Bugging out, revisited.

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Bugging out

As I’ve mentioned (and expanded on in Prepping For Life), I’m not usually a fan of the “bugout” concept — at least as it’s typically conceived.

As many people think of it, bugging out is a semi-permanent relocation to a retreat preselected for its defensibility and likely stocked with survival provisions. Others think of bugging out as running to a wilderness area where they can’t easily be found and where they can “live off the land”. Some combine the concepts and buy cabins in the forest where they store their survival gear. The prototypical initiation for the bugout is an ill-defined “societal breakdown”.

In short, bugging out is often an apocalyptic fantasy.

A more practical bugout

When I think of bugging out I think of a temporary relocation made necessary by an immediate and unavoidable danger. Once the danger has passed, I can and will return to rebuild my life. In my case, the most likely reason would be a forest fire. For others, it might be flooding or severe storms — and as we’ve seen recently in Texas and Florida, one often follows the other.

If I’m forced to leave my home I’m going to take with me a small subset of my belongings, carefully chosen to facilitate my temporary absence and my impending return.

This, I think, is a more practical way of looking at a bugout. Figure out what, specifically, would cause you to leave your home; where that event would force you to go; how long you could expect to be gone; and exactly what you’d need to take with you to both survive the event and help you recover your life when you get back.

Different scales for different environments

In the case of my likely forest fire scenario, I won’t need to travel far to be out of danger. There won’t be a lot of people doing the same thing at the same time, because fires tend to be localized and in sparsely populated areas. All I need to do, essentially, is get a motel room in a nearby town for a few days — a week, at the outside. Food won’t be a problem since restaurants won’t be affected, and the event would to an outside observer look more like a vacation than a bugout.

If I lived in a large floodplain, however, the situation would be very different. In that case there would likely be a lot more people trying to do the same thing, and it might be necessary to go farther to get proper accommodations for the duration. A prolonged journey to reach a temporary yet safe haven would be likely, as would a lack of communication into the affected area.

A widespread threat, such as the recent hurricanes, makes the situation significantly more challenging. Large populations trying to move in the same direction cause no end of problems; any nearby refuges are likely to be quickly filled, and might themselves be in the danger zone. Getting further away to an area not under threat is a prudent course of action, but with so many people trying to move all at once severe traffic problems are inevitable. Add in fuel shortages and possibly an increased exposure to danger (it’s hard to get away from an encroaching flood when you’re parked on a freeway with 100,000 other people) and bugging out could prove to  be as hazardous as the original threat.

There is no “one size fits all” answer, and a bugout bag (BOB) may not be of any use. This is why addressing YOUR threats for YOUR environment, and making plans based on that, is so important. In your planning you should identify such things as primary and alternate routes, as well as specific contingency plans if you can’t relocate or are trapped enroute.

Survival and recovery

Most people focus on the survival part of the bugout, which is many cases won’t necessarily be all that severe. The recovery part, however, may very well be.

In your planning, assume all of your belongings were destroyed (which might be the case in a fire or flood). What is truly priceless to you? What would be important to your recovery but very hard to replace?

For instance, birth and marriage certificates, social security cards, passports, insurance policies and the like are all important to your recovery and quite difficult to get along without — or replace — in the midst of a disaster. Those need to go with you. Computer hard drives, with their vast collection of valuable personal information, should be in that group as well.

Personal things like photographs are important for your emotional well being and to maintain your sense of place in the world; they too should go, but they can be in the form of scanned files on a flash drive. Prescription medicines, too, need to accompany you.

These are just examples, and your actual list is likely to be much longer. The point here is to get you thinking not in terms of typical bugout gear, but in terms of what YOU really need. Not me, not some Rambo wannabe, but you and your family.

Make a packing list

It’s quite difficult and inconvenient to put all this stuff in containers next to the door in just case a disaster happens. I suggest a packing list, ordered from most important to least important, kept in a place where you can quickly and easily retrieve it. Go down the list in order, packing and loading each thing before going on to the next item. Along with your packing, include those things you need to do to prepare your home for the event: boarding up windows, dealing with pets or livestock, shutting off gas or power, and that sort of thing.

Do as much of the list as you can in the time you have available. This is where your discipline needs to come in; spend time in your planning on proper prioritization, so you know in both your heart and mind that you’re doing the most important things first.

Then have the courage to trust your own judgement.

– Grant

P.S.: My new book, Prepping For Life, continues to garner great reviews. The most recent is from defensive trainer and world traveler Greg Ellifritz; you can read it on his blog, Active Response Training.
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About the Author:

Grant Cunningham is a renowned author and teacher in the fields of self defense, defensive shooting education and personal safety. He’s written several popular books on handguns and defensive shooting, including "The Book of the Revolver", "Shooter’s Guide To Handguns", "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", "Defensive Pistol Fundamentals", and "Practice Strategies for Defensive Shooting" (Fall 2015.) Grant has also written articles on shooting, self defense, training and teaching for many magazines and shooting websites, including Concealed Carry Magazine, Gun Digest Magazine, the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors ADSI) and the popular Personal Defense Network training website. He’s produced a DVD in the National Rifle Association’s Personal Firearm Defense series titled "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals" and teaches defensive shooting and personal safety courses all over the United States.
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