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“Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.”

-Henry David Thoreau, Walden

You've done the research, saved all your pennies and bought the bugout bag that you've wanted. Now, We all have our own ideas about what pack, gear, and location works for us during a bugout emergency.

Bugging out is always situation-dependent and sometimes staying at home – “bugging in” – is a better option for a lot of people, but let's face it: many of us live in places that simply just aren’t that safe. Surviving the aftermath of a catastrophe, natural or manmade, we’re going to have to grab our gear and get to a bugout location. From striking out to a well-stocked bunker or hidden cabin in the mountains, to a secret lot just outside of the city, we need somewhere to go until the situation has improved. The big question is, how are we going to get there? How well have you planned your route? Can you really carry all of that gear that you need to survive? To thrive?

If your bug out location isn’t stocked with supplies the chances are you’ll need a vehicle to get yourself and family along with all the essentials there. Ideally, you’ve already stocked it with food, tools, weapons, ammunition, fuel and other supplies, allowing you to now make the trip there with a much lighter loaded backpack. Your bugout bag should hold everything you need to get you to your safe place, and a lighter pack opens up the options to make the trip on foot.

Cammenga compass for land navigation

Bugging out on foot?

There are a lot of advantages to bugging out on foot. Perhaps the biggest is that it’s reliable. Foot travel is unaffected by an EMP that's powerful enough to disable all but the most specialized vehicles. Road closures, checkpoints, floods and so on can stop a vehicle in its tracks, but if you’re traveling on foot you can just keep going, making route adjustments as necessary.

Hold on, there’s a downside too, traveling on foot is slow. Trips that would have taken minutes or hours by vehicle to your bug out location will probably now take a day or more. Making matters worse, many of us have underestimated how many days the trip will take on foot. Not only is it inconvenient, but it could be dangerous. A simple miscalculation of how long it’s going to take could cause you to pack too little food and not enough water for the bugout.

This miscalculation could kill you.

USMC 3-day Assault Pack as a bugout bag option

Good bug-out bags aren't lightweight. In a bugout scenario you'll need overnight kit like that consists of a sleeping bag (again this is season dependent) and some kind of tarp or tent shelter, rain gear or foul weather clothing, food, water, first aid kit, weapons and ammunition, and any other pieces of kit that you didn’t already store in your bug out location. Ideally, you want to keep your packed load below a third of your body weight. Ideal is not always what happens with our bug out practice runs as some locations are more favorable than others, which means we have to pack more gear. More gear equals more weight and that typically means a slower bugout on foot.

Four miles an hour?

Most people can walk almost four miles in an hour without a load on flat ground or pavement. Traveling cross country to avoid checkpoints and unwanted human contact will impact your rate of travel and slow you down. Even on level grassy ground, a heavy pack will make it slower walking than on a road. The thicker and taller the grass and weeds the slower your go will be. Add in rough and stone covered hills, wetlands, or sand and your gait will slow even more.

Unloaded most people think that achieving a distance of thirty miles per day on foot is within their physical ability. Some even estimate forty miles. Unless they are Olympic level in their personal fitness they're both wrong.

The Naismith Rule

The best way to estimate your maximum coverable distance in a day is to use the Naismith Rule. A 19th-century Scottish mountaineer named William Wilson Naismith developed a time and distance calculation that is still useful today.

Two things are assumed in this rule, one being that you are reasonably fit and that terrain and weather are favorable. If applicable you'll end up with these two estimates on time and distance:

  • Every three miles of horizontal distance you cover will take you one hour.
  • Every 2,000 feet you ascend will take you one hour.
  • These are cumulative times, so if you cover six miles horizontally and go over two 1,000 foothills on the way, it will take you three hours.

This rule is quite useful when choosing your bugout routes. You'll be able to roughly calculate whether it's faster to go over high ground or around it. Being less fit will however make your travel slower. Wind, rain, snow, and mud will also slow you down as will walking on loose gravel and sand. The time it takes to stop and change out sweat-soaked socks and eat a couple of snacks or meals must also be factored into how long it will take you to reach your bugout location.

choosing a route to bugout

Using Naismith's Rule on a route that isn't too hilly you could cover in a day around twenty-four miles in ideal conditions. I've found that realistically I can cut more than a third off of that estimate down to about fourteen, perhaps fifteen miles under my heavy USMC FILBE ruck. In adverse weather conditions while walking over rocky terrain that estimate can easily be cut in half.

While we like to think we're superhuman, we're not, we need breaks during our route. Taking a day to recover physically during the trip can prevent injury to your feet, legs, back and shoulders.

If your bugout location is seventy-five, one hundred miles or more, don't let depression set in and discourage you. You know that trip will take you a week or more and now you can prepare for it.