Will You Survive If You Have to Bug out to the Forest?

If your survival plan doesn’t include a bug out to the forest option, it should, but coming up with a good plan might be more difficult that you think.
Bugging out to the woods.

Editor’s Note: This post is another entry in the Prepper Writing Contest from John D. If you have information for Preppers that you would like to share and possibly win a $300 Amazon Gift Card to purchase your own prepping supplies, enter today.

In a SHTF situation where you can’t stay in your own home, and moving in with a friend or relative is not an option, what will you do? If bugging out to the wilderness suddenly becomes your only option, will you survive? Probably not for very long, if you believe the experts. Nevertheless, if your survival plan doesn’t include a bug out to the forest option, it should, but coming up with a good plan might be more difficult that you think.

For starters, do you have a reliable bug out vehicle? If your bug out plan has you escaping the city or suburbs in a modern vehicle, you may be in for an unpleasant surprise. Most modern vehicles won’t survive a strong EMP event. You may find yourself traveling on foot, away from a major metropolitan area, in search of food and water. But at least you won’t be alone. When food and water run out, millions of others will be traveling, mostly on foot, away from large centers of population. Even if you have a working vehicle, it may be useless, due to the gridlock created by people and disabled vehicles, all on the same escape routes. You may avoid some of that if you get away quickly, but will you? How much time will pass before you’re packed, and ready to go? Will the roads already be jammed by the time you depart? As time passes, the situation will get worse. Can you imagine what starving, desperate, people are capable of doing? I’m thinking “zombie apocalypse”.

My Bug-out Plan

Understanding the predicament, I don’t have to look any farther than my garage for a solution. My bug out plan doesn’t depend on a full-size vehicle, but I won’t be bugging out on foot either. I suspect that I wouldn’t last very long, with just the items I can carry on my back. Instead, I’ve decided to use my garden tractor (riding lawn mower), pulling a small trailer. Don’t laugh, it’s more practical than it may seem.

  • It would probably survive an EMP event.
  • It can travel off-road, avoiding traffic jams and bypassing bottlenecks.
  • It can pull a small trailer, loaded with essential supplies.
  • I can avoid people who may want to harm me, or take what I have.
  • I’ll have a 360 degree view, helpful for situational awareness, and if I have to use a firearm.
  • I’ll be able to travel to places inaccessible by car, which in theory will make me more secure.
  • My getaway will be at a whopping 6 miles per hour, maximum, but it beats walking.
It’s not how fast you bug out, it’s how well you bug out fast
It’s not how fast you bug out, it’s how well you bug out fast

There are drawbacks, of course. I’ll have no shelter from the elements, as I would in a car or truck. My traveling companion will have to ride in the trailer, or walk along side. Perhaps the biggest drawback is that I won’t be able to outrun anyone. For that reason, it’s important to pack and leave quickly, before things get out of hand.

The bug out location I’ve selected is far from the densely populated area where I now live, and is an area that provides opportunities for hunting, fishing, growing crops, and is near a fresh water source. I know what some of you are thinking… A city boy, living in the wilderness, wouldn’t last long. You might be right, but what choice do I have? Since I don’t own a wilderness cabin, or even a camper, how can I best prepare for a situation that forces me to abandon my home? For starters, I’ve compiled a virtual library of information that will be helpful in such a situation. I’ve also purchased some basic survival equipment and supplies. I practice the skills I’ve learned, and I’m a pretty good gardener.

While living in the wild will be a challenge, I first have to arrive there safely. Traveling with a fully loaded trailer screams “Hey look at me! I have food, water, and survival gear!” How do I get to my destination without being robbed or killed? I see two main problems:

  1. Starving, thirsty, desperate people won’t hesitate to attack me and take what I have.
  2. Those already settled in, near my bug out location, won’t appreciate the competition for limited resources.

To make matters worse, the noise of the tractor will announce my presence. In either case, one bullet could ruin my day.

Bugging out is risky, but I’m thinking of a scenario where I have no choice. I’ll improve my odds somewhat by getting away quickly, before anarchy is commonplace. To do that, all of my things need to be organized, and ready to toss into the trailer. This includes items that are protected from EMP’s. The list that I’ve already prepared helps to make sure that I don’t forget anything.

As I travel, I expect to cross paths with others who are also bugging out. The majority of the people I encounter will be just like me, trying to survive. Many of them will be traveling on-foot, with very limited supplies. My survival odds will improve if I join a like-minded group of travelers, or convince others to travel with me. I’ll bring extra food to share. Travelling with a well-fed and motivated group should help to keep the criminal element away. I’m not trying to be a group leader, or a macho tough-guy, but just one of the many people fleeing an area that has become unsafe. Being armed, and avoiding likely trouble spots, will also help.

With luck, I’ll make it to my bug out spot, probably with a number of other people who’ll soon become my neighbors. As I settle in, I’ll begin to implement a plan that might be described as “Living in the Wilderness, but Not Wilderness Living”. After food and water, my top priority will be the construction of a substantial shelter. As Pat Henry put it “your tent offers zero protection from a sharp stick, much less bullets.” I’ll use modern tools and technology to deal with challenges that come with living in the wild. I’ll have lights when and where I need them, and I’ll use sensors to alert me to intruders, and garden pests. Some of the pests that would otherwise be a threat to my garden, will become food, if I can kill or capture them. My garden tractor-trailer combination will continue to be an asset, as long as gasoline is available. I’ll be able to haul whatever useful items I can find, including building materials, firewood, and water. It’s likely that some of my traveling companions will become the nucleus of a survival group, and the benefits of belonging to a group are many. One could be hunting or fishing, while another guards the supplies and equipment. One could be on the lookout for intruders, while another prepares food, or tends to a garden. One could sleep, while another stands guard. Portable two-way radio equipment, as well as low-tech devices, such as whistles, may be used to alert group members to emerging threats.

Plano 1919 Sportsman’s Trunk

My trailer is approximately 48” by 30”. If stacked 30” high, I’ll have about 25 square feet of cargo space. My supplies will be covered with a tarp, protected from rain and wind. My supplies will be similar to those mentioned in a recent TPJ article by Pat Henry. Pat suggests using 3 plastic containers. One is for food, another for shelter, and the third for cooking, cleaning, hygiene, health, and miscellaneous supplies. Those containers account for about 15 square feet, and mine will be similar, leaving me with at least 10 additional square feet. Because I’m thinking long-term survival, I’ll pack clothes and bedding for all weather conditions. I’ll use the additional space for items that will help me survive in the long-run. Included will be the components of a small solar electric system that can be easily reassembled at my destination. I’ll have lights, and a variety of electrical devices that can be powered by the solar electric system. Sensitive electrical items are pre-packed, wrapped in aluminum foil and insulated from each other, which is the equivalent of a Faraday Cage. The ability to use power tools will make construction of a shelter much easier.

Because of the trailer’s small size, I look for ways to conserve precious space. I won’t bring bulky items, like table lamps. Instead, I’ve assembled small and simple light fixtures. I won’t bring a pedestal fan, or even a tabletop fan. Instead, I’ll use small muffin fans, similar to those you find in computers. I’ll mount them on frames, made from pvc tubing, that can be disassembled, saving space when packing. I’ll make good use of paracord, rope, and plastic sheeting. I need not carry books, and volumes of survival literature, because all of those things have been scanned, and stored on a KindleFire. Likewise, carrying a large quantity of water is not practical. I don’t have space for large containers. Instead, I’ll pack several collapsible water containers. I won’t bring a propane stove, or even a charcoal grill, but I will bring a grill top. I’ll assemble a fire pit with stones that I’ll find at my bug out location, and finish it off with the grill top. I’ll pack my cast iron Dutch oven, overlooking my concern for weight, just this one time. Once settled in, my tractor-trailer’s ability to haul things contributes to my bartering opportunities.

The bug out location I’ve selected will be a 7 to 8 hour trip by garden tractor. I have to make sure I have enough gasoline, but my preliminary estimates indicate that I can make it with just the capacity of a full tank, and a full 2 ½ gallon container. I’ll also carry a tube for siphoning, in the event I’ll need to do that. I’ll be carrying a shovel and an axe, helpful if I get stuck or need to clear a path, and very useful when I’ve settled in at my bug out location.

I’ll have the ability to collect and store rainwater. I’ll be prepared to filter water, and boil it, making it safe for drinking. My bug out supplies will include heirloom and hybrid seeds for food crops. Traveling light is an important consideration, and for that reason I’ve created a separate list of items to acquire, once I’m settled in at my bug out location. For the most part, those additional items will make life more comfortable, but are not essential for survival.

Once I’ve settled in at my bug out destination, my first priority will be a sustainable source of food. I’ll start a garden of course, but I’ll need to have other food while I’m waiting for my crops to mature. My bug out supplies include a live trap for small animals, but it is safe to assume that others will quickly decimate local population of rabbits, squirrels, and other edible creatures. My bug out location is near a large lake, and I suspect that I’ll be able to catch fish.

I’ve used Pat Henry’s food list as a starting point, but modified it to reflect my own tastes and preferences. In an effort to avoid bland meals, I’ll pack items such as olive oil, spices, sauces, flour, and corn meal. My list for shelter is similar to Pat’s, but I’ve added an air mattress for additional comfort. I’ll have construction tools, and plan to make tent-living a very temporary arrangement. My list for cooking, cleaning, and hygiene is different from Pat’s list, because I put more emphasis on long-term survival. While I will pack items such as soap and dish detergent, I’ll place a high priority on reusable items, such as wash cloths and towels. Instead of a propane stove, I’ll pack a rocket-stove, and reusable cooking supplies. I’ll have a solar-heated camp shower, wash basins, and collapsible containers for water. I’ll have a good first-aid kit, a variety of medicine, alcohol, bug spray, toilet paper, and other items for health and hygiene. One container, perhaps a backpack, will be for items that need to be easily and quickly accessible. Items in this container will include a flashlight, weapons, maps, a compass, binoculars, cash, a lighter, a KindleFire, snacks, a pocket knife, basic tools, and a rain parka.

My “electronics” box will include all of the components for a small solar electric system, except the solar panels and batteries. It will include test equipment, extension cords, power strips, lights and light fixtures, fans, portable alarms, an AM/FM radio, and a GPS device.

Items that will be packed separately include tools, solar panels (mounted on a hinged aluminum framework), batteries (for the solar electric system), weapons and ammo, live trap, gasoline container, tackle box with fishing supplies, shovel, ax, rake, grill top, and a jump starter (includes tire pump and light). I’ll have the tools and supplies needed to make repairs to the tractor and trailer tires.

After I’ve set up camp I’ll be on the lookout for anything that might be useful, such as a propane stove with a full propane tank, table and chairs, buckets, tools, food and water. If I can find them, I’ll increase my stockpile of disposable items, such as paper towels, zip-lock bags, trash bags, aluminum foil, toilet paper, soap, dish detergent, laundry detergent, insect repellent, toothpaste, shaving cream, alcohol, and other items for health and hygiene. I’ll also stock up on firewood and tinder.

Perhaps the most important item I hope to acquire after I’ve settled in, is an energy-efficient chest freezer. In the event that I have success hunting, fishing, trapping, or growing crops, the freezer will provide an easy way to preserve food. Not needing to find and process food everyday will give me opportunities to rest, and attend to other aspects of survival. The smallest of the chest freezers on the market today are very energy-efficient, meaning that they can be powered by a small off-grid solar electric system. According to the energy-guide tag, 600 watt-hours per day is required for a 5 cubic foot chest freezer. I can get that much power with just 2- 100 watt solar panels, and 2 – 100ah batteries. My system will be a little larger than that, to accommodate the other things needing power, and for extended periods of cloud cover.

Cold Weather Considerations:

Where I live, the months of December through February can include some very cold and nasty weather. Extreme weather may force me to deal with the danger, and postpone bugging out. I may instead choose to make my home as secure as possible, and prepare to defend it. Those traveling through my neighborhood would also be susceptible to extreme weather, perhaps giving me a bit of an advantage. If I’ve already bugged out, and set up camp in advance of cold weather, preparing to survive cold conditions will be a high priority. This includes the construction of a substantial shelter, and a way to provide heat.

The Long Run:

In the event that federal and state government no longer exist, law and order will be maintained at a local level, by an assembly of the people of that area. A protective force can be created, and guard duties shared. Efficiency can be realized in areas such as food production and cooking. Those with special skills will be highly revered, and will serve the entire community. Bartering will be commonplace.

I don’t expect my wilderness life to last more than a couple of years. In a serious SHTF situation, many people will die off from lack of food, or simply from the inability to survive without the conveniences we take for granted today. If that happens, there will be plenty of empty homes to move into. I would choose one with a fenced back yard, to help protect my food source. Most of my food will come from my garden, and perhaps some fish, chicken and rabbit.


If I can’t safely stay in my own home, which is at the edge of a big city, or move in with someone else, far from a densely populated area, moving to the forest may be my only option. I need to be ready to bug out quickly and travel safely. I’ll need to bring the appropriate equipment and supplies. And finally, I need to be able to survive wilderness living. I’ll have to depend upon my hunting, trapping, fishing, and gardening skills. My prepping includes the equipment and knowledge to do those things. I don’t expect it to be easy. The competition for limited resources will be fierce, and not everyone will be honest and ethical. Still, I plan for a comfort level far exceeding that of tent camping. I applaud those who can live in the forest with only a knife and the clothes on their back, but I can’t do that.

Perhaps the best things I have are a list, and a plan. I don’t depend upon a modern vehicle, since impassable roads, or an EMP event, could stop me dead in my tracks. My pack-out list helps to ensure that I’ll bring the essentials, while not being overloaded with items I can do without. My extensive database of information will be useful in the event of a medical emergency, or other unexpected circumstances. Moving quickly, with a destination in mind, might prevent me from becoming a victim of the lawlessness that would likely follow a SHTF situation. Getting to my destination quickly means that I’ll also be able to “scavenge” more quickly than some, and acquire useful stuff before it’s all gone. Banding together with trust-worthy, like-minded others may offer the best odds for survival.

John D

  1. John, thanks for the article! I also live in a climate that gets cold for at least 5 months each year and I haven’t yet found a great way to protect battery life without the cold draining all power from both regular and rechargeable batteries. I also haven’t quite figured out how to store water in a cache or in my car without it freezing and breaking the containers. Any suggestions on those issues?

    1. In a SHTF situation I would rely on the lead-acid batteries that are part of my solar-electric system. Fully charged lead-acid batteries are not damaged or disabled by freezing temperatures. I’m not sure about other types of batteries. Since it’s not practical to store large quantities of water, I would focus more on water purification and filtration devices. You can always find a lake, a pond, a pool, melt some snow, or catch rainwater.

    2. Containers 2/3 full with a cap not too tightly closed may freeze but won’t rupture the containers. A fresh source will be important but short term what you have with you could save your life. Bob has water filter bottle and purification tablets.

  2. I would be seriously reconsidering your plan. The riding mower is a poor choice for reasons you yourself pointed out. It’s slow, it’s noisy. Did I mention it’s noisy?! People will hear you coming a literal mile away. Someone who can shoot long distance will hear you, see you’ve got a wagon full of stuff, range you, and you won’t even know what hit you. Ditch the mower for a bicycle. You can carry a fair amount on a pretty quiet vehicle that requires no gas. A lot of your plan relies on hope. You are setting yourself up for failure. You hope, to run into others that will be nice and travel to your location and help out. I wouldn’t bank on that. If you don’t own your bug out location, you’re also going to run into trouble. How do know you won’t decide to set up shop on a piece of land someone else is occupying? At that point you are the intruder. Expect a fight. How are your bushcraft/field craft skills? Living off the land is extremely difficult in good times, never mind a shtf situation.

  3. Do you own this land in the “wilderness” that you plan to “bug out” to or are you thinking you can just squat wherever you find the right spot with resources? FYI… that won’t work. If you plan to bug out to the woods, you’d better buy yourself some “woods” to bug out to or you’ll likely run into the owner who will quickly shoo you off; likely prompted at the end of a barrel. Something to think about. . . . . . .

    1. A good supply of bug spray, natural repellants, and a solar-heated camp shower. That’s all I have to say.

  4. JD and prelusive007: One thing that I think we can agree on is that we don’t know how a SHTF situation will play out. If I were pretty much alone, I can imagine being robbed or shot. But I imagine thousands of people bugging out at the same time. Some may be pushing carts, some on bicycles or motorcycles, some on ATV’s, and many walking. We may be targeted, but we’ll have weapons as well. There would be no reason to shoot me, if the shooter couldn’t recover the supplies I’ll be carrying. I need the contents of that trailer, if I’m going to have a chance surviving in the wilderness. I’m very much aware that living off the land is difficult. That’s why I need so much. The bugout spot I’ve chosen is in a state park. I hope to be one of the first to settle there, and I have as much right to be there as anyone else. I won’t be upsetting a land owner, with the spot I’ve chosen.

  5. I’d look for something quieter like a. Bicycle or faster like a motorcycle to pull my trailer. Travel as light as possible. It does make some consideration for the weather where you are going. Start with food so you can cook for a while. Hunting, trapping, gardens et. are all slow and unpredictable, at least while you’re settling into an area.
    I’m the gal that survived 10 months with a pocket knife, half a book of matches and one change of clothing and a rusty can that I found. It was necessity. I’d take far more things if given a choice.
    My wish list today would include a tarp and para cord, a sleeping bag, a soft fluffy pillow, hunting knife and a shorter bladed skinning knife, wire and cutters for snares, a pistol, a rifle heavy enough to kill deer, ammo for both, several kinds of fire starters, water treatment methods- filters and chemicals, dehydrated foods-fruits, veggies and meats, a hatchet for wood gathering and killing game like rabbits that may not be dead yet in your snares, and an ax if you realy plan to build a home out there.. I’d rather have a less visible shelter. Perhaps pit with a roof or low rock walls and a center post to support a branch roof. And a shovel. A garden for long term would be nice but most forrests have an abundance of food for the hunter gatherer. You just have to keep at it most of the time and find ways to dry and store excess for later. Knowledge is your best prep. Go camping and actually rough it. Test run your ideas and different scenarios to learn what actually works for you. Oh and I’d love to have a few pounds of coffee and the old enameled camp coffee pot my kids gave me for mothers day about 25 years ago. It still makes great boiled coffee. 🙂 I can make tea from most green things and some dry leaves but no way do I find coffee out there. I don’t need sugar for anything but please do let my start my day with some searing hot coffee and the smell of wood smoke.

  6. I’d travel quiet on a bicycle or fast on a motorcycle to pull the small trailer or jusnt make a push cart like they did in the depression or a grocery cart like the homeless today.
    I’m the gal that survived 10 months with a pocket knife, half a book of matches and a rusty tin can I found. It was a hard but good experience. I learned to watch around me. Be inventive. I grew strong and somewhat self reliant. I learned to snare rabbits by watching trails and how they moved about. I used the elastic from my panties. I figured out to save and move hot coals from my fire so I never finished the book of matches. But given the opportunity I’d take much more with me.
    I keep a full surgical back pack. I can disinfect a wound and suture it if needed. Tourniquet, sling, elastic bandages, bandaids, surgical tools, tea tree oil, alcohol and lots more, and hard candy.
    A backpack with ground cloth, tarp, space blankets, para cord, knives, a hatchet, hand saw, colapsable fishing rod and necessities to go with it, toilet paper fwith no tube so its flat and packs well, hard candy and mor.
    A pack with salt and seasonings, dried foods from Pasta to potatoes, vaggies and fruits and a jar of coconut oil. 2 light weight cooking vessels and tin cups with food packed in them. Hard candy.
    A smaller pack with a change of clothing and extra socks. A microfiber towel and washcloths, 3 bars of soap, new tooth brushes, baking soda for my teeth, for deodorant on wet underarms and making acorn cakes if I can’t find ghost plant or dry oak wood to burn for ashes to act as levening. And hard candy.
    You’ll notice hard candy in every pack. For some folks it can be a lifesaver. Its also carbs to keep you going if you’ve used up your food or can’t cook sometimes. Also a candy can keep your moth moist if you’re away from water. Apaches used a smooth stone in the desert to keep saliva flowing till they could find water. A mint candy taste better. 🙂
    If I actually had to travel light with just what I could carry it would be the packs with the knives and clothing.
    There are antibiotics in nature and foods too.
    At 70, with a husband in early dimensia, I’m not likely to head for the hills unless there is no other choice. I live about 50 miles from a large city and around 20 miles from a small town. I have two wells, I raise chickens, ducks, and rabbits for eggs and meat and I always have some garden and wild plants here for food and medicine. I dry, can, and freeze excesses for future use. I share with a son and family living here by me and a family of good helpful friends living on the property as well. We have cats to control rodents and dogs for alarms and companionship.
    I would plan to stay here but if needed we would climb into the woods above our desert home and seek shelter. There is water and a large herd of elk nearby.
    Try out your plans. Go camping at least for a few days and try roughing it. That could help you make more realistic plans. I’ve seen -46f once but -20f is a more normal winter night low. Days can hover just below freezing with snow on the ground. A shelter is an urgent priority in winter and shade will do in summer. Always have or find water. Learn about the plants in your climate. Every place has food and medicines. Some more than others.
    Above all learn, observe, and learn some more. You’ll be better prepared.
    My 10 months in the woods was a serious survival situation but I won’t go into why. I’d learned about wild foods and medicines from my mother. I’d learned to be observant and think thing through and be creative from my father. I’d earned honors in campcraft, tracking, blazing trails, telling directions and time from the sun. It was fun as a kid. I loved backing and camping. Suddenly is was in a situation unprepared and all that helped save my life.
    If survival or thriving are your interest, invest time in learning and practicing and teach your family. I have. Even when you know some of it, it’s still hard work living it.

    1. Lucenia, I’m impressed with your abilities, but I have no desire to live primitively. I wonder how many people my age (69), can live for an extended period of time with only the supplies you had? Not many, I’m sure. I don’t practice survival skills in the wilderness because I can imagine coming back after a week of that with insect bites, burns, sprains, and so on. I would consider an ATV, pulling a trailer, instead of my slower garden tractor, but I do need the things in that trailer so I can build a comfortable shelter, and have a few modern conveniences. I’ll use technology to keep pests away from my garden. I’ll use live traps, so I don’t have to rely on my ability to make primitive ones that actually work. I’ll have a good supply of food, so I won’t have to eat roots and insects when the fish aren’t biting. I expect life to be hard, but if I can’t live comfortably in the wilderness, I’ll stay in my home until it burns down, or I die fighting off intruders. But thanks for the tips.

  7. Nice to think about BUT mowers dont get good fuel milage tires are easy to poke holes in ie sticks etc very noisy you wood need alot of fuel to bug out a 4 wheer wood.do a better mode of tranpertaion

    1. I live in the city. I have nowhere to run any off-road machine, and no way to transport it to a place where I can run it. I don’t want to invest that much money in something I can’t use, except in a bug out situation. While it’s not ideal, I’ll have to settle for my riding mower. I’m not worried about gas mileage, as long as I have enough gas to make it to the bug out spot I’ve chosen. Someone else mentioned that it’s too slow, but you really can’t go fast, pulling a trailer off-road anyway. If I could only find a way to muffle the sound of the engine, I’d be in good shape.

  8. Some suggest using a bicycle as a bug out vehicle. It seems to me that with a bicycle, and carrying a significant load, you would be pretty much limited to roads. You may be traveling alone, or with a significant other, also on a bicycle. Would that not be a good recipe for an ambush? I would prefer to avoid that danger by traveling with a small group, and staying off-road as much as possible.

  9. All this equipment on a small garden trailer ? I doubt it. Get something bigger to haul your equipment. The items your taking are fine…..but your bug out plan seems “shaky”, as described.

  10. My trailer is larger than the one in the photo, and I’ve taken pains to pack efficiently. I believe that those who can find/grow/catch food, filter water, protect themselves from others and from the elements, and be part of a trust-worthy group, will stand a chance. Remember, we’ll all be flying by the seat of our pants in a SHTF situation, but there will be resources all around us.

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