Bugging Out vs. Hunkering Down

A frequent topic in Preparedness and Survival circles is the subject of Bugging Out and more specifically the question of whether you plan to Bug Out or will you Hunker Down. This simple question easily elicits all manner of responses and you will rarely find consensus on which is the better option. The only good thing about this question is there are only two options and one of those has to be the correct one in someone’s eyes. A 50/50 shot of getting this right isn’t too shabby if you are looking at odds, but there will be those who maintain an absolute position on one option or the other.

To Bug out or not bug out, like most questions that we must ask ourselves as we prepare for emergencies is an individual question and there is no universal wrong or right. This question is probably only second in notoriety to “What caliber is the best defensive round”. If you can imagine going into a big underground bunker full of Preppers who are getting ready for the next Emergency and shouting that question; you will get as many answers as you have people. In reality, there are only a few common calibers but each person will have their own reason, preference, or bias toward one and they will tell you in a very matter of fact tone, their choice, and more importantly why you should take their word as the Gospel. Actually, it is probably simpler but just as much fun to pose this question in a survival forum and watch the sparks fly.

The factors that drive each person to reach their own personal decision are too numerous really to discuss in detail, but I will attempt to add my own opinionated two cents to the (already well covered, I know) argument and in doing so, completely invalidate everything I just said above. The reason is that I believe there is only one real answer to this question in almost any situation and my way is the right way. Most of the time.

Before I get too far ahead of myself, you may be asking “What the heck is he talking about?” so a quick definition is called for here. “Bugging Out” is the act of packing up your supplies and leaving home to go to another location. This may or may not coincide with the belief that you will never come back. A common example for Bugging Out is people who are forced to leave town due to a natural disaster like flooding or a Hurricane. They pack up their cars and get out of dodge. This is one of the reasons FEMA and other places recommend having a Bugout Bag or BOB with supplies that will keep you alive for 72 hours so that you can leave at a moment’s notice.

Bugging In or Hunkering Down is the complete opposite of Bugging Out. When you Bug-In you are staying put in your home with your supplies intending to ride out the storm or chaos that is coming. Thus the question is asked in preparedness circles usually in the context of political, biological, or terrorism types of chaos: “Will you Bug out or Hunker down?”

To answer this for yourself, you have to ask several questions to determine which is the better option for you in your circumstance. The questions are pretty basic and revolve around:

  • Your Situation – What pushes your button internally that says “We have to leave”?
  • Your Location – This can apply to both where you are and where you plan to go
  • Your HealthAre you physically able to leave and possibly walk the distance
  • Your Dependents – small children or old relatives. Pets?
  • The ThreatWhat is the threat we are planning to leave for?
  • Your Destination – Where is the place you are going to?


Bugging out could be the only option you have left if staying put is dangerous or deadly. It should be a last option though in most cases.

Your Situation – can greatly affect the decision to Bug-Out or not and you have to decide when you will actually make the choice to go. If you are planning for an economic collapse, what events will trigger you leaving home and heading somewhere else? How bad would things need to get before you made that call? What if you are away from home? In that case, you will be more concerned with getting home. What will your family do until you arrive? Is it the middle of winter and there is 2 feet of snow on the ground? Do you have a means of defending yourself and your family?

Your Health – Are you physically able to get up and strap a backpack to your back, walk out the door and never come back? Would you be able to run if needed? Do you require medication that must be refrigerated or taken daily? In some cases you simply won’t have a choice, you will need to Bug-In and plan accordingly.

Your Dependents – Do you have smaller children who may not be able to travel long distances. Are your children still in diapers or do they have special needs? Even healthy children below the age of 10 would have a tough time coping with a Bug-Out situation if the event lasted a long time and there was no stability. Are you pregnant? Do you have pets that you would never leave in a million years or that you would not be able to transport?

Your location – Are you located in a major city or a rural area with miles around you and nothing to look at. Do you live in a place that would allow you to live if the grid came crashing down tomorrow? I am not discussing whether or not it would be difficult, but could you plant a garden, or do you live in a high-rise apartment in Chicago? Would you possibly need to walk with millions of other people out of the city? If this is the case, where would you go?

The threat – This one may be the easiest to answer but you will most likely have more than one answer given the specific threat. If we are talking about a flood or natural disaster and you have plenty of notice you may decide to leave. If we are talking about a viral outbreak or Mutant Zombie Bikers from Mars you may decide to stay. Has your city descended into chaos with riots and fires and mobs of people looting?

Your destination – Where are you heading? Do you have a place to go with a survival kit filled with supplies to last you? If the threat is a natural disaster like a hurricane and you have time, you can probably go stay with relatives for a few days. This may be one of the first things you should think of. Will you pack up the family, load down the car, and hit the highway? Where will you go? For me, I think this was the first factor I built all of my other choices off of. I do not live on a retreat in Idaho with 50 acres of land and an underground bunker complete with livestock and solar power. I do live near a large pond in a relatively small city with enough land to have a garden that would feed my family. I don’t have any retreat property (yet) so I don’t know where I would go. I would not go driving off into the sunset to try and live off the land unless I was desperate. This may be the circumstance that you are facing too and when the time comes you have to decide.

One factor I really like about the Preparedness and Survival community is the wealth of knowledge and experience we have out there. Just like me, everyone has an opinion. Some are based upon experience and others have made decisions after much reflection. Regardless of the experience, one has you have to ask yourself questions when making a decision like this as it could affect everything you have and/or love. No expert can tell you what will work best for you and your family in your situation.

Taking all of the criteria above into consideration, I think for the average person with no place to go Bugging in is the best option. You will not be able to walk into the forest, kill deer and squirrels and live like a boss. That simply isn’t happening for the “average” person. For one thing you wont be alone. There could be millions of others with you too.

I have thought long and hard on this question and I know that if circumstances in my life were different I would most likely have a different answer. As it stands now, my vote is for Bugging In. I have all of my supplies here and we live in a relatively rural area. I am not naïve to believe that we would be insulated from the chaos but I think we would have a better chance here with some shelter as opposed to walking in the woods sleeping under a tarp. As much as I like camping, a home is a better place to defend.

Could that change tomorrow? Sure it could. I am constantly evaluating my situation and when things change, my plans change. Who knows, I might update this site before it’s all said and done with one last message.

“So long folks! I am outta here.”

  1. IMHO we have to be ready to do both. If a plague comes through and there’s no way to avoid it, bug-out could be the only answer. If riots break out and police are unable to control it, it’s 50-50. If the economy comes crashing down? Bug-IN. We’ve got detailed plans for bug-out if needed: maps, descriptions, water locations, alternate locations. Ready bags. For bug-in it’s off-grid power, off-pipe water, gardens and working on aquaculture. A few small ‘farm’ animals, home defense (and defenses), friends nearby and lots of beans and band-aids. Working on skills (first-aid, metalworking etc.)

    One thing people forget about on Bug-Outs: you are likely to not be able to use your car/truck. The roads will be filled with cars. Can you carry more than 3 days worth of food, water (treatment) and defense? Can you walk 30+ miles with 50lbs on you? Can the rest of your family? Are you certain your BOL (Bug-out Location) is safe? How long can you stay there? Do you have supplies there? A bug out should only occur in MOST cases under the direst of conditions. And even then the best bet is the shortest distance. I.e. the farther to your BOL, the less chance of getting there. Have you practiced actually walking the distance you plan on going? It’s real easy to say “I’m in good shape, I can do it” until those pounds and miles start eating on you. No discouraging, just don’t just think and plan, actually do, so you have some idea of the price you will have to pay.

    Whatever way you go, in large scale emergencies luck plays a part, but preparation plays an even bigger one.

    1. Completely agree. Saw a poster somewhere that read
      Knowledge is valuable. Know-how is invaluable.
      As a city prepper I spend most of my holidays hiking &
      wild camping. It’s fun, cheap and prepares you for carrying large loads on your
      back over long distances. The heaviest things in my pack are water, food and
      gas. From this I can look at what skills to learn to save weight.

      Try cooking every other meal with a fire instead of a stove. Then try starting
      the fire without matches.

      Learn what local flora is edible or how to prepare it so that it is.

      Learn to snare and skin rabbits.

      Use what you don’t eat as bait for fishing.

      Start with an automatic fishing tool like a Yo-Yo reel, then try just a hook and line.

      Having a filter for your water bottle can allow you to drink pretty much any
      bio/chemically contaminated water source. Eventually you’ll run out of filters,
      so get used to finding the cleanest water you can and boiling it.

      One trip your tent rips and you get wet. Next time learn to build a shelter
      from branches and ferns.
      Most people find prepping daunting because they feel they have to learn it all at once in case doomsday happens tomorrow. So they give up and learn nothing!

  2. Being ready to do both is definitely essential.
    I think an analysis
    of your Location and its associated Threats will affect whether you bug
    out or hunker down more so than anything else.
    I live about 3 miles from the centre of London, England which dictates everything about my prepping.
    1/6 of the UK’s population lives in the city.
    1/5 of the UK’s population lives within greater London.
    1/4 of the UK’s population lives within the London metropolitan area.
    1/3 of the UK’s population lives in the south-east of England
    That’s the population of New York State in an area 14% of its size.
    In other words, bugging-out straight away is tantamount to suicide.
    It’s only really an option if
    a) you anticipate the event and hit the road before it happens
    b) you are lucky enough that not many other people do (a)
    c) you have a motorcycle because traffic is always terrible even at the best of times.
    When hunkering down four things will happen:
    1) your supplies out live the disaster and society returns to a semblance of order
    2) your supplies run out before the disaster has subsided (if it even will) and you are forced to hit the road
    3) the disaster or its sideaffects (eg looters) force you from your home.
    you get rescued. Yipee! oh, but they’ve only got space for you to bring
    a certain amount and there’s no guarantee that they’ll be able to
    provide for you when they get you to a ‘safe’ zone.

    As a prepper
    you should never rely on (1) happening. Even (4) is a long shot. Keep
    yourself informed of what’s happening. Emergency broadcasts might still
    be functioning so a wind-up/solar AM/FM radio is essential. There are
    quite a few that have USB outputs to charge your devices. Such as a 3.5″
    LCD portable TV (bigger TVs might be more useful when camping
    pre-apocalypse, but post-apocalypse you want long battery life between
    charges to watch news and weather updates, not HD movies). Paying
    attention to announcements and generally keeping an eye out will let you
    know when the safest time to bug-out is.

    The only situations that would probably
    necessitate me bugging out straight away regardless is CBRN attack or a
    contagious disease. In these instances you want to travel fast and
    A pedal bike and a small backpack with a tarp, change of
    clothes, water, ready-to-eat food and a mean looking machete to deter would be attackers (or use on them if it doesn’t). These should do the trick and are easy for anyone
    to own. I’ve also got a GSR gas mask (a decent unused S10 can be picked
    up a lot cheaper on eBay but are no longer in production).

    1. Great comments and tips! Thanks for stopping by and sharing your experience from London. You are right in that Location and the circumstance will really dictate what you do.


  3. The first sentence after your point ‘Your destination’ has a very minor spelling error. I promise I’m not a grammar Nazi who enjoys nitpicking and pointing out every single error a person has ever made, it’s just something that I would want to be informed of if I was the author… assuming you’re able to edit your articles once they’ve been posted.
    “Were are you heading?”

    I’m assuming it should actually be “Where” instead of “Were”.
    (If I really was a grammar Nazi, I would have put the punctuation inside or the quotation marks, assuming I was following Purdue’s grammar rules… but that would look really weird, so I refuse to follow that stupid rule.)

    Very interesting blog, by the way. I’ve just started looking into all of this stuff, mostly out of curiosity, and I’ve learned a lot from all of your posts. I’m an unemployed college kid, so I can’t really go out and buy all of the ideal equipment (tents, guns, water filters, etc.) and I’ve never gone camping, so I don’t have any camping gear and can’t be quite as prepared as I would like… but it’s nice to know how I can use the stuff I already have.

  4. Thank you very much for pointing that out Ashley. I hate simple mistakes like that but I make them more often thank I’d like to admit. Fortunately, I can correct it after we post.

    Thank you as well for the compliments on our blog and I hope you continue to read. Please feel free to ask any question you have as our community is always interested in sharing their experience or opinions on almost any subject.

Join the conversation

Related Posts
Read More

How to Make Beeswax Soap

It has been on my list of things I should probably know how to do and when my stepfather, who keeps bees, brought me seven pounds of beeswax from his hives, I thought the time was right.
Read More

Are You Always Ready to Bug Out?

Some say it all boils down to what you are prepping for – some sort of national emergency, oil crises, natural disaster, mass civil unrest, pandemic, etc. No matter the reason, it doesn't really matter unless you are always ready to bug out.