Bugging Out Between Civilizations – Part 2, by N.C.

(Continued from Part 1. This concludes the article.)

While trawling through the SurvivalBlog archives I came across a 2015 two-part article:

I really liked his approach to layering. To that, I added researching “carry-on only travelling”, backpacking, and general bug out bag/survival kit principles. I put this reading and learning together to make a “civilization-centric” approach to bugging out.

Fair warning: This is simply my thought experiment. Thankfully I haven’t been in this position. Yet. Hopefully, I never will be but if I ever am, having at least thought through it will increase my family’s odds of making it out intact. Feel free to disagree and critique and change, that’s the only possible benefit this has to us. When there is not much to be done at least we can think, run a “what-if” scenario, and then decide what to act on in real life.

I’m focusing mainly on being carry-on centric and the German preparedness expert that I found recently agrees. If I am in a refugee situation I have no idea how I will be traveling (bus, plane, smart car) and no idea how far I will have to travel on foot. I need to be able to carry it on my back with ease. In civilization, planes have the most restrictions on carry-on and my goal is to make it so I can get on an airplane, no checking no gate checking, no security issues. Make it easy on those around you, not difficult.

I’m embracing a “disposable” approach. This means that even if I lose some things, I am never left destitute. I don’t want to lose my things but I’d rather lose my backpack than my life or my freedom. The goal is to make it so together the layers are mutually reinforcing while any layer would be bare-bones adequate by itself. Ideally, if I’m losing my big backpack, I can transfer some most important things to my sling bag but even without that time to transfer I would never be left utterly destitute and thus be able to move as necessary to stay alive. As a final principle, I am keeping an eye on both civilized needs and wilderness needs. Water sanitization is always important.

The layers I plan on are: car, backpack, small personal item, fannypack (or a photographer’s vest), security wallet, and clothing. That is the order in which I would expect to lose each layer. We’ll start with the Car because it is significantly different from the others and the first level of your movement. After that, I’ll move from the end (clothing) working up to backpack. For both the personal item and the carry-on backpack make sure it is within the airline size guidelines in your area and for international travel.

In The Car

If there’s time I would want to pack the car with many valuables and use it as a mobile base wherever I wind up. It’s easier to grab things that are all together instead of grabbing things from all over the house as you think of what you need. Keep your camping gear in their own totes makes it easy to grab and go. Something I don’t normally take camping but I would want would be empty sandbags and a digging implement (an idea I shamelessly stole from both the Warrior Poet Society and Corporal’s Corner). I’d also grab the lion’s share of my nonperishable foods, the entire firebox and all water bottles I had, and my pillow. If it was looking like I could not use my vehicle as a mobile base the most important thing would be transferring the documents in the firebox to the personal item and the cash to various pockets.


Two general points about clothing: 1 your clothes are themselves a form of shelter. 2. Things spread among your pockets are not likely to be all lost at once (a point I learned from Les Stroud). I will hit each of those very briefly.

There are various approaches to layering but you want to be wearing high quality clothing that will keep you the right temperature and protect you from the elements. That will vary wildly depending on your specific position. The extreme form of “clothing as shelter” is the traditional Scottish Plaid which was your rain protection, blanket, and tent all in one. All their many folds were there less for looks and more for having enough material to accomplish all that.

Small iems can be spread out among your pockets without impeding movement. Your wallet with driver’s license and some cash is probably already in a pocket. A handkerchief or bandana, some cash, a lighter, 6+ feet of paracord, whistle, flexible mirror can all be spread among pockets with minimal discomfort. Spreading cash and valuables around your pockets is an old practice, at the extreme people used to sew jewelry inside hems while emigrating so they could not be stolen. One modern item I would add is an encrypted thumb drive with ID backups.

Security wallet

One of these worn in the appendix carry position is my primary place for my most valuable irreplaceable things. Official personal documents like the US Social Security cards and Passport, Debit card, also a plastic Fresnel lens (if you know how to use it).

fanny pack or photography vest

Here is where the phone goes (and heavy duty aluminum foil). Why aluminum foil? Because if I am worried about it being used against me turning it off and wrapping it in aluminum foil forms a mini Faraday cage. (You can also buy bags or cases that claim to do the same). I would rather not have it at all but as long as civilization is ticking I need it. For when it is in use I would be sure to download maps of the area. If I have it, I ought to use it to its advantage. I want to be able to use the phone to interface and communicate but if there is high risk on the way to the border I can ‘disappear’. I would put my credit card here and a water bladder with a couple water purification tabs and a few energy bars.

I also want two large trash bags (50-60 Gallon 3 mil thick “contractor” bags are Corporal Corner’s recommendation) one to stretch and sleep under (or turn into a poncho) and one to stuff with debris for a mattress if need be. A high-quality space blanket and some waterproof tinder and some matches.

Personal Bag

In my personal bag, I carry:

  • writing pad and writing implement
  • battery bank (to recharge the phone)
  • toiletries (moist towlettes, toothbrush)
  • water bottle with filter
  • poncho
  • 1 or 2 ready to eat food pouches (tuna, or chicken & rice type pouches) and spoon
  • bigger documents like mortgage and birth certificate(s)
  • pocket New Testament that my grandpa gave me
Carry-on Backpack

In my carry-on backpack, I carry:

  • sleeping pad
  • sleeping bag
  • clothes
  • sleep clothes
  • mini camping pot and some salt/pepper
  • light source

There’s a lot more that you can add and it certainly needs to be tailored for your own situation. I would put a laptop in the personal bag if I had one, I don’t, so I didn’t. I have omitted medical considerations entirely. You should already have those in your car and camping gear already and thus they went without saying. For me, in a refugee situation, either the medical aspect is small enough to just ignore (I don’t need bandaids or aspirin, those are niceties not needs) or so large that to plan properly I lose the carryon aspect. That’s my take but I also don’t have any prescription medications or special considerations. You may say “especially in a dangerous situation a tourniquet is non-negotiable” and that’s a fair take. I would probably put one in my car but not my person.

I also didn’t address weapons, since you can’t take much on a plane that would also be on its face useful for self-defense. Further, crossing international borders there are different legal standards that come into play. Your wits and the power of numbers may be all that is left to you legally. Small groups may be the only security you can manage. One parent, trying to deal with everything and the kids is not a good plan. And how do you stay together? It may not be simple.

Closing thoughts

One thought I keep coming back to is that training and skills travel free. They take up zero space and weigh nothing. They also make it easier for you to earn your keep wherever you wind up. Build your self-defense skills, your social skills, and your language skills. Have a plan to travel with a group (though that means sharing so bear in mind your resources will run out faster).

It’s also vitally important to understand common hustles, cons, and manipulations. The Gift of Fear is the best-known source on common criminal manipulations but Conflict Communication by Rory Miller goes over some too and there are some oddball sources like Games You Can’t Lose: A Guide For Suckers by Harry Anderson that will have information. Understanding the principles of sleight of hand and salesmanship is also useful. Apollo Robbins is the best demonstrator of these principles, he focuses on pickpockets but many of the principles are the same. It is distasteful but if you learn the common strategies employed by “pick up artists” you will also learn basic human manipulation tactics. These are all intimately intertwined.

At the end of the day, I would far rather pit myself against nature herself than have to deal with the social chaos of refugee status. As an aside: I have felt the force of human beings pressing against the rear of a truck where people were passing out free things — not even needed things. The ease with which that could have turned deadly made a permanent impression on me. How quickly I turned from pressing in to get my share to trapped and unable to leave with it is something that still is in my head. And yet I understand that social chaos may be the best bet for my children’s safety. That is a sobering thought and one that keeps recurring. The tragedy in Ukraine is another way for me to learn how humans behave and the challenges we face in such situations.