The Best Way Home: SHTF Route Planning

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Imagine it’s 1:15 on a Thursday afternoon. You and some friends at work have recently returned from lunch and you are settling back into work. As you are going about your daily responsibilities, the Emergency Broadcast System starts to blare over a coworker’s radio. Normally you would ignore this, but you also get an Emergency alert message on your smart phone. Funny, you could swear you had disabled those, but is says that there has been a terrorist attack in Los Angeles and urges calm and promises more information soon. You start walking out of your office towards the break-room and notice everyone crowded around the TV when the power goes out. Looking down, you notice your phone isn’t working either.

Making for the nearest window, you notice that vehicles on the road have stopped, seemingly right in their tracks. Could this be an EMP? Not wanting to overreact, you take the stairs and walk out to the parking lot. You try your key fob but that doesn’t work either so you use your key. A quick check of the ignition and you realize your car isn’t going anywhere either. Slowly your co-workers validate the same with their cars and you start looking at the possibility that you will could have to walk back home. Unfortunately for you, you work 72 miles away from home.

It’s one of the more common problems us preppers try to figure out. What is the best way home as quickly and safely as possible when SHTF and you are far away? I had a reader ask me the following question:

My husband works 75 miles from home. My greatest fear is that disaster or SHTF will happen while he is at work. I would like to start planning for how he might get home, but don’t know how to begin figuring out what is the best route. Most posts (here and elsewhere) on the subject are about get home bags and what equipment to have with you, but not so much about planning the actual route, other than to stay off major highways. Would like to hear the pros and cons of sticking to roadways, crossing private property, what type of maps to consult, etc. – Zendelle

I always appreciate questions from our readers and I will try to give my thoughts about this subject as I have considered this myself. So without any further ado…

What is the best way home during a SHTF event?

There are so many factors that come into play when you are talking about a situation like this. How far away are you? What is the weather like? What region will you be traveling through? Are you in an urban environment or rural? What type of shape are you in? Do you have other people, like children you have to consider? Are your two youngest in school or daycare? What type of clothing and footwear are you wearing? What time of day are you starting out?

Each person is unique and our situations are also unique so there are no firm and set rules for anything but I have given this some thought. At one point in my life I commuted 90 minutes each way to work. It was 77 miles’ door to door and getting home in that type of scenario I mentioned above would be no picnic for anyone. To be really prepared, you have to imagine walking home in the heat of summer or the bitter cold of winter.

For this hypothetical, we will assume that there really has been some type of national catastrophe. Maybe an EMP attack from a rogue nation or terrorist cell has disrupted all modern electrical appliances. Virtually everything electric has shut down and you have precious little time, a couple of days tops to make it back home to your family before the chaos really starts.

To be really prepared, you have to imagine walking home in the heat of summer or the bitter cold of winter.

Before you take the first step: What gear do you need to consider?

I know our reader mentioned that most people only talk about Get Home Bags when this topic comes up but it is worth spending a few sentences here on how best to equip yourself before this even happens.

  • Get Home Bag – Having a get home bag in your car will be an important step in the right direction so to speak. I won’t get into what you should pack in your get home bag, but we do cover all of that in several articles on the subject. You can read our post about putting together your Get Home Bag.
  • Proper Footwear – Flip flops belong at the pool people! My children are guilty of this too, but if you are forced to walk home, what are you going to wish you had on your feet? Sturdy footwear like hiking boots or at least good athletic shoes should be one consideration.
  • Dress for the elements – Dress like you will be spending all day outside not sitting in a cubicle. Regardless of the season, have appropriate clothing on that will protect you from the elements, especially if you are going to be further than an hour’s walking time from home.
  • Food/Water/Shelter – You should have at a minimum, a container that will hold water, a way to filter water, some form of emergency shelter and food. You don’t need a four course meal to survive, but something to keep your energy up. Think power bars or protein bars. Survival rations work too and won’t go bad in the car.
  • Protection – Do you have some protection from two-legged animals? I always have a personal firearm, but Tasers and bear spray are options too that are better than nothing.
  • Maps – And the knowledge of how to read them. These can be simple street maps, you don’t have to have topo maps of the entire region. You can grab the road atlas out of your car before you head out.

Planning your route and alternate route home.

For the commuter who drives to work, I would imagine that each of you have already mapped out the most efficient route to your place of business that you use virtually every single day. We get into a routine because we found a way that works. It’s usually the most direct, fastest way to get where you need to go. I even go into autopilot some days on the weekend and start driving my work route even when I am not going that direction. These habits can be a good thing in one respect.

London Map
each of you have already mapped out the most efficient route to your place of business that you use virtually every single day

Commuters who use trains or buses follow a similar route. The trains go into central spokes normally that would mimic a commute via car. None of us should really worry about the normal route we take back home as long as we know the roads we would take if public or personal transportation was down. With few exceptions, the highway system is going to be the quickest way we can get back to our home city. Highways level out hills and go around natural obstacles. However, what if the route you normally follow has been blocked? What if you travel through less savory parts of town that you wouldn’t normally want to be walking down the street?

Identify your primary, secondary and tertiary routes home – In my case, working 77 miles from home, I was likely looking at 2 to 3 days of hiking to make it back assuming I did not encounter anything that made me need to alter my course. Most of my commute was interstate highway so I would have simply followed that route. However, if that didn’t work out, I could cut back on a smaller highway that would have taken me on a much more rural track to the South back home.

Depending on how people were reacting you could run into rioting or looting in some areas. I would have been walking on the highway through several major population centers that might be best avoided. I don’t think I would ever cut across someone’s property unless there were strong benefits and low risks that I perceived from doing so. Going cross-country, without the benefit of a road can slow you down and may even bring on injury more quickly as you could have to navigate natural obstacles like streams, dense underbrush, rocks, etc. The last thing you want to do is injure your self and make walking more difficult or even impossible while you try to shave 20 minutes off your trip.

Having more than one route back home can help you avoid dangerous areas.
Having more than one route back home can help you avoid dangerous areas.

Rather than having a specific route I am taking, I would consult the maps I store in my car to decide which ways I would alternate if needed. I would go to the south of the major urban areas if I sensed any danger but I would still be staying on paved roads that were common thoroughfares.

Pros and Cons of various routes

In the example above, does your normal route take you through urban areas you would rather avoid? Has the disaster already started to make people act irrationally? I think that most of us even in the scenario I described above will be able to count on average people thinking that nothing is wrong. The power will come back on because it always does. Food will still be available and there will still be items on store shelves. You should be home way ahead of any actual panic, but sometimes it’s better to be safe than sorry with your route. I don’t think anyone would be barricading streets the first or even third day after the lights go out.

Are you carrying three days’ worth of water on your or are their sources you can tap into along the way. Assuming you have cash on hand you will likely be able to purchase it from stores who are likely still in operation as the Normalcy bias takes over for most.

What factors do the weather play?

Adverse weather could seriously impede your progress. Walking in snow or ice or even extreme heat would sap your energy and could cause injuries. You first have to plan for those extremes if they are common to your area.

If you are facing a walk home and you live in the deserts of the Southwest, you could be forced to walk only at night when the temperatures are cooler and find shade to rest during the day. You understand the weather factors that could influence a trip like this so you have to plan accordingly.

For most of us, walking home is not incredibly difficult with a decent fitness level and some simple preparation. We may never be forced to use our get home bags, but it makes sense to prepare now like we do. You will be more able to react quickly and make the right decisions if you do.

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37 Comments on "The Best Way Home: SHTF Route Planning"

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Christian Gains
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Years ago, (moving into a LARGE URBAN Metropolis), I began to establish my vehicle as a duel “BOB”: #1] The Van would be my #1 method of “Survival” “exfil”, “infil”, “pick-up”, & “GO!” Food,Cooler; box of Power Bars; sandwiches; several bags of Trail mix; water,{2 35 bottle cases} UNLESS!…. #2] EMP…I’d have my BASICS, {VERY SIMPLE BASICS} — clothes to weather conditions, 10 health bars, water,{camel back & canteens}, and weapons, {pocket knife; “Leatherman – WAVE”; and a fire arm / ammo belt.(concealed). Then there’s the BEST WALK path home…depending on distance, there’s ALSO the consideration of sheltering for sleep…and… Read more »
RAIDER
Guest

ADD recon, recon, recon to youre practice practice practice and I’ll agree with you.

saffron
Guest

Flip-flops (jandals) are great for protecting you from athletes foot in the common showers but yeah, they are pretty much useless in a get-out-of-dodge situation. One quick fix solution is to slice/rip your hankie into strips and use the strips to bind your jandals to your feet. That way your feet still have protection from sharp objects and they won’t come flying off – or get stuck – when you are running.

Pat Henry
Guest

Great comments Saffron. I can’t even walk up a flight of stairs reliably without flip-flops working their way off my foot. I know practice would make that less of an issue but there are too many drawbacks to those shoes for my liking.

christopher
Guest
One thing you need is a compass & know how to use it. Not just a map. Quickest route home is a straight-line. Approx. 3-5 miles per hour for healthy adult.. If you have to walk 72 miles, it will take you almost 20 hrs. If you want to avoid roads & hwys, a lot longer. Topo maps are perfect. Print them out & laminate for the size of area you want. I carry them in my packs. Road atlas is bit too big to be carrying around. Old closed railroad lines are great way to follow long distance. Get… Read more »
EgbertThrockmorton1
Guest
If, there are no hills, mountains to go over, gangs demanding “tolls”, etc. You MIGHT make it home in two or three days is more like it.Assuming you can even walk on roadways without interference. That’s just not a good assumption to make.nIf you are forced to go “topo” you will need to treble your travel time at a minimum or more. Not everything is as easy as going in a straight line, especially in a metropolitan area, there are many areas you will want to avoid, lest you wind up “staying there” permanently as a victim. It is mandatory… Read more »
Pat Henry
Guest

Great points Egbert!

Nanook
Guest

I reproduced the topo’s from the Gazette for my state that cover my area and surrounds. Then I laminated them, & put them in my go bag. The book stays with my vehicle just in case. They’re more up to date than the USGS topo’s generally.

RAIDER
Guest

I tell ordinary folks who are UNFIT, Afraid, probably fearful and confused to aim to cover only 1 mile an hour but as TACTICALLY as possible IE sticking to the shadows, hedgerows, quietest routes etc, better to arrive safe but late than to hurry head long into an ambush.

Pat Henry
Guest

Raider, Do you think you are going to really be moving tactically in the hours immediately following some event like this? Do you really think gangs will form immediately to stalk prey on the highways and set up ambushes the second after something happens?

Silent Earth
Guest
No not really, but as the HOURS not days pass I think people will quickly become more wary and predators more bold. In your nations previous hurricanes robberies, rapes and looting often started as soon as EVAC orders were issued, Its not gangs I’m primarily concerned with its CRIMES OF OPPORTUNITY happening because some people suddenly realise there is no 911 service and no cops going to come, you dont need gangs of bad a** bikers for that scenario. I’m not taking about sneaking around like a Marine hunting the Taliban, I’m talking about being the Grey Man / women… Read more »
Pat Henry
Guest

Thanks for your comments Christoper, but I don’t agree that the fastest way home is always a straight line. What if a straight line takes you up the side of a mountain? What if the straight line takes you right through the projects? Even railroad tracks don’t follow a straight line.

I still think that if you are bookin it home immediately after some crisis, roads are going to be the path of least resistance.

christopher
Guest
it was a general comment on physics. not that a person should always take a straight course hence carrying a compass & topo maps. I absolutely agree booking home as quick as you can before people realize the severity or road blocks get put up in case of martial law or declaration of emegency. it will take long time for people to walk 70-100 miles especially not following hwys. having been in Search & Rescue and humped in mountains & woods with 50lb packs for 6 hrs straight hrs. i know how difficult it can be. it especially takes alot… Read more »
Nanook
Guest
I’ve been in enough Escape & Evasion courses & ran enough Orienteering runs to be pretty sure I could manage under any reasonable circumstance, even as an old man. What I am concerned with is getting my loved ones home when the situation arises. The routes of travel require more than road considerations. Sex of the individual traveler is a major consideration, danger areas, bodies of water that must be crossed, swamps/wet lands, etc. But if it is only 60/80 miles, I would go cross country. I would cross over rural properties, too. One consideration is to utilize the power… Read more »
Bolofia
Guest
Pat, I’m glad to see your post on this subject. It is an important topic that deserves to be revisited by everyone from time to time. For newer readers, there is a wealth of information in the archives of The Prepper Journal that will provide additional insights. It will be well worth your time to scan through this topic. For myself, I could be anywhere between 5 or 150 miles from home if an event occurred that forced me to abandon my vehicle. If I happen to be using a company car, I can carry a Get Home Bag, but… Read more »
Pat Henry
Guest

Thanks for your comments Bolo, always a great perspective.

I can certainly agree that looting may happen quickly after an event like this but I can’t see roads being blocked by gangs in the type of event I imagined above. Sure, I do see that happening eventually, but not right at the outset. I could be wrong.

That being said, having the knowledge of alternate routes and even some planning like you mentioned in one of your articles will give you the resources needed to adjust and hopefully survive.

RAIDER
Guest
I advise my prepper colleagues that if TSHTF big style to avoid the highways not only because they become bottlenecks and gridlocked but also they become magnets for predators who would do the unwary harm. I encourage preppers to explore the area between school / work etc and home and make note of Railroad lines, Gas pipelines, Electricity pylon systems, Phone lines and AND the Highways to use them to find their way home. But NOT by walking along them, on them, under them etc but by paralleling them. EG keep them in sight to your left or your right,… Read more »
lonewolf
Guest

get home routes should be planned now, not after some event happens.
main routes and alternative routes in case the main route is blocked or compromised on the day.

R. Ann
Guest
On the “cut across” aspect, there are animals to consider as well as elemental and terrain hazards. Most cattle won’t spook, but a fly-buzzed bull may not be an ideal companion. Farm and suburban dogs may or may not like strangers. Pigs can be 50-50 too, especially if they think you have food, you end up bumped, and go down – a few rooting around to see what you’ve got even without malicious intent can make for injuries. There are also sometimes LGDs that don’t like strangers, and sometimes they like to stay tucked somewhere for shade or water that… Read more »
Pat Henry
Guest

Thanks for your comments R. Ann!

Paul C
Guest

What can not be over emphasized is to start for home as early as possible while your surroundings are still friendly. That window won’t last long, so if you can get out of the populated area quickly then do it. Don’t stop for other people unless you know them, and trust them. Stay away from big stores where looting will likely occur early on. Make sure you have several alternate routes away from high traffic areas as they will stay clear longer. Go around stalled traffic via alleys or if necessary drive on the sidewalk.

RAIDER
Guest

Agreed , preppers need to use their own judgement as when to GO, not waiting for officialdom to tell you

Pat Henry
Guest

Ditto!

Huples
Guest

For those who working a long distance from home might I suggested having a fold up bicycle in your vehicle?

Getting out of urban centres in an EMP? Walk the train, metro tracks and or use bike trails.

As others have said have pre existing multiple routes that you have tested.

Pat Henry
Guest

Good point Huples! We have talked about those folding bikes in at least one other post. If I had that commute now, I would have my Mountain Bike mounted daily for just that reason.

Valhalla
Guest

Amen! There are even fold up electric / pedal hybrid bikes with pedal assist for those hills – for those non-EMP scenarios. If you were to cover even 10-50 miles before having to ditch it(terrain or zombies), you would still be much better off.

RAIDER
Guest

I wish this article was much longer and more in depth, this is one subject that really needs developing further.

Pat Henry
Guest

Thanks Raider,

I agree that we could have gone off into 10 other topics each worthy of their own 2000 word article. I often tend to limit the focus though for brevity but try to make up for it with links to corresponding articles elsewhere.

It is a shameless ploy to hopefully get you coming back to read more…

Pat

RAIDER
Guest

I read every day, PJ is my first call before I even log onto my own groups forum 🙂

Bobcat-Prepper
Guest
Getting home ASAP while folks are in their “normalcy bias” period is critical to personal safety and to protect your house, and getting home by bike will take a fraction of the time of walking. That’s why I agree with Huples, that having a wheeled vehicle in reserve is a huge advantage in your EMP example. Pack a fold-up bicycle or razor scooter (helps on downnhills, anyway), or at least scope out bicycle shops near your work area soon. You may have to “borrow” someone’s bike from a nearby vacant home (before the owners return), just be cautious while doing… Read more »
Valhalla
Guest

I always love hearing a solution where looting, stealing or ‘borrowing’ is among the first considerations. I suggest you borrow some body armor first. Or hey, IDEA! – prepare yourself!

Huples
Guest
I’d add consider different leave times as well as different routes. The one major flaw with our get home plan is we work in health care and likely will get stuck there. Sure we could split but really we won’t no matter the shtf. GF works trauma ICU and I’m the in house manager for the hospital. If off work we won’t go in and will call sick if international tension is high but neither of us would abandon if at work until it became pointless. If relieved at the end of the shift we split but relief might not… Read more »
Bolofia
Guest

Amen, brother.

Cruella DeVille
Guest
Good article Pat. Nice groundwork for an extended series perhaps? I’ve gone through the walk-home exercise on each of my pre-planned routes. It’s 32 miles on my mindless commuting route, roughly 27 via the on-foot routes. I make very heavy use of the power and pipeline right of ways, but still have a fair amount of bushwhacking if I want to stay completely off road. And bushwhacking drops my personal speed of advance to around 1 MPH. Why completely off road? Around here, in a really bad SHTF situation I fully expect a very rapid response from the government: There’s… Read more »
Thomas Paine in the butt
Guest
Thomas Paine in the butt

They make folding bikes that are relatively inexpensive. I’ve thought about getting one off fleabay for $100+/- to see how they work.

John
Guest
So, first and foremost, thank you for having an article for public consumption. It is greatly appreciated. That being said, I know that you have a point where you have to cut your article. After all, it gets to a point where there is too much information. On the other hand, I enjoyed the article. I think there could have been more in depth information about all of the things, and would have loved to have had that extra information to help round out the article. Specifically, having planned places to restock supplies if needed. Whether that’s friends along the… Read more »
Thomas Paine in the butt
Guest
Thomas Paine in the butt
I think using major arterial roads depends a lot on how the SHTF. The article uses EMP as an example, with this I think roads would be OK for a few days. Probably the same in an economic collapse as well. But that’d be way different for a massive terrorist attack. Congested road could be secondary or tertiary targets. Think of the damage a few terrorists could do just spraying rounds onto a gridlocked highway. Add in the possibility of RPGs or chemical weapons and highways are right out. Like Pat said have a couple of backup plans and the… Read more »
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