“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!
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