Survivalists often talk about bug out bags and plans, but in a majority of emergencies, bugging in is the more sound option. In this guide, we'll lay out a brief overview of the most important steps to take toward developing a rock-solid bug in plan. Even if you're on a shoestring budget, you can learn helpful skills and put together a decent stash of supplies in relatively short order.
Everyone's needs, values, priorities and abilities are different. Even if you and your neighbor are both affected by the exact same emergency, you may bug in while he bugs out — the nature of the disaster itself is an important factor in making that decision, but it's not the only one.
Even if you expect bugging out to be the better plan given your location and circumstances, it's still a good idea to put together a bug in plan. An effective one accounts for all of your most essential needs, which broadly can be split into short and long-term needs.
In this context, we define short-term needs as those most relevant in an emergency lasting six months or less. If you're short on time or money, prioritize the items and skills in this section above those in the next.
Clean drinking water should be your first priority. It takes up a ton of space though, so consider investing in a single 500 or 1,000 gallon storage tank, which will be much more space-efficient than hundreds of five-gallon bottles. Note that your bathing, laundry and gardening water don't need to be pristinely clean — in short-term emergencies, pool water, rainwater or river water will do for these purposes. You can also buy inexpensive bathtub liners that can hold about fifty gallons of water, which are great as long as you have time to fill your tub in the early stages of an emergency before the water shuts off.
Stockpile a mix of meals that require little or no prep and those that are more filling and satisfying, even if the latter kind cost a little more. Beans and rice are ultra-cheap, calorie-dense emergency rations (just be sure you have water and heat to cook them), but they get old quickly. Cooking a tasty, filling meal every so often will help keep your party's spirits high. If you wait for sales and do your shopping over time, you can accumulate a six-month supply of food for four people for $1,000 or less.
Keeping your shelter supplied with electricity during a crisis is a mixed blessing. Having access to refrigeration, heating, and even television does wonders for both your physical and mental health during a bug in situation. Generators and gas are expensive, though, and a warm, well-lit house on the hill is also a tempting target for looters. Weigh the pros and cons carefully.
Stove & Firewood
A fireplace or wood-burning stove is a comforting and economical way to cook food and heat your shelter. If you decide to go this route, ensure that you have sufficient space to store lots of firewood and a plan for keeping it clean and dry.
Waste Disposal System
Create a plan for waste disposal should your plumbing stop working. 5-gallon bucket toilets are gross, but they're cheap and better than nothing. Bury solid waste outdoors, well away from your living quarters, or invest in an outhouse, chemical toilet or secondary septic tank (if your toilets can reliably be manually flushed by adding water). Open latrines are a last resort because they're unsanitary, unpleasant to use and can attract unwanted wildlife.
Weapons & Ammo
Being able to hunt game and defend yourself are both crucially important during an emergency, but neither should be your Plan A. Success is never guaranteed in hunting, and when it comes to hostile people, avoidance is always preferable to open conflict. Still, ensure that you have at least one weapon for each member of your family old enough to handle one, and that you regularly practice weapon safety, marksmanship, and basic firefight tactics together.
At minimum, your short-term medical supplies should include one IFAK (individual first aid kit) for each member of your family. Prioritize trauma supplies such as tourniquets, bandages and suture kits. Also, be sure to stock a variety of over-the-counter painkillers, digestive relief meds and any prescription medications your family requires. Except in the case of narcotics, most doctors will prescribe extra refills if you tell them they're for your emergency stash.
Construction & Fortification Materials
Ideally, people will cooperate with one another during an emergency, but it doesn't always work out that way. If you're worried about potentially hostile neighbors or roving looters, learn how to barricade doors and windows and stock up on lumber and tools. It also can't hurt to maintain a well stocked workshop and a pile of raw materials with which to make basic repairs to your home, vehicles and equipment.
Rest & Recreation
Many bug in and bug out plans underemphasize (or outright ignore) the absolutely crucial importance of tending to your psychological health during a crisis. Make sure you have lots of games, toys, movies, books and fun activities on hand. If you can maintain some semblance of normal life while you're bugging in, the crisis will pass more quickly and less painfully.
To whatever extent you can maintain them, order and stability are critical during a bug in situation. Give each family member a set of jobs and let them choose the tasks they most prefer (or least resent, if nothing else). Distribute the work roughly evenly unless there's a good reason to do otherwise. Rotate duties every so often if that helps stave off boredom.
Once you've got your near-future bug in plan nailed down, you can start dedicating time and money to longer-range plans for emergencies that could last longer than six months. These products, strategies and systems tend to be complex and expensive, so just remember: any amount of progress is still progress. Invest 20 dollars here or 30 minutes there whenever you can, and before you know it, you'll have a perfectly workable bug in plan.
Water Purification Systems
Cheap and easy water purification options include boiling, filtering and using water purification tablets. Solar stills, desalination systems and automated pump/filter combo systems are more expensive and more prone to breakage, but as long as you're willing to learn how to repair and maintain them, they can be real lifesavers in a long-term crisis. Any water system that uses power generally uses a lot of it, so if you want that convenience, make sure you can generate enough electricity.
Replenishable Food Sources
If you have a large plot of usable land, a vegetable garden can supplement (though likely not fully satisfy) your food needs over a long period of time. If you have a lake on your property that's not connected to any other lakes or rivers, consider stocking it with fish. Brush up on your hunting, trapping and game preparation skills if you live in the country, but have backup food plans in place for those days (or weeks, or even months) when you can't manage to bag anything.
Power Generation Systems
Wind, hydro and solar systems can make good supplemental power sources in certain circumstances, but most homes can't run on them entirely. If you're truly committed to a bug in plan that's viable over months or years, consider combining these (still very inefficient) renewable systems with large batteries that can store excess power. In any case, you should always have a gas generator (or two) on hand as a backup, along with plenty of fuel. Finally, make sure you cycle this fuel out at least once per year.
Stove & Firewood
Using a fireplace or wood stove regularly consumes a lot of wood. If you intend to use wood as fuel for longer than six months, you'll need a lot of space to store it (unless you have a forest nearby). Even if you do, note that hauling large quantities of firewood is extremely time and labor-intensive, so it may be best to research other methods of cooking and heating and to use your wood stove or fireplace more sparingly.
Long-term sanitation and waste disposal can be one of the biggest challenges that survivalists face. Use the plumbing in your house as long as it and the sewage infrastructure it's connected to are functional. Most toilets can be flushed by dumping about a gallon of water into the bowl, though it may take some practice to get the speed right; too slow and the toilet won't flush.
Weapon Maintenance & Ammo Reloading
If you've got firearms, you'll likely want to be able to reload your own ammunition — especially if there's nowhere to buy any within a hundred miles. Reloading is an expensive, delicate and time-consuming skill, but it's often one worth investing in. At minimum, make sure you understand basic weapon maintenance & cleaning and that you have access to tools & cleaning supplies to last several years.
Medical Supplies, Construction & Fortification Materials and R&R
For your long-term bug in plan, you'll want to have the same sorts of tools, materials, medical supplies, toys, games and books that you've already put together for your short-term plan — just more of them. Take care to check regularly for and replace damaged or expired items, especially medications.
Putting together comprehensive checklists, learning complicated skills and buying (or making) tons of supplies are all daunting tasks. They can seem so overwhelming that many survival-minded people never muster up the will to get started. Simply tell yourself, "No zero days." Do something every day that moves you closer to your ideal bug in plan, even if it's as simple as planting a single tomato plant or picking up an extra case of water at the grocery store. You'll be surprised how these tiny steps add up to an impressive preparedness plan over time.
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