The Bug-in v. Bug-out Question

Bug Out Bag Checklist

I admit, I have been a prepper—to various degrees—for decades. In that regard, my plans have always been to bug out if things got rough. As a former resident of Florida, we always rated things on the hurricane scale. For me, anything more than the equivalent of a Category 2 hurricane meant bugging out to higher ground.

Picture shows a police spraying tear gas on protestors
If your area becomes a hotbed for civil unrest, experts and survivalist agree—you are safer staying indoors.

I have a friend who lives in a rural area and he welcomed the help. My plan was simple; grab my SHTF bag, important guns, pre-set ammo boxes, dried goods, and head to his place. All of those items were pre-staged in a closet and would take less than 15 minutes to relocate to my truck. I also pre-positioned some bulky items at his place. In late 2009, my prepping calculus changed dramatically.

The catalyst was twofold in nature. My relationship with a wonderful woman deepened immensely. This meant I wasn’t just responsible for myself; I had to consider her and her 16 year old son. Part two, she was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly thereafter. For those who are not aware, breast cancer usually means surgery, a regime of chemotherapy, followed by radiation treatment. This process takes at least a year and bugging out would be difficult at best.

With that in mind, a seismic shift went through our prep plans. We discussed things and came to the obvious conclusion that unless it was BAD, we needed to bug in. First, we made a list of the things that were mandatory to remain in place short term. This list included:

Bug Out Bag Checklist
Bug Out Bag Checklist

The good news, we had everything except the generator. We needed additional quantities of some items, but a week’s worth of survival provisions for three was a bit less than what was already laid in. Our plan was to run the generator intermittently to keep the fridge and freezer cold and one room in the house as an oasis against heat intolerance caused by my wife’s chemo.

Upon reflecting on the disaster that was Katrina, we were not confident that a week was the hurdle we should stop at. As a function of that, we looked at longer-term bug in needs. Our new list added the following to our short-term list.:

This additional layer of readiness cost us a fair amount of time and money to acquire, but it built depth into our ability to protect “chemo girl,” and it helped our family gel. One weekend, we decided to test our plans and voluntarily turned off the house power. For 2.5 days, we lived off our supplies and followed our plans. It did not go as we envisioned, but we learned from our no pressure dry run. Many weak areas were readily apparent—as well as some areas that worked well.


  • Dietary variety was poor
  • Water usage was much higher than expected
  • Generator sound-deadening was poor


  • Cooking over an alcohol burner / small hibachi grill worked well
  • Solar chargers worked well for the ham radio and cell phones
  • The manual water pump was great
  • The window AC made life tolerable for all
  • Reusing cleaning water to dispose of latrine wastes worked well

Our Bug In weekend was a great test. It led to purchasing two 55-gallon food grade plastic drums for drinking water supplies in addition to maintaining a rotation of 10 cases of bottled water. We also purchased a 30-gallon drum for storage of purposed grey water with a separate manual pump.

A very important dietary gap was fixed with the purchase of a dehydrator. This allowed us to make our own dried fruits, vegetables, and jerky. The generator sound issue was tackled on two fronts. First, an automotive muffler was grafted onto the generator. This greatly lowered the sound volume. Second, a double-layer baffle box was built to contain the remaining sound without restricting heat dispersion.

We only ever had to utilize the plan with a 4-day hurricane-related power outage. The plans and the “Bug In” weekend made those 4 days seem like a mini-vacation compared to what it would have been like without our test.

Our situation and our plans are different from yours, but make a plan, and test it—soon.

Have you tested your bug-in or bug-out plan? What changes did you make? Share your answers in the comment section.

About the Author:

John Bibby

John Bibby is an American gun writer who had the misfortune of being born in the occupied territory of New Jersey. His parents moved to the much freer state of Florida when he was 3. This allowed his father start teaching him about shooting prior to age 6. By age 8, he was regularly shooting with his father and parents of his friends. At age 12, despite the strong suggestions that he shouldn’t, he shot a neighbor’s “elephant rifle."

The rifle was a .375 H&H Magnum and, as such, precautions were taken. He had to shoot from prone. The recoil-induced, grass-stained shirt was a badge of honor. Shooting has been a constant in his life, as has cooking.

He is an (early) retired Executive Chef. Food is his other great passion. Currently, he is a semi-frequent 3-Gun competitor, with a solid weak spot on shotgun stages. When his business and travel schedule allow, you will often find him, ringing steel out well past 600 yards. In order to be consistent while going long, reloading is fairly mandatory. The 3-Gun matches work his progressive presses with volume work. Precision loading for long-range shooting and whitetail hunting keeps the single-stage presses from getting dusty.
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (13)

  1. Everyone on my street has a generator and well.

    We don’t have water cannons or mace to deal with angry mobs, but we do have sheriff that we can depend on for back up if needed. We only ask that they be loud with sirens when they arrive, so they don’t get caught in the crossfire.

  2. First off – bugging in is better than bugging out

    Secondly, one may not have that option – so be prepped for it

    Just where one bugs out to, may be a choice or happen-stance

    A mutual friend or relative of which you have a reciprocal agreement is better than nothing.

    If you haven’t read it, read War on The Run. Rogers noted in the 1700s that game (for some unknown reason) got very scarce.

    300 years later, do you think the wildlife has improved?

    To live in the woods without bringing your supplies withy you is to end your days by starvation. Foods supplies only delay the obvious – unless one brings a 2 year supply of food and seeds plus live stock.

  3. As the first commenter getting too old for extended bug out. The house is 6ft thick rammed earth, 40 claer field of fire around it. Enough solar with battery backup to run the entire plsce off grid. Well has house power, its own solar backup and manual beyound that. Of course plenty close and bit furtherv away weapons and ammo. Ability to reload and make black or white powder. Lead and molds and sizing etc to cast bullets. Tons of primers but a very large stock of strike anywhere matches. Yep you can use those to remake primers. Of course septic. Many buckets of food, and a seed bank as well. While I would not count on the Tesla for off roading tatical, the fact it is mobile without gas dependency is nice. The electric Polaris is good as well. Mostly hobby farm, but have a no till drill that use the Polaris with.

  4. Bugging In is the way to go – IF possible! However, a safe room is almost always required (for hurricanes or tornadoes) which should also be above the high water mark of a storm. The storm shelter should also protect the occupants of prowlers, thieves – any predator to include the military nice guys and FEMA or LEOs out to disarm you due to the crisis. They did that again in North Carolina! One can’t haul away all those nice to have things at the ho unless your bug out vehicle is a moving van!

  5. My wife and I built a home in a rural area of NE Indiana 20 years ago, moving from a close-in, densely populated suburb of a medium size metro area. Prepping was a common topic of conversation in the late 90’s, and to be honest, not a component of our home design. We could easily have built a safe-room in an area of the basement, but never anticipated the need. By 2010 when we began to fear what the future might hold, we’d wished we had. Our location would definitely be a bug-in situation if the SHTF — half mile off a county road, deep in the woods, abundant wildlife (squirrels, rabbits, pheasant, wild turkeys and deer, a clean, half acre stocked pond to provide both fish and drinking water should the well not function due to lack of electricity.

    My biggest concern is that most of my neighbors have become complacent. I haven’t advertised that I’m prepared for whatever comes down the pike, for up to a year or maybe a little longer, but I doubt that more than a handful of the 50 or so households within a half mile of me are prepared to last more than a week. All that said, I’m less concerned about societal collapse than I was back in 2010. Now all that could change come November 6th.

    1. Sorry, should have read: Prepping was NOT a common topic of conversation in the late 90ÔÇÖs.

  6. In the last 15 years I’ve gone from 49 to 64 (sigh) and the “bug in” scenario is becoming more of a reality with each passing month. My wind, stamina, endurance, vision, old injuries, etc. preclude any long distance extended term survival jaunt. I just well imagine there are many many more, albeit unwillingly; in the same boat. There was a time when I could heft a 45 + lb load all day long; ……not gonna happen. Added to that is the responsibility of my wife’s well being. She’s healthy but @ 60 there is little chance she would come through a serious extended battle with the elements and/or nature regardless of my whits and abilities. A matter not to be taken lightly. My calculus has gone 180 degrees also. Unless forced by an insurmountable situation to exit, we’re staying put. An interesting note to this is my son and daughters and their spouses have recently been discarding the luring wanderlust of bugging out and are opting for a group “hunker down” at a well supplied location. Not only man made supplies but natural also. There are children involved. Plus, something that must always be in the back of your mind is stranger assistance. Lone wolf be damned; if you are any kind of decent person the needful stranger (or unaccounted for extended family member) is a definite part of the equation. Personally, I am not the least bit worried about any kind of foreign entity or our government. The cards just don’t add up. (at least in my lifetime, or my children’s for that matter). Sustenance and all that entails, mother nature and all that entails, sickness and all that entails, marauders and all that entails are the prime concerns. It’s a waste of time energy and resources to plan beyond those. Besides, if/when faced with a foreign adversary or our (misguided) government, your only realistic choice is to die with dignity.

    Thought provoking timely article, apropos to today’s climate.

    1. A good posting filled with wisdom and common sense. Often read how people are going to move to the woods and living off the land after their stock has been depleted. May have to move to the the woods but only involuntarily. I plan to bug-in place.

  7. Bugging in which is a very good idea however if you don’t have a good safe room or a good underground facility you’re still vulnerable inside your house. Next if everybody starts bugging out that would be the point to where total unrest possibly foreign armies would be invading. This could present a big problem after all the people bugging out even though the u.s. is very big there’s going to be a lot of people bumping into each other and a lot of mistakes made by people because they’re going to want to stand their ground keep their territory and stay safe if everybody heads to the woods to the caves into the mountains that’s a lot of people bugging out. Unless you have a large supply of food and water when you bug out or at your place where you believe you’re going to go when you bug out there’s going to be a lot of competition for the food and animals and resources available in those areas when you bug out that’s going to be a big problem for a lot of people. And if we are facing foreign avidasary it will be extremely hard to hide from them with today’s technology it’s just doggone impossible anymore unless you’re underground to where they can’t see you. There are ways to mask your heat signature but there so many spectrums out there that can be looked at with these new thermal imagers night vision satellites if they still exist when this happens if it happens the only place to go is underground or have technology that can basically defeat what the enemy is using against you. Most propers just will not have that advantage to do that to defeat this kind of thing electronic warfare cost way too much money or government spends billions to do this so the average person really willhave to have a well device plan once you bugged out just stay out of sight. I realize there is a lot of ex-military with a lot of skills I do not know if that will be a great advantage if we have a foreign enemy looking for us using modern technology. The reason why the Afghans were able to defeat the Russians were because of the mountains and the caves the same way the foreign Fighters in a Iraq were able to hide from the US was they used the caves and the mountains which gave our guys I had a lot of trouble hunting the enemy down. In Afghanistan the Taliban still gives are u.s. troops a very hard time because of the mountainous regions and the caves that are inside those mountains. So good luck with all your bug-out plans or bug in plans, hope we never have to use any such extreme but the possibility does exist in today’s Times

  8. As a regular to hurricane season…lots of garbage bags!!! Also, forget generator, get INVERTER… you are right (author)…old school generators while being so cheap nowadays…I always joke, you can be killing my family while I was 5 ft away and I wouldn’t even here the screams…inverter…forget it! Quit. Awesome. Also, I have 2 of man’s best friends. Both very intimidating. Yeah, more food req’d…but safety is well worth it, especially if you’re well planned!

  9. A note of caution[s]:having wrked for FEMA,I have ZERO confidence in FEMA/American Red Cross/local-federal law enforcement
    You’re delusional if you think/expect them to help you.
    Also be REALLY CIRCUMSPECT about what you tell your neighbors[analogous the viability of bomb shelters in the 1950s/1960s]
    Be up to date on vaccinations,have sufficient Rxs-and OTC[with long
    I am interested in more information about solar and hand cranked devices/recharging systems.expiration dates]safely stored

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