, I carried proof of ownership of my hideaway/destination, professional crendentials, my former military ID card, cash, and a couple ounces of gold.

    Everyone’s in a different situation, this was just the best plan I could come up with for getting me and the Mrs. to our retreat if sheltering in place wasn’t a good idea. Now, instead of bugout plans/bags, I focus on how to best use the hours between an ‘event’ and the arrival of city folks. Kinda funny, huh?

  3. I agree that most folks don’t need the wilderness survival gear that some sites recommend but If you’re wondering why you should have a go-bag just do a news search using the word “evacuate”. There are hundreds of small scale evacs occuring in this country weekly. Crime, chemical spills, infrastructure failures plus more could put you and your family out on the street or in a Red Cross shelter for a day or a week with little or no advanced warning at all.

  4. In general I would agree but it might be worth while to add that IF we do use it, we should use it sooner rather than later. A five minute evacuation is really the worse case senario. In contrast any prepper who is serious about prepping should be ready to bug out hours and days before most disasters making the five minutes irrelevant. If you’ve only got five minutes then you have been caught flat footed, and in that case if you are thinking about evacuation then so is everyone else!!!

    I might also add that in this case if you want/need to bug out in such a situation you may want to start thinking now outside the box. Personally, though I would hate to leave my truck I have considered both small aircraft and sail boat as potential means of bugging out– no lines no waiting!

  5. The only thing “bogus” about the “Bug Out Bag” is its moniker. It is an incredibly useful tool for a variety of situations. I use mine regularly hiking and hunting. I’ve raided its food, water and clothing supplies when my way home was delayed or shut down which made the situation much more comfortable. I’ve used it during a severe weather event to check on my Grandmother when driving wasn’t possible, once there I was able to resolve some issues she was having with the help of some of the tools I had in my BOB. I’ve also used it to chop a fallen tree out of the way that was blocking a road. Though my hatchet wasn’t my first choice for a tree of that size NONE of the other travelers had anything better capable of removing the obstruction. I could go on and on…

    I view my BOB as a collection of tools that provides a number of options to remedy whatever situation I may have to deal with. I don’t live in a city so I can’t just swing over to a store and buy what I need or ask/call someone else for help. I find it extraordinarily convenient to have a day pack, fully stocked and ready to go that can (and does) tackle a multitude of unplanned situations I might and do come across.

  6. Best piece you have EVER posted, maybe the best ever posted nod ANY prepper website. Good solid advice. The only thing that would make me leave my home on short notice would be a chemical spill on the RR tracks with a west wind. We NEVER have a west wind and we live three miles from the tracks or if they dropped a nuke on Corpus Christi TX (Southeast 40 miles and the wind is out of the Southeast 99% of the time.) Anything else and you would have some time to think and plan.

  7. I have a “bug-out-bag” only for the purpose of getting home if the need arises – so it is really a GHB instead of a BOB. The contents are essentially the same: i.e. 72 hour kit with the supplies, shelter, water, and tools to best assure that I will be able to make it to my home where the long-term supplies are. I carry one in each vehicle.
    Since we live in a suburban to rural area, and I know all the roads in and out of each town, as well as several alternate routes along power line clearings, utility easements, etc. I believe I would make it home somehow in spite of some physical challenges.

    What concerns me is that we love to travel out of the area to visit our grandkids – six to twelve hours by car. If the stuff hits the fan while we are so far away, our chances of getting home are greatly diminished. I guess it is pretty much the same as trying to get to a “retreat” some distance away, but I surely would not want to have to walk that far.

  8. My bugout bag is my backpacking bag which is quite complete and would easily see me through an extended bugout. I have a sack next to it of winter clothing and another for summer clothing and I would grab the appropriate one to consolidate into my bag. I have traveled everywhere in this country and can give you three (obvious) tricks for traffic. One is to drive through large cities in the early AM between midnight and 6:00 am. The second, since I traveled extensively with a motorcycle, is get a motorcycle. When all the cars are stopped you either drive past them or go offroad. Third start using backroad. I love backroads, so much more to see. Know at least two and preferable 3 or more backroad routes to your destination. Freeways are faster usually until the day they become parking lots. Backroads are rarely clogged with traffic.

  9. Great article. I agree completely.

    All the Bug-Out-Bag hype has never meant much to me. I have no nearby cave, fortress, invisible cabin or other such ideal fantasy destination to bugout to.

    If the S is H’ing the F and I can’t handle it from my house – well then, I’m just not gonna make it.

    But I won’t go down easy.

  10. In most cases, I agree that bugging in place is the best solution, however, don’t discount the value of a BOB.

    Several years ago, I was watching the national news on television and a former Marine stated that he heard a knock on his door and the fire officials told him he had 5 minutes to evacuate. He was going to lose his house to fire. Now maybe he had staged a lot of his belongs to “bug out” because he knew there was a fire in his area, and then maybe he didn’t. But it sure got me thinking about the status of my BOB and helped me realize that what I was leaving behind might not be available when I came back. Besides water, food, shelter and defense tools, I begin to look at personal and financial documents in a new light. I believe a BOB is a good tool to have in the toolbox.

  11. There 2 schools of thought on the subject. Bug in, or bug out. Given what i have seen first hand what humans are capable of, I prefer to bug out. I must qualify my statement, I live where it is fairly easy to bug out to somewhere to. Given what we lived through with hurricanes in Florida and looting and rioting, Katrina and all such manner of calamities. I have a spot to relocate to that I can get to 3 different ways.

  12. For us a five minute bug out is quite a possibility due to fire, especially for those who live on the edges of the city or up in the hills for those of us in Western Australia. And if we are bugging out then it is only for a comparative few, and only a smallish area. If a large bush fire is coming, or if we have been given a catastrophic fire warning then it is worth bugging out unless you have extraordinary fire precautions in place. But this is usually for less than a 100, or 1000 people and roads don’t get too clogged at all. So a BOB is important.

    However I would very much agree that the BOB focus of preppers seems somewhat unhelpful to me. For most the biggest problem is likely to be a sudden loss of income due to unemployment or the gradual loss of buying power due to fixed income and inflation. These scenarios are nowhere near as fun to prepare for. It doesn’t sound as good to say “I saved an extra $12 on my shopping and paid this down on my $3500 credit card bill,” as saying, “I bought X for my supplies, this week.” Unless you are intending bankruptcy in the short term then focussing on accumulating stuff rather than on overall financial health (with some acquisition) would seem to me to be short sighted in a different way.

    Back in the 1980s I went through a financial EOTWAWKI when the country we lived in went bankrupt in 1984. It was 8 years of financial hell and we ended up leaving the country and coming to Australia to start again – a great decision we should have made decades before. What caught us out was not not having enough food, but was not having our finances in order. There were no riots in the streets, or burglaries as the community made sure we all had food, but it was humiliation at losing one’s job, worrying about whether you could afford to keep the phone which you needed to be contacted for the phone, and staying warm during cold winters.

  13. Your concern over our- A: mental ability to determine whether a situation is “bug-out” worthy or not and B: our planning apparently ending at our driveway is both touching and disappointing.


    I had the sad privilege of interacting with some of the refugees and emergency responders from that little cluster-&^%$.

    Those people pretty much had only a few minutes warning at best, and about 30-45 seconds at worst. It was grab the kids, grab the keys to the car, and run. Many of them with their shoeless kids in tow, couldn’t buy any new clothes or food because all their cash, and credit-debit cards, along with the driver’s licenses, and medical insurance information, were at the bottom of a smoldering crater, surrounded by 1000+ degrees of flaming rubble.

    One emergency responder told me, after putting in a lot more overtime that he ever wanted to, that he came across the bodies of an entire family at dinner time that were all sitting at the same table, totally caught off guard when all hell broke loose.

    I saw people come in to our store with nothing more than the clothes on their backs, buying new clothing and food to get them through the week.

    Obviously, that was the worst-case scenario, but that’s what I prefer to prep for.

    I have a BOB. It’s full of extra pants, socks, shirts, bags of trail mix, two bottles of gatorade, some shaving cream, a razor, a small revolver, and a box of ammo. In addition, I also have copies of my health insurance, passport, driver’s license, as well as some extra cash. Sooner or later, I’m going to add a small backpacker’s tent to it as well.

    It’s right by my desk as I type this.

  15. Great post!

    We don’t have Bug Out Bags, we have Get Home Bags – several in fact. I have my basic bag for my everyday commute (12 miles to and from home), a bigger bag for when we go see the in-laws (5 hours by Intersate and State Highways), and a large plastic tub of stuff which I thought might be handy in a real emergency (never used it, mostly just empty it and refill it every 3 months as an exercise in what ifs).

    Given 5 minutes, I would grab our large packs (7 to 10 days of food, water, clothes, medicine, some basic survival tools, sleeping bags, ground mats, radios, and some personal items), our rifle cases (rifle, 5 loaded mags, cleaning equipment), our gear belts (pistols, spare mags, flash light, multi-tool, fixed blade knife, and first aid kit), our brief cases (computers, cameras, and other personal items), and the dogs. I have a large plastic tub with our tactical vests, ceramic plates, and gas masks which would probably be included if I perceived the situation was really dire. All that would eat up about 3 minutes, so I would probably make 2 more trips for stuff which I don’t need, but wife insists we absolutely cannot exisit without for the next 3 days. I suppose it would really depend if my 5 minutes was under fire, outrunning a fire, in a storm, or skipping out from some irate father or husband who tracked me down from some previous indescretion in my youth.

  16. Whether or not to have an bug-out or a bug-in bag and what it consists of is soley your own personal choice! The supplies can be used in any emergency, at home or on the go! I keep one due to traveling for work in the hurricane afflicted areas and may have to get home via alternate means (walking or bicycling).

  17. A clear winner. Challenging conventional theory with well thought out scenario’s and poking them full of holes. A real eye opener. Thanks.

  18. I have read a lot of things and what people would do in a bug out plan or SHTF or what ever the case maybe, from hauling a 52 foot trailer with a semi to a little tin with stuff in it.

    It kills me about what the weight should be of packs from to heavy to light. I have 2 kids and a wife that I need to also think about and being the man of the house I need to carry weight (boy is 2 and the daughter is 10 months and yes the wife will have a pack too). If you cant carry weight then you need to get up off you fat @ss and lose some weight or if you are a bean pole then hit some weights and get a little stronger and be a man. That is what we are built for. To work and and take care of the family.

    Then you hear carry light so you can move fast..Well that might be OK but I’m not going to go running into another problem. Need to move at a OK speed so that you can see and plan for what you might be getting yourself into and where I can scout out to make sure it is OK for the night.

    I would go to another house and bug in if I could not stay at my own house if I could and if not then I would begin hiking. Hiking with a plan of what happens if somebody is going the other way with their light weight pack that is empty and wants what your family has. If I was running at full speed with my light pack I might miss that and might not be-able to defend my family. Don’t get me wrong you don’t need 1500#s of stuff but you need to be prepared.

    Have what you need to survive from hot to cold weather. From rainy to dry weather. If everything was that bad and you needed to leave like this then it is going to be longer the 72 hours. Plan for that.

    I would die for my family but not because I was a p***y and could not handle a few extra pounds to keep myself and the rest of the family alive. It would not be a easy task so to all the people with the pull behind camper it is not going to be like that if it gets as bad as what people are planing for. This is not a picnic it is survival and people like me would kill or do what I needed to do to survive and keep my family alive.

  19. I agree with the “gotta go potty” sheeple on the road analogy!!! your first priority is to STAY PUT where you know the lay of the land, have neighbors you can trust and lots more tools and supplies than you can carry. In Colorado flooding, wild fires and tornadoes happen all the time. for the most part you gotta get out for 72 hours, stay in a shelter and hope your house is still there when you get back. most evacs here are less than 15-30 miles where you get packed in like rats in a church or sports stadium. I keep basic tools and other things in my truck all the time. I have used them many times. a friend who can’t fix his sink or my alternator goes out on a road trip. certainly some of the stuff in a bug out bag is for “emergencies” but I use allot of it every day. Being a capable person is having the tools and supplies that allow you to use your skills to cope with un-planned problems like getting stuck in the snow, digging your car out, flat tire, etc… while I abhor the philosophy of running for the hills… having a small tent and sleeping bags not only allows a shelter to use their blankets and red cross donuts for other people but your flashlight and radio may be what they need to help others who aren’t so fortunate.


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