The definition of bug out originates with U.S. troops during WWII but didn’t become common military slang until the Korean War, when it meant to leave a location quickly to escape an enemy force. Simplified, bugging out means a hasty retreat. Preppers similarly use the term.
The definition of bug out for emergency preparedness is to leave a location quickly to escape danger such as a hazardous environment or conditions unsafe for human life. Conditions for bugging out include natural or man-made catastrophes such as hurricanes or civil unrest.
How do Preppers Use The Term Bug Out?
Survivalists and preppers use the term loosely to describe quite a few things beyond just “bugging-out” to escape danger. The term is also used to describe equipment and concepts. Following is a list of the 10 most common ways the term bug out is used.
#1 Definition of bug out plan
A bug-out plan is an emergency plan created by preppers to fit their specific needs for escaping a disaster or catastrophic event. A bug-out plan includes the following:
- Emergency Alerts and Warnings
- Shelter Plan
- Evacuation Routes
- Communication Plan
- Emergency Preparedness Kit (Bug-in/Bug-out gear)
#2 What is the definition of a bug-out bag?
A bug-out bag (BOB) is an emergency backpack or portable container with enough food, gear, and supplies to survive for 72 hours or longer without outside assistance. There is a lot more planning that goes into a bug-out bag than you might imagine.
The BOB or Go-bag should be pre-packed and staged in a location for immediate extraction. Every member of your household that can carry a bag should have one.
To learn more about bug-out bags, read the Ready Squirrel article, What is a bug-out bag?
Bug Out Gear You Can Carry Long Distance
Even if you plan to bug out in a vehicle, you should always have a BOB you can carry in case you end up on foot. Having your family SUV stockpiled with 300 lbs of canned food isn’t going to do much good if you run out of gas or hit traffic and have to walk fifty miles to your destination.
Next up, Bug out gear.
#3 What is the definition of Bug-out Gear?
Bug-out gear is tools and equipment you carry in your BOB to provide food, water, shelter, and safety as you bug out on foot. When carrying tools, try to choose lightweight gear and build redundancy into your kit by having backup tools and multiple uses for as many tools as possible.
Following are 17 must-have gear for a bug-out bag.
17 Pieces of Must Have Bug Out Gear
#1 Fire-starting Kit
Fire starting gear is used to boil water, cook food and create heat. Here are some examples of fire-starting gear to take in a go-bag. I would pack all these to build redundancy: BIC lighter, Ferrel Rod, Man-made Tinder, Long-burn candles, and water-proof matches.
Two is One and One is NoneU.S. Navy Seal
The shelter is another important piece of kit for your Bug out bag.
#2 Shelter and Sleep System
There are three things you want with a bug-out shelter and a sleep system. Something to sleep under like a tent, something to sleep on such as a poncho liner, and something to sleep in like a sleeping bag or a Gortex Bivy. Whatever system you choose for your bug-out bag, keep it lightweight.
Paracord is a ridgeline for a tarp shelter and shelter building from natural materials, hanging hammocks, building tripods, and other gear around camp.
To learn more about paracord, check out the Ready Squirrel article, 29 Uses For Paracord (Bug-out Bag).
A BOB needs some type of light device. I choose a headlamp for my BOB to keep it lightweight and super useful. They are hands-free and work well hung inside a shelter with a piece of paracord. A flashlight works for bug-out lighting, but I prefer the headlamp.
Keep something in your bag to protect your hands from the cold or hard work, depending on your bug-out environment. I’m in a pretty warm environment, so I carry a pair of home-depot leather gloves I also use to work in the survival garden.
#6 Base Layer clothing
The first layer in a three-layer clothing system is used so you can add and remove clothing to fit the conditions. The base layer should be quick-drying with wicking action to move sweat away from your body.
#7 Mid-layer clothing
Mid-layer clothing maintains body heat and is usually made from synthetic fleece or wool.
#8 Outer Shell Clothing
The out shell protects the body from wind, rain, and snow.
#9 Socks-quick dry
I use Darn Tough or Smartwool socks because they are the best. Most through-hikers on the Appalachian Trail wear these two brands. I wore Darn Tough socks when I did the Vermont leg. They were lifesavers for my feet.
Carry a liter or two of water but have a method to filter or purify drinking water from natural sources. Even if you are nervous about treating the water, you have to in an emergency situation because one gallon of water weighs 8.3 pounds, too heavy to carry in bulk.
#11 Single-walled Stainless Steel Container
One of the most useful tools in your bug-out bag. It allows you to boil water for food and to clean it for drinking. Avoid double-walled insulated containers because they may explode under direct heat.
#11 First Aid Kit/ Trauma
How much first aid gear you carry will depend greatly on your skill level. I’m not trained to treat trauma, so I carry a Boo-boo kit to treat the basics like cuts, sprains, and blisters.
Carry lightweight food that you can eat right out of the package, or add boiling water. The best food for a bug-out bag is freeze-dried backpacker meals, SOS Survival bars, and dry-pack pasta meals that just need hot water to make ready.
Navigation gear is an important and often underlooked aspect of packing a bug-out bag. Remember that during certain emergencies, it is necessary to go off trail to avoid dangerous people or the landmarks used to pinpoint the location being gone.
Carry these items in your BOB: Compass, Map(s), GPS, and Ranger Beads (Pace Beads). Choose maps based on a bug-out plan. Keep in mind the need for alternate routes and destinations.
#14 Survival Knife
Preppers, bush-crafters, and survivalists agree that the survival knife is the most important tool in a go-bag because a skilled survivalist can create anything they need with a good blade.
I personally carry a MORA #1 Carbon steel blade. They are inexpensive, easy to sharpen in the field, and made of carbon steel, so they can be used as a stryker to create sparks with a ferrocerium rod.
A multi-tool is great gear because it provides many useful tools in one tidy package, including a backup blade for your primary survival knife.
#16 Self-defense Weapon/ Hunting
I’m currently carrying a SIG 365XL for self-defense. If I were in a bug-out situation off trail, I would carry my 10/22 Rifle because ammo is light and good for small game. I would carry my AR, a Pump action 12 gauge, and one of my pistols in a vehicle.
My favorite ammunition calibers for bugging out are .22, 9 mm, and 5.56.
To learn more about .22 vs. 9 mm, check out the Ready Squirrel article, .22 vs 9 mm (Bug-out Bag).
#17 Ziplock Bags
Ziplock bags are waterproof and keep things dry. They are good to have on hand because you never know when you will need them.
#18 Pack Weight
A bug-out bag should be as light as you can get it. The best bug-out bags are 50 liters or less and should not look tactical to avoid looking like a threat.
What if my bug-out bag is too heavy?
Carrying a bug-out bag that is too heavy causes physical injury, slows you down, and burns more calories and water.
Not to mention, a heavy bag is miserable to carry and affects morale.
So you’ve got a bug-out bag, but where are you going? Next up is the definition of a bug-out location.
#4 Definition of bug-out location
A bug-out location is a final destination when bugging out from a dangerous situation. Choose this location and alternate locations when doing your bug-out plan.
A bug-out location could be an off-grid cabin, your aunt’s house, a hotel, or a tent in National Park. Let’s look at the 7 traits of a good bug-out location.
7 Traits of a Good Bug-Out Location
A good bug-out location will have most of the following traits. You may not have access to a location with these traits, so do your best with what you have.
A defendable location. This is easy for some but not for others. If you are stuck in NYC because of work or family, your best option might be to stay put. (Bug-in)
#2 Exit Routes
If you need to bug out again, a piece of dirt with multiple exits.
#3 Hidden or Camouflaged Area
Ideally, your bug-out location will be hard to see.
#4 Natural Water Source
Choose a location with a stream, lake, or river nearby. If you can’t do this, plan on building a water catchment system for rainwater.
#5 Hygiene And Sanitation:
A good bug-out location should allow for the disposal of bodily waste and garbage without contaminating drinking water. If you can afford it, consider installing a septic system.
#6 Appropriate Shelter For All Seasons
To make sure the location is appropriate for bugging out in all seasons. One of the most challenging locations to bug out is an area with bad winter weather. Make sure a building is insulated, and you have alternate fuel sources like wood or coal in case the electricity goes down.
The desert is another tough location to bug out. Ensure your water is in order, and build a structure that stays as cool as possible without electric A/C.
#7 Due Diligence
Know about Covenants. HOA, Easements, Mineral & Water Rights, and neighbors before purchasing land for a Bug-out location. It would be terrible if you bought land and wanted a shooting range only to find out it’s against HOA policy.
#5 What is the definition of bug-out vehicle?
A bug-out vehicle can be any number of land or water vehicles. If it gets you away from danger without walking, it’s a bug-out vehicle. Get creative choosing a bug-out vehicle. For example, if you live in or around a highly-populated area like New York City, roads will likely be closed, but there is a pretty good chance you could get to a boat.
Following is a list of 20 different vehicles to use for bugging out.
20 Types of Bug-Out Vehicle
- Motorcycle or Dirt Bike
- Motor Scooter or Moped
- Electric Vehicles with Solar Charging
- Wood-gas vehicles
- Bio-diesel vehicles
- Propane Golf Cart
- Utility Trailer or Camp trailer pulled by a motor vehicle
- Power Boat
- Personal Aircraft/Ultralight
- Livestock: Horse, Cow, and Cart. Mule, Donkey
- Your own two feet
Tip: Don’t forget to plan for emergency fuel storage or animal feed
Up next, bugging out on foot.
#6 What is Bugging out on foot?
Bugging out on foot is walking or hiking away from a dangerous situation like a natural disaster. Bugging out on foot may be required when you run out of gas, roads are blocked, bridges are down, or roads are impassable.
4 Considerations For Bugging out on foot
The weight of a BOB s one of the most important considerations when bugging out on foot. The average person will have difficulty hiking ten miles with a pack of less than 20% of body weight, let alone a heavier bag. Avoid consuming food, water, and energy too quickly. Go light on BOB weight.
#2 Ultralight Backpacking
For inspiration on choosing super lightweight gear for bugging out on foot, watch YouTube channels on hiking the Appalachian Trail and Ultralight backpacking.
#3 Test Your Load
Pack your bug-out bag and take it out on the trail. This is the best way to get a dose of reality regarding the weight you can carry over a distance.
#4 Your Group
Consider who is bugging out. If you have children or the elderly, you may have to carry their bug-out gear. so plan accordingly.
Next, we look at choosing a bug-out knife.
#7 What is a Bug Out Knife?
A bug-out knife is a fixed blade knife with a carbon steel blade that is typically 3” to 4″ long. As mentioned earlier, my favorite bug-out knife is the MORA #1 classic. Learning to use a survival knife is a skill set well worth knowing, and knowing how to use one well will allow you to carry less gear because you can make many items you may need from wood or other natural materials.
13 Uses for a Bug-out Knife
#1 Skinning and debarking:
Use a fixed blade knife to skin or debark wood, small game, and fish
#2 Batoning or splitting wood
Batoning is a technique of splitting wood to make kindling for fire starting, it can also be used to process wood into smaller pieces for carving.
#3 Cutting or slicing
This seems obvious, but the primary function of the bug-out knife is to cut or slice materials. For example, cutting paracord to be used as a ridgeline for a tarp shelter or slicing pieces of wood off of a larger piece to make kindling for fire starting.
Carving can be decorative and good for morale, and it can be used to make handy bush-craft items like cooking and eating implements, tent or tarp stakes, or making animal traps
#5 Food Preparation
Use a survival knife to chop wild onions or any other foraged greens.
#6 Carving tools for digging,
Use a bug-out knife to carve a digging stick or a fire pit for a Dakota fire hole.
A sharp bug-out knife is outstanding for splitting, feathering, and shaving wood for fire starting.
#8 Light prying
This is not the ideal use for your survival knife. You are better off carving a stick for the job but use your knife to turn over rocks for grubs or find crawdads and other edibles in a pinch.
I would carve a stick for this purpose; I wouldn’t use my knife.
#10 Split plant fibers
I haven’t personally done this as I always have Paracord, but a knife can be used for rope making by splitting plant fibers.
#11 Trap Making,
Making fishing and small game traps is an advanced skill, but you can build traps with just a knife.
#12 Cutting green saplings
A knife can be used to chop down saplings for shelter building. Ideally, you would use a handsaw or a hatchet, but a knife works.
#13 Beaver cutting
This knife technique is used to process large pieces of wood into smaller pieces
Check out Ready Squirrel’s comprehensive article on picking the Best Type of Survival Knife
#8 Definition of bug out shelter?
This shelter protects you from the worst possible climate in your chosen bug-out location. Your bug-out shelter is determined before a bug-out situation occurs. To learn more about the different kinds of bug-out locations, read the Ready Squirrel article, Choosing a Bug Out Location.
#9 What is a Bug Out Kit?
Hundreds of pre-made bug-out kits include the container and survival gear you need in a survival situation.
In many cases, you would be better off building your own Bug-out bag. You will pay less and have the opportunity to pick higher-quality gear.
These kits are better than nothing. If you are too busy researching bug-out gear, consider purchasing a pre-made kit.
#10 What is a Bug-Out Altoids Box
Preppers use Altoids tins to store pre-assembled mini-survival kits that pack as much useful survival gear into one location as possible. These are also useful for EDC or everyday carry kits.
27 Items Typically Found in an Altoids Bug-out Kit
- Fishing kit with fishing line, hooks, and fishing weights
- Fire Starting/charring kit/Bick lighter/Ferrel rod
- Paracord/cordage/Waxed Hemp Cord
- Mini-knife or mini muti-tool
- Emergency Contact Numbers
- Mini or nano flashlight
- Antiseptic Wipes
- Razor Blades
- Army Style Can Opener
- Signaling mirror
- Safety Pins
- Alcohol Wipes
- Pepto Bismol Pill
- Hard Candy
- Salt Packets
- Needle and Thread
- Pack and Gear Repair kit
Tip: Wrap electric tape around the rim of the Altoids tin so your lid stays shut.
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Keep On Prepping.