Bugging Out From your City Before SHTF

No matter what kind of disaster you are facing, you generally don’t want to be stuck in the city when it happens, and you especially do not want to be stuck in the city during the aftermath.

Cities often turn into hives of bedlam whenever things go wrong, and the delicate economic and supply mechanisms that keep them viable centers of human habitation break down.

cars leaving city in a disaster

Without those installations of modernity in place, people become desperate, lose their tempers and often turn on each other quickly.

The solution for most preppers is simply to get away from the city when the getting is good, either long before disaster or immediately prior to it when possible.

Depending on your lifestyle, the resources available to you and your other goals this might be an elective lifestyle choice for a desperate last-ditch option.

No matter which category you fall into, or if you fall somewhere in between, knowing what to do to get out of the city before things turn pear-shaped is an important part of prepping for urban dwellers.

It would not do for you to survive whatever event or natural disaster qualifies as a true SHTF scenario and then fall victim to a swarming, desperate or opportunistic mass of humanity.

In today’s article we will tell you how to bug out from a city before the SHTF.

Why Get Out of the City?

Simply stated in the immediate aftermath of a major disaster (or any event that results in major societal upheaval) cities are probably one of the last places you want to be. Why? The answer is of course the people.

I’m not necessarily saying that the people are bad, all those cities have more bad people per capita than other places it seems; it is just that there are so daggone many of them. If it sounds obviously redundant, bear with me for a moment.

The problem with having so many people crammed into a comparatively small space, and all stacked on top of each other in such great abundance, is that this places an immense strain on the logistical and supply systems that make modern metropolises viable.

Cities are, quite literally, utterly dependent upon the sensitive, fragile gears of commerce that are installed all throughout our modern life today.

Cities don’t grow and, in most cases, don’t even produce their own food. Everything comes in from somewhere else, even if it is just a little ways off in the surrounding areas.

Since so many major metropolitan areas are situated on coastlines or near other large bodies of water, obtaining drinking water is usually less of a problem… so long as the city can continually filter it and otherwise make it safe to drink.

These systems require people, people that are not likely to keep manning their posts once the balloon goes up and they have their own skins and their own families to worry about.

Sure, it is easy to believe that there are anywhere from 1 million to 50 billion bottles and jugs of water in any given city at any given time, and one need only to open any given pantry or enter any store to grab however much they need at any time, but that is only true while the trucks that deliver it are still coming.

The moment they stop, that supply of water will evaporate in an instant, snapped up by the millions of people seeking for it.

And beyond food, water and other supplies services like basic healthcare, emergency medicine, police presence and even firefighting services are all in a strictly limited supply at any given time in a city.

Many major cities like New York can have police departments with so many personnel that they could literally fill a small city all on their own; a veritable army of police, and a similarly vast number of firefighters.

If things get really bad, however, this counts for nothing, as those police are dwarfed in number by the population that makes up the rest of the city.

If some major conflagration breaks out the valiant firefighters will be similarly too few in number to even begin to hope to contain the blazes in their entirety.

In short, things are only ever really “okay” in a city because things aren’t terrible, and people’s backs are not yet up against the wall.

When any one of these systems starts to break down, even if it is just a prolonged power outage as has been evidenced many times in the 20th century, tragedy is always close behind.

Things are always on the verge in a major city, and it will not take much to send things toppling. Keep in mind the old survival proverb that says any civilization is only three missed meals away from anarchy.

You could say much the same about any facet of modern life, any utility, any commodity.

Timing is Everything

When should you leave the city? You have three basic choices:

  • Long-Term: This is the lifestyle change route. Getting away from the city now means you won’t struggle to do so later on when things go bad.
  • Pre-Incident: Some incidents, like sectarian violence and simmering civil unrest, take time to develop into dangerous situations. If you read the writing on the wall it is possible to get away from major population centers prior to things boiling over and do so relatively easily.
  • Near/Post-Incident: Something terrible has happened suddenly enough that you could not have ducked out early, or you rolled the dice on it blowing over and lost. You are now scrambling to react and survive, and getting out of the city is the first step of your greater bug-out plan. This is the classic SHTF scenario most preppers envision.

I naturally recommend getting out according to the “Long-Term” plan, but I know full well that this is not an option for everyone.

Additionally, an article on doing everything required to completely revamp your life to support this exodus from the city instead of an emergency bug out as a response to a disaster is the subject for another article.

Instead, we will be focusing on a pre-incident and near- or post-incident bugging out from urban environments.

In the sections below I will break down the differences between these two approaches, as well as their advantages and disadvantages.

Note that this is not necessarily an either-or situation; you should have plans for both, since your location and the severity of the incident you are facing might influence your decision. You also might not get a choice in the matter!


This approach is essentially getting out before things get too bad, or when trouble is coming but you can see it a good ways off on the horizon.

The advantage in leaving during this time is that you will usually be dealing with far fewer evacuees and that means less slowdown, less competition for space and resources and much less traffic.

But the disadvantages in leaving too early means that if the situation changes for the better, or the event misses you completely, you have wasted time, money and energy.

Usually a good trade-off in pursuit of safety, but still costly, and false alarms will harden the hearts and minds of your dependents in future instances.


  • Less risk compared to last-minute or emergency departure.
  • Higher chance of success.
  • Fewer people will flee until they are “sure” and this means less trouble and traffic for you during the initial departure.
  • As always, better safe than sorry!


  • Efforts might amount to nothing if situation deescalates, resolves or misses.
  • False alarms are both costly and hard on morale of group members.
  • Not always easy to determine when it is “go” time.
  • Some events happen too suddenly for this plan to apply.

It is critical that you have a bug-out location already in mind if you are using the pre-incident bug out method. Also, just as critical is a “red line” that will trigger your plan; some definite marker pertaining to the event in question.

A storm gets too strong or too close, unrest goes on for so many days in a row or becomes consistently violent, etc.

Second-guessing yourself can see you wait too long for a situation to resolve itself or get better, and when that happens you will be trying to flee with the rest of humanity when it is in all probability too late to do so.

Near / Post-Incident

This is the standard prepper response to trouble or disaster. Something terrible has happened swiftly, with little or no warning, and has left your town or even the region in shambles and sent people scrambling in every direction. It is chaos.

The idea of remaining in such a situation is untenable, and so you decide to set off for pre-designated fallback locations, your bug out locations, or in a worst-case scenario just away from the carnage.

This is not ideal, obviously, but might be your default choice for dealing with many situations that you cannot predict and cannot see coming.

On the bright side, it will be obvious that implementation of your plan is indeed necessary, but on the other hand you must be more prepared and skilled at dealing with unforeseen problems, curveballs, and a more stressful situation all around.


  • You’ll know you need to bug out with certainty.
  • Less chance of wasting effort or time.
  • Option of last resort; you won’t be leaving the “known” advantage of a well-stocked home without cause.


  • Riskier.
  • Many variables and other obstacles that arise during movement will put problem-solving skills and other preparation to the test.
  • Movement is likely to be greatly slowed by masses of people also fleeing the situation.

Like the pre-incident bug out method above, having a BOL and hopefully multiple BOL’s pre-selected and pre-mapped is going to be essential for success when evacuating with haste in the midst of a crisis.

Also just as important will be having alternate, contingency and emergency plans for every conceivable obstacle or threat that might arise during movement.

You will not be able to afford being delayed, stuck or otherwise immobilized! As you might expect the pressure will really be turned up during such a scenario.

Destination: Away!

So we know that we don’t want to stay in a city in order to have the best chances of surviving some society-toppling event. So where are we going?

Of course, when facing desperate times in one location “anywhere else” is often a good enough answer to the question of where we would like to be, but since we have the time right now to start getting our affairs in order and the time to plan, we should give this some careful thought.

Generally speaking preppers fleeing the cities during times of trouble will have two general sets of acceptable destination in mind:

  • Small Town – Still has chance of support from fellow, friendly people, but is likely to be the destination/target for many other people the nearer you are to the city.
  • Remote Area – Minimal pressure from other evacuees and seclusion is often an advantage, but you will be vulnerable to attack and/or limited to only the people you have with you.

Broadly speaking wherever you have less people you will have generally less trouble, that is to say less predation from your fellow man, even if this comes at a cost of an increased level of self-sufficiency if you want to survive and prosper.

For most preppers this sounds like a good trade indeed. But with that being said you should think long and hard before you move out to a truly remote location, or even a genuinely off-the-grid parcel of land.

Why? There are no two ways around it; humans are social creatures and we do best only when we have a certain amount of backup from our fellow man, be that family, friends or our fellow citizens in a small, tight-knit community or tribe.

For this reason, moving to a small town or a genuinely small city might be the best blend of the two approaches.

Compared to your average city dweller, people living in smaller communities will more readily form meaningful and lasting bonds with their neighbors.

They will have to worry less about serious violent and organized crime. In times of genuine crisis, the kinds of crisis you will be facing in the aftermath of an SHTF event, there will be drastically less people to place a strain on already beleaguered supplies and supply lines.

Rural communities especially are repositories of old-world knowledge that makes them seemingly ideal when it comes to surviving something that will topple or at least reconfigure our society. They know how to grow and raise their food, produce clean water, build, and repair.

Even a small town or larger village should be able to readily produce enough able bodies to serve for the common defense also, an important consideration for those who would otherwise try to do the lone wolf thing in a remote area.

Without someone to watch the wall, patrol the border and sound the alarm when pushing a post as sentry, you will never be able to sleep with anything but one eye open.

In short, I highly advocate you get out of the city, and head for a smaller town before things get nasty.

If you want to make a go of it purely on your own or with what few people you bring with you in a remote, off-grid location you had better have your stuff together, since any major mishap, accident or attack will likely spell total disaster.

Action Items for Bugging Out of the City Pre-SHTF

No matter which approach you want to take there will be much to do prior to bugging out of the city. Below you will find a list of action items and considerations you should account for before betting the farm on your plan:

Route Planning is Essential

Especially if you live in the city proper, route planning is absolutely essential to ensure you can get where you are going.

Ideally, you want at least two routes to each of your bug-out locations, and if you are smart you will include a contingency route that makes your destination reachable by an alternate form of travel.

If you are planning on driving, make sure you have at least one on foot route and vice versa.

Beware Hazards and Choke Points

There will be plenty to watch out for when fleeing from the city, but one of the most prevalent and the most hazardous will be choke points, both natural and man-made.

Roadblocks, bridges, tunnels, highway and interstate on-ramps and more can become readily clogged with masses of humanity both on foot and in vehicles. The consequences of such an event are always dangerous, not least of which being you become trapped or stuck.

Be Prepared for Human Threats

Cities are always host to a higher crime rate than more rural and less populous areas, and organized crime is most often a fixture in the bargain. This means you might be dealing with some bad hombres in metro zones.

Besides the obvious threat of the criminal element using whatever event you are fleeing from as cover for their own deeds, you will have to be cautious of panicky, desperate people who might not be as well prepared as you are wanting what you have; they may be willing to take it by force.

Weapons are a good idea, even if all you have access to is pepper spray.

Rendezvous Locations are Mandatory

Assuming there are other people in the city with you that you care about, be they friends, family or just survival group members, it is critical that everyone be furnished with a copy of the plan and the maps with routes and all destinations marked up.

You should also have rendezvous points for any given route marked as well, to increase the chances the group members can get together no matter where they started from.

It is very likely you will find it impossible to zigzag across town collecting people if you are not already all together when the situation kicks off.

Discuss Ethical Issues in Advance

Any crisis or disaster that is worth running away from is going to reap a serious toll in human suffering and lives.

It is important that everyone who is part of your group, even if it is just your family members, is aware of the response to seeing people that are in need, hurt or dying during your bug-out.

This is a decision that should not be made lightly, but under the circumstances stopping to help everyone that is in need will result in a heavy cost both in time and in your own crucial survival supplies.

I’m not going to tell you what you should do in these instances, only that you should give it a thought it deserves and talk about it with the people you will be traveling with. There will be no time to waste for discussion or debate at the instance.

Urban BOBs, Go-Bags and Other Survival Luggage

You can hardly mention bugging out without talking about every prepper’s most favorite piece of luggage: The bug-out bag!

A thorough discussion of the BOB is an entire article, or series of articles unto itself, and I and other authors on this site and elsewhere have spent a considerable amount of ink expounding on exactly that topic.

But that being said, there are some specific considerations for keeping and maintaining a bug-out bag for use in an urban environment.

First, as alluded to above you might find it extremely difficult to move in any given direction inside a city once things break bad.

If you are at the office, across town on an errand or in any similar circumstances you might find it impossible to return home and gather your things you need for the journey.

You just might not have that time to spare! Because of this, it makes a lot of sense to keep your bug-out bag with you if you drive your own vehicle around town, or at the bare minimum keep a minimalist kit, or go-bag, with you constantly.

This kit should cover your most essential life-support supplies in case of an SHTF situation and include the following at a minimum:

  • First-Aid Kit
  • Emergency Blanket
  • Small Toolkit / Multitool
  • Emergency radio
  • Compact Water Filter
  • Water Bottle
  • Snacks for Energy
  • Gloves
  • Facemask / Respirator
  • Knife
  • Power Bank/Backup Battery for Phone

Keep in mind you might need these items just to get to your primary BOB or some other supply cache. In a really dire situation it might be all you have!


Whatever your other plans might be, you definitely do not want to be caught in a city when the SHTF. Cities have a way of turning into centers of mayhem and depredation which then radiates outward.

Your best bet is to get out while the getting is good, either well before trouble strikes or as quickly as humanly possible once it does.

Use the tips and procedures in this article to refine your own plan and practice it until you cannot get it wrong!

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2 thoughts on “Bugging Out From your City Before SHTF”

  1. Small Town – Still has chance of support from fellow, friendly people, but is likely to be the destination/target for many other people the nearer you are to the city.

    I don’t really know why people think this. I live in a small mountain town and we definitely are not going to welcome people coming into our area after a disaster. just the fact that people THINK they should be welcome because they made bad decisions and lived in a city shows the difference in mindset from the ones in the towns they plan on going to.
    While like most smaller communities we accept people coming through and stopping at our restaurants lakes and other natural resources and act polite that doesn’t mean we like them or want them in our town. Where I live they are called “flatlanders ” and are allowed to come here as long as they keep in line.

    People may think I’m being rude to say all this but it’s all true. You chose to live in a city instead of in a rural area due to whatever reason so when things get tough live with that choice

  2. No matter how much planning goes into bugging out, it mainly comes down to luck. Sure, prepping can increase the odds of surviving in the long term, but all it takes is one mistake or one wrong turn and all of your plans unravel. When we had the 7.2 earthquake here in Anchorage, in November 2018, the roads became clogged by bumper to bumper traffic. I already had short cuts memorized, so I was able to circumvent much of the congestion, but I was still at the mercy of the other cars on much of my journey across town. Earthquakes don’t give you a warning, so you are only as prepared as what you have with you and where you are when it strikes. Many of the roads were damaged, which caused all traffic to converge onto the same undamaged streets. In the end, it comes down to luck.


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