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How To Bug Out Without Being Seen

by Derrick James

What would you rather do when bugging out solo or with your loved ones:

A. Blast your way through a fire fight
B. Move invisibly to safety

Do you know how to bug out? While a “fight your way out” scenario is much more dramatic, it’s also much more of a fantasy. When the chips are down, you’ll do anything you can to avoid conflict, especially if you’re with your loved ones.

The best bug out item isn’t your 100 rounds of ammo, it’s a cloak of invisibility.

how bug out hidden

Let’s start with some principles:

  • Navigation
  • Maneuverability
  • Visibility
  • Conflict avoidance

Navigate Your Way Around Conflict

Those skilled in avoiding traffic will know this lesson best. If you know an alternative route, you can win against the horde. Sometimes this means traveling a different route, sometimes it means traveling when others aren’t.

  • Discover alternate paths to your destination. A map and compass will take you anywhere you want. News of where you can find safety is no good if you don’t know how to get there.
  • See what’s ahead before it sees you. A radio will keep you informed miles before you reach a storm, traffic jam, or conflict area. A pair of binoculars will let you see a dangerous person before they see you.
  • Become familiar with alternate routes through your area and mark them on your map. Find bike paths and back roads. Despite biking through my city for 10 years, I am still finding new paths on a fairly regular basis. GPS doesn’t always show where these sorts of things are and how they link together.

Related: 3 Bug Out Lessons from a SWAT Officer

Knowing what’s coming before anyone else does is a superpower. Use it any way you can.

Maneuver Down the Path Less Traveled

Think like M. Scott Peck’s best-selling book The Road Less Traveled, only… bugging out. Maneuverability is about being able to go where others cannot. Stay light and go fast.

Pack Light – Move Faster

The lighter you are, the farther you can travel. The faster you move the less likely you are to be caught up in a conflict area. Less weight equals more miles, which means entire days worth of ground covered.

  • Start with your feet. One pound on your feet is equal to five pounds on your back. Ditch the heavy boots for lighter ones. Consider lighter weight options like trail runners – this is what the vast majority of long-distance backpackers use. Pair them with gaiters and long pants for leg and ankle debris protection.
  • Keep your pack light. If you haven’t traveled with your pack yet, do it. You’ll be amazed what you can get rid of and how much you will hate carrying 40 lbs or more.
  • Study lightweight backpackers and bushcrafters. Sub-25-pound packs are completely possible.

Two Wheel Bug Out “Vehicles”

Without delving into the many bug out vehicles and combinations thereof, keep it simple by considering two-wheeled vehicles like bikes and motorcycles. If you’re lucky enough to start your bug out with one of these, you’ll be miles ahead of others in no time.

  • Better suspension and bigger tires means you can traverse terrain that other vehicles can’t. If you can ride over rocks, grass, trails, and through fields you can stay off the road and out of sight with ease.
  • Remember, if your gear is too heavy, these options can disappear. Even more difficult than hiking with a heavy pack is trying to bike with one. Your body weight on a two-wheeled vehicle is mostly on your butt and arms – not your legs.
  • Bike trailers generally have little or no suspension. Try to keep all your gear on your bike frame or in your pack.

Reduce Your Visibility

  • Use red light filters on flashlights.
  • Keep fires small. If you can, don’t build one at all.
  • Use background and shadows. Darkness is your friend. Follow and move through shadows whenever possible. If you’ve ever played capture the flag at night, you’ll know that the best players are the ones who employ this tactic.
  • Display a less-human shape when standing still. Humans can see other humans easily – we’ve got an eye for our own kind. It’s easy to change your human form though. Hide your face and head most of all, feet and hands next.
  • Take cover when possible; let it shape your movement.
  • Get up high. People generally don’t look up. You can notice this most readily with children and animals – things that happen above their line of sight may as well not exist. Particularly when you’re idle or resting, if you can make it to a location just one story above ground level, most people will not catch your presence in their line of sight.

Avoid Interaction that Can Lead to Conflict

Sometimes you can be seen and still not really be seen. The gray man is the one who blends with his surroundings.

I traveled in the Philippines for 4 months. Employing gray man philosophy while traveling is probably the easiest way to see it in action. Things I experienced:

  • Little / no harassment from scammers targeting tourists.
  • People spoke to me in their native language thinking that I would know it.
  • Getting the “local price” on goods and services.
  • Locals generally ignoring my presence as though I was just another person.

What was my gray man outfit? A used, red soccer jersey from a local store and flip flops. I carried a thrift store backpack and even my computer looked old and indiscreet. I paid for things with cash and coins, not cards. Sometimes the gray man isn’t “gray” at all. Muted colors aren’t going to do you any good if you still look like the richest person in a room.

It’s not about not looking like a prepper. It’s about not looking like anyone of relative importance or interest. What that means is:

  • You don’t look like you have anything worth stealing.
  • You don’t stick out as a person to stop and frisk.

Try it Out

Practice, practice, practice. If you haven’t already, travel around your city on foot or bike and discover the paths less traveled. You might be surprised how far you can go hardly seeing another human, even in densely populated areas.

Try out your map and compass skills. Get a map of your area. Try a route you know first, then one that you don’t. Doing this just a few times will make you familiar with very basic land navigation skills that will pay dividends.

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