Planning Your Escape – Part 2, by JMD

(Continued from Part 1.)

Using Google or Bing maps provides you with an initial idea of what the route and terrain for a journey home might look like, but it’s far from the end of your planning. While these maps provide information on roads and walking paths, they don’t include details on possible alternatives like railroad tracks and waterways.

There has been a lot of discussion regarding the use of railroad tracks for travel in a post-SHTF world. On the plus side railways tend to be more isolated from built-up areas, so you may stand a better chance of avoiding people, and they tend avoid steep climbs and drops, which should make traveling somewhat easier. On the other hand, if you’ve ever tried walking a railroad track you know how difficult it can be to comfortably match your stride to the spacing of the ties, and if you need to run you’ll probably end up tripping. It’s also virtually impossible to ride a bike on railroad tracks without rattling your teeth out. Some railroad tracks have a right-of-way dirt road that parallels it that allows for maintenance access, so that may simplify using them for RTB travel.

Another potential advantage of knowing the railways along your route is that railroad bridges can provide an alternative for crossing rivers and other terrain obstacles that may help you avoid trouble on road bridges. Regardless of your view of railroad tracks as a possible route, I’d recommend being aware of where the tracks are along your intended route in case you need to use them. The Open Railway Map Project provides detailed maps of railroad tracks all over the world (both in-use and abandoned), and I include snapshots of the lines along my RTB route as part of my planning documents. Note that the web site is pretty slow to load, so be patient if you use it. If you find it useful for planning, please consider making a donation to help keep it running (I’m not affiliated with it in any way – I just find it to be a useful resource).

You can also evaluate designated hiking trails as potential routes. There are numerous maintained long distance hiking trails across the US, such as the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, the Eastern Continental Trail and many others. The advantages to these trails are that they tend to avoid more heavily populated areas, they’re marked and maintained, and you can usually buy dedicated hard copy trail maps that include things like topographical detail.

Another potentially useful route is water. There are thousands of lakes and rivers around, and they may help cut days of hard travel off of your journey. Say for example you live in western Tennessee and you’re on a business trip to St. Louis when an event occurs. That’s around 200 miles straight-line distance, probably 15-30 days of hard walking if you’re in reasonably good shape, or 5-10 days of bicycling (assuming no major problems along the way). Alternatively, you could obtain a small boat and travel down the Mississippi River, which could cut days off of your journey. If you’re in a city that is on a large body of water you could also potentially use a small boat to help you escape the initial insanity that would most likely follow a SHTF event and get clear of the crowds, then come ashore in a more isolated area and continue your journey. Note that paddling and controlling a small boat isn’t as easy as it sounds, especially on rapidly moving or rough water, so if you want to include water travel in your route planning I highly recommend that you get some experience before you have to try it for real.

You’ll also need to consider obstacles such as locks, rapids, waterfalls and dams as well as surface conditions in your planning. You can usually spot potential obstacles using Google/Bing maps by zooming in on the satellite view and ‘flying over’ the route you plan on taking, or you can use inland waterway navigation charts. For understanding conditions such as currents and tides, the USGS provides a lot of information on surface water conditions in the US on their web site. One item I include in my travel kit if I’m considering water routes for RTB travel is a Klymit LiteWater Dinghy Packraf which works well for one person with gear and packs down to a 5” x 9” package. It’s pretty easy to fashion a paddle out of a branch with a ‘Y’ on the end and some plastic and Gorilla tape, or you could pack a small telescoping paddle if you wanted to reduce your time to get in the water. It’s bright orange color isn’t the most subtle, but I’ve found that I can drape my poncho over the raft with me inside to hide the color.

Irrespective of your mode of transport, one of the most critical items to consider when planning out your route is access to drinking water. It weighs around 8lbs per gallon so you generally can’t carry a lot of it, but it’s also one of the most essential items for survival, especially when you’re exerting yourself. The general rules of thumb are that an adult should consume at least 1 gallon of water per day and that you can survive for around 3 days without it, but you’ll probably start slowing down in less than a day if you’re not drinking regularly. You should plan your route so that you’re passing close to a water source at least once a day. That’s easy to do if you’re in some parts of the country like the Northeast US – there are ponds, lakes, stream and rivers all over the place, and you’ll probably have to spend a lot of time just trying to get over or around them.

On the other hand, if you live in Idaho and you need to get home from Las Vegas, you’ll have to cross several hundred miles of desert terrain so your route will need to zig-zag between water sources. You’d probably want to consider heading northeast out of Las Vegas towards Utah, then follow the base of the mountains northward so you stay near water supplies. It’ll add time to your trip, but your chances of surviving will increase. You’ll obviously need some method of purifying any water you find, which I’ll discuss later.

Additional Route Planning Considerations

Outside of overall mapping there are a couple of other things you need to consider when planning your RTB route. The first is the time of year and how the weather may impact how you get home. Say, for example, you were visiting Denver when an event occurs and you had to get back home to central Wyoming. If it’s summer time you could probably follow the roads through a mountain pass west of the city and head up towards Lake Granby, then follow Route 125 toward home. However, if it’s the middle of the winter there most likely won’t be any snow clearing services and many of those mountain passes will become impassable, so you would probably be better off heading north towards Fort Collins, then heading northwest on Rt. 287. There’s still a chance you’ll run into heavy snow, but the terrain is a lot more open and you’d have a better chance of finding shelter in the event of a storm.

Another example would be if you’re planning on using waterways for your route – a river might be just a few inches deep at places in the late summer, but it can turn into dangerous raging rapids with the spring runoff. You also need to keep in mind how weather can impact your health when you’re traveling outdoors – an average person can get hypothermia (cold) in temperatures as high a 60°F, or hyperthermia (heat) in temperatures as low as 80°F, so make sure you plan for appropriate clothing and shelter. You can find out the typical weather patterns for your destination by searching for ‘average monthly weather conditions for [destination]’ with your favorite search engine. You should also have some basic skills in predicting weather so you can be better prepared while you’re traveling.

Some specific types of events may also mandate certain routing considerations. For example, a limited nuclear strike on the US may target certain facilities near your planned route, necessitating a long detour around them to avoid radiation, massive flooding from destroyed dams or dikes may block your route, or mudslides or avalanches may make a planned trail impassable. While you probably can’t plan for every possible contingency you should at least consider how possible events might impact your travel and develop alternate route for the most likely ones.

Planning your initial egress from your destination location is critical when starting your journey. If you’re traveling to a location with any significant population density you should be aware of the ‘social geography’ at your destination. That means knowing what neighborhoods are most likely to erupt into rioting and looting soon after a major event and making sure your egress route avoids them. You can usually find current information on which neighborhoods should be avoided by searching for ‘most dangerous neighborhoods in [your destination]’ with your favorite search engine. In an event of something like an EMP the bad guys will probably quickly realize the cops won’t be showing up anytime soon and will likely head to the more upscale shopping areas for a little ‘window shopping’, so plan an egress route that focuses on middle-class neighborhoods, office districts and warehouse/industrial areas.

Your route planning might also need to take into account intermediate stops. You may need to stop by a friend’s or family member’s house to connect up with them, or stop along the way to pick up some equipment or supplies. For example, I live in the north-central New England area and I occasionally have to (against my will) travel to the greater New York City area for business. I like to have firearms with me when I travel and I’m licensed to carry in every New England state except Rhode Island, but since I’m not a rich, a politician or a police officer I obviously can’t possess a firearm anywhere within New York state.

My approach for this scenario is to drive my vehicle with my get home bag (GHB) and firearms (locked in bolted-down locked steel containers) and park it in a secure parking garage in Greenwich, Connecticut, then take the train from there into New York City. That way I’m only 20 miles or so from my critical RTB travel gear, which I can walk in a day or two, or, if necessary, obtain a boat and follow the shore up to Greenwich. If you travel to one or more locations frequently you may want to consider setting up a cache with critical items either at your destination or somewhere along your planned RTB route. There have been numerous articles on SurvivalBlog about caching, so do some searching to read more about that.

Modes of Travel

While it may not be a viable transport option after an event, how you get to your destination can have an impact on what supplies and equipment you have with you. Flying is the best method for covering long distances in the least amount of time, but it can be expensive and intrusive and you’re extremely limited in what you can carry and check in your luggage. In my previous article I discussed at length my recommendations for a travel kit, so I won’t repeat most of that here. The one critical point is that I always check a bag for any trip that’s more than a day. A lot of my RTB gear and supplies are in the checked bag, which allows me to quickly egress an area after an event without having to look for supplies.

Trains can be almost as fast as air travel for shorter trips and you can carry a lot more stuff in your bags, but these days it’s almost as expensive as air travel. Buses also allow for more options in terms of what RTB travel gear you can bring, and it’s inexpensive but relatively slow.

The final option is driving, which gives you the most flexibility for what you can bring with you, but can also take the longest. You can bring pretty much everything you might need for an RTB trip, including alternate transportation like bicycles, carts and snowshoes.

Regardless of your mode of travel you should always be aware of the laws governing things like firearms and knives at your destination. My recommendation is to have as much defensive capability with you as you legally can when traveling.

(To be continued tomorrow, as part of a five-part series.)


  1. Travelling by public conveyance is rarely addressed here. Yet it can be a very good option.

    I made the public bus transit from Wyoming through Montana, Idaho, and Washington State last year. It cost less than a hundred bucks for over 1000 miles and took 23 hours door to door.

    It is doable, the seats comfortable, and buses even had USB charging stations at each seat for my phone, reader, and BaoFeng. I took earplugs to tune in to local radio stations using the FM setting on the Bao Feng. There was a clean toilet on board, overhead racks for gear. Plenty of open seats and good legroom.

    There were several sketchy characters at the stops and riding. I kept a stark look on my face. I picked a seat among harmless-appearing travelers.

    I kept my N-95 mask handy, and wore it getting on the bus and getting seated. From then on, I wore it time to time, especially since the ride was during severe smoky fires.

    At a long stop I made a point to plunk myself down next to a median-sketchy guy and made a little small talk to gather intel.

    At Billings Montana the station announcement was made that ” In cooperation with Homeland Security, all passengers would be checked for travel status and tickets” since only travelers could hang around (in the wee hours at that time).

    Indeed, a guy did go from person to person checking us. I think a few who know the routine had stepped out, although I know several intentionally walked to bars for drinking until a 2am closing time put them out there.

    There were layovers at Billings, CDA, Spokane, and Quincy.

    At one stop the female minimart clerk I chatted with told me how two brown skinned guys with accents had strongly lobbied her to walk off the job and get on the bus with them. This conversation held as we watched two guys got out of a car, came in and tried to team-shoplift.

    These are just routine events that go on all around us, everyday, nothing special about the bus route.

    When needed, the public bus system does work. Stay alert, stay ready, blend in, and accomplish your travel mission. Never let vulnerable people you care about be unattended, but make it work for you.

    God Bless

    1. Thank you for your helpful comments, Wheatley. This is very helpful for anyone considering public transportation or bus travel. I would love to see more of this in the future, I would gladly take a train or bus on some occasions to avoid the hassles of driving and parking, etc.

      I take issue with your comment regarding your conversation with the female minimart clerk. Why do you find it necessary to mention the skin color of the guys with accents who were involved in questionable activities? I can assure you that just as many questionable activities are engaged in by white males, this is unnecessary information.

      The media in our country thrives on and promotes racism. Whenever a crime is committed by a non-white, they always mention that the perp is black, brown, green, purple, or whatever. My wish is that we as compassionate, intelligent individuals do not find it necessary to sink to the level of racist “journalism”. I would hope that the color of a person’s skin does not matter so much to us. I’m certain that our Heavenly Father is not in the least concerned with such a trivial matter. Thank you Wheatley.

      1. Thank you got your observations.
        Yes, I did consider the fact I was identifying something beside white.

        I should have included the young woman saying they had an accent she thought was from Central America. It’s important to say what she said, not generalize when I convey the info.

        She also told me that after the attempt to recruit/traffic her, that night someone tried her windows and front door.

        The shoplifters appeared to be Caucasian.

        I did try to focus on the bus trip and not dive deep into societal criminal behavior.

        I suggest you do a ride along in Spokane with LEO. While there is ample criminal behavior there, it may comfort sensitive people to see the highest share appear to have light colored skin.

        Just so you know, my near family is integrated. White/Caucasian, African American, American Indian, and Korean American to continue the misuse of parsing races into nationalities. I simply say we are American and Christian.

  2. Thanks again for this series. I’m looking forward to the next three installments.

    Another form of travel is across frozen bodies of water. Those of us that live where that is a seasonal fact, know how much distance can be covered in this way. Advantages to name a few are, shorter travel distances, usually unobstructed routes, and a lack of willingness on the part of some to travel on ice. That said, one should be familiar with this activity from previous experience. Ice that is thick enough in one place may not be in others. It also requires some historical knowledge of temperatures for the current season and history of whether a certain body of water freezes over (usually).

    Speaking of water, the ability to swim and be comfortable in the water is a huge force multiplier. Most people can’t swim and many that do only are comfortable in a clear pool where the sides and bottom can be seen. Many special operators know this as they are trained to get to a body of water if they can. Having this skill opens up other route options and escape routes if need.

    1. Good point on the swimming. One thing I didn’t mention in the article is that I also carry a heavy-duty 42 gallon trash bag that I can put my backpack and clothes in if I need to go swimming. If you fill it with air before tying it off it makes a great float.

  3. In my town, the homeless will often set up camps along the borders of the tracks. Many homeless are addicted to illegal drugs, and are also very desperate people. SurvivalBlog has articles about various non-lethal weapons; a konk to the head with a walking stick, might be wiser than firing off a Glock with a drum-magazine.

    The internet has numerous stories about the problem in various areas. Here’s one story from California:
    “Orange County officials begin clearing massive homeless camp
    Officials estimated there were about 400 transients still left in the Santa Ana riverbed from a population that had swelled to more than 1,000 at one point.”
    “The explosion of homeless encampments alongside railroad tracks has contributed to a spike in delays for California’s rocketing passenger ridership, an outbreak of accidental fires and deadly collisions, frustrating executives who call the impact on passengers “unacceptable.”
    [Fox News, April 17, 2018]

    Traveling as a group should be safer; even if all members of the group do not have tactical skills or guns. Plus, routes might be mapped to avoid the tracks within any city or town, if possible.

    1. GGHD, apropos your point about traveling in groups: Kenyan proverb, “If you want to go fast tarvel alone; If you want to get there, travel with others.”

      As usual, your comments, all of you, addso much to the picture.

      Carry on

  4. Also, the folks at home need to remember to have an alternate location to gather at in case your home base becomes uninhabitable and you should all be aware of that secondary location and under what circumstances you would vacate the primary home. You could arrive at home only to find it looted and burned with no idea where your loved ones went, did they get on a FEMA bus, were they taken captive, did they flee in panic to God knows where?

  5. Speaking about traveling on ice. As a young man, living in Iowa, my best friend and I spent much timing hunting out by our local lakes. There is one very easy and effective way for you and a friend to travel very quickly across a lake. You need a pair of ice skates each and a large bed sheet. Using the bed sheet as a sail, you take one side your friend takes the other, as it catches the wind you will move at a very rapid pace. Of course you can only go in the direction of the wind but it can be very effective. Watch out for cracks in the ice! We learned to hop over them (;

  6. Our group has agreed to use light aircraft to pull out members in a SHTF , We have people in five states,my STOL 182 can work 600 feet or less with 4 people ,a super cub can be rigged with 2 remington 1100 ,12gage on the wing struts , for air support ,that’s what I used in Alaska hunting wolf’s under permit ,,10rounds×2. Know it works , a 8 hr drive turns in 3hrs ,western Washington to north central Idaho 2hrs 45min. Preplaned pickup points ,safe spots ,a DCH 2beaver can in a pinch with no regard for the FAA can work 500ft with 12 people ,don’t ask how I know ,,all three can take battle damage and still get you home ,

    Who is John Galt?where is Galt’s gulch?
    I know ,

    1. Oldhomesteader – Thanks for the note. I’m actually a licensed pilot myself, and I always include smaller local airports as possible options in my RTB planning, but I figured that there weren’t a lot of licensed folks around so I didn’t think it was worth including that in the article.

  7. John ,,our bug out location has a 9,000 ft road that doubles as a runway ,our members have pre set SHTF supplies so all we are getting out is people, yes things tend to be high end for some ,but the goal is a balanced group so we work to help all involved ,the one road in is ruff and easy closed and private ,(35miles) a two hour drive when things are good ,in the winter the road is sometimes closed for week on end , fly in is the most practical way in for people ,

    Tea and chocolate

  8. For your ideas about traveling on railroad tracks, it would behoove you to walk beside the track, not up in the foul or between the rails. I am a locomotive engineer and have had several close calls with people walking or running on the tracks, and the closest I came to killing two people was when I came around a curve and caught them on a bridge. They ran and made it with about 5 feet to spare and if they had tripped or the span been 10 feet longer or I had been going about 5mph faster, they would be dead.

    You might think you can always hear a train since they’re so big, but this is not the case. On mainlines here in the southeast Amtrak can now run up to 90mph. They will be on top of you before you know it, and before you can get your railbike off the tracks.

    If you choose the railbike option, just know that if you get caught on the track without permission then you can be arrested for trespassing. It is a federal offense.

    1. HD Engr. – Suppose, for purposes of discussion, the railbike has an electrical short between the rails (like railcar wheels). Is there a system in your cab to see the presence of such a short-across-the-tracks, or do you have to rely on signal lights and such?

    1. You’re Right! Once a Marine; always a Marine. … Men are put on earth to help the less physically capable. A solitary man ‘bugging out’ might just be on a one-way trip to Hell. … … But, I’ve heard the old Devil Dogs will never go to Hell. Beelzebub would be afraid the Devil Dogs would take over the place.
      Beelzebub might say, “I’m the >head guy around here.” … The Devil Dogs would respond with, “We’re Devil Dogs; since you’re the >head guy around here, Beelzebub, we’re putting you on >permanent Latrine Duty!”

      + It’s a good idea to have some idea about the various routes in an area. In the USA, there are rivers, swamps, mountain-passes, that >need a bridge or a possible pathway/causeway. … … A group of villains >preying on people would see such places as a ‘choke’ point. … A well traveled route could be a bad place for the person trying to get home. A knowledge of alternate routes might be handy information.

      HD (RR) Engineer made a good point about the possible dangers a train would pose. In my town, I’ve seen smashed dogs on the RR tracks. [dogs hears a lot better than people.]

  9. Railroad ROW have some unique features that don’t always favor the traveler. Much of the time the railroad tracks are elevated in relation to the surrounding terrain. So skylighting is unavoidable. Additionally the left and right sides of the ROW are often overgrown and offer plenty of concealment for ambushers. Bridges pose a special threat as most are not solid but have just the ties across steel I-beams leaving you open to gunfire from below. Easy for an attacker to see you moving across the bridge above than for you to see a concealed, stationary target below.

    Now, railroads aren’t a horrible choice if you consider commandeering a railroad truck that has roadway/railway functionality. Like this Now you have a great way to traverse roads or rails. An advantage is that most of these vehicle are 6 passenger with welder/generators with tools.

  10. Another resource for mapping your destination might be your local overland community. I live in GA and someone went through the trouble of mapping the North Georgia Overland Trail. Which runs from AL to SC. Of the 300 something miles 2/3 of it is dirt roads.

    I hit a hard trail (for me) up in Tennessee called Hailey`s trail. Almost Got stuck but thankfully an older couple helped me out of there (who would have though in a lifted Lexus with lockers and a winch). Had a blast and pushed my Suburban to its limits. Just make sure you do your research, stock trucks could do most trails around here but a 2″ lift with 33’s barley got me through others.

    Another great article. I grew up in upstate NY and agree good luck getting a carry license let alone even an ownership license for a handgun.

  11. This is all very good stuff. May I suggest something?

    During a SHTF event, it is likely that the internet will not be available, or if it is, such things as Google maps and other news organizations might be compromised. I would advise not to rely too heavily on electronic media to get from point A to point B. Have a good “old fashioned” paper map or google printout.

    An over-reliance on the internet seems to be quite common. When you catch yourself using it in any capacity, catch yourself. A real and true SHTF event will be one where you will not want to advertise your presence at all.

  12. Rufus – I agree 100%. In the previous installment I included a recommendation that you have hardcopies of everything with you before your trip. GPS and digital maps are nice, but nothing short of destruction should be able to deprive you of the hardcopies. I always carry them in a waterproof map case to reduce the risk of damage.

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