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How To Know When to Bug Out or Bug In

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 I’ll never forget the year I vacationed at the Jersey shore when the remnants of a small hurricane rolled in. I watched the waves crashing against the pier, wondering if I should hunker down in my Bed and Breakfast or just simply get out of there. I opted to stay rather than try and drive through the torrential rain. 

After the reports of traffic accidents and flooding, I knew I had made the right decision. But is staying put always the right decision? Or are there times when you should bug out instead? 

Knowing whether you need to bug out or bug in can be challenging, but generally speaking, bugging in is often the best choice. However, there will be times when you might need to bug out, so you must be prepared. 

In this article, we are going to talk about how to know when you should bug out or when you should bug in. Ultimately, the choice is one that only you can make, given your unique situation. First, however, we’ll give you some examples of when you might want to bug out and bug in so you can get a good idea of what works better for you. First, though, let’s take a look at the difference between bugging in and bugging out. 

What’s the Difference Between Bugging Out and Bugging In 

Bugging out means you are leaving your home and heading for a remote location. You may have a remote location already selected and set up so that once you have overcome the challenge of getting there, you already have supplies set up and in place. 

On the other hand, bugging in means, you’ll be hunkering down in your own home. You may need to get back to your home from work or school, but you probably won’t have as much distance to travel as if you were bugging out. 

The hardest part is knowing which you should choose. 

Where Do You Go When You Bug Out 

Bug Out Bag

You will probably want to have a plan for where you go in case you need to bug out. Ideally, you’ll have a location you own and can frequently visit so that you are familiar with the area, the community, and the terrain. You’ll want to have supplies set up, too, so that you don’t have to worry about covering your basic needs once you get there. 

If it isn’t possible to get to your bugout location, you might need to consider some other bugout options. For example: 

  • A national park 
  • A remote piece of land that you already own 
  • An abandoned building 
  • Your RV 

If you can’t choose a location where you can store supplies, you may want to set up some storage caches in secret places that only you can find. Bugging out is a big decision to make, and you’ll want to make sure you are well prepared if you must do so. 

How Do You Know If You Should Bug Out or Bug In 

Food Storage Shelves 2.

In most cases, you will probably want to bug in. Bugging in is typically the easier, safer choice. For example, your home is where all your stuff is. You’ve already got it set up for a day-to-day living for cooking, cleaning, hygiene, clothing, heat, shelter, and supplies. So you’ve already got everything you need, right there. And most likely, you’ve stocked up on some extra supplies that will last you quite a while if you can’t get to the grocery store. 

If you were to bug out, you wouldn’t be able to carry a year’s worth of food and supplies on your back. Instead, you would have to rely on your survival skills and your cache at the bug-out location to keep you alive. Your chances of survival, then, are probably higher at your own home, especially if there is a chance that someone arrives at your bugout location before you do.

Examples of When You May Need to Bug In or Get Home 

  • You don’t have a safe place to bug out to 
  • It isn’t safe to go outside 
  • Bugging-out puts you at risk because your appearance is suspicious

Because you don’t live at your bug-out location, it is more likely to be compromised than your home. 

In short, if there isn’t a need to bug out, then just don’t. If your home is safe, secure, and has supplies, then you’ll likely want to just stay put. On the other hand, there are a few times when you might actually need to and be safer by bugging out.

Examples of When You May Need to Bug Out or Not Return Home 

Ready to Go Survival Backpack
Ready to Go Survival Backpack
  • A natural disaster is imminent or has happened; for example, a Category 5 hurricane is just days away, your home is in the direct path of a wildfire, your home is flooded or unsafe from an earthquake
  • Domestic violence 
  • Lack of supplies in your area and your own supplies are depleted 
  • Transportation systems are halted or broken down
  • Civil unrest in your neighborhood with ongoing violence 

In these cases,  you may need to bug out whether or not you have a place set up to bug out to. You might need to improvise and find a place to go, at least short-term, while you figure out what happens next. In this case, you need to have a bugout bag that will help you care for your needs until you can find a longer-term solution. 

Sometimes, You Need to Do Both 

Sometimes, you might be inclined to bug in and then later decide you have to bug out. For example, this might happen in the case of a natural disaster, where you ride out the initial threat at home but then have to leave because your home has become unstable or supplies are running out. 

On the other hand, there may be a time when you initially need to bug out, such as in the case of a severe, incoming hurricane, but then later find that you can quickly return home. 

Unfortunately, if you don’t leave when you need to, you might find that it’s suddenly too late, and you can’t bug out even if you need to. 

Steps to Take When Deciding Whether You Should Bug In or Out

There is no simple answer as to whether you should bug in or bug out in any given situation. Every situation, every family, and every scenario is going to be different and require a different reaction. However, you can take a few steps to help you be prepared for any situation. 

  1. Be prepared. Always be ready to both bug in and bug out. You should have (just to get you started):
    • A bug-out location 
    • Bug out bag 
    • Maps 
    • A stockpile of supplies both at home and at your bug-out location 
  2. Be familiar with your area. Make sure you know your way around both your hometown and your bug-out area. Know where the back roads are, know your way through the woods, and know where there are sources of water, just to name a few. 
  3. Grow your community. Work together with your friends, family, and neighbors to pool resources. Find like-minded people who you trust so you can help each other through all kinds of situations. 
  4. Create contingency plans. Take some time to think through some possible scenarios that could happen in your neighborhood. Perhaps your area is prone to flooding, or earthquakes, or hurricanes. What if riots were to break out in your town? Talk through these situations with your family and figure out what the best recourse would likely be. Your plans will be affected by the age and abilities of the people in your family, your transportation needs, and your survival skills, as well as your resources and community.

You’ll want to come up with some plans for bugging in and some plans for bugging out, which include how you will eat, cook, sleep, keep warm, and communicate. Knowing what could happen and how you will respond will help you be prepared if something does happen, even if you have to adjust your plans on the fly. 

  • Don’t panic! When SHTF happens, remember that you are prepared. Panicking will only make things worse, so keep calm and try to think through your options carefully. 
  • Make a decision and act on it. Inaction can lead to devastation in an actual SHTF scenario. On the other hand, if you need to bug out, you may need to make the decision and act quickly, or you’ll miss the window of opportunity to evacuate safely, especially in cases of bad weather or wildfires
  • Re-evaluate and adjust as needed. Situations can change quickly, for better or worse, so be prepared to adapt your plans to protect your family. 

Final Thoughts on Whether to Bug Out or Bug In 

No one can tell you what’s best for you and your family because there are so many possible factors. Perhaps you have small children, animals to take care of, or an older adult in your care. Perhaps you can’t afford a bug-out location. Or maybe there is no safe place to go. All of these factors can affect whether you stay or you go, and ultimately, only you can decide. But we make our best decisions when we are both mentally and physically prepared for what is and what could happen. 

Related Questions 

What should I do first in an SHTF? 

The first thing you should do is stay calm and get safe. If there is an imminent threat, get to safety, then plan what happens next and communicate with your family. You can read more here.

What goes in a bug-out bag? 

Your bug-out bag needs to include essentials that help you get to a safe location. In addition, you need to carry items that will provide for food, shelter, water, clean air, and protection. Here are some more items to consider for your bug-out bag.  

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Hi! I’m David. For most of my life I have been interested in emergency preparedness. Over the many years things have changed a great deal. From freeze dried food, to LED lanterns, preparing for an emergency has never been easier. The continual research I have done over the years has become the basis for this website. Now it is one of the most trusted sources to learn about emergency preparedness.