How to Bug Out: Everything You Should Know to Survive When SHTF

Bugging out is easy as pie—said no one ever.

We’d all like to think that when SHTF, we can just up and leave with our BOB and head out to our BOL in our rigged-out BOV like nobody’s business.

Wouldn’t that be the dream?

The truth is, bugging out involves a lot of moving parts, and each one of them requires careful planning.

In this monster article, we’ll discuss everything there is to know about bugging out—from deciding when to get out of dodge to choosing a bug out vehicle. And if you didn’t understand what BOB, BOL, and BOV meant, this article is for you, so read on:

Part 1: Before Bugging Out

bug out vehicle racing through muddy water

Should You Bug in Or Bug Out?

Before figuring out what to bring, where to go, and how to get there, it’s essential for you to determine if you should stay put or get out of dodge.

And yes, you should be prepared for both scenarios.

Most folks think that bugging in and bugging out are two mutually exclusive options. Don’t make the same mistake. This mentality is dangerous and counterproductive. It’s impossible to predict how an SHTF situation can go, so you can’t just prepare for one scenario and neglect the other.

Instead, think of bugging in as your Plan A and bugging out as your contingency. A prepper should be able to assess the scenario and be equipped to bug in or bug out, depending on the situation.

Ideally, one should BUG IN in most cases, especially if:

  • Your location isn’t directly compromised
  • You live in a rural area, away from riots and lootings
  • You’re self-sufficient with supplies and renewable resources
  • You’re capable of protecting your shelter
  • A contagious disease is rampant, and staying outdoors is more dangerous
  • You or a family member has a severe disability or condition that prevents you from bugging out
  • You have young kids, are pregnant, or have an elderly family member
  • If you have a like-minded community with a contingency plan
Related: Bugging In: How to Fortify Your Home for SHTF

Bugging in can give you the security of shelter, protection, and supplies. You don’t need to hunt for food, or worry about making a shelter. However, BUGGING OUT becomes a better (and sometimes only) option if:

  • Your location is directly affected by the disaster (i.e., your house is destroyed by wildfires, earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, etc.)
  • You’ve run out of supplies and resources
  • You are unable to defend your home against civil unrest
  • You have a safer bug out location and the means to get there

How do you know when it’s time to bug out? Most seasoned preppers use the acronym REDOUT to help them make the right decision.

How to know when it is time to bug out

According to this guideline, it’s time to bug out if:

Resources are almost gone or dwindling

If your stash of survival supplies (like food and clean water) has been destroyed or is almost gone, and you can’t find a way to replenish them, it’s time to move. Ideally, you should still have enough supplies to survive the journey from point A to point B, so don’t wait until they’re completely gone.

The environment is no longer safe

This is where your situational awareness comes into play. You have to prepare to bug out when the environment becomes unsafe due to societal collapse, tension, or natural threats. Tune in to weather reports, subscribe to alerts, and always be on the lookout for signs that staying may be more life-threatening than leaving.

Destination in place

Bug out when you’ve got a clear destination in mind. We’ll discuss bug out locations and bug out vehicles as we go further along the article.

Overwhelming force

When SHTF, you can’t rely on the government to restore law and order. Heck, there’s even a chance that the government itself can collapse. When you feel like the overwhelming force of civil unrest is upon you and your family, it’s time to get out of dodge. Don’t wait for Molotov cocktails to fly and riots to start before you bug out.


Say you’re ready for a flash flood or hurricane but aren’t equipped for a forest fire. Or maybe your contingencies fell through, and you’re left grasping at straws. It will be pretty hard to admit, but if you’re caught unprepared for the situation, you’ve no business staying put. You can’t survive a disaster if you don’t have the skills or supplies to ride it out, so it’s best to get out of there before more harm comes to you.

Threat has increased

Similar to when faced with an overwhelming force, one should be ready to bug out when the apparent threat has increased. For example, if a category 1 hurricane gains intensity and grows into a category 2 or higher, and you’re in its direct path of destruction, you might want to consider getting out of dodge before it reaches your area.

Bugging out is never an easy call to make. Leaving your home, supplies, and sense of security is one daunting task. Still, you can mitigate the risks and increase your chances of survival by preparing adequately and knowing when to leave when it’s time.

Common Mistakes When Bugging Out (Don’t Make Them!)

Many beginning preppers make a lot of common mistakes when bugging out. Make sure you avoid them! Here are some of the most common bug out bloopers that you should be wary of:

Picking the bug out bag first

Lots of people make the mistake of buying a bug out bag first without knowing what items to pack, where they’re headed, or how they’re going to get there in the first place.

The result?

They either end up with a bug out bag that’s unable to fit all their stuff or a bag that’s got too much extra space.

Instead of buying the bag and filling it with stuff you think you need, do the opposite: gather all your gear first and then find a bag that can accommodate everything. Doing this also helps you decide how to organize your gear.

Mapping out your route beforehand and knowing where you’re headed also helps you pick a bag that fits your specific needs.

For example, if you’re planning to trek instead of drive, you might want to get a bag that’s hydration-compatible, with comfortable straps and adequate hip support.

Or, if your BOL is located somewhere hot and humid, you might want to prioritize a water-resistant bag with a good back panel ventilation. If you’re living in the city, a discreet bug out bag that helps you blend in might be better than one with a lot of bells and whistles.

Packing everything but the kitchen sink

Everyone gets a little too excited when packing a bug out bag, so much so that they end up stuffing it to the brim and being unable to carry it after a couple of miles.

Ideally, a full pack should weigh no more than 20% of your total body weight. For instance, if you weigh 200lbs, you should strive to achieve a pack that weighs only around 40lbs. It sounds difficult, but it’s not impossible, either.

One way to achieve this ideal weight is to be strategic in choosing gear. While the “one is none, two is one” adage is applicable in packing your bug out bag, you also don’t need to pack 5 types of survival knives to get most tasks done.

Remember: pack contingencies, not duplicates.

For example, instead of bringing 3 BIC lighters for fire making, it’s wiser to pack a lighter, a ferro rod, waterproof matches, and various firestarters to cover your bases.

It’s also best to opt for multipurpose items that can save you space and weight like these. Remember to pack these often-overlooked items like meds, legal documents, and safety pins while you’re at it, too.

Not knowing how to use the gear

Sure, that camp stove with the USB charging capability sounds really cool, but do you know how to use it? Moreover, do you even need it in your bug out bag? It would be pretty hard to read a user manual while trying to save your ass when SHTF, so before you stuff anything in your bug out bag, know how to use your gear.

Take your bug out bag for a “practice hike”. This is a good opportunity to check for weak points (ie bag too heavy, first aid kit in an unaccessible compartment, need for more water, etc) and fix them. Practice using your gear during camping trips or hikes. The more you know, the less you need. Make sure all your gear is tried and trusted not to let you down when you’re on the field.

Not packing enough drinking water

Water supply will be one of the first resources to go when SHTF, so make sure to pack enough for at least 3 days. Store-bought water bottles are some of the easiest and lightest you can pack. If you can’t pack enough clean drinking water, at least prepare easy and convenient ways to filter and purify water that you can find from other sources. Be familiar with your route and note outdoor water sources like springs and streams.

Water filters are light, compact, and can easily filter large amounts of water in a short amount of time. Water filtration tablets and iodine can also do the trick, although the water’s taste leaves a lot to be desired.

Related: 5 Best Ultralight Backpacking Water Filters

Not leaving fast enough

One of the worst things that could happen in a bug out situation is getting stranded in traffic. It would be near impossible to get out of that Carmageddon once you’re stuck, so before everyone else ups and leaves, make sure you do.

Again, deciding when to leave for your bug out location is a difficult call. Leave too early, and the situation might not have been as bad as you thought it would be. Leave too late and you might put your life in danger. Use the REDOUT guideline we discussed above, along with your instinct, to make the right decision.

Not having a bug out location

You seriously don’t have any business bugging out if you don’t have a safer location in mind. If you’re going to leave your home base, it better be a safer, more secure place. You might think that national parks, campsites, or forests are a great idea until you find out that everyone else is doing the same thing. Secure a bug out location before getting out of dodge. We’ll take more about the ideal bug out location as we go further along the article.

Drawing too much attention to themselves

Sure, Joe, no one can tell that you’ve got supplies from the 32 guns, samurai sword, and gas mask strapped to your 3-day assault pack.

Kidding aside, many folks underestimate the ability to blend into the environment or becoming a gray man. Some inadvertently draw unwanted attention to themselves by flaunting their gear, wearing outfits that scream “doomsday prepper,” or worse, letting strangers know about their preps.

When SHTF, the unprepared masses will flock at anything or anyone who has supplies—and you don’t want that to be you.

It’s best to blend in by:

  • Wearing unremarkable clothing. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t necessarily have to wear gray clothes to be a “gray man.” The gray man theory really pertains to fitting into the environment and appearing like you’re supposed to be there along with everyone else. Opt for clothing and gear that allow you to move fast and easily blend into the environment.
  • Using a discreet bug out bagTactical backpacks are great for organizing your stuff and allowing easy access to your gear, but they can also attract a lot of attention, especially if you’re attaching everything onto those MOLLE panels. If you’re taking a tactical backpack, go for something with a discreet color and form. Some preppers even go as far as “disguising” their gear by using school book bags and diaper bags for bugging out.
  • Appearing non-threatening and unknowledgeable. Don’t let anyone know you’re equipped with a survival skill set. Appear to follow the crowd while discreetly surveying the area.
  • Avoiding confrontation and making an impression on people. Do not appear aloof but avoid making a lot of eye contact with people. If you need to engage in a conversation, keep things neutral instead of engaging in political or heated discussions.

These tips on how to become a gray man is especially applicable in urban survival. We talked about that topic and the unique needs of surviving in a concrete jungle in this in-depth article, so check that out if you’re one of the millions who live in urban areas.

Part 2: Your Bug Out Location

a bug out location can be a hidden campsite

Now you know when to bug out and how to avoid the common pitfalls. The next question is, where are you gonna go and how are you getting there?

A bug out location could be an off-grid property decked out with ample supplies and alternative energy sources, or it could be a hidden bushcraft shelter you’ve built in the wilderness. Either way, it should be able to give you shelter and a semblance of safety until you can go back or figure out a more permanent plan moving forward in case society collapses entirely.

Related: Learn How To Build These 7 Survival Shelters

How to Choose a Great Bug Out Location

Picking a bug out location is no easy feat, but it’s essential if you want to avoid fighting for the last can of beans when everything goes down.

If you’ve got money to spare, you might want to consider buying a parcel of land and slowly start building an off-grid homestead for your BOL. It’s costly upfront and can take a while to pay off, but it will allow you to lead a sustainable lifestyle well after the initial threat has passed. There are lots of off-grid properties like raw or agricultural land available in each state, so check your local listings.

You can also find out more about how to acquire off-grid properties here.

Now, if you’re like most folks who can’t afford to split their resources into another property, it would be best to look for an ideal location on public land.

For this, you can check satellite images or get topo maps of your area to scout for potential bug out locations.

Whichever route you choose, make sure your bug out location meets the following criteria:

Accessible to you

Your bug out bag location should be accessible to you but relatively isolated from everybody else. Ideally, your BOL should be located within a 150-mile radius from where you’re currently located, away from major urban areas. The idea is that it should be far enough from the zombie horde, but near enough for you to reach it by foot if you really have to. You should also be able to reach your bug out location with at least 1 full tank of gas, or within 3-5 days of walking at the maximum.


You should know the terrain and environment like the back of your hand. You also have to know the resources available in the area, like bodies of water, general climate, type of plants that grow there, or game that you can hunt. It’s best if you do practice runs by hiking or camping to your bug out location. This will also help you gauge the distance, test the weight of your pack, and determine the things you need to adjust in order to properly bug out.

Easily defensible

Aside from being hidden from most folks, your bug out location should be easily defensible from strangers and looters. It could be located on higher ground so you can have a good vantage point, away from paths or mountain passes, or strategically hidden from view by rocks or trees.

Well-stocked with supplies

Since your bug out location is basically your safe hideaway, it should be stocked with supplies to help you survive for a couple of weeks at the very least. Start squirreling away a survival cache for your bug out location that includes food, extra clothing, firewood, and the like.

Protected from natural disasters

Pick an area away from natural disasters like tornadoes, forest fires, and flooding.

To know more about finding a good bug out location for when SHTF, check out this guide.

How to Get to Your Bug Out Location Safely

Once you’ve acquired or identified a bug out location, you have to plan how to reach it safely.

Communication is invaluable during these times, especially if you’re planning to bug out with friends and family. You might be in different places when disaster strikes. On top of that, the usual communication channels like cell phones and even the internet can be overwhelmed or compromised.

That being said, you have to plan where to meet up, who to contact and how to head to safety in case you need to bug out fast.

Emergency contacts

In planning for these types of scenarios, make sure to have two emergency contact persons: one within your area and another who lives out of town.

Your local emergency contact should be able to help you find family members, give you updates on the situation, and lend a hand if needed. If an emergency occurs, instruct your family members to reach out to this person. Inform your contact of your whereabouts and status.

You don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket, so it’s crucial to have an out-of-town contact as well. They should be able to help family members communicate with each other, especially when the local point-of-contact is also affected by the disaster.

Print out these emergency contacts on some cards, laminate them, and have your family members carry them in their wallets at all times.

Designated meeting places

Communication lines will most likely shut down during a disaster, so establish a safe meeting place beforehand.

Plan at least two places where you and your family can meet up in case going home isn’t a viable option. These meeting places should be familiar, easy to reach, away from potential riots, and accessible in case you need to evacuate immediately.

Mapping out your route

Major thoroughfares and highways will most likely be congested, so plan at least 3 different routes to get to your bug out location. The sooner you get to your bug out location, the better. Many desperate people will be out on the streets and you don’t want to risk running into the unfriendlier ones.

In addition to this, make sure that your bug out vehicle’s tank is never empty and that your car kit is prepared, too. Keep a map, compass, or portable GPS device for navigation, and stock at least two extra gallons of fuel for good measure.

What to Do When You Don’t Have a Bug Out Location

What happens when you can’t find a parcel of land or build a bushcraft camp for your bug out location? You can try to take shelter in the following locations below. Note, however, that these locations could be compromised or filled with other people trying to escape the disaster. While these are far from ideal, they are a better option than wandering around and being a refugee.

Here are some alternative bug out locations you can head out to:

  • National forests and parks
  • Other federal public lands like wildlife preserves
  • State parks
  • Campsites (especially in the offseason)
  • Abandoned buildings and warehouses
  • Mines
  • Ghost towns

Part 3: Your Bug Out Bag

bugging out will be much easier with a properly packed bug out bag

So you’ve determined when to bug out, where to head out, and how to get there. Now you just gotta figure out what to bring for the grueling journey.

Enter the bug out bag.

A bug out bag should contain everything you need to survive for at least 72 hours. At a glance, this should include:

Everything You Need to Know About Bug Out Bags

We’ve talked about the bug out bag in length in many of our previous articles. Here’s the full directory of useful bug out bag resources that you can check out to help you prepare:

Part 4: Your Bug Out Vehicle

a bug out jeep racing through mud

When someone says “bug out vehicle,” you probably think of some beefed-up, off-road armored monster truck with 54-inch tires and a V6 engine that can plow through hordes of zombies when SHTF.

Well, slow down, tiger, because a bug out vehicle is…well…more humble in real life compared to what you see in the movies.

Things to Consider in Choosing a Bug Out Vehicle

Essentially, your bug out vehicle should be able to do just one thing well: take you from point A to point B safely. BOVs are especially useful if you’re bugging out with two or more people, if you’ve got young children or older adults who can’t tolerate long hikes, or if you’re keen on carrying more supplies than your bug out bag can carry.

Here are some things to consider when choosing a good bug out vehicle:

Capacity and storage

How many people and supplies do you need to fit in your BOV?


Like your BOB, you want your bug out vehicle to be lowkey. Don’t get us wrong, tanks and rigged-out vehicles are cool, but they attract a lot of attention—not to mention they’re insanely expensive. Instead of getting a distinct vehicle, opt for something that can easily blend in.


It’s not like you can find a lot of repair shops when SHTF, so your BOV should be in top shape.

Manual vs automatic

Many preppers swear by their manual vehicles because these cars are, in general, sturdy and dependable. They’re also impervious to EMP threats, plus you can push or pull them when needed. Still, some prefer automatic transmissions for their ease of use, especially in an emergency or when you’re injured.


Diesel or gas? Choose your fighter. Diesel isn’t as common as gasoline, but it is relatively more efficient and can be stored longer.

Since not a lot of people use it, the chances of you lining up behind hundreds of folks in the station are slim, as well (partly because some stations don’t have diesel options at all). Gas, on the other hand, powers most vehicles in the States. You can easily siphon it out of abandoned cars if need be, but storing it long-term is another headache to consider.


Older models are hardy, familiar, and generally impervious to an EMP attack because they have lesser electronic parts than newer cars. They’re also easier to fix and are less likely to break down. Newer cars, in contrast, are more fuel-efficient and equipped with safety features that will come in handy when evacuating, but their parts will likely be fried in the event of an EMP.


Does it guzzle gas like there’s no tomorrow? How much extra fuel should you need to store?

Off-roading capabilities

Will it be able to handle the terrain en route to your bug out destination? Can it go off-road? Often, a 4×4 is the best fit for a bug out vehicle. With the main thoroughfares clogged with traffic, and with your bug out location hidden away in some remote area, you’ll be encountering dirt roads, ruts, and a lot of mud. A 4×4 truck or SUV can handle some tough off-road terrain and provide you ample space when bugging out.

Ground clearance

How much is the ground clearance? You want something high, but remember not to overdo it; you’ll end up toppling your vehicle. Do you need to modify it to fit your needs?

At the end of the day, your choice of bug out vehicle will depend on your individual needs. Consider these factors thoroughly to help you come up with the right vehicle and setup.

Related: The Bug Out Vehicle: An Extensive Guide for Beginners

Supplies to Have in Your Bug Out Vehicle

a bug out vehicle packed with supplies and a man seated at the front

A bug out vehicle allows you to carry more supplies aside from the ones that you already have in your bug out bag. This means you can carry “comfort items” like camp cookers or portable camp stoves, some foldable chairs, and more gallons of water if you want to.

Aside from these, you must also pack the following car kit essentials:

  • Jumper cables
  • Spare tires
  • Toolbox
  • Towing supplies
  • Folding shovel
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Foldable saws to cut fallen trees
  • Chains for snow and ice
  • Ropes for towing
  • Flares to signal for help
  • Camo nets to hide your vehicle
Related: Your Guide to a Bug Out Vehicle Emergency Kit

How to Rig Up a Bug Out Vehicle

You’ve got your vehicle and secured the supplies. Now, all you have left to do is to set everything up. In the video above, Step One Survival shows how he customized his 4×4 Chevy Suburban into one badass BOV. This walkthrough covers a lot of great points.

We especially like how he’s ready with different bug out bags and how he organizes his gear and supplies using some good old MOLLE webbing. Take some pointers for yourself and apply them to your own bug out vehicle.

Final Thoughts

Bugging out is one of the most oversimplified concepts in prepping. The truth is it’s not as easy as just waltzing out of your house with your supplies in tow. Bugging out actually involves a lot of planning, practice, and challenges.

We hope that this guide helped you plan and execute your bug out preparations. It ain’t ever easy, but if you start preparing now, you might just be able to survive even the worst situations.

Now, over to you: how do you plan to bug out? Which part of your preps still need work? Got any suggestions and pro tips on bugging out? Let us know!

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