Should I Stay or Should I Go? How to Decide Whether to Bug Out or Bug In During an Emergency

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Author of The Bug Out Book and The NEW Interactive Prepper’s Book of Lists

When disaster seems imminent, there’s one vital decision that preppers have to make: grab your bag and bug out or hunker down and bug in? The lyrics from the chorus of a song by The Clash sums it up – you’ve got trouble either way, but one way will be worse than the other.

Because this song is now stuck in my head, I thought it should be stuck in your head, too.

Should I stay or should I go now?

Should I stay or should I go now?

If I go, there will be trouble

And if I stay it will be double

So come on and let me know

~ The Clash

If you are looking for far more detail on bugging out, check out The Bug Out Book, available instantly in PDF format.

Bug in or bug out?

Bugging In: This is when you shut the gate, lock the doors, and hunker down to weather the disaster at home with your supplies.

Bugging Out:  This is when you grab your bug-out bag, and you hit the road to go somewhere else because your home is not safe.

In all but the most desperate circumstances, my personal plan is bugging in. Being out on the road amid a disaster means you’re a refugee. It means your supplies are minimal and that the things you’ve carefully stored over the years are very possibly going to be lost to you. The personal sustainability you’ve been cultivating at your home is also lost, including your garden, livestock, and water plan.

That being said, after the past few years we’ve seen in the United States, it seems to me that the possibility of having to evacuate has become more and more likely. What with the wildfires (and not just in California – we’ve seen them in Colorado, Tennessee, and North Carolina, to name a few), the industrial accidents, the hurricanes, the floods, and even volcanos, it seems that disaster can strike anywhere. And it can strike in a way that makes it impossible for you to hunker down safely at home.

This is not a decision engraved in stone

A while back, I wrote about the 3 steps to surviving any crisis.

1.) Accept

2.) Plan

2.) Act

If you are completely married to only one course of action, it limits your ability to perform the first step. That first step is accepting that whatever horrible event is out there has actually occurred. You have to be adaptable if you want to be able to survive extraordinary circumstances. Disasters rarely go by a script, and your plan can’t either.

The variables to consider

The answer to this question is hard to come by. There are so many different variables. There can never be a one-size-fits-all response. Here are the major factors you have to look at.

Will you be safe if you remain at home?

Bugging in is my first choice, but there are some situations in which evacuation is a necessity. Last year, during the King Fire, we were only a few miles from the evacuation line. Had the fire leaped that line, it would have been suicidal to stay home.

If you live near an erupting volcano, same thing. Storms like Hurricane Katrina also indicate that evacuation is a wiser course of action. Chemical spills, fires, biological contaminants, and extreme civil unrest can all be good causes to get-the-heck-out. You have to be willing to accept that no matter how fantastic your survival set-up is at your home, some circumstances beyond your control would absolutely require a bug out.

Do you have a place to go

Bugging out to the woods to live off the land is not a good idea for most people. While some folks would be just fine, most of us would not. Are you going to go live in the woods with your children, your elderly mother-in-law, and your diabetic spouse? Even though it’s a stretch, it might work briefly in good weather. But what about when the snow flies? What about when your food runs out?

Also, what about the fact that every third prepper has the same idea and will be out there shooting at deer, rendering your ability to bag one nearly impossible. If you do get one, do you know how to preserve it with only what you carried out to the woods on your back? That list could go on and on.

The point is, do you have a reliable retreat that is stocked with supplies? Do you have a friend in the boondocks to whom you can go? Is that friend actually expecting you, and have you ponied up with some supplies before the event to ensure that you are welcome? If you have your own retreat set up somewhere, what will you do if someone hostile got there first? If it has really, truly hit the fan, your best bet for bugging out is a well-stocked retreat location where someone in your group resides full time.

Do you have a way to get there?

Suppose you have a retreat, an awesome little compound up the mountain, over the stream, and around the bend. That is a beautiful thing to have. But in a worst-case scenario, how will you get to it? How long would it take you to hike there, should the roads be clogged by fellow evacuees, or in the event of an EMP event that takes out the power, including that of most vehicles? Is it possible to get there on foot with the family members who will be accompanying you? How far away is your secondary location? If it takes you more than a week to get there on foot, your chances of making it to your destination with a family in tow are pretty slim.

If you expect to get there in a crisis, your secondary location should be less than 100 miles from your primary location. A 25-mile range is optimal because it’s far enough not to be affected by localized disasters, but not so far you couldn’t make it on foot in a couple of strenuous days.

Can all of your family members make the trip?

It’s important to have a plan, a backup plan, and a backup to your backup. Often, in a bug-out scenario, that plan includes a difficult hike over rough terrain. Have you thought about who you’ll be taking with you?

Are there children old enough to walk on their own for long distances, or will you be carrying them? A 25-pound child piggy-backing on you will drain your energy very quickly, especially if you are going up and down steep trails. What about elderly family members? If you have a frail parent with a heart condition or age-related dementia, bugging out on foot is simply not an option for you. (Unless you can rig up a sturdy cart with knobby, off-road tires and pull it.) If you have family members that can’t make it, you must plan for your on-foot-bug-out to take far longer than normal. That doesn’t make it impossible. It just means that you MUST consider these things in advance and make modifications to your travel arrangements.

When to go is every bit as important as whether to go

If you live in the heart of the city, civil unrest is going down, and the homes around you are getting burned to the ground by rioters, you may have missed your window of opportunity for easy evacuation.

If there are only two roads out and everyone else has decided it’s time to go, you may be too late to get out quickly. For example, places like New York City and San Francisco are accessible by only a couple of bridges. Getting out of those cities would be nearly impossible with the huge populations there if you wait too long to leave.

This all goes back to the three steps to survival: Accept, Plan, Act

If the situation has shown signs of going south in a hurry, you need to get a move on. If you are going to go, go early. You don’t want to be stuck in traffic, sitting in your car, when the hurricane hits. If the local government gives an evacuation order, that means that everyone else in your area is getting that order at the same time. The roads will quickly become impassable, as traffic becomes gridlocked and unprepared people run out of fuel.

Hundreds of vehicles line the interstate outside of Beaumont, Tx. Mandatory evacuation orders were made in east Texas near the Gulf Coast in advance of Hurricane Gustav’s landfall in San Antonio. FEMA is working with State, local, and other Federal agencies in a joint operation in preparation for Hurricane Gustav’s landfall. Photo by Patsy Lynch/FEM

Learn why you might need to evacuate, decide what to bring with you, figure out where you’ll go, and make a plan for every member of your family. The Bug Out Book will help you create an evacuation plan for any disaster.

Grab yours here: The Bug Out Book

If you decide to stay…

If you decide that staying home and hunkering down is the best decision, then it’s time to commit to that decision.

You should, at the minimum (hopefully) have these supplies and more:

  • Water
  • Necessary prescription medications
  • well-stocked pantry – you need at least a one-month supply of food for the entire family, including pets
  • An off-grid cooking method like an outdoor burner, a barbecue, a fire pit, or a woodstove)
  • Or food that requires no cooking
  • A tactical quality first aid kit
  • Lighting in the event of a power outage
  • Sanitation supplies (if the municipal water system is unusable, this would include cleaning supplies and toilet supplies)
  • A way to stay warm in harsh winter weather
  • Over-the-counter medications or herbal remedies to treat illnesses at home
  • A diverse survival guide, a comprehensive preparedness book, and a first aid manual (hard copies in case the internet and power grid are down)
  • Alternative communications devices (such as a hand-crank radio) so that you can get updates about the outside world
  • Off-grid entertainment: arts and craft supplies, puzzles, games, books, crossword or word search puzzles, needlework, journals (here are some more ideas to keep the kids entertained.)

Keep yourself and your home under the radar

Regardless of the reason you’ve hunkered down, vandals, looters, and thugs come out to play when disaster strikes.

Defense is two-fold. You want to stay under the radar and not draw attention to yourself. Some of the following recommendations are unnecessary during an ordinary grid-down scenario. Still, they could save your life in a more extreme civil unrest scenario or a situation that has gone long-term. It’s always better to be over-prepared than under-prepared. The best way to win a fight is to avoid getting into that fight in the first place. Secure your home and lay low but be prepared if trouble comes to visit.

Here are some tips to make your home less of a target:

  • Keep all the doors and windows locked. Secure sliding doors with a metal bar. Consider installing decorative grid-work over a door with a large window so that it becomes difficult for someone to smash the glass and reach in to unlock the door. Install a door bar on your front and back doors.
  • Keep the curtains closed. There’s no need for people walking past to see what you have or to reconnaissance on how many people are present. If the power is out, put dark plastic over the windows. (Heavy duty garbage bags work well.) If it’s safe to do so, go outside and check to see if any light escapes from the windows. If your home is the only one on the well-lit block, it is a beacon to others.
  • Keep cooking smells to a minimum. Especially if there is a food shortage or everyone in the neighborhood is hungry, the meat on your grill will draw people like moths to a flame.
  • Don’t answer the door. Many home invasions start with an innocent-seeming knock at the door to gain access to your house.
  • Keep pets indoors. Sometimes criminals use an animal in distress to get a homeowner to open the door for them. Sometimes people are mean and hurt animals for “fun.” Either way, it’s safer for your furry friends to be inside with you.
  • Be ready for the potential of fire. Have fire extinguishers mounted throughout your home. You can buy them in 6 packs from Amazon. Be sure to test them frequently and maintain them properly. (Allstate has a page about fire extinguisher maintenance.) Have fire escape ladders that can be attached to a windowsill in all upper story rooms. Drill with them so that your kids know how to use them if necessary.

Do what it takes to defend your home

If your property draws the attention of people with ill intent despite your best efforts, firearms are an equalizer. A small woman can defend herself from multiple large intruders with a firearm if she’s had some training and knows how to use it properly. But put a kitchen knife in her hand against those same intruders, and her odds decrease exponentially.

  • Don’t rely on 911. If the disorder is widespread, don’t depend on a call to 911 to save you – you must be prepared to protect yourself. First responders may be tied up, and the cops are not always your friends in some cases. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, some officers joined in the crime sprees, and others stomped all over the 2nd Amendment and confiscated people’s legal firearms at a time when they needed them the most.
  • Be armed and keep your firearm on your person. When the door of your home is breached, you can be pretty sure the people coming in are not there to make friendly conversation over a nice cup of tea. Make a plan to greet them with a deterring amount of force. Be sure to keep your firearm on your person during this type of situation because there won’t be time to get it from your gun safe. Don’t even go to the kitchen to get a snack without it. Home invasions go down in seconds, and you have to be constantly ready.
  • Know how to use your firearm. Whatever your choice of weapon, practice, practice, practice. A weapon you don’t know how to use is more dangerous than having no weapon at all. Here’s some advice from someone who knows a lot more about weapons than I do.

Make sure your children are familiar with the rules of gun safety

It should go without saying that you will have pre-emptively taught your children the rules of gun safety, so no horrifying accidents occur. In fact, it’s my fervent hope that any child old enough to do so has been taught to use a firearm safely and effectively themselves. Knowledge is safety.

Also, have a safe room established for children or other vulnerable family members. If the worst happens and your home is breached, you need to have a room where family members can escape. This room needs to have a heavy exterior door instead of a regular hollow core interior door. There should be communications devices in the room so the person can call for help. Also, there should be a reliable weapon to be used in the unlikely event that the safe room is breached. The family members should be instructed not to come out of that room FOR ANY REASON until you give them the all-clear or help has arrived.

You can learn more about building a safe room HERE. Focus on the tips for creating a safe room in an apartment to put it together quickly.

Always be ready for Plan B

Even if you plan to bug in, you must be ready to change that plan in the blink of an eye. Plan an escape route.

If the odds are against you, your house catches on fire, or floodwaters rise, devise a way to get your family to safety. Your property is not worth your life. Be wise enough to accept that the situation has changed and move rapidly to Plan B.

If you decide to go…

Nearly everything to do with bugging out needs to be done ahead of time. When the time comes to evacuate, you want to be able to put your plans into motion quickly and flawlessly. This reduces stress tremendously.

To get a FREE evacuation checklist and guide to download, go here.

These actions are not last-minute actions. No matter what Plan A is, you need to have all of the above components in place long before any potential disaster occurs.

So….all of this and I didn’t answer your question

That’s because there is no single “right” answer. Hopefully, the information provided here has pointed out the important variables that will allow you to make good decisions.

The most significant part of preparedness is being able to adapt to the situation at hand. For us, bugging in is our Plan A. That doesn’t mean we have disregarded Plans B and C. (Bugging out to a friend’s place by car, followed by bugging out to the same friend’s place on foot.) We also have a second location should the first one be unavailable, which I suppose would be Plan D.

Don’t just make one plan. Make at least 3. Try to figure out the shortcomings of all of your plans and solve those issues ahead of time. Whatever your plan is, strict adherence to one course of action is extremely dangerous and short-sighted.

You may get through life never needing to evacuate or hunker down, but if you do, the speed at which you make your decisions could be pivotal in saving the lives of your loved ones.

Picture of Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, globe-trotting blogger. She is the founder and publisher of three websites.  1) The Organic Prepper, which is about current events, preparedness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, 2)  The Frugalite, a website with thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances without feeling deprived, and 3), an aggregate site where you can find links to all the most important news for those who wish to be prepared. She is widely republished across alternative media and  Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books and runs a small digital publishing company with PDF guides, printables, and courses. You can find her on FacebookPinterest, Gab, MeWe, Parler, Instagram, and Twitter.

Leave a Reply

  • The server appears to have had a hiccup.

    Daisy is absolutely right about not getting locked into a given plan. As we say in the Marines, Semper Gumby (Always Flexible), and Improvise! Adapt! Overcome!
    Would it be great if plan A worked 100% from the get go? Of course.
    Murphy is always lurking. Best to not only have a plan B, but a C and then see above.
    None of us have a crystal ball, fish entrails, or Magic 8-ball telling us how things will unfold.
    There have been various references to past historical conflicts, social/civil strife and even genocide.
    I think we can all agree, America is different, on more than a few points.

    Prior to the server hiccup, WilliamTheResolute, had a great post about forming up with the neighbors to establish a defensive security perimeter.
    Matt in OK mentioned about having more than just a couple conducting security, but what does the logistics look like when you have say (IIRC) 10 people in the house and can the septic system handle that kind of load? Food?
    Things get real interesting real fast.

    Survival SHTF or post-SHTF will be more likely measures in calories, access to fresh water and sanitation than bullets.

    Side note: Modern stick and frame housing construction is concealment. Not cover. That can work in both ways.

    • I hate that we lost those comments. The whole darn thing vanished into the ether and we couldn’t get it back! Luckily, I had the article itself over on Patreon to copy back to here.

    • You must control a large enough area your house isn’t taking direct fire. For many that’s hard to comprehend as we see in neighborhood riots going on. We’ve been taught not to think beyond our yard.
      That’s just crazy talk.
      I’ve picked out choke points being bridges in my case in multiple directions to hold and yes it’ll take manpower but is what it is.

      • Matt in OK,
        That right there!
        Defensive position at key choke points. KD points/range cards, interlocking fields of fire, etc.

        Some would say they would just go around it.
        Ever try going real cross country with your BOB weapon etc.? Better be in dang good shape.
        And dont fall down.

  • If everything else fails in a bug-out plan, you can always look for a cheap hotel room to stay for a night while you try to find a better place to go to. Obviously, it depends on the kind of disaster and you have to take into account that lots of people will think of doing exactly the same thing, so it’s likely to work only if you realise early on that your initial bug-out plan won’t work. In other words: don’t assume that your main bug-out plan will work, check before going there so you have the flexibility to find your other options.

  • Here is how to help you decide.

    BE PREPARED. Think the whole situation through and PRACTICE it as real as you can get with your entire family and you at least once or twice, again being as realistic as you can make it.


    • I’ll try n replicate what I said.
      Some folks will have to bug out to bug in. We will have to group up because not even couples can pull 24-7-365 guard by themselves much less complete all tasks. There are questions needing answered such as housing or pulling in campers, septic situation, food storage and how many trips it’ll need to get them and their supplies moved in.
      You need a bug out, big in and an extended large bug in plan.

  • Things to consider besides food and an able septic system to handle 10 people-Think that was Matts or 1st Marines comment.

    The elderly and disabled and extras for them. Thinking canes,walkers. slip proof shoes. Plenty of pillows and blankets. And first aid supplies. Know your circle and prepare accordingly.

    • That’s exactly right. There are very few families without additional needs individuals.

      It’s the difference in a militia and a group. One only wants FAMs and the other is fam.

  • Also consider the possibility that if you have no place to go and no way to get there, your ticket might be punched. At least sell your life dearly! That’s better IMO than living in servitude anyway.

  • The question I always have is, “How do you know when it is time to bug out?”

    There are the obvious ones, like a wildfire bearing down on you. Or a cat 5 hurricane is looking to make landfall and you live 2 miles from that spot.

    But take the pandemic. MAR2020 I was standing atop the hill that overlooks the main road. The lockdowns had just gone into effect. The road was eerily quite. A whole hour could go by before a vehicle would pass.
    I recall wondering if this was it. If this was the real, deal, no kidding the S has HTF.
    How many people thought the same and bugged out to their BOL?
    For the most part, everyone stayed holed up at home, ordering things off the internet.
    Has this been the real deal, SHTF, with a say 10% mortality rate, how long would of it been before it would of gone all Mad Max like? And by that time, would it be too late to bug out?

  • My plan is to bug in, in my ‘Hill Fort’. I have 65 acres in the hills of Colombia, South America. I’m about to buy 55 adjoining acres more. I’m going to offer 1 acre and up lots, for self sufficient homesteaders. Enough room to isolate if you need, and grow your own food, chickens, rabbits and bees.

    I searched for over a year to find the place that fit my requirements, a circumferential hill top, that can be defended. My first line of defense will be 50ft foot high walls dug out of the hillside. Then, deterrents, like propelled golf balls. Then more serious projectiles. Pressurized air is unregulated, and you can use existing components.

    I have architectural plans for 1, 2, and 4 bedroom homes with full basements and attics, room for storage, that comply with the precepts of Feng Shui and the Golden Proportion.

    I’m especially interested in people with military experience.

    There are some photos and videos on my website, which I’m still trying to get some bugs out, but if you scroll down they are there.

    [email protected]

    • Hey Lawrence, I may not have military experience…but I lack the usually scrupulous methodologies that could be associated with it. And I´m a fan of pressurized air, too, BTW. The fact you´re right next door is interesting, too. Kiddo and I could bug out in my jap cruiser bike with just a trailer and trip supplies, given the case. Let´s keep in touch.

      • Yes, let’s stay in touch. My email, above. I hope you’re inclined to do what’s necessary to defend your home, if need be. Signing the Promesa Compra Venta on an adjoining property today, surveying tomorrow. My whatsapp, 57 312 710 6900

  • Great article!
    The only way I could live again in an city matchbox apartment is having a completely self sufficient bunker somewhere within one fuel tank reach. It´s not like I crave for expensive coffees and the multitudes. Bookstores yes, maybe sushi restaurants…but generally speaking city life is not meant for me. Maybe kiddo will learn to like it in the future once he´s flew off the nest.
    I´m tempted indeed to sell our large, expensive-to-maintain subdivision home, get a matchbox apartment and a good, productive but remote hacienda to hunker down in.

  • More on looking for things that aren’t there

    Most first aid kits that are recommended as part of one’s bug out bag are probably current for technology and hazards up through, say, 2000. But they do not address the 2020-2021 biggie — Covid-19 or variants. Those can be headed off, or even mitigated, if one knows what to use and how to use it … if one has the right medications available in time … and especially before a case becomes serious enough to need hospitalization where the most effective treatments are mostly prohibited … and where ventilators are a near death sentence.

    I’ve already lost friends who went the hospital route …including one who caught Covid-19 in a VA hospital and didn’t make it out alive. I have other friends who knew what DIY medications to use in time, and how to use them, and successfully recovered at home — and earned their lifetime of natural immunity … which the Big Pharma vaxes don’t achieve. (Hint: the Big Pharma and lamestream agitprop media demonized ivermectin or hydroxychloroquine plus the right supporting supplements can make all the difference. Look up America’s Front Line Doctors as a starting place, but stay away from garbage search engines like Google.

    Consider the risks. If you follow the reporting on and (which the Big Pharma mafia despise), there are many stories about the Covid and/or booster jabs turning the unfortunate recipients into super-spreaders. There are videos of whistleblowing Chinese doctors explaining that such “vaccines” are bio-warfare agents that are consistent with a global eugenics reset plan.

    Now consider if you caught Covid-19 or variants during a bug out (or later especially if you were never able to come home). Would you have the DIY medications that have many global success stories, or would you be stuck getting dragged into a US hospital which mostly are forbidden to use what works … and are killing Covid patients right and left?

    So you decide: is it worthwhile for you to learn how to prevent and mitigate Covid or the variants via your DIY first aid kit? Or would you rather take your chances with US hospitals with their politically biased murder methodologies?


  • With a Great Pyrenees adult dog, a Border Collie puppy,ducks,chickens,and cats,where exactly can I go. How would I get there? No, I’m staying regardless of circumstances. I live here,work the land here,plant and harvest. This my home. If need be, I will die here.

  • I think every one should plan to bug out.
    The reason is that Bugging In is mostly a “No brainer”. you already probably have most everything you need to survive right there, if you are a Prepper.

    However to Bug Out properly for a real SHTF scenario takes a lot more planning. If you think you can grab a Bug Out bag and go and survive , you are mistaken. This is where ” just bugging out” makes no sense, it is based upon a wrong concept.

    To properly “Bug Out” you need escape routes planned and a verified BOL that can provide, shelter, water and food. (This is where the minimalist bug out bag concept will get you killed. It might be ok for certain scenarios, but not the worst ones).

    You will need tools and a lot of knowledge of Bush craft skills in order to survive.
    A good bug out vehicle and possibly a small trailer that you can quickly load or keep loaded with supplies is helpful.
    A set of cashed supplies along the route and at your final destination is a good idea also.

    You will need enough food to last through any winter months and up to 90 days after planting a garden, before you see any produce. Living off the land in the winter(in many areas) without proper preps is a fools errand.

    Some of us do not have a second home or cabin to go to. So you might have to go into the woods and use your skills to build a permanent shelter for yourself there.( Do you know how to make and fire bricks? How about building with logs? This is where learning some skills are necessary). You might start out in a tent, but eventually you will want something better.

    So you can see that Bugging Out properly, takes a whole lot more training, planning and skill than Bugging in. Which is exactly why everyone should plan for the worst case scenario; “Bugging Out”.
    Even if you plan to Bug In, you should nave a proper Bug Out Plan in place, just in case you need it.
    Otherwise, if you plan to “bug In” and things go bad and you have to But Out, then you will probably be like a refugee, with almost nothing to work with.
    Which is exactly what many people erroneously suggest that planning on Bugging Out in the first place, would be like ( but that is not true, if it is properly planned for).
    Life and SHTF is unpredictable. Nothing is Guaranteed.

  • The concept of bugging in is only best considered if you live in a rural area.
    One of the dangers in cities is Urban Fire, but not only the fire in your house, but the one in the house next door. Which is seldom addressed.
    The biggest problem firefighters have is in keeping one house fire from becoming two house fires (and then three, four, etc., until you lose a whole subdivision). If the fire dept’s response is not available or there is not adequate water in the fire hydrants on your block, the home will burn down, possibly along with several other homes and maybe even a whole subdivision.
    Greedy land developers, made the home lots so small in many places, that they are a fire danger to each other. With modern fire fighting equipment, supplies and manpower this has been offset to minimalize the danger, But without that being available, there is a very great danger.

    So it is not just a fire in your home you have to worry about, but any fire in your whole subdivision. Sometimes a street might create enough of a fire break to protect you. But as any firefighter knows, that it is not a 100% guarantee of safety.
    Abandoned homes or those left by those bugging out will increase the danger, as there will be no responsible person(s) to catch and put out any fires while they are still controllable, Transients, squatters and looters will not care if it burns, as there will be other empty homes to move into.
    Urban Fire is one of your worst enemy’s in bugging In, in a city or even in a town, unless you live on a half acre or bigger lot.

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