Practice Might Not Make Perfect, But it’s Still Your Best Bet.
Planning, especially effective planning, is the art of determining what you want or need to do and then thinking through each task so you know ahead of time what you’ll do. If you want to be effective in preparedness and survival situations, you should give yourself permission, and the time, to sit down and think through the various scenarios you expect to face.
Think About the Unexpected
The basics for typical emergency scenarios are obvious to most of us, but each has its own unique needs and challenges that we need to think through.
For instance, your planned route out of town might be blocked by a washed-out bridge, so you need to have multiple alternatives identified ahead of time. Then, when you hear about the obstacle, you know where the nearest alternate route is. If you can only start a fire in dry weather, you’ll need to think about wet or winter weather and how you’ll find dry fuel for your fire. What about your 70-year-old parents, whom you can’t take with you if you wanted to bug out? How will you handle that situation?
These are all actual scenarios your fellow preppers face and that you might need to address too.
When you’ve thought through a scenario, you should then capture the plan on paper so you’ll be able to access it when the time comes. Share it with your family and anyone else on your team who’ll need to know what to do and when and how to do it.
Put all the information you need in a binder or other secure organizer and make multiple copies—one for home, one for each vehicle and one to keep at work. Depending on the ages and capabilities of family or team members, this should also be distributed to them. What you put in it will depend on you and your group’s needs, but it should at least contain the details the others will need to know if you’re not there.
As important as planning is, it’s only one side of the preparedness “coin.” The other side is equally important, if not more so, and that’s practice. Two quotes from people who lived centuries apart give us insight into how important practicing our skills and testing our plans is to our success:
Publilius Syrus, a Syrian slave living in the time of the Roman Empire said, “Practice is the best of all instructors.” He was right on the money! You can’t get good at something without practicing it, and you can’t know if you plans will work or if you’ve thought through all the contingencies if you don’t test them out.
If you prefer something a little more current, legendary golfer Sam Snead said, “Practice puts brains in your muscles.” Without practicing skills and being aware of how you behave in different scenarios, you run the risk of being overcome by inertia when you have to stop and think about what to do—instead of letting “muscle memory” take over and lead you down the right set of actions.
Learn From Your Successes and Failures
How do we practice and test our plans? I’m glad you asked!
The best way to test out your plans is to pretend your scenario has happened. You now need to execute your bug-out plans.
A method that’s proven effective for bug-out plans is to turn a weekend into a bug-out “expedition.” Execute your plan and make sure you take notes on what did and didn’t work as you expected. You’ll also think of some other alternative scenarios you hadn’t considered during your planning, so write those down too, so you can think about them in your next planning session.
Getting Out of Dodge
The first thing you need to do is get everyone together and put everything in your designated bug-out vehicle. Now, you can see if all your gear will actually fit in there—along with all the people and pets. What will you do if half of your folks are not at home when you decide to start your bug-out? How do you let them know you’re bugging out? Where do they meet you if they can’t get home in time?
Once you have all your gear and people in one place, head out to the location you want to get to. If you try this at rush hour, it’ll give you an approximation of how long it’ll take with normal traffic; then, double this time to get an idea of what it might be when a hurricane is bearing down on you. In urban and restricted-access areas, you might need to add much more time to your estimate. If possible, investigate past traffic jams on your routes to get a sense of how bad things could get.
Check to see if the places you planned to get gas, provisions or medical supplies are still there. Try one or more of your alternate routes, even if you don’t run into an accident that’s blocked the roadway. Around most metropolitan areas, you can expect at least one accident each day during rush hour, so build that into your schedule.
“If you want to be effective in preparedness and survival situations, you should give yourself permission, and the time, to sit down and think through the various scenarios you expect to face.”
This leg of your journey is also a good time to see how handy you are with basic vehicle maintenance, such as changing a tire or adding coolant or motor oil. Pull over to the side of the road or into another safe area and change one of your tires. Did you have to unload everything you carefully packed back at the house? Can you keep everything dry if it’s raining outside when you have to change the tire? (A suggestion here is that maybe you need to revisit your loading plan; alternatively, keep the jack and spare tire on top of everything instead of under everything.)
Simulate Having to Go on Foot
You can make things easy on yourself by driving right up to your practice bug-out location, whether it’s a campsite at a local park, a friend’s house or your actual bug-out site. But, let’s not waste this opportunity: Stop a few miles short of your destination and put on your bug-out bag.
See how well you can handle walking along the road with it—or even better: Walk through the woods or across fields with it. Nothing will tell you how well you packed your BOB and what kind of shape you’re in (or aren’t in) than walking a few miles with 25 to 50 pounds on your back.
If you don’t want to leave the car on the side of the road, you can drive to where you need to be. Then, shoulder your BOB and take that hike out and back.
Your feet will also tell you if your shoes can handle walking a distance with a load and if they are broken in well enough. Nothing will incapacitate your faster than bad feet.
Give Me Shelter
“Gimme Shelter” might have been a hit for Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones, but it’s vitally important for you as you move to, or are at, your bug-out location. So, make shelter your first priority when you get there. Is it one of the first things you can take out of your bug-out bag? Can you put it up in the dark? How long will it take you to put it up if it’s raining or snowing? Take some time to practice doing it in adverse conditions later on in your stay.
The “elixir of life”—commonly known as water—is another vital element of any campsite or bug-out location. You can’t carry enough for more than a day or two, so having a way to collect and purify water is critical and should have been covered in your bug-out planning. (Do you know where to find water along your route and at your bug-out location?)
You should have multiple methods for turning bad water into good water. I normally carry two ways to make good water: A pump filter for processing large amounts of water is my primary method. If I don’t want to be stationary for the time it takes to pump the water I need, I carry iodine or chlorine tablets or UV purifiers for liter-sized containers.
“As important as planning is, it’s only one side of the preparedness ‘coin.’ The other side is equally important, if not more so, and that’s practice.”
Practice using your chosen tools along the way to your bug-out location or at the site. You want to get used to the little things, such as washing the treated water that’s around the neck and threads of your drinking bottle or back-washing your pump’s filter if it gets clogged.
Making a Fire
Fire is another thing for which the adage, “Two is one, and one is none,” comes into play. You should have at least two—and preferably three—ways to make a spark or flame so you can start a fire. BIC-style lighters, stormproof matches and a ferrocerium rod are a good mix. Couple these with some homemade fire starters, and you have the foundation for heat and light wherever you go. (For additional information, I wrote an article for American Survival Guide a few years ago that shows you easy ways to make fire starters. Check it out.
Cooking for One or More
You’ll be hungry, and food is a major contributor to your morale. So, make sure you can actually cook what you planned for your meals using whatever kind of stove, pots and utensils you brought with you. You might find that cooking over an open fire is very different from cooking on your electric stovetop at home or even on your charcoal grill in the backyard. These are skills that take time to develop, so put in the time while you’re at your shelter.
Getting There From Here
Every plan works … until you start to execute it … and then, the SHTF. You clearly need to adapt. Being able to use a map and compass, rather than a GPS, is a skill every outdoorsman and prepper needs to have in their bag of tricks. Start out simple, but use “terrain association” to figure out where you are on the map. Plot a three-legged course that goes from your location to a couple of landmarks and then returns to where you started. You can practice other skills along with this method if you want.
Practicing First Aid and Trauma
First aid is something you can practice any time during your practice excursion. Take a moment to familiarize yourself with the contents of your unopened first aid kit. Try to put a bandage on your arm; if you can only use one hand, it isn’t as simple as you thought. Put a tourniquet on your upper thigh: Is it big enough to go around your leg? Do you need to use a different method to stop arterial bleeding on your leg?
These are all practical things you should try out before you really need to do them. This especially applies to trauma care: You don’t have time to read the little handbook that came with your first aid kit while the trauma is occurring.
Updating Your Plans
You’ve made it through your emergency readiness exercise without killing yourself or breaking any major bones, and you’re back in the safety of your home. Now’s the time, while it’s all still fresh in your mind, to pull out your plans and the notes you wrote down about what worked and what didn’t work during the weekend.
Compare your notes to your plans and other information to see what you need to think about and/or possibly change. For example, add that new hospital to your list of medical facilities, or delete the one that isn’t there anymore. Add the new highway that was built last year that’s a good winter alternative to your primary route that goes through the mountains. Figure out how to plan for the family dog, because you didn’t think about him at all in your initial plans. Who would’ve thought that your spare tire went flat? Look for lighter-weight sleeping gear and start taking the kids on hikes, because they’re obviously not ready to carry their personal equipment if they have to walk part of the way.
Then, plan your next preparedness exercise to test out your new plans and reinforce the parts that worked well. Maybe do this in colder weather next time around or fake an injury to see how well someone else handles the leadership role.
What to Include in Your Bug-out Equipment
When doing your planning, think about two kinds of equipment: What gear goes in your bug-out bag, and what goes in your bug-out vehicle? The following isn’t a list of specific items; it’s a more useful overview of what kind of stuff to include:
- Shelter and sleep system
- Food and cooking gear
- Water and ways to treat and carry it
- Sanitation and hygiene
- Navigation and communication
- First aid
- Extra food and water for you and your family
- Extra supplies for your vehicle, as well as gasoline (maybe), engine oil, coolant, wiper blades and a battery-powered air compressor to refill a low tire
- A tire repair kit that uses plugs. Avoid the cans that spray foam into the tire, because the tire can’t be repaired after you use foam.
- Tire chains
- A piece of carpet to sit on in bad weather and to add traction under tires if you get stuck
- Family-sized first aid kit
- Duct and electrician’s tape
- Basic hand tools
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the July, 2020 print issue of American Survival Guide.