Camping or Bugging Out - Is There A Difference?

Camping or Bugging Out - Is There A Difference?

When you hear the term “bugging out” what runs through your head? Most likely, you’re envisioning strapping on your Go-Bag and heading out into the urban sprawl or outdoors to survive with nothing more than the gear on your back. My bet is no matter what situation causes you to strap that Go-Bag on though, chances are you’ll be spending some nights under the stars. Today I want to discuss the thin line between being prepared to go camping and full-on bugging out.

Let’s Define Camping

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Call it what you want, camping, glamping or a multi-day outdoor excursion, what it means to me is that you’re spending one or more nights outdoors. There’s no specific method I believe is necessary for camping and I've done everything from sleeping in a spacious Tent Mahal in a campground to hanging between trees in a lightweight hammock in the backwoods.

No matter where you’re headed or the method you’re using, camping involves sleeping, eating, drinking and killing time in the outdoors. It’s survival at its most basic form.

Is Bugging Out Different?

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When people reference “survival” it’s almost always in a last-ditch effort sort of way. However the reality is that we’re all just surviving on a day-to-day basis and the environment is all that’s changing. Some might have you believe that if the grid goes down, they’ll be hoofing it to some remote location and preparing their defenses against the impending zombie hordes.

Reality is a lot more slow-building and less exciting. We had a gas shortage in North Texas a couple years ago that opened a lot of eyes on what an emergency situation looked like. With nothing more than a word-of-mouth and social media filled rumor around Hurricane Harvey, gas stations all around North Texas were emptied. For that two day period, we saw signs notating empty gas stations, long lines for stations that did have fuel and an ever-expanding group of panicky people.

My point with this example is that by the time it actually comes to “bug out” you may not have the avenue of escape you anticipated or the time to make it before traffic and other people become a factor.

What Does This Have to Do with Camping?

I’ve been doing a lot of culling in my life recently, both with gear and mindset. I fell into the hobby of ultralight backpacking, which has helped me cut my gear down to the most extreme basics. What it’s made me realize is that whether I’m headed out for a fun weekend trip, or headed out because of a large-scale emergency, living outside has mostly the same requirements.

When I set out for a backpacking trip, I’m concerned with ensuring that I’m safe, comfortable, fed and hydrated. These principles don’t go away during an emergency so there isn’t much difference to me. The location I’m headed to might change and the routes or precautions I take might differ, but at the end of the day I’m just looking for a quiet spot to filter my water, eat my meals and hang up my hammock. I fear my glamping days are over, as lightening my gear has shown me you really don’t need to much to have a pretty pleasant experience in the outdoors.

Length of Time

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Any bag, pack, vehicle or cache is going to have a time limit on how long the supplies will last. Most people prep their "bug out bags" to last about 72 hours, with some supplies being able to stretch them longer. I’ve found that with my backpacking setup and lightweight freeze-dried meals, I have the maximum pack space for about 5 days of meals for one person at a little over 2,000 calories per day.

In an emergency, you could step the calorie count down a bit to stretch to 7-10, but it wouldn't be a comfortable time, especially if you’re moving between sleeping stops. I refer to this time limit as a “line of paranoia.” At a certain point, you have to draw your own line of paranoia and say, “in an emergency, I have the supplies to last XX minutes/hours/days.” Drawing my own line of paranoia, I think 5 comfortable days worth of food is plenty for both a camping trip and an emergency situation.


At the end of the day, camping and bugging out seem to share many of the same characteristics and requirements. By taking up this mindset, I feel much more comfortable about what to do in a situation where I’m forced to leave my home. Rather than worrying about running around the house grabbing the things I’ll think I’ll need, I can grab my camping pack that I keep loaded and know that I have the supplies to survive for at least five days. In addition, I'm not having to worry so much about getting to a specific location within something like a 24-48 hour window. This five day setup allows me to take a longer amount of time traveling so I can be more cautious.

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