It’s the million-dollar prepper question when disaster strikes – do you hunker down or head for the hills? If you’re faced with that decision, the following bug-in vs. bug-out debate can help you choose whether to stay or go.
What is “Bugging In”?
Bugging in is staying put and hunkering down inside your home during a potential threat or emergency. You can also think of it as sheltering in place or riding out the storm.
What is Bugging Out”?
Bugging out comes from military slang and means your position has been compromised and you need to flee or retreat in a hurry. You grab your essentials and get out of dodge. In the civilian sense and prepping community, it means much the same – there’s a threat to your safety and you need to evacuate or escape in a hurry.
How to Decide Whether Bugging In or Bugging Out Is Better for Survival
In a survival situation, the safety of bugging in or bugging out will depend on the specific threat you’re facing. We’ll take a look at some specific scenarios below, but know this – if the option’s available, bugging in should be your default unless the situation demands otherwise.
Bugging in gives you homefield advantage, a ready shelter, and access to your full stockpile of survival food and supplies. This makes hunkering down at home your best bet for riding out an emergency.
But you can’t bank on the fact you’ll be able to bug in. Crises come on suddenly and are unpredictable. Bugging in vs. out will be a game time decision and you must prepare for both scenarios.
When to Bug In
Bugging in is the better option if there’s no immediate threat to your home, your home is well-stocked and secure, and there are dangerous conditions waiting outside if you leave. Below are some situations where you’d likely be safer sheltering in place until danger passes.
Severe Weather Forecasts Such as Blizzards, Tornadoes, and Strong Thunderstorms
You have a better chance of staying safe when sheltering in place and literally riding out the storm from the comfort of your home.
Unless your home is under direct threat, it’s likely more dangerous to make your way through the melee of civil unrest, looting, or rioting.
Power Outage or Utilities Disruptions
While you ultimately may change your mind depending on the duration of a power outage, remember that power outages can knock out traffic lights, making hitting the road dangerous. Other utilities disruptions, like a water main break, can also affect road safety.
In the event of a biohazard like a virus outbreak or biological attack that could affect air quality, it may make more sense to stay home and wait it out.
Local Shooting or Violent Criminal at Large
If there’s a mass shooter or terrorist on the loose in your area, you’re better served staying home and defending your castle if need be.
Benefits and Dangers of Bugging In
- Built-in shelter and security
- Access to your full stockpile of supplies
- Community relationships
- Familiar terrain and comfortable surroundings
- Homefield advantage (stand-your-ground)
- Becoming a target to thieves and looters
- Supplies run out eventually
- Limited ability to restock
- Underprepared neighbors
- Going stir crazy/ cabin fever
When to Bug Out
Bugging out can quickly remove you from immediate danger. The idea is not to survive in the wild but get to a place that is safer, with better resources, or betters your chances of survival. Below are some examples of when bugging out is best.
Wildfires in Your Area
Wildfires are deadly and unpredictable. You’ll want to evacuate the area before a wildfire’s racing toward your home and it’s too late to get out.
Flooding, Hurricane, or Tsunami Warnings
Often, you’ll have advanced notice of an acute threat. If a category 5 hurricane’s bearing down but two days out or if floodwaters, storm surge, or a tsunami’s expected to land on your doorstep, you’ll want to get out of dodge (and to higher ground) while you can.
Local Rioting or Civil Unrest
As you probably noticed, this scenario makes both our “bug in” and “bug out” lists. If a mob’s moving closer to your location, you may determine it’s safer to flee.
Hazmat Situation or Chemical Spill
Perhaps a train derailed and leaked hazardous materials, a chemical truck overturned, or there was a radiation or gas leak in your area. You’re going to want to safely hole up elsewhere.
Your House is Physically Unsafe after a Disaster
In the aftermath of a natural disaster, your house might be burnt, contaminated, damaged, rubble, or structurally unsound – and ultimately unfit for living until repairs can be made.
Benefits and Dangers of Bugging Out
- It gets you out of harm’s way in a hurry
- Allows for mobility and flexibility
- Access to resources farther afield
- Under the radar
- A feeling of control and taking action in a crisis
- Limited resources
- Rough travel or harsh weather
- No creature comforts
- Physical limitations
- No bugout location to go to or inability to get there
No One-Size-Fits-All Answer
Ultimately, the choice will come down to the specific survival threat you’re facing and individual circumstances. You’ll be the ultimate judge of what’s best for your own or your family’s safety. Cover all your bases and prepare as much as possible for both contingencies. The effort will be well worth it if you’re faced with a crisis.