Bug-out Definition: Emergency Prepping

The term Bug-out was first used by U.S. troops during WWII but didn’t become common military slang until the Korean War during this period it meant to leave a location quickly when being over-run my enemy forces. In preppers it’s a little different but the same concept.

A bug-out situation in prepping occurs when a hazardous environment or conditions unsafe to human life requires a quick escape, on foot, or in a vehicle, to a safer location. Natural or man-made catastrophes such as hurricanes or civil-unrest cause bug-out conditions. 

Person with flare

Bug-Out: Evolution of the Definition

  1. The Term Bug-out originated in WWII and was carried over to the Korean War by veterans of the previous war.
    1. The WWII definition of bug-out meant to run away in a cowardly fashion.
  2. The Korean War definition was used to describe a hasty retreat from enemy forces or possible escape routes.
  3. Today Preppers and Survivalists define Bug-out as escaping a hazardous situation or condition like a natural or man-made disaster.

How do Preppers Use The Term Bug-out?

Survivalists and preppers use the term pretty loosely to describe quite a few things beyond just “bugging-out” and fleeing. Preparing for the bug-out situation is a priority for most preppers. Here is a comprehensive list of how survivalists use the term bug-out.

11 Bug-out Terms Used By Preppers

Bug-out #1


Leave your current location for a safer one. This could mean leaving your home, work, or an unsafe location in case of a natural disaster.

Bug-Out Plan or Emergency Preparedness Plan #2

bug-out plan map

Preppers plan for Bug-out situations. This is known as an Emergency Preparedness Plan. The plan includes the following:

  • Setting Up Emergency Alerts and Warnings
  • Shelter Plan
  • Evacuation Route
  • Communication Plan
  • Emergency Preparedness Kit (Bug-in/Bug-out gear)

Learn how to put together your comprehensive Bug-out plan by visiting the Ready.gov here

Bug-out Bag #3

Osprey Backpack

An emergency backpack or portable container with enough gear and supplies to survive for 72 hours or longer.

This Go-bag should be pre-packed and staged in a location for immediate extraction.

Other Terms for a Bug-out bag: BOB, Grab Bag, or Go Bag

Bug-out Gear #4

Survival gear and food, pre-packed in a Go Bag, for leaving a hazardous area immediately.

Top 17 Pieces of Gear In A Go Bag or Bug-out Bag

  1. The Bag: Bag that doesn’t look overly Tactical/You don’t want to look military. Multiple pockets for storage, easy to use in the field.
    1. Avoid bags with one large compartment as you gear will fall out of the bag every time you remove an item.
    2. Try to compartmentalize gear and know where everything is located.
  2. Fire-starting Kit: Bic lighter, Ferrel Rod, Man-made Tinder
  3. Shelter Kit:
    • Something to sleep under like a military poncho
    • Something to sleep on like a poncho liner
    • Something to sleep in like a Gortex Bivy
  4. Paracord for a shelter ridgeline
  5. Headlamp
  6. Gloves
  7. 3-Layer Clothing System: Light Weight clothes for a worst-case climate scenario, including
    1. Base Layer: quick-drying with wicking action to move sweat away from your body
    2. Mid-layer: To maintain your body heat
    3. Outer Shell: Protects you from wind and rain
    4. Spare Socks-quick dry
  8. Water Filter/Water Purification Tablets/Boil in Stainless Container
  9. Single-walled Stainless Steel Container you can use on a campfire to sterilize water and to cook
  10. First Aid Kit/ Trauma
  11. Pre-made ration that doesn’t require cooking / High calorie and lightweight or freeze-dried food
  12. Compass, Map, GPS
  13. Survival Knife
  14. Multi-tool
  15. Self-defense
  16. Ziplock Bags
  17. Baby Wipes

Tip: Pack Weight: the lighter, the better, shouldn’t exceed 20% of your body weight, especially if you have a long distance to travel on foot

Tip: One is None, and Two Is One: Try to have backup gear or gear with multiple uses. For example, pack a survival knife and have a knife blade on your multi-tool. If one breaks, you still have a knife. Have multiple ways to clean water, start a fire, etc.

Bug-out Location #5

Wooded Forest

This is where you are going when you leave a hazardous environment. The location might be an off-grid cabin, your aunt’s house, a hotel, or a tent in the woods.

7 Traits of a Good Bug-Out Location:

If your planning to purchase land for a bug-out location, look at these 7 traits.

  1. Security: You can defend the location
  2. Exit Routes for easy exit in case you need to bug-out again
  3. Hidden or Camouflaged Area, deep in the woods and not easily seen from roadways
  4. Natural Water Source or a punched water well
  5. Hygiene And Sanitation: location should allow you to dispose of bodily waste and keep your body and gear clean.
    • IF you can afford it, consider a septic system.
  6. Appropriate Shelter For All Seasons
  7. Due Diligence: Know about Covenants. HOA, Easements, Mineral & Water Rights, and neighbors before purchasing land for a Bug-out location

Information provided by Craig Caldwell’s book, “Extreme Wilderness Survival.”

Bug-Out Vehicle #6

RV Trailer

A vehicle of some type is used to leave your home or move away from a hazard or disaster. If you live in or around a highly-populated area like New York City, it is highly likely that roads will be closed, so have alternate plans for bugging out.

20 Types of Bug-Out Vehicle

  1. Car
  2. Truck
  3. Motorcycle or Dirt Bike
  4. ATV
  5. Motor Scooter or Moped
  6. Bicycle
  7. Electric Vehicles with Solar Charging
  8. Wood-gas vehicles
  9. Bio-diesel vehicles
  10. Propane Golf Cart
  11. Utility Trailer or Camp trailer pulled by a motor vehicle
  12. RV
  13. Power Boat
  14. Sailboat
  15. Canoe
  16. Kayak
  17. Personal Aircraft/Ultralight/
  18. Livestock: Horse, Cow, and Cart. Mule, Donkey
  19. Hand-carts
  20. Your own two feet

Tip: Don’t forget to plan for emergency fuel storage or animal feed

Tip: Vehicles Should be hardened against Electro Magnetic Impulse (EMP) which can destroy or damage electronic circuitry.

Tip: You can carry much more weight in a bug-out vehicle than hiking with a bug-out bag. Know that you may be forced to walk at any time: mix up your food and gear, so you have lightweight options to pack out on foot.

Bugging-out on foot #7

Hiker in tactical gear

Walking or hiking away from the hazard. Bugging-out on foot may be required when roads are blocked, or a mass of people leave a large city. Walking out of an emergency is in FEMA’s contingency plan, so it should be in yours.

Considerations For Bugging-out On Foot

  • Weight is one of the most important considerations when bugging out on foot. The average person will have difficulty hiking ten miles with a pack that is less than 20% of body weight. 20% or less is the suggested weight for a backpack for hiking.
    • Ultralight Backpacking: For inspiration on super lightweight gear and hiking, check out YouTube channels on hiking the Appalachian Trail.
  • 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 when it comes to the weight you can carry over a distance.
  • Your Group: Consider who is bugging out with you; the weakest person is the lowest common denominator, consider this when planning to get to a safe area. If you have small children, you may be carrying their gear too.

Bug-out Knife #8

Survival Knife

If you know how to use it, the Bug-out or survival knife is the most important tool in your bug-out bag.

13 Uses for a Bug-out Knife in a Survival Situation

  1. Skinning and debarking: wood, small game, and fish
  2. Batoning or splitting wood for shelters or fire making
  3. Cutting or slicing for food preparation
  4. Carving for bush-craft items like cooking and eating implements, tent or tarp stakes, or making animal traps
  5. Food Preparation
  6. Carving tools for digging, shelter building, or to make things you need
  7. Fire-starting: splitting, feathering, and shaving wood
  8. Light prying to find grubs or crawdads under rocks. Better to use your knife to make a tool for this purpose.
  9. Digging: I would carve a stick for this purpose; I wouldn’t use my knife.
  10. Split plant fibers for rope and small line making
  11. Carve traps, spears, or walking sticks
  12. Cutting green saplings
  13. Beaver cutting 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

Bug-Out Shelter #9

Cabin made of logs

This is a shelter that 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.

13 Bug-Out Shelter Ideas

Make sure your shelter provides heat and protection from the worst weather at your chosen bug-out location. Think insulation and methods to heat the space.

  1. Upgraded Garden or Utility Shed
  2. Connex Box
  3. Shipping Container
  4. Cabin Tent
  5. Camp Trailer
  6. Line-shack or Plywood-Out Building
  7. Tiny buildings
  8. Tarp System
  9. Camping Tent
  10. Covered Hammock
  11. Bivy Sack
  12. Sleeping Roll
  13. Busch-craft Shelter built with natural materials

Tip: In an off-grid power out scenario, you need solar, a wood source, buried coal, or other dependable fuel for when the power grid is down. You maybe roughing it, but you need to stay warm and eat for long-term survival, so have a power or fuel source you can depend on.

Bug-Out Kits #10

There are hundreds of pre-made bug-out kits that 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 to research, bug-out gear, consider purchasing a pre-made kit.

Bug-Out Altoids Tin #11

Altoids Survival Kit

Altoids tins are used by preppers 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

  1. Fishing kit with fishing line, hooks, and fishing weights
  2. Band-aids
  3. Snare-wire
  4. Fire Starting/charring kit/Bick lighter/Ferrel rod
  5. Paracord/cordage/Waxed Hemp Cord
  6. Mini-knife or mini muti-tool
  7. Tweezers
  8. Cash
  9. Emergency Contact Numbers
  10. Mini or nano flashlight
  11. Superglue
  12. Antiseptic Wipes
  13. Razor Blades
  14. Army Style Can Opener
  15. Signaling mirror
  16. Tinfoil
  17. Safety Pins
  18. Q-tips
  19. Alcohol Wipes
  20. Aspirin
  21. Tylenol
  22. Pepto Bismol Pill
  23. Hard Candy
  24. Gum
  25. Salt Packets
  26. Needle and Thread
  27. Pack and Gear Repair kit

Tip: Wrap electric tape around the rim of the Altoids tin, so your lid stays shut.


“Make a Plan,” Ready.gov/Federal Emergency Management Agency here