How to Determine If and When to Bug Out

bug out


Beginning my prepping journey I have noticed the hype that follows the idea of “bugging out” when a shtf scenario happens.  It seems that is a big thing that preppers tend to focus on.  Now I do believe that there may come a time that we may have to bug out.

A good example of that is seeing the mass immigration of Middle Easterners into Europe.  We are seeing millions flee from destruction and corruption.  As Americans we are not exempt from these types of situations.  However, I will say the likelihood is smaller here than in the Middle Eastern countries.  Regardless it is still a possibility.

In a previous post I created a table displaying the likelihood of events.  This table gives us an idea of how we should prioritize our prepping and what prepper gear we would possibly need for each situation.  In this post I want to share a few tables that I put together for my own reference.  It helps me to determine if I should bug out and the possible bug out location that I should choose.

The first table that I will post is a severity vs. survival skills table.  This will help us determine if we should bug out at all.  We tend to fantasize about bugging out when the truth is that a lot of us don’t have the skills to make it in the wilderness or to live off of the land.

That is exactly what bugging out will require.  There is really no going back when you have to bug out and I will explain that in another table.  So bugging out will require retreating to a location and starting from scratch or using resources that you may have already established at that location.  Either case it will require us to have some sort of survival skills.

Low Severity High Severity
No Survival Skills Stay home maybe
Has Survival Skills Stay home Bug out


Severity vs. Survival Skills:

  1. No Survival Skills/low severity

In a low severity type of situation there probably won’t be the absolute need to bug out.  For example, there may be a temporary grid down situation or maybe a bad storm hit your area.  Yea you may be without power but that is where your preps come into play.  You should definitely have AT LEAST 30 days of food and water along with other essential preps like toilet paper.

  1. Has survival skills/low severity

Again, this isn’t any different from the previous point.  It’s a temporary situation but the only difference is that you have survival skills which may not be necessary for this situation.  For both cases you just need to stay home.

  1. High Severity/No Survival Skills

This is where things get interesting.  There are a lot of things to take into consideration for this type of scenario.  There could be a severe situation like a military takeover or maybe even an EMP attack.

Just because the situation is really severe doesn’t mean that you should bug out.  This is especially true if you don’t have any survival skills.  Without survival skills you will probably die quicker by bugging out than you would by bugging in.

For example, if you have no clue on how to make a fire and it is in the middle of winter then you are going to either freeze to death or starve because you couldn’t cook any food.  On the other hand, if you had stayed home with all of your preps you could survive a lot longer.  Ultimately it is all about survival time.

If you believe that your area could be possibly effected by a nuclear bomb that was 60 miles away from you then you would probably need to prepare with some sort of fallout shelter.  If you don’t have any survival skills then there is no reason to consider bugging out.

  1. High Severity/Has Survival Skills

Obviously this is pretty much opposite of the previous point.  If you have survival skills then you may be able to last longer than someone who is forced to bug in due to the lack of survival skills.  Those that bug in still have to face the threat of rioting and lawlessness on top of many other threats.

This is why it is important for a prepper to develop their survival skills and not really put more focus on prepper gear.  The gear is great to have but will be useless if you don’t have any survival skills or don’t know how to use them.  Knowledge and skills are two valuable items of gear that are priceless.

Resources vs. Population Density

Now that we have determined if a skilled and non-skilled person should bug out we now have to take in local resources and population density into consideration.  If you are forced to bug in you may not have an endless amount of supplies.  So the surroundings should be taken into consideration when deciding to bug out or bug in along with the previous table above.  The factors below should only be considered for severe situations.

Low Resources High Resources
Low Population Density Maybe bug out Stay Home
High Population Density Bug out Maybe


  1. Low population/low resources

If you live in an area where there are a low amount of resources and low population density then it is going to be a hard call on whether you should bug out or not.  Since the situation is severe then most likely a lot of people are going to attempt to flee or “bug out.”  However, if you have a lot of preps at home then you actually have the upper hand.

Since your location already has a low population density then it will become even lower when people decide to leave.  This will leave you with a bigger chunk of the local resources.  For those that have decided to stay home with no preps then they are not going to last long.  By the time your preps run out you will be able to forage houses and local resources.

  1. High population density/low resources

Of course this consideration is the opposite of the previous one.  If the area that you live in already has a low amount of resources then most likely the high population will quickly consume those resources.  Then once the resources are depleted there is the potential of mass riots and house evasions.  It makes sense to bug out to a location that will have a better supply of resources and a lower population.

  1. High Resources/low population density

This is the most ideal situation to have when crap hits the fan.  This is the great thing about those who stay in the country and in the sticks.  There is really an endless amount of resources because everything is natural and renewable.

On top of having massive amounts of resources there will be a low population that will consume those resources.  However, you will still have to worry about the hordes of people leaving out of the cities to forage outside of their area.  That is why it is best to be at least 100 miles away from a major city and away from any major highway.

  1. High Resources/High population density

This will probably be the toughest decision to make.  I will mention that there are not many locations that would match this circumstance.  Most highly populated cities will be depleted of most natural resources.  Either way there should be a contingency plan in the case this is ever true.

Area effected vs. recovery time

Now we have determined if it would be wise of us to bug out if we have survival skills or not.  Following that we determined if we should bug out depending on the location where we live and the resources available.  Finally we have to consider how widespread the situation is and what is the estimated recovery time.  Depending on each scenario we will be able to identify a plan which also takes the previous points above into consideration.

Short term recovery Long term recovery
Locally affected Get hotel Move
National/widespread affect Maybe bugout Bugout


  1. Locally affected/short term recovery

Scenario examples:

  • Flooding
  • Rioting
  • < 5 hurricane
  • Terrorist attack
  • Temporary grid down

This first set of scenarios will typically be temporary and systems could be restored in less than 30 days.  If your neighborhood has flooded out it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to bug out.  Because the next town over may not be affected and most of the time insurance claims can help recover whatever was lost.  The same is true for the other examples.  These setbacks can be easily fixed.

  1. Nationally affected/short term recovery

Scenario examples:

  • Economic collapse
  • Terrorist attack
  • Curable pandemic/plague (Ex: Ebola)

This scenario may or may not warrant a reason to bug out.  Again you should take the previous table points of survival skills and resource availability into consideration.  However, these situations for the most part are temporary.

For example, the financial collapse in Greece caused a lot of rioting and affected many people.  However, there were some resolutions that were implemented that has slightly pacified the situation for now.  Even though times are tougher in Greece as a result of that it doesn’t necessarily warrant you to bug out.

If you have ample amount of supplies and resources in a heavily fortified location then you can possibly wait out this scenario.  Eventually there will be some sort of fix for the moment to ease the tensions.  On the other hand, if you have low amount of supplies and resources in an unsecure location then you may want to explore the option of bugging out.

  1. Long term recovery/locally affected

Scenario examples:

  • Natural disaster
  • Foreign military invasion
  • Nuclear attack

A great example of this scenario would be when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.  Millions of people were warned before this hurricane hit and were able to get ahead of the destruction that was to come.  Unfortunately those that were left behind were not as lucky.

Those that survived Katrina would end up finding themselves being held captive by FEMA in the New Orleans stadium.  There was rioting inside and outside.  Others died of starvation waiting for help to come.

However, Katrina only affected a certain area around New Orleans.  Of course neighboring states were not affected as bad.  With that being said it would make more sense to simply move outside of New Orleans instead of bugging out.  There is nothing to return to in New Orleans but you could definitely have the opportunity to survive somewhere else.

  1. Long term recovery/nationally affected

Scenario examples:

  • War/invasion
  • Nuclear attacks
  • Incurable epidemic/plague (Ex: Black plague)
  • Martial law
  • EMP attack/national grid down

As mentioned earlier we have seen the millions of lives that have been affected by war in the Middle East which has forced many to try to seek help in Europe.  Many have lost their homes due to bomb blasts and missile attacks.

There is nothing to go back to.  On top of that we see that ISIS and other Islamic groups are terrorizing towns and forcing them under their laws.  If you are not of the same belief then your life is in danger.

This would be the perfect reason to bug out.  However, instead of seeking refuge in other cities you should have an isolated bug out location where resources are plentiful.  You should also have back up preps to get you started at this bug out location.

With all of that being said I hope that this has helped you to determine if and when you should ever bug out.  These tables have been helpful for me.  Please leave a comment below if you have any other suggestions that could help the community.  I would love to hear any advice that you may have.



Photography by Stefano Corso