Bugging out, and more specifically the bug out bag, have become one of the central themes of prepping. Everyone agrees on the need of a bug out bag, as well as a complete plan for bugging out, should the need arise. At the same time, I as well as many others who write on the topic of survival, have cautioned people to bug in whenever they can, rather than bugging out.
The big problem with bugging out is the difficulty of surviving in the wild. Few people, even amongst the prepping community, actually have the necessary skills to survive for a prolonged period of time in the wild. The problem of coming up with enough food to eat is paramount, as the typical bug out bag only has three to five days food in it.
Granted, our ancestors did well at surviving in the wild. But that was at a time when game was more plentiful and people were used to doing with much less. That makes surviving in the wild today much harder than it was for them.
Of course, if you happen to be one of those people who have a prepared and stocked survival shelter set up somewhere, that's a totally different situation. Those people have a great advantage, not only in having a shelter awaiting them, but in the stockpile of ready food to keep them going. In that case, bugging out will often increase your chances of survival over bugging in.
But what about the rest of us? There are times when you just can't stay at home due to natural disaster or a breakdown of society. If staying home is dangerous and attempting to survive in the wild is dangerous, what other option exists, which will increase our chances of survival?
That problem is why I'd like to propose the idea of bugging out to the city, rather than bugging out to the wild. There are a number of advantages to bugging out to the city, assuming the right location is chosen, rather than bugging out to the wild; such as:
- Readily available shelter
- Abundant sources to scavenge from
- Ease of access or travel
- Shorter travel distance - This is especially important if you have to walk
- The possibility of "hiding in plain sight"
- Availability of people you know, who might be able to help you out
Let me be clear about what I'm referring to here. The idea is still to bug out, with the exception of where you bug out to. I'm suggesting that you might have a better chance of survival if you stay in the familiar grounds of an urban area, rather than heading off into the woods. But you have to choose your location wisely.
Selecting a City Bug Out Location
The first thing you need is someplace to bug out to, just like you would if you were bugging out into the wild. The question then becomes, how do you select such a place? Obviously the criteria would be at least a little different, even if your survival needs are going to be much the same.
To start with, let's talk about population density. Typically, the highest population density is in the center of a city, not the downtown area, but the area immediately surrounding it. Downtown is usually al businesses, but the high-rises immediately around that are all high-density apartment buildings. As you move out from the city center, into other areas of the city, population density will begin to drop, with smaller buildings and individual homes taking over from apartment buildings. Even the apartments will be lower density, two-story buildings, rather than hi-rises. By the time you get out to the suburbs, you're going to have mostly single family homes, with apartments only along some of the major streets. This will have a still lower population density. But the lowest population density for any urban area will be in rural towns, away from the big cities.
Population density is a major factor in deciding where to go. The higher the density, the more people there will be fighting for whatever resources are available. That means that any violence associated with the disaster will start in the city center, where the population density is high and move out from there.
Moving to an area with a lower population density will mean that you are less likely to run into gangs or marauders who want to take whatever you have and perhaps kill you while they're at it. At the same time, there will be less people competing for available resources, making those resources stretch farther. As such, you are more likely to find resources and be able to keep them, in lower population density areas.
The next consideration is the relative affluence of the area. Poor areas are less likely to have an abundance of resources available and are likely to have more gang-related violence to contend with. Really wealthy areas are unlikely to have many resources either, as the homes will be less dense and the people will have more that is useless in a survival situation. A middle-class area is best.
The next thing to consider is someplace that you can stay. Just like bugging out to the woods, you want to scout out a good place that you can establish your survival shelter, as well as a route to get there. Some possibilities you might want to consider are:
- Abandoned buildings - homes, stores, warehouses or factories
- Incomplete construction
- Vacant retail space
- Unused basements of stores, offices or apartment buildings
- Abandoned rail cars
Another option is someplace that you could rent. The advantage to renting someplace is that you have legal right to be there. So, there is less chance of someone coming to try and run you off. Of course, this will depend a lot on the type of disaster that is causing you to bug out, as well as the
Keep in mind that you want to be able to hide from those around you. So, while you want to be near residential or business areas, you don't want to be right in the midst of them. The less attention you can draw to yourself, the better. That way, you can hopefully avoid being attacked.
You'll need access to resources, so just like in the wilderness, you should keep those resources in mind, as you are scouting out a bug out shelter in the city. This means:
- Access to water - Whether from a stream, pond or canal. Don't count on city water; it may not be available or might be tainted.
- Access to fuel - Are there lots of pallets around that you can use for fuel? How about an area of trees with a lot of deadfalls in it?
- Access to food - Are there supermarkets, stores and warehouses nearby? Are you close enough to the edge of the city that you can go hunting?
- Close to storage - You'll want to establish a supply cache, so it's best if you can find someplace that is relatively close to that cache. That way, you won't have to haul your supplies as far.
- Easily defendable - You may need to defend your shelter from marauding bands or criminal gangs. Does the shelter provide you with good fields of fire, as well as cover you can hide behind while fighting?
Of course, you have to realize that all resources are going to get scarce. The trick is going to be becoming an expert scavenger. We'll talk about that in a minute.
Don't limit yourself to one location, as you might bug out and find that your intended shelter has been destroyed or that someone else has occupied it. Instead, pick out several locations that are close to each other and that all meet your basic criteria. One might be your preferred location, but you will have options available if that one doesn't work out.
Bugging Out to a Small Town
I mentioned that small towns, especially small rural towns, usually have the lowest population density. That makes them a great place to bug out to. They also might be one of the best places to find food in the midst of a disaster; at least the ones that are farming communities will be.
Don't automatically assume that a rural community is automatically a farming community. You'll need to take some time to scout around and see if it is. It would also be a good idea to see what sort of farming they had, so that you would have a good idea of what would be available in the midst of a crisis. They'll probably have only one or two crops that go through that town; but if that's the case, they will be massive quantities of those crops.
The problem with small towns is that everyone knows everyone and knows their business. As such, they tend to be suspicious of outsiders. So, you'll want to make sure that you establish yourself in that town, at least enough so that they will recognize you when you show up. Otherwise, they may just throw you out.
One way to establish yourself is to buy a used travel trailer and store it in the town. An old travel trailer can be bought for a couple of thousand dollars and after a few do-it-yourself repairs can be quite nice. If you have that in town and visit the town, staying in your trailer, you will become a semi-resident of the town.
Another way to establish yourself as part of the community is to rent a home or apartment there. Of course, that requires having the money to rent a place, but it would be money well spent. If you consider that you're going to have some cost in renting someplace for a supply cache anyway, a small apartment may not be all that bad. Prices are cheaper in small towns.
One trick here is to find a town that is shrinking in size, rather than one that is growing. The town that is shrinking will have lower prices for rentals and even for buying properties. Yet it will still offer all the benefits of a small town that is growing.
Establishing Supply Caches
Regardless of where you plan on bugging out to, you should establish one or more supply caches. One of the nice things about bugging out to the city is that there are an abundance of places where you can do this easily and securely. All you need is to find a storage place, which is close to your intended shelter.
You've seen these places all over. People rent storage spaces from as small as a closet to as big as a two-car garage and put their excess stuff in them. Well, you can put your excess stuff in one too; only your excess stuff is going to be supplies that you will be stockpiling for use when you have to bug out. The smaller ones rent for as little as $20 per month and depending on what part of the country you live in, you can rent a 10'x 10' or 10'x 20' one for $50 to %100. That will hold lots of supplies.
More than anything, you're going to use your cache to stockpile food that you'll use in a crisis situation. But you might want to consider stockpiling a few other things as well, such as:
- Fire starters
- Water filters
- Couple of changes of clothes
- Medical supplies
- A basic set of survival tools
- Personal hygiene supplies
- Barter goods (we'll talk more about this later)
The idea here is that having a pre-positioned supply cache is going to make it easier to bug out. You won't have to haul everything along with you, which means that you can bug out faster and lighter, especially if you have to bug out on foot.
It would be a good idea to have some sort of cart with your supply cache, as well; so that you have a means of moving your supplies, if you need it. A simply two-wheeled dolly, a child's wagon or even a stroller will work to give you an easier way to move your supplies.
Scavenging, the Key to City Survival
One of the really great things about city survival is the ready availability of things to scavenge. Many things can be repurposed for survival uses, regardless of what their original use was. Just by opening your eyes and seeing what is around you, there's the possibility of finding many things that you'll be able to use.
Most people won't take a survival situation seriously for the first few days or perhaps even the first couple of weeks. That gives you the chance to start scavenging critical resources, especially food, before others start looking. Granted, they will probably empty the grocery stores out quickly, but that doesn't mean that they'll think to look in all the other places which might have food.
Let me stop here a moment and mention something important. In most cases, scavenging really means stealing something. That is obviously wrong, both legally and morally. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't do it. What you've got to decide in your own mind, is what extremes you'll go to, in order to protect your family. If you are willing to kill to protect them, then stealing food to keep them alive doesn't seem all that bad.
Think this through now, before you are faced with the need. Just like killing to protect your family, you need to know what you'll do about scavenging, before the time comes. Waiting until then to start your soul searching only increases the risk to your family; something you may not want to do.
There are a number of other places where you can find food, which most people might overlook. Scout out the area you're planning on bugging out to and make a list of the possibilities. If you can, figure out how you would be able to get into those buildings if they were closed up due to a crisis. What types of things will you need to have, so that you can break into the buildings?
Here are some places which will have food supplies that might easily be overlooked:
- School cafeterias
- Office and factory lunchrooms
- Sporting goods stores (jerky, dried foods, backpacking food)
- Convenience stores
- Closed restaurants
- Food distribution warehouses
- Semi-trucks that are delivering food
- Roach coaches
- Concession stands in stadiums, theatres, amusement parks and shopping malls
Of course, getting to the food in these places may not be all that easy. Your best friend for this is a good crowbar. You can open a lot with a crowbar, which you otherwise couldn't get into. You might also want to have a good hacksaw for cutting locks and lock-picking tools. Of course, you'll need practice with those tools if you are planning on using them.
There is a small pistol shaped device which allows quick picking of locks. It's not foolproof, but it works fairly good. You insert it into the key slot and pull the trigger. This causes a metal finger to run over the pins in the tumbler. After pulling the trigger a few times rapidly, while putting pressure on the lock's tumbler to turn, the lock will usually open. This tool would be invaluable for scavenging.
Two other tools you should have are some good wire cutters and some sort of wheeled cart. The wire cutters are necessary for cutting the phone lines, before breaking into the building. Most alarm systems work through the phone lines, so cutting them should eliminate the risk of alerting anyone to your presence. The wheeled cart is so that you can take more with you when you leave.
Scavenging is best done in a team. That way, one person can act as a lookout, while others are gathering whatever they can. The more people gathering, the faster you can do it and the more you can take. If you hit the jackpot somewhere, those extra hands may make it possible to stock up well, rather than just grabbing a few boxes of something.
Don't worry about stockpiling too much, just stockpile whatever you can. You can always use anything extra you have as trade goods, trading it to others for things that you may need.
Bartering for Supplies
Your other means of supply is through bartering. Extra supplies that you scavenge can be used as barter goods, but you'll want to have some already in your survival cache to work with. The right survival goods can be worth their weight in gold in a crisis. If you happen to be bugging out to a rural farm community, your trade goods can provide you with the means to a regular source of food.
So, what sort of barter goods should you have? Ideally, you want small, inexpensive items that will be in high demand. The trick is in trying to figure out what those will be. Actually, that shouldn't be too hard, as anything you need will be needed by others too. Here are some possibilities:
- Fire starters
- Fire accelerants
- Medical supplies
- First-aid supplies
- Personal hygiene supplies
- Toilet paper
- Water filters
- Inexpensive, but high nutrition foods, like peanut butter, rice and pasta
- Fuel of any sort
- Disposable diapers
While those are all popular and effective barter items, they aren't the top ones available. If you want to stockpile the top barter items, which will be worth the most in any crisis, then stockpile:
- Alcoholic beverages
- Cigarettes (better to store the loose tobacco and rolling papers
These are the top barter items, because they feed our vices. It's surprising, but the sale of these items always goes up in a time of crisis. That gives lie to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, which puts our physiological needs first and then our security or safety. However, in a time of crisis, people will often put their vices even before those things. Why? Because those help them to deal with the situation.
People smoke, drink and use drugs to escape from their problems. In our modern society, people are much more likely to seek that escape, than in times past. So, many will more likely trade precious resources for things that will help them escape, than for things they need. You can use this to your advantage.
Of course, you need to be careful bartering in a crisis situation. Desperate people do desperate things. That means they might just be willing to knock you over the head of put a bullet in you to get what you have. To minimize this risk, only show a little of your trade goods and always make sure that you are well protected while bartering. A guard watching your back might just keep you alive.
A Final Thought
Survival in the city, just like survival in the wilderness, is better accomplished with a team of people working together. There's no reason that you can't form a survival team and bug out to the city, just like you could bug in together or bug out to some wilderness location together.
Your team must have the necessary skills to make it easier to survive. It is important that you pick your team members with that in mind. It's also important that you pick a team of people who can work together well. That is actually more important than the skill mix, as it will ultimately determine whether you can work as a team together. One lazy or complaining person can be all that is needed to tear a team apart.
Whether or not you have a team when you go into the crisis, you will probably still need one. If you don't have one, you will probably need to form one. That means finding people who can become an effective part of your team. That's not going to be easy.
If you position yourself in such a way that you have the supplies that everyone needs, you'll have the greatest possibility of putting that team together; but you'll have to be a hard nose to do it. Establish rules for being part of your survival team and make everyone obey it. One of those rules has to be their obedience towards you as the leader. Otherwise, they are going to take what you have and kick you out.With you being the one who has the resources, they are all dependent on you. That gives you the upper hand. The real question then becomes how well you can use that upper hand to pull your team together and makes sure that everyone carries their load.