Bugging out with kids can be a challenge. In fact, it can be enough of a challenge that I would try to avoid it, unless absolutely necessary. Kids have a hard enough time traveling when you go on vacation, a bug out will be considerably worse.
In any bug out plan, you have to assume that you will be forced to abandon your car at some point in time. About the only way you can avoid that is to bug out early enough that you beat everyone else out of town. With a mass of people leaving at the same time, chances are that there will be many who run out of gas or have their cars engine overheat. When that starts happening, the highways turn into parking lots.
This is where your children start having problems. Kids today don’t like the idea of walking all day to get to someplace. They’re used to riding everywhere. So, when you have to abandon your car and head out on foot, it’s going to be extremely hard on your kids. They will complain, but you have to realize that the complaints are indicative of how tired they are. Not being used to walking for hours at a time will extract a heavy toll from them.
When planning your bug out, you have to keep this in mind. Maybe you can walk ten miles, without stopping; but that doesn’t mean that your family can. You can’t expect to carry them all either, unless you happen to have a push cart you can load them on. So, you need to plan your route and your stops for the weakest family member to travel comfortably, not for what you can do.
I said “travel comfortably” for a reason. You don’t want to wear out your family walking. If they get worn out and you suddenly have to run for some reason, they won’t have the energy they need. There’s also the problem of becoming careless as they become tired. Carelessness leads to accidents that you can’t afford.
This means that your bug out travels are going to take much longer than you would normally expect. Nevertheless, you’re better off making your plans based upon the comfortable travel speed of your weakest family member, then not being able to complete your plans.
While dad will undoubtedly carry the biggest and heaviest bug out bag, he shouldn’t be stuck having to carry everything. It would be best if each family was carrying some, albeit based upon what they can comfortably carry. Not only will this allow your family to carry more total weight, it will also allow ensure that the kids have something with them to use, should they get separated from the rest of the family.
You don’t want to overburden your children, so you have to be careful about this. At the same time, It will be to their benefit to have a few things in their own bag. Doing so will also help them feel like they are contributing to the family, an important part of building their self-esteem.
So, what should a child carry in their own bug out bag? There’s probably a lot of room for variety in how we answer that question, but let me give you a starting point.
- A couple changes of rugged clothing
- A season-appropriate coat *
- Hat and gloves (or mittens) *
- Rain poncho or rain suit *
- A couple of rescue blankets and/or an emergency sleeping bag (made of the same material) *
- A bottle of water (two if they can handle the weight) *
- Some “no-cooking required” food – granola bars, jerky, fruit leather, dried fruit, etc. You can have the children carry that for the whole family, eating from each child’s bag in turn, so that they all have some food with them if they get lost. *
- Two means of starting a fire (if they know how to start fires)
- A knife (if they are old enough to use it)
- A whistle (for signaling if they get lost) *
- A disposable cell phone (for calling you if they get lost – preprogram your numbers)
- Their own water purification straw *
- A tactical flashlight with extra batteries *
- Some band-aids
- Their toothbrush, comb, etc. *
- Toilet paper *
- Comfort item – this could be a favorite toy
You have to be very careful setting up this bag, as it could be very easy for it to become overweight for the child. Of course, older children should be able to carry more than younger ones can, but even then, it’s possible to get carried away. Better to have less and concentrate on the most critical items (shown with an asterisk), than to have too much and they not be able to carry it.
Make sure that you use a good quality day pack for the kids bug out bag. You don’t want to have it tearing and falling apart as your family is walking down the trail. It can also be helpful to have a pack that conforms closer to their back, rather than one that sticks out a long way. That will make it easier for the child to carry the weight, as it will be closer to their body’s natural center of gravity.
A good walking stick is very useful when carrying a pack; not so much for helping you walk, but for helping you keep your balance. As you will be traveling off-road, there will be plenty of opportunities to trip over roots, step into holes and twist ankles. A walking stick can help prevent injury in those times.
Keeping your children safe in a wilderness environment would be a bit trickier than keeping them safe at home. The bigger problem isn’t the number of things that they can get hurt on, but the children’s lack of familiarity with those things that can hurt them.
There are basically two things that you have to watch out for, when you have children in the wilderness. Those are animals and plants. Babies, as we all know, will put anything in their mouths, which requires about as much diligence in the wilderness as it does at home. But even older children might choose to try eating some tasty looking berries that they find in the wilderness, especially if they are hungry. The problem comes in if they don’t know whether those berries are safe to eat or not.
Animals can cause a big risk for children. Pretty much all children love animals and want to play with them, especially baby animals. The problem is that all wild animals, even the ones who look harmless and cute, are dangerous. Not only are they dangerous, but in some cases, such as bears, the parents are extremely dangerous. The only thing more dangerous than getting between a woman and a clothing sale is getting between a momma bear and her cubs.
The danger of wild animals is enough that you need to be extremely careful with your children and animals. Most will avoid you, so if you keep your children close to your camp or survival retreat, they should be fine. The problem comes with children who have a propensity to wander off.
I believe it’s important to remember that people raised children in the wilderness for centuries. While there were probably some children who wandered into the path of a mountain lion or bear and ended up dying, most parents were able to successfully raise their children, without them dying. They had to take care of their children, protect them, and teach them about their environment. But they succeeded. So, if they can do so, we can too.
As children grow, you can teach them to use firearms and hunt, reducing the risk to them, should they be in the wild by themselves. As guns are the great equalizer, that would help eliminate the risk of them being in the wild, without you there to protect them.
It is important to start teaching your children basic survival skills as young as possible. That way, if they happen to get separated from you, they will be able to survive, while you are searching for them. While some tasks may require a level of responsibility that your children are not ready to accept, there will be others that they can do, even at a young age. The more they know, the safer it will be for them.
Kids and dogs are a great combination. Caring for a dog will teach a child a lot about responsibility, preparing them for one day taking care of children. But that’s not all that dogs can do for a child. Dogs have a natural affinity for children, especially for protecting them from danger. While your dog may not keep your child from escaping the front yard and running down the street, it’s not uncommon for dogs to lay across a staircase, without prompting, to keep a baby from falling.
Dogs are especially good for protecting children when in the wild. They have a better understanding of dangers in the wild, than they do of man-made ones. They especially understand which animals will be a danger for your children and protect them from those dangers.
The more sensitive nose and ears of a dog make it great for noticing dangers that you and I might miss. Being natural hunters, they will ferret out all wildlife in their area, immediately recognizing those that are a danger. In this way they can alert your child to those dangers, helping them learn how to avoid them.
Of course, a larger dog is going to provide much more protection for your children than a small dog can. Small dogs are great as alarms, but not necessarily as protectors. It would be best if each child had their own dog, which they raised from a puppy. That way, the dog will be connected to them and will be much more likely to follow them around, protecting them.
The protection that dogs provide to children is very age-specific as well. Somehow, dogs are able to instinctively know that a baby needs more protection than a toddler. They will watch the toddler more carefully than a school aged child. In each case, the dog will adjust their actions to the needs of the child.
With a dog watching over your child, you can spend your time concentrating on other tasks, rather than spending all your time watching the child. You can even train a dog to being the child back home, if they start wandering off too far. To a dog, there’s not much difference between herding kids and herding sheep.
Children can start learning survival skills at a rather young age. The pioneers who settled in the Western Frontier didn’t wait for their children to grow up, before moving westwards, they took their children with them. From the very first day, it was a learning opportunity for the children, as they learned how to read from nature all around them. They learned to do their chores, not even realizing that doing so was teaching them valuable life skills for survival. Their parents also taught them to gather plants; some for eating and others for medicinal purposes.
You can’t teach children about survival in a classroom setting; it won’t make any sense to them. But you can very easily create a classroom for them by going camping. Camping trips are a very natural time for teaching survival skills; so natural, that they won’t see it as training. The other advantage is that they will associate the skills they learn with camping and not survival. That helps with your OPSEC, as the children won’t be talking about how you’re preparing to bug out in an emergency.
Of course, once they learn the skills, those skills will come to the surface whenever they need them. It may be that years go by without having to use them, but when they need them, they will appear. They may still not recognize them as survival skills, but they will use them as such.
If you can get your hands on one of the old Boy Scout handbooks, it’s a great resource for teaching kids wilderness skills. The newer ones don’t give as much about camping and the wilderness, so you’re better off with one of the old ones. It will also give them something that they can use to study on their own, as they develop interest.
You want to instill a bit of a sense of challenge in the training process. Children, like adults, will often rise to a challenge. That can either be a challenge that is created by you expressing doubt in their ability to learn a certain skill or establishing some healthy competition between your children. Of course, the older children will have an advantage there, so you’ll have to handicap them to keep the competition fair.
The more survival skills your children can learn, the better. Not only will they be able to help the family out if you ever find yourselves in a survival situation, but the child will be able to help themselves out if they find themselves alone in a survival situation. That’s a great gift to be able to give your children.
Years ago, a friend who was just starting out as a teacher, came to me asking for advice. We lived at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, in Colorado, and most of her student’s families spent at least some of their recreational time in the mountains. Being so close, it was convenient to go hide out in the mountains on a day off or for a weekend.
Knowing this, my friend wanted to be able to give her students a gift that would help them out if they got lost in the woods. Since I was the survivalist in our group of friends, she came to me. The kicker was, she was teaching first graders, not exactly seasoned survivalists.
What I came up with for her, more than 30 years ago, has been the best advice for children lost in the woods that I’ve ever come across. I had her buy whistles for all the kids and put them on lanyards. Now, we all know that kids with a whistle have to blow it, and so you can be sure that they did. But then she explained what the whistle was for.
The idea was for the children to wear the whistle around their neck, anytime their family went into the mountains. That whistle was the child’s emergency alarm. If they ever found themselves separated from their parents or lost, they were to start blowing that whistle and keep blowing it until their parents came to get them. The parents were instructed in this system, via a paper she sent home with the kids.
Usually, it doesn’t take long for someone to figure out a child is lost, whether it’s the parent or the child themselves. That means there’s a really good chance that the child will be within hearing range when they start blowing their whistle. The parent can home in on the sound, to find the child.
If it turns out that the parent realizes first that the child is missing, they can start blowing a whistle. When the child hears it, they will naturally respond. However, to be sure, it’s best to tell the child to respond and then practice with them, just to make it a habit.
In most cases, the whistle was enough to make sure that the child was found quickly. But what if they weren’t found quickly? We needed some way for the child to have shelter for the night, if they didn’t get rescued in time. Fortunately, the Rocky Mountains have a lot of pine trees, so we had a ready shelter to teach the children about.
We taught them that when night was falling, they were to find the biggest Christmas Tree they could and crawl under it. Pine trees are unique in that their branches don’t grow up, like other trees, but actually bend down from their own weight. So, while the tips of the bottom branch will probably touch ground, those branches will be connected to the trunk a good two or three feet off the ground. This makes an excellent shelter, which is pretty much wind and rain proof.
While not a perfect shelter, crawling under a pine tree is one of the easiest natural shelters you can find in the wild. Considering that we were dealing with children who couldn’t build a shelter, this would at least protect them while they waited through the night.