When it comes to a SHTF situation, experienced preppers know that bugging out should be a last resort. Yes, there are some preppers out there who believe that they can simply pack a bug out bag and take off to live in the woods or travel hundreds of miles to a bug out location with no problems.
And it’s not impossible to bug out and survive. But it is extremely difficult and fraught with unpredictable threats and obstacles, even for the most experienced.
So the first thing to understand is that unless you live in a densely populated urban environment, the safer option for most people is to plan to bug in. The experienced single adult prepper or adult couple typically stands a better chance of bugging out than families.
But, if circumstances arise that make your home or current location perilous, your odds of survival go up if you plan in advance how to bug out if you have kids.
Some of the biggest issues of bugging out with kids in tow are mobility, safety, comfort, and supplies. In this guide, we’ll cover how to plan differently for these issues based on the age of your child.
Mobility Plan When Bugging Out with Kids
One of the biggest obstacles when bugging out with kids is mobility. Whether you are fortunate enough to travel by car or forced to bug out on foot, your safety depends on how quickly you can get to safety. Bugging out is difficult and many things can go wrong.
When you have kids in tow during a bug out, your mobility plans must take into account the physical limitations for you and for them.
Infants, Toddlers, & Preschool Age Kids
Infants obviously will need to be carried the entire time since they are not walking. But even your toddler or preschool age kids are not strong enough to walk on their own for long distances or over rough terrain. If you end up bugging out on foot at any point during your trip, having to carry a child can cause a huge problem if you aren’t prepared.
Even when young children are able to walk, letting them do so for long periods of time or over rough terrain, will slow the entire family down. This means someone has to plan to carry them when necessary. It’s important to plan for this extra weight when packing the rest of your bug out supplies.
The type of child carrier you choose can be critical to the success of your bug out trip. There are child carrier/backpack combinations, babywearing slings, front or back carriers, bike trailers, wagons, strollers, etc. Whatever method you choose should be comfortable for you child and for you and should allow you to move easily over any type of terrain.
Toddlers and Preschool kids need to learn and practice standing back up without help if they fall down, how to move carefully over uneven ground, how to go up and down stairs without help, etc. Teaching your young kids these mobility skills will help them be more mobile during a bug out situation if necessary.
Elementary School Age Kids
Even when your kids are older and capable of walking longer distances, it’s a good idea to plan for an alternative way to carry them or keep them moving when they get tired or if they are injured. For school age kids, this can be a child carrier if they are light enough. But in most cases, you’ll want to consider a sturdy wagon, a pull behind sled (depending on terrain), a bicycle built for two or one with a child seat, motorized scooter, etc.
For school age kids, it’s also a good idea to gradually get them used to traveling long distances on foot or on a bicycle before you need to rely on their ability in a bug out situation. Make family walks, marathon runs, or bike rides part of your daily routine to help build endurance.
Teach kids to observe the ground and their surroundings the best way to walk on slippery ground, muddy surfaces, or rocky ground. Practice orienteering skills first on your own property and then in other places they could find themselves such as a park or nearby woods. Above all when traveling on foot with school age kids, make sure your bug out plan includes frequent stops for rest along the way.
Middle & High School Age Kids
When planning to bug out with middle and high school age kids, mobility issues will be somewhat easier. Kids this age for the most part are able to walk longer distances on their own. They can carry most if not all of their own gear and supplies. To ensure that older kids can effectively carry their own supplies, take time to carefully choose a backpack that fits their body so that weight is balanced.
Comfort When Bugging Out with Kids
Kids are naturally more anxious when they are uncomfortable. If your bug out planning includes ways to keep your kids as comfortable as possible, you can minimize the emotional trauma they experience during the event.
Infants, Toddlers, & Preschoolers
One issue to consider when bugging out with an infant or toddler is noise level. In a SHTF situation, things will be chaotic. There will likely be a lot of noises, such as shouting, screaming, sirens, or gunfire, that your infant or toddler aren’t familiar with that can cause them to be upset and scared. Plan ways to reduce noise level for your child either with earplugs, a headcovering, traveling when others tend to sleep, or even singing songs or playing soft music to distract them from what’s happening and keep them calm. The more comfortable your kids are during a bug out trip, the less traumatic it will be.
You will need to make sure to plan for and address elimination needs for your infant or toddler who is not potty trained. Disposable diapers will need to be wrapped and somehow disposed of and cloth diapers will need to be washed, neither of which are an easy feat during a bug out trip. Consider exploring the newest parenting trend of diaperless training to handle elimination needs daily and for any future bug out trips.
Elementary School Age Kids
The noise and chaos of a SHTF event during a bug out can be particularly worrisome for school age kids. They are old enough to understand that something is not normal and this can make them very uncomfortable.
So, for school age kids, some of the distraction tips such as ear plugs or music, and traveling when fewer people are out can help. It also helps to bring along entertainment items such as portable games, puzzles, coloring books, etc. to help distract school age kids during rest periods. Comfort items such as a favorite hat, t-shirt, stuffed animal, pillow, or blanket can help school age kids feel more comfortable too.
Middle & High School Age Kids
For middle and high school age kids, comfort can be important to keeping a bug out trip from becoming traumatic. Older kids are more capable but they often feel they are invincible. Although older kids are capable of packing their own bug out bags, it’s important to double check their gear and supplies to make sure they’ve packed appropriately so they will have what they need to feel comfortable.
Safety When Bugging Out with Kids
Infants, Toddlers, & Preschool Kids
Infants and toddlers often express their needs vocally. They are far too young to understand that crying or laughter can actually alert someone to their presence and potentially put the whole family in danger. A child who is overly hungry, thirsty, or who has a soiled diaper tends to act out and cry.
Increase the safety of the entire family when bugging out with kids by planning for and anticipating the needs of your child. You may also want to teach young children hand signals to communicate their needs. They could tap you on the shoulder or the head, tug your shirt, etc. to let you know they need assistance with basic needs such as hunger, thirst, or if they are cold, etc.
Another way to keep toddlers and preschool kids safe during a bug out is by teaching them about the need for protection from the elements. Remind your young children on a daily basis that the weather determines what kind of clothing they wear. Saying something like “oh look it’s raining today, let’s put on our raincoat to keep us dry” or “it’s snowing today and it’s cold so let’s wear our gloves, hat, and boots to keep us warm” can help prevent young children from resisting protective clothing on during a bug out.
Elementary School Age Children
Children this age can get talkative or restless when they are bored. If you are trying to travel without being noticed, you must anticipate the needs of your child and plan ways to keep them calm and quiet. But you also need to explain to school age kids as much as possible about what is happening and reassure them that you have a plan to keep them safe.
Start teaching young kids leadership and basic survival skills early on so that putting the skills into practice will feel more normal for them. Let them show you the way to the barn from the house, or let them direct you when driving to Grandma’s house or to school. As they are able, teach them to read street signs and pay attention to things like stop signs, crosswalk markings, and teach them to follow road signs to get to safe places such as schools, churches, police stations, and hospitals.
Kids this age can also be taught basic safety procedures to protect themselves during natural disasters or severe weather. Tornado drills, fire drills, and earthquake drills teach kids to get to safety. At this age, kids can help gather firewood, create a firepit, and even light a fire and build shelters while camping as their skills progress. Have kids carry or wear a signaling whistle during outings and make sure they know when to use it if they get separated from the family. The older the kids are, the more they can participate in staying safe.
Safety for Middle and High School Age Kids
Safety during a bug out for older kids involves making sure they know what the bug out plan is and what steps to take to protect themselves if something goes wrong. Older children can be given more information about what is happening but be careful not to balance knowledge of danger with reassurance of a plan of action. Older kids should have and know how to use all of the gear and supplies needed to keep them safe if they are separated from the family unexpectedly.
Teach kids how to pay attention to their surroundings daily and make sure they know how to find their bearings by looking for landmarks, observing the sun or stars, and using a compass. Kids this age should be able to direct someone else who might be driving them home from school functions.
Help them identify which exit on the highway leads to home and which main cross streets are near home, school, or other places they visit frequently. Finding their way home from different parts of your neighborhood or city should become second nature. Older kids need to know the way from your home or their school to your bug out location so they could get there without you if needed. They should also know how to contact a nearby relative in an emergency if for some reason they can’t reach you.
Supplies and Gear to Pack
- Instant or Powdered Formula (even for breastfeeding infants)
- Up to 3 gallons of water daily for bottle washing
- Bottled water for making formula
- Baby Food
- Pre Sterilized bottles or bottle liners
- Extra Layerable Clothing
- Infant Medication
- Infant Carrier/Backpack Combination
- Sturdy stroller (should have all terrain wheels)
- Bike with bike seat or bike trailer for small children
- Protection from elements (sun, rain, snow, etc.)
- Prenatal or Multivitamins for breastfeeding moms
- Evaporated milk, powdered milk, coconut oil, sugar are great items to include if possible as they can be used to create an emergency formula.
- Zip lock bags for sealing away soiled diapers until disposable is possible
- Electrolyte packets
- Infant Tylenol or Motrin
- Harness and leash
Elementary School Age Kids
- Sturdy wagon
- Quick Snacks
- Spare Clothing and Shoes
- Extra Socks
- Protection from Elements
- Favorite Stuffed Animal or Comfort Item
- Books, Simple Toys
- Juice Boxes or Water Bottle
- Small Backpack (no more than 5 pounds depending on age)
- Weather Accessories (gloves, hat, sunglasses, etc.)
- Flashlight or headlamp
- Signaling whistle and signal mirror
- Tested anti pollution child mask
- Contact information for relatives
- Melatonin or other natural sleep aid approved for children
- Family photos
- Medical ID
- Glow sticks
- Lollipops (keeps kids quieter)
- Safety Wrist Strap or Backpack with Leash
- Crayons and Pencils, Coloring or Puzzle books
- Quiet portable games such as Spot it Game or Story Cubes
- Ready to Eat Meals
- Personal Hygiene items
Middle & High School Age Kids Gear and Supplies
- Collapsible Bicycle and Bike Cargo Trailer
- Extra layered clothing and socks
- Map of local area
- Signaling mirror and signaling whistle
- N95 respirator mask
- Fire starting materials appropriate for skill level
- Bottled water
- Knife appropriate for skill level
- Family photos
- Medical ID
- Emergency contact information
- Alternative method of communication (spare cell phone, handheld radio, etc.)
- First aid kit
- Paracord and shelter materials
- Sudoku, crossword, or logic puzzle books
- Playing Cards
- Ready to Eat Meals
- Personal Hygiene items
- Canteen and Lifestraw or other water filter
For additional ideas of survival skills and other tasks to teach kids on a daily basis which will help keep them mobile, comfortable, and safe during a bug out trip read Free Range Children: Could Your Kids Survive SHTF on Their Own?
There is no guarantee that things will go smoothly during a bug out trip but with proper planning of how to bug out if you have kids, you can greatly improve your odds of survival.
A mother of four and grandmother of nine boys and one girl, Megan is living the lifestyle any prepper would want. Gardening, homesteading and constantly planning for emergencies big and small, she’s a beacon of knowledge in the prepping community.
7 thoughts on “How to Bug Out If You Have Children”
here is a you tube audio book serie. it covers moving with children, fiction but i would buy it.
it’s christmas break, might be a good idea to set the kids down at night and just be quiet and listen.
”Cold Camp” started out as a shareware / freeware story a long time ago. I have read it and still have a pdf copy, and if you are interested let me know.
I suspect that you and I both often pause to listen to our surroundings with yours being punctuated by the loud hum of the substation and mine being occasional road noise. If people would stop, be quiet and listen, it can be amazing what gets noticed as being or not being in the environment.
While this situation does not apply to me, I’ll start things off with a mention of a great item that may be used with small children, or even if you don’t have any and need additional help transporting equipment. You show something similar in your article; but, my experience with pushing a bicycle trailer has always been that they are really designed to be towed, with the push bar as an afterthought.
It’s a 3-wheeled off road or trail, running or jogging stroller. I had friends who had one of these years ago and I would often run into them rather far into the field or woods with one of their kids in tow, out for an afternoon run or stroll. While I don’t know anything about current versions or this particular one, here is an example: https://www.amazon.com/BOB-Utility-Jogging-Stroller-Meadow/dp/B01BSPDQ8S/ref=sr_1_7_s_it?s=baby-products&ie=UTF8&qid=1545849115&sr=1-7&keywords=Utility+Jogging+Stroller
When you state:
While this could be a general case, I think that your location will play a large role, and in our case and those of most of our neighbors, this kind of chaos is unlikely.
I think the best thing here is to make things like camping and heating with wood as normal as you can, and that means practice. My boys would often camp in the back yard on a weekend, where they had a warm house and bathroom available if needed; but, the important thing is that they got used to being in a circumstance where it was a bit uncomfortable, and they learned to cope.
Looking at your list, I don’t find anything to add, except that good and efficient communications takes practice, so get a pair or two of the FRS / GMRS radios, learn to use them with your family and friends, and keep them or their batteries charged, so you can grab & go on a moment’s notice. Keep the chatter down, and make communications brief and useful. This could also be used as a game for younger kids, about who can get the message across with the fewest words.
I recently purchased a pair of FRS/GMRS radios at Aldi’s for only $20.00, so get some and start learning to use them now.
When I started prepping my kid’s we’re 4, 8, 17, now I have a 14, 18, 27, the oldest is married and off on his own the middle child, will be graduating January of 20, and the youngest, is the one that we will have a few years more with.
I have put stuff in there backpacks, given a house key too, Unless it gets super bad we will stay home, they are close to home from school less then 5 minutes away and since my middle child, is 18, she can sign her brother out for me, that makes me feel better.
mom of three,
When I started prepping I had no wife or children; but, ended up marrying into a family with 10 and 15 year old boys (stepsons) who already live with their mom in a rural location where we could shoot and camp in the back yard. The boys are gone and on their own with the oldest (an engineer) living at the edge of the closest large city (Columbus). The other boy lives at the edge of Cleveland and is a Marketing and Business (MBA, DBA) guy, who did a stint in the Marines where he was trained as a Scout Sniper. Both are quite capable of handling their own affairs from my training and that of the Boy Scouts and their Grandfather.
Nine years into the marriage we had a daughter who will be 28 next month, and while she has the right training and attitude, lives in the Boston area, where I personally think things could get much worse than here on the farm.
I recall an allegorical story many years ago about flying a kite. You catch the wind and it spins and crashes, at which point you adjust the string connections and the tail, so it flies a bit longer; but, then crashes again. A few more tweaks to the tail and it’s now flying quite well, at which point you start letting out string and watching it fly higher and higher. At some point it’s flying a very long distance away and then the string breaks; but, the kite keeps flying on its own, without you holding the string. For a brief moment you are sad; but, then you see that kite out there, performing all on its own, and remember, that all of that adjusting and tweaking got it there, and realize that the whole point of the exercise was to let go of the string.
We do the best we can and in adulthood they do what they will and deal with the consequences.
You are doing everything you can do, and in the end, we can really do nothing more than that. While I suspect most parents think about the safety of their children, I think too often, the details get lost in the everyday fight for survival.
This article makes a good stab at the general issue; but, since everyone of us has a different situation and resources, all we can do is pick the things that help us or add what we have done, for others to contemplate. Being aware and doing ”something” is IMHO the important part.
Teaching kids how to bug out might be stressful but kids are naturally more than terrified when they are uncomfortable. You’ve included ways to keep kids comfortable as possible. It’s true that it can minimize the emotional trauma they experience during this kind of event.
Great post Megan! ‘Normalizing’ the activities involved in ‘bugging out’ from a young age, camping, hiking, directions, etc. are very important not only in ‘bugging out’, but for general survival. Our kids are all adults now, and as ‘citified’ and obsessed with social media as the next person. But they were all brought up campers, and my two know how to shop frugally, stock up, and cook basics. One stepdaughter (I don’t consider her a ‘step’, she’s as much my own even tho I didn’t meet her til she was 18), is fully on board, and raising her kids out in the country, her DH and his family are of like mind. So I’m happy that at least a couple of the grands are being raised ‘right’. While I doubt they would need to bug out based on their location, I am sharing this, just in case.