Bug In or Bug Out: When to Run and When to Stay


When to Bug In or Bug Out

When disaster strikes, will you stay or will you go? Knowing which scenarios to bug in or bug out of will go a long way in boosting your survival odds. Let’s be honest though; you don’t want to merely survive, you want to thrive. I’ll show you how!

Bugging In Vs. Bugging Out

Crash Course: Prepper Lingo

There’s a lot of info here to digest, but it can be useless if you don’t understand the lingo. Here are a few common prepper terms you’ll see in this article:

  • Bug Out Bag, BOB, or 72-Hour Kit: No matter what you call it, the bug out bag is packed with everything you need to survive on the move.
  • Bug Out Location, or BOL: A safe place you can retreat to when disaster strikes and it is no longer safe to be at home.
  • Prepper: A person who has planned (or is currently planning) for a disaster and is ready to survive. That’s you, by the way. Welcome to the club.
  • SHTF: This is an acronym for the Sh*t Hit The Fan. It’s a quick way of saying the world has gone down the tubes due to some catastrophic event.
  • MRE: ‘Meals Ready to Eat’ are compact, nutrient-dense, and light-weight food rations.

That’s all you need to understand to get you by while reading this article. But if you are going to spend much time online looking at prepping information, you are going to want to have an idea of basic prepping terms.

Bugging Out

What is “Bugging Out”?

Bugging out means leaving the area when a disaster has struck, and your current location isn’t safe.  If you’re bugging out, you must be prepared to leave your home and belongings behind with no expectation of seeing them whole again.

In truth, the bug out might be temporary due to a short-term disaster. However, I prefer to think of bugging out as a permanent solution. If I believe I’m never coming back, I’m going to be sure I’ve got everything I need to survive in even the worst-case scenario.

Generally, you will want to head to a predetermined bug out location. Hopefully you have already thought about, and even prepared, your bug out location for use in a disaster situation. This should be a safe location away from dense population centers. It should offer you plenty of natural resources and a sense of security.

bug in or bug out?
If you decide to bug out, it’s best that you go to a location where necessities are renewable. Hunting, fishing, and farming are all resource activities that are renewable.

Bugging Out Essentials Checklist

Everyone will have different needs for their BOB, but there are specific supplies every person should have on hand in a bug out situation.

  • Food and water. Don’t forget condiments and seasonings. You may be bugging out, but that doesn’t mean your diet should be just ‘edible.’ 
  • First aid kit with ointments, bandages, and a suture kit. Don’t forget, you’ll need to know how to use what is in your first aid kit! For that, see the complete first aid skills guide.
  • Shelter. A tent, or a tarp, some rope, and a roll of duct tape work great.
  • Sanitation and hygiene items. This will help keep your clean, comfortable, and healthy.
  • Flashlight, batteries, and fire-starting equipment. All are very essential to survival when on the move.

Likely Bug Out Scenarios

Below is a list of many different scenarios where bugging out may be the best course of action you can take. Of course, every situation is different and only you can be the final judge on if you should stay or leave. However, these scenarios might help to make things clearer.

  1. Natural disasters. Wildfires, floods, and other destructive natural forces are a common reason to bug out. Be aware of potential natural disasters in your area, have an evacuation plan in place, keep your BOB nearby, and listen to emergency broadcasts for weather warnings and evacuation instructions. Use an emergency alert service such as Nixle to stay informed of disasters affecting your area.
  2. Cyber trouble. It wasn’t long ago that the thought of cyber-attacks was laughable. However, cyber terrorism is now a real threat. Beyond identity theft and fishing scams, hackers can shut down power grids, cripple infrastructure, and even disable the safeties on nuclear power plants. At the whim of an angry programmer, civilization as we know it could come to an end. Bug out when the hackers come calling, get off the grid, and find a place that their electronic tendrils can’t reach you.
  3. Pandemic. A serious viral outbreak is just one lab rat away. As access to medical care dwindles due to rising costs and political posturing, disease rates can increase in unprotected populations. Biological weapons are a real threat, too. Keep an eye on the news for signs of possible attacks and your community unwittingly starting a wave of disease. Bugging out to an area with lower population, better health care, and more plentiful supplies can keep you safe.
  4. War. Civilians are just collateral damage to raging warmongers, which means you have to defend yourself and find safer ground when war comes home. In the case of nuclear war, safety is relative. Nuclear fallout will be a significant concern, and any survivors of the first wave will be scrounging for scraps. If you can get out before the bombs fall or shortly after, you’ll be in a much better position to survive.
  5. Civil unrest. Civil unrest usually follows a primary disaster. Whether this is in response to natural or man-made trouble, the resulting chaos can be deadly. People in urban areas will be especially vulnerable to civil unrest scenarios. If looting, riots, and general disobedience are escalating in your area, it’s best to bug out before it gets worse. If you find yourself in a surprise uprising, be prepared to protect yourself as you move to safer ground.

Remember when you bug out, it should be with the assumption that you are not coming back. Don’t expect to be able to stop back home and grab something else “real quick” if you need to. That may not be an option due to civil unrest, roadblocks, gas shortages, or a million other uncomfortable reasons.

I know you’re thinking; “but wait a minute, I have all my gear, guns, and supplies at home. Can’t I just stay there?”. Remember, you want to be in whatever location is safest. There are definitely times when bugging in can be the safest bet.

Bugging In

What is “Bugging In”?

If travel is too dangerous or you are well prepared for whatever emergency you are facing in your current location, it might be smartest to stay put. If you’re bugging in, you’re ready to hunker down and “ride it out.”

Bugging In Essentials Checklist

The main difference between bugging in and bugging out prep is how many supplies you’ll be able to have on hand. When you are staying put, you don’t need to worry about how you will be transporting your supplies. In the case of bugging in, the supplies you have on hand is limited only by your available space.

  • Emergency food. Your food choices should be better while bugging in. Make sure you have a significant amount of the best kinds of emergency food on hand for your specific situation.
  • Emergency water. Make sure you have an emergency water supply that you can rely on. Making an emergency water plan will help to ensure you always have water available to you in any situation.
  • First aid kit.Besides having a quality first aid kit on hand, make sure you also have knowledge of basic medical skills.
  • Backup light and heat. Stock flashlights, batteries, and lanterns. If you have room, a generator is a smart investment.
Bug out or bug in?
If you decide to bug in, prepare your bug in location to the best of your abilities, for your particular emergency situation. For instance, extreme cold weather, hurricanes, and looting calls for boarding up doors and windows.

Likely Bug In Scenarios

Any of the scenarios listed above in the bug out section can also be reasons to bug in, depending on the specific circumstances. You’ll need to assess the details of the situation and decide if staying or going would be more beneficial. Some of these scenarios to appear in the bug out section, but with some very important differences on the specifics of the situation.

  1. Economic collapse. Serious turmoil in the economy can result in riots and other human problems, but if you’re in a position of self-sufficiency and can adequately defend your home and stash, bugging in is a better option. This is especially true for preppers who live in rural areas, though many urban preppers can tough it out, too. If you can successfully go off-grid, produce your own food, and defend your position from looters for the long term, bugging in makes the most sense. 
  2. Viral outbreak. Depending on how bad the viral outbreak is, it may be too dangerous to venture out of your home due to risk of infection. This is especially true if the contagion is transmitted through the air. If the virus is airborne, it may be best to get out the duct tape and plastic sheeting so you can remain safely inside your home.
  3. Chemical or biological attack. If there is a chemical biological terrorist attack, it might make more sense to remain indoors and ride it out. This is another situation where exposing yourself to the air outside could be deadly. Take anthrax for example; this deadly agent can be dispersed over a large populace and kill anyone who ventures outside and breathes it in.
  4. Nuclear disaster. In general, it’s best to get away from fallout as quickly as possible. But if things develop too fast and the affected area is so broad that you may not be able to escape the radiation without potentially suffering deadly consequences, then you’ll have to remain in place. If you can’t escape the disaster in time, you may have no other choice but to hunker down and try to ride it out.
  5. Civil unrest. Rioting and looting episodes can explode without warning. Being caught outside when the crowds begin to surge can get you seriously injured or killed. A keen eye can spot the signs before things get out of hand, but you can’t always be watching. If there is too much violent activity happening outside your door, it’s best to stay put. Once the movement dies down, reassess if bugging out is a good idea before the next wave hits.
  6. Natural disaster. While many natural disasters can be predicted, you may find yourself in a situation where you couldn’t get out before things got nasty. If a natural disaster is already underway and it’s blocking your escape route, deciding to bug in might be your best option. To put it bluntly, humans are squishy and breakable. Unless your location is in imminent danger of total annihilation, stay indoors and hunker down.

This should be common sense, but I’ll mention it anyway. If you don’t have a safe place to go bug out to, or your safe spot has been compromised, stay put. Unless your current location is in danger or your supplies are gone, you’re better off bugging in than wandering around aimlessly.

Determining When to Stay and When to Go

In an emergency, it can be tough to decide whether to bug in or bug out, so keep in mind the rule of “REDOUT.”

Redout Bugout Rule
  • Resources. If your stash is low or has been compromised in some way, it’s best to grab your BOB and move to a predetermined location where resources are more plentiful. Even better if you’ve set up secure prepper stashes along the route in advance. While not designed for extended stays, a prepper stash can ease your journey and keep you well supplied.
  • Environment. Floods, gas leaks, radiation, and natural disasters can make any location unsafe. Humans are a particular concern in disaster scenarios, so watch out for riots and uncontrolled violence. If danger is escalating near your bug in location, it’s best to bug out before it can block your escape route. 
  • Destination. Where will you go and can you get there safely? If it’s safer to leave and make your way to a more secure location with better supplies, it’s time to bug out.
  • Overwhelming force. If you are outnumbered, outgunned, and out of options, bugging out is the right move. Stay aware; this danger could be military or civilian. You can usually spot an overwhelming force before it reaches you, so monitor all news sources and local information available to you.
  • Unprepared. It’s a cold, hard truth that even the most seasoned preppers may find themselves in a situation they weren’t prepared for. Be ready to set your ego aside and bug out.
  • Threat has increased. Even if the disaster is over, a new issue can pop up. It may have been safe yesterday, but if flood waters are rising, dangerous winds are picking up, or throngs of angry or panicked people are heading your way, it’s time to leave.

Note: If your planned route isn’t safe, it won’t matter how safe your destination is, so pay careful attention to the environment around you and along your way.

The choice to stay or go is ultimately yours but armed with knowledge and a killer plan, you can rest assured you’ll know when it’s safe to bug in and when it’s time to bug out.

Video: Should You Bug In or Bug Out?

So what about you? Would you prefer to bug in or bug out? Share your plans in the comment section below and tell us about some challenging scenarios that might make you lock down your home or head for the hills!

John Walter

John Walter is an emergency preparedness consultant with eight years of experience and training in related fields. He is a passionate prepper living in the Sacramento area of California.

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