Bug Out Vs. Shelter in Place

Overcoming Failure
August 16, 2016
October 11, 2016
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Bug Out Vs. Shelter in Place

The subject in many groups of preparedness and survival is the idea of bugging out vs. Sheltering in place; when, where, how and when to re-think. A subject like this gets all kinds of reactions from passionate people on either side of the argument. The two parties are often so polarized they rarely reach common ground or consensus for the better option. A passionate stand is understood of course because in either camp they are interested in survival. One positive among these schools of thought is there are only two options and regardless of who you are talking to you have a 50/50 chance of being like-minded. Also, among the countless scenarios of survival boiling the correct choice to a 50/50 is great odds. We will discuss however, the advantages with not maintaining a decision to either leave or stay regardless of what is happening. Maintaining an absolute position may have unintended consequences even with the best intentions.

Do I leave or stay? Bug out or not? Is one of the most commonly asked questions when thinking about preparing for emergencies. We ask ourselves, we ask our families and loved ones. We must consider there is no absolute, no universal right or wrong. Similar to Ford vs Chevy and which pistol caliber is the best you can imagine groups for “preppers” shouting the correct answers at one another. There would be as many different answers as there are people in the debate. Really, a person will own the best choices for them and prepare accordingly for their own reasons. We all display bias in our learning and preparation based on our knowledge and experience. Where we get into trouble is when we assume we have learned it all and our way is the best way no matter what. Again, a certain amount of passion and defensiveness is understood given the gravity of what we are preparing for. So, more often than not, when people get together to discuss this topic sparks often fly.

There are reasons a person reaches their decision. We cannot assume to know why decisions are made and the fact may be they don’t know themselves. I would like to discuss the argument bias free and scenario based free from bias. I have my own thoughts on the matter and will share those openly. I will be the first to to say my belief is, there is no way to prepare for every scenario all the time. We do the best we can with the information and resources available to us and move forward. I also believe bugging out is not always the best option, nor is sheltering in place. We have to fine tune our responses appropriate and leave room for flexibility and rely on our ability to adapt.

Let’s establish some vocabulary before I get caught up in what I’m talking about. Bugging out means packing needed supplies and leaving to go to another location. Bugging out can mean either that you are leaving and will never be back or that you are taking a temporary leave for safety reasons, think when people leave or are forced to leave their homes due to a natural disaster.  FEMA is among the many organizations that recommend having a “bug out bag” prepared for emergencies. I also believe a bug out bag is needed to prepare properly.

Sheltering in place is the 180 degree opposite of bugging out. Sheltering in place means you are staying put in your home. You have the supplies and have made the appropriate preparations intended to ride out the impending disaster. Now you understand the difference between the two and will be better informed when asked the question will you bug out or shelter in place.

You understand the two, so the time and come to answer the question for yourself. I ask you to consider the following questions and determine which is the better option for you keeping in mind there might not be the same answer to every scenario you pose to yourself, but it’s a good start. try to base your responses on your currently reality. Meaning, do you live in a city or the country. Do you have a young family or no family at all? And so on.

  • Situation– What is your internal trigger prompting you to say, “I gota’ go”?
  • Location– Where are you now and where might you go?
  • Health– What is your physical capacity and limitation?
  • Dependents– Small children, geriatric family or pet you can’t live without?
  • Threat– What threat would prompt you to leave/stay?
  • Destination– If you leave, where do you go?


Situation – Will have a great influence your decision to bug out or shelter and you have to make the choice whether or not to go. As you already know situation is one of the most extreme variables a person will encounter. Even a situation that you have planned for can have unforeseen obstacles and challenges that change the game completely.  Your planning and preparation will change depending on the situation you are thinking about. What will make you leave? How bad does it have to get? What if you are not home when it happens? What will your family do? Will you have to defend yourself or your family?

Health – What are is your ability and limitation? Can you walk for long periods of time? With large amounts of weight? Are you prepared to leave everything behind? Are you with anybody who is more limited than you? What are the medications you will need to take with you? Medications for family members? Does that medication need to be refrigerated? If your limitations are too severe are you prepared to shelter in place regardless?

Dependents – Are there or will there be any small children with you that are not able to travel long distances? Any children in diapers or that have special needs? Children will have a difficult time coping with the stress and lack of stability in a bug out scenario. Their stress can become more severe as time increases. Will anyone with you be pregnant? In a wheelchair? On oxygen? What about your pets? Will you be able to leave them? Do they serve some purpose with taken with you?

Location – Are you in a city or a rural area with miles around you and wide open spaces? Are in a place with resources that would allow you to live “off grid” if the world came down? Could you plant a garden and keep it safe? Would you have to be leaving with 100’s if not millions of other people? How to you get to where you are to where you want to go? How long will it take? Where will you go? How will you get there?

Threat – This is one of the most straight forward answers on the list and the easiest to know about. However easy it may to be identify there will be unknown specifics in every situation. Some situations you will have ample time to make your decision. Others will come in a hurry and rush you to make choices. Floods, earthquakes, power grid failure, zombies or an alien invasion all might have different time frames. When do you leave and when do you stay? Is the city in chaos? Is there looting and riots?

Destination – Where are you now and how do you get where you need to go? Where is it? Do you have your bug out location stocked with the appropriate supplies or will you have to take everything with you? If you have time, can you make it to a relative’s or friends house for a few days? Can you get there without having to take the highway or be around other people?  Do you have the skills to live off the land?

It doesn’t matter what experience anyone else has, you have to ask yourself questions that will affect your life/death situation as well as the life of your loved ones. No one can tell you what is best for your family in your specific situation. You have to accept the responsibility for what is yours and decide accordingly.

Things can change in an instant. We have to be prepared to adapt to something we did not / could not plan for. In these cases we do the best we can. Constantly evaluate your situation and don’t get stuck in thinking one course of action will be the best regardless of happen is/has transpired.


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