The concept of bugging out is an integral part of preparing for an uncertain future. I won’t list them here, but there are dozens of reasons why it may be necessary to leave your home/homestead on very short notice. Page after digital page has been published online addressing this subject… some of it quite good and some of it good for nothing more than a laugh.
But there is one aspect of bugging out that I think has been largely overlooked in the survival community. It is the special considerations needed when bugging out with young children. My focus in this article is on families with one or more children in the age range of 1-10. I’m not writing as an expert on child development but as a father of two boys who has spent a lot of time thinking about this subject out of concern for my own family.
If you don’t have your own children in this age range, please keep reading anyway. If you are young enough you may have children someday, and if you are old enough you may have grandchildren someday. In any case, you may find yourself in a situation where this knowledge would enable you to help a young family in need of guidance when that day comes.
In the first part of this article I will address what can’t be done in terms of bugging out with young children, and in the second part I will offer tips on what can be done.
To get started, I will state emphatically that you cannot bugout with young children. It cannot be done. End of story. But before you get too discouraged, let me explain. What is impossible with young children is the stereotypical, bugout-fantasy of heading off into the wilderness with a rucksack on your back and a rifle in your hand, determined to live off the land like the mountain men of old.
The follies of this theory have been pointed out numerous times on SurvivalBlog, so I won’t get into them here. I’ll just say this: some people might argue that a young, healthy individual with the right skill set and the right tools could “live off the land”, but no one can argue that such a person could support a family of five “off the land”.
Don’t believe me? Then go to the local library and look for a book on wilderness survival for families. Even the few books written with children in mind generally assume the child is lost and alone. Search Amazon for “bug out children”, and the first book that pops up shows a dog in a ladybug suit. There are thousands of videos on Youtube showing how one person can build an emergency shelter to get himself through a long cold night, but I didn’t find any on how one person can quickly throw together an emergency shelter that allows an entire family to sleep warm and safe for the night before they continue their bugout journey at dawn.
Why is a stereotypical bugout impossible with young children? First, it’s because children are slow. A very fit 25-year-old might travel cross country at two or three miles per hour for up to 25 miles in a day on foot. So, if your bugout location is 75 miles away, you’ll be there in three days. However, a healthy young 5-year-old will travel at a pace closer to ½ mile per hour and cover maybe three miles in a day. So now, it will take 25 days to reach your bugout location, and you’ll need an awfully big backpack to carry 25 days worth of food.
“It’s no problem,” you might think, “I’ll just carry my little ones, like we do when we’re at the mall.” That brings us to our second point: children are heavy. Though many of us would struggle to do it, a good prepper fitness goal is to be able to carry a 40lb bugout bag on a multi-day hike. Well, guess what? That is almost exactly the median weight of a 5 year old(1). So, if you are carrying your children on your back, you won’t be carrying much else: not much food, not much water, not much with which to make shelter, and not much in terms of self defense.
Can you partially offset that lack of carrying capacity by foraging for wild edibles? Probably not, because many children are picky eaters. Most wild edibles taste different than the foods we eat on a regular basis, and to a child “different” usually means “yucky”. Add to that this consideration: in the absence of human competition, a skilled forager might find enough calories to sustain himself for quite a while (at least during certain times of the year). But in the long-term, a family of five will need at least 10,000 calories per day to break even; that’s 3,000 calories for dad, 2,500 for mom, and 1,500 for each of three kids. For reference, that equates to gathering about 39 pounds of blueberries, 78 pounds of unprocessed cattail root, or six pounds of raw acorns each and every day(2). Gathering and processing that quantity of food would drain nearby resources fast and wouldn’t leave much time for any of the other activities essential for survival.
Hunting, fishing, and trapping are other options for bringing in calories (although human competition is likely to quickly decimate the wild animal population in most areas). Again, though, few of the websites that advocate this have in mind what you would actually need to feed a whole family. It comes out to about 76 individual squirrels, 13 individual rabbits, or 19 pounds of trout each day or about one whole deer every six days to meet your family’s calorie needs(2). Hunting, fishing, and especially trapping also all require gear, and remember that you can’t carry much of that because of the weight of the children. Also, keep in mind that children are loud. You won’t have much success stalking a buck with an 18-month-old strapped to your chest. So the kids will have to stay back at the camp.
This leads in to the next point: someone will have to watch the children almost constantly, because children are curious. Don’t think that both Mom and Dad can be out hunting at the same time to bring in those 13 rabbits. Most young children simply aren’t mature enough to be left alone at your shelter in the woods where you (presumably) have an open fire, some knives sitting around, a loaded firearm or two, and endless opportunities to get lost. As any stay-at-home mom can tell you, keeping two or three children changed, fed, safe, and marginally clean is a full-time job for one person. Don’t expect it to get any easier if you are fleeing for your lives in a disaster.
Someone out there is probably thinking, “Wait a minute. It can’t be as bad as you’re making it out to be. The Native Americans lived off the land while frequently moving around among hostile tribes. If they can do it, so can I!” I would point out that they had a few key advantages over us: a very low population density, a very high ratio of resources to people, and the accumulated wisdom and skills passed down by generations before them who had lived that lifestyle. A little research also shows that despite those advantages, their lives were much harder and shorter than the idyllic picture we often imagine. The life expectancy of the very healthiest Native American tribes has been estimated at 35 years(3) and the child mortality rate in the pre-industrial world was about 20-30%(4).
So if the balloon goes up and you grab your family and march out into the woods, it probably isn’t going to end well for you. In a day or two you’ll find yourself 10 miles from home, carrying your children, with no food and very little gear, facing the hopeless task of providing your family with shelter, water, and 10,000 calories per day.
I know this is a gloomy picture, but I thought it was important to go into the details of why the stereotypical bugout is impossible with young children. I don’t want anyone to start thinking “Maybe I could pull it off if I just…” It can’t be done, period. Tune in tomorrow to find out what actually can be done to get our children and families to safety in a hurry when it really counts.
(1) Median weight of children was taken from this website on 28Oct16: http://www.cdc.gov/growthcharts/clinical_charts.htm#Set1
(2) Calorie counts for various wild foods were taken from these websites on 28Oct16: https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/search/list http://woodtrekker.blogspot.com/2013/09/living-off-land-delusions-and.html
(3) Native American life expectancy was taken from this website on 27Oct16: http://www.nytimes.com/2002/10/29/science/don-t-blame-columbus-for-all-the-indians-ills.html
(4) Child mortality rate estimate was taken from this website on 28Oct16: http://www.pbs.org/fmc/timeline/dmortality.htm