Bugging Out To The Wilderness

Is it possible to bug-out to the wilderness when disaster strikes?  To grab your bug-out bag and hit the woods to get away from whatever the world or society is throwing at you?

The common consensus is that it can’t be done.  Don’t even try because you’ll wind up a moldy corpse discovered ten years later by some unlucky hunter.

Mirror Lake

When do you bug-out?  What about a societal collapse of some sort:  a market crash with rioting, or maybe a hacker takes the power grid down like Ted Koppel talks about in his book, “Lights Out.”

Should you bug-out to the wilderness then?  Well, that depends on your situation.

If you’re upset that you seem to have limited choices on where to bug-out to when TSHTF (The Shit Hits The Fan) let me reassure you that – under certain conditions – it’s perfectly viable to bug-out to a wilderness location.  But only under the certain conditions will you be able to bug-out to the woods.  What conditions?  Read on…

Be Self Sufficient

The first rule of back country camping/wilderness bug-out is to be self sufficient.  Have enough knowledge and gear to tackle any situation that fate throws at you.  If you get in trouble plan on the fact that your phone won’t work where you are.  And even if you do get through who’s going to come help you if society is melting down?

Duration

Your bug-out location will not be where you will ultimately live.  Think of it as a short duration hidey-hole where you’re going to get away from trouble for a week or ten days at most.  Most events you will need to bug-out from will be storms like we saw with Irma and Harvey.  If you truly have no place else to go and a huge storm is coming a bug-out to the wilderness might be your only hope.  Just make sure you’re outside the area affected by the storm!

People talk about their INCH pack – which stands for I’m Never Coming Home, but bugging out to the wilderness to live forever simply won’t happen for 99.9% of the population.  When your food runs out you’ll be screwed.  You might have a good filter and be able to get water, but you will eventually run out of food and hunting or trapping is something most people won’t be able to do.

The Reality Of A Long Term Bug-Out

If you’re truly going into the wilderness and not to your cousin’s back field or your sister’s lawn there are some things you need to know about being in the wilderness.

Cooking chicken and coffee over an open fire

First, it’s hard to do.  If you’ve got tons of experience back-country camping you’re way ahead of the game, but ten days by yourself or with just your family will pass slowly unless you know what to do to stay productive and busy.

Understand that a pack for most experienced hikers with the minimal high-tech gear will weigh at least forty pounds.  More if you decide to add a gun and some ammo.  The longer you want to stay the heavier your pack will be.  The good news is that you’ll hike out with less weight than you carried in.

Physical Fitness

You will need to be physically fit for a wilderness bug-out.  Carrying your pack any distance will be physically demanding and you must be up to the challenge.

Before you decide to set out on a hike like this take your current bug-out bag and go for a walk.  Even if you’re only going a couple of miles take it out for a spin.  If you come back from that hike gasping for breath there are three things you can do:  make your pack weigh less by ditching gear, get in better shape, or a combination of the two.

If your bag is really heavy – say in the sixty to sixty-five pound range you’ll need to be in top form to carry it.  When I was in the service we’d do ten to fifteen mile forced marches with a sixty-five pound pack and it was brutal when we first started doing it.  After awhile you get used to it if you do it enough, but in my experience I never did come to enjoy it!

You should start preparing now if you plan on doing a bug-out like this.  When the time comes to really bug-out and you can’t even pick your pack up out of the corner how good is all that preparation you did?

Gear

In order to be comfortable you’ll need to take a minimum amount of gear with you.  Following is a list, but it’s by no means complete.  You’ll also have to take into account the climate and season where you live.  If you live in Texas and want to bug-out in January your pack will look very different from mine where I live in Maine.

heavy duty military pack
Military Pack that weighs about 65 pounds

Here’s the basics:

  • Pack
  • Sleeping Bag
  • Water Filter/Chemicals
  • Water container
  • Good Survival Knife
  • First aid kit
  • Sleeping Pad
  • Mess Kit/Cook pot
  • Spork/Silverware
  • Map and Compass/Navigation Equipment
  • Tent
  • Food
  • Stove and fuel
  • Lighter/Fire Steel
  • Poncho/Rain gear
  • Tooth brush/tooth paste
  • Soap
  • Camp towel
  • Extra clothes
  • Hiking boots
  • Clothes for the time of year in your environment
  • Flashlight/Head lamp – solar if possible

Now there’s a catch to packing all this gear… you have to know how to use it.  Each and every piece.  Can you navigate with a map and compass?  Do you know how to light your stove?  Do you know how long it takes to heat a cup of water or how much fuel it will take?  Can you do maintenance on it?

Can you set up your tent and take it down in the rain or snow?  Do you know how to use your water filter?  Do you know what temperature your sleeping bag is rated for?

camping, snow, cold weather camping
Camping in the snow

These are all extremely important things to know and if you don’t it could kill you.  A few years ago a woman here in Maine wandered off the Appalachian Trail and wound up dead because she couldn’t find her way back to the trail.  She had a compass with her, but didn’t know how to use it to follow a simple direction.

Know your gear.  Take care of it and it will take care of you.

Food and Water

There are different types of food that work well for long term camping.  Freeze dried works well, but is expensive.  GORP (Good Old Raisins and Peanuts) is a good choice as it’s packed full of calories and healthy fats.  You’ll need water to re-hydrate your freeze dried stuff, so plan accordingly.

Things to avoid would be canned goods because they usually have water and this will add weight to an already heavy pack.  Avoid anything that will spoil after a few days such as hamburger or hotdogs or any of that traditional camping food.

When you’re bugging out make sure you camp next to a good water source.  You can filter your water, boil it, or add chemicals to it to purify it, but try to avoid drinking it straight from the source.  Being sick with Giardia is no way to spend a bug-out!

Family Members

Being a single male and deciding to bug-out to the woods is one thing.  Even if you’re a rookie you could still probably flounder around for five or ten days and not kill yourself.  However, if you take your family you now have a whole other list of responsibilities and priorities.  The younger the children the harder it becomes.  If you have young children and fear that you might have to bug-out at some point I strongly urge you to make other arrangements.  Think hard and save a little money.

Kid cooking over an open fire
My eight year old son cooking bacon over an open fire.

As of this writing I have a six and and eight year old and they are used to being in the wilderness.  They like to hang out with me at my tipi in the woods behind our house and I take them on hikes through the woods and up small mountains in the area.  Even then I would be hesitant to take them on any kind of extended bug-out because of the difficulties.  Could I do it?  Probably, but it would suck way worse than being on my own.

You’ll need extra gear for the kids, stuff to keep them occupied, and your rate of travel will be cut in half because of them.  You better have a plan!

Firearms

If this is a real-world bug-out be prepared to protect yourself if necessary.  If you’re far enough out in the wilderness this might not be necessary; however, you should have a plan.

I’d recommend  some kind of pistol for close in protection.  A small caliber gun like a .22 rifle would be good for hunting small game and could help extend the duration of your bug-out.  This will also give you way more ammunition.  It doesn’t pack the same punch as a 30.06 obviously, but it will help with small game.

Navigation

You’ll need to navigate in the wilderness as well.  I love a GPS, but I don’t want to rely on one because I’ve seen them off by quite a large margin.  One day I was hiking and checked my position and it showed my position as being in the next county!  I’d been keeping track with my map and compass, so I put the phone away and continued to march, but it was an eye opener.

Another weakness is that this gear runs on batteries and over a long enough timeline they will die leaving you lost in the woods unless you have a secondary means of navigating.

Compass pointing west

Have a good map and compass and at least  the rudimentary skills on how to use them.

Conclusion

If you’re a city slicker with a pack full of gear you’ve never used or carried anywhere don’t even consider trying to bug-out to the wilderness for any length of time.  Camping in the backwoods when things are going well is fairly challenging.  Trying to live under harsh conditions in a serious situation would make it much worse.

A wilderness bug-out is possible IF you can satisfy the above requirements.  Remember, this is not a long term solution.  Your bug-out should not exceed ten days if possible.  Preferably keep it down to three to five days.  This is just a short term solution while things at home get back to normal.

Know your gear and practice using it before hand.  I can’t stress this point enough.  Know how to navigate with a map and compass.  Carry food for the allotted time plus an extra day or two.  You never know what’s going to happen out there.

Be self-sufficient!  Put your Macgyver hat on and start problem solving.  You can do it.

And last but not least, never give up.  No matter how bad things get there’s always hope as long as you’re breathing.

Questions?  Comments?

Sound off below!

-Bob Augustine

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