The idea of leaving home and “living off the land” is a popular discussion point among preparedness-minded individuals. Many think they will grab their bug out bag and set off for a new life somewhere, foraging for wild edibles and having magical adventures on the way as they live out of their untested $200 tactical bag.
Let’s be real for a second. There is a word for someone who has lost their home and is now living out of a backpack; it’s refugee!
Last I checked, there was nothing glamorous about being a refugee, and if you are planning for this contingency you need to be prepared for some pretty serious physical, political, and emotional junk to be happening all at the same time. In a situation like this, you are going to be desperate and have no power to make any sort of calls. You will be at the whim of whatever authority there is in a region and have no legitimate claim to anything except the clothes on your back. You are going to need a lot more than a backpack full of MRE’s to be ready for this. As soon as you run out of food and you or your kid starts starving to death, you will be trying desperately to find a refugee camp that will take you in and will be grateful for some rice every day no matter the cost of personal liberty.
If you set out on your own without some sort of concrete plan, you will eventually have someone else making the decisions for you. This is why it is highly recommended that you have a concrete destination in mind when bugging out, ideally a safe place with pre-positioned supplies so you don’t need to carry heavy equipment with you.
So at this point let’s just be clear; unless you have extensive wilderness experience, packing a bag with the idea of heading into the woods and living off the land is a waste of time and will get you killed. If you have no clear destination in mind, like you would for a 72-hour bag as described extensively through SurvivalBlog, you are planning to become a refugee, not a survivalist.
Now that you have realistic expectations for your future, how can you prepare for it? There is nothing wrong with taking some steps now to prepare for becoming a refugee. In fact, thinking ahead of time could actually prevent you from ever getting to such a desperate place.
What would becoming a refugee look like?
Let’s look at a recent refugee crisis. In Syria an insurrection against the government turned into a full out civil war, which has lasted for years. Most normal people were not involved in the fighting and just wished for things to return to normal. But in many cities, the fighting eventually got so bad that local business were forced to close, leaving people without a means of earning money. With no money, people were unable to buy food. Food itself became scarce as delivery became dangerous.
Eventually normal families that may have not been in physical danger were forced by hunger to leave in search of food to eat. Others after seeing fighting in their backyard or maybe having a loved one killed decided to leave for an area of greater stability and safety.
In either case, realize that the need and desire for food and safety will always create a greater sense of urgency than the need for a roof over your head. A hungry or thirsty person will do anything in their pursuit of food, including leaving a house they have been paying for their whole lives. You would too, if the situation arose.
In Syria many people left their homes, either after careful consideration or as an immediate response to danger. Some packed as much as they could; others escaped with just the the clothes they were wearing.
If there was no close relative or friend they could go to, many were forced to leave and move to a different city or country. Once in a new location, they had no means of earning income other than manual labor, and many have became dependent on charity to survive. At the time of writing this many still live in massive refugee cities that are entirely supported by foreign and local aid. They have only the possessions they carried with them and whatever has been provided through charity.
What did they bring with them? I think that looking at some of their stories we can pick out common themes. Below are links to articles where refugees were asked what was the most important item they brought with them. Scroll through them if you have the time, and then we will discuss what the common themes were.
- World Refugee Day: What Would You Take With You?
- Syrian refugees with the precious possession they just couldn’t leave behind
- Congolese refugees flee fighting
- Syrian Refugee Crisis: What Would You Take With You?
- Photo of laden refugees
Before we start digging into the meat of what a refugee will need, let’s first assume that you have already packed a 72hr Bug Out Bag and have the essential items listed for that. A Refugee Bug Out Bag is built upon that foundation and does not necessarily need to be a different bag. That would be just too expensive. Instead, look at any differentiated items below and consider adding them to separate stuff sacks that can be paired with your 72hr Bag if you were leaving home without a clear destination. If there is no way it will all fit, consider investing in a larger bag or the alternative transportation methods listed at the end of the article.
There were several common items that you in the articles above where you can see as a trend what is valuable in the eyes of a refugee.
Many refugees describe their most valuable possession as something that gives them hope. Something that gives them the will to live through hell and keep hoping for something better.
These could be:
- Holy book
- Picture of family or loved ones
- Diploma or certifications
- Precious family heirloom
- Favorite toy
- Identification and important documents
These items are usually lightweight and the last thing that these refugees would give up.
What gives you hope? Would a picture of your family keep you trudging on if you were separated from them? Would reading from scripture calm your soul in the midst of hell on earth? What is your child’s favorite toy that could help keep them sane if their whole world changed? Find something that is precious to you and put it with your 72hr Bug Out Bag and your Refugee Bug Out Bag.
Many refugees cite their family or friends as being all that they need. Don’t forget to plan for your family if you are thinking you may at some point become a refugee.
You will rarely see refugees on their own. They have a tendency to group with others in similar plights. Why is this? Well, first off is loneliness. Being separated from everything that makes life stable is extremely isolating and depressing. Other people can keep you mentally sane. Don’t plan on being a lone wolf refugee; you won’t make it far.
The second reason is safety. As the old saying goes, “There is safety in numbers”. Refugees are extremely vulnerable. Alone, they can easily be overpowered and have what little they have taken from them. As a group, though, it is a little more difficult without a substantial force to control them. A group of refugees is also harder to ignore and when necessary can take what they need by force. In an emergency that justifies swarms of people to abandon their homes and seek safety elsewhere, groups of refugees are your best bet for survival, but they may also provide some of the greatest threats on the road when two groups intersect with conflicting wants.
To help protect yourself and the others that will be traveling with you, it makes sense to have access to firearms. Have a long distance rifle that can help minimize threats from a distance, and also keep a small pistol so that you can remain stealthily armed if you need to go somewhere carrying a rifle would not be prudent.
Look at pictures of refugees on the move, and you will see that a large part of the load they carry is related to shelter. Blankets, tarps, ground pads and clothing are absolutely necessary for survival. Try sleeping outside on the ground without a ground pad and bedding. You can’t. In order to survive during the day, you need a good sleep at night.
At a bare minimum, plan on having a roll up ground pad, sleeping bag, and a tarp. The pad provides some cushioning from the ground and insulates your body from having all its heat sucked into the earth. Bedding keeps you separated from bugs and retains body heat. A tarp can be set up as a roof or additional ground pad depending on the weather. If you want to have additional shelter options, get a tent large enough for your family to all sleep together. Just make sure you have at least one tarp for a ground pad under your tent, and ideally you will have an additional tarp that is twice the footprint of your tent that you can hang over your tent to minimize your tent’s direct exposure to rain and keep the ground surrounding you dry.
The easiest way to get these items if you don’t already have them is to organize a family camping trip. Not only will you have the justification to buy tents and sleeping bags, you will also get to try everything out.
In addition to the shelter you need for sleeping, you need shelter for the daytime. This consists of the clothes you will be wearing and whatever else you can afford to carry.
Many refugees cited their shoes as their most prized possession. A good pair of waterproof hiking boots can keep you going farther than flip flops. Make sure you have good new boots for everyone in your family. Either keep a spare pair of everyone’s size or make sure you refresh them frequently.
Don’t forget extra socks as well; they wear out quickly. Just plan on having at least three pair, changing them daily to prevent blisters and prematurely aging. Wash and air dry the used pairs while another is being worn.
Moving up the body you want a pair of pants that will last. Buy some quality denim or hiking pants that will last a lot longer than you think you will need them. Frogtoggs makes lightweight waterproof pants that you can carry and only use if it is raining to help keep you dry.
The torso layering is key. Instead of packing a heavy jacket, have multiple layers starting with a t-shirt of Under Armour, followed by increasing long sleeve layers with a waterproof shell jacket on top. This combination allows you to dress for whatever the weather is and not have too many extra clothes to carry.
If you look at many pictures of refugees, you will often times see them carrying multiple large water containers. This is because water is absolutely critical. You won’t realize how valuable water is until you don’t have it. Water is obviously used for drinking, but it is also essential for food preparation and hygiene. Having the ability to carry large quantities of water with you is necessary, and if you are moving on a long trip the weight of the water will decrease as time goes on as it is consumed, and you can just hold onto the container for when the next refill opportunity comes.
Have some clear PBA free Nalgene and one gallon water jugs that can be used for solar water purification. When you fill them from a clear pollutant free source just put a coffee filter or bandanna over the top to keep out sediment, and then expose them to sunlight for at least 6 hours to let the solar radiation kill any harmful bacteria that are present. This is a longer version of using a Steripen but without the need for batteries and can be happening passively while you do other things.
Also keep some larger 5-gallon containers on hand for storing purified water or grey water for cooking. A 5-gallon pail can be used to carry water from a far location to camp, and then double as a container for cooking supplies when on the road.
Other methods of filtering include boiling water, using a Lifestraw or camping water purifier, or adding 1/8 teaspoon (8 drops) of bleach to a gallon of water.
All of these require specialized tools with finite lifespans. That is why it is recommended to have clear bottles that can be used with UV energy from the sun, since as long as you have the bottle you will have a means of purifying the water.