Does a bug out location make any sense at all?

article first appeared in March 2016

So, does it make sense to have a Bug Out Location (BOL)?

Why not stay put in your home?

Will you get to your bugout location if you have one?

Is a bugout location realistic for everyone?

What should it look like?

Is it right for you?

Wow, sorry. I probably gave you a headache already just asking the questions. But they are important questions. Why? Well, it might make the difference between your family being safe during disaster or grid-down…or dying with the masses.

Yeah, a little melodramatic, I know. But I am pretty passionate about bugout locations (BOL). Yeah, and I am sure that surprises you…right!

A while back I posted a couple of “myth” articles about BOLs and responded to another prepper blogger and their views on BOLs. And I just wanted to put out some information on what I think is relevant to the subject.

First – Does it make sense to have a BOL? Answer: Absolutely!! Why? I am assuming is your home- is your “shelter in place” location…well, what happens if you have to leave your home? “Shelter in place” is also known as “bugging in”; the terms are interchangeable.

Most professional disaster and emergency responders refer to shelter in place vs. bugging in. Most preppers talk about bugging in.

OK, so back to having a BOL. Of course it makes perfect sense to have a BOL. Where else would you go if you had to leave your home…a FEMA shelter? Something along the lines of the Superdome during Hurricane Katrina? Or, a Walmart parking lot? Really!?!

Second – I want to define a BOL before we go any further. A BOL can be any of the following:

  • A family cabin in the mountains.
  • A co-owned cabin in the mountains that you share with a group of friends or extended family.
  • A church camp owned by whatever church you belong to.
  • A friend’s ranch, farm or cabin in the mountains.
  • A state park.
  • A national park.
  • National forest or other public lands.
  • A Walmart or any other store.
  • A parking lot.

So by now you are getting the idea. A BOL is any location other than your home that you can flee to in times of emergencies, disasters and especially “grid-down”…and most importantly…TEOTWAWKI. Yes, I am serious.

Remember, I am a big believer in Plan A, Plan B, etc. You have to have multiple plans! If you don’t…then you are planning to fail. Your BOL might be your Plan A or Plan Z, or somewhere in between. If I had my way in my perfect post-incident world, sheltering-in-place would always be my Plan A. But, that is not realistic in potential incident scenarios.

But, is a single BOL location sufficient? I say “no” without any hesitation. Let me explain…

In the event of a house fire, your house fire, where does your family meet-up? Across the street at the neighbor’s house or maybe the street light three houses down the street. Wherever that location is…it is a BOL.

Now, what if it there is a large cloud of methyl-ethyl-death headed your way…you going to chance it and stay in your house? Ah, probably not. But where will you go? The street light down the street?

What about TEOTWAWKI? Are people going to realistically stay in their homes with mobs of looters and gangs of bad guys roaming around?

That answer might surprise you, or at least “my” answer. I will say “yes!” if you have an organized community and it is sufficiently large enough to provide security. Otherwise, the answer a resounding “no!” So you might as well start working on a BOL now.

Third – Based on the “layers” system coupled with the “emergencies, disasters, and grid-down” concept…BOL’s workout like this:

  1. Close-in rally point for emergencies such as house fires.
  2. Another rally point within ¼ mile or so of your house for situations where you shouldn’t gather close to the house but not too far away.
  3. A BOL that can serve as a close overnight location. This can be a large culvert, a remote radio or TV tower site (easy to see from a long distance), etc.
  4. A moderate-distance BOL that can serve as a safe refuge for several nights if needed to rally friends and family. This needs to be accessible but remote enough that people won’t be naturally traveling past it.
  5. A long-distance BOL in each general compass direction. Yes, that means 4 BOL’s. The reason being you need 4 is in case you are only able to leave the area in one specific direction…at least you have some place to go.
  6. Now that you have identified 1 – 4 long distance BOL’s you also need to identify several intermediate BOL’s along the way. Something more than just an overnight location to sleep. It needs to be a place where you would feel comfortable staying for a few days, a week, maybe a month.

Please don’t get discouraged reading about the need and “must-have” for BOL’s. This is the “best case” scenario. One way to work on this is taking the family camping and day trips to potential locations. You can learn a lot this way and have fun with your family do it as well. Make prepping fun, it’s not hard to do that.

For specifics of any potential BOL please read The Best Bugout Location – How to pick one < click here to read >



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The Best Bugout Location – How to Pick One

Bug Out time Family - when is it time to bug outnote: first appeared in December 2015

There are a whole lot of articles out on the Internet about bugout retreats, redoubts, locations, cabins, etc. Some authors even give specific locations, some provide maps, some do “rankings” of areas, and most of those people have no idea what they are talking about. Well, at least in my opinion.

Why don’t they know what they are talking about? Because they aren’t you, they aren’t in your situation, and they don’t know your needs. I am going to give you principles to help guide you through the process of choosing which bugout location is best for you to choose.


Because I feel you are the only person qualified to pick the bugout location for you and your family…or group.

As you well know by now from reading articles on this website that I see seven primary threat/risks that jeopardize you and your family during any emergency, disaster, or grid-down situation. Those same threats and risks apply to your bugout location as well. How you mitigate those risks/threats is what is really important!

Read more about “risk mitigation” < click here >

But, why not just pick one perfect location to begin with?

Ah, hate to tell you this…ain’t no such thing. Yeah, sorry, I just had to burst your bubble. Honestly, I don’t see any location as being “perfect” and here’s why. Every person, family, and situation is different. Your family is different than my family. So our definition of perfect is just as different. And your situation may change once the incident is underway. And you may need to judge different locations on the fly. However, the guiding principles are the same.

The common threats/risks are:Bug Out Bag get out of dodge violence will be main threat risk

  1. Violence
  2. Injury or Sickness
  3. Communications, lack of or poor
  4. Organization, lack of or poor
  5. Dehydration
  6. Exposure
  7. Starvation

So let me briefly review each of those threats/risks in relation to a bugout location:

  1. Violence – There will be violence, you know that. Dealing with that violent is paramount, your #1 priority.
  2. Injury or Sickness – You may well be called upon to deal with broken bones, gunshot wounds, or tooth cavities. Being able to call upon qualified personnel is essential as well as having access to sufficient medical supplies.
  3. Communications, lack of or poor – You must be able to communicate with others. If nothing else, you have to be able to pick-up shortwave radio transmissions to know what is going on beyond your bugout location.
  4. Organization, lack of or poor – You must be organized in the way you go about buying and staffing your bugout location. How will you deal with all the demands of a self-contained mini-society?
  5. Dehydration – Without water you and your family will die within days.
  6. Exposure – Too much sun, too much heat, and too much cold will kill you. Not enough sun, not enough heat and not enough sun may kill you just as surely. You must be able to shelter from the elements.
  7. Starvation – You must be able to produce food. You can’t live off your food storage forever.

Now, let’s break it all down into brief neat little sections that go into the principles in each of the seven threat/risk areas outlined above. And how they apply to your bugout location.

Violence – No location is immune from the threat of violence. No location is remote enough to avoid all potential Grid Down Chaos violence threats and risks during emergencies and disasters riotsviolence. So the location you pick needs to be defensible to protect you and your family from violence. That defense can be accomplished in a variety of ways. One would be to be in a community that is strong, united on taking care of each other, embraces the gun culture, retired veterans, trained folks, etc. And, you can have a location that is easily defended by a small number of folks. You must understand and be able to deploy things like “area deniers” and other defensive measures. Without being able to defend yourself and your family a bugout location is just another place for you to die.

The #1 aspect of being able to defend a location is “a plan”…period. You can have lots of guns, plenty of ammunition, great shooters, and all the latest tacti-cool equipment. But, if you don’t have a solid, realistic, practical plan on what has to happen and who is to do it…you will fail in protecting your family. Develop that plan and train with it. If you don’t feel qualified to develop that plan, there are folks who can. Look for former military veterans who have actual field combat experience. Stay away from security guards, mall cops, and the average police officer; they are mostly clueless in this area but may sound knowledgeable.

Injury or Sickness – Whatever location you choose must have the space and storage environment for you to safely and securely store Sick or injured Person during grid-down bugoutsufficient medical supplies for your needs. Additionally, you must be in a location where there is more advanced medical care available than you and your family can provide. In my little group of camping friends we have a paramedic and two nurses. Sweet! They can handle a whole lot of issues. But what about taking out a spleen? Or how about taking care of a compound fracture of a leg? Then there is the nasty broken tooth. Who will take care of those issues? The closer your bugout location is to more advanced medical facilities or personnel the better off you and your family will be.

What about sickness? Honestly, along with violence, the #1 threat to members of your family is sickness from poor sanitation. You must be able to handle two main issues; 1) sewage, 2) clean hands. Being able to properly handle sewage with a septic tank, outhouse, latrine, etc. is essential. Then making sure people keep their hands clean comes next. That means lots of hand sanitizer and anti-bacterial soap. Along with those two priorities you must add plenty of training in this area, as well as someone willing to nag people day after day after day about the importance of sanitation.

Communications – I cannot stress enough how important communications really is. If your family or group can’t Ham Shack - communication operations communicate you will fail. And in the cases of emergencies, disasters, and especially grid-down…failure could equal fatality. There are two general areas of communications that I will rate as critical; 1) internal, 2) external. You must be able to reliably communicate within your family or group. And you must be able to communicate with the outside world. Otherwise, how do you know what is happening beyond your very small bugout location society? How will you know what is coming? How will you know when it is unsafe? I will tell you that all the great Ham equipment is 100% worthless! Well, that is true if you have no ComPlan. You must have a plan for both internal and external communications. The plan is just as important as the equipment. Well actually, the plan is more important.

There are many forms of communications, such as Ham radios, FRS/GMRS radios, SW radios, CB radio, but there are also notes, flagging, mirror flashes, signs, etc. Establish many ways to communicate. If there was ever truly a case for redundancy, it is with communicating in times of needs. View any potential bugout location in terms of communicating. There is the obvious, “Is there an elevated piece of ground for a radio repeater?” But don’t neglect, “If radio communications is non-operational, how long to get a message to town or the next closest family or group?”

Organization – This is probably the least applicable area to a bugout location. Why? Because your organization ICS for preppers Incident Command Systems Logistics Section support branchshould be the same model (ICS) regardless of location. Granted, you might have to add positions or personnel, but the organizational model should be the same. And yes, I am speaking of ICS (Incident Command System). The bottom line to “organization” is that you must have it! You can’t just bring together a family or group and think that magically everything gets done, coordination takes place, and operations are successful. You must be organized, responsibilities must be assigned, and people must be accountable for getting their assignments accomplished in a safe and timely manner.

People in any potential bugout location must be organized…or willing to organize along the lines of a successful system. And FYI…a military organizational chart will not work in a civilian setting…it has been tried and failed numerous times.

Dehydration – This means water. Water must be available at any potential bugout location. There are a number of ways that Water1can happen such as; river, creek, well, rain catchment, etc. But, you must have a supply of water. And I strongly suggest you have redundancy in this area as well. For example, if you have a well make sure you also have a rain catchment system. Why? Ah, what happens if the well runs dry? So, if you only have a rain catchment system? Well, (no pun intended) I suggest you seek out the closest river or creek, or start digging a well. But what if you have a big ole river? Yeah, rivers run dry too…or are dammed up.

Now, once you have a supply of water with a back-up supply, you will need a way to make it safe to drink. You can filter and purify it, any other option is not practical. You say, “I can always boil it!” Well, theoretically yes you can. But for how long? What I am referring to is…till your fuel runs out; the fuel I am referring to is the fuel it takes to boil your water. Yeah, we could debate this, but trust me, you want a way to filter and purify your water vs. just boiling it.

Water PoolSo, you have a water supply, a back-up water supply, and a Monolithic Ceramic water filtration system. How many replacement filters do you have? Do you have a way to pre-filter the sediment out? Do you have back-up “socks” for the filter? What happens if the spigot breaks? Answer…the filters and parts are very inexpensive…buy plenty of them and store them securely!

Note: When talking about a rain catchment system I am speaking of not just the capability to catch rain, but the ability to store a minimum of 3 months of water, preferably 6 – 12, along with just catching it.

Exposure – This simply means that your bugout location must be able to provide sufficient shelter to keep you BugOut Cabin bug-outalive. And yes, it would be nice if it kept you comfortable as well, but that is secondary. You can have a full-blown retreat cabin, or you can have a tent. Just make sure your shelter is; 1) large enough for everyone, 2) sturdy enough to handle the elements for years, 3) you have a skills, tools, and materials to make basic repairs to it, 4) you have some sort of back-up plan.

If your cabin burns down, do you have a tent to live in while you rebuild? If you have a tent, do you have the tools to build a rudimentary cabin or reinforce your tent?

Starvation – Your bugout location must be able to provide multiple food sources. One “source” must be the ability healthy people working in the gardento grow food such as vegetables. Fruit would be a great addition. You can use above ground garden boxes or conventional gardens, but you must be able to grow food. The other “sources” would be things such as wild game in the area. Yes, deer and elk would be nice, but are there squirrels, rats, and ground hogs, etc.? And please…don’t go killing everything the first year. Be reasonable and leave enough of each species to reproduce.

A side note of caution concerning hunting – protecting your hunting area. There are only so many animals in any give area. If you are going to use that area to hunt in, who is to say someone else doesn’t have the same idea. If you are going to count on hunting as a primary source of food you are; 1) foolish, 2) probably going to get into a firefight with someone else that has the same idea. Neither is a good option.

There is also the option of domesticated food animals. Stay away from large animals such as cattle, they eat a lot, require a lot of attention, and draw attention. Pigs are one idea because they produce a lot of off-spring but require a lot of attention and can be very destructive. Chickens, rabbits, and other small animals are probably a better bet.

Summary –

You might be wondering how in the heck are you supposed to buy a bugout location that excels in, or at least is marginally acceptable in, all of these areas? You might even be wondering how in the world to rate multiple bugout locations against these criteria and against each other. The second question is much easier to answer.

  • Violence (worth 20 points) 1 = no provision at all, 10 = moderate ability to defend, 20 = no one is getting near us
  • Injury or Sickness (worth 20 points) 1 = no medical facilities or personnel within 75 miles, 20 = medical facilities or personnel within 10 miles, 20 = within 5 miles of doctor and/or medical facility
  • Communications, lack of or poor (worth 10 points) 1 = very limited communications capability, 5 = repeater hill and within mirror flash of neighbors, 10 = hardwired communications with neighbors, etc.
  • Organization, lack of or poor (worth 10 points) 1 = we have a loose organizational structure, 3 = we have our own organizational structure, 7 = we use ICS, 10 = we use ICS and are trained in using it
  • Dehydration (worth 15 points) -20 = no current water capacity, 5 = only rain water catchment system, 10 = well/river/creek, 15 = well/river/creek and rain catchment system (or any two dependable sources of water)
  • Exposure (worth 10 points) -10 = no shelter and no tent, 4 = tent only, 8 = cabin, 10 = cabin and tent
  • Starvation (worth 15 points) -5 = no ability to grow food, 5 = above ground garden boxes, 10 = established garden plots, 14 = fenced established garden spots with small animal raising capability, 15 = fenced established garden spots with small animal raising capability and at least 1280 acres of exclusive hunting land

Now, take the rating system above and personalize it if you wish. You can add in some other features and benefits between the rating numbers I already put on the scale for you. Example: Dehydration –

-20 = no current water capacityRating System
3 = rain water catchment system and 3 months storage capability
4 = rain water catchment system and 6 months storage capability
5 = only rain water catchment system with 12 months storage capability
6 = seasonal river/creek with 6 months of storage capacity
7 = seasonal river/creek with 12 months of storage capacity
8 = well/river/creek, well has a AC pump with propane generator
10 = well/river/creek, well has a solar pump with 6 months of storage capacity
15 = well/river/creek and rain catchment system, well has a solar pump with 12 months of storage capacity

I will leave it up to you on how to enhance the rating system. But, when you are done looking over and rating a potential bugout location add all the points together you will get a relative score vs. 100 points. Choose the best location Multiple Bugout Locationsbased on its point score. Or, better yet, rank each potential bugout location based on points and have redundant bugout plans based on the ratings of each potential location.

Multiple bugout locations? Doesn’t that get expensive?

Whoever said you have to buy a bugout location?

In times of emergencies and disasters I doubt many people would object enough to a family or small group using a public or national campsite, park, etc. There is a lot US Forest Service and BLM land out there. And in times of grid-down…well, I don’t think it is as important as who owns it compared to who occupies it…and their ability to defend it. But, I don’t want to detract from the basis of this article. I will let your ability to be creative guide you.

You now have a rock solid method to identify the best bugout locations. Go do it!


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Bug-Out or Bug-In ?

Bug Out Bug In when SHTF or grid-downnote: first appeared in December 2015

I am not crazy about the terms, but they are recognized in the “prepper” community so I will use them here a well. Actually I am OK with “bug-out” but I like “shelter in-place” a little more than “bug-in.” But you will get the information here no matter which term is used. So let me describe to you what I feel is the correct definition of “bug-out.”


Bug-Out –

An act of leaving your current location during an emergency.

Shelter In-Place –

An act of staying in your current location during an emergency.

Background –

Both acts are driven by a concern for safety. In the first option you are thinking that the current location is not safe. You may or may not think a destination is safe, but you know that your current location is not safe, and/or it is not going to be safe at some future time. Conversely, with the latter option you feel you are generally safer in your current location than at some other potential location or the on the trip to get to another location.

So which is the best option during disasters, emergencies and especially in “grid-down” situations?

Great question! Tough answer. And it is all dependent on the situation itself. But let me share a few guidelines and thoughts with you that might help you think through your decision process.

Making the Distinction –

First thing I ask people is where are your prep items? Items such as food, water, weapons, ammo, and all that other gear Food Storage - bug out bug in - why do you want to leave all that stuff?and equipment. Undoubtedly they answer that it is all somewhere in their house, on their property, in the garage or shed, etc. Great! The follow-up question is almost insulting in nature, “Why would you want to leave all that great stuff?” That usually gets me a blank stare or a look of disillusionment.

But it is a serious, maybe the most serious, question to ask yourself.

Doing It –

You spent a lot of money, a tremendous amount of time, and untold frustration acquiring a great set of preparations for you and your family to weather out the storm. Now you are actually considering leaving it all, or most of it, behind? Or do you plan on taking it all with you? Unless you own a large moving truck please don’t try and convince me that you can take it all with you. You can’t.

I did a little experiment a number of years ago that helped open my eyes a whole lot. I decided I would make a plan to bug-out and I wanted to take as much stuff as I possibly could. It was hilarious to say the least. I checked and validated the Bug out vehicle overloaded with all the gearweight and space of each case of food I had. Then I went and did the same for my guns & ammo. By that time I was already depressed. I had exceeded the weight and space capacity of my 1-ton truck by a large margin. And I hadn’t assessed any camping, cooking, communications, or other survival gear yet. It was bad…very, very bad.

So the first thing I did was stop my idiotic bug-out planning. I developed a brand new food storage methodology <click here to read more>, then rearranged my guns & ammo, developed my communications gear storage plan, and began working on redoing my whole storage concept on all my other gear. I will share all of that in the near future, but for now I just want you to know that I realized, rather clearly, that I would only be able to take a small fraction of my “stuff” , even in our one-ton truck.

Oh, I gotta tell you that there was one intermediate step, I started upgrading my plan using my wife’s Explorer in the mix. Yeah, I am an idiot! Twice the problems with gas, breakdowns, security, etc. I only went down that rabbit hole for a couple hours before I abandoned that dumb decision.

So back to bugging-out. For the most part, in most situations it will make absolutely no sense at all to bug-out; nada, zip, zero, none. But you better have a bug-out plan anyways. But before we go there let me explain my no bug-out thought.

Bugging - In Bugg-in bug-in shelter in place shelter-in-placeSo you have all this wonderful gear, lots of food, water, communications gear, blankets, sleeping bags, roof, windows, doors, and AC & Heat as long as the power stays on. Yeah! Now I am talking…great way to live through an apocalypse!

No, seriously, all your stuff is in your house, or at least on your property, why in the world would you want to take a small fraction of it and load it into a vehicle and drive away? Or worse yet, load a tiny, tiny fraction of it into a GOOD BOB and walk away?

So my first thought is to really reinforce your home and make it your “shelter-in-place” castle. But there may come a time when you must bug-out. What would drive you to do that?

Safety, pure and simple. Conditions would get so bad that it was safer to leave your home than stay in it. But you better have a plan to do so…and a couple alternatives.

But let’s talk for a minute about what would possibly be so bad that it would drive you from your home. Try the following:

  1. Imminent attack by a large mob and no neighborhood defense force, or no mutual fire support with your neighbors.
  2. Hazardous substance headed towards your house that could cause death or injury. This would be something like chlorine gas.
  3. Unstoppable and indefensible fire spreading towards your house.
  4. House-to-house looting or rounding up of citizens and lacking defenses mentioned in #1.

I am sure there are more that you can come up with but these are the top four in my mind. What I would suggest is that you identify “trigger points” for each scenario. In other words, define the threat severity and relationship to your home that would trigger you taking your family away from your home. Doing this simple exercise will help you when the stress is high and you aren’t thinking clearly. Just follow the plan. And yes, you must always remain flexible and adaptable to the changing conditions around you. But this is a good starting point to get your mind in the game.

Bug-out destination bug out destinationOf course you need a destination. And exactly where you go depends on what is near you. But there are two major categories of destinations, interim and final. The final destination is the one that you can plan for the most, the interim will present the most dangers and obstacles.

Let me briefly address the “interim” destination(s). Yes, you might have more than one; possible many more. But this is a location that is probably better known as a “stop-over” or “lay-over” location. This is simply a location where you will stop along the way to your final destination for some amount of time. You may only stay overnight, or maybe for days at a time. Ultimately there will be only one major guideline as to how long you stay – safety. Is it safe for you and your family or group to continue moving to your final destination will be your guiding principle.

So what makes a good interim location? I would suggest the following:

  1. Low-profile, well-hidden.
  2. Water is available.
  3. Little likelihood of other occupants.
  4. Can be safely observed from a distance before you enter.
  5. Access can be controlled.
  6. Defensible.

I would suggest looking for interim locations that are about 50 miles apart all along your route. This is of course assuming you are driving. If you must walk then you have to look at interim location about every 10 – 15 miles. Why so low for driving interim locations? You simply don’t know how far you will be able to travel in any given day. Some days you might go 700 miles, other days you may only go 7 due to roadblocks, weather, roadbed condition, vehicle condition, bad guys, etc. Better to have too many interim locations scouted then not enough.

You will want to employ basic security tactics when approaching an interim location to ensure no one is already there. And then those same tactics will hopefully keep you safe while you are there. Remember, to let your guard down for one minute is to invite disaster for you and your family. Generally speaking…observe the potential location for a minimum of 30 minutes before approaching…and hour is better. Only have 1 – 2 people approach. Keep a reserve and blocking security team in-place ready to respond.

Moving on to your final destination. As you should already know if you have been reading my articles or books, I advocate small community survival destination, not single person, single family, or even small groups for ultimate survival. You simply have to have enough people around you to provide skills that you and your group don’t have. Example: Doctor, gunsmith, electrical engineer, car mechanic, etc.

cabin in rural location for bug-out bug out location destinationBased on that I would suggest considering these options:

  • Your cabin or vacation home in a small, rural, potentially self-sustaining community.
  • A relative’s home, cabin or vacation home in a small, rural, potentially self-sustaining community.
  • A friend’s home, cabin or vacation home in a small, rural, potentially self-sustaining community.

Wherever you decide to go, it MUST have a water supply. And I don’t care if you think it is “safe” or not, there has to be a water supply of some kind. Regardless of whether you think it is safe or not, you will filter and purify it no matter what. You simply can’t trust a water supply under these circumstances. But not to worry! You have multiple layers of water filtration and purification. <click here to read more about making water safe to drink>

In the next post in this series I will go over more details on picking the right final destination.


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