Self-Defense When Bugging Out: 7 Tips to Keep In Mind

The following article is of the opinion of the author and not necessarily that of the publication’s. 

It is a sad fact of life that the world is a rough place and can easily get rougher. The greatest heights that we as a species may reach are limited only to the extent that we are also able to ensure that everyone can care for themselves.

In times past, this was not much of an issue as most people had to care for themselves, their survival depended on the limited resources and well-honed skills they had managed to acquire. However, as technology progresses, people become more and more specialized.

While this may allow for society as a whole to produce more goods more efficiently, it often leaves people at the mercy of an intricate, interdependent system to maintain their sustenance. Should that system have a major hiccup, it can only provide, at most, a couple months of the previous resources before failing altogether.

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In that instance, our facade of civilization and respectability fall to the wayside as the natural, animal instinct for survival returns–that is of course, unless you have another alternative. For preppers, this alternative is not simply a hobby but a lifestyle that will allow us to manage the possibility of a societal collapse in the absence of modern civilization.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the vast majority of people, many of whom live blissfully under the assumption that there will always be a large system to ensure they can survive. If the time ever comes that the system fails, those people will only remain civilized for so long.

Eventually, the need for survival will drive them to seek out resources–resources which will be in short supply to all but the prepared. This will make preppers a primary target. This fact provides the basis for a regrettable, but necessary, component of any proper bug out plan: self-defense.

  1. Stay Fit:

It is surprising how often the most basic aspects of living a healthy life are easily overlooked. With a robust medical system and a services industry far outpacing manufacturing, it can be easy to fall into the trap of allowing others to do everything for you. As such, it is often that we allow our physical fitness to fall into more disarray than other elements of our life.

In fact, even amongst preppers, physical fitness is liable to be one of the aspects of survival preparation that we work on after securing other beneficial practices and skills–if at all. Granted, there is definitely a certain degree to which preparation can account for and even help supplement poor physical fitness, but there is no genuine substitution–especially not when it comes to self-defense.

Ultimately, it does not matter how many weapons you have available and on hand, the longer you are placed in a survival situation the more likely they are to fail. Unless you can manufacture parts or wholesale weapons altogether, you will eventually need to rely on more primitive methods of self-defense.

In this instance, whether you engage in the fight or the flight response, your effectiveness will be heavily tied to your physical fitness. Keep in mind, looters in the early stages of a disaster are likely to be untrained and unfit. However, anyone who survives more than a couple months following societal collapse is himself a capable threat–even if they do not know sustainable practices. That is why the first and arguably most important step of self-defense is ensuring you are physically fit enough to handle long-term threats.

  1. Situational Awareness:

Any profession which places itself in harm’s way–especially those that involve human threats–place a high priority on situational awareness. Soldiers and police officers which train to move safely through hostile terrain, whether in the wilds or in an urban environment, place a premium on maintaining situational awareness.

You are far more likely to stay alive if you know the important tactical factors surrounding you in any given scenario. That is a big part of the reason these professions engage in practice runs where they move through a course that will test their abilities to assess their surroundings and quickly identify threats.

In this case, situational awareness can be broken down into considering the static qualities of your environment, maintaining alertness, and training to discriminate threats. The first of these three are likely the ones that get the sexiest presentation in movies. This is when a spy or soldier will enter a room and the narrator will list a number of tactical observations.

While it is important to note the number of points of ingress, potential locations to hide or take cover, as well items which could become hazardous or impromptu weapons, the important point is to identify what the baseline of the environment is, what should be considered as normal in this situation. Keep in mind, the concept of normal will change during a disaster compared to a more casual scenario.

Maintaining alertness is the process where you continuously observe the baseline of your environment and identify any deviations therein. Chances are, a threat will not make a big play where someone waits for you to pass them by only to step out and reveal themselves.

Instead, they will maintain a position of cover and attempt to neutralize you from there. Maintaining alertness even when the situation seems clear can help you pick out details that might otherwise seem innocuous in another setting.

Finally, the ability to properly discriminate threats is generally not one that comes naturally. If you are not trained to deal with hostile targets, everything and everyone is liable to seem like a hostile in the heat of the moment. This can lead to friendly fire. To counter this natural reaction, engaging in local training sessions with police units–should they offer them to the public–can help provide threat assessment skills. If that is not an option, seek a regional prepper chapter that likely hosts similar training events.

  1. Instinct:

When SHTF, there will be a number of situations that you have trained to handle. Your training is explicitly designed to employ rational and effective techniques to prevent panic from overwhelming your system leading to poor judgment calls which can get you and your party killed. Considering how much you train and prepare, it may then seem a bit odd for us to suggest that you once again turn back to your natural instinct as a means of self-preservation.

However, most living creatures communicate among a number of channels, verbal only being one of them and only very complex in humans. As such, things like postures, gait, facial expression, vocal tone, and other forms of nonverbal communication come into play. While you may not be trained in reading these types of communication, your instinctual mind is predisposed to observe this type of behavior and present an intuitive response.

This is what is known as a gut reaction and can actually be tied to nerve cells located in your stomach that have a strong connection with the more primitive back brain and its survival signals. As such should you come into contact with both human or animal, your instinct will immediately begin to assess the situation.

Based on instinctual cues, you will receive a definitive feeling about what type of intention this living creature presents. If your gut tells you that the situation is dangerous and not to trust the creature, you should likely listen to it–considering it developed its analytical capabilities over millions of years and led you to this point in human history.

  1. Improvise:

Any good prepper knows the “perfect” plan only remains as such until it is put to the test. The second that perfect plan meets the real world there will either be an influence unaccounted for that comes to bear or a factor that has no business occurring within a statistical probability miraculously pokes its head up. In either situation, the only thing you can do is devise a plan that allows for improvisation. This is what would be known as tactical agility.

This concept of a plan remaining effective only until it is put into action arguably goes double in situations of self-defense where you are dealing with a sentient agent. Because both parties have clear objectives which contradict the other and create a hostile situation, your self-defense preparations will inevitably require you to think on the fly.

Granted, there is a good chance that you can devise a number of self-defense precautions that put you in a position of advantage when dealing with a hostile threat, but much the same way that staying fit becomes more important the longer a disaster wears on so too does the ability to improvise increases in value.

Again, this is due to the fact that anyone who can survive numerous moths following a societal collapse will also have a varying set of skills that allows them to do so. As such, whatever self-defense preparations you have made will be brought to bear on an individual that likely has developed tactical skills of their own.

In this instance, the ability to shift a plan at the drop of a hat can mean the difference between two equally skilled opponents. For instance, maintaining a highly defensible position is generally the appropriate course of action when taking fire, but if the hostile party is larger, they may well be using that as cover for other members to move into an offensive position. While it may be abhorrent to consider, the best case here would be to abandon the otherwise superior location altogether.

  1. Retreat:

Too often people will assume that if they take enough precautions, like stockpiling resources, that they can develop a plan effective against all odds and obstacles. Unfortunately, that is not the case and even the greatest plan is not impenetrable. Of course, the most difficult decision in that circumstance is to accept that your position is lost.

In this case, your options are few: leave your position or make a final stand. Despite how it may seem in movies and other media, final stands are called such for a reason. It takes a cold assessment to recognize when survival depends on making sure you see another day even if that means you lose all of your supplies.

As such, retreat takes a couple forms that are best differentiated based on the setting. Specifically, this consideration hinges more on whether you are traveling or have reached your bug out shelter. The former is best determined by utilizing information you should have gleaned while practicing situational awareness.

However, when it comes to your bug out shelter, it is best to have numerous escape routes planned. These escape routes need to be camouflaged, but more importantly they should be nigh inaccessible from the point of exit. This can be difficult to accomplish naturally–luckily you can take matters into your own hands.

  1. Traps:

Often the best way to deal with a hostile opponent is to neutralize them without ever setting foot near them. While long-range weapons can serve admirably in this endeavor, they ultimately still present the issue of giving away your immediate location. A superior alternative is to make use of traps. Though, it should be understood that this definitely carries with its different limitations than long-range weaponry would.

Specifically, traps generally require some forewarning to properly set up. If you are at your bug out shelter, then this does not present too much of a conflict. However, if you wish to make use of traps while on the move, your best bet will be to use large snares as they can be set up quickly, reasonably effective, and made for virtually any size hostile.

Still, traps definitely make their true value known when you are at a relatively secure location with the ability to plan–the bread and butter of the prepper. In this case, there are a wide variety of traps that you can employ, but the most effective are those that trap the foot or leg of the assailant while simultaneously causing injury. This will provide ample time to enact an opposing response.

  1. Arm Yourself:

This is easily the most obvious self-defense advice we could offer a prepper to the point that it is likely superfluous. That being said, you need to understand that not all weapons are suited for all situations. Moreover, what is often seen as the most effective–generally firearms–may present unforeseen consequences.

For instance, if you are engaged in a conflict with a troop of looters, every time you fire a gun you are providing them a relatively detailed information about your location. In this instance, if they themselves do not have a large number of firearms, there are alternative ways to arm yourself that can be equally effective.

Non-lethal weapons, including tasers and pepper spray are a great example of this. Granted, pepper spray may better be served for wild animals–especially considering the screams would counteract any silenced benefit of the spray–but tasers can quickly and quietly incapacitate your opponent without providing them much opportunity to alert others of your presence before seizing.


While it may not be pretty to think about, self-defense is a primary need for survival–especially when preparing to bug out. Anyone who is properly prepared inherently becomes a target for those who are unprepared. However, many of the primary ways to properly defend yourself do not involve in engaging in conflict at all.

Staying in shape, developing situational awareness, and training your mind–both rationally and instinctually–to respond to potential threats are arguably more important than knowing how to fire a gun. For a more in-depth breakdown of these and other survival techniques, check out our Bug out Bags Guide.

Here, we break down how to develop a comprehensive bug out plan including the numerous considerations that have nothing to do with the supplies you carry on your back. Whether it is identifying a proper bug out shelter location, deciding who should be a member of your party, and even what to do about pets, we cover it all.



About Conrad:

Conrad Novak is a proud father of two children. His journey as a prepper began when Hurricane Katrina hit and he lost his job due to the 2008 economic crisis. That made him realize that everything can change for the worst in a very short time. This experience was the detonator for him to pursue learning and becoming better prepared to face the kind of unexpected disasters that may occur at any point in our lives. You can read more of his content at



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