Note from PJ: While not the final journal entry (gear reviews to follow) this one from The Maj is absolutely loaded with great information with respect to lessons learned from his Bugout journey. I wanted to make a note right up front to thank him for the time and effort put into this so that we could all glean valuable tips and techniques from his excursion. Take the time to read the entire article as it’s well worth it.
What follows is somewhat of the “abridged” version of my AAR because there is a literal legal notepad of things I learned, things that worked well, things that did not work well, etc. Also, there are many family specific issues and adjustments, some I will share and others, I will not for the sake of OPSEC. Some lessons learned and situations I encountered (I.E. search by Game Wardens) that warrant their own, free-standing article and/or discussion will be covered by follow-up articles when applicable and only mentioned briefly here for sake of the length of this entry. If anyone reading has specific questions, please hit me up in the comments section below and I will do my best to answer.
Before, I get started, it is probably important to understand how this legal pad sized list was developed. In many ways, my AAR follows a similar pattern as my entries because it was compiled utilizing the notes I made during my exercise. I completed the exercise one week ago at this writing and my wife and kids were waiting on me at our Bugout location. After taking a marathon hot shower, flushing the toilet 50 times, peeking in the refrigerator repeatedly, etc immediately following completion I was naturally bombarded with question after question from the family. This became somewhat annoying to me, not because I had not missed my family but more so because I was still trying to digest everything AND I had grown rather used to my solitude over the course of two weeks. Trying to find some common ground, I gave my wife all of my notes and a clean notepad so she could read the notes, write her questions down and then sit down to discuss things in a more organized manner. After that, we combined the two so that we could modify our plans, include additional necessary preps, and evaluate each aspect.
Overall Option Feasibility:
As a worst case option, the route and modes of travel are feasible for the family. Realistically, the trip would take anywhere from fifteen to twenty-one days to complete, which will require additional caches for mostly food and other expendable items. My exercise encompassed some of the worst conditions outside of the dead middle of winter with rain. It would be a challenge regardless but SHTF will be a constant challenge in any aspect. Further development of the hole-up location would be required as well to allow for an extended stay if necessary. Going with additional caches and further development of the hole-up location (essentially another Bugout location) will take resources which will impact other area of preps. The route will be adjusted to account for creek crossings where applicable and the decision was made that bridge crossings should encompass the primary focus and actually bridging or swimming the creek would be a last resort.
We will compare this aspect of our plans and preps with other areas of our plans and preps in order to prioritize our resources in the direction that they need to go. This aspect of our plan represents an absolute worst case scenario, so full preparation for it will fall below several other areas and sub areas as we continue working to develop and improve our overall plans. Just another piece of the puzzle, so to speak.
Clothing, Harness, and Ruck:
I had no significant issues with clothing. Other than some of the smaller items, everything was military issue/surplus or MILSPEC and I had already “tested” it in other environments around the world. My harness and ruck were much the same, no issues and previously “tested”. No one will ever convince me that Matterhorn boots were not the absolute best boots ever made, so no reason to try – yes, they are heavy but they are also durable, comfortable, and waterproof. Having fleece pants/ top in the pack was a lifesaver, as well as the wool long underwear which my wife hates but kept me warm, even when wet. About the only issue that I identified was I need to consider one more pair of pants and one more top to allow ample time for drying. The mixture of socks and t-shirts were just right. I do need to add clothes pins, just a couple, to my bag.
As for the family, it becomes a little more difficult. My kids are not big enough to handle a large ruck and have civilian packs at this point and no harness. Also, their sizes make it difficult to find surplus and/or MILSPEC clothing. Ensuring the family’s clothing, harnesses (where applicable), and packs are just as durable as my gear is a key challenge that we need to address when it comes to the kids. We are also adding a fanny/butt-pack to the kids’ until they are big enough for a full harness.
Packing the most amount of calories in the smallest space possible with the least amount of weight will always be key when it comes to packing food. I got by on MREs, Datrex, vitamins, some peanuts, rice & beans, oatmeal, and some freeze dried meals at the hole-up location without issue, other than boredom. Comfort items, like coffee and potentially essential items , like electrolyte replacement mixes must be considered as well. Packaging is also an issue and can impact what you really should pack. Since I was solo, single serving items and individually packaged items worked well because I did not have to worry about resealing packages with additional servings for use later. Modular rations, like MREs work well because they are individually packaged components that allow you to eat parts of them and save other parts for later. If I had had my family in tow, four serving meals would have worked well and provided more variety but they really did not fit the bill for single use or individuals. Things in your pack are going to get jostled and squashed, so resealable packing may make a mess in your pack that is not exactly east to rid yourself of.
We made the decision that we will attempt to modularize our food as best as possible, without putting all of the eggs in one basket. Since we are a family of four, we will focus on four serving packs of freeze dried food, putting four servings of rice & beans in a single pouch, supplementing with MREs and Datrex, then spreading the rations out amongst the four packs in case we were separated or someone was separated from their pack. My wife insists on variety as much as possible and where it can be accomplished without sacrificing space. I tend to agree based on my experience with primarily MREs and Datrex. Additional comfort “foods” need to be incorporated into packing plans and need to include the kid’s tastes as well as our own (coffee, hard candy, electrolyte packets, etc.).
Hunting, fishing, trapping, and foraging are still options for supplementing and/or conserving what we can carry on our backs. However, so many factors affect the effectiveness of each that it makes it difficult at best to rely on them significantly while bugging out (unless our plan is to disappear into the woods and just become nomadic). Hunting is probably the best option based on the game I saw and could have easily taken but taking a shot (making noise) would have to be weighed against the benefit. Foraging is going to be heavily dependent on the season, during the right season(s) it is definitely an option, but during the wrong season(s) it is not really a feasible part of the plan. Fishing is hit and miss but is a definite option for supplementing and is probably least affected by outside factors. Trapping is not ideal, unless we are spending a few days stationary, at which point it will give the snares time to work. We will still maintain the ability to do all four in our packs.
Food preparation is not a major concern when utilizing Datrex, MREs, or other modularized rations. While I am not a huge fan of MREs, they do have their benefits in that they do not require a fire to prepare and they provide some variety. The Kelly Kettle Kit (full review later) works great for “short preparation” meals like instant oatmeal, soups, dehydrated/freeze dried meals, etc. For longer preparation meals, a pot will be added to my and my wife’s pack in addition to other food preparation equipment. Also, a Kelly Kettle Scout Kit (wife) and a Kelly Kettle Trekker Kit (kids) will be added to my wife’s and my kids’ bags for redundancy.
I consumed quite a bit of water and having more than one method of treating water is essential. The problem with water is it is heavy, so unless you are crossing a desert it is better to have the capability to collect and treat water as you need it, instead of trying to lug it all with you. I had no issues finding clean, flowing water during the exercise and with further study of the map, the issue becomes making certain that campsites marry up with sources of water. Luckily, it does not appear that it will be an issue to do so. I had to treat water utilizing three different methods during the trip, which further reinforced the need for redundancy. All three methods were effective, since I have seen no ill effects. The filter water bottle worked every single time but its drawbacks are there is a limited lifespan on the filter. Chemically treating the water was the only other option available after some of the rain events. As usual, boiling always works, provided the water is not chemically contaminated but if you do not have the time for a fire or cannot start one because all the fuel is wet then you had better have another option available. The Kelly Kettle worked great for boiling water, which is why we are adding one to everyone’s pack. For additional redundancy, we are adding a LifeStraw or other type water straw to everyone’s pack as well.
Shelter & Bedding:
I “roughed” it more than I had to, but old habits are hard to break. My mindset on the move has always been, keep everything packed that is not absolutely essential AND have the ability to pack everything else in the shortest amount of time possible. So, I did not utilize my sleeping bag all that much, if any, except at my hole-up location. Had the weather been colder than it was, I am certain it would have come into play. The ENO Double Nest Hammock (full review later) worked great, which I was a little apprehensive about it since this was my first try with it. Utilizing ratchet straps (which have more uses than the hammock straps they always want to sell you) it was super easy to set up and take down, the hammock also dried quick. I utilized a poncho several times to make a “rainfly” (more like a modified poncho shelter) along with a pocket grapple, cordage, and tent stakes. In essence, I had more than I needed for the time of the year for shelter and bedding. I will not make any changes to my current gear in this area.
We will explore a double nest hammock for the wife and single nest hammocks for the kids and compare that option with a three person or two person pack tent to be added to my wife’s pack. Since the remainder of their shelter & bedding gear pretty much mirrors mine, no other adjustments are planned at this point.
Light & Fire:
No real surprises here. Wet stuff does not burn, dry stuff does. I used waterproof matches, standard mini-bic lighters, magnesium fire starter, and a “blastmatch” (review later) to start fires during the exercise. No major changes expected to the makeup, except I will be dropping the blastmatch because it broke. I might as well carry extra or different type of fire steel, rather than something that will break. The Vaseline soaked cotton balls worked like a charm to get stubborn fires started. Redundancy, redundancy.
As far as lighting purposes, I really did not have any issues. I really liked the versatility of the UXO Candle Holder and the warmth the candle did provide (which was little but a little beats nothing). I tried three different types of flashlights that run on AA batteries (review later) so that we can standardize across the family packs. The “Solar Uv” products that I carried worked well, but I constantly had to remind myself to keep them in the sun but they are simple, light, and work (PJ reviewed already). I reviewed the Solar pack lantern earlier but this was its first true field test and it held up well and while I did not use it much for light, I did utilize it to provide power for my devices.
My primary use of fire was boiling water. I did not want to start large fires to draw attention to my location and burning in the Kelly Kettle kept the fire contained and small. I figure that post SHTF, I will avoid large fires as well and utilize fire as sparingly as possible.
We will adjust the family packs to include the flashlight brand I selected and add a UXO Candle Holder w/candles and Solar Uv products to all packs. An additional solar pack lantern will be added to my wife’s pack and she will have to practice with a fire steel.
First-Aid & Hygiene:
Luckily, I did not need many of the first-aid items that I carried. On the same note, I was lucky that I put antibiotics and Dayquil tablets in my kit because I am afraid if I had not, I would have had to call it quits or I would have finished with a serious case of pneumonia. Needless to say, I was not lacking in first-aid or hygiene. I plan to add additional antibiotics to my pack though.
My wife’s supplies will mirror mine with a few exceptions and feminine hygiene additions. The kids’ packs will be scaled to mirror as well and include medications/doses appropriate for their age.
Tools & Blades:
Other than cutting rope, I really did not utilize my tools all that often and experienced no significant issues with anything. I utilized my compass, pace count beads, and weapon cleaning kit more than anything else. I did not identify anything that I wish I would have had in the tools/blades department.
No adjustments necessary for the family packs.
I used very little of my cordage but after TEOTWAWKI, I do not believe you can have enough. One item that I carried to try was a real life save, pocket grapple (review later) – adds very little weight but is very useful.
The things that I did not want wet, stayed dry for once in my life, other than when I had to use them in the rain. The waterproof compression sacks (review later), dry bag(s), and zip-loc bags worked very well. No major adjustments for my pack were identified as necessary.
Family packs will be adjusted accordingly with the addition of the waterproof compression sacks where applicable.
Miscellaneous & Expendable Supplies:
I already covered this but I forgot my urine bottle for the sleeping bag and had to scrounge a Gatorade bottle from the side of the road to replace it. I read the pocket New Testament often when I had a break and made plenty of notes on the notepads. Having something to occupy you mind when you are idle is critical.
No adjustments necessary.
Plans have got to be flexible and flexibility has got to be built in early. I planned this trip to death but I dismissed the creek crossings as a major issue which ended up causing me to have to hump it to stay on schedule. I should have considered with my family in tow, crossing a creek is not going to be an easy task and adjusted the route accordingly to allow for it. This will be adjusted.
Caches placed a few weeks ago are not that easy to find. Finding an object or objects to reference off of is critical and those objects need to be things that do not move or change easily. The GPS may be working post-SHTF and it may not be. I am currently working up the cache plan for the river leg of my trip while I adjust the other legs for creek crossings. I GPSd all the cache locations but I also identified objects that should not change short of a nuclear detonation.
I am getting older and things hurt more than they once did. Just a simple fact of life but one that is critical for planning and preparations. I took a week to allow my body to rest and heal once my trip was over but post-SHTF there will be no weeks off or weekends.
PJ has preached it, but physical preparation now is critical for post-SHTF survival. Exercise is important regardless but since I am planning and preparing for TEOTWAWKI, I might as well maintain the same or similar workout schedule that I maintained prior to this exercise. My wife and kids have got to get with the program as well.
Rain makes everything miserable but you might as well embrace it if you are bugging out on foot. There is no escaping it and all you can do is attempt to be dry while you sleep.
While bugging out on foot could become necessary and is the “sexy” option in the prepping world, focusing efforts on bugging in and bugging out by vehicle should be the first order of priority for all preppers IMHO. My trip had some suck factor to it but nowhere near what it would have had in a true scenario.
Even though I despise it, lying is sometimes a necessary evil – see the incident with game wardens and LE officer during previous blog entries.
I broke all of this down as my BOB was configured to make it easy for me to validate my BOB and adjust my family’s bags as well. I did not mention some areas or condensed others because they were minor in nature or I did not find major holes in what I had or was prepared to experience. As my wife and I discussed my trip, I expressed to her that as much as I tried to simulate a true bugout scenario, I am not certain that there is a way to truly simulate it. I knew the entire time that there was an “end” in sight to my trip and the world was still “normal” during my trip. Who knows what the situation would be or in what kind of shape the world would be in had it gotten so bad that we had to leave our home on foot in order to escape it. However, the trip did serve the purpose of validating the feasibility of doing so.