Bugging Out for Dummies

By Patrice Lewis

Recently, I came across a list of recommended items for a bug-out bag that was so ridiculous, it was just plain funny. The list originated from an unknown place so I can’t provide the original source. However, I thought it was time for a sensible discussion of the myths of bugging out in general and bug-out bags in particular.

In the prepper world, bug-out bags have achieved a sort of legendary status. Whole industries have sprung up dedicated to what you should carry so you’ll be equipped to handle everything from fighting off MS-13 gang members to deep-sea fishing. These bags often have a twinge of zombie-apocalypse mentality, the idea that we should all be ready to don a 60-pound backpack and slink out of urban areas, dodging those pesky zombies with clever ninja paramilitary maneuvers until we ultimately end up in the woods where we’ll survive by our wits and our ingenious miniature tools. (“The woods” is always the final destination.)

Yes, there are times we need to rapidly escape our homes. But in such a case, unless you’re willing to cart along Granny and your newborn baby on your back, you’re not getting away on foot. You’re using a vehicle. Nor are you heading for “the woods”; you’re heading for the next town over or a friend’s house or whatever.

Without a realistic destination in mind, and a realistic means to get there, bugging out on foot is not just impractical, it’s a dangerous fantasy. Under a heavy backpack, most fit and experienced backpackers can hike between 10 and 20 miles a day, depending on terrain and weather. In most cities, that won’t even get you out of the suburbs, and presumably you’ll be sharing the sidewalks with hordes of panicked and irrational people.

Besides, most of us aren’t 25-year-old single men who spend two hours a day at the gym. Most of us have family members (older or younger) we can’t leave behind, not to mention an assortment of pets we’d be devastated to lose. Will everyone be camping in “the woods” once you escape the city?

Bugging out by foot also means going at the speed of the slowest member of your party. How far can your 2-year-old walk? How about Granny? What will you do with your pets? How will you carry all the gear necessary to keep Junior, Granny and Rover comfortable? See what I mean? The logistics of bugging out on foot are next to impossible for the vast majority of us.

Above all, “the woods” as a destination is a really dumb idea. Who owns “the woods”? Here in the West, there is a lot more government-owned land, so you can disappear for long periods of time. In the East, “the woods” is generally under private ownership, and I can’t imagine anyone will appreciate your long-term presence.

Additionally, your grand adventure will only last as long as the food in your backpack (assuming bears or raccoons don’t clean you out overnight). All the chatter of escaping to “the woods” never seems to address one logical question: What will you do once you’re there? How long will you stay? It’s certainly possible to live off the land, but it takes years of research, training and preparation to do so. In short, bugging out to “the woods” is nothing but a macho fantasy.

OK, back to the list of recommended items for a bug-out bag. Some items are fine if you’re going on a backpacking trip. Some make sense in any kind of bag. Others are just plain ridiculous. Here’s the list:

• Tweezers (yes, this was first on the list; no idea why)
• Money for purchases
• Pen and pencil, paper/notebook
• Lights, including solar lights
• Freeze-dried foods
• Map of area
• Compass
• Shovel (fold up)
• Spear
• Frog gig (3-pronged spear)
• Whistle
• Toilet paper
• Cayenne pepper to stop bleeding
• Pads/gauze to wrap injuries
• Antibiotic ointment
• Cup with retractable handle
• Lifestraw
• Military sewing kit
• Vet wrap
• Poncho
• Glasses
• Sunscreen
• Heat packets for hands/feet/body
• Bandana (for straining water, among other things)
• Heat 32 (possibly a brand of thermal underwear, but it’s never defined)
• Magnifying glass
• Fishing gear
• Multi-tool
• Stroller or stroller basket to carry backpack
• Rubber bands
• Candles
• Super Soaker
• Egg carton with lint with wax as fire starters
• Tiger Lady (a hand-held defense tool for close-up defense)
• Long knife with brass knuckles
• Aluminum foil
• Potassium permanganate (presumably for use as a general disinfectant)
• Bell & Howell pen (a combination pen and flashlight)
• Flares
• Tarp
• Windproof lighter
• Signal mirror
• Extra ammo
• Solar backpack

See what I mean? Does this sound like what you’re going to need if you’re escaping an earthquake or an economic collapse? Can we PLEASE get over the idea that we’re all Rambos-in-waiting and can bug out to “the woods” where we’ll gig frogs and spear game?

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Conspicuously absent from the above list if “the woods” is your destination: Sleeping bag. Tent. A firearm (though, oddly, ammo is on the list). A change of clothes. Mosquito netting. Insect repellent.

You see, I knew this list was hooey the moment I saw a spear, a frog gig and a stroller for carrying the backpack. And a Super Soaker? What in tarnation? Do you honestly think the average person will use a spear and a frog gig in “the woods”? Do you really think most forested terrain lends itself to a stroller? And what on earth do you need with a Super Soaker?

Maybe I’m being too harsh here. There are endless circumstances under which bugging out by foot may be the only option (and assuming it’s not safer to hunker down and stay home). First and most obvious, not everyone has a car. Second, if the roads are impassable (landslides, bridge collapses, etc.), driving isn’t an option. However in these dire situations, I cannot fathom how a frog gig, a Super Soaker, and a spear will help you. Believe me, you’ll have your hands full evacuating your children, elderly relatives and pets to think about where you misplaced your frog gig.

None of this is to imply a bug-out bag isn’t a good idea. In fact, it’s an extremely good idea, as the recent Ohio train derailment illustrated; but my advice is to concentrate on packing the critical items you’ll need for both immediate requirements and long-term negotiation as you pull your life back together. The need for a Super Soaker, frog gig, and spear is practically zero.

Instead, your bug-out bag should contain what critical and portable things you’ll need, such as documentation that might help you get back on your feet and deal with banks, insurance agencies and other bureaucratic necessities, and personal clothing and sanitation items to allow you some measure of comfort and dignity for a few days.

In other words, an effective evacuation bag is NOT the typical prepper zombie apocalypse bag pushed by so many survival websites.

OK, rant over.

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