Disclosure: When you buy through links on our site we may earn a commission. Learn more.

What I Learned about Bug Out Bag Planning from Thru-Hikers

Last Updated: May 22, 2020

I’m a big believer that we should all get out of our comfort zones sometimes.  Faced with new perspectives, we can come up with better ideas.  This applies to Bug Out Bag planning too.

Thru-hikers are backpackers who trek long distances, such as completing the Appalachian Trail or Pacific Crest Trail. After spending a lot of time with thru-hikers, I’ve found that they have a lot of the same gear philosophies as preppers planning Bug Out Bags.

Bear in mind that thru-hikers aren’t packing for Doomsday and know that they will be able to go home.  However, they do cross long distances and need to carry all the gear needed to survive with them.

Sound like bugging out?

Here are just some of the main lessons I’ve learned about Bug Out Bag planning from thru-hikers.

If you are a thru-hiker and prepper, I’d love to hear your insight in the comments!

1. Test Your Gear

It seems like all thru-hikers have a story about some newbies who hit the trail only to realize they couldn’t pitch their tent or light their stove.

Before packing any survival gear for your BOB, make sure you have tested it in the field so you’ll know how to utilize it when SHTF.

2. Weight Matters

Soldier with backpack

The first time I packed a Bug Out Bag, it ended up being over 40lbs.  I didn’t have to test that pack to realize it was too heavy!

However, even “lighter” Bug Out Bags will problematic in a SHTF situation.  Try running through the woods with 30lbs on your back and you’ll see what I mean.

Thru-hikers are masters of lightweight packing.  These are the people who cut the corners off their maps and break the handles off their toothbrushes to shed a few ounces!

Read these Tips to Cut Weight from Your Bug Out Bag.

3. Refueling Makes All the Difference

It isn’t uncommon for thru-hikers to spend 3+ months on the trail.  Obviously, you can’t carry 3 month’s worth of food on your back.  So what do the hikers do?  They make refueling stops.

Here’s how refueling works with thru-hikers:

They mail food and supplies to places like post offices, stores, and other designated resupply spots (they are listed in trail guides).   When they’ve hiked to that area, they come down from the trail and pick up their supplies.

Generally thru-hikers will resupply every 3-6 days.  Andrew Skurka recommends resupplying about every 25 miles.  By resupplying more often, you are able to keep your pack weight down so you can cover more ground.

How it applies to Bug Out Bag planning:

During a SHTF disaster, you won’t be able to send supply parcels to yourself.  However, a lot of serious preppers do leave gear caches for themselves.

Plan your bug out route.  Then identify points along the way where you could leave packages.  PVC piping makes for a good survival cache.

4. Know Where Water Sources Are

At 2lbs per quart, water should be one of the heaviest items in your Bug Out Bag. Generally, people need 2 quarts of water per day.  However, when hiking or bugging out, you use more energy and consume more water.

There are many variables when calculating how much water to bring.  Generally, you’ll need 2 cups per hour of trekking.  This doesn’t include water needed for cooking. The water – and weight – can add up quickly!

To cut down on water, thru-hikers plan their trips around water sources.  When making your Bug Out plan, note locations of water on the map.  You’ll be able to cut a lot of weight this way.

Read: How to find water in the wilderness.

5. Two Is NOT One

As a prepper, you might have heard the phrase, “Two is one, and one is none.” This makes complete sense when stockpiling survival supplies for your home.  However, doubling up on gear is just going to weigh down your Bug Out Bag.

You’ll never see a thru-hiker with two water filters, two knives, and an extra jacket just in case.  Take a cue from these experienced hikers and don’t double up gear in your BOB either.

6. Plan for Zero Days

In thru-hiking, a “zero day” is a day where you cover zero miles.  The thing is, thru-hikers can never anticipate when they will need these zero days.

For example, my old buddy Richard went on a 500+ mile trek.  Bear in mind that Richard runs Iron Mans and is in insanely good shape. However, Rich wasn’t used to walking downhill and his calves were burning from it.  After the second day, the muscle pain was so bad that he couldn’t move.

Luckily, Rich had planned a zero day. If he hadn’t (and thus hadn’t packed an extra day’s food before the next resupply stop), he would have been very hungry in the woods.

During a Bug Out situation, you never know what will happen.  You could get injured, slowed by bad weather, or just get really tired.  So always include some extra “zero” time in your Bug Out plan.

7. Expensive Socks Are Worth It

socksOne of the top rules of survival is take care of your feet.  The last thing you need is a friggin’ blister slowing you down!

We like these Darn Tough Merino Wool Socks available on Amazon. High performance, blister proof and come with an unconditional lifetime guarantee.

Thus, it is really worth it to spend some money on good-quality socks for your Bug Out Bag. Likewise, be prepared to spend money on other essentials like:

This gear is essential for survival and you don’t want to rely on cheap gear which could fail on you.

8. Your Kids Are Tougher than You’d Think

On many sites, including this one, there has been a lot of talk about bugging out with children.  For many, it is their worst nightmare. But your kids are probably a lot tougher than you realize.

I’m constantly surprised by how many thru-hikers take their kids with them.  AND the kids actually are up for the journey!  Like the Kallin Family whose kids have done 30+ mile days on thru-hikes.

Instill survival skills in your kids and they’ll be up for the task too.

9. Fancy Gear Isn’t Necessary

sporkA GPS navigation system, ​titanium spork, and water bladder are all great pieces of gear – but they are also expensive and unnecessary.

In many cases, simple “old school” gear is just as effective as the fancy gear.  For example, you can easily use an old plastic bottle for water instead of those expensive water bladders. And I’d rather have a map and compass over a GPS which could die on me.

Some gear shouldn’t be skimped on (like good quality socks).  For the rest, consider these cheap thru-hiking gear alternatives.

10. Practice Animal Safety

One thing that thru-hikers know is to be careful of wild animals.  I’m not just talking about bears, cougars, and wolves either.

Just imagine how ridiculous would it be to die because all of your survival food was eaten by squirrels!

Some of the core animal safety rules are:

  • Always hang a bear bag or bear canister (even when not in bear country – other critters could still eat your food).
  • Never keep food in your tent.
  • Avoid walking at night.
  • Check for ticks.
  • Pepper spray is more effective than a gun for stopping bears.
  • Stay in groups.
  • Be aware.

11. Foraging and Hunting Aren’t Practical

So many preppers believe in the “lone wolf survivor” mentality.  They believe that they’ll go into the wilderness with just the basics and be able to forage/hunt all their food.

It takes a LONG time to search for food. You won’t be able to cover any meaningful distance if you are foraging along the way.  And, if you are bugging out, then you are also trying to flee.

As thru-hikers will quickly tell you (like in this forum discussion), you’ll probably burn more calories searching for food than you actually gain.

Even with resupplying, it is common for thru-hikers to lose more than 15lbs on a trip. If they were relying on foraged/hunted foods, they’d probably lose a lot more.

Learn to forage/hunt as a way of supplementing your food while fleeing.  However, if you want to live off of the land, you’ll need to be hunkered down in one spot.

Do you thru-hike? What insights can you add to Bug Out Bag planning?

Want to level up your prepping?

15 full color in-depth survival, off grid and prepping guides. Now 35% OFF!

Check out our Ebook bundle. Instant download!

ebook cover image
ebook cover image
ebook cover image
ebook cover image
ebook cover image
ebook cover image
ebook cover image
ebook cover image
ebook cover image
ebook cover image
ebook cover image
ebook cover image
ebook cover image
ebook cover image

Learn More

Leave a comment

  1. 1. Do all of your next day prep the night before.
    2. Plan to move at first light.
    3. Learn about weather and constantly pay attention to changes.
    4. When moving, take the time to monitor behind you.
    5. Before leaving a spot, walk two or three circles around the area to see what might have been accidentally been left behind.
    6. Schedule breaks. Hydrate, check your feet, and your pack, and snack.


Leave a Comment