The Fantasy & Reality of Bugging Out

I don’t know about you, but as part of my career I spend a fair amount of time discussing Bugging Out on “prepper” and “survival” related forums.


Not surprisingly, it’s is one of the most popular discussion topics.


On any given day, there are lively debates on everything Bug Out related.


Topics ranging from:


What is the Best Bug Out Bag (BOB)

– What to Put in a Bug Out Bag

– Bug Out Vehicles (BOVs)

– Bug Out Locations (BOLs)

– And even what to wear when bugging out


And, oh my, the plans people have made, too.


Things like:


My primary BOL is 147 miles from my home. It’s an old cabin deep in the forest I stumbled upon when I was 12. I’m hoping I can drive most of the way, but I’ll probably ditch the truck about 30 miles out so no one hears me coming. I’ll hike in the rest of the way and hunker down at the cabin, and wait for everything to blow over.


Then I peek at their personal Facebook profile only to see they’ve made several contradicting posts in the last year. Comments about their back problems, bad knees, COPD, and other health issues to name a few.


In reality, for this person a 3 mile walk isn’t that realistic, let alone 30+ miles with a loaded pack.

Reality Versus Fantasy

So if such a plan isn’t realistic or reasonable, then what’s the point? Now this one might ruffle some feathers, but I assure you that’s not what I’m trying to do here.


For some reason, it’s all too easy for us to get caught up in the fantasy world of post disaster survival rather than the raw truth we face.


The reality is, things like health issues and physical limitations are a fact of life. It’s best that we be honest with ourselves so we’re able to realistically face our situation and aren’t caught unprepared.


On the flip side, let’s say you’re in peak physical condition and can hike 30 miles a day for several days. That’s great, but how about the other members of your family who will be with you when bugging out?


You can only move as fast as the slowest person in the group.


If you have young children, elderly parents, or anyone in less than ideal health, they will no doubt slow you down. That 30 miles per day speed might downshift to 3 miles. Or even less.


When you take a look at the facts facing your situation, something like bugging in might be a better first option.



Another “plan” I often see is to stockpile a ton of tobacco, booze, matches or whatever. The plan is to use these as barter to buy what they need later.  


I’m not suggesting you ditch any plans for trade and barter. More so that stocking your BOB with piles of trade goods might not be the best use of space.


A better plan is to work on making sure you have everything you’ll need. In times of survival, rather than counting on the rare chance of someone else to come to your aid, it is far better to be self-reliant.



Many survivalists also have plans for extensive gardens once they reach their bug out location.


That’s awesome, more power to them. But, an awful lot of these same folks, by their own admission, have little-to-no actual experience gardening. They figure they’ll toss some seeds into the ground and, in a few weeks, harvest bushels full of goodness.


It reality, it doesn’t work like that.


Even an experienced gardener can attest to the difficulties of establishing a garden the first season.


Very few places have soil that is ready-made for growing massive amounts of food. Soil amendments like manure need to be added and mixed in. Plus you need to know what vegetables and fruits will actually grow in your area.


Also, don’t buy prepackaged bags of heirloom seeds without even knowing whether any of them will grow in your region. I see this one a lot…



Especially troubling is the one where some folks are acquiring large quantities of firearms and ammunition so they can take what they want from those who survive the initial disaster.


Yes, these people are out there, moving through life unsupervised…


Fortunately, I suspect the majority are armchair commandos and about as dangerous as a bag of potato chips.


Keep Bug Out Plans Realistic

That said, with any sort of survival planning, whether we’re talking about bugging out or sheltering in place, it’s important to keep the plans realistic. There are many factors that need consideration, including:



-Physical fitness of all family members

-Skill sets

-Experience levels


Critical thinking is an important component of survival. You need to be able to think fast and on your feet. And if you hope to keep your wits about you, you also need to be grounded in reality.


Outlined below are 3 of the most common Bug Out reality checks I think people would do well to take to heart.


Bug Out Reality Check #1 – Fitness Matters

If you can’t walk to your mailbox and back without having to sit down and take a break, planning to bug out on foot to a location hundreds of miles away isn’t going to end well for you.

Improve your physical condition or adjust your plans to suit what you are capable of doing. Drop excess weight through a proven proper diet and exercise program. Good nutrition can help mitigate many health problems. It isn’t a cure all, of course, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.


Bug Out Reality Check #2 – Skills Matter

If you’ve never hunted, trapped, or fished before, you cannot count on learning those skills on the fly while bugging out. It doesn’t work that way.

Get out there now and practice these skills. Get the necessary licenses/permits first. Always do everything you can to remain in compliance with existing laws. To do otherwise is to risk fines or worse. Any funds you end up having to pay to resolve legal issues means there’s less in the wallet for preps, right?


Bug Out Reality Check #3 – Knowledge Matters

Planning to bring a book that has a few pictures in it and learn how to forage wild edibles as you go is planning to fail.

Find a competent instructor in your area who teaches wild edible identification. Ask your local county extension office who they recommend. These are the folks who typically manage the local Master Gardener programs. They can point you to the right people. If that is a dead end, watch videos online from reputable instructors and check out books with full-color photos. Learn 3-5 common wild edibles in your area. Once you feel confident with those, expand to a few more. You don’t need to know 87 different plants. A handful common to your area is a great start.


Now What?

In summary, I want to encourage you to be honest with yourself about your current capabilities and those you would be bugging out with. Identify the weak spots and seek to improve on a daily basis, not only your own skills and knowledge, but those you are responsible for.

If you need help, join community groups like Bug Out Bag Academy and Survival Weekly where we share helpful tips and advice based in reality. Surround yourself with good, like-minded people that can help get you to where you’re headed. And then, most importantly, get out there and put into practice what you’re learning!

What skills are you currently working on? What lessons have you learned that can help someone else?


If you enjoyed this article and want more like it, let us know by sharing, liking, and commenting on this post. Have questions you need answered or have an idea of what we should cover next? Let us know in the comments below!

Need to get started but don’t know where to begin? Check out our really popular (and FREE!) bug out bag PDF checklist here.

About the Author

We are pleased and excited to welcome the highly esteemed Jim Cobb to Bug Out Bag Academy ranks. Jim is the owner and lead trainer for DisasterPrepConsultants.com. His seasoned experience and witty, well articulated articles on preparedness have been published in national magazines such as OFFGRID, American Survival Guide, Survivor’s Edge, and Boy’s Life. You can find him online at SurvivalWeekly.com.

His growing stack of accomplished books on emergency preparedness include Prepper’s Home Defense, Prepper’s Financial Guide, and Prepper’s Long-Term Survival Guide, among others. Jim lives in the Upper Midwest with his beautiful wife and their three adolescent weapons of mass destruction.


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  • David Tracey says:

    Hey Andrew, great article! I’m in Perth, Western Australia. There’s not a lot of places to bug out to here. The south-west corner of the state is pretty much full of small towns, farms – people. And beyond that we’re in the desert.
    Despite this I’ve got a bug out bag, a plan and three BOL’s just in case. But bugging in is definitely the first option.
    I fit the description of middle-aged, bad back etc. But still reasonably fit and mobile. Nevertheless, I don’t see myself hiking into the wilderness with my BOB and definitely don’t see my partner doing that either.
    All three of my BOL’s rely on getting there by vehicle and are close enough to return on one tank of fuel.
    Being realistic – bugging in is definitely my first choice and the article above totally reinforces that notion.
    Great read!
    Thanks mate!

    • Andrew says:

      Hey David! Thanks for taking the time to read and leave a comment. Sounds like you have a realistic approach that will afford you and yours the opportunity to make good choices if/when the time comes.

  • Vladika says:

    Great article!
    Bugging out for MOST people is a fantasy. The choice to stay or go depends on what the event is, and IF it is realistic to believe that the “powers that be” are able, and will, to bring aid or sustain the “rule of law”. If I lived in Chicago, Detroit, Los Angelis, I’d have long since bugged out.

    If you are going to bug out, you better have someplace to go and some way to hold it. Off the beaten path but not too far to get there. Also, it had better be pre-stocked. You can possibly transport enough stuff at the last minute to survive for long.

    • Andrew says:

      Great points, Vladika. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts!

  • Ron says:

    I can’t count the number of times I’ve had this discussion with people, even allegedly skilled and experienced preppers. So many people have this “last man on Earth” fantasy of a self-sustaining paradise a million miles from anywhere, complete with three-field crop rotations, fruit trees and hydroelectric power.

    One particular individual was insistent he was going to get PVs installed at his “primary BOL” _after_ SHTF. He said he didn’t have the money for it now, but he was going to sell his house and hire a crew to transport everything out there when he needed it.

    • Andrew says:

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, Ron!

  • JAF says:

    Good article. All anyone needs to do is remember what happened in Puerto Rico to see how natural disaster and government incompetence leave citizens to fend for themselves for long term. To me, bug-in is a more likely scenario and having what you need for a couple of weeks is not a far fetched thing to do as well as having an alternate plan for having to leave your home.

    • Andrew says:

      Thank you, JAF! Hopefully, this article gets a few people thinking more realistically about what they would do in an emergency.

  • Dano says:

    Thanks for the great article. Put a bunch of things in perspective for me. Keep up the great work.

    • Andrew says:

      Thanks for reading, Dano! Glad you got something out if it.

  • Jimbo says:

    Thanks for the great article. It gave me a lot to think about and corrected some erroneous assumptions I had about bugging out. This knowledge go along way in helping me prepare more realistically.

    • Andrew says:

      Great to hear, Jimbo. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment!

  • Dr. Jack Griffin says:

    Thank you for the great thought provoking article. My wife and I discussed it at length and brought up several fallacies we’ve heard through the years. The picture of the man bugging out on the highway is a picture of the “Perfect Bug Out” scenario that too many people have in their minds. Wide open areas that are safe and easy to walk on. In our area, the emergency management people believe an anticipated strong earthquake will bring down the overpasses making it impossible to drive out of the area.
    Thanks for the reality check.

    • Andrew says:

      Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. So glad it resonated with you, Dr. Jack! As you know, this is a message that isn’t often shared due to its sobering nature.