Bug Out or Bug In—How to Know When to Go (or Stay)

We received an email from a prepper friend of ours who was in the path of an oncoming hurricane. He was struggling with the decision of whether or not he should evacuate with his wife and newborn son. In these situations, there are so many variables that it is impossible to give a one-size-fits-all answer.

When should you bug out and when should you bug in? The choice to stay or to go when disaster strikes should be determined by credible, timely information. If your home and safety are threatened by:

  • floodwaters
  • wildfire
  • hurricane
  • HAZMAT or chemical spill, or if
  • civil unrest has escalated to dangerous levels (riots, looting, mass panic, breakdown in civil order)

It may be time to bug out. You may not need to go to a stereotypical bug out location deep in the mountains but it may be wise to evacuate to a predetermined safe place.

The decision to leave the safety of your home should only be made when the dangers of hunkering down at home outweigh the risks of evacuating and becoming a refugee. The majority of scenarios can be best faced from the security of your well-stocked home.

Let us begin by defining the terms bug out and bug in.

Bug Out – Evacuate – Escape – Vacate – Leave Home

Bug out is a military term that is commonly used by preppers to refer to a time when you may need to leave your home quickly due to a dangerous situation.

Bugging out does not always mean to go and live in the wilderness. A predetermined, well-stocked destination is crucial to your safety and success. The location can be an isolated cabin or Aunt Beverly’s house in the country.

Bug In – Shelter-in-Place – Hunker Down – Stay Home

Bugging in is a term commonly used by preppers to refer to a time when you choose to face impending dangers from your well-stocked, secured home. The benefits of facing danger from your prepper home far outweigh the benefits of bugging out unless the situation demands it.  

There is no right or wrong answer and you will need to make the decision based on your individual circumstances and family obligations.  

Threats that May Mandate Bugging Out

Where you live can play a determining factor in whether or not bugging out is the best choice for you. If you live in a suburb or in the country, you have the ability to better provide for your own needs than if you live in a large city and have to compete with the masses for scarce resources.

Location significantly plays into your risk factors. Read Prepper Risk Assessment: What Threats Should You Be Prepared to Survive? to learn more about assessing your personal risks

Let’s explore possible scenarios where you may consider bugging out.

Natural Disasters

You may need to evacuate your home due to a natural disaster. Recovering from natural disasters may take time but it is possible. One of the bright spots of natural disasters is that there is usually help to aid in the recovery.

Hurricane – It may be a good idea for you to take an impromptu vacation on the other side of the country if officials pronounce a hurricane warning for your area. Be sure to leave as soon as possible to beat the storm, and before the majority of the traffic jams the freeways.

A visit to grandma’s house or a trip to Yellowstone can take you out of the path of hurricane winds and flooding as well as away from the massive amount of people evacuating. Plan out your destination and possible accommodations far in advance.

Earthquake – A large earthquake may render your home uninhabitable or the danger of downed power lines or broken gas lines may require you to evacuate. A positive aspect of an earthquake is that the damage is generally confined to a fairly small geographical area.

You may be able to stay at your home and pitch a tent in the backyard. If your home is structurally sound, you may have to be prepared to deal with infrastructure damage that results in loss of electricity, water, sewer, and natural gas.

Flooding – The vicious power of floodwaters must be respected and avoided at all cost. If you are counseled to evacuate due to flooding, don’t risk it. Get out as soon as physically possible.

Wildfire – The destructive wake that wildfires leave is incredible. You may have to bug out to save your family from a wildfire. In this instance, you should be able to find local accommodations until it is safe to return.

We were teaching a class one evening and one of our students came up and apologized for her cell phone use during class. She was on “pre-evacuation notice” which meant that when notified she needed to evacuate within 20 minutes due to a raging wildfire in her area. She had already stocked her camper with valuables and supplies and then parked it safely away from the danger.

Volcano – The pyroclastic flow, heavy ashfall, and lavaflows from a volcano are dangerous and may require you to evacuate.

Civil Unrest – Breakdown in Public Order

Every prepper is rightly concerned about the dangers that exist when people are desperate and lawless. The threat of civil unrest tends to be higher in large cities or densely populated locations.

Considerations for deciding whether or not to bug out during civil unrest.

  • Is there an immediate threat to the safety of your home and family?
  • Is the situation escalating to the point where you may be in danger if you stay?
  • Can you adequately defend your home and family from the threat where you are located?
  • Would you find greater safety leaving than you have in your current location?

Civil War

A nation ravaged by civil war may require relocating to a safer place. The safest location may just be outside of the country. This is a good reason to always have a current passport and funds to finance such a trip set aside.

It is not good enough just to leave the country. You have to know where you are going and have a plan for safe accommodations.

Nuclear War

We have the opportunity to tour several nuclear blast and fallout shelters due to our involvement with The American Civil Defense Association. We have seen fallout shelters built right into the basement of homes to ensure that the occupants have the ability to remain in their home securely tucked away in a radiation-proof safe room.

We have toured well-stocked bunkers in backyards and in remote locations. Many of these are intended to meet the criteria of an official bug out location, with every possible security measure being taken along with all the comforts of home.

Timing is important when considering evacuating to a fallout shelter. You must time your departure so that you arrive at your location before you are at risk of exposing your family to radioactive fallout. If you don’t leave in time you may have to hunker down at home for a few weeks until it is safe enough to travel to your destination.

Timing is Critical When Bugging Out

It is always best to leave before a situation has reached a highpoint. Make the decision and leave before you are fighting traffic with thousands of other desperate people.

Benefits of Bugging Out – Evacuating to Escape Danger

Bugging out can quickly remove you from imminent danger to a place that is theoretically safer or that has better resources. You may need to bug out from urban environments and the risks associated with densely populated areas.

My brother is an avid hunter and fisherman. He is completely at home in the wilderness. He keeps his truck stocked with everything he needs for a spontaneous weekend trip as well as to survive for an extended period of time in “his” mountains. He once commented that having to bug out would be better than winning the lottery. I did not get those same wilderness survival genes.

Dangers of Bugging Out

Bugging out has significantly more dangers than benefits. It is important to carefully weigh your options before making the decision to leave the safety of home. Once you leave home you are a refugee and that is a very dangerous status.

Bugging out in a vehicle is preferable to bugging out on foot, however, you must always be prepared to end up on foot as you travel to your destination. Some dangers of bugging out may include these.

Current Weather Conditions

Chances are, when it comes time to bug out, it will not be a nice warm spring day. You may need to leave during a snowstorm in several inches or feet of fresh snow or during the intense heat of the summer. You will need to make sure you are prepared to deal with harsh weather conditions. 

Fantasy Versus Reality

There are very few individuals who really understand what it is like to survive in the wilderness or to live on the streets. It can be exciting to watch a survival show from the warmth of your own home on your comfortable couch.

But are you really ready to sleep on the cold ground in freezing temperatures? Are you prepared to deal with all the dangerous things that “go bump in the night”? Bugs? Rodents? Animals? Crazy people?

Bugging out on foot requires advanced survival skills and the law of “survival of the fittest” applies. Are your skills and level of fitness really advanced enough to make it?

Struggle for Safety and Comfort

The environment will be unfamiliar and lurking with a variety of dangers. Where will you sleep? Where is your next meal coming from? You only have the food that you can take with you. It doesn’t take long to become discouraged and desperate when hunger is your constant companion.

Where can you get clean drinking water? Dehydration or tainted water quickly leads to illness and poor decision making. Bugging out will create a situation of constant stress until you safely reach your location and find all is well.

Medical Assistance

Bugging out may mean that you are on your own. Are you prepared to care for yourself or a loved one if you become seriously sick or injured? Do you have the needed skills and supplies? Do you know where to go to get help?

Physical and Mental Limitations

The majority of people do not have the physical ability to bug out on foot and carry needed supplies. It can be very challenging for children, pregnant women, elderly individuals, and those who are physically or mentally challenged. However, they may be perfectly able to travel by vehicle to a well-stocked bug-out location.

Elderly bugging out

Bug Out Destination Availability

You have the perfect well-stocked bug out location just waiting for your arrival. What do you do when you get there just to find that it is already claimed?

No law enforcement or legal help can fix this for you right now. Does it come down to a battle of strength with the squatters currently having the home advantage? Does fighting for it put your family at risk?

What if your plan was to go to grandma’s house, but grandma is gone and someone else has moved in. What is your backup plan?

Benefits of Bugging In – Riding Out the Threat from Home

In the great majority of events, we would choose to ride out the threat from the safety of our home. We have consciously prepared our home with self-reliance and survival in mind.

Check out our post, New Urgency to Prepare for a Long Term Power Outage for a few ideas on how to prepare. Now let’s explore some of the reasons why you may choose to bug in.

Shelter and Security

Our home provides safe shelter from the harsh sun, wind, rain, and snow even when the power fails. We have added security measures and fortified our home to help to keep us safe from those who may want to cause harm or steal needed supplies.

You may be interested in reading, The Prepper’s Guide to Securing Your Home.

Stockpile of Supplies – Fuel, Food, and Tools

We designed our home to be able to sustain our family in the event of a long term power outage. We heavily insulated our home and have a wood-burning cookstove and enough wood stored to fuel it through a winter or two.

We have a storage room full of staples, canned goods, and basic necessities. Learn how to build your food storage at Long Term Food Storage: Creative Solutions to Build a Critical Asset.

Food Storage

Living the life of a homesteader has enabled us to accumulate the tools we need to survive.


We have bottles and barrels of clean drinking water and a water source within walking distance to replenish our supply. Go to How to Store Water for Emergency Preparedness to learn how to store water in your home.

Water storage

Quality water filters are ready and waiting to make our drinking water safe to drink. Visit Making Water Safe to Drink: 7 Disinfection Techniques for tips on disinfecting water.


We are prepared to take care of our personal sanitation needs with alternative toilets, handwashing stations, soaps and supplies, toilet paper, and anything else that we may need if the sewer system is unavailable.

To learn more, see Prepping for Basic Emergency Sanitation.

Emergency Sanitation

Home Advantage

There is no place like home. Our home is familiar and comforting to us. Life at home is structured and organized, which provides great comfort as challenging events unfold. I get to sleep in my own bed and a good night’s sleep can make all the difference.

Operational security and situational advantage are much easier from the familiar steps of your home. You have a good idea of which neighbors pose a threat and can keep your eye on them.

It is easier to detect threats or when something is amiss when you are familiar with the area. The home advantage is significant.  

Home Production

Our home has established edible landscaping. We have mature fruit and nut trees, grapevines, berry bushes, chickens, medicinal herbs, and a productive garden.

We have everything we need to preserve the harvest and produce much of our food for an extended period of time. Best Strategies for Growing a Reliable Survival Garden may give you some tips to get started growing your own food.

Survival Garden

Community Relationships

One of the great advantages of choosing to stay in our home is that of community and established relationships. In our neighborhood, we have medical personnel, firefighters, law enforcement officers, construction workers, electricians, farmers, engineers, and a variety of other skilled friends.

Working together we have the advantage and our chance of survival is significantly increased. See Community—Your Best Chance for Survival to learn more about building relationships.

Disadvantages of Bugging In

There are only a few disadvantages to staying home. Sometimes it just may not be a safe option due to environmental hazards. Threats you may face at home include the following.

Unprepared Friends and Neighbors

One of the biggest threats comes from what should be your biggest asset, and that is unprepared friends and neighbors. We frequently hear the comment, “When something happens, I know where I’m going.”

One of our YouTube viewers wrote that he responds to them by saying something like, “Please don’t. I would rather shoot strangers than my friends.”

We are not of that same mindset. Jonathan frequently responds something to the effect, “That works. We will share what we can. Bring a pair of work gloves because you are going to need them.”

A friend of ours takes a bit of a different approach. He will gladly share his provisions in exchange for collateral. A wedding ring, a boat, or something of great value. Handouts are not an option.

Inadequate Home Advantage

Staying home in a major metropolitan area may be a deathtrap. Is it possible to store enough water, food, fuel, sanitation, and other supplies to last a year in a city apartment? The high concentration of people and limited resources increase the danger.

Preparing to Bug Out or Evacuate

Extensive planning and preparation should precede a successful evacuation. Carefully consider each of the following steps as you prepare just in case you need to leave.

Destination – Bug Out Location

It would be insane to leave your home without a safe destination. Carefully plan a destination that is stocked and ready to accommodate your family. It is best to plan for several predetermined locations to cover a variety of disaster scenarios. Plan for at least one of each of the following destinations.

  1. Outside your home in the event of a house fire or other danger.
  2. Outside your neighborhood for a local event such as a HAZMAT spill or active shooter.
  3. Neighboring city, or town, for an isolated event such as flooding, earthquake, wildfire, local riots, etc.
  4. A bug out location at least 100 miles from your home where you will be out of danger.

Your destination location should be well-stocked and ready to accommodate your family. The wilderness is not a safe option for most people.

Prepare to Blend In

A friend of ours taught wilderness survival courses at a university. One valuable tip that she shared with us is to blend in and become essentially invisible. Your best defense is to go unnoticed. Now is not a good time to dress in camo and carry an AR-15.

She wears oversized neutral clothing and a hat to help disguise the fact that she is a woman. Her pants have hidden pockets so that she can carry much of her gear on her person in the event she loses her pack. Nothing about her clothing or pack attracts attention.

Do not drive a flashy new vehicle when you are bugging out. Avoid anything that might make you look like a valuable target or stand out in a crowd.

Supplies for the Journey

The supplies you may need will vary depending upon the distance to your bug out location. Visit How to Create the Perfect Emergency Survival Kit to learn more about building the right survival kit to fit your needs.

Bug Out Bags

Be prepared in the event you get stranded and are required to make the remainder of the trip on foot. Size the survival kits appropriately for the owner. It would be wise to prepare for the unexpected.

Take as much water as you physically can and be prepared to purify more.

Plan and Practice Alternative Routes

Take a physical map and decide on the best route to take, and alternative routes should they be needed. Make a note on the map of each of the potential hazards along each route.

Maps for evacuation route

Clearly distinguish between routes. Mark the routes as A, B, and C, or red, yellow, and blue. You may want to write the physical address and contact numbers if that is appropriate for your destination. Place a copy in each vehicle and in each survival kit.

Practice these routes regularly and update the maps accordingly. Teach family members how to find the location without the use of maps in the event that becomes necessary.

Reliable Vehicle

Always keep your vehicle in good working order. Periodically check the spare tire.

Never let the gas tank drop below half. That is enough fuel to allow you to get out of immediate danger before having to refuel. Top off your gas tank with the fuel you have stored. You may want to take extra fuel with you if you can do so safely.

Be sure you have a vehicle emergency kit with tools and anything you may need to keep your transportation in working order.

Secure Your Home

You may not be able to return to your home, but then again you might. It is worth taking the time to secure your home to prevent access by squatters and looters.

Make a written list of last-minute to-do items and post it where it can be quickly located as you are rushing out the door. Our list is posted behind the entry closet door where our survival kits are located.

Last minute to do list

Public Utilities

Depending on the scenario, you may want to turn off the water, electricity, and perhaps even the natural gas supply to your home. The water and power can be easily turned back on. However, the gas company will need to come out to restore your natural gas.

Shut off gas meter

Plan for Pets

Many pets are like family members. Plan your mode of transportation and destination to accommodate your pet(s) if you plan to take them with you. If you must leave them, prepare well so that they will be safe until you are able to return.  

Plan and Prepare to Bug Out Today

The choice to leave and chance a dangerous journey to a bug out location, or to stay at home and ride out the challenges is a difficult decision. It is important that you are prepared to both evacuate to a safer location and to shelter-in-place for as long as necessary. When you are prepared, you have more options available to you.

We have a network of prepper friends and family that are prepared to accommodate our family if we are required to evacuate. In exchange, we are prepared to take care of them if they need to show up on our doorstep one day.

We plan to ride out the challenges from our home, if at all possible. It takes planning, work, resources, and time to create a homestead that can keep you safe and well when these big life challenges arrive. It is well worth the effort.  

Thanks for being part of the solution!

Jonathan and Kylene Jones


Kylene Jones is a blogger, content creator, published author, motivational speaker, homesteader, prepper, mother, and grandmother. She practices self-reliance, provident living, and emergency preparedness in her everyday life. She loves working with her husband, Jonathan, and is committed to helping our community be prepared to thrive during the challenges that lie in our future.

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