What is bugging out?

bug out bag
Picture of Selco


I am Selco and I am from the Balkan region, and as some of you may know it was hell here from 92-95, anyway, for 1 whole year I lived and survived in a city WITHOUT: electricity, fuel, running water, food distribution, without any kind of organized law or government. The city was surrounded for 1 year and it actually was a real SHTF situation. Our allies were our enemies from one day to the next. Today I’m prepared and share my experience on this blog.

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What is bugging out?

If a disaster affects your area or the area around you we recommend you bug out right away.

One of the biggest controversies in the survival community is should you bug in or bug out, and there are countless arguments for both options. Your decision should be based on what makes sense and not what is more convenient.

Do not hesitate and get out while you can at the first sign of trouble. In the worst case scenario you have made the trip to your BOL (or friends or family located outside of the urban area) for no reason. In the best case scenario this trip has saved your life. Please note, this post is part of my Survival Boot camp, so if you like it, please check it out here.

You need to get out from the urban area. When SHTF knowing correct moment for getting out from dangerous environment (urban SHTF is very dangerous environment) requires some basic knowledge in recognizing signs of SHTF and some knowledge of basic human behavior. Between the first signs of violence and complete absence of any restraints in violence there is a gap. Depending on specific situation that gap can be shorter or longer but you need to use it and leave the area. In true SHTF situation after that gap is gone, people realize that there is no usual punishment (law, police, public…) and then everything is becoming harder.

Cities can easily become death traps once law and order is gone. Lots of survival-themed movies and books show us empty and deserted cities after SHTF, but reality is quite different. People stay where they are because most people simply have no other place to go.

Once the masses try to escape the city and get stuck in traffic jams or stopped by armed gangs at checkpoints, most people think twice before going anywhere. If no armed gangs stop the traffic flow the government might coordinate an evacuation that can also result in hours if not days being stuck at a place. In case of the hurricane Katrina, people who were “evacuated” had to wait for days for further help (not only at the Superdome stadium downtown).

As a result, in most SHTF scenarios you will have too many people in a small urban area with way too few resources.

This can escalate to people fighting for resources, gangs controlling the resources, and a lot of desperate violence by people who did not prepare for this kind of situation.

The common saying “we are just three meals away from cannibalism” isn’t too far off. The looting, raping and murdering that happened after the typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines in November 2013 is another example for this.

Especially in western countries, people do not know how it feels to be really hungry and will take extreme measures after just a few days to get food.

If you are living in an urban area, that alone is reason enough to have a bug out plan.

If you are alone and want to stay where you are, so be it. You might even remain unnoticed, but if you are with family or a group of people, get out.

Never be lazy when it comes to avoiding risk. Be the first at the door. Be the “coward” when others still want to stay. Better safe than sorry is true.


Keep in mind that while regular people worry about a lack of law and order and chaos, other people have waited for this moment their whole life. Some people feel they finally have the freedom to do whatever they like and get on “power trips” when they see how easily they can control people who fear them.

Groups like gangs do not even have to get overly organized. They have strength in numbers and weapons. Instead of fighting for areas for dealing drugs they simply fight over areas to completely control.

Besides these criminal elements, there are people who are usually good, but they realize that in this fight for survival only the tough survive and they quickly start robbing and killing because it seems like the only way to live (which is correct in many situations).

One of the reasons we prepare for survival scenarios is that this ensures we do not have to take desperate measures and can ride out the storm while still sticking to most of our principles and taking fewer risks.

Besides violence, the spreading of diseases is another major disadvantage you most likely have to face if you stay in a densely populated area.

When thinking about bugging in or bugging out simply consider where you will be exposed to the most risk. Most likely you will come to the conclusion that you will not want to be in or near a city.

In any case, there is no definitive answer to this as every situation is different. Always have a plan. The idea of bugging out is not running for the hills in a bout of panic.


If you choose to bug out you probably have good reasons for that. But bugging out without any preparation, plans, or thinking about your situation means you are running wildly into the unknown, and that can easily end up in a deadly situation.

A few things need to be considered when you are bugging out:

  • Why you are bugging out?
  • When you are bugging out?
  • How you are bugging out?

Even in the most deadly situations, when you do not have time for anything except trying to get away, try to keep this short list of questions in your mind.


Why you are bugging out can be a long list or just a particular reason. It does not matter. Just make sure you have taken a few moments to really assess the situation and make sense of it.


The timing of when to bug out is more important than most people want to believe.

First shootings and killing already begun, but it was still confusion who is shooting on who and what is going on. You could still see police force on the street but at the same time rumors were that police is robbing and shooting people too. My friend was inside the town when all that started, and he wanted to leave the city because his family was already out. He had no real info what was going on. He started the car to move through the city. Streets were already pretty congested with all kinds of stuff, abandoned cars, and things that people dragged from the stores and left there. People were walking, some yelling, others carrying weapons, some still trying to hide them, others carrying them openly. When he came to the outskirts of the city he found barricade and ten or twelve police officers on closed road. He remembers that they had police uniforms, but they looked dirty, and uniforms looked like they do not care. One of them even had cowboy boots that he probably took from some store. When they stopped him, he understood that it is not about regular police issues, it is about robbing him. Then he started to yell at them that he is personal friend to local police department head, and that when tomorrow police force come from other town to solve the problems he is gonna take personal care that they all lose their job and be punished for what they do to him at that checkpoint and so on. At the first moment they all laughed at him, but when he persisted with his attitude that he has friends in high positions (police head) and correct and true information (that police force comes from the other region to solve problems and bring back law and order) they started to think deeper about that. Then after some of them started with „OK sir, we are sorry, you can go“ . He remembers that few of them still wanted to rob him, and who knows what else. Guy with cowboy boots was pretty drunk and kept saying „f#ck the police and your friends in high places and get out of the car“ but others calmed him down and almost dragged him from the car. They tell him that he can go, and he says that while he was passing the barricade they were still arguing behind him what they should do with him. For next 5 kilometers he was crying and screaming because fear got him, and laughing like the idiot at the same time because he had so much luck. He choose (by luck most probably) correct moment to run. Group of those police officers still were somewhere between police officers and gang. Some of them already had mob mentality and did not care anymore for consequences, but most of them were not sure if situation will come back to normal again, so maybe they will be punished for what they are doing. Nobody had correct information whats going on in that moment so my friend use that and lied. And it worked. If he choose to run only 2-3 days later, they probably would just shoot him and rob him immediately because they would have had clear idea that everything has gone to hell, and they are „free“ to do whatever they want.

The time of day when you are going to bug out depends on your particular situation. It is not always better to bug out during night time.

For example, if the guy would have come to that checkpoint during the night, the odds that he would have been shot would have been dramatically increased. In situations like that people react differently when it is night and there are not too many witnesses around.

Also, if you have kids and plan to bug out in the middle of the night through some dense forested area, this can easily turn into a disaster when someone gets lost in the dark.

Problems like these show that theories are fine, but you have to practice bugging out with the people you are most likely to go with when the time comes. Get to know your area and the route to your BOL at different times of the night, in different seasons, and in different weather conditions. You might be surprised how quickly small streams become vicious little rivers if it rains heavily for a few hours.

The nature of the disaster you face does not matter. It does not have to be an armed conflict — it can simply be a matter of some people finding a way to take advantage of others.

Every SHTF scenario has a few phases. While there are differences in different types of scenarios (pandemics, terrorist attacks, climate related disasters, etc.) if you choose to bug out you need to recognize what phase you are in.


There are gaps between the different phases of chaos on the streets.

In the beginning you might have sporadic violence, rioting, and looting but most people will behave themselves because they still believe there is some sort of order. Most people also do not realize how bad things might get. In this phase there are still periods of time that can be called “confused peace,” which means that things are peaceful simply because people are not aware of how much life has just changed.

After people realize how severe the situation is, all hell will break lose. The violent people will feel like they are on a big playground, the greedy people will try to take advantage of others as much as they can, and the desperate people who are not prepared will start doing ugly things just to survive and because they do not see alternatives.

If you run into gangs or criminals, how intoxicated they are can also make a difference, not only on their desire to hurt and kill, but also on their ability to fight.

If you did not make it out of your area before SHTF, try to get out when the confusion is greatest and people are still not sure what is going to happen. Things will get only worse once people realize they are now living in a lawless area where everything goes.

How to Bug Out?

Plan your route in detail and check it for any changes, new shortcuts, and other improvements on a regular basis. Have at least two alternative routes and learn about the nearby areas along your primary route. That way, if you have to make a detour you will still feel confident and be able to make informed decisions.

Be ready to change your route or even walk back on some of it at any time if you have to. In other words, your plan is just a plan. Do not get killed because you felt you had to stick to your “plan.”

Survival is about considering all options at anytime and being flexible when you have to.


Always consider the worst case scenario. If you are prepared to take the challenge on in a worst case scenario, you are prepared for everything else as well.

You might have heard about some people planning for the “zombie apocalypse”. Some of them are quite serious and just plan for what they call the zombie apocalypse because it is the worst case they can imagine and if they are prepared for that, they feel like they are prepared for everything.

Here is an example situation:

You have your BOL in the woods about 50 miles from your home, perfectly hidden and equipped with everything one could want for long term survival. Then disaster strikes: emergency service men and women head home to care for their own families. Law and order is gone. SHTF.

You are taking your family with their bug out bags to your BOL and because you all trained for packing and bugging out from your house before, you are pretty fast.

You also understood the severity of the situation right away and bugged out before the roads were clogged with traffic, so you just needed 10 minutes to get in your 4×4 and 45 minutes to reach your BOL.

And that’s it, you are winner and live happily ever after at your BOL!

The problem is it usually doesn’t work out like that.

When you learn about survival you learn about dealing with plans that go wrong.

So what is a more likely scenario?

Most probably SHTF when your kids were in school, your wife was at the hair salon in a different neighborhood, your 4×4 is getting its yearly checkup and is not available, and you just find out that the kids played with the bug out bags and you can’t find them.

To be truly prepared to bug out you need to be prepared all the time.

That means that you need to have a clear plan for every situation:

  • Besides bug out bags make sure everyone has their EDC with them at all times.
  • Have a clear plan on what to do and where to go in case of some sudden disaster. Create a communications plan and practice it with all members of your family or group. Bugging out begins with a plan and not fancy gear in a bug out bag.
  • Have multiple means to get to your bug out location (if you are planning to go there with a car then also have a plan to get there with bikes or by foot if the roads close down).


It makes sense to keep your vehicle in good condition. Always have a full tank of gasoline and have some extra gasoline canisters in your garage ready to take along. It also makes sense to have a bigger version of your bug out bag in your car with some extra things like a shovel, water, weapons, a change of clothing, a sleeping bag, some shoes, a bigger first aid kit, food, and, of course, stuff to fix your car.

The main reason we are not big fans of dedicated bug out vehicles is that some bug out vehicles look like they are straight from the Mad Max movies and are the opposite of low profile cars.

If you depend on a vehicle to get to your BOL it is probably a bit too far away or hard to get to anyway and you might want to find another place in a better location. Also, if you depend on a vehicle, the chances are that the biggest problem will be the last couple of miles before you get to your BOL. In this case, consider parking or hiding something like an ATV (all-terrain vehicle) in a remote location on your way to your BOL.

If you are living out on the countryside and keeping a low profile does not matter, you can plan differently of course. Don’t get me wrong, in the city it is good to have an armored vehicle, but for 99% of us that money could be used to get more important stuff, stuff that you are really going to need such as solar systems for your BOL or other investments that make your BOL a better place to live at.


Consider hiding some things on the way to your BOL. These hidden caches can have a variety of things. You can hide supplies or even a very basic set of survival tools in case you were not able to take your BOB or had to leave it behind. These caches are meant to help you when you need it most.

The idea is not to hide a huge amount of supplies at a certain spot but instead hide sets of smaller, important items at different spots. Make sure you use common sense when you decide where to hide what. Hiding caches with ammunition only on your primary route and first aid items on your secondary route does not make much sense.

Mix things up. A great way to store things is to use PVC tubes from your local hardware store. Cut them to the desired length and use end pieces to seal them. All items inside should be put in ziplock bags as well and you can use duct tape around the end pieces to keep them in place and add another layer of protection. Temperature changes can deform PVC pipes and make them hard to open after some time. Consider burying a screwdriver or similar tool in a plastic bag next to the pipe to help you open it.

Depending on the soil in your area the earth might settle and stick to your cache so it becomes hard to get out of the ground. Consider using a bigger pipe with a smaller pipe inside so you only have to dig to the pipe opening, open it up and pull out the smaller pipe to get your supplies.

Store your caches away from places heavily frequented by people. To avoid detection by treasure hunters with metal detection devices you can bury some scrap metal on top of it so that they simply move on when their metal detector indicates it has found something.

Storing some ammunition close to your home is also a smart idea. You do not know how fast you might have to leave the house and having some extra ammunition can help you to get your house back or make your way to your BOL safer.

Remember the location of caches according to the natural environment, such as distance to nearby trees or big rocks. Also, record the GPS coordinates and store them as abstract numbers if you write them down so people don’t get curious if they find this information on you. You can also place your own natural markers such as stones on top of your caches to mark the location, or place several stones around the cache to mark the right spot. Just like with everything when it comes to survival have backups and multiple ways to find your cache locations again.

It also helps to mark the locations on a map and write what you have stored where to keep track of it, in case you set up several caches. Just make sure to keep the map in a truly safe place that it does not fall into the wrong hands.

Another idea is to take pictures of your family at these places and create an album with it. The “family fun in the forest” album is in reality the “family members on top of my hidden caches” album. You can write codes on the back of photos or mark them otherwise to indicate what a certain cache contains.

Another possibility is to create a code for the pictures: have your wife always standing on top of weapon caches, your daughter standing on top of wilderness survival caches (with fire and emergency shelter supplies), and ammunition caches are simply “nature” pictures without anyone standing there. There are many possibilities to get creative with your caches so that you have another added layer of security in your bug out plan.

Please note, this post is part of my Survival Boot camp, so if you like it, please check it out here.

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