It is safe to say that the bugging out concept is one of the most popular discussion points under the preparedness umbrella. Unfortunately, it is also a topic that’s rife with misunderstandings, myths, and even outright nonsense. 


Social media as well as blog posts tend to give the impression that most preppers are champing at the bit for the opportunity to bug out. I’m not sure why this is, other than it calls to mind some sort of romanticized “lone wolf” lifestyle, mostly informed by novels and movies. The reality is that evacuation turns you into a refugee for the time being. Perhaps a well-equipped one, but a refugee nonetheless.

You’re exposed to many hazards and risks as you travel, such as violent attacks from others, ingesting bad water, and exposure to the elements. My standard recommendation is to stay home until or unless home is no longer a safe place. As a general rule, home is where we store the bulk of our emergency supplies anyway, right? Plus, we’re familiar with the area and we know, at least on a surface level, the people around us, and thus we’re in a better position to recognize a potential threat before it becomes a real problem.

Each person will need to decide for themselves the best course of action in the face of a crisis. The whole point of prepping is to make some of these decisions in advance, as best you can, and to then plan accordingly. I like to say that prepping is what gives you viable options, so you’re not just blindly reacting to a situation and then forced into a single course of action. If you have options, you can tailor your response more precisely to what’s happening around you.

Evacuations are always chaotic, but if you plan ahead, you can limit the confusion.
Evacuations are always chaotic, but if you plan ahead, you can limit the confusion.

As with anything else in the prepping world, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. If you’re going to have an evacuation or bugout plan (and you absolutely should), put it together with both eyes wide open.


If you get winded walking to your mailbox, bugout planning on foot for any appreciable distance likely isn’t going to work out well for you. Likewise, lugging a 75-pound bugout bag that’s crammed with all manner of gear may not be practical or even feasible. Be honest with yourself. Once upon a time, you probably could make 20+ miles a day while humping a ruck. That may have been 30 years and 65 pounds ago, though.

Over on the skills side of the equation, if you find it is necessary to ask social media what to put into your pack so you can live off the land for several weeks or more, odds are you’re not going to fare well on your own. Those who possess the knowledge and experience to pull that off already know what they need. In fact, they not only have the requisite gear, it is well-used as they’re out in the field on a regular basis.

I’m not suggesting you abandon all hope, not at all. Always strive to improve your situation, which includes your physical fitness as well as your skills. However, bear in mind your current capabilities as you move along and adjust your bugout plans accordingly. For example, rather than tossing a heavy pack over your shoulders, one that’s probably too cumbersome for you to handle long-term, perhaps a game cart or some other conveyance would be easier to handle, should you end up on foot.

However, avoid the common suggestion of using a wheeled piece of luggage, like what is often used as a carry-on when flying. Those work great on flat, even surfaces like pavement or sidewalks. Get them onto even a bit of gravel or sand, not so much.

A cell phone could well be one of your most valuable tools in an evacuation.
A cell phone could well be one of your most valuable tools in an evacuation.


Taking a look through recent history, there hasn’t been a disaster in the United States, particularly one that necessitated evacuation, such that your odds of survival would have been markedly improved by fleeing to the forest with a pack on your back, at least not when compared to simply driving a few hours to a safer location.

As a practical matter, the most useful items in your bug out bag will probably be a cell phone, keys to a working vehicle, and a wallet with cash and credit cards. Use the credit cards first, saving the cash for situations where cards won’t work. Hole up at a clean motel a few counties away from the disaster, at least for the night, and decide from there what you’ll do and where you’ll go. It is far easier to make rational decisions when you’re reasonably comfortable, with a roof over your head and a full belly. 

One of the most common reasons why you’d need to evacuate would be incoming weather problems, such as a hurricane or wind-driven wildfire. Running off to the woods in those sorts of situations would be impractical, to put it mildly.

Sure, there’s always the possibility of an entire societal breakdown, one that would affect significant portions of the country and render many areas dangerous for travel or residency. You’ll face better odds at any casino table in Las Vegas than you do of that truly happening, though.


As many found out in the hours prior to the landfall of Hurricane Katrina, waiting too long to hit the road will probably leave you stuck in what amounts to slowly moving parking lots, due to the congestion on the highways. Even if the authorities institute contraflow lane reversal, which involves allowing traffic to proceed in one direction in all lanes of the highway, that frees things only to a point. 

With this in mind, getting out while the getting’s good is critical. If you’ve determined it is time to beat feet, do so without delay. If the situation turns out to not be as dire as you thought, you can always head back home.


Just about every county in America has an Emergency Management Office. The terminology might vary by locale, but there is going to be an agency, perhaps even just an individual, that’s responsible for devising the bugout plans for how the county will respond to various and sundry incidents that could occur. Many cities will also have their own agency or responsible party. In both cases, they are often a function of law enforcement, such as the county sheriff or the police department. 

Those bugout plans are usually matters of public record. There may be a fee involved for copies, if the information isn’t available online. Using your favorite search engine, look for various permutations of your county and/or city name and emergency management or disaster management. Failing that, you can call the non-emergency phone number for your local law enforcement agency and they should be able to point you in the right direction. 

Getting out ahead of the crowd will help prevent you ending up in a traffic jam.
Getting out ahead of the crowd will help prevent you ending up in a traffic jam.

These plans might tell you, for example, the evacuation routes where the authorities will be funneling traffic. Knowing this, you can avoid those areas and not get tied up in traffic. It would be particularly important to know those routes if it turns out you live very near one of them. 

At the end of the day, there are any number of situations that might necessitate you leaving home in a rush. Planning ahead so you know where you’ll go and how you’ll get there will make the journey far easier. 


* Stay home if that’s possible and safe

* Know your fitness level and work to improve it

* Learn and practice survival skills

* Getting out of the danger zone should be an early goal

* Retreating to the wilderness might not be your best option

* Avoid crowded evacuation routes

* Don’t wait until the last minute when travel is crowded or impossible

Editor’s Note:

A version of this article first appeared in the March 2022 issue of American Outdoor Guide Boundless.


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