Prepping Myth: When SHTF You Will Bug Out To The Woods

Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr +
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

I wanted to address a few common misconceptions that I think some people have with how they plan to address a SHTF event in their lives. There are some that are more dangerous than others granted, but all of these prepping myths give us an opportunity to dissect various topics in the prepping community to better understand the risks and rewards of various approaches. In this article, I want to discuss the myth that some preppers have that if the SHTF they are simply going to don their brand new Bug Out Bags and quietly walk into the national forest. This is the bug out to the woods strategy that I read about often in comments or on forums.

This weekend I was walking with my dog on a new trail we had discovered and as often happens, I began to look around at the trees and water sources and soak in the apparent solitude. I think about how remote we are when we get into the woods and the sounds from roads, picnic areas or nearby neighborhoods falls away and you are left with the feeling that you are in the middle of nowhere. I think about this even though I know full well that I am just a short walk back to the parking lot where myself and dozens of others have pulled in temporarily to enjoy the outdoors and a relatively undisturbed spot of nature that our tax dollars are funding.

I was walking down trails, crossing small creeks and envisioning how someone could think that if a disaster happened how they could run out here and survive for a while at least. I was even thinking this myself for a while, but the idea that many people could survive a SHTF event simply by walking into the woods and making a shelter is foolhardy. If this is your plan, you might want to consider a few things first before you leave it all behind and step into the woods for what could be the last time.

Could other people have the same idea as you?

Could other people have the same idea as you?

What do you think you are running to?

As with any conversation on topics common to the prepping community, it helps to set a framework for discussion. For the purposes of this article, we will assume that you and your family must leave your home. This could be for a whole host of reasons, but we will go on the assumption that you are running from a bad situation (riots, war, plague, and zombies) and your hope is to find peace, safety and perhaps a new life hidden in the woods of a nearby forest. This could be a large national forest or simply a few thousand acres in your town that hasn’t been developed.

It sounds logical at first doesn’t it? You have the gear you need in your bug out bag, you have been camping before so living in the woods on its face doesn’t seem like a bad idea. There is no place else to go and if you simply walk into the forest, you can find a place next to a stream or a lake, set up camp and begin hunting for wild game and frying some freshly caught fish. Maybe you even have a location that you have been to before that you know is perfect and you think that you will be safe in this remote space in the woods and that somehow you will be able to avoid whatever it was you were running from.

Now, I will admit that there are people who can walk into the wild and survive, even thrive. The number of people who can do this with only what they carry on their back is a miniscule number though and the people I have witnessed (usually on TV if I’m honest) have a tremendous amount of skills, experience and luck. Is this a group you consider yourself a member of?

Most of us, even the crustiest through-hiker on the Appalachian trail needs supplies to live. Can we go out for brief times and survive? Of course, but if you plan to walk into the forest for the rest of your life with nothing more than some snares you have never used, your trusty .22 rifle , and some dehydrated food I think you need to revisit your strategy.

What are the downsides?

The downsides to this approach are numerous but I think the main two are that most of us do not live in the middle of nowhere. If a societal collapse were to happen, there would be a lot of other people with bug out bags hiking into the woods right along with you. That wild game you are depending on catching just like they do on the survival shows, won’t stand up to an onslaught of weekend warriors with their expensive sleeping pads and high powered rifles. In this scenario, it isn’t like you can walk back to Walmart and get some groceries and go back to your tent in the woods.

Where I live we have a homeless population that disappears every night. I know that in warmer months, a good number of them live in a wooded area between two interstates, but my assumption is that area isn’t the safest place in the world. These homeless people have a stable society they can walk to for shelter or a handout on most days. What if the stable society collapsed and started moving in with them? What if nobody could eat and there were no shelters to go when the temperature gets cold? Maybe you could find a reasonably remote place to stay where you wouldn’t have other people around you, but you would still find the issues of acquiring food a major obstacle.

If that isn’t enough, safety would be a huge consideration in the woods. Your tent offers zero protection from a sharp stick, much less bullets. Additionally, have you tried to live in them for weeks at a time? Even the best tents start breaking down and hand-made shelters would need to be constantly worked on to maintain their weather proofing. If you are surrounded by forest, it will be harder to see people approaching you and it would be easy for them to spy on you from a distance without being seen. If the SHTF and times are desperate, anything you have could become something that unscrupulous people want to take from you. What about if you wanted to leave camp? You couldn’t lock anything up could you so it could easily be stolen while you were away. Leave someone behind and they could be overwhelmed by larger numbers. Would you leave a woman alone in this situation?

Is there a better plan?

I have said numerous times that my first plan is to bug in at almost all costs. Does that mean I will never leave my house regardless of the reason? No, but I would have to be under extreme pressure before I would take my family into the woods. If I was making my way somewhere and only needed to stop in the woods for the night – that would be one thing. I would not plan on packing all our stuff on our backs and hiking into the forest though and expect to survive for very long.

What if you know how to forage off the land and you can eat nuts and berries? That’s great but all the other issues are still there. Other people are going to be with you in the forest, and you can’t defend a tent as well as you can your house. If you believe that your bug out plan is to hike into the National Forest that connects to your property and you haven’t considered some of these points, maybe it’s worth a second thought. I myself will know when it’s time to retreat and run away, but I will be very slow to leave my home and although I love walking, hiking and even backpacking in the woods I don’t think it is a valid plan to try and live there if the grid-goes down. Give me my home and zero electricity or water over the nakedness of the forest any day.

0 0 votes
Article Rating

About Author

Freedom-loving American doing what I can to help prepare and inform others. Editor and creator of The Prepper Journal 2013-2017, 2020 -

Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

I’m not sure of the dynamic but there is so much energy a person can expend without replenishing that energy. Trying to live in the woods would eventually cause one to spend more energy collecting food and water and maintaining a shelter than could ever possibly hope to collect. Then there is the problem of the seasons when nuts, berries and foliage are not available. In the summer months you could face the possibility of that stream you where depending on drying up. I don’t view bugging out to the woods as a viable option. IF I find I had… Read more »

Pat Henry

You are right obxster and its just a simple fact of life. If you aren’t replenishing more calories than you burn then you are slowly losing weight. Your body will start eating its fat reserves. Can you do this for a while? Sure, but eventually your body doesn’t have enough energy to keep up then your performance and health is decreased.

Brandon Sewall

I used to think I could just walk out into the woods and survive… but first, if you wanted to escape the hoards that would be following you you would need to go WAY back which takes a lot of time and energy. Then to hunt for your food… Well, I am a hunter and sometimes there are weeks that go by where I don’t get anything. Hunting is not as reliable as people think. Its not as easy as just pointing and shooting. Animals react to pressure and if the hoards start hunting, the animals will move and become… Read more »

Pat Henry

Thank you Brandon,

I am no Davy Crockett by any stretch so I have had more times than I like to admit where I came home empty handed. Imagine if your family was waiting for you to walk back in hoping that you would be bringing something to eat. In our case, if we don’t there is always food in the pantry or the grocery store but if you are depending on the woods to just drop a deer on the fire for you, it probably won’t happen.



I don’t know… No offense, but if you drove to a parking lot to walk your dog in the woods and found a new trail, then I’m guessing you live in the city or burbs, and don’t spend much time ‘living’ in the woods? Maybe some selected quotes from the forums/blogs with the comments you’re referring to would help, I’ve read some comments that seemed like boasts from people (city kids, probably) that think food falls off trees in the woods, or just walks into your camp too. City folk with no experience in the woods? Yeah, probably a bad… Read more »

Pat Henry

Thanks for your comments Al and I think we are saying pretty much the same thing, but my articles don’t always articulate things the way I envision them in my head so I will try to rephrase what I meant. I do live in the burbs, you are correct and people like me were the focus of my article really. Most of our country’s population lives in the cities or burbs and it is those people who would be most impacted from some crisis that forced you to bug out. Individuals like yourself who appear to live where there aren’t… Read more »


I have a friend with 75 acres..with a nice creek-(might be Beaver in it) the water would make you very sick, I don’t know—there is No way you will last on his place for more than a couple weeks, there are a few Rabbits, maybe a Deer or 2.just not enough food there, tree shelter & stuff to hide from others Yes.
he lets Hunters on it in the winter–they never leave with anything,

Pat Henry

I also have a friend with at similar plot and we have even taken deer on a few occasions. I know that if anything happened though, the neighbors if things became desperate would help quickly wipe out any remaining deer that we didn’t.

A plot that large could support several families and gardens though so I wouldn’t write it off totally. I don’t think I would plan on bugging out there without any prior preparation and expect to live much longer than you say.


Water is not a issue if you own one of these. I have the portable one and the 5 gallon jug one. I laugh when I see people stock piling water. You could drink water from that creek for 24 hours a day and not get sick.

Lifesaver’s water filter filters down to 15 nanometers for 4000 liters. The smallest virus known is 25 nanometers.

Lawrence Black

Everyone is Superman, until they actually attempt to leap that tall building…..

I’m with you, Pat. I’m born and raised in rural Vermont and live on/next to several thousand empty acres. I’ll batten the hatches and secure my perimeter. I’ve got secure access to clean water & at least a year’s supply of rations and over 100 acres of open land for crops (and the occasional meat animal, at least early on).

If I need to evacuate after that 1st year, most of those who headed to the forests unprepared will have been eliminated.


QFT: “…most of those who headed to the forests unprepared will have been eliminated.” There will be a die-off like none-other due to lack of access and knowledge in a true SHTF/WOROL scenario. This will be further expedited by the marauders and riot/panic. Thanks for this site Pat. I just discovered it about a six weeks ago and it is a blessing. I have been feeling the itch since about 2008, a couple years after I got out of the Marine Corps and realized what a sham all of our work in Iraq was and how corrupt our government is,… Read more »

Pat Henry

Thank you very much for the kind words usmarinestanker and for sharing a little of your own journey! Stories and comments like yours humble me and give me the motivation to keep trying daily to do what I can to spread the word and give others a voice in this dialog. We all have a dog in this hunt although so many people I fear don’t know it yet. I started this site because I wanted to be able to share and discuss topics that I thought could save lives at the end of the day and hopefully open eyes… Read more »

Pat Henry

You have an advantage Larry in being so rural. People may pass right by you and head into the forest. The problem I think is when they are hungry and remember your house with the nice load of firewood on the porch and the smoke rising from the chimney.

Of course all this assumes a quick catastrophe that forced people out into the country in droves. There are some who don’t believe that would ever happen. If we don’t have that then your location would be ideal.

Mana Moffa

I just bought a house in the woods next to a river with a long driveway that can be hidden with brush.

Most city dwellers won’t go to the woods. They don’t know where food comes from or that even that game exists in the woods. They will suffer the effects of starvation before they realize that the government isn’t coming to help them.

Pat Henry

They might just go there looking to hide.


All of this depends on how long and what type of society disruptor happens. Its really a very variable answer to it. I can promise you and its from experience in our two wars and as a operator who has deployed many times over seas that if its extended expect human suffering/evil on a scale you never dreamed of, and utter chaos. If its extended or a permanent Book of Eli break down then you will 100% have to leave your house. Your survival geometrically goes up as you are on the move…that is if its a 100% no going… Read more »


Well, you would survive if you are the military or government because they have their underground bunkers filled with hoarded weapons, gold, silver, food, and water supplies. They can wait it out while we all kill each other. They’ve been prepped for many years. The only other peppers are the LDS, the people who have lived off the grid way out in the wilderness and a few non-LDS preppers. The best prepping would be to have a impenetrable compound with several families who have their own supply of food, water, heirloom seeds, weapons, etc. to share among themselves with guards… Read more »


It is my opinion that staying or bugging out depends on what is going on. Its also my opinion that most if not all SHTF situations will include the government declaring marshal law. If marshal law is declared its more likely then not the authorities will be trying to disarm the population of registered firearms by voluntary or by force. Your kidding yourself if you believe if marshal law is declared the authorities will not be visiting your home. So if you do not hand over your firearms you better be prepared to defend against waves of attacks. This will… Read more »

John Smith

Because of what the author has mentioned, I’ve always favored the idea of getting an off-the-grid home maybe with solar and/or wind power. At college, I had a biology professor who lived in an “Earthship” type home. This means that it was heated passively (mostly) and had an internal grey water system that reclaimed water, composting toilets and an internal greenhouse where she grew most of her food. I think she traded vegetables for most of the rest. Of course passive heating works better in eastern WA that it does in northern MI. 😉 Still, if your thinking about it… Read more »


Don’t forget lions and tigers and bears. We start taking food from the animals and we may drop a notch on the food chain.

Grizzly Dan

With all due respect – I have spent weeks, and longer in the brush. Living off what was around me. It is true that you will need to spend a lot of time staying alive. However, let me state that it isn’t deer roasts, and frolicking in fields laden with berries. It is hard work. A lot of times the proteins you will harvest are grub worms, squirrels, and other rodents. Fish while protein rich are harder to catch than you think in a survival scenario. This where having knowledge of traps, snares, and other collection methods are an essential.… Read more »

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x