Prepping Myth: When SHTF You Will Bug Out To The Woods

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I wanted to address a few common misconceptions that I think some people have with how they plan to address a SHTF event in their lives. There are some that are more dangerous than others granted, but all of these prepping myths give us an opportunity to dissect various topics in the prepping community to better understand the risks and rewards of various approaches. In this article, I want to discuss the myth that some preppers have that if the SHTF they are simply going to don their brand new Bug Out Bags and quietly walk into the national forest. This is the bug out to the woods strategy that I read about often in comments or on forums.

This weekend I was walking with my dog on a new trail we had discovered and as often happens, I began to look around at the trees and water sources and soak in the apparent solitude. I think about how remote we are when we get into the woods and the sounds from roads, picnic areas or nearby neighborhoods falls away and you are left with the feeling that you are in the middle of nowhere. I think about this even though I know full well that I am just a short walk back to the parking lot where myself and dozens of others have pulled in temporarily to enjoy the outdoors and a relatively undisturbed spot of nature that our tax dollars are funding.

I was walking down trails, crossing small creeks and envisioning how someone could think that if a disaster happened how they could run out here and survive for a while at least. I was even thinking this myself for a while, but the idea that many people could survive a SHTF event simply by walking into the woods and making a shelter is foolhardy. If this is your plan, you might want to consider a few things first before you leave it all behind and step into the woods for what could be the last time.

Could other people have the same idea as you?

Could other people have the same idea as you?

What do you think you are running to?

As with any conversation on topics common to the prepping community, it helps to set a framework for discussion. For the purposes of this article, we will assume that you and your family must leave your home. This could be for a whole host of reasons, but we will go on the assumption that you are running from a bad situation (riots, war, plague, and zombies) and your hope is to find peace, safety and perhaps a new life hidden in the woods of a nearby forest. This could be a large national forest or simply a few thousand acres in your town that hasn’t been developed.

It sounds logical at first doesn’t it? You have the gear you need in your bug out bag, you have been camping before so living in the woods on its face doesn’t seem like a bad idea. There is no place else to go and if you simply walk into the forest, you can find a place next to a stream or a lake, set up camp and begin hunting for wild game and frying some freshly caught fish. Maybe you even have a location that you have been to before that you know is perfect and you think that you will be safe in this remote space in the woods and that somehow you will be able to avoid whatever it was you were running from.

Now, I will admit that there are people who can walk into the wild and survive, even thrive. The number of people who can do this with only what they carry on their back is a miniscule number though and the people I have witnessed (usually on TV if I’m honest) have a tremendous amount of skills, experience and luck. Is this a group you consider yourself a member of?

Most of us, even the crustiest through-hiker on the Appalachian trail needs supplies to live. Can we go out for brief times and survive? Of course, but if you plan to walk into the forest for the rest of your life with nothing more than some snares you have never used, your trusty .22 rifle , and some dehydrated food I think you need to revisit your strategy.

What are the downsides?

The downsides to this approach are numerous but I think the main two are that most of us do not live in the middle of nowhere. If a societal collapse were to happen, there would be a lot of other people with bug out bags hiking into the woods right along with you. That wild game you are depending on catching just like they do on the survival shows, won’t stand up to an onslaught of weekend warriors with their expensive sleeping pads and high powered rifles. In this scenario, it isn’t like you can walk back to Walmart and get some groceries and go back to your tent in the woods.

Where I live we have a homeless population that disappears every night. I know that in warmer months, a good number of them live in a wooded area between two interstates, but my assumption is that area isn’t the safest place in the world. These homeless people have a stable society they can walk to for shelter or a handout on most days. What if the stable society collapsed and started moving in with them? What if nobody could eat and there were no shelters to go when the temperature gets cold? Maybe you could find a reasonably remote place to stay where you wouldn’t have other people around you, but you would still find the issues of acquiring food a major obstacle.

If that isn’t enough, safety would be a huge consideration in the woods. Your tent offers zero protection from a sharp stick, much less bullets. Additionally, have you tried to live in them for weeks at a time? Even the best tents start breaking down and hand-made shelters would need to be constantly worked on to maintain their weather proofing. If you are surrounded by forest, it will be harder to see people approaching you and it would be easy for them to spy on you from a distance without being seen. If the SHTF and times are desperate, anything you have could become something that unscrupulous people want to take from you. What about if you wanted to leave camp? You couldn’t lock anything up could you so it could easily be stolen while you were away. Leave someone behind and they could be overwhelmed by larger numbers. Would you leave a woman alone in this situation?

Is there a better plan?

I have said numerous times that my first plan is to bug in at almost all costs. Does that mean I will never leave my house regardless of the reason? No, but I would have to be under extreme pressure before I would take my family into the woods. If I was making my way somewhere and only needed to stop in the woods for the night – that would be one thing. I would not plan on packing all our stuff on our backs and hiking into the forest though and expect to survive for very long.

What if you know how to forage off the land and you can eat nuts and berries? That’s great but all the other issues are still there. Other people are going to be with you in the forest, and you can’t defend a tent as well as you can your house. If you believe that your bug out plan is to hike into the National Forest that connects to your property and you haven’t considered some of these points, maybe it’s worth a second thought. I myself will know when it’s time to retreat and run away, but I will be very slow to leave my home and although I love walking, hiking and even backpacking in the woods I don’t think it is a valid plan to try and live there if the grid-goes down. Give me my home and zero electricity or water over the nakedness of the forest any day.


  1. obxster

    July 21, 2014 at 4:01 pm

    I’m not sure of the dynamic but there is so much energy a person can expend without replenishing that energy. Trying to live in the woods would eventually cause one to spend more energy collecting food and water and maintaining a shelter than could ever possibly hope to collect. Then there is the problem of the seasons when nuts, berries and foliage are not available. In the summer months you could face the possibility of that stream you where depending on drying up.
    I don’t view bugging out to the woods as a viable option. IF I find I had to bug out then I definitely have a destination to go to. Though more than likely a lot of my family would end up coming to my location.

    • Pat Henry

      July 22, 2014 at 8:37 am

      You are right obxster and its just a simple fact of life. If you aren’t replenishing more calories than you burn then you are slowly losing weight. Your body will start eating its fat reserves. Can you do this for a while? Sure, but eventually your body doesn’t have enough energy to keep up then your performance and health is decreased.

  2. Brandon Sewall

    July 21, 2014 at 4:33 pm

    I used to think I could just walk out into the woods and survive… but first, if you wanted to escape the hoards that would be following you you would need to go WAY back which takes a lot of time and energy. Then to hunt for your food… Well, I am a hunter and sometimes there are weeks that go by where I don’t get anything. Hunting is not as reliable as people think. Its not as easy as just pointing and shooting. Animals react to pressure and if the hoards start hunting, the animals will move and become harder to find.

    For the short term, like a few days to a week… Sure. Its possible with the supplies you bring with you. But its a lot harder to “live off the land” than people think. Good article. Thanks.

    • Pat Henry

      July 22, 2014 at 8:39 am

      Thank you Brandon,

      I am no Davy Crockett by any stretch so I have had more times than I like to admit where I came home empty handed. Imagine if your family was waiting for you to walk back in hoping that you would be bringing something to eat. In our case, if we don’t there is always food in the pantry or the grocery store but if you are depending on the woods to just drop a deer on the fire for you, it probably won’t happen.


  3. Al

    July 21, 2014 at 9:12 pm

    I don’t know… No offense, but if you drove to a parking lot to walk your dog in the woods and found a new trail, then I’m guessing you live in the city or burbs, and don’t spend much time ‘living’ in the woods? Maybe some selected quotes from the forums/blogs with the comments you’re referring to would help, I’ve read some comments that seemed like boasts from people (city kids, probably) that think food falls off trees in the woods, or just walks into your camp too. City folk with no experience in the woods? Yeah, probably a bad idea. Raised from childhood doing that with the right teachers? Maybe, especially with some preps made to your selected site beforehand and the right gear in your BOB. Certainly some with survival or E&E training from the military would last longer than most. I have family, that don’t prep, that would likely last longer in the woods than most preppers could.

    Anyway, enjoyed the read, just don’t think you can necessarily call this a myth because you might not have the training and experience to pull it off for very long. Native Americans and the Inuit didn’t go extinct, and we have a lot more tech to help now than they ever had. Drop me off in a different national forest and I likely wouldn’t last very long, but in the one I grew up in (and live bordering today) it’d a different story. I’d last in either one probably longer than I’d survive in a downtown area of any major city. Personally tho, on a bugout to the woods, I’d rather bring my BOB in one of my 4X4’s packed with extra gear – and drive it a couple miles down a deadend two-track cutting trees down across the trail behind me as I went, and wait it out until the S blew over. Some cached gear wouldn’t hurt either. It’s a viable plan for some anyway, if you think the S will HTF, society utterly collapses for years, and you’ll never be able to walk out to civilization again – then I’d call that a prepper myth.

    • Pat Henry

      July 22, 2014 at 9:03 am

      Thanks for your comments Al and I think we are saying pretty much the same thing, but my articles don’t always articulate things the way I envision them in my head so I will try to rephrase what I meant.

      I do live in the burbs, you are correct and people like me were the focus of my article really. Most of our country’s population lives in the cities or burbs and it is those people who would be most impacted from some crisis that forced you to bug out. Individuals like yourself who appear to live where there aren’t many people would have an entirely different experience. For you, your remote location might even eliminate the need to go anywhere in the first place since you are removed from the crowds.

      The comments I am referring to are similar to what you mention in that some people (us city folk) do believe that the woods are where you go to eat and that watching a Bear Grylls episode or two is all you need to survive. That was the primary audience for this post, not necessarily someone who had lived in the woods their whole life and had survival training. I think you would agree that is not the norm for most of the population.

      I could have been more specific with the title to offer some clarity I guess but I still believe that to the people we were just talking about, this is a myth from the standpoint that their belief that the woods are their safe haven with food a plenty in a crisis isn’t going to materialize the way they hope. Maybe myth was not the correct term but I also have to get people to read the articles too so if I am too literal that might defeat the purpose. I guess I could have called it :”Prepping Clarification: You will not be able to walk into the woods and easily survive without proper training and experience”, but that doesn’t have the same ring I don’t think.

      For the people with experience and skills like you mention (and even I mention that in the article) this is less of complete fantasy, but like I said; you are in the minority. Even with your skills, if a few thousand people joined you in the woods because they were running from something, it might be harder would you agree? If most of the country lived a self sufficient life in a rural setting I doubt there would be a real need or interest in prepping to this degree.

      Lastly, when I talked about never walking out again, I didn’t mean that a collapse of civilization would prevent you from coming out. I meant that your possible death for a variety of reasons would be the cause. Sorry that wasn’t more clear.

      Thanks for reading and commenting again!

  4. keebler

    July 22, 2014 at 8:03 am

    I have a friend with 75 acres..with a nice creek-(might be Beaver in it) the water would make you very sick, I don’t know—there is No way you will last on his place for more than a couple weeks, there are a few Rabbits, maybe a Deer or 2.just not enough food there, tree shelter & stuff to hide from others Yes.
    he lets Hunters on it in the winter–they never leave with anything,

    • Pat Henry

      July 23, 2014 at 2:37 pm

      I also have a friend with at similar plot and we have even taken deer on a few occasions. I know that if anything happened though, the neighbors if things became desperate would help quickly wipe out any remaining deer that we didn’t.

      A plot that large could support several families and gardens though so I wouldn’t write it off totally. I don’t think I would plan on bugging out there without any prior preparation and expect to live much longer than you say.

    • powerwiz

      August 2, 2014 at 11:38 am

      Water is not a issue if you own one of these. I have the portable one and the 5 gallon jug one. I laugh when I see people stock piling water. You could drink water from that creek for 24 hours a day and not get sick.

      Lifesaver’s water filter filters down to 15 nanometers for 4000 liters. The smallest virus known is 25 nanometers.


  5. Lawrence Black

    July 22, 2014 at 12:07 pm

    Everyone is Superman, until they actually attempt to leap that tall building…..

    I’m with you, Pat. I’m born and raised in rural Vermont and live on/next to several thousand empty acres. I’ll batten the hatches and secure my perimeter. I’ve got secure access to clean water & at least a year’s supply of rations and over 100 acres of open land for crops (and the occasional meat animal, at least early on).

    If I need to evacuate after that 1st year, most of those who headed to the forests unprepared will have been eliminated.

    • usmarinestanker

      July 22, 2014 at 10:56 pm

      QFT: “…most of those who headed to the forests unprepared will have been eliminated.”

      There will be a die-off like none-other due to lack of access and knowledge in a true SHTF/WOROL scenario. This will be further expedited by the marauders and riot/panic.

      Thanks for this site Pat. I just discovered it about a six weeks ago and it is a blessing. I have been feeling the itch since about 2008, a couple years after I got out of the Marine Corps and realized what a sham all of our work in Iraq was and how corrupt our government is, followed up with this disaster of a President and Congress. As time has gone on, it’s only become more obvious that we’re in the proverbial hand basket, all the while I’ve grown more and more dissatisfied with slaving away for fake money and spending it all on bills and things our society tells us we need without ever getting a step ahead.

      Your articles have hit the nail on the head more than once starting with the one about convincing unbelieving spouses – which is a work in progress that may never come to realization until the day the prepping is needed. Proudly, you are the straw that broke the back of the camel that was my own willful ignorance and procrastination. At the beginning of June, just 3 short weeks ago, I bought my first 55 gallon water barrel after reading your article on the prioritization order of prepping needs. Next month (following the wise advice of simultaneously prepping and paying down the debt) I will build a three-tier rack for storing the barrel(s). Like ‘The Little Engine that Could’ I’ll get it all done.

      I think what I appreciate most about your website is your level-headedness. You are not a fear monger, you readily admit not knowing things and other ‘shortcomings’, and you write things that are easy to read for newcomers and not convoluted with techno-jargon. Your candor and demeanor are very much welcome and make me wish I could be your neighbor.

      Keep doing what you do, and I’ll keep reading and prepping.

      • Pat Henry

        July 23, 2014 at 2:34 pm

        Thank you very much for the kind words usmarinestanker and for sharing a little of your own journey!

        Stories and comments like yours humble me and give me the motivation to keep trying daily to do what I can to spread the word and give others a voice in this dialog. We all have a dog in this hunt although so many people I fear don’t know it yet. I started this site because I wanted to be able to share and discuss topics that I thought could save lives at the end of the day and hopefully open eyes to a few things that I believed were not being noticed by most people.

        I want to thank you for your service and for being open enough to listen to other sides of the story, to make your own decisions even when they are probably contrary to a lot of your friends and for taking steps to protect your family. Lastly I would like to thank you for visiting our site again.

        Your family will appreciate your efforts one day even if nothing ever happens. We can only hope that is the case.


    • Pat Henry

      July 23, 2014 at 2:40 pm

      You have an advantage Larry in being so rural. People may pass right by you and head into the forest. The problem I think is when they are hungry and remember your house with the nice load of firewood on the porch and the smoke rising from the chimney.

      Of course all this assumes a quick catastrophe that forced people out into the country in droves. There are some who don’t believe that would ever happen. If we don’t have that then your location would be ideal.

  6. Mana Moffa

    July 22, 2014 at 6:15 pm

    I just bought a house in the woods next to a river with a long driveway that can be hidden with brush.

    Most city dwellers won’t go to the woods. They don’t know where food comes from or that even that game exists in the woods. They will suffer the effects of starvation before they realize that the government isn’t coming to help them.

    • Pat Henry

      July 23, 2014 at 2:40 pm

      They might just go there looking to hide.

  7. powerwiz

    August 2, 2014 at 11:36 am

    All of this depends on how long and what type of society disruptor happens. Its really a very variable answer to it.

    I can promise you and its from experience in our two wars and as a operator who has deployed many times over seas that if its extended expect human suffering/evil on a scale you never dreamed of, and utter chaos.

    If its extended or a permanent Book of Eli break down then you will 100% have to leave your house. Your survival geometrically goes up as you are on the move…that is if its a 100% no going back to life as you know it SHTF event.

    If its a say Greece economic disruption then after the unrest life will most likely go back to a life that accommodates the new lifestyle.

    My Marine years tell me to plan for the worst hope for the best. My strategy is two pronged. I have what I need for a long while at home, and everything I need in a pack when I have to finally leave the homestead. The issues with the homestead living is well houses suck to live in without modern things. They trap heat like no tomorrow, there crappy against bullets, nearly any house is easily broken into since we have this obsession with large windows and many of them. Your doors somehow give you comfort with what a 1 inch deadbolt that goes into plaster. Oh wait we get comfort from a chain as well on the door. Heck half of peoples garage doors have windows on them.

    All in all a modern day house is terribly designed for defense.

  8. Lainer

    July 12, 2015 at 3:30 pm

    Well, you would survive if you are the military or government because they have their underground bunkers filled with hoarded weapons, gold, silver, food, and water supplies. They can wait it out while we all kill each other. They’ve been prepped for many years. The only other peppers are the LDS, the people who have lived off the grid way out in the wilderness and a few non-LDS preppers. The best prepping would be to have a impenetrable compound with several families who have their own supply of food, water, heirloom seeds, weapons, etc. to share among themselves with guards watching the perimeter.

    • angryamerican73

      August 23, 2015 at 1:23 am

      It is my opinion that staying or bugging out depends on what is going on. Its also my opinion that most if not all SHTF situations will include the government declaring marshal law. If marshal law is declared its more likely then not the authorities will be trying to disarm the population of registered firearms by voluntary or by force. Your kidding yourself if you believe if marshal law is declared the authorities will not be visiting your home. So if you do not hand over your firearms you better be prepared to defend against waves of attacks. This will leave only those that own unregistered firearms and criminals armed. This will leave you vulnerable in defending yourself against criminal elements stumbling across your house looking for food and supplies. I think if I was walking thru a neighborhood in this situation and looking to scaveng food and supplies and seen a house with the windows all boarded up and appeared to be fortified it would make me think the people within were preparing for a SHTF situation and most likely have a much better supply of food and supplies then other houses. Really I think in the case of marshal law being at home would be the last place I would want to be.. Just something to keep in mind.

      Another example of a prep that MAY not be ideal depending on the situation is being in a large group (most likely would not be in a home). If your aim is to fall under the radar it is far harder to be un-noticed the more people you have. With that said you also have more people to help defend. But even so say you have a large group a group of only 4 could surround your group and pin you down with little to no cover unless your prepared and have stations that give cover from all sides.

      Just a some things to think about

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  34. John Smith

    December 4, 2016 at 3:35 am

    Because of what the author has mentioned, I’ve always favored the idea of getting an off-the-grid home maybe with solar and/or wind power. At college, I had a biology professor who lived in an “Earthship” type home. This means that it was heated passively (mostly) and had an internal grey water system that reclaimed water, composting toilets and an internal greenhouse where she grew most of her food. I think she traded vegetables for most of the rest. Of course passive heating works better in eastern WA that it does in northern MI. 😉 Still, if your thinking about it when you design, you can cut your heating power drain significantly and then come up with something for the rest. A rocket-mass wood stove, perhaps or just enough solar / wind generation to cover it.

  35. 1johnnyp

    December 7, 2016 at 9:44 pm

    Don’t forget lions and tigers and bears. We start taking food from the animals and we may drop a notch on the food chain.

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