Monday, September 20, 2021

Bugging Out for Dummies

Recently I came across a list of recommended items for a bug-out bag that was so ridiculous, it was just plain funny. The list originated from an unknown place (meaning, it was a link of a link sort of thing) so I can't provide the original source. However I thought it was time for a rational, sensible discussion of the myths of bugging out in general and bug-out bags in particular.

In the prepper world, bug-out bags have achieved a sort of legendary status. There are hundreds of pre-made bug-out bags on the market. Whole books, websites, and blogs are dedicated to what should go into bug-out bags so you'll be equipped to handle everything from fighting off MS-13 gang members to deep-sea fishing (even if you're situated in Nebraska). These bags often have a twinge of zombie-apocalypse mentality associated with them, the idea that we should all be ready, willing, and able to don a 40-pound backpack and slink out of urban areas, dodging those pesky zombies with clever ninja paramilitary maneuvers, until we ultimately end up in dense forests where we'll survive by our wits and our clever miniature tools.

And that seems to be the focus of many bug-out bags: equipping the bearer to survive in the woods for an indefinite period of time. But in reality, bugging out to the woods is just about the stoopidest idea out there.

Yes, there are times we need to rapidly escape our homes – wildfire, floods, earthquakes, or endless other natural disasters come to mind. But in such a case, unless you're willing to cart along granny and your newborn baby on your back, you're not getting away on foot. You're using a vehicle. Nor are you heading for the woods; you're heading for higher ground or inland or the next town over or a friend's house or whatever.

Here's the thing about bugging out on foot that somehow gets glossed over in the literature: Unless you have a place to bug out TO, bugging out – especially on foot – turns you into a refugee. There are few less enviable positions than being a refugee on foot. Just ask the millions of people across the globe who have been displaced due to war or terrorism. Displaced people are subject to hunger, violence, and murder.

Without a realistic destination in mind, and a realistic means to get there, bugging out on foot is not just impractical, it's a dangerous fantasy. Under a heavy backpack, most fit and experienced backpackers can hike between ten and twenty miles a day, depending on terrain and weather. In most cities, that won't even get you out of the suburbs, and presumably you'll be sharing the sidewalks with hordes of panicked and irrational people.

Besides, most of us aren't 25-year-old single men who spend two hours a day at the gym. Most of us have family members (older or younger) we can't leave behind, not to mention an assortment of pets we've be devastated to lose. Will everyone be camping in the woods once you escape the city?

In short, if the situation is so dire that you're forced to evacuate on foot, it's likely you can't walk fast enough to escape the danger, especially while toting a 40-lb. pack. If you have no other evacuation plan, then you're setting yourself up for a desperate and dangerous undertaking.

Bugging out by foot also means going at the speed of the slowest member of your party. How far can your two-year-old walk? How about granny? What will you do with your pets? How will you carry all the gear necessary to keep Junior, Granny, and Rover comfortable?

See what I mean? The logistics of bugging out on foot are next to impossible for the vast, vast majority of us.

Above all, "the woods" as a destination is a really dumb idea. Who owns "the woods"? Here in the west, there is a lot more government-owned land, so you can disappear for long periods of time. In the east, "the woods" are generally under private ownership, and I can't imagine anyone will appreciate your presence.

Additionally, your grand adventure will only last as long as the food in your backpack (assuming bears or raccoons don't clean you out overnight). All this chatter of escaping to the woods never seems to address one logical question: What will you do once you're there? What will you do in the woods?

In a recent SurvivalBlog post entitled "Food: The Ultimate Weapon," the author (an avid backpacker and outdoor guide) describes how the limiting factor for any trip is how much food he could carry. As a guide, he told the hikers under his care, "If you can't eat it or wear it, then leave it."

As a former field biologist, I can attest that wild animals – especially those higher on the food chain – are driven by starvation. Have you ever seen a fat coyote? Me neither (unless they're urban scavengers). Unless you're willing to eat worms, grubs, roadkill, roots, and other gourmet fare, you're toast. And even then you will be – literally – spending every waking hour desperately searching for more worms, grubs, roadkill, and roots.

And that's in the summer months. What if it's winter?

It's certainly possible to live off the land, but it takes years of research, training, and preparation to do so. In 2019, I had the honor of interviewing (by email) a fellow by the name of Britt Ahart. This was a man of intimidating experience in bushcraft, wilderness survival, and primitive living. He came to the attention of the History Channel's reality TV show "Alone" and found himself braving the wilderness of Mongolia and Patagonia for months at a time, living off his wits and survival skills. Believe me, if anyone can bug out to the woods and survive, it's this man.

But for the rest of us, bugging out to the woods is nothing but a fantasy. I know if I read a fiction story in which the main character runs away from the Bad Guy by dashing into the woods, right away I know it's written by someone who has never dashed into the woods. The woods have no shelter. The woods have no food. The woods have no climate control. The protagonist will either be caught by the Bad Guy within minutes, or he'll spend anywhere from hours to days lost and terrified before succumbing to exposure.

In real life, bugging out to the woods is no better. Frankly it's a stoopid idea.

Okay, back to the list of recommended items for a bug-out bag. Some items are fine if you're going on a backpacking trip. Some, as you'll see, make sense in any kind of bag. Yet others are just plain ridiculous, and seem more like an excuse to buy a bunch of cool stuff.

Here's the list:

• Tweezers (yes, this was first on the list; no idea why)
• Money for purchases
• Goldbacks – money that is gold infused (more on this below)
• Pen and pencil, paper/notebook
• Lights, including solar lights
• Freeze-dried foods
• Map of area
• Compass
• Shovel (fold up)
• Spear
• Frog gig (3-pronged spear)
• Foil
• Whistle
• Toilet paper
• Cayenne pepper to stop bleeding
• Pads/gauze to wrap injuries
• Antibiotic ointment
• Cup with retractable handle
• Lifestraw
• Military sewing kit
• Vet wrap
• Poncho
• Glasses
• Sunscreen
• Heat packets for hands/feet/body
• Bandana (for straining water, among other things)
• Heat 32 (possibly a brand of thermal underwear, but it's never defined)
• Magnifying glass
• Fishing gear
• Multi-tool
• Stroller or stroller basket to carry backpack
• Rubber bands
• Candles
• Super Soaker
• Egg carton with lint with wax as fire starters
• Tiger Lady (a hand-held defense tool for close-up defense)
• Long knife with brass knuckles (?)
• Aluminum foil
• Potassium permanganate (presumably for use as a general disinfectant)
• Bell & Howell pen (a combination pen and flashlight)
• Flares
• Tarp
• Windproof lighter
• Signal mirror
• Extra ammo
• Solar backpack

See what I mean? Does this sound like you're going to need if you're escaping an earthquake or an economic collapse? Can we PLEASE get over the idea that we're all Rambos-in-waiting and can bug out to the woods where we'll gig frogs, fish, and spear game?

Conspicuously absent from the above list: Sleeping bag. Tent. A firearm (though, oddly, ammo is on the list). A change of clothes. Mosquito netting. Insect repellent.

You see, I knew this list was hooey the moment I saw Goldbacks, a spear, a frog gig, and a stroller for carrying the backpack. And a Super Soaker? What in tarnation?

Do you honestly think the average person will use a spear and a frog gig in the woods? Do you really think most woody terrain lends itself to a stroller? And what on EARTH do you need with a Super Soaker?

Don and I weren't even sure what Goldbacks were, so he looked them up. According to the website, "The Goldback® is the world's first physical, interchangeable, gold money, that is designed to accommodate even small transactions."

Basically it's make-believe money which contains a small amount of physical gold. Oh please. Someone makes fake money and expects you to be able to buy a burger and fries with it during a panicked bug-out situation?

Now let's examine the issue of destination. Without a destination in mind, bugging out is a really bad idea. Depending on the situation, your destination could be a motel in the next town over, your brother's house in the next state, or your fully equipped self-sufficient mountain homestead deep in the Rockies. Whatever it is, have a destination in mind – and a realistic means of getting there. If your bug-out is located 500 miles away, chances are very good you won't make it on foot (especially with the contents of the bag listed above).

Without a destination, what will you be doing with the contents of your bug-out bag listed above? Gigging for frogs, hoping to spear a deer, and begging a McDonald's restaurant to accept your Goldback® currency?

Maybe I'm being too harsh here. There are endless circumstances under which bugging out by foot may be the only option (and assuming it's not safer to hunker down and stay home). First and most obvious, not everyone has a car. Second, if the roads are impassable (landslides, bridge collapses, etc.), driving isn't an option. However if these dire situations come to pass, then I cannot fathom how a frog gig, a Super Soaker, Goldback® currency, and a spear will help you. Believe me, you'll have your hands full evacuating your children, elderly relatives, and pets to think about where you misplaced your frog gig.

None of this is to imply a bug-out bag isn't a good idea. In fact, it's a very good idea – but my advice is to skip the Super Soakers and frog gigs and concentrate on packing the critical items you'll need for both immediate requirements and long-term negotiation as you pull your life back together.

Let's say, for example, that you're evacuating before a wildfire. You won't be dodging zombies and camping in the wilderness while you trek through the woods to your rural cabin. Instead, you'll be fleeing what is presumably a rural or semi-rural area toward the assistance of other people, where (hopefully) your immediate needs of food, water, and shelter will be addressed. With that in mind, the importance of tents, sleeping bags, camp stoves, dehydrated food, and other camping supplies is significantly lower. The need for a Super Soaker, frog gig, and spear is practically zero.

Instead, your bug-out bag should contain what portable things you need – documentation that might help you get back on your feet and deal with banks, insurance agencies, and other bureaucratic necessities; and personal clothing and sanitation items to allow you some measure of comfort and dignity for a few days.

In other words, an evacuation bag is NOT the typical prepper zombie apocalypse bag pushed by so many survival websites.

Okay, rant over.


UPDATE: Don added the following addendum to this rant:

Not exactly too sure what got this topic at the top of Patrice's rant list (you know ... women of a certain age and all...), but there are obviously a few other reasons to have bug-out bags.

For instance, a travel bag in your vehicle, especially for periods on inclement weather, is a really smart idea; particularly if, like us, you live in the boonies. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with an "every-day carry" bag. And a lot of my friends travel with a "Wow! That's a sweet stream – think I'll stop and drop a line in it" bag.

And if you're the "minute (wo)man" type who expects to be called away on emergencies – like assisting the police or peacefully thwarting the nefarious intentions of  the perpetually snowflake – a bag designed for that purposes is just fine.

But these types of bags are purpose-driven. If you're intention is to bug out to the undefined woods ahead of the Golden Horde like a modern-day Daniel Boone, bear in mind that Mr. Boone usually did his walk-abouts in the company of a pack train.

The members of the Lewis and Clark expedition, all of whom were experienced frontiersmen, nearly starved to death at least a couple of times. Without the no-doubt bemused assistance of several different tribes, history books would likely be referring to that particular endeavor as "the lost expedition of Lewis and Clark."

It all comes down to this. If you've got to run, be running toward something. Have a realistically reachable destination.

And don't EVER come as a surprise drop-in to someone else's "retreat." Just sayin'.


  1. I've been reading your blog for years and this is the first time posting a comment. You knocked this one out of the park--well done!

  2. Well said... Amen... Youse' guys got it right...

  3. What a hilarious post. Reminds me of people who think they can take a can of seeds and use it to grow a garden that will sustain themselves, without ever first trying to grow something.

  4. My favorite "Stroller or stroller basket to carry backpack"!😅

  5. Ya'll are in my head on this and it's hilarious when my own mental rants subside. I don't exactly have a bob, but my vehicle has a number of things that most people might carry. And my purse lacks makeup and junk most women carry, while it does have a pocket knife and multi tool, some minor first aid stuff, sanitizer,gloves,and mask for co-vid, and other stuff like a checkbook that are normal.

    A number of years ago when Atlanta's freeways jammed up totally and unexpectedly in a snowstorm, a family member called from their cell phone upset from sitting in traffic for hours and only having gotten a few blocks from their office in the city. It was late. I told them to go back to that office and camp out because because getting home that night wasn't happening from what we could see on TV. They did. This sibling did have a blanket, snacks,water, and a change of clothes in the car. About 30 other coworkers also went back to that office where they all spent the night and the next work day with heat, water, bathrooms, movies on their laptops, and shared be snacks with people they knew. My sibling was the most comfortable with the change of clothes to get out of work attire and the blanket kept in the vehicle. Many people had to spend the night in freezing weather stuck on some freeway in their vehicle, many of which ran out of gas and wound up towed.

    You can't ever be totally prepared for everything because only God knows what's coming around the corner. I think mindset is the most important asset in any emergency, followed by the ability to assess your circumstances and take appropriate action. A bob (bug out bag) is a good idea, but mine would probably live in my vehicle.
    Your post here was excellent.

  6. Hysterical. A super soaker. What on earth?
    Since I routinely commute 1 hour each way to work on days I can't work from home, I DO stock my 4-wheel drive vehicle with necessities in case I get stuck due to weather, etc. I learned how key this was when I hit black ice several years ago, and ended up walking several miles in bitterly cold weather to get cell reception. My tote includes heavy duty hiking boots, winter clothing, blankets, flares, and some odds and ends like granola bars and water. We always carry an extensive first aid kit and other important gear, because you are right, Patrice. If we bug out, the vehicle is going with us- we're not bugging out into the woods to survive "Alone" style. Seriously...a stroller? LOL.

  7. “You know, women of a certain age and all…” Not sure why you are willing to take open disrespect and dismissiveness from your husband. Call me a feminist killjoy all you want, but this sort of flippant disrespect isn’t particularly amusing to me. sorry. Married partners should respect and support one another. Otherwise, why on earth are you together? Sorry, had to be said.

    1. Nah. After 31 yrs of marriage, I understand Don's sense of humor. If I got offended every time he cracked a joke, we'd have separated decades ago.

      - Patrice

    2. Don't you believe it! Patrice married me for my money AND my sense of humor. (And since I didn't have any money, the jokes literally been on her for all these many years.)
      And with regards to Anonymous above: I am humbly sorry if I offended your womanly sensibilities Ma'am.

    3. "Ma'am"? Mercy Don, there you go again. Today's modern woman is offended by that too.
      It's hilarious to real men and women who survived the failed Feminist Movement.
      Montana Guy

    4. Although I knew that remark would get under someone's skin - I was pretty sure Don meant no disrespect to Patrice or anyone else. People need to stop being so thin-skinned. Lighten up! Everything doesn't have to be so serious! ;)

    5. Somewhere in time, our ability to joke and kid around, and tease each other has been vilified. To those of us who have not lost all our sensibilities to political correctness… we find Don’s banter very refreshing…just sayin!

    6. Eh. I'm of the political correct type st least fifty percent of the time and dint understand the fuss. But then I'm a woman of a certain age in the extreme and don't mind saying so.

    7. Too bad all the heat this summer didn't melt the snowflakes.

      Only a miserable person looks for a reason to be offended by a harmless comment.

      I tease my husband, and he teases me, on a daily basis. It's not disrespectful. It's how we play around and have fun after decades of being together.

  8. I think a pretty simple rule of thumb is prepare your bug out bag for not more than 20 miles of your current location if on foot or a full tank of gas if it is in an automobile (assuming no refueling). That would represent the most real conditions one would face.

    Having read that list, I feel that literally anything I might put together would be better equipped than that.

  9. A few years ago we had to bug out due to a wildfire. The first thing I grabbed was a family photo album with pics from the 1920's (learned a lesson when I was a teenager & our house burned down - lost all family heirlooms, pic, etc. I also grabbed a binder that I keep track of bills in & it also houses the home & auto insurance papers. We grabbed our BOB'S, the 5 gallon bucket the dog food was in, leashes & bowls. The BOB'S had food, water, cash, tools, etc. We were allowed back into our house a few hours later & spent some time boxing up things with sentimental value - the matching kerosene lamps my great grandmother brought with her from Scotland when she was 19, favorite cookbooks, my husband's buckles he won team penning, etc.(We had to be ready in case embers kicked back up that night).The experience made me realize one very important thing...make a list! When you need to get out NOW and the adrenaline is kicked into high gear it would help to have a solid plan.
    And lastly, I am a woman of a certain age & my DH and I trade good natured barbs all the time. It's part of our smooth running relationship.

  10. Loved this !!! We have a couple of BOB (one for me and one for my spouse). They go with us when we travel. Have been glad for some of the items in them when we;ve unexpectedly been stuck on the road. Love the little fleece blankets that fold up really small but are really warm.

  11. Frog gig!?! FROG GIG!! ROFLOL! I can see it now, Dad and oldest son have been gone over an hour now and the fire the girls spent half the time gathering wood for has already gone out. The mighty hunters have returned with two, count them TWO, frogs. Do they know how to clean them? Do they even know what parts of the frog you eat? Sigh, so many people are going to be in so much trouble with this advice to head off into the woods. And you're right Patrice, east of Missouri every wood is going to be someone else's property and you'll be lucky to have the sheriff pick you up. Out west is the real woods and nobody is going to be rescuing you. Especially in a major emergency.

  12. LOL. I have laughed at commercial BOBs for years. When my daughters were young, I had them each pack one - with a toothbrush and paste, a hairbrush, a pkg of wipes, a change of clothes for whatever season we were in, a trash bag, and a toy... basically whatever they'd need in an emergency away from home. No frog gigs. The toy might have been a super soaker (actually I think one of my girls tried to put her toy M-16 in her bag at one point). We laughed a lot. I'm going to send them a link to this post so they can laugh some more...

  13. The whole Bug-Out concept is impractical as pointed out here. I do believe in an emergency bag and what we call '10-minute Grab and Go' lists for certain situations.
    1. Getting to one's pre-provisioned Bug Out facility.
    2. Local events where one has only minutes to abandon their home. Examples: wild fires, chemical spills etc.
    3. Travel
    Montana Guy

  14. And what's wanted most in my bug-out bag? Your next Amish novel. (hint hint.) - Keith ;-)

  15. Patrice, this makes me laugh, too. However, DH has historically (pre-Covid) commuted to Seattle for work a few times a year, and you bet he packs a BOB with whatever it would take to abandon the vehicle if needed and head toward home in North Idaho. (He's feared that place for years- way too many people!) A mix of some outdoors stuff, MREs, and pew-pew supplies, but definitely no frog gig (what the heck is that anyway), candles, or super soaker. Not to mention he always packed his ski bibs and jacket if it was winter, just in case he broke down or needed to get out and help someone else in bad weather.

    Always good to be prepared!! But reasonably so :)

    1. He's smart. He has what Don called a "purpose-driven" BOB, and he's wise to have it. Except he's missing a frog gig, of course.

      - Patrice

  16. I don't disagree with your points in the rant. But you excluded what should be an obvious situation that negates everything you stated. Here is one example: Suppose due to natural or man made disaster you must leave immediately and you have about 30 seconds to grab some stuff as you run away. If you have a bug out bag you are so much better off then the person who grabs their jacket and cell phone and nothing else. Bugging out is foolish except when there is no other option and THEN not having a bug out bag is foolish.

    My wife and I "bugged out" in January 2021. We sold the house and most of our belongings and have been living in our travel trailer ever since. The travel trailer is our bugout bag. I might add that we also each have an ultralight backpack suitable to hike the PCT or to bug out in case that becomes are only option. I just honestly feel that NOT having a BOB is short sighted.

    1. Absolutely I agree with you. But an emergency BOB is a far different thing that the silly nonsense listed above. We're in the process of assembling a wildfire/earthquake evacuation bag that contains critical items we would need to help put our life back together after a disaster, as well as to sustain use in some dignity for a week or so. I'll be blogging about it when we're finished.

      - Patrice

  17. The super soaker makes perfect sense. What a great idea!
    Suppose you found yourself in the woods and came face to face with a witch. Then what would you do Rambos?!
    Better to have it and not need it - than need it and not have it, sez I,

    1. ...Oh! The frog gig is another superior notion. Suppose you and your traveling companion as you stumble upon said ill-intentioned witch (before you can retrieve your super soaker from between the backpack and stroller) she turns one of you into a toad. With some quick thinking you can melt her down with the water gun, grab the frog gig, skewer your former traveling mate and enjoy a delicious meal!
      Honestly, you people need to think outside the box sometimes.

    2. Ba, ha, ha!
      Reminds me of a greeting card I read a few years ago. It said, "I like you so much that if we were stuck on a desert island I'd totally eat you last."
      Ha, ha, ha!

  18. Thanks for the reminder. I need to remember to throw a mosquito suit, snake gaiters, and a small popup tent behind my truck seat to go with the BOB.

  19. OK, this is "Rural Revolution" ...

    Why doesn't "bug out" planning start with the realisation that you are going to have a vehicle to serve as your "bug out bag"?

    Then continue that thought with what it'd take to secure such gear and supplies in your vehicle.

    I did this completely wrong a while back.

    I bought an SUV.

    There's no way to conceal or protect anything in an SUV because all it takes is one broken window to open it up to being completely gutted.

    I'm now selling the SUV and replacing that vehicle with an older car with a trunk I can secure with a few additional modifications.

    That's going to be my preferred "bug out bag".

    The seat well behind the passenger seat's a good spot for all of the motor oil, coolant, water bottles, and so forth that I don't want moving around in the trunk.

    Even in Florida, I can leave the vehicle packed most of the time, and the "bug out bag" consists of the luggage that I need to stay in a hotel up in Alabama.

    Because Florida has hurricanes.

    In certain parts of Florida, we do this run every year at least, sometimes more than once each year.

    But if you want to trek out of a hurricane on foot power with a 40 lb pack, that's a kind of crazy I just can't really understand.

    Which is quite something for a Crackpot. :-)

  20. Dear Patrice and Don,
    You nailed it.

  21. Great topic! I live in the country and find myself stranded at times both in town, and in the woods. My #1: A first aid #2: some water and food (emergency bars for sure. (Maybe you're waiting an hr for AAA to come tow you! On that note, a recent addition to my BOB preps is an energy pack for my phone! Everything else is a stretch of imagination, but not out of the question. Im on my own and gotta get home on foot. Includes the afore mentioned, plus: radio; monitor what's happening with that hurricane, flooding, etc etc. binoculars (I really wanna see whats up in front of me). Now whatever add whatever else you want to carry and can bear the weight! (if you are going to gonna need something besides flip/flops or high heels! ) ...Good Luck. I have 3 BOB in my trouble bin, first aid bag, basic hiking stuff in a backpack, that I need every time I go anyway. I can grab from all, depending on the event.

  22. My dad was career US Army. Mom went from being a country girl milking a cow to a wife driving a car to the port and getting on a plane to Germany in New York before Berlin was a divided city. Every where they lived in Europe during those days meant keeping the car filled up and having a suitcase filled with food and clothing for each of us. Mom said that the “paper diapers “ were a good idea short term but she threw in cloth ones as well. The suitcases stayed in the closet closest to the door and she rotated the food (mainly crackers and peanut butter as well as canned milk for me) and clothing faithfully.
    The last overseas tour was in the 70s and we were all old enough to understand what and why the suitcases were needed, especially when dad gave mom the route preferences for leading the other American dependents west.
    Dad rotated flashlight batteries and made sure that the tires were rotated and the spare was in good shape, tarps and sleeping bags in the trunk and an emergency supply of several countries currency and US dollars was in the freezer for emergency evacuation only.
    When we left for the USA in 1975, my dad had been on alert a few times and we had gathered our last minute things such as jugs of water and the dogs bowls but thankfully we never had to throw the suitcases in the car and leave.
    Most people would be better off having a box of non perishable food, clothes, flashlights, sleeping bags and copies of important papers in a place where they could load up in a couple minutes and be gone to a predetermined destination than buying any of the things on that list.


  23. honest folks will tell you that if you are in a blue city and TSHTF, you are dead or going to be dead unless you have helivac coming or live in a houseboat and have another (powered) boat to escape in.

    even if you have a vehicle, you won't get out of a blue city (or any city for that matter), as ALL of the roads will be clogged with ALL the broken down cars of everybody else, while the gangs rape and pillage those stuck in the clog.

    if you try to get out on foot and you aren't a Ranger, SEAL, or, Recon fully armed (of course those people have already left the cities) with a LOT of firepower, the gangs or pervs will get you, especially if you are female.

    the honest folks have been giving you the best advice for several years now: GET OUT OF THE CITIES NOW!

    good luck with your BOB on foot.

  24. I keep a get home bag in my vehicles. And I found it strange that the list did not have gloves mentioned. Living in a rural area and having to take narrow back roads to get to work, I have found heavy duty work gloves to be invaluable. I've had to move storm debris that I could not drive over and even dead animals.
    A folding saw also comes in handy at times.