What is a bug out bag for depends on who you ask. Some people have one ready just in case there is a zombie apocalypse, while others have one ready for hurricanes. Either way, a bug out bag is for when you have to “bug out” or evacuate as soon as possible.
A bug out bag is also known by many other names like a go bag, a survival kit, or a 72 hour kit. No matter what you call it, it is designed to help you survive the first 3 days of a disaster if you have to leave your home.
A bug out bag should be light enough for you to carry on your back (20% of your body weight at most), but still have enough survival gear to provide for your most basic needs.
If you want to learn more about what is inside a bug out bag check out my post: “What’s in Survival Kits.”
Bug Out Planning
Most people who have a bug out bag focus on stockpiling survival gear rather than how they would actually use it during a real emergency. Having a bug out bag doesn’t help if you don’t know what to do after you walk out the door. You may even put yourself in an even worse situation than if you had stayed home or gone to a community shelter.
Familiarize yourself with disasters that you are most likely to experience in your area and research the best places of resort close by. You should identify several locations and compare them to see which one is best for you and your family’s needs. I highly recommend downloading the FEMA app on everyone’s phones and adding three emergency meeting places.
Plan WHERE to Go and HOW to Get There
Be sure that EVERYONE in your family knows where to go and how to get there during an emergency. Unless there are specific instructions from local authorities on where to seek shelter, you should always go to your primary or closest Bug Out location. If you are leaving your home, then leave a note for other family members so they don’t go searching for you.
Your primary meeting place should be close to home, preferably within walking distance just in case you have to go on foot. During most emergencies, such as a house fire, you should be able to seek shelter with close family members and neighbors.
Your secondary meeting place should be within the same city but far enough away from your home to not be affected a localized disaster. You may want to meet at local church houses, park pavillions, and the homes of friends and extended family. Travel along the back roads and take detours unless local authorities recommend a specific route they cleared.
Finally, your third meeting place or bug out location should be outside of your city but still within 50 miles of your home. This is where most people plan to “bug out” in order to get away from all the chaos in nearby cities. This will not be necessary during most emergencies and going off grid could cut you off from local resources and humanitarian aid.
The best bug out locations are on private property, so you should buy a plot if you want to have the right to stay there for an extended period of time. This property can double as an investment that can be used for family reunions, camp outs, or sold in the event that you have to move. Take advantage of the natural resources available in your plot and secure water rights.
Plan WHEN to Leave
Some disasters, like hurricanes, are predictable and should be watched closely; meanwhile, others are unpredictable, like earthquakes. Local authorities are the most reliable source of information about whether you should evacuate or stay home. As a disaster approaches, listen closely on a portable radio so you can leave as soon as the evacuation starts and stay updated, as well.
Bug out bags are especially useful when you need to evacuate immediately because they allow you to quickly grab everything you need on your way out the door; however, you can still be tempted to load up your vehicle with as many things as you can. If you do have enough time to grab additional things from the house, then you should only take irreplacable or essential items. Insurance should take care of the rest.
Plan WHAT To Do When You Arrive
Once you arrive at your bug out location, or just before you lose service, contact everyone in your family letting them know that you are there, if possible. Sending text messages is more reliable than calling if cell towers are overwhelmed or down becuase of the disaster. Some companies sell products that can extend your phones range enough to replace cell towers.
You first priority after communicating with family is setting up a shelter unless you already have a building to seek refuge in. Congradulations, you made it! However, not very many people know what to do after they get to their bug out location.
At this point, bugging out becomes very similar to backpacking or camping. You will be much more comfortable at your bug out location if you have good gear and know how to use it. I highly suggest camping in your survival gear as I wrote about in another post to familiarize yourself with your gear and potential bug out locations.
Ideally, after a couple days you should be able to return home; however, you should have a backup plan just in case you can’t. This is where the importance of picking a private bug out location with plenty of natural resources comes into play. You now enter into long-term survival mode which changes your priorities, and the need for food becomes apparent.
Survival now becomes a calorie game where you need to consume as many calories as you burn each day. A long-term bug out bag should include tools for trapping, fishing, and hunting. Gathering wild edibles is another option for providing your body with the nutrition and calories it needs; however, you should only eat plants that you are 100% sure are edible.
“Edible and Medical Plants of the West” by Gregory L. Tifford is an excellent guide for identifying wild edible and medical plants throughout most of the continental United States. He includes information about habitat, blooming seasons, and at least one photo for each plant.
Practice “Bugging Out”
Next time you go camping or backpacking, pretend that you are bugging out. Don’t put yourself in a dangerous situation, but think about things from a survival point of view:
- How long did it take you to get to your campground?
- Were there already people there when you arrived?
- How well did you sleep in your shelter?
- Could you catch enough fish to replace a meal?
- Did you find any edible plants?
If you do already have a bug out bag or are in the process of making one, what do you planning on using it for? Please leave your answer in the comments below.
Prepare for the worst and hope for the best,
Founder of Survive and Thrive with Permaculture